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Berry Creek Falls – Big Basin

Yesterday I had a chance to revisit one of my all time favorite hikes, the Sunset/Skyline to Sea loop in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This scenic route through the redwoods features a series of waterfalls and is the perfect shaded hike for a hot summer day. This hike covers approximately 9.5 miles and traverses 2,874 feet in elevation gain and will probably take you between four and five hours to complete.

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The top falls at Berry Creek. Photo credit: Lisette

When you enter the park, be sure to stop by the headquarters and buy your parking pass FIRST. If you arrive after 8:00 a.m. on a weekend you will likely have to park a notable distance from headquarters, by picking up your permit first you can start the hike closer to the trailhead without doubling back.

Most people start the hike clockwise, taking the Skyline to Sea trail and hiking up the falls, returning via the Sunset trail. I prefer to start with the Sunset trail and come down the falls, ending with the Skyline to Sea portion. This route allows you to get the hotter, more exposed portions of the trail out of the way early in the day and gives you a shorter hike back after you see the falls.

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The middle cascade at Berry Creek. Photo credit: Lisette

Whichever way you choose to navigate the hike, the Berry Creek series of falls is one of the best waterfall hikes in the Bay Area, with plenty of great viewing spots to relax and take a break for lunch. Unfortunately this hike is also exceptionally popular, so it can be tricky to snap pictures without capturing the crowds as well. You’ll notice as you move along the series of falls that the top cascades are wide and sloping, with gorgeous red rock underneath and pools you can dip your feet into. The lower falls are more dramatic, with higher drops and more conventional landscapes.

Recommended gear: good hiking shoes, plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen.

On your way home after this hike, you may want to reward yourself by dropping by some of the local wineries off Highway 9 like Mountain Winery, Savannah Chanelle or the Cinnabar tasting room in downtown Saratoga.

Dining Decadence – Plumed Horse

I recently experienced the most exquisite meal at a restaurant I’ve long dreamed of visiting – the Plumed Horse. My lovely friend Marjorie organized this intimate gathering to celebrate her birthday and savor nine delectable courses in this venerable and renowned Saratoga restaurant.

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The glorious wine room. Photo credit: Lisette

The restaurant lies along the main street in Saratoga, close to several winery tasting rooms. This quaint town is nestled into the backdrop of the Santa Cruz Mountains, providing an idyllic scene for the well-to-do residents of the Silicon Valley. We were lucky enough to be able to sit at the chef’s table, with a full view of the inner workings of the kitchen. The restaurant also had a lovely bar, gorgeous glass wine room and stunning decor.

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First course: butter, salmon roll, halibut and risotto. Photo credit: Lisette

They were easily able to accommodate my Celiac-induced dietary restrictions, and my food was mostly on par with the rest of my party with a few exceptions. The first being that they did not have gluten free bread or any type or replacement. Since they brought out bread between courses, this left me quite hungry for the first half of the meal. The other exception was the soufflé course. By far the favorite of the table, this amazing looking crab souffle was replaced by a truffle risotto for me. While the risotto was delicious, it paled in comparison to the dish served to my companions.

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Next courses: abalone, filet mignon, cheeses and coconut sorbet. Photo credit: Lisette

My favorites from the meal included an amazing filet mignon, spectacular abalone, perfectly cooked lobster and raw halibut served in beautiful little rolls. The meal was amazing, and I’d highly recommend it, even if I was disappointed that a restaurant of this caliber (and cost) didn’t offer a gluten free bread alternative. Next time – I’d love to try the tasting menu with the wine pairings, I’m sure that would make the meal even more enticing.

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Desserts and our lovely hostess! Photo credit: Lisette

Incline Village Ski Trip

In an effort to use a few vacation days, last weekend I went up to Incline Village for a quick ski-getaway just before the crowds headed up for the President’s Day weekend. Once again utilizing my Hyatt points, I booked Thursday and Friday night at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe and began looking for restaurants nearby that would accommodate my gluten free diet while appealing to my foodie tastes. Just beating the storm, we drove up on Thursday afternoon and headed straight to the hotel. The Hyatt spans both sides of Lakeshore Blvd. and features a private beach, multiple hot tubs, a heated pool, several restaurants and amazing rooms overlooking the mountains (or the lake if you’re lucky).

