Archive for the ‘City escapes’ Category

36 Hours on the California Coast (from San Francisco to Santa Cruz)

March 30, 2015

The coast of California from San Francisco to Santa Cruz is particularly gorgeous in the spring when the hills are still green and the weather tends to be better. In just a quick overnight trip, you can eat well, spend time at the beach, take a hike, and visit a farm.


Saturday Morning

Ferry Building Farmers Market, San Francisco

Start at the Saturday farmers market at the Ferry Building. Go early so you can shop for shelling peas, fava beans and tiny artichokes without dealing with tourist crowds. Pick up some provisions for your road trip, like Della Fattoria’s fig-and-walnut baguette and Andante’s herbed goat cheese. Buy a few of Blue Bottle’s new, adorably packaged iced-coffees (god knows when you’ll have good coffee again). Have breakfast at Primavera and take in the view of the sparkling bay and the Bay Bridge while you eat.


Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Hopefully you’ve remembered to dress in layers because there’s a cold wind blowing at Ocean Beach. Stick to the north side of the beach so you can walk your dog off leash. If you happen to be at the beach around 10am on Saturday mornings, you’ll see the weekly small dog beach walk (less upsetting than expected).


Saturday Afternoon

Downtown Santa Cruz

There are now a handful of casual restaurants in Santa Cruz that are taking advantage of their proximity to terrific local farms. Have lunch at Assembly on Pacific Avenue downtown. It’s a more modern space than you’ll usually find in Santa Cruz, but the menu has broad appeal, with more typical lunch options like a burger and an enormous fried chicken sandwich, as well as less common options, like a wheatberry salad with kale, feta, and dates.

Walk down Pacific Avenue and take in the usual Santa Cruz mix of crazies and surfers. Pop into Bookshop Santa Cruz for something good to read (or to use the restroom). Stop at Verve, another relatively new (and essential) addition to downtown Santa Cruz, for a coffee, or opt for a milkshake at The Penny kiosk in front of Bookshop.


From Santa Cruz, it’s a spectacular 30-minute drive up the coast to Costanoa, one of the few lodging options between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay (and one that doesn’t require a two-night stay).


Costanoa has a few lodging options, including rooms in the two-story lodge, cabins, tent cabins, and RV camping. There’s also a general store, a restaurant and a garden.

Stay in a Doug Fir cabin, which are farther from the general store and restaurant. Sit on the porch swing while the lodge’s handyman fixes the door knob that came off in your hand and take in the view of the green coastal hills and, in the distance, the ocean. When the door is fixed, head out on an easy 3-mile loop hike down to the beach.


Take a Hike

There’s a fair amount of poison oak near the trail, but the views are extraordinary. To the north, you can see the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and to the south, the gorgeous and rugged Northern California coast.


You’ll be back at your cabin in time to open a bottle of wine (there’s a wine opener and two wine glasses in the cabin) and snack on the bread and cheese you bought in San Francisco. You’ll want snacks since the Costanoa restaurant isn’t particularly special. Hit the hot tub early if you can; it gets crowded after dark.


Farm Tour

It only takes about 15 minutes to drive from Costanoa to Harley Farms in Pescadero. Sign up for a tour before hand (they usually fill up quickly, especially in the spring when there are baby goats to see) or just show up to enjoy the scenery, peek in at the goats and buy some of the cheese in the farm’s shop.


You’ll be back in the city before dinner, but it will feel like you’ve been far away.



August 29, 2013

August — or Fogust, as someone cleverly put it on Twitter — is a rough time to be in San Francisco. (Even The Daily Show agrees: “It’s August and it’s always fucking cold there!” John Oliver said earlier this month.)

Of course it’s not news that SF has terrible summers or that I have a hard time in the dark days of August, but this year, I finally realized that I need to have a better plan of action.


In my dream life, I would leave town for July and August. But while my long-term plan may be to find a job that allows me to leave town for months at a time and pays me enough to buy a summer home (ideally with a pool), in the short term, I need to come up with some better day trips that get me out of the fog. (My current six-day a week work schedule doesn’t give me enough time to go away for a whole weekend.)


Almost every August, I end up taking day trips in search of sunshine, but these trips come more out of desperation to get out of the fog than a real desire to be somewhere in particular. One year, I read the Sunday New York Times on a bench in Sonoma. Another year I picnicked on the grass in Ross.

