Visit AXR Winery In St. Helena

It doesn’t get much better than AXR Winery in St. Helena. The winery is known for its Cabernets and for being smack dab in the middle of a stunningly beautiful setting. It is a truly excellent experience, whether you are a winery expert or someone visiting for the first time.

A couple of years ago, the big fire in that area came within about 90 feet of their tasting room. Thankfully, the tasting room was spared. The winery is located in a historic estate in the heart of St. Helena. They describe the tasting experience as “down-home” and private, which I have to agree with.

Though the tastings are more on the expensive side, it’s worth it to fully immerse yourself in this lovely winery. The cost makes sense when you realize their bottle of reds range between $190 run you $540; it is a lot, but it is high-quality wine in the most famous wine region of the country. Luckily, I was there with my friend Doug who is a member and our tasting was free!

When I visited, I truly enjoyed every moment of my wine-tasting experience. I highly recommend giving AXR a try next time you visit the Napa Valley area.

I love the description they give for their vision….

If only these vines could talk, they would tell you stories of the old Napa Valley. The history of our estate is compounded in layers; rooted in historic tales of fierce Native American hunting grounds, wild west pioneers and the first woman vintner of California in 1886. It has changed hands over the course of 134 years to become a brewery, restaurant, inn, winery and saloon. Tales of love, lust, heartbreak, murders and great fortune create an imaginative backdrop to our present-day vision of AXR. Today, we are a winery that pays homage to its history and blazes the trail of excitement and innovation in napa valley as the pioneers before us did.

We want to be reminded every day to live fully and to leave a lasting impression on our layer of history. Named after the axr rootstock (aramond x rupestris) that was so prominent in building the modern California wine industry, axr#1 eventually succumbed to phylloxera and most of California wine country was left as a blank canvas. Vintners now had a chance to replant and to rethink the entire structure of the vineyards; attention was paid to the terroir and unique varietals were researched. This was truly a turning point in the wine industry as we know it. AXR invites you to go on a journey through the past, present and future of Napa Valley.

Road Trips: Mammoth Lakes To Hope Valley

I am finishing my three-part road trip blog, inspired by the destinations suggested in 7×7, about hidden Northern California gems. Here is the first one, about Mariposa to Placerville. Here is the second, about Leggett to Ferndale. And, today, we discover a route from Mammoth Lakes to Hope Valley. Enjoy!

This is a road trip that takes you along the spine of the Sierras, beginning at Mammoth Lakes. If you’ve visited Mammoth, you are familiar with its outdoor opportunities, ghost towns, hot springs, and amazing mountain passes. This route also has comfort, like the Sierra Nevada Resort, and highly rated restaurants like Vulcania.

On the way, don’t miss these turn-offs:

Bodie,a ghost town off US-395. Credit: 7×7

Devil’s Postpile National Monument: Devil’s Postpile is a natural wonder and the monument also boasts breathtaking views and hikes. I have hiked this area a long time ago and staying in Mammoth Lakes in the summer and doing the Devils Postpile was a highlight!

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve: An ancient lake with unique natural structures protruding from the water (the “tufa”).

Bodie State Historic Park: This eerie Gold Rush-era attraction still shows the ghost town of Bodie’s deserted streets and abandoned homes.

Travertine Hot Springs: Treat yourself after a long drive! Travertine is composed of three natural pools just south of Bridgeport.

If you want to further understand this area a great book is Miracle Country by Kendra Atleework. She lived in the Owens Valley of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, where annual rainfall averages five inches and in drought years measures closer to zero. It also talks about how Mulholland and his engineering feat to get water to Los Angeles and took it from the Eastern Sierras which had a big impact on Owens Valley and the future of fires.

Fall Is In The Air!

If you are wanting a day trip or an overnight get away, this helpful poster was shared by Fidelity National Title, giving monthly fall activity ideas, including those for kids, in the Apple Hill area between Sacramento and Placerville. They even marked them on a handy Highway 50 driving route for you to enjoy.

This area is close enough to the Bay Area that I think it’s well worth a day trip up to one of these orchards or vineyards to see the fall colors and take part in some fun activities, fruit picking or wine tasting! I know the photo is a little bit hard to read, so I have included all of the still-relevant info below.

For general information about this region’s activities, visit applehill.com, email info@applehill.com, or call (530) 644-7692.

