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!

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

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.

Napa Valley Bubbly Trip

I’m a sucker for sparkling wine. My friend Marjorie and I were in the mood for a good girls’ weekend, so we decided to abscond to Napa (I’m easily convinced when it comes to wine weekends) for a sparkling wine themed weekend. We booked a hotel in the heart of downtown Napa and planned out an itinerary to visit several sparkling wineries.

The highlight of the trip was our tour of Schramsberg’s wine caves. Schramsberg is a fantastic sparkling winery with a deeply rooted history. They are one of the few large-scale wineries outside of champagne that make their sparkling wine in the “méthode traditionelle” rather than by adding carbon dioxide. We also visited Mumm Napa and Domain Chandon, but found Domain Chandon very touristy and chaotic. Mumm Napa had a lovely patio, just perfect for tasting quietly and enjoying the view.

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The patio at Mumm. Photo credit: Lisette

We decided that we wanted an extraordinary dinner, but of course The French Laundry was a bit out of our budget (and impossible to reserve), so we opted for Bouchon. Bouchon offered all the gluten free savvy I needed, without the prices. I ordered one of the most delicious pork chops I’ve ever eaten. Overall the trip was a wonderful combination of great food, great wine and great company.

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My Bouchon pork chop. Photo credit: Lisette

If you’re looking to do your own bubbly trip, a few other places you might want to check out are Gloria Ferrer, Roederer Estate and Korbel.

Tomales Bay Beach Getaway

Every year I take a fall trip out to Point Reyes National Seashore. This year, rather than backpacking into one of the coastal campgrounds, I decided to try and kayak in to Marshall Beach and see the bioluminescent algae at night. Reservations for any campsite at Point Reyes can be made up to six months in advance, starting at 8:00 a.m. via ReserveAmerica.com. I highly recommend booking out at the six month mark, particularly if you are aiming for a coveted weekend spot.

I reserved a kayak from Blue Waters Kayaking, intending to leave from their site in Marshall on the opposite side of the bay from Marshall Beach. The idea was to kayak in, spend the night and take out the kayak after dark to see the algae. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans – and due to high winds, we were unable to pickup our kayak.

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Afternoon oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company. Photo credit: Lisette

With the afternoon now free, we decided to get some oysters at Hog Island Oyster Company, enjoy the view and figure out our backup plan. We decided to hike into the beach and take the risk of leaving our car out overnight with a note explaining our situation and our camping reservation number. Although I would not recommend doing this, it worked for us as a backup plan.

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The view from our tent at Marshall Beach. Photo credit: Lisette

Hiking in to Marshall Beach was about 1.5 miles of easy trail, that got a bit steep at the end. The beach is beautiful, pristine and has vault toilets and garbage cans for you to use. We picked up a fire permit, so we were able to build a wonderful fire and enjoy s’mores by the starlight. It might not have been exactly what I had planned, but I’d recommend getting out to Tomales Bay any way you can. I’ll certainly be going back to attempt kayaking (again) in the near future.

Celebrating Friendship in Napa

Who doesn’t love Napa? No one, that’s who. This year, my long time best friend, Alison, and I decided to celebrate 27 years of friendship by spending a weekend in wine country. One of my favorite weekend trips, I highly recommend spending some time in both the Napa and Sonoma valleys. On this particular trip, we headed off for a three-day weekend starting in the Alexander Valley region, and ending in downtown Napa at the lovely Andaz hotel.

I’m a wine club member at Medlock Ames winery, so we first stopped there for a tour of the vineyard and tasting, before their 1920’s themed pickup party. The vineyard is located off Chalk Hill Road, and is completely organic. After touring the vines and adjacent garden, we headed out to dinner at Diavola Pizza, where you can get extraordinary pizza cooked in a stone oven (and they offer gluten free options). We then back to my friend’s guest cottage to prepare for our party. The party, held at the tasting room in Healdsburg, did not disappoint. Vintage cars, a band and delicious food provided us with a relaxing, unique experience in the gardens at the tasting room.

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Playing with vintage cars at the Medlock Ames tasting room. Photo credit: Alison Lohse

The following day we headed down into the Napa Valley. One thing I highly recommend here is eating at the Oxbow Market. If you’re gluten free like me, you’ll have plenty of options. C Casa offers not only gluten free breakfast tacos and lunch/dinner food – but also has plenty of gluten free pastries you can take with you on the road, and even gluten free baguettes! There’s also a wonderful spice market in Oxbow and great coffee at Ritual Coffee Roasters.