This year, after waiting until 2pm for the fog to clear one Sunday, I drove south and ended up at Wunderlich Park in Woodside, a moneyed town west of Highway 280. (I parked between a BWM and a Mercedes and a Tesla passed me on the road). The hike I took wasn’t very exciting, but it was easy to get to, it was warm, and I could look up and see a bright blue sky through the trees. That was enough.


But I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been nice to have a few more places to go, to spent a little more time in the sun. It would have been nice to pair the hike with a stop in at a new ice cream shop, for example. For me, my ideal trips usually include a nice place to walk and something nice to eat or drink so my goal for next year is to have fleshed out a few more options. I’ve been collecting ideas — bookmarking a brewery near Santa Cruz, a bike trail in the East Bay, a new bakery in Marin — so that when the fog settles in, I can head out.

Ranch Dinner

August 1, 2013

As much as I like the idea of farm-to-table events, in reality, they can often be a bit precious. At times, they seem to be trying to be more than they need to be, and this leads to farm dinners that are upscale in a way that seems at odds with the realities of farming, or events that feel more like places to see-and-be-seen rather than the chance to enjoy a meal close to the source.

So when I went to one of Della Fattoria’s ranch dinners in Petaluma last weekend, what stood out for me was that it was exactly what it claimed to be: it was dinner at the Weber family’s ranch.

della-dinner It wasn’t a showcase for some new chef from the City, and it didn’t appear to involve a bunch of Chez Panisse alums. The space was beautiful, but it didn’t look like it was vying to get on Pinterest or catering to the latest design trends. And the dinner wasn’t used a marketing opportunity for Della. We weren’t urged to buy anything extra. We were welcomed, fed, and left to make the rest of evening what we wanted it to be.

We got there late, driving up (and trying to stay awake) after the farmers market, and when we arrived, everyone seemed to be doing their own thing. Some people sat at their table drinking wine and socializing with their friends, while others walked around the grounds, checking out the sheep or the chickens or the nearby gardens. Since Della’s bread bakery is right on the ranch, some people watched the bread come out of the ovens, while others snacked on the bread over at the appetizer table. A group of people sat on an upholstered sofa and chairs that were set up outside around an outdoor fireplace. Dogs of all sizes ran around (one came up and licked my arm during dinner).

della-ovensEveryone was drawn back at the table when the food started to come out: first, a green salad full of summer produce, then a platter of roast pork surrounded by grilled peaches and an enormous dish of potatoes au gratin. We passed around cutting boards that held loaves of still-warm bread from the bakery. (Meals are always an issue at my family’s annual Tahoe trip and the meal at Della was a reminder of what group meals can be. Of course professional cooks and staff also help).

After dinner, slices of galette were put out (with a bowl of extra whipping cream) as well as the fixings for s’mores.  Most people left soon after they’d had dessert and coffee, but Mr. WholeHog and I had been invited to stay overnight in one of Della’s adorable little cottages (yet another example of how all good things in our life seem to come from the farmers market), and eventually we were the only ones still sitting outside in front of one of the fireplaces. The staff urged us to finish up the s’mores (like we need much encouragement) and after the tables were cleared, one of the servers came by to make a few s’mores and to keep the fire going for us.


The evening was full of moments like this, full of small gestures that made me feel like family rather than a visitor. And it continued even as we prepared to turn in for the night. One of the Weber’s reminded us to get some eggs and a loaf of bread at the bakery so that we’d have something for breakfast the next morning.

What I’d Been Missing

July 31, 2013

My family’s annual Tahoe trip has really changed for me over the last few years. Although I still enjoy getting some time in the sun (especially in July when SF is often gray and cold) and I still love swimming in the lake (especially taking evening swims under the stars), the trip has become a vacation I take each year, not the best vacation I take each year.

And this year at the lake, I felt like doing something new, so on Monday morning, after the chumps left, Mr. WholeHog, my dad and I headed around the lake to hike up Ellis Peak.

tahoe-ellishikeIt had been a very long time since I’d done any hiking in the mountains. The coast is easier for me to get to and it’s available year round, while the Sierra often feels inaccessible– cold and snowy in the winter, and dusty and buggy in the summer. But the Ellis Peak hike showed me what I’d been missing.

