Road Trips: Livermore Outlets

Raise your hand if you love shopping! If you’re like me, and love to find the best deals, then you might like the outlets.  I was not too keen on outlet shopping until my friend Maria (shopping queen) said you got to go to Livermore – so, we took a road trip and she introduced me to some higher end stores that I really liked.  You could always go out to San Francisco to find some deals or pay top dollar, but why do that when Livermore is just down the highway from us?

Livermore is an easy, 25-minute drive from downtown Walnut Creek and has all the big retailers: Cole Haan, J. Crew, Michael Kors, Bloomigdales, Nike, Banana Republic and more. However I just focused on a unique few; All Saints, Zadig & Voltaire, Kate Spade and Tory Burch.

Obviously, Walnut Creek has its own awesome shopping, but not the ones I mentioned above. Livermore is a pretty cool East Bay city that will give you a new perspective and a new slate of stores to check out. And unlike some of my last few road trip posts, you can actually drive to this one!

Just head down 680 South to 580 east until you get to Livermore, the mall is on the right – big new buildings you can’t miss. You can literally spend the next full day shopping for clothes, home goods, food, drink, and more.  Bring your walking shoes!

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Road Trips: Whistler

Okay, now I’m really stretching this whole Road Trips theme. You could, hypothetically, drive all the way to Canada from the Bay Area. It would take a solid 16 hours and would be a pretty nice drive through Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. But, I’d recommend flying.

I recently took a 2 1/2-day trip to Whistler. I left at 4 pm on Saturday afternoon and got to Whistler at 10 pm. I skied Sunday and Monday and flew back to the bay area at 6 am on Tuesday. I was back at work by noon! With the tail end of the skiing season approaching, Whistler – which always has great snow – recently got dumped on much like Tahoe. I met a couple of friends up there and had amazing snow to ski. It was a great trip.

I had a room at the Westin on the hill on the Blackcomb side. The Whistler-Blackcomb mountain resort is also massive, it has a glacier and the longest peak-to-peak tram in the world. There is also lost of expert skiing available. I wonder if the weather is a little different because the resort is so close to the ocean, but the clouds would come in and out. At one point I felt like I was skiing in soup, could not see in front of me and we just happened to be in the Whistler Bowl (a black diamond run) at the end of the day.

And if you aren’t feeling the snow vibe, but just want to explore the area, Whistler is a really cool place itself. The village has some great restaurants; we ate at 21 Steps, which serves great comfort food and a good selection of fish, pork and meat. I would also explore the rest of the area if you have the time. Just outside the Whistler area, you can trek back to Vancouver and explore one of the underrated cities of the Pacific Northwest.

Next year: Revelstoke and Heli-skiing!

Road Trips: Albany Bulb

With this installation of Road Trips, we’re taking a bit more of a bohemian angle. Fittingly, we’ll be going just to the fringe of Berkeley, to the little town of Albany. It’s not for a park, or a theater, or anything like that. I’m actually recommending a visit to a landfill with a wild history and a ton of unique art.

In the late 1930’s, the creation of the Albany “Bulb” began. Land was leveled and moved around and pushed into the Albany peninsula for the creation of the racetrack at Golden Gate Fields. Over time, the land was protected by Save The Bay, and became somewhat of a lost project. For many years, the peninsula served as an occasional hiking and dog-walking spot, as well as being home to many local species of plants and animals.

Eventually, the Bulb became a homeless haven, with as many as 60 squatters living there before being evicted (some forcibly) by local authorities. While that population was on the Bulb, they created sculptures, and paintings, and even a makeshift library that has since been burned to the ground. But, today, it is still a sight to see: views of the Bay, art everywhere, unique traces of generations past.

For those who aren’t into the graffiti, wooden art or macabre feel (kinda feels like a scene from The Walking Dead), there is a beach nearby that dogs can be on without a leash. The Albany Bulb is a weird, exciting, confusing display of East Bay history.

You can easily spend half a day wandering its pathways and finding strange art from decades ago. Try going out there on a nice day, and you can always go back into Berkeley for a nice lunch or dinner on your way home!

