Sunday, September 19, 2021

Road Trip; Northern California

Trip date: September 2020

I met Aaron in Sebastopol, Sonoma County, after spending some days hanging with redwoods and in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the drive direct from Fortuna to Sebastopol is only 3+ hours, I had been in and out of the car for almost 9 hours with all my tree-hugging stops.

It was also very smoky for most of my drive as the forest fires were all around the area. Luckily the highway wasn't closed and I showed up at the Marriott Fairfield Suites in time for Aaron and I to make our wine tasting appointment. All of the places we would be visiting for the next few days had outdoor seating (inside dining was nixed at this time still), masks/gloves/sanitizer protocols, and social distancing set up.   

Pax winery had us set up outside with some tasty snacks to go along with our wine choices. They make some really unique white wines using grapes such as Trousseau Gris, Petite Mansang, as well as more typical reds with Syrah and Gamay Noir. It was a fun way to kick off our trip!

We walked across the street to Fern Bar where a couple of Aaron's friends met us, again we had a table outside and spaced away from others. I had been wanting to try the cocktails here for some time, and they did not disappoint. Well maybe the disposable glassware was disappointing but it was a pandemic after all!

Dinner at Fern Bar was excellent! Especially the hand-pulled dan dan noodles with lamb. Swoon.

Day 4. Sebastopol, CA to Elk, CA: ~2 hours

The next morning we had a quick breakfast at the hotel, made a stop at Whole Foods, and hit the road. Highway 1 to be exact. We were driving the coast road up to Elk where we'd spend the next two nights.

It was about a 3-hour drive due to the very twisty turvy road. But the misty views of the ocean, and the fact that Aaron was driving, made it worth it. I had left my car back in Sebastopol and it felt great to be a passenger!

This road had been closed just a week before due to forest fires, the damage was very evident!

We arrived in Elk at lunchtime and stopped at the Elk Store for some yummy sandwiches, which we ate across the street at Greenwood Creek State Park. A hike down to the beach after, as we had a bit a time before our Airbnb check in, was the perfect way to stretch our legs. It's really a pretty spot!

Our Airbnb was just a bit farther down the road at Saddle Point. We had a 2-bedroom house on 85 acres of cliffside property. Social distancing taken to the max! The house itself was old and in need of some TLC, but the location was perfect for us. 

We dropped our bags and went off to explore. First up we visited the cute Mist Farm farmstand in Mendocino and picked up some eggs and jam. This is what foodies do!

Next up we made our way to Cliff Glover Pottery where Aaron had made us an appointment to view his work. Cliff creates a lot of pieces for Harbor House, where we would be dining the next night. We expected just to meet him, and do a bit of shopping. But Cliff is such a gracious host, he welcomed us in his Japanese garden, brewed us cups of matcha, and sat and chatted with us for about an hour.

I bought a chawan from him, and have gotten in the habit of having an afternoon matcha now at home. The best type of souvenir!

We hung out at our acreage estate that night, playing dominos, having a simple dinner, and then the owners who also live on the property in a neighboring house lit a bonfire for us. Aaron pulled out s'more makings and a bottle of 12 year old Yamazaki. You gotta love friends who know your love of a fire and Japanese whisky!!
The next morning we hiked the Fern Canyon Loop, which is a moderate and very pretty 4 ½ mile loop on an old logging road in Van Damme State Park.

We hung out on our property enjoying the sun in the afternoon which was super relaxing. But that evening was the entire reason for our trip; we were having dinner at 1-Michelin star Harbor House Inn. We were both super excited!

The weather was absolutely perfect, which really mattered as we would be dining outside on their deck per pandemic precautions. We actually brought a bag with a few layering items as we know the California coast gets really chilly in the evenings. 

Our table had unobstructed views of the bay and some of the inn's gardens below. It was just gorgeous! And the chef's Japanese inspired tasting menu was just as beautiful and also delicious. 

Some of the standouts for me were the "yellowtail, sungold tomato, basils", "abalone, abalone mushroom, shiitake rice, sauce of abalone offal", and "pork, elk spice, leek, okra". But really, all of the dishes, including starters and desserts, were both delicious and really unique. 