October

  • Oct. 20: Wreath Making & Wine Tasting at Smokey Ridge Ranch & Winery (530-903-6470)
  • Oct. 28: Vampires & Vines at Fenton Herriot Vineyards (530-642-22021)

November

  • Nov. 2: Wreath Making & Wine Tasting at Smokey Ridge Ranch & Winery (530-903-6470)
  • Nov. 9: Wreath Making & Wine Tasting at Smokey Ridge Ranch & Winery (530-903-6470)
  • Nov. 11: Veterans’ Day Specials for service members and veterans at participating farms
  • Nov. 18: Holiday Sip & Saver at Boeger Winery (530-622-8094)
  • Nov. 18-19: Bonfire, Chili & Cornbread and S’mores at Harris Family Farm (530-644-2194)
  • Nov. 18-19: Bottle Your Own at Fenton Herriot Vineyards (530-642-2201)
  • Nov. 24: Opening day for most Apple Hill Grower Christmas tree farms!
  • Nov. 25: Bonfire and S’mores at Grandpa’s Cellar (530-644-2153)
  • Nov. 24-26: Santa Visits (weather permitting) at Apple Ridge Farms (530-647-0613)
  • Nov. 25-26: Dust Off the Bottle Library Wine Event at Lava Cap Winery (530-621-0175)

Kids Activities

  • Abel’s Apple Acres: Gem Mining, Sand Art, Amazing Maze
  • Apple Ridge Farms: Maze, Nature Trail, Gemstone Mining, Face Painting (weekends only)
  • Delfino Farms: Farm animals (Babydoll SHeep), nature trail, large grassy hill, pumpkins/gourds. Mini pumpkin decorating on weekends.
  • Fudge Factory Farm: Farm Animals (Alpacas), Face Painter, Playground, Balloon Artist, Gem Mining
  • Harris Famly Farm: Nature Trail, Scavenger Hung, You-Pick, Berries, Apples & Pumpkins (in-season until picked out)
  • Hidden Star Camino: Kids Town Play Area
  • High Hill Ranch: Face Painting, Fishing Pond, Pony Rides
  • Indian Rock Tree Farm: Gold Mine, Indian Hut, Trout Stream
  • Larsen Apple Barn: Museum (self-guided), Park (lawn play, picnic)
  • O’Halloran’s Apple Trail Ranch: You-Pick Pumpkins off the vine, Flowers & Christmas Trees, Indian Corn, Johnny Appleseed Tree, Nature Trail
  • Pine-O-Mine: You pick apples (until all picked out – call for info), Pumpkin Patch
  • Rainbow Orchards: Hay Bale Hop-a-Crooked-Mile, Pumpkins, Winter Squash & Ornamental corn, Popcorn, Fresh Cider Mill, Grassy Orchard Play Area
  • Smokey Ridge Farmstand: Pictures on the tractor, you pick apples & chestnuts (in season until all picked out)
  • Carrot Farm: You-pick Flowers (in season)

Road Trips: Leggett To Ferndale

About a month ago, I wrote a blog recapping one of three California road trips that 7×7 calls “less traveled.” You can see that blog about Placerville to Mariposa, here. This is another option from the 7×7 article!

Take the 101 from Leggett to Ferndale! It’s okay if you haven’t heard about those places. Let 7×7 and my notes guide you through this historic trip along the Redwood Highway. Start in Ukiah, where you can dip into mineral hot springs at the state’s oldest continuing operating resort.

Credit: 7×7 and @autokennel

You’ll make your way north through the redwoods along Highway 101, before turning off towards Ferndale. Not to miss on this route:

  1. Skunk Train/Wolf Tree Turn: Ride the Wolf Tree Turn through the Noyo River Canyon on the Skunk Train, a historic steam engine that’s been rolling through the Mendocino redwoods since 1885.
  2. Leggett: This town is the state’s king of old-school roadside attractions, like the Chandelier Tree (you can drive your car through it!) and Confusion Hill.
  3. Avenue of the Giants: This is known as “the finest forest drive in the world” for good reason.
  4. Ferndale: Not only your final destination but part of the journey. Take some extra time to explore the town at the end of your trip, especially the shops in its Victorian Village and the eerie hillside cemetery.

If you have some recommendations for roads less traveled and would like to share them, let me know. Happy Fall.