Road Trips: Sutro Baths

Our road trip blogs have ranged far and wide over the months, but one easy, must-do road trip from the East Bay is a simple jaunt across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco! You can’t beat the beauty of San Francisco, which is truly one of the most spectacular places in the world, and right in our backyard.

Of all the cool things to do in the city, one of my favorite experiences is hiking around Sutro Baths at the furthest West point. If you drive in over the Bay Bridge (or, if you want to save some gas, take BART and then a city bus), follow directions to Ocean Beach and take in the sights and smells of the ocean (warning: it’s always windy!).

From there, you can walk up the hill past the famous Cliff House restaurant (their bar is actually affordable if you need a quick drink!). On the other side of that are the Sutro Baths. Back in the day, this area was a public bath house right on the ocean that look more like Roman ruins now than anything else.

Extend your day after exploring the Baths, by following one of the mild hiking trails next to the upper parking lot, which will take you through tall trees to the Golden Gate Bridge side of the peninsula. You’ll get a clear view (most days) of the bridge, the ocean and the Marin headlands.

And to think, all these picturesque views are contained in a tiny corner of San Francisco! If you’ve never taken the kiddos to see this part of San Francisco, I’d highly recommend it!

Road Trips: Bay Area Hikes with a bar at the end

John Solaegui, a realtor in San Francisco (ironically, I went to high school with his sister!), shared a blog about five Bay Area hikes that end with a reward – in this case, a drink! I know we typically talk about actual road trips here, but hiking is just as much a way of life in the Bay Area as driving, so we can make an exception this time around, plus you most likely will have to drive to the destination!

See below for a summary of the 5 in the initial blog, as well as two I’ve added myself!

Hike #1: Grape Stomp Trail (2.4 miles) in Sonoma

The best part of this hike is that you start AND end at Bartholomew Park Winery. So, if you lose motivation at the beginning, you can just sit down with a bottle and enjoy the sunshine anyway. But, for the purpose of respecting the hike, let’s talk about Grape Stomp Trail – it is a 2.4-mile loop that starts and finishes at the winery, just to the left of the tasting room. You can see views of San Pablo Bay and cross Arroyo Seco Creek twice. If you stay left on the You-Walk Miwok Trail, you can “summit” the trail at 640 ft.

Hike #2: Zinfandel Trail (2.9 miles) in Cupertino

A beautiful hike that starts from the southern end of Picchetti Winery’s parking lot and loops back a few miles later. The winery itself is a sight to behold – more than 100 years old, shaded by oak trees, and home to a brood of peacocks! On the hike, you’ll walk past wild roses, small ponds, and a creek. At the end, you’ll end your day with a nice glass of Picchetti’s famous red wine.

Hike #3: Dipsea Trail or Sun Trail (1.5-4 miles) in Mill Valley

You may have heard of this one. A hike through part of the Dipsea Trail in Mill Valley will take you to the Nature Friends Tourist Club. The German lodge, buried within the trees of Mt. Tam and erected in 1917, is a local favorite. But you either have to be a member, or plan your hike on a day that they open to non-members. You can hike straight from Panoramic Highway down the Sun Trail, or start in Mill Valley and climb all the steps for the first part of the Dipsea Trail to get there and enjoy some German lagers, food and music!

Hike #4: Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley Trail to Green Gulch Trail (9.7 miles) in Mill Valley

Wow, that’s a mouthful. But so is the meal and drink at the Pelican Inn when you arrive. If you’ve hiked the entirety of the Dipsea Trail, you’ve probably seen the Pelican Inn at some point. This is a little bit longer, more difficult route that will start you at Muir Beach, take you through the Tennessee Valley Trail (can’t-miss views of the ocean!) in Mill Valley, and eventually out onto the Green Gulch Trail. That will bring you back close to the Muir Beach parking lot, where you’ll be ready to gorge and splurge at the Inn.