Chef Matt visited with us for a bit which was fun to chat with him about the food, the pottery from Cliff Glover, and how an absolutely fantastic job his staff was doing, giving us such a great experience, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

Day 6. Elk, CA to Healdsburg, CA: ~2 hours

The next day was another stunner so before checking out of the Airbnb we took a nice stroll around the property. I even came across a rattlesnake!

We weren't quite done with the Harbor House just yet! We had reservations for their 3-course lunch on the deck. After a bit of shopping at Elk Mercantile we checked in and had another lovely meal with the stunning views.
I just loved hanging out in this area of Mendocino County for a couple of days. It is so pretty and rugged. I was super happy to have been invited by Aaron for this little adventure!

On our way out of the area we stopped and had a lovely wine tasting in the courtyard of Baxter Wines. I was really impressed with their pinot noirs and left with a couple of purchases.
Next up in Boonville we stopped and had a goat cheese tasting as well as a wine tasting at Pennyroyal Farm. This property is huge and gorgeous, the cheese was great, the wine just ok for me. 

We arrived in Healdsburg and checked into the Best Western Dry Creek. This property would get a "fair" rating from me, it was also a bit farther from town then we thought so we would be driving to dinner instead of walking.

That evening we enjoyed some wine and snacks on the rooftop at Single Thread, their dining room was still closed due to COVID-19. I had a lovely plate of oysters, while Aaron had a gorgeous tomato bread. I still haven't had a chance to dine properly here but it was great to have a little peek of their service.

We walked over to Healdsburg's pretty town square and ordered burgers and canned cocktails from Dukes. The city had picnic tables spread around for restaurant patrons to use which made for a very fun and delicious dinner. 
We grabbed a few more cocktails for back at the hotel. Not only were they super tasty, but I was so impressed that they even sent us off with proper ice for my old fashioned! 

Before leaving the next morning, we stopped at Downtown Bakery. They are known for their galettes and that is exactly what I ordered. So delicious with my iced latte, enjoyed at an outside table. 

It was so much fun getting a chance to have some lovely dining experiences in other cities again! And especially with one of my best dining buddies

All photos from Sonoma and Mendocino County here.

Also on this trip:

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Road Trip to the Redwoods

Trip date: September 2020

With the world battling a pandemic, and me missing the fuck out of travel, I had to get creative. A road trip is what I would do! By myself, in my BMW, staying at mainly motels to minimize having to be inside with people. This was last fall, well before vaccinations were available.

I was driving south from Seattle to Sebastopol, CA to meet up with my friend Aaron. Along the way I would spend two days amongst coast redwoods, the tallest trees in the world, and an area I hadn't been to since I was in high school. This was also the first road trip for the newest Bimmer. I was excited!

Day 1. Seattle to Roseburg, OR:  ~5 ½ hours 

The weather was warm and sunny, a perfect day to open the sunroof and crank the stereo. I stopped in Portland and met up with a good friend for lunch, we chose the Victoria Bar as they had a really great outdoor seating area. We hadn't seen each other in about a year and it was so nice but also frustrating not to be able to hug!

I checked in to the Best Western in Roseburg, unpacked my traveling container of Lysol wipes, and got to work disinfecting every surface. This was also before we learned that COVID is transferred only by air, but hey it's still good to have clean surfaces!

There was a little Thai spot in the next-door strip mall so I placed an order online and had pad thai for dinner as well as a martini from my travel bar set up.

My rate included breakfast and I was able to grab a patio table outside to have my scrambled eggs, bacon, and coffee the next morning. It was pretty good!

Day 2. Roseburg, OR to Fortuna, CA: ~5 hours

I continued on I5 South until Grant's Pass where I took the exit for Hwy 199. It was another gorgeous day and the scenery driving through southern Oregon was very pretty. I crossed into California, but not before stopping at the last Shell station, in a tiny town, for one last full service fill up. I love getting gas in Oregon!

There was an agricultural check at the border but they just waved me through. Immediately I was driving the small highway through forests of redwoods. My first stop was the Hiouchi Visitors Center where there was information on the trees, the forests, and the trails in the area. The rangers had a table set up outside so no need to be indoors. 

I learned that Howland Hill, a 6-mile dirt road that cuts right through the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, wasn't open all the way to Hwy 101/Crescent City. This was good to find out as it is an hour drive on a rough and twisty road, it would have sucked to get all the way to the end and then have to turn around and head back!

