Category Archives: california travel

Hog Wild: Weekend Trips to Tomales Bay, CA

By Jessica Rogers

I made plans for my escape to Tomales Bay in May. I knew I needed something on the books later in the year to break up the monotony of being a shut in during the pandemic. I’d fallen in love with the charming cottages at Nick’s Cove on a day trip long ago, but the waterfront cottages book up so far in advance that I never had the timing right. My plan? Come back one day to spend a night or two here and soak up the salt and rocks. In a rare stroke of luck in 2020, I was able to secure a reservation for two nights during the Halloween weekend. Even luckier, the weather was gorgeous.

The picnic tables at Hog Island Boat Oyster Bar

We hit the road on a Saturday morning, driving further and further away from the crowded communities, each town smaller than the last along the windy country roads leading away from the Bay. Despite stopping for a pleasant lunch at Two Bird Cafe in San Geronimo, I knew we needed oysters immediately upon arrival. I booked a post-lunch snack at the Hog Island Boat Oyster Bar on Resy. It’s a pilgrimage of sorts to eat these shellfish where they are pulled fresh from the sea.

I had avoided the ubiquitous Hog Island in the past as it was always a crowded mess of people shucking their own oysters and fighting for table space. Now, they required reservations and had shucking service. The vibe was festive as I think most people were as overjoyed as we were to be sitting on the water on such a gorgeous day.

Second round of Sweetwaters at Hog Island Boat Oyster Bar

We ordered drinks and Sweetwater oysters at the bar and settled in to enjoy the view. Inexplicably, my husband isn’t a huge oyster fan so I ordered just six, but after trying one I had to order another round just to have more Hogwash, their distinct rice wine vinegar mignonette with jalapeno and cilantro. I could have stayed the entire afternoon sitting there on the bay but the bar was closing, and we had to check into the hotel.

Rustic-chic bedroom in Al’s Cottage

We booked Al’s Cottage, one of the rooms directly on the water. The decor was deliberately rustic, but had modern amenities like heated bathroom floors and a fully stocked minibar (a glorious rare joy in COVID days). The cottage had a living room with a big leather couch and fireplace, and a bedroom with a comfy king-sized bed, both with a direct view out onto the water.

Living room and deck, Al’s Cottage

At the end of the long pier at Nick’s Cove, there is a little boat shack designed for parties, complete with an old piano and a phone to call for food and beverages. Someone was hosting a gathering and the sound of laughter and clinking glasses in the distance made it feel like life was normal again. As the fog arrived, the merry party departed for the evening. The silence set in as the sun faded, and I felt very far from home, even though I was only an hour’s drive away. I headed inside for a nice soak in the deep claw-foot tub.

Fog rolling in at sunset, Nick’s Cove

Given the pandemic, there was no dining service, so we ordered at the front window and ate outside on the deck with the heaters. The food was unremarkable, but the bar was still serving and the martini I ordered was the perfect ending to a beautiful day.

The next morning, we took a short drive to Dillon Beach, a small community tucked away down a rambling road. A new resort of sorts dominates the town with its tiny houses, overlooking an expansive beach with expensive parking. We spent the day reading on the beach and had takeout lunch from the Coastal Kitchen

Dillon Beach view from the Coastal Kitchen

For our second dinner, we drove up windy Highway 1 to the town of Tomales for dinner at William Tell House. That night it was just us and another table braving the cold outside dining. The heat lamp helped, as did the amazing fish tacos. The menu was simple, but what lacked in description made up for in flavor – the most

perfectly crisp battered with a mix of vinegary and spicy toppings.

Waterfront dining at Tony’s Seafood

In no rush to get home the day of our departure, we stopped at Tony’s Seafood for lunch, which is also owned by Hog Island. It had a more extensive menu than the Boat Shack so I tried the Earthquake Bay oysters for the first time, which are grown in bags that tumble the oysters as the tide rises and falls. The result is the most tender oyster. We paired this with the decadently rich Cowgirl Creamery grilled cheese sandwich and sipped our wine watching the sun reflect off the water. In that moment, I was filled with gratitude, for the oysters and sunshine and a dream weekend fulfilled.