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View from the private beach and firepit. Photo credit: Lisette

We settled in and made our way across the road for a lakefront dinner at the Lone Eagle Grille. Settling in next to the fire, we ordered a few drinks and perused the menu, which featured unique meats like elk, bison and delectable treats like foie gras and perfectly cooked scallops. We ordered a few items a la carte and absolutely devoured the shaved brussel sprouts, scallops and our steaks. The service was as fantastic as the view; we wandered back to our room sated and satisfied.

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Inside the Lone Eagle Grille. Photo credit: Lisette

On Friday we woke up and enjoyed a fantastic breakfast hash at the hotel before catching the shuttle to Diamond Peak. While the conditions were snowy and cloudy, it was otherwise very pleasant and there was plenty of powder on every run. We couldn’t see much of the extraordinary lake view, but enjoyed our day nonetheless and returned to the hotel happily exhausted. We enjoyed a wonderful array of tapas and cocktails at Bite American Tapas and slept soundly after a long day.

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View from the Snowflake Lodge at Diamond Peak (during another trip with better weather).

On Saturday, we enjoyed another breakfast hash and popped across the road for one last coffee at Lone Eagle, soaking in the view before driving home. We headed back down the hill just in time to beat traffic, weather and the avoid the holiday weekend crowds. Another amazing weekend trip to remember!

San Jose Women’s March

I have never been terribly political, but this election cycle has made me think harder about getting more involved with the issues that are important to me. I was extremely excited to find out that San Jose was hosting its own Women’s March this January in order to express our desire for change and bring light to human rights issues.

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Some my favorite signs at the march.

We began the march at San Jose’s City Hall and continued down 4th Street to Paseo de San Antonio to Cesar Chavez Plaza. My crew and I got ahead of the march and grabbed coffees along the route, joining up as again as the crowds passed by. I was impressed by the sheer volume of people, the passion with which they all marched and the energy they inspired. The “Raging Grannies” sang to open up the rally, followed by speeches from Mayor Sam Liccardo, among others. These speeched invigorated the crowd and gave us hope for the future.

I’m not sure what the future holds for us in the coming years, but the power of events like the Women’s March are amazing and serve as reminders that all of us need to do our part to institute the change we want to see.

 

The Table

In the charming town of Willow Glen (part of San Jose), you’ll find a quaint downtown with several unique shops and restaurants. One of my favorites, is The Table. The first thing you’ll notice as you arrive is the stunning patio. What use to be a tiny, narrow restaurant has expanded into the former cleaners next door, allowing them to take over the entire corner and provide a patio with fireplace, heaters and exponential charm. The food is fresh and seasonal.

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One Hitter Quitter. Photo credit: Lisette

During happy hour, the best deal you can find is the “One hitter quitter” burger with aged white cheddar that comes with a shot and a beer for $14. Happy hour is served from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10:00 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. The staff is very knowledgeable about gluten free options and will be happy to make recommendations and substitutions to accommodate diets of any kind. I get the burger deal (no bun) with a cider during happy hour. The bar also has some great areas to sit on dates, so this is a perfect spot for after-dinner drinks and dessert.

Recommendations:

  • Chocolate sea salt pot de creme
  • Happy hour deal: One hitter quitter – burger, shot and beer for $14
  • Cured meats
  • Signature cocktails

Climbing at Castle Rock

Many of you may know that I’m an avid climber – and recently started lead climbing at my home gym, Planet Granite in Sunnyvale. While I mostly climb indoors, I’m trying more and more to get outside and off the wall. One of the best places to do this locally, of course, is Castle Rock State Park.

Since I’m still slowly accumulating outdoor gear, and don’t have an established crew yet, I’ve used REI’s Outdoor School to book a few classes in building anchors and outdoor climbing. REI is one of many organizations that run classes at the park, and if you’re confident about your abilities, there are several Meetup groups you can join as well. I highly recommend signing up for a class if you’re new to climbing, it’s also a great way to meet new people (Meetup is great for this as well).

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Ready to climb at Goat Rock. Photo credit: REI School Instructor

Most frequently, I’ve climbed on Goat Rock, a popular spot in the park with a wide array of longer routes. I’ve also been bouldering up at Castle Rock, but since I don’t have crash pads, I was limited in how much I could do. If you’re looking for more detailed information, you can easily pick up a book on the best climbing and bouldering spots in this park.