I drove a bit of the road, I was the only car out there and with the windows all rolled down it smelled just like Christmas! Then I backtracked and parked in the lot for the Stout Memorial Grove. This short trail, just a ½ mile, is a super easy walk thru an absolutely gorgeous grove of 300 foot tall redwoods. The 44-acre grove was donated in 1929 by the Stout family to the Save the Redwoods League. Trees in these old growth forests are 2000 years old!

US-199 turns into CA Hwy 101 at Crescent City and from there I had coastal views for pretty much the rest of the day.

When I was a kid we moved from Los Angeles to Spokane and my family drove up this same highway. We stopped at the Trees of Mystery which I thought was just about the coolest thing ever. The park has been open since 1946 and still draws in the crowds. I had no interest in visiting on this trip but I did pull into the parking lot to get a shot of logger Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe!

Afterwards I made a slight detour off of 101 onto Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway which took me into the heart of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. I parked along the road and followed the trail to Big Tree.
And indeed, this 1500 year old redwood, at 286 feet tall and 74 ½ feet in circumference, is a very big tree! There are a few sights that are set up permanently so that when you look through them you can see what the informative panels are describing. And if you've read the book The Understory (which I highly recommend) you will even be able to see an example of epiphytes, in this case ferns and huckleberries, growing high up on the redwood.

The Parkway turns back into 101 and just a bit further I entered Redwood National Park. I drove up Bald Hill Road and parked at the trailhead to Lady Bird Johnson Grove.
This is another very easy 1-mile walk around some truly gorgeous redwoods. I had a little picnic with me and found a bench to have my snack while sitting quietly with these amazing living things. And especially being in the midst of a pandemic, it felt so safe to be outside, no one else around, and taking big deep breaths of the oxygen they were creating. 

This grove was dedicated to Lady Bird Johnson, a known environmentalist, in August 1969 by President Richard Nixon. It's really an excellent stop. And I even saw a frog on the trail!

It had been a pretty long day so I was happy to arrive in Fortuna at the Best Western Country Inn.
As is unfortunately typical in late summer in California now, there were forest fires raging nearby. The smoke did provide a pretty sunset. But the next morning there was even ash on my car!

Based on the recommendation from the girls at the front desk, I ordered some take out from Eel River Brewing Co. which was very close by and pretty good.

Day 3. Fortuna, CA to Sebastopol, CA: ~3 ½ hours

I'd be meeting Aaron in Sonoma County later in the day, but I had a full roster of events before I got there so I was up and out early. Still on 101 South, I stopped in Scotia, known as one of the last "Company Towns" in America. The Pacific Lumber Company started operating in the area in the early 1880s and by 1929 there were 1000 residents in the town they owned.

After the company sold the town it went bankrupt in 2007. The town is now self-governing and has a population of about 850. I found it to be an interesting bit of Americana. 

By 9am I was at the north entrance to the Avenue of Giants. This 31-mile stretch of highway, which parallels the 101, has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world! Starting my morning here was so amazing, the smell of the trees, the quiet, and the sunlight filtering through the massively tall trunks... amazing.

I stopped to pick up a paper brochure for my driving tour and continued on to the Founders Grove Trail. As I parked and started along the easy ½ mile loop, I realized I was the only one out there. This grove is amazing in its number of incredibly tall trees, some of the tallest left living!

Many of the trees in these forests have endured fires, but luckily their bark is so thick and acts as a fireproof shell. Some are basically hollow at the base but still continue to live and grow 300 feet up!

And of course not all of these redwoods survive. The Dyerville Giant fell in 1991, 362 feet of redwood (higher than Niagara Falls!), and when it hit the ground it caused a seismograph reading nearby. Although other trees have fallen on and around the Giant, you can still walk most of the massive length.

Redwood's roots only go down a few feet, but they spread out in order to stabilize their soaring heights. But in the case of the Dyerville Giant, another tree fell against it during a time when the ground was overly saturated by rain. This tree's massive weight eventually caused the Giant to fall, it's roots still dramatically on display.