Hike #5: Coastal Trail/Lands End Trail (3.3-6.6 miles) in San Francisco

Ah, a Bay Area classic! For being a big city, San Francisco has an enormous amount of beautiful, natural hiking spots within it. One of the best, and most popular, is the Lands End trail that gives you unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you take this trail down the coast, past the Sutro Baths, you’ll end up at one of the most iconic restaurants (with a surprisingly affordable bar), Cliff House. You can’t beat this one!

Now, for a few of my more local favorites…

Hike #6: Danville Fire Trail in Las Trampas 

Las Trampas Regional Wilderness towers over Danville on the West side of 680, and most people don’t seem to bother with it. There are so many hiking spots in the Bay Area (and the East Bay specifically), that it might not seem worth the trouble. But the Danville Fire Trail loops back onto itself, and spits you out just a few blocks from the cute downtown area of Danville, where you can do anything from grab a beer at any restaurant or taste wine at Auburn James.

Hike #7: Lafayette Reservoir Loop

No list like this would be complete without a local favorite like the Lafayette Reservoir. You can take your fur baby up for a short loop around the reservoir, or take a friend on the long loop for spectacular views of the East Bay. Once you’ve looped back to the start, tack on another half hour walk, or jump back in your car, to get to downtown Lafayette. Once there, you have no shortage of drink options, but I’d highly recommend Rustic Tavern, Chow, and The Cooperage.

Road Trips: Mt. Rose

Winter is here, and it’s time to hit the slopes! Hopefully, we get some more snow this week! I love going up to Tahoe to ski, especially when the sky is blue and the snow is powdery. But, unlike many who probably prefer Northstar, Squaw and Heavenly, I love Mt.Rose!  It is where I learned to ski growing up, it is a local’s resort and it has some great runs, especially if the chutes are open.

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Mt. Rose is the highest peak in Tahoe and usually gets the most snow every winter. But it’s also just a cool place to hang out! Most of the mountains in Tahoe have villages, bars, restaurants, ice skating rinks, and other things to help you relax and recover after a day on the snow. And Mt. Rose is no exception, but it has a more casual local vibe with fun activities on the mountain and just some great runs (“Northwest” is my favorite), including a few with a view of Lake Tahoe!

In fact, they have some unique events like the Santa Crawl, where you can get heavily discounted lift tickets by dressing up as Santa for the day while you’re on the mountain. They also do a Beerfest, New Year’s Eve spectacular, poker runs and many other events throughout the year. Recently, they also added a “Magic” lift, a dual conveyer belt for one of their hills (it’s the 1st one in North America and only the 2nd one in the world!).

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I always have a great time when I go to Mt. Rose. Usually, I stay in Reno and then it is just a 20-minute drive up the hill, but it is also easily accessed from Incline or Kings Beach; even from Northstar. They have a newer lodge on the old Slide side of the hill and many locals on a nice day will tailgate in the parking area. The Mt. Rose lodge is more crowded, but the bar is my favorite, with no kids allowed and a taco/burrito bar.

Road Trips: Knee Deep Brewing

People know Auburn, CA for many things: a gateway to Lake Tahoe and a multitude of ratable rivers and some great local camping spots. My kids know it for the last In-N-Out before Tahoe. I know it as the place where my friends Jane and Troy live!

But, what many may not know, is that Auburn is also home to a great brewery called Knee Deep! I recently stopped there when I was traveling back from Tahoe to meet up with my friends and a have quick drink. I loved it!

They have an extensive list of beers, corn hole, and picnic tables inside and out. There is only snack food, but they do have a food truck that is occasionally parked out front.  

The Brewery itself is a family-run independent Microbrewery founded in 2010. It has tasty beer that is unique in its style. They recently won an award for an IPA, and have multiple award-winning beers. And, as a bonus: the tasting room is both pet and kid-friendly!

It’s been cool to see a small, local brewery like Knee Deep gain in popularity so heavily that it’s now sold in 30 different states and six foreign countries! I’d highly recommend stopping by next time you want a break on the way to and from Tahoe, it is just a mile from off the freeway exit of Bell Road – you won’t regret it!