Earthquake Bay and Kumamoto Oysters, Tony’s Seafood

24 Hours in Sonoma, California

Vintage Plane Spotting with my sweet ride, Black Truffle, in Sonoma

I needed a break. Work was all encompassing. It was time to take matters into my hands. I had to channel the Layla I used to know and love. The Layla I had ignored for structure, order, and responsibility. It was time to throw caution to the wind and channel my inner spontaneous bon vivant.

I went onto Hotel Tonight on Friday night. The next thing I knew I was spending 24 hours in Sonoma at the Sonoma Hotel, a quaint historic inn smack dab in the center of Sonoma Square.

Sonoma Hotel… ain’t it cute?!

We didn’t want to drive once we started tasting (obviously), so, after searching for hotels in the center of town that were available last minute, reasonably priced, and walking distance to tasting rooms, we settled on the Sonoma Hotel ($200/night). It was adorable and just what we thought it would be. Quaint. Simple. Clean. Reviews were accurate about one thing. The walls are thin. Thankfully, after several tastings and general parenting exhaustion from the week/years, we fell asleep at around 10pm and didn’t hear a thing.

Tasca Tasca

Since this trip was completely spontaneous, we didn’t make a single reservation, but that wasn’t a problem. We headed for a late lunch at Tasca Tasca, a Portuguese tapas & wine boite served in a charming, European space. The above photo (from left to right) is their 7 item sampler. Perfect for two. We ordered kale salad (I’d probably pass on this next time or get the dressing on the side as it was a bit tart for my taste), blood sausage (husband loved it), ceviche (good and healthy since we wanted to drink our calories), crab empanadas (solid), Queijo de Sao Jorge cheese (I’d pass and try something else), Linguica Caseira (delicious traditional Portuguese sausage), and Bacalhau (salt cod cakes… can I get a ‘Si?’)

Sonoma Goods

We then walked off the food by visiting the Mission and reading about the history of Sonoma. One thing missing – the history of the Miwok and Suisunes people. All mentions of indigenous culture appear erased. Note to the Sonoma Tourist Board: rectify that situation, please. First, you see the servants quarters of General Vallejo’s home, La Casa Grande, built in the 1830s which later became the center of social life north of San Francisco. General Vallejo was born in California, but Mexico controlled the area at the time. In 1846, he was confronted by leaders of the Bear Flag Party (yes, that’s where the Bear Flag originates!). California was home to American settlers who didn’t trust their Mexican rulers. When rumors of an impending war between the US and Mexico came to California, according to Wikipedia, The California Republic, or Bear Flag Republic, was born as an unrecognized “breakaway state” from Mexico. For 25 days, the Sonoma area was controlled by the settlers and the breakdown of Mexican rule began.

Passagio Wines

After our tour of the town’s Mission and history, we were thirsty. Next up: wine at Passaggio Wines in the Sonoma shops. Since I’m a lover of white wines, I’d read that Passaggio had a nice selection. My tasting included their 2019 Sauvignon Blanc from Albini Vineyards in Sonoma, their 2019 Chenin Blanc from Heringer Estates in Clarksburg (my favorite tasting for its light clean aftertaste), and the 2019 Tempranillo rose (aka. Rose Colored Glasses). Steve, the sommelier, gave us a great history of the wines and the shop. Apparently, the owner used to work in law enforcement and, later in her career, decided to study wine making to eventually open the shop.

Life goals!

Day Boat Scallops

We then took walk around town to burn off calories and moved onto dinner. Since we enjoyed the tapas spot, we decided to try their sister restaurant, La Salette. I guess we were in the mood for Portuguese. My husband ordered a Wood Oven Roasted Octopus with sweet onion purée, red wine vinegar, and fried potato ($16) to start and he said it was delicious. I ordered the Chouriço Crusted Day Boat Scallops, Japanese sweet potato purée, leek confit, and molho cru ($17). The scallops were fantastic and cooked to perfection. The chourico (chorizo) crust was an excellent touch with its the firm consistency and succulent flavor. I also loved the leek confit mixed with the Japanese yam purée. Everything tasted filling, yet fresh and healthy. For our main, we shared the Bacalhau no Forno, a traditional baked casserole of north Atlantic salt cod, potatoes, onions, and olives ($27) because we love Bacalhau. What can I say? We ate it twice in one day! The other items looked wonderful, but we were pretty full from eating and drinking throughout the day. That said, we finished with a port flight and dessert because… rice pudding with cinnamon, madeira braised fig and toucinho do céu (an almond cake that almost tastes like caramelized fluffy oranges).