The six-mile out-and-back took us through the often-strange beauty of the Sierra. It took us through alpine meadows full of wildflowers and butterflies, alongside craggy rock formations and under the shade of tall lichen-covered pine trees. While so much of California is dry and yellow by July, the Sierra was still blooming.


We’d chosen this hike because we’d read that it offered memorable views of Tahoe, the views of the lake weren’t nearly as memorable as the views from a ridge we reached just a mile into the hike. We could see down into Desolation wilderness, with its granite slopes and its dark-green lakes. Beyond that, we could see a line of snow-touched peaks, which my mountaineer dad identified as the Crystal Range.

My dad has spent a lot of time in the Sierra and he pointed out Pyramid Peak and Price Peak. He told us how back in the 1970s, he and an old friend got snowed in at Loon Lake, one of the largest lakes we could see from the trail, and the rescue team showed up with a bottle of whisky and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.


From that first magnificent ridge, we descended into the forest again and soon ran into another new sight: dirt bikes. Thankfully we only had to dart out of the way of oncoming dirt bikes twice, but they were definitely a downside of this particular excursion.


But I’d wanted to do something new and this hike – even with its noisy, dust-spewing dirt bikes – fit the bill. It gave me some distance from the usual family Tahoe experience. It took me to a different side of the lake, up a new trail with new views. and it reminded me how beautiful hiking in the mountains can be.

City Bike, Country Bike

May 22, 2013

I want to like bike riding. Everyone around me seems to love it. Mr. WholeHog bikes instead of taking MUNI and now my sister does, too. A close friend biked a 100-mile “century” last year on a whim and then did the AIDS LifeCycle ride from SF to LA. My dad, who was always a runner when I was growing up, now bikes more often than he runs. He’s gone on biking trips down the California coast and up through parts of Oregon.


What appeals to me about biking is the chance to spend some fun and ideally relaxing time outside, but I haven’t found biking in the city to be fun or relaxing. Biking in the city is a challenge. Beyond just the incredibly hilly landscape, there are so many things to watch out for: pedestrians, dogs, cars, buses, other people on bikes. And there are so many potential hazards, too. I could get hit by a car. I could get “doored” by a parked car or my bike tire could get caught in the streetcar tracks. So many of the things that I find exhilarating about city living – the density, the hills, public transit, the mix of people out on the streets – are things that make it stressful to bike.

My bike also isn’t very relaxing to ride. It has what I believe are far too many gears (bike people strongly disagree with me on this). I’m stressed enough just trying to stay on my bike in the city; clicking through 20 possible gears just puts me over the edge. I’d gladly trade half the gears on my bike for a nice kickstand (bike people also seem to hate kickstands) or a softer bike seat. My ass hurt for days after Mr. WholeHog and I took a leisurely bike ride through Golden Gate Park and down the Great Highway. My dad advocates for padded bike shorts, but he’s the kind of person who has no qualms about wearing a purple woman’s REI shirt around town. If I have to wear a special outfit to bike, I’m probably going to give up the bike.

And I’d considered giving up on biking after the white-knuckle ride Mr. WholeHog and I took over the Golden Gate Bridge in March. I’d expected a car-free ride with great views, but instead of checking out the Bay or the SF skyline, I spent most of the ride trying not to mow down the many tourist families taking photos and trying to ignore the competitive, jersey-wearing cyclists on my back. But a bike ride I took last month in Healdsburg may have changed my mind about biking.

barnOn our overnight trip to Healdsburg last month, my sister and I took a beautiful, scenic bike ride through the Dry Creek valley. Out on these rural roads, there were no buses or train tracks or people to watch out for. Since we were out before any of the wineries opened, there were practically no cars to worry about either.  The only real obstacles on our ride were a long yellow snake lying in the road and one (mostly decomposed and unidentifiable) roadkill carcass.

It was a mostly flat ride, too, which was good since the PUBLIC bikes we were riding had no gears (!). We could have used maybe one or two gears on the ride (I stood up once while pedaling uphill), but ultimately I found it so freeing to only have to pedal and take in the scenery.