Backpacking at Point Reyes

Backpacking at Point Reyes National Seashore is a yearly tradition for me. I’ve been going ever since we took a class trip in sixth grade, and I almost always stay at one of the backpacking camps (though this year I stayed at Marshall Beach in Tomales Bay). Of the four camps, my favorites are the two on the coast, protected by sand dunes. Coast Camp is the easiest to hike to with a short hike option of only 1.8 miles in order to get to camp. At this camp, you have access to potable water, pit toilets, garbage cans and bear lockers, making it about the most luxurious backpacking you’ll ever do.

The same amenities are available at Wildcat Camp, a bit further south on the coast is even more beautiful, but takes a minimum hike of 5.5 miles to reach your camp. This site is about a two mile walk down the beach from Alamere Falls, which is one of only two waterfalls in California that cascade onto the beach (the other is McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park).

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Coast Camp at Point Reyes. Photo credit: Lisette

Some tips for camping at Point Reyes:

  • Reserve early, particularly if you want a weekend reservation
  • Start at the Bear Valley Visitor Center to collect your permit
  • Bring a “ratsack” – small mice get into the bear lockers and will wreak havoc on your trail mix and oatmeal
  • Get a fire permit, these are free and allow you to build beach fires with driftwood you collect nearby
  • Book for early spring (through May) and fall, but avoid June-August or the winter months for ideal weather

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

No one would expect the suburban “Rose Garden” neighborhood in San Jose to host a world class museum, and yet, it does. The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum hosts the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts on exhibit in western North America — including over 4,000 objects from pre-dynastic times through Egypt’s early Islamic era. This extensive collection includes real mummies and a wide array of artifacts from jewelry to sculpture and beyond.

One of the most popular exhibits is the underground tomb, which visitors can either explore on their own, or take a guided tour. Equally popular, the Rosicrucian Planetarium features films everyday at 2:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. Just outside, you can explore a beautiful garden with fountain, Egyptian games and a research library.

After your visit, be sure to check out the Municipal Rose Garden across the street!

San Juan Bautista

This town is famous for two things: the mission, and the shops. Mission San Juan Bautista is a beautiful mission, unobstructed by urban development. Built in 1719, this mission was an integral part of the California Missions Trail, which leads from San Diego to Sonoma and is comprised of 21 missions. The mission is extremely well preserved despite damage from multiple earthquakes and offers scenic vistas looking out over agricultural fields.

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Chapel at Mission San Juan Bautista. Photo credit: Lisette

The mission was a filming location and feature in the Hitchcock film, Vertigo. Hitchcock created a fictional tower in the film were many key scenes take place. Named for the famous movie filmed in the town, you can get great coffee, food, beer and cider at Vertigo Coffee Roasters just off Fourth Street among several quaint shops.

These shops, mainly antiques, are run by a friendly crowd of locals. Many are retirees and will be happy to chat with you about the area. A man in a clock shop on Third Street will proudly show you all his musical clocks, setting them off one by one to create a cacophony of sounds in the narrow little shop he runs. This gentleman has been in the town for 11 years and has “loved every minute of it.”

This charming little town is well worth a short day trip, or even better, a stop along the way to Carmel or Big Sur.

Moaning Caverns

Out in the western Sierra Nevada foothills, there are a series of amazing adventures to be had, including several great spelunking excursions. Moaning Caverns allows you to rappel 165 feet into an amazing cavern for their adventure tour, and California Caverns offers a “Middle Earth” tour that cannot be beat. I highly recommend going to check out some of these great spots for a day or weekend sometime during the dry season.

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Climbing out of the “Womb Room.” Photo credit: Friendly tour guide

The Middle Earth tour takes you deep into the California Caverns system, for approximately a mile of trekking (walking, crawling and climbing) underground. Highlights of the tour including crowding into the tiny “Womb Room” with your tour group, taking a boat or swimming across an underground lake, spectacular rock formations and knee-deep mud. This tour can be quite time-consuming (about four hours) and a little pricey, but is well worth the investment.

While this little adventure can easily be a day trip from the Bay Area, I highly recommend staying over and combining with a visit to Columbia. This state park/historic down features actors in period dress along with fun activities like panning for gold, stage coach rides and candle-making.