Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Coastal California: A Blissful Vacay

You step into the California sun, and sometimes it feels like a different sun. Brighter, lighter and more peaceful than the New York version. It felt like this after we left the confines of the LA area, but while we were there... 
We picked up our Avis car, a sweet red Chevy Cruze, and made our way to the first In and Out Burger joint we could find.
On our first and only day in LA, we decided to hit the beach for some blue skies and sweet sun action. We ended up on the deserted sands of Will Rogers Beach after a delicious lunch at Lenny's Deli. I got the delicious deluxe chicken sandwich and it really just blew my mind. The fresh-food-in-California-adventure started here. 

[Pic note: Completely empty and pristine beach]

After a couple hours of sun-soaking, we decided to head toward our next destination: Yosemite National Park! We took 395 up through the Mojave Desert and made a pit stop in the Red Rock Canyon. It was a beautiful (but scorching) little mountain area where you could actually see the work of tectonic plates shifting and throwing billions of tons of gorgeous multi-layered rock into a nice 17 degree kilter. It wasn't exactly a fully furnished tourist spot so be careful here. It's hot and not that easy to figure out which way you came from. I had an "I'm lost in the desert moment!"

One of a few lessons I learned on this trip was taught at our next pit stop: Bishop, California. Unlike New York City, EVERYTHING closes at 9pm. Maybe not the bars, but on a long road trip in California, I was hoping for some delicious food stops. What we got was the Upper Crust. It was the only food establishment in (probably) hundreds of miles that was open. It was 'meh'. It was here that I also learned what a schooner (a draft beer size) was. It was larger than an American pint. After reading up on it, I am more confused. Apparently, it hails from Australia and is 2/3 the size of an English pint. [Baffled]
That evening, we stayed at Shiloh Inns in Mammoth Lake. It was a pretty great hotel considering where we were and where we'd just driven through (a desert/middle of nowhere). They had a 24-hour pool/sauna/hot tub/fitness center and free breakfast that prepared us for one of my favorite parts of the trip!
BTW, We used Orbitz to find places to stay the entire trip. We didn't book anything more than a day in advance because we wanted to be free as a bird to do as we pleased! Most of the places we stayed in were almost surprisingly nice and we never paid more than $130 a night.

Ryan wanted to visit Mono Lake  before we hit Yosemite. It was a spectacular area. Tuffa formations were really a sight to be seen. It felt quite warm, but in the not-too-far distance you could actually see snow-capped mountains!

Afterwards, we did the Yosemite upper region. We just got lost on a few hikes around mammoth boulders and beautiful lakes. Just go out and explore. That is my only advice.
The following day, we did the valley. Bring bug spray. The Mist Trail hike is definitely worth it. Strenuous but beautiful. And the waterfall mist is so rejuvenating after a couple of miles on this path!

San Francisco
Our next stop was San Fran! We didn't have too much time to spend here and Ryan had already been so we casually wondered around a few neighborhoods and let chance guide our days here.  

Some notable stops:
The Nob Hill Hotel is one of the most beautiful hotels I've ever stayed in. It was so unique and ornate. I would definitely recommend it!
[Pic note: Nob Hill Hotel room. How ornate!]

One afternoon, while strolling around, a friendly native mentioned that a classical music festival was happening at a nearby church and if we were free we should attend. So we did! Old Saint Mary's Cathedral: Summer Mozart Festival. What a lovely little treat!

[Pic note: Old Saint Mary's Cathedral]

City Lights Bookstore: Great poetry section upstairs! I picked up a multi-language book for my dad that had Chinese (translated) poetry that was a huge hit!
Coit Tower: Great view of the city. We didn't feel like paying the $7 to ride the elevator up to the top, mostly there was a line and also because the view from the "ground" was already pretty spectacular. We walked a lot of San Fransisco hills to get to this tower!
[Pic note: A view of Alcatraz on top of some art school... we may have loitered...]  

Golden Gate Park Rose Garden:  The park was a beautiful getaway right next to the city. Ryan and I wandered around for a few hours, catching dozens of turtles and even blue heron on the lake!

[Pic Note: Admiring a rose]

Food highlights:
Coco Bang: Korean hole-in-the-wall restaurant by our hotel.
Cafe Chanta: Hookah bar with friendly patrons and owners. We hung out here almost all night!
Thad's Cozy Cafe: Small restaurant with the most darling employees. We came here every morning!