We rode next to vineyards, across one-lane country bridges, and up gentle hills that offered long views down the vineyard-covered valley. We biked down roads lined with fragrant roses, past ivy-covered barns and by big wooden winery gates. We saw hawks flying overhead, sheep grazing in a pasture and people working in the grapes. Coasting down a brief downhill stretch, we threw our legs out to the side with total delight.

vineyardsBiking in Healdsburg made me realize that I do like biking after all — but outside the City, on quiet sunny weekdays, and in a flat and beautiful part of the state.

Buttermilk Trail

April 21, 2013

I make a point of visiting my old home town in the summer to swim in the Yuba river, and the last few years, I’ve tried to also visit in the spring to walk on the Buttermilk trail.


It’s an easy and mostly flat walk in above the river (it looks down on where my family and I used to swim in the summer months), and it’s a good hike for people like me who don’t know much about wildflowers because there are signs along the trail that identify the many different wildflowers in bloom.

April is high season for wildflowers, but the weather can be iffy. One year it snowed the day after we’d walked on the Buttermilk trail; this year it was so warm that people were already swimming in the river.


Last year we didn’t get a chance to visit during wildflower season; by April, our remodel had taken over our lives. The year before, I’d walked the trail in May, in a daze, still confused and stunned about the end of my sister’s marriage. That year we were too late for wildflowers, but flowers were the least of our concerns. This year, though, made up for it: the weather was lovely and there were many, many flowers.


Coast Camping

March 28, 2013

So many good things have come into my life through the farmers market: good food, of course, but also new friends, recipes, restaurant recommendations and travel tips. Last week, we scored a campsite through the farmers market. It was a Saturday night, booked-six-months-ago campsite right on the Marin coast that two customers of Mr. WholeHog’s weren’t able to use.


It was probably the most beautiful campsite I’ve ever had. It was perched on a bluff over the Pacific and had a view of the ocean and also of SF off in the distance. On the other side of the small, seven-site campground, we could see the long curve of Stinson Beach.


From the campground, we had easy access to the hiking trails on Mt. Tamalpais. After we set up camp, we headed to Stinson Beach to pick up a few essential (bourbon and chocolate). We picked up the Steep Ravine trail right across Highway 1 and walked through the woods until we connected with the mostly exposed Dipsea trail that leads right into town. It’s a gorgeous walk, especially this time of year when so much of Mt. Tam is peppered with wildflowers.


Dipsea trail on the way down to Stinson Beach


When we got back to camp, we reheated some of Zuni’s asparagus and rice soup and sat up on a rock in our campsite to eat and watch the sun set over the Pacific. (One thing I like about overnight camping is that we don’t have to bother to do much cooking or clean up.) It was shaping up to be one of the best camping experiences I’d ever had: the site was spectacular, the weather was beautiful, the hike into town was terrific.


But the downside of camping, even in a small, secluded campground like this, is that you are still around other people. Mr. WholeHog and I usually try to minimize the number of people we’re around by going places in the off-season or on off-days. We don’t do much camping in the summer, for example, and we tend to camp on Sunday nights, not Saturday nights. We want to avoid the chumps, as my grandfather called the people who’d flood in to Tahoe every Friday night and leave every Sunday night. And unfortunately, we ran into some chumps at a neighboring campsite, who sang, screamed and played an amplified guitar late into the evening.  It didn’t entirely ruin our experience, but it was a reality check: even in one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, even in the nicest campsite, there are still jackasses.

Apple Country

November 20, 2012

On the California coast, there aren’t the usual signs of changing seasons, but there are many places nearby where we can get a fall fix. I love going to the wine country in the fall to watch the vineyards in Napa and Sonoma change colors. It’s a very California-version of New England’s fall foliage (and with better wine to boot). But another sure sign of fall is apples — and for apples, you’ll need to head to Sebastopol.

Sebastopol is the Bay Area’s apple country, and as Mr. WholeHog and I discovered this October, you don’t have to go very far off the beaten path before you find yourself on charming country roads lined with apple orchards. We passed rows of old, gnarled trees hung with bright red apples. In October, some of the trees were so laden with apples that the branches had broken. Some of the apples had fallen from the tree and were nestled in the grass like fall Easter eggs.

We are lucky enough to have friends in Sebastopol with apple orchards, and yet for some reason, we still don’t get up there very often. I grew up visiting family friends in Sebastopol (all of the pictures in this post were taken on their property), although as a kid, I was more interested in their excellent tree house than their excellent apples.