Road Trips: Mariposa To Placerville

This will begin a three-blog series on road trips, based on this 7×7 article about “road trips less traveled” in California. First up, taking US-49 from Mariposa to Placerville!

As many people from Northern California know, US-49 takes you through gold country. You wind through Sierra foothills from Mariposa, passing several of the small towns that make up that region and give the drive some of its charm. You’ll get to Auburn, which is a wonderful little historic town, and eventually to the gates of Placer County – with some of the most underrated wine country in California.

Credit: @visitsuttercreek and 7×7

Here are a few side trips on this route that 7×7 recommends:

  1. Kennedy Gold Mine: Tour the remains of one of the world’s deepest gold mines or wander the ruins on your own.
  2. Sutter Creek & Amador City: Historic small towns in NorCal with great food and shopping.
  3. Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park: You can visit the spot where California miner James W. Marshall first discovered gold (and can even pan the river yourself!).
  4. Placer Wine Trail: A personal favorite, jump on the Placer Wine Trail at the end of your trek. It takes you to more than 20 small wineries in and around Auburn.

For those of you who had kids go through the local school system many know about the 4th grade trip to Colombia, it was an over night stay and they got to experience what is was like during the gold rush. I think the parents enjoyed it too. There are so many off the beaten path places to explore in California. Hopefully one of these blogs might inspire you to get your adventure on and explore some of these hidden gems. Shot me a text, email and comment if you have been with any recommendations and your overall experience.

Stay Warm With NorCal Hot Springs

Here is an oldie but a timely goodie. The magazine 7×7 published a list of Northern California hot springs to keep yourself warm during the last couple months of winter! Check out their list below or the full article here. I added one of my own suggestions to the bottom of this blog, too.

Did you know there are more than 50 hot springs in California, and mostly in Northern California? Check out these four in a few key settings that represent the scope of options for a weekend getaway:

1. Marin Tidal Hot Springs

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge, on the stretch of coast between Steep Ravine Cabins and Stinson Beach, there is a large hot spring that becomes accessible during low tides. Tucked beneath a huge boulder, waves crash on the rocks around you as you soak in the ocean view. Depending on how well the springs form each year, they can accommodate around 25 people. Do your online homework to check the conditions before heading there.

2. Orr Hot Springs

Here in the city, we love Mendocino for a lot of reasons: It’s gorgeous rugged coastline, it’s under-recognized contribution to the state’s true GDP, and it’s knack for harnessing geo-thermal activity with that kind of hippy-bohemian flare we all have a soft spot for: Hot springs. If all that made sense to you, then Orr Hot Springs are a solid (and slightly funny) option to check out.

3. Sykes Hot Springs

This is one of the quintessential weekend backpacking trips to do if you live in San Francisco. The Sykes Hot Springs are about a 10-mile hike into the coastal forest outside of Big Sur. You’ll gain some elevation, yes. You will have to carry your camping stuff on your back, yes. But when you reach the springs, set up camp, and wade in, you’ll find yourself in a lush, forested, California Coastal Range setting, kicking it in some (typically) well-maintained stone-lined hot springs.

4. Mono Hot Springs

Hot springs in the Sierra and Eastern Sierra are some of the most special places we’ve ever visited. You get an alpine setting, expansive views, lots of sparkling granite everywhere, and usually very few people. Mono Hot Springs is one of the more developed and established options in this part of the state. The pools are well maintained, and afford you some pretty amazing Sierra Nevada landscape to take in while you chill out.

5. Grover Hot Springs

This is my addition to the list: Grover Hot Springs by Kirkwood, for those of you who go up to the Tahoe area for skiing or snowboarding. Grover Hot Springs, located in a beautiful valley nestled on the east side of the Sierras at 6,000 feet above sea level, offers scenic mountain views, alpine meadows, Jeffrey Pine forests, cascading creeks, springs, and an abundance of wildlife. It has both hot 120- and 80-degree pools and is one of my favorites. You can always grab a drink and a bite in the cute town of Markleeville nearby, too. Fun either summer or winter!

Stay Warm With NorCal Hot Springs

Here is an oldie but a timely goodie. The magazine 7×7 published a list of Northern California hot springs to keep yourself warm during the last couple months of winter! Check out their list below or the full article here. I added one of my own suggestions to the bottom of this blog, too.