As I was completing the loop, still the only one in the grove, I heard a branch snap and looked up in time to see a deer watching me. Mainly hidden by the beautiful ferns that grow everywhere, it looked like a toy standing between a fallen redwood a still growing one. It was pretty magical.

Next, I drove off the main avenue onto Lower Bull Creek Flats Road and parked at the Big Trees Trail day-use area. Here I followed the trail out to Tall Tree; no longer the tallest tree, but it was in 1957! It is still beautiful and a bit off the beaten path, so not a lot of visitors. Another trail that I was the lone person on.

I found the footbridge that crosses the creek, unfortunately a tree had come down right near it so there was a bit of a scramble to get across. From here I followed the trail to Giant Tree. Did you know that these trees "compete" in a National Point System for all around biggest tree? I did not.  

In 1991 this tree took the prize and still holds it. Points are calculated by trunk circumference, plus its height, plus ¼ of its average crown spread in feet. I'm not great at math but I can say that even trying to look up to the crown was a dizzying situation. Majestic. 

I re-joined the Avenue of Giants and continued on the absolutely gorgeous drive past walls of ancient redwoods. This is honestly one of the most spectacular highways I've been on, it's about 2 ½ hours without stops if you are planning a trip. I was very happy to have another hour drive of this scenery to my next destination.

I passed a handful of sleepy old-west looking towns before the Avenue turned back into the 101. My final stop of the day, and on this redwoods adventure, was the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree in Leggett, CA.

In 1937 the Underwood family had the tree carved out, but it is still very much alive. For $10 you drive thru the 315 feet tall and 2400 years old coast redwood. It was pretty fun, I may have done it twice!

I absolutely LOVED spending time amongst these incredible trees. The scent, the sounds, the way the light filters through, the color and design of the bark... all of it. A road trip through the redwoods is something I hope everyone gets to do one day! 

All photos of the redwoods here.

Also on this trip:


Monday, September 6, 2021

Post Pandemic Los Angeles

Trip date: July 2021

17 months since my last flight. Wow, that hasn't happened since 1999!!! 

I decided to ease into flying again by booking a 2-hour flight to LAX. Masks on flights are still a thing, as are crowded airports and a number of unvaccinated people.  I wasn't exactly afraid to fly, but I do feel that I'm at wits end with everything COVID related and just didn't want to spend that much time being smack in it, if that makes sense.

I was very excited to see my friends and to be a house-guest again! And I was also excited just to travel again! When I showed up at the Alaska Air Lounge at SeaTac I was told my lounge pass had expired which almost had me in tears. Luckily I was able to talk my way in and enjoy a few mimosas before the flight.

Once onboard, and in my exit row seat, I was surprised that the exit aisle seat was a jump seat. Turns out I was on one of the new Airbus. When a flight attendant, heading home to LA, sat in the middle I was pretty damn happy; I had 2 row mates who knew how to stay calm in situations and also how to work the emergency exit.

My flight was uneventful and the traveling flight attendant even came back from visiting first class with an extra can of wine for me. 

As soon as my friend Aaron picked me up at the airport we were off to Santa Monica to check out the drinks at Lanea. This is such a great space; painted in light blue and white with light tan upholstery, it is airy and beachy and relaxing. We each tried one of their margaritas and found them to be delicious!

After changing for dinner we made our way to Culver City and The Corner Door. This Italian Eatery had turned into the Parm Boyz pop up serving fun parms and tasty drinks. We had other plans for dinner but loved our cocktails. The Parm Boyz concept closed earlier this month but stay tuned to see what they might do next!
The highlight of the day was dinner at Bicyclette, from the folks behind Republique which I also adore. While walking thru the very sexy restaurant, we passed by Phil Rosenthal enjoying a meal.

It was so hard to decide what to order as everything on the modern French menu sounded fantastic. But of the items we ordered, the cocktails, caramelized onion tarte tatin, chicken schnitzel, and Parisian gnocchi really stood out. 

The cheese course was the only real disappointment, I think they just don't go thru enough cheese and two of our three were a bit off their prime. Damn it, fit and size conscious people of LA, eat more cheese! Our dessert, two slices of tarte- one chocolate and one berry- were excellent. 

I really loved this restaurant- the menu, food, service, and atmosphere were all awesome. I'd highly recommend making a reservation!

