Friday, August 18, 2017

California Honeymoon: Mostly Napa

We had been planning a Napa trip for a while, and just been unable to execute it, you know, since we'd been trying and failing to have children for nearly eight years, so we knew it HAD to be a part of this trip to California. I'm calling this part Napa because although we spent a night in San Francisco proper, we determined that we aren't really city vacation people.

It was fun to walk the crazy hilly streets, but the hustle and bustle and the fancy historical hotel with incessant tipping necessary and very few amenities (no water glasses, but you could buy a water bottle for $7! What a bargoon!) were just not our thing, so we hightailed it to the woods before checking in at Napa.

This does not even do justice to the veritable mountain we climbed to get to the top.

Happy first day of vacation! Glowing thanks to the hike to the top, in the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

The woods we hotfooted to after our brief city stay were Muir Woods, which is a spectacular nature experience. Hot tip: They aren't kidding when they say that parking is crazy, and to take the shuttle. The $5 each for the shuttle from Pohono Street was the best $5 ever -- our car was safe, we got to enjoy the scenery on the insane twisty road to the woods without having to pay attention to the driving, and we didn't have to worry about parking (there were cars parked all along the road for at least a mile) or the dangerous walk to the car, and the shuttle picked you right back up with minimal waiting when you were ready to go home. We decided to hike the Canopy View Trail to the Fern Creek Trail and then back to the main trail to get to the visitor center area, per the recommendation of a young National Parks ranger near the entrance.

It was gorgeous.

Again, no justice is done to the massive scale of these redwood beasts.

At the beginning of the hike, all refreshed and such, breathing in the smells of redwood and eucalyptus

There was a trail we might have missed if there weren't people, that went up from the Canopy View trail to the top. We decided to give it a try...and we definitely weren't sorry.

Came out of the woods to this view

Pretty trail at the top

Yeah, it was gorgeous.

My favorite shot of Bryce from here, channeling a bear of some sort in a redwood trunk cave
It was incredible. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the flowers...I loved when it felt like it was just us on the trail (a feeling that didn't come as often as I'd have liked, as it's a REALLY popular national monument).

From Muir Woods we went to our hotel, The Inn on Randolph. This was probably my absolute favorite place to stay of the trip. I'd found it on a gluten free blog. Traveling with celiac disease is a bummer -- the last thing you want to do is get sick on your vacation (and destroy your nice clean hotel bathroom in the process). But you also want to eat delicious food. This is sometimes hard to accomplish, and I've been known to travel with packets of gluten free oatmeal in my purse as continental breakfasts are no good for me (unless they have Cheerios now, because I can have those since they started using certified gluten free oats. Yup, that's a thing.). Well. The Inn on Randolph has a TOTALLY GLUTEN FREE kitchen, and it is completely delicious. Gluten free gets a bad rap for being horrible tasting, and while there is definitely bad gluten free, there is also increasingly terrific gluten free. This place had two-course gluten free breakfasts (a sweet course followed by a savory course), and they baked chocolate chip cookies all the time and they were ALWAYS THERE in the kitchen for the sneaking. I felt like I was at my best friend's mom's house growing up, where chocolate chips (as they called the cookies) were a staple, like milk. I was definitely not going to have to smuggle dry goods in here. It was heaven.

Day One Course One: crepes with whipped cream, berries, and nutella.

Day One Course Two: Breakfast Salad with sauteed baby chard, bacon, hard boiled eggs, fruits, feta, and a completely delicious bacon balsamic dressing that I dipped my incredible gluten free toast into, per the recommendation of the innkeeper. NOM NOM NOM

Day Two Course One: Arroz Con Leche (basically insanely delicious rice pudding)

Day Two Course Two: Chicken Chilaquiles -- easily my favorite OF THE TRIP. I need to figure out how to make this. (Apparently they have TWO cookbooks, so hopefully it's in there?)

Day Three Course One: Housemade yogurt with gluten free granola and berries. 