La Salette’s traditional dessert tasting

From there, we took the short walk through the quaint city square, made it to our warm hotel room above The Girl & The Fig (another local fave), and it was… 24 hrs. of bliss.

Staycationing in Sausalito

Beautiful Sausalito

By Jessica Rogers

Sadly with the pandemic, many of us are traveling a lot less than in 2019. I used to be on a plane multiple times a month for work (or using travel points for vacations), but I haven’t gotten up the courage yet to head to the airport. On the positive side of things, it’s given me more time to explore the bounty of the Bay Area. One of the gems in its crown is charming Sausalito.

The city of Sausalito has waterfront end-to-end on its eastern side and is framed by the gorgeous hills of the Marin Headlands on its western side so there are plenty of outdoor activities to be enjoyed here (perfect for social distancing!). One of my favorite activities is kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding on the Bay. Sea Trek makes it easy with year-round rentals. You can spend hours exploring the Sausalito waterfront and its quirky houseboat community.

SUPs on Richardson Bay

If you prefer to have someone do the boating for you, SF Bay Adventures is your go-to resource for a whole fleet of boats, either for public or private sails. The Matthew Turner tall ship is a 132’ classic vessel built right in Sausalito. This impressive ship offers various opportunities to get out on the bay, including a 3-hour sunset sail with reserved seating areas so you can stay distanced from others. The Schooner Freda B also offers unique options, including a Full Moon Sail or private charters if you’d like to take the family.

A quick drive west will bring you to Rodeo Beach with plenty of parking and options to either lounge on the wide beach or take a hike along the coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Go as far as you like along the endless trail system in the Headlands.

View from the Rodeo Beach coastal trail

Of course, all this activity will make you hungry. Food options abound in Sausalito, and most take advantage of the gorgeous waterfront setting. Le Garage, a French bistro set on the water in the Schoonmaker Marina, is a standout. The tables are widely distanced and heat lamps and umbrellas are available. Their brunch is amazing … get ready to feast on their decadent quiche, and wash it down with a delicious Peach Bellini (my fave, although my friend adores their Kir!).

Le Garage’s delectable Dungeness crab salad and Kir

In downtown Sausalito, I am among the many local fans that adore the Italian food at Angelino, which is run by the lovely Ancona family. Tables here face directly onto the Bay with a clear shot of Angel Island and San Francisco. Plus points for COVID – they recently installed some outdoor heaters so you can linger longer. If you’re looking for the quintessential Sausalito experience, this is it.

For something more casual on the water, The Joinery is a neighborhood favorite. Order at the bar and find a table outside overlooking Richardson Bay. They have a rotating menu of beer and wine and the food is delicious and well-portioned. I dream about their crispy fried chicken sandwich, balanced perfectly with a nice arugula and fennel topping and a spicy aioli. The fried brussel sprouts are also amazing … I think the pandemic has me craving comfort food!

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Stores are currently open at limited capacity in Marin, so if you’re in the mood for spending, Sausalito has you covered here, too. My favorite new store in town is Salty on Caledonia Street, which carries a broad range of well-designed goodies from the local area and beyond.

Of course, a trip to Sausalito wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Heath Ceramics store. I could spend hours in here dreaming of ways to fill my kitchen cabinets with their dishes and serveware.

Heath Ceramics

To enjoy Sausalito for multiple nights, hit up one of the luxury hotels in the area. A favorite is the Inn Above Tide, which sits directly on the Bay. Perfect for a romantic getaway or just to get out of the same house you’ve been sitting in since March.

View toward San Francisco from one of the waterfront rooms at Inn Above Tide

The best thing about Sausalito is that it’s easy to visit … just a 10-minute drive from San Francisco, or 40 minutes from SFO, if you have the courage to fly. With most of the city based around outdoor activities and dining, it’s the perfect place to visit and imagine the pandemic away.

When she’s not planning a vacation, Jessica Rogers is the Chief Growth Officer at Turner Duckworth, a global design studio. The way to her heart is a luxury hotel and a dirty vodka martini.

Staycationing with Kids: Rosewood Sand Hill

Rosewood Sand Hill

Let’s face it. Traveling with kids can be a nightmare. I often need a vacation from the vacation because it’s not like parents can really be “off” when the kids are screaming that they don’t want to go to bed, they’re hungry, or they simply want to play with you 24/7.

