This winter, Dylan and I had a few weeks off from photographing weddings and wanted to take a vacation. It took us FOREVER to decide on a destination. We had wanted to go abroad, but Dylan didn’t want to take a super long plane ride outside of North America just to turn around and come back a few days later. We also didn’t want to go anywhere that would be cold, as Austin was, at the time, cold.
We were really feeling a beach vacation, but most of the places we wanted to go in the Caribbean was under some sort of travel advisory. So… we decided to still go on vacation, but stay in the continental US. Still wanting a sunny, warm destination, we decided on California! It’s always sunny there, right? Well, no. It’s not.
When we stepped off the plane in California, the car rental place asked us if we wanted to change vehicles. We had rented a convertible of some sort, to ride with the top down on the California coast. Sounds dreamy, right? However, Northern California was having one of the coldest winters and a blizzard had just laid fresh snow down and locals were going skiing that day. It was in the 40’s for the most part while we were visiting. I’m so glad the rental place told us that and got us into a difference vehicle with heated seats! Thank you, Alamo!
The only thing we had planned for this trip was our first hotel stay. We booked Indian Springs in Calistoga and would recommend it to anyone! It was walking distance to the main downtown area and various hiking trails. They had bikes you could ride around, free bus rides to local vineyards, and a WONDERFUL natural hot spring pool that had an adults-only side with a bar attached (which was perfect in the 40-degree weather). We also ate breakfast at their restaurant, Sam’s Social Club, every morning and it was super delicious! They have gardens everywhere and lawn games throughout the property. The town is known for it’s natural hot springs and spas, so, of course, they had a spa, as well!
This was the view we woke up to every morning during our stay there!
We did some hiking while we were there and the views are GORGEOUS! Here’s a selfie of us around 4 miles into the hike!
Calistoga is a neighboring town to Napa Valley, so you know we visited lots of wineries! Our favorite, hands-down, was Castello di Amorosa! The name means Castle of Love and we for sure loved it! It was also a labor of love for the owner, who spent 14 YEARS building the castle. He brought over building materials from all over Europe from actual castles that were crumbling. It even has a moat that surrounds the castle! Inside, there is a chapel, frescos, and