Day Three Course Two: French toast with triple berry sauce and maple syrup, scrambled eggs, and turkey bacon
Everything was delicious. Bryce kept having to stop the impulse to smack bread out of my hand as if I'd lost my mind. He doesn't have to eat gluten free, but he thought everything was incredible, too.

Then, the room and space. It was just so beautiful and private and perfect for a honeymoon! We stayed in one of the cottages, and ours had a private garden with a gate that closed so we could basically call it our sitting area. The weather in Napa is nuts -- it got up to the 90s during the day (hoooot) but then would plunge down to the lower 60s at night (ahhhh). So we could really take advantage of the outdoor area, especially since it really doesn't rain.

Our lovely welcome, with gluten free snacks (that cellophane bag is COOKIES) and a half bottle of yummy cab (and how nice that our room had a butterfly pillow? I mean, they might all have butterfly pillows, but I felt it was serendipitous)
We totally took advantage of the gas fireplace. 

The room was so cozy, even the dresser was cute and cottage-y!

Enjoying our first night in a new hotel champagne toast on the steps

We think kissing pictures are awkward and weird

Felt like home!

Bye, Washington Cottage, we'll miss you!
Of course we went wine tasting, you sort of have to (plus we love wine). We booked two wineries -- Artesa and Robert Biale. Artesa because we heard it was the most beautiful surroundings, and Robert Biale because we love their wine and their story.

Artesa:
Yeah, I'd say that's beautiful.

Just us, enjoying champagne at 10:00 am (hey, someone had to take that slot!)

Enjoying some pinot noir in the tasting salon
The view out to the terrace from our seats at the salon bar


After our many, many pours with our fabulous pourer (? Is that the technical term?) who was WAY knowledgeable about wine and also a huge Hamilton fan

Robert Biale:

What a welcome! We did NOT knock over those glasses thankyouverymuch. (Also, go me for figuring out how to retouch this myself! I am learning things!)
Zinfandel! This is the vineyard for their Black Chicken wines. We also saw a fire break out on that hill as we were tasting, which at first seemed like a controlled burn and then planes circled it a la King Kong and dropped red firefighting pixie dust on it (I'm sure that's accurate) and put it out to a smolder...NEVER A BORING DAY

Beautiful, dusky zinfandel grapes. SO MUCH SELF CONTROL exercised in not popping one in my mouth.

So, their flagship wine is Black Chicken, which goes back to Prohibition when they made wine but would sell it illegally under the code name "black chicken" since they legally had a bunch of chickens. Pretty sneaky, eh? 

Okay, fine, this one's not black but it's a chicken!

Bye Biale, see you in the store! 
We heard people say that they were going to five wineries in one day (with a driver, of course). Two seemed like plenty for us, especially since we spent THREE HOURS at Artesa thanks to the amazing personality of our pourer and the variety of wines that we tasted. We did actually ship some Artesa home, because we tasted Single Vineyard wines you can't buy in the stores back home. Smart, Artesa. Biale we bought a bottle for a dinner one night because we know where we can find it (and we may rejoin their wine club, the Black Chicken Society).  Two was PLENTY if you want to take your time and get to know people and really find out interesting stuff about the wine (and maybe witness a small wildfire...).

Our second full day in Napa was Outdoor Exploration Day. We had intended to go to this park with redwoods and a frog pond and a nice 4 mile hike, but apparently that park was an hour and fifteen minutes from us and we had a late start after our delicious chilaquiles breakfast, so we decided to go for the kitsch. We drove up to Calistoga and went to the Petrified Forest, where there were redwoods petrified over a million years ago when Mt St Helena erupted and there was ashfall and stuff all over the area (part of what makes the soil great for wine!). It was a small park, maybe 2 miles of trail. A lot of trails were closed everywhere we went due to dangers from the wet winter weather or wildfires, or rattlesnakes. (!) I love snakes but can do without that kind of encounter!