Four Seas Restaurant in San Fran's Chinatown was a bit of a let down. We got a few different dim sum platters and they were all rather unsavory.
Sabella and La Torre: There are a dozen different seafood shacks and restaurants along the Fisherman's Wharf. Every one of them has cat callers beckoning you in. This was the one I chose. I can't vouch for the other ones but I wasn't that excited about my meal. I got fish tacos, expecting super-fresh and juicy fillings. Instead I got a random white fish covered in SALSA! It just didn't make sense to completely stampede over a mild flavor with salsa like that. The clam chowder was delicious though.

Point Reyes National Seashore: Beautiful off the beaten trail site to visit. It was very windy the day we went out so it was completely deserted. Supposedly when in season, whales and other animal sitings occur frequently here. We didn't see anything good but it was still worth the drive for the miles of cow pastures we drove through!

Jack London Lodge: Really sweet little hotel with gorgeous interiors, Pool and hot tub. I'd stay there again. 
Fig Cafe in Glen Ellen. Pork Shoulder was delish. Flounder was a great choice as well. NO Corkage fee so stop by a vineyard and pick up  a bottle before dinner!

BR Cohn was our favorite vineyard. They even have an olive oil store on site as well!
Sunflower Caffe: Smoked Duck Sandwich was eh. Goat Cheese/Avocado/Bacon on sourdough was a much better choice. Outdoor patio is this lush garden with overhang to provide the perfect shade.
Cornerstone Gardens: Avant Garde art space with evolving exhibits all year long. Definitely a fun spot to roam around for a couple of hours.

[Pic note: Some Cornerstone art]

Arcata and the journey

[Pic note: 'Somewhere' on the coast by the Marine Lab]
Fred Telonicher Marine Laboratory: Cool pitstop along the way up the coast! There's a free small aquarium and random beach paths where you can (seasonally) spot sea animals.
Cafe Mokka and Finnish Country Sauna and Tubs: This was one of the most interesting stops of our trip! The cafe has a large backyard where there are private saunas and hot tubs available for rent in 30 minute increments. They're all individually fenced in with a small changing room so you can basically have a 1-4 person sauna or hot tub to yourself. How cool, right?!
Six Rivers Brewery: Fun brewery with interesting flavors (pepper beer anyone?)

[Pic note: Six Rivers Brewery sampler!]

Crosswinds in Arcata. Complimentary champagne on weekends with brunch!
Kinetic Grand Championships on Memorial Day weekend was a bizarre "race" of sorts where contestants need to build human powered vehicles (essentially bike-powered) that will traverse miles across Humboldt County, CA. The artwork here is phenomenal!

Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area.

[Pic Note: Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area siting!]


Eugene is a sleepy town with loads of happy hippy people. Biking around town and to the U was one of the highlights of our visit! A couple of other places we visited were:
Sweet Life desserts: So many options, so little belly space!

Falling Sky Brewery: A friend's friend opened this amazing brewery with great food. Great beer. Great burger. Can't go wrong.

Blairalley Arcade bar! That's right: Beer and games all under one roof. Asteroid is free!

Last Stop: Portland, Oregon

Hotel Deluxe: Free upgrade for talking up the concierge. We ended up in a beautiful suite where the Easter bunny might stay if he vacationed in Portland. It was soft, plush, and so many pastel colors :)
Pok Pok: The spicy fish sauce wings are the best wings I've ever eaten in my entire life. And what good fortune: They opened a location in New York a month after my return!!!
Rogue Ales Public House and Distillery: Nothing seems to open very late on the west coast including their bars. This was a sweet spot with a great beer selection but they were closed by midnight on my birthday! boo :(
[Pic note: My Instagram shot of the bottle selection at Rogue]

What a wonderful trip we had roaming up the California coast to Oregon. It's a trip I won't soon forget and hope to repeat again some day.

::Happy traveling!::


  1. That pic of the Tuffa formations is beautiful! Would love to see/ hike that one day-

    1. I have to locate my actual "camera" photos soon to add to this post. What I currently have is just the phone shots :/

  2. you did not let natural and cultural attractions interfere with good eating and drinking. good work! btw, i dont know if they still talk about it much, but BR Cohn (of the winery) made his money as the manager of 70s superstars the Doobie Brothers (who are back on the road again)


  3. Wow, I'm going to need to get some serious advice and suggestions for my upcoming trip to the US of A. I may just replicate your California itinerary. How long was that part of the trip in total bearing in mind I need to leave some time for NYC and a re-union with an old friend!

    1. The entire trip took about 12 days but we drove and took our time. If you're short for time, I would definitely at least try for wine country (Sonoma or Napa).
      Can't wait for your visit!!!