Enter The Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park. It’s a favorite of Silicon Valley execs due to it’s close proximity to the major VCs, Stanford, and San Jose. Reflecting a mix of California Ranch and Tuscan architecture, the main lobby rises up from terraced land with large balconies overlooking the gardens, mountains, and pool. The grounds are, quite simply, stunning with a pool largely unmatched by other local properties. They also have poolside food and cocktail service right now so that means… get me to the Rosewood!

My first order of business? Poolside cocktails. Obvi. They make a delicious Aperol Spritz.

Aperol Spritz and a Strawberry Daquiri

Yes, their drinks are delicious, but expect to pay a small fortune for food and drink (anywhere from $22-$28 for a single cocktail). Inspired by San Francisco’s world-renowned cocktail culture, Madera’s menu consists of a mix of classic favorites and innovative concoctions (like a modern take on the Gin and Tonic with Elderflower Liquor) created by cocktail craftsman Oreste Catenacci to emulate the spirit of the Bay Area.

Modern G&T

The hotel charges anywhere from $650-$800/night for a standard room, so this isn’t a place you go to save money. It’s a place you go to splurge. However, they do have deals like the one I took advantage of — 3 nights for the price of 2 — with two nights where you get $100 resort credit (to help ease the pain of spending $24 for a cocktail and $25 for a bagel with lox). It worked. On top of the lovely cocktail service and even lovelier staff, they also deliver cocktails to your room. Do you notice a trend with this mom of two young boys?

Negroni Room Service!

This little Negroni delivered by room service held enough for two cocktails and was one of the best Negronis I’ve had in years. It’s now my go to summer/early fall beverage. If you’re also like me and your favorite part of staying at a hotel is holing up in the room, they offer luxe Le Labo bath amenities and amenities for kids like this cute miniature robe, backpack, and water bottle.

Amenities for the little ones

My friend and I ate dinner in the Madera Lounge one of the last nights there and we enjoyed the warm night and beautiful grounds. The Artichoke with valbreso feta, almond, and naan ($14) was tasty and I also ordered the Farmers’ Market Bowl ($20) with grilled brentwood corn, brokaw avocado, tomato, cotija, cilantro, harissa, and lime vinaigrette. I added salmon, but would skip that part next time as they couldn’t quite get the salmon cooked to my taste. It was far too raw the first (and second) time around when I had to sent it back again. The couple sitting at the table next to us also sent it back for the same reason. That said, the next day when I ordered the Smoked Salmon Tartine ($25) with ricotta, celery, caperberry, and dill it was so good that my friend and I were still thinking about it the next day. My mouth is watering thinking about it now.

My son, Zeus, with fellow luxe travel junkie and friend, Jessica

All in all, for a quick local escape with a clean stunning pool, delicious drinks, and superb staff, I give it a big thumb’s up. Look for deals where you get a free night or resort credit and you’ll live like a Queen or King for a few days without regretting it.

Rosewood Sand Hill

Address: 2825 Sand Hill Rd, Menlo Park, CA 94025
Phone: (650) 561-1500

                    

An Insta-Worthy Spa Guide

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The Cove, Shore Lodge – McCall, Idaho

The Cove, Shore Lodge, McCall, Idaho
Set on the southern glacial waters of Payette Lake and tucked into Idaho forest, The Cove at Shore Lodge is a retreat that embraces the outdoors, with sculptural fir tree logs lining the lobby and a tranquil stone hallway leading to intimate treatment rooms. The spa’s unique indoor/outdoor saltwater immersion pools – lined with local granite boulders and affixed with antique copper water pumps – pay homage to Idaho’s plentiful natural hot springs. Nature-based massages, facials and body treatments are performed using a holistic and organic skincare line, tailored to meet the needs of both serene pleasure seekers and active mountain enthusiasts.

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Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott, Maui

Mandara Spa , Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott, Maui
Located on the beautiful southeast shore of Maui, Mandara Spa truly embodies Maui’s natural beauty and sense of aloha in every aspect. The Mandara Spa is located on the lobby of the resort, overlooking the serene Hawaiian waters, Molokini crater and the island of Kaho`olawe.  The 9,153 square feet facility features twelve treatment rooms, some of which are Ocean view single treatment rooms and deluxe couple’s suites for facials, body treatments and massages. A welcoming relaxation area, steam room, lockers and showers is privately located in the center of the spa; separated for men and women. The spa also has a full service salon for hair, make-up and nails.

