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:

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