Manzanita trees with interesting lichen at the Petrified Forest

This petrified log looks like the Loch Ness Monster! This area had the logs all mossy and natural so you could see what they looked like before they get powerwashed so you can see the petrified-ness

GIANT petrified redwood! I think this might have been the Queen Tree

Lookin' classy

Hey, Mt St Helena! So glad you're dormant now

Ashfall from the eruption. To the left was a sign that said KEEP OUT, RATTLESNAKES. Yessir, no problem.

Did I mention it was hot? My pastiness is not meant for such sun!  

Then, we headed to the completely hilarious Old Faithful Geyser Of California, which was a gloriously fun roadside tourist trap with an actual natural geyser, but also a funhouse mirror, a gift shop full of Turkish evil eye medallions, a sort-of petting zoo of goats -- Tennessee Fainting Goats, regular goats, four-horned sheep, and a Guard Llama, and a museum of geology that was interesting, but a small hot room of informational posters. It was the source of SO MUCH LAUGHTER though, so totally worth the $30 it cost for the two of us to get in.

The geyser when quiet. My guidebook from 2007 said it erupted every 40 minutes or so. Now it erupts every 5-10 minutes. Um, concerned much? WHY SO OFTEN if it's MAGMA that heats the water to boiling? Gaaaah
Thar she blows!

A particularly tall spew. Maybe 20, 25 feet in the air?

Because what's a geyser without a goat?

Hot four-horned sheep 

Twinning goats looking for snacks I don't have


It was a highly entertaining, and very, very sweaty day. We discovered that Yountville, a town maybe a couple miles north of the city of Napa, is incredibly fancypants, and they do not appreciate people who clearly have been hiking in the heat and the dust amidst goats coming into their restaurants for lunch. They are expecting more of a high-heeled, cold-shoulder-wearing, fresh-blowout type crowd. We discovered that we didn't give a shit, why have geysers and goats and petrified forests nearby if you don't expect people to visit them? Definitely more Napa than Yountville people (although Yountville is very lovely, I'm not knocking it, it was fine in the evening when we went for dinner all fancied up and showered...just shopping and fanciness is not really our bag, as much as we like fancy things).

The last thing about Napa is the food. I mean, I know I talked about the breakfasts, but the restaurants within walking distance of our inn (another huge plus for me -- I love not having to drive everywhere) were incredible. A place we absolutely loved was the Oxbow Market -- you could get anything there, and our favorite was a tacqueria called C Casa. It was completely delicious, you could sit outside, it wasn't fussy, and EVERYTHING WAS GLUTEN FREE. They also sold Cate & Co baked goods, so I could have a sourdough baguette and a tequila lime loaf cake and things like that, all celiac safe. That is such a gift, to eat like a normal human and not have your body betray you (as it seems to want to do over, and over, and over).

Guacamole and chips to start

We each got an avocado taco

I got a rotisserie duck taco (!) 

Bryce had the skirt steak taco

We also went to dinner at a restaurant called Celadon, and it was very tasty (and gluten free friendly), and walkable!
Mmmmm, most delicious filet I've had in a really long time, with roasted wild mushrooms and a summer squash/potato gratin

Bryce had the pan seared scallops with corn relish and pea shoots. It was so yummy, but he did have a little entree envy when he tasted my beef.

Our last night in Napa we drove up to Yountville to go to Mustard's Grill. We shared the amazing mushroom tamales, I had the smoked duck, and Bryce had the famous Mongolian Porkchop (definitely not gluten free), and we had the butterscotch pots de creme. We had the flight of cabs, which although it looks like there's more wine on the table than everything else, they were small pours so it's less than it seems. :)

All gussied up for the occasion

Mmmm, tamales

That's a lot of liquid goodness right there.

Lest you think we got too fancypants... Yes I did this in a fancy Napa eatery, to protect my dress. Busty lady = messy clothes more often than not. Such a classy dame...

One of the great benefits to walking everywhere from our inn was the sunset view over the river. It was gorgeous. I would definitely return for a repeat visit! Between the inn, the nature, the food, the wine, the scenery, the walkability, the gluten-free-friendliness -- it was a great start to our honeymoon.

City of Napa at sunset

Next up: Carmel-by-the-Sea!