Anyone who knows anything about me, knows how much I love California. I would say five trips in less than three years, with another one coming up at the end of May, is a pretty good indicator of that.
California makes my heart grow just a little bit more every time I go there. Despite being born on a little island in the middle of the frigid North Atlantic Ocean, there is something about California that feels like home. It feels just right.
I HEART SAN FRANCISCO
A few weekends back, I did a last minute trip to visit one of my best friends from back home who’s living in the city for the year. It was her birthday weekend, and we were both craving some old fashioned girl time.
You see, I have a little bit of a love affair with San Francisco, so when she called to see if I could come, it didn’t take much to twist my rubber arm.
San Francisco was one of the main reasons I moved to the west coast in the first place. I’d never visited Vancouver before moving here, but fell head over heels for the west coast after a work trip took me to the bay area many years ago. There was something about the west coast feel that was unforgettable. The pace was a little slower, the air a little cooler (referring to hipness not temperature) and the vibe was something I felt in my veins. I just couldn’t shake it.
My last visit to the city in November was filled with local sightseeing, blurry nights, Sonoma day-trips and Haight-Ashbury exploring. This trip, there were two main goals: eat great food and get outside (and hopefully see a beach).
GOAL 1: EAT GREAT FOOD (AND WINE)
After flying in on Friday afternoon, I Ubered (yes, that’s a verb now) straight to my girlfriend’s house where there were three bottles of local red wine for me to choose from. If this was going to be my toughest choice of the weekend, what could go wrong?!
Having tried wines from Bartholomew and Robert Mondavi wineries, I kicked off the weekend with the 2012 Hall “T BAR T Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon and I had nothing short of wine the wine lottery!
STARBELLY, SAN FRANCISCO
Our first stop of the trip was a reservation at a well-known Castro neighbourhood, California-style comfort cafe, Starbelly. Which a generous charcuterie plate, expansive cocktail options, a simplistic, yet delicious menu and an unforgettable outdoor patio, this stop was going to be hard to beat.
PARKSIDE CAFE, STINTON BEACH
Saturday afternoon, a sunny 6-mile hike led us to a sleepy beach town with a craving for cold ciders, nourishing lunch and beach time. The informal, yet sophisticated Parkside Cafe was steps from both the trail end and the beach and offered food made from fresh, healthy and local ingredients. The fish tacos were so good, we ordered two rounds and they had a patio and ciders…it fit the bill for what we were looking for!
COMMONWEALTH, SAN FRANCISCO
My only request of the weekend was to try and hit up a Michelin star restaurant, an endeavour that has been on my bucket list since hibernating all winter and watching every food and chef documentary or series on Netflix. San Francisco is a mecca for food and drink, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity!
We managed to find Commonwealth, a little gem which was newly starred in 2016 and could accommodate my friends’ gluten-free needs. Situated a very unsuspecting building in the Mission area, that is reminiscent of the outskirts of Vancouver’s Gastown, the place was understated but totally hip.
As you do when going to a Michelin caliber restaurant, we chose the chef’s tasting menu with the wine pairing, and oh boy was it ever good! I am, by no means, a self-proclaimed foodie or even a refined food-eater given my affinity for the delicious red sauce known as ketchup. In this situation, I let my casual food pickiness fall to the way side and opened my mind (and belly) to each of the six courses put in front of me. I ate seafood I’ve never heard of and frothy things that were weird but oddly necessary. Each course got increasingly more substantial and delicious leaving us satisfied yet curious as to what was next.
Anyone who knows me also knows I am an avid red wine drinker. I can drink whites, but big, bold, heavy reds are right in my wheelhouse. Course three (artichoke, black truffle, brioche, burnt lemon, parmesan and wild greens) came with one of the best white wines that I’ve ever tasted – Valdesil Godello – it was bold and memorable.
Needless to say, up to the last bite of this meal was one of the highlights of the trip.
SWANTON STRAWBERRY FARM STAND, DAVENPORT
On Sunday, we hit up Highway 1 (another bucket list item) and headed to Santa Cruz for a day in the sun. The coast hugging drive offered all the beach views I could dream of, enough to shake the last memory of the rainy Vancouver winter.
It may seem odd to lump this highway farm stand in with my culinary adventures of the weekend, but this little place is a definite stop if you are heading to Santa Cruz – it embodied everything I love about the west coast with a twist of the simplicity I was familiar with growing up on the east coast.
They offer homemade jams, tasty organic snacks and treats and vintage table games. They had an endless selection of vinyl (“you had me at hello!”), young, vibrant and pleasant staff and scored bonus points for setting up the till on the honour system!
ODONATA WINES TASTING ROOM
We made a quick stop to pick up my friend’s wine club shipment at a local tasting room while in the area. A quick pit stop turned into a fun wine tasting and an hour of gabbing with the winery owner, Denis Hoey and hearing his unconventional tale of ended up in the wine business. If you have picked up on my recent posting theme, I’m very curious how people got where they are in life. I feel like asking these questions opens up possibility. If you find yourself in the area, stop in and say hi to Denis or his father, who also pours wine in the tasting room.
ASSEMBLY, SANTA CRUZ
GOAL 2: GET OUTSIDE
After spending almost an entire month under a rain cloud in Vancouver, I was craving the California sunshine. Saturday morning we woke up to a typical foggy San Francisco morning and immediately decided to head straight out of the city in search of sunshine.
We both were craving a hike and I needed the beach, so we combined the two and set out on the 6-mile Dipsea trail from Muir Woods to Stinton Beach. We spent a few glorious hours in the sun, without a stitch of fog in sight. The trail traces the Redwood Creek in Muir Woods National Monument watershed from the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais ending in a path straight to the Pacific Ocean. I immediate took my shoes and socks off and dug my toes in the white sand – I was home.
COASTAL HIGHWAY 1 TO SANTA CRUZ
The weekend culminated in us hitting Highway 1 and driving to Santa Cruz. As I mentioned, driving the coastal highway in California has been on my bucket list since moving to the west coast. I was like a kid in a candy shop, nose pressed to the window most of the sub two hours it took to get to our destination. I have dreams of doing the full drive from BC to Mexico, so I let this day trip serve as a trailer for adventures to come.
UNTIL NEXT TIME CALI
Needless to say, as I hopped on the flight at 6 am the following Monday morning to head straight back to my cubicle life, the trip was a success.
My heart was open and flowing with the pure love I have for California and the promise of future adventures. I had spent the weekend with one of my besties in one of my favourite places – a true embodiment of the phrase ‘joie de vivre’.
Until next time California, next stop: The Bottleneck Festival in Napa Valley!