Road Trips: Carmel

For all the beautiful, picturesque landscapes in California, it seems like the Central coast can often be overlooked. Everyone knows about the National Parks, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, the SoCal beaches, etc. But one of the best gems of the entire state is just a couple hours South of the East Bay!

If you’ve never taken a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway to reach the 17-mile drive through Carmel and Monterey, you don’t know what you’re missing! You’ll hit miles of stunning coastline, as well as some of the cutest inland towns you can imagine.

One of my favorite day trips is a jaunt down to Carmel. I love all the little shops, restaurants and the beautiful beach to enjoy the Pacific Ocean at sunset. Carmel is also very dog-friendly – it seems that everybody has a dog and they are free to run on the beach (where most gravitate to the right side). I have even gone to a Weimaraner gathering here. Anybody who has rescued a Weim from NorCal Weim Rescue gets an invite. It is a fun sight to see: a bunch of Weimaraners playing and frolicking in the waves.

Monterey and Carmel also have a great wine scene and amazing golf. It’s such an easy trip, and so close to home. I recently did the 17-mile drive; that was a first for me after all these years and definitely worth the money and scenic stops. Now might be the perfect time to go, too. It is Fall, so the leaves will be brilliant and the weather will be perfectly crisp…a perfect day for a stroll on the beach, as long as you are bundled up and there is no fog!

 

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Road Trips: Concord Pavilion

Have some of our other “Road Trips” installments been too far away for your liking? Love music and being outdoors like me? Then this blog is for you!

Recently, I took a short trip to the Concord Pavilion – basically the mini-me of Shoreline Amphitheater – to see One Republic play a show. It was a rare warm summer night; we sat on the grass, brought in sushi and enjoyed the show. Fitz and the Tantrums were the opening act and they were also very good. It’s a really fun place to hang out with friends, grab a drink and enjoy an outside concert.

One Republic is one of my favorite bands. This is the third time I have seen them – but the Super Bowl arena in downtown San Francisco didn’t really count since it was so crowded and with limited space. The front guy Ryan Tedder is extremely multi-talented. I didn’t realize until this concert that he wrote “Rumor Has It” for Adele, plus songs for Rihanna, Ed Sheeran and many more artists.

The Pavilion is bigger than you’d expect for a venue buried in the East Bay, holding up to 12,500 guests. When I was there, it was packed but didn’t feel suffocating.

Other acts on the schedule include country stars like Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, as well as Janet Jackson. Kings of Leon, Linkin Park, Fall Out Boy and Nicki Minaj are some of the performers who have graced the Pavilion stage in the past couple years.

To get to the Pavilion, just drive up to Kirker Pass in Concord and follow the signs. It is a fun evening the whole family can enjoy!

Road Trips: Great American Solar Eclipse

Sky gazers are scrambling to find a spot where they can see the shadow of the moon completely obscure the sun for a few moments on August 21st.

Obviously, I wouldn’t expect you to actually make travel plans this late (you wouldn’t be able to anyway…any city in the path of totality during the eclipse has been fully booked for months!).   See what the eclipse will look like in Walnut Creek (or anywhere else) with the peak at 10:15 am Monday.

The eclipse path will stretch from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.  I know many people who have already left for Oregon to snag first come, first serve campsites. Ironically, Sun Valley, Idaho is in the path for a total eclipse and it is one my favorite spots to ski, not to mention it’s beauty for hiking in the summer. Already a popular tourist hotspot, Sun Valley will be overrun with thousands of tourists hoping to catch a clear glimpse (with eclipse glasses on, of course) of the rare spectacle.

Everybody is getting on the solar eclipse band wagon! In Hopkinsville, KY just two miles from the point of greatest totality, Casey Jones Distillery (makers of Eclipse Moonshine!) have dubbed their spirit the official drink of 2017 Solar Eclipse.

Those who have seen eclipses in the past described them as “magical” and “spiritual.”  It will be the first time in 38 years that a solar eclipse passes through the entirety of the continental United States, so it’s an event worth traveling for, but if you are like me – not making special plans  and at work – don’t forget to take a few minutes to step outside to marvel at this wondrous celestial event. Don’t forget to wear eclipse glasses!