Did you know there are more than 50 hot springs in California, and mostly in Northern California? Check out these four in a few key settings that represent the scope of options for a weekend getaway:

1. Marin Tidal Hot Springs

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge, on the stretch of coast between Steep Ravine Cabins and Stinson Beach, there is a large hot spring that becomes accessible during low tides. Tucked beneath a huge boulder, waves crash on the rocks around you as you soak in the ocean view. Depending on how well the springs form each year, they can accommodate around 25 people. Do your online homework to check the conditions before heading there.

2. Orr Hot Springs

Here in the city, we love Mendocino for a lot of reasons: It’s gorgeous rugged coastline, it’s under-recognized contribution to the state’s true GDP, and it’s knack for harnessing geo-thermal activity with that kind of hippy-bohemian flare we all have a soft spot for: Hot springs. If all that made sense to you, then Orr Hot Springs are a solid (and slightly funny) option to check out.

3. Sykes Hot Springs

This is one of the quintessential weekend backpacking trips to do if you live in San Francisco. The Sykes Hot Springs are about a 10-mile hike into the coastal forest outside of Big Sur. You’ll gain some elevation, yes. You will have to carry your camping stuff on your back, yes. But when you reach the springs, set up camp, and wade in, you’ll find yourself in a lush, forested, California Coastal Range setting, kicking it in some (typically) well-maintained stone-lined hot springs.

4. Mono Hot Springs

Hot springs in the Sierra and Eastern Sierra are some of the most special places we’ve ever visited. You get an alpine setting, expansive views, lots of sparkling granite everywhere, and usually very few people. Mono Hot Springs is one of the more developed and established options in this part of the state. The pools are well maintained, and afford you some pretty amazing Sierra Nevada landscape to take in while you chill out.

5. Grover Hot Springs

This is my addition to the list: Grover Hot Springs by Kirkwood, for those of you who go up to the Tahoe area for skiing or snowboarding. Grover Hot Springs, located in a beautiful valley nestled on the east side of the Sierras at 6,000 feet above sea level, offers scenic mountain views, alpine meadows, Jeffrey Pine forests, cascading creeks, springs, and an abundance of wildlife. It has both hot 120 & 80 degree pools, it is one of my favorites, you can always grab a drink and a bite in the cute town of Markleeville. Fun either summer or winter.

A Day Trip To Point Reyes

About an hour and 15 minutes from Walnut Creek is Point Reyes. You take a winding road through Lucas Valley, a redwood grove, and a little town called Nicasio with a photogenic church and a local cheese stop. Eventually, you will weave your way to Point Reyes Station.

This is a great stopping point to explore the town of 500 with no free WIFI. Check out the Palace Market for picnic items or their swirl gelato ice cream cones. Before standing in line at the back of the meat counter, go to the cash register to pay for your ice cream, then get in line.

From there, head over to Point Reyes Peninsula, which is separated from the mainland by a narrow linear valley that includes Tomales Bay. This valley lies directly on the San Andreas Fault and the Peninsula rides on the eastern edge of the Pacific Plate. This area is what cause the 1906 Earthquake when the peninsula lurched 20 feet northwestward in less than a minute, compared to the average rate of yearly movement of about two inches.

Just past Inverness, we stopped by Tomales Bay State Park (no charge) and had a picnic on the beach while watching small sailboats in a regatta. Tomales Bay is a warmer and less windy spot to enjoy a warm day versus the wind, potential fog, and open face of the Pacific Ocean. Another beach on the bay is Heart’s Desire Beach, however, there are many to explore (some you drive to and some you walk in).

The next stop was the southwest end of the Peninsula, where you can find the lighthouse and visitor’s center. After parking, you get a breathtaking view of the 11 miles of Point Reyes Beach (also known as Great Beach). We even spied some blacktail deer eating along the hillside.

On this particular day, the fog swirled in and then slightly retreated. What would the Bay Area be without its famous fog? We took a leisurely stroll past cypress trees toward the visitor’s center. The lighthouse is then another 300 steps down. The observation platform gives you expansive views toward Stinson Beach and the Farallon Islands (unless, of course, there is fog – and then the foghorn will blare its warning).