After a quick breakfast at Paper or Plastik Cafe, as well as a morning walk, both in Aaron's neighborhood, we got changed and made our plans for the day. First up was lunch in Los Feliz at Atrium. Designed with blonde wood, green plants, and lots of natural light, the pretty spot felt a bit Scandinavian to me. 

The chef sent out the most delicious biscuits, he and Aaron are friends, and then we split the burger and smoked salmon dish. Everything was super tasty! If you go, do not pass on the biscuits!

We spent the rest of the day exploring The Huntington Gardens and the Made in LA art exhibit. I had never been to The Huntington before and WOW!! 120 acres of gardens and thousands of pieces of art; obviously a few hours doesn't do it justice so I will absolutely need to return to explore the permanent collection more.
That evening was just packed with so many great things! We started the night with cocktails at Thunderbolt, a very cool spot in the hip Echo Park area. Aaron had a clarified, carbonated, canned pina colada-ish cocktails while I had a martini-ish drink with tomato, black pepper, and lemon flavors. Both were excellent!

Although we chose to sit up at the bar, Thunderbolt has a big outdoor patio if you'd like your drinks al fresco!

And speaking of al fresco, next up we had dinner at Damian on their amazing patio! It's so beautiful here, and the food was wonderful! 

We mainly ordered items to be shared. Guacamole with salsas, a quesadilla loaded with cheese, morels, and shaved Spanish truffles, roasted celery root, and duck al pastor. But my gordito loaded with crab, meyer lemon, and an avocado salsa was my favorite dish of the night.
As we know, restaurants have been affected so much by the pandemic. First having to close, then pivoting to take-out, and now reopening during a labor crisis. I'm not sure exactly what challenges Damian is facing but our waiter completely ghosted us about ½ way thru our meal. It put a bit of a damper on an otherwise fantastic meal but I'm going to chalk it up to being short staffed...

Afterwards we had reservations for nightcaps at the LA outpost of Death & Co, a favorite drinking spot when I am in New York. I was excited! 

We entered a building in the Art's District and walked down the stairs to the basement where we checked in with the hostess. We could see into the small bar, called Standing Room, which serves as a waiting room in a sense, and has its own menu. Our table was ready so we skipped that, and followed the hostess behind the dark curtains into a very dim and low-ceilinged space. 

Originally we had a table near the back. Also near us was a table of six having a very good time. A very loud time. I couldn't hear a thing Aaron was saying to me from across the table. Luckily we were able to move to the bar which was much better.

We each ordered our first cocktail off the menu and they were both delicious. When we were up at the bar we both had the bartender make us something with calvados and unfortunately neither of those drinks were very good. The space is fantastic though and maybe the bartender is just learning. I'd go back but maybe would stick with the menu.

We started my last full day with a gorgeous walk around the Hancock Park neighborhood. So interesting to check out the (mostly) stunning homes in this area! So many different styles, and some that were so incredibly huge!
Then it was time to head to WeHo to meet Chuck and Wes for brunch at Connie and Ted's. Damn if this place isn't 1) completely delicious and 2) completely fun!

Everyone absolutely loved their drinks and their food. I went for the ½ lobster and it was sooooo good! 

And then we basically ordered all the desserts because we couldn't decide. The restaurant has a huge outside patio and then also their upstairs is open-air dining. Such a great time here.

We decided to wander around the WeHo neighborhood and ended up spying a gorgeous outdoor courtyard at a spot called Norah. We ended up having a couple more cocktails, which was a great decision as they were delicious!

And no, Wes and I did not plan our complimentary outfits. We both just have great taste :)

Back at Aaron's we got cleaned up for dinner and had a little snack of caviar, potato chips, and champagne in his lovely backyard. 

And then we had an absolutely stellar dinner at the newly opened Girl and the Goat. We ordered everything to share, and everything was soooo tasty!

As we enjoyed our goat liver mousse we noticed Chef Izzard working in the open kitchen. Very cool!

The next day I woke up to a message from Alaska Air that I had been upgraded to First Class for my return flight. I was not able to talk myself into the lounge this time, but once onboard I was seated next to a very handsome man who was fun to chat with during the trip. I'm calling my first flight since pandemic a win!

All Los Angeles photos here.

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