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Miraval Life in Balance Spa, Monarch Beach Resort – Dana Point, CA

Miraval Life In Balance Spa, Monarch Beach Resort – Dana Point, CA
Situated on the idyllic coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Dana Point, California, the newly opened Miraval Life in Balance Spa at Monarch Beach Resort is a state-of-the-art oasis and the only Miraval location in California. Renowned for its “Life in Balance” philosophy, innovative programs and wellness activities, Miraval Life in Balance Spa offers an expansive spa experience inspired by the resort’s oceanfront location. The spa offers more than 70 of the signature treatments developed at the company’s flagship Miraval Resort & Spa near Tucson, Arizona, each designed to “awaken the senses, create balance and promote a sense of well-being. You’ll also discover an entirely new catalog of services created specifically for Monarch Beach Resort,  featuring California-inspired ingredients like crystal salt stones, algae, and marine mud.

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Ventana Inn, Big Sur, CA

The Spa at Ventana, Ventana Big Sur, CA
The Spa at Ventana is a refuge from the stresses of daily life. Start your journey with a hot cup of organic tea or cool fruit-infused filtered water before you wander down to the outdoor clothing-optional amenity area. Like that? Clothing optional! Let the heat of the Japanese Baths and Dry Sauna gently unwind your muscles. Relax by the heated pool and take in the natural beauty that is Big Sur. The Spa at Ventana embraces the magical “Essence of Big Sur” introducing two new dreamy experiences to reinforce Big Sur’s reputation as a sacred site and healing vortex. The Lavender Dreams Experience is an 80-minute, head-to-toe spa experience combining the calming elements of Wild Lavender with earthy minerals, concluded by a luxe foot and pressure point scalp massage in a nourishing cocoon. Also, a new  50-minute Mineral Body Scrub stimulates circulation and leaves the skin soft and hydrated (and even safe for expecting mothers), featuring an exhilarating thermal salt exfoliation applied in a two‐step treatment and mixed with a guests’ essential oil blend of choice.

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Carmel Valley Ranch, CA

Spa Aiyana, Carmel Valley Ranch, CA
The spa spans 10,500 square feet and has 11 treatment rooms, most of which have private outdoor terraces. There are three couples treatment rooms, grouped in the same wing, allowing them to be sequestered for private functions, such as pre-wedding and birthday spa celebrations. The spa also features private men’s and women’s locker rooms, with steam saunas, as well as a co-ed Relaxation Lounge and Fitness Center. Treatments in the spa are each based on one of four specialized gardens, Lavender, Herb, Aiyana and Alchemist, which use the invigorating, restorative and relaxing energy found in the natural world. Services also include massage therapies, body therapies, advanced and organic skincare, visible results oxygen fusion, nail care, and waxing.

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Hacienda AltaGracia, Costa Rica

Auberge Spa at Hacienda AltaGracia, Pérez Zeledón, Costa Rica
Central America’s largest spa, the 20,000 square-foot Auberge Spa comprises indoor and outdoor treatment rooms – some featuring soaking tubs and private outdoor gardens, locally-inspired facials and body treatments, a panoramic pool, state-of-the-art fitness center and steam and sauna rooms. Untouched by tourism, the resort is located in the purest valley of what is the last unexplored area in Costa Rica, AltaGracia offers a true retreat surrounded by untainted beauty.

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Castello di Casole – Tuscany

Essere Spa
Originally the estate’s wine cellar, Essere Spa offers a serene setting within one of the most dramatic spaces on the property. Barrel-vaulted ceilings and restored stone walls create a theatrical setting accentuated by long views across an expansive valley. Essere Spa, meaning To Be in Italian, brings one into harmony with body, mind, spirit, and all that is Tuscany. A full treatment menu is inspired by local ingredients – rosemary, grape and olive oil – with products from the renowned brands Comfort Zone and Germaine de Cappuccini. European spa and wellness experts offer an extensive collection of traditional and modern therapies. Pools and steam rooms, a spectacular couple’s treatment suite with deep soaking tub and shower, and luxurious private outdoor gardens promise to at least make you feel like Italian royalty.