On Saturdays, I work for another apple-growing Sebastopol family at the  farmers market who has introduced me to so many new apple varieties. And this year, Mr. WholeHog and some friends made a trip up to yet another apple grower in Sebastopol (another farmers market vendor), where they picked Rome and Golden Delicious apples and then used an apple press to make fresh juice.

On recent nights, we’ve been heating up the juice they made out of those Sebastopol apples and spiking it with bourbon. It gives me a little taste of fall in the City.

A Spring Break

April 26, 2012

In hindsight, it seems obvious decision fatigue would set in, given all the time we’ve been spending on remodel-related errands these past few months. But because I was so consumed with the work we had to do, it took a few weeks before I realized that decision fatigue had set in.

At the time, we were in Marin where we’d actually had one of our best remodel-errand experiences yet, lucking into second-quality Heath tiles. But the rest of our to-do list that day was tiresome. We went to an appliance showroom and then a tile shop in San Rafael. Next up was an appliance outlet in Sonoma county, but the car was pointed west and we were already in San Rafael, close to so many good hiking spots, Mr. WholeHog pointed out.

So we drove out Fairfax-Bolinas Road to Lake Lagunitas and Bon Tempe lake in the Marin Municipal Water District and started out on a trail at random. We didn’t have my usual hiking book or even a map on hand. When we got there, we realized we also didn’t have Mr. WholeHog’s hiking boots. But it didn’t really matter. Just being outside and walking helped clear my head, and looking out at the spring-green hills of West Marin rather than at the knobs on a stove or the pattern on a tile made me feel sane again.

It was a windy March day, a brief pause between two storm systems, and the wind blew the water across the lake and against the shoreline. Listening to the sound of water lapping at the shore as we walked reminded me of my annual summer days at Lake Tahoe, of completely leisurely days with no to-do list.

It made me wish that we’d scheduled all of our house errands around a hike. Although it would have added yet-another decision for us to make (deciding not only what stores to go to but also what hikes were nearby), building in some time that wasn’t focused on flooring or faucets probably would have made these seemingly endless errands more enjoyable.

And I tend to need breaks built-in, since when I’m faced with a big project, like this remodel, I tend to buckle down and try to just push through the work it requires. Even when Mr. WholeHog had suggested going on a hike, I’d hesitated: we still had work to do. We weren’t DONE yet. But although it seems logical to me to work and then play, it doesn’t account for the times when I get burnt out or overwhelmed or just tired of a project.

Being out a Bon Tempe, watching the osprey circle overhead and dive into the lake, underscored the importance of getting away from a big project — whether it’s by sitting on the side of a lake, walking in the woods, watching birds, whatever – even if it goes against my (Germanic) nature and even if (maybe especially if) I don’t think I need it.

I felt very far away from kitchens and bathrooms, from the appliance and tile shops we’d been in just a few hours before. As we looped back to the parking lot and prepared to drive home, I felt a little less overwhelmed by all that we still had ahead of us.


August 19, 2011

The night after our monthly day in the field was a full moon barn dance at the barn just behind the farm.

Given how exhausted I’ve been after most days in the field, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay for the barn dance — plus I’m not really into square-dancing (especially since I can’t really tell my left from my right). But I couldn’t pass up the chance to camp next to the farm, to be out of SF’s summer fog and to watch a moon rise over the land I’d worked.

Camping and seeing the moon rise were both worth staying after farm school, but what really bowled me over was how ridiculously proud I felt seeing people eating the food we’d planted in May, tended in June and July, and harvested earlier that day.

Much of what we’d picked from the farm went into that night’s meal. There were roasted carrots, bowls of boiled and roughly mashed potatoes, and skewers of zucchini and peppers. We snacked on tomatillo salsa and lightly pickled cucumbers. Lucca and Palermo, the two cows that had made our first few days of working in the fields so fragrant, made excellent grass-fed burgers. My fellow farm school students and I were tempted to hang out by the food tables so we could tell everyone that we’d grown what they were eating.

But the moon finally distracted me from the food.  As the sunset over the now-yellow Sonoma hills, we stopped everything to watch the moon rose over the farm.