The California Gold Rush transformed San Francisco, but navigating the currents, foggy conditions, jagged cliffs, and off-shore rocks of the California coastline for arriving ships was a daunting proposition. In 1853, the first lighthouse was constructed on Alcatraz Island. After the gold rush, Point Reyes became the chief supplier of dairy products and hogs to San Francisco, carried by schooners that sailed to the city from Tomales Bay and Drakes Estero.

As the importance of Point Reyes came to light, it still took more than 20 years and $100,000 to build this lighthouse, which began operation on December 1, 1870. During this time, about $1 million of shipping losses were sustained in the waters offshore of Point Reyes. It remained in operation until it was decommissioned in 1975 and was replaced by an automated beacon located in a separate building below the lighthouse, which was working loudly as a warning signal the day we explored the area.

The history and area are fascinating. I have been there three times now and there is still so much more to explore. There is a Tule Elk Reserve on the north side of the peninsula, Chimney Rock, where elephant seals breed and give birth in the winter, Abbott’s Lagoon, Bear Valley Visitor Center, hiking trails, and more hiking trails; not to mention Hog Island Oysters (see previous post), and the Cheese Trail.

Time To Take A Moment

Time to take a moment and experience something new! Take a trip, go somewhere new, or just see the old in a new light. The Sierras got dumped with snow the week of December 13th and continues to get pounded with new storms.

That first huge drop of snow came just in time for a white Christmas. This is my New Year’s Wish: try something new, get outside (even in the snow), and spend it with people you love. Look to an even better 2022.

Initially, everything looked great with an early snow dump before it all melted. I watched the forecast and Mt. Rose webcams for weeks with a dread setting in for an El Nino year. Then, 100 inches (or more than 8 feet!) of snow settled into the Sierras two weeks before Christmas.

I chose to run to the mountains and get my first ski runs in for the season. Carpe diem. It was a beautiful day with an inversion in Reno. Mt. Rose was actually warmer than Reno, and I spent the day with good friends who share my love of skiing. I took a few moments to snap pictures that make me feel graced with contentment.

A snipped of Tahoe, a sweeping view of Reno from the highest peak, friends heading for a run down Northwest, icicles in downtown Truckee, and, finally, an old red truck upon my return to Walnut Creek decorated with the Christmas spirit. Be bold, be present, be authentic! Onto 2022 to an amazing, adventurous year.

A Smoky Escape to Reno

A couple of weekends ago, I headed up to Reno with big plans to see my son, play pickleball, hang out at Tahoe, and see Shakespeare at Sand Harbor. Well, all those plans came crashing down when the Air Quality Index (AQI) from all the smoke was reading in the mid-300s for Reno and over 500 for Tahoe.

So, we pivoted. We went to a couple of movies and out to eat at some restaurants and bars. If you ever find yourself in Reno looking for something cool to do, Midtown is the place to be! Centro, at 236 California Ave., is defined as a Bar + Kitchen. They serve small plates and interesting cocktails, with a happy hour from Thursday-Saturday (3-6 p.m.). Here in California, happy hours are usually Monday-Thursday.

Centro has a cool brick vibe with a large bar and about 12 tables, colorful artwork, and garage door windows that open to a front patio. We ordered fig old-fashioned, heirloom tomatoes (with apricots, smoked feta, salsa rosa, EVOO, pistachios, chili flake brittle, and lemon basil!), gnocchi with sweet corn, rabbit, black truffle, chive, and Aleppo chili. We also had my favorite: tacos al pastor.

Their menu changes seasonally at Centro, and is more of a tapa kind of place, so keep that in mind when visiting! The second restaurant we tried was RSL (short for Rum Sugar Lime), another brick and wood stylized bar in Midtown at 1039 South Virginia. RSL is strictly a bar and has a tropical theme and drink menu. They occasionally have music, from vinyl and drums to jazz and cocktails. This is my kind of place!

We tried something different – we ordered the Maelstrom, which is their version of a dark and stormy, which was in-your-face gingery. We also tried the Pain Killer, a house favorite that originated in the Caribbean, and the Lomomo, a fruit-forward twist on a classic negroni. They have postcards at RSL that you can write on and send to a friend. The funny thing is their postcards remind me of the new HBO show White Lotus and the background/wallpaper they use in the intro.

Overall, both places were a great escape from the smoke and very relaxing to indulge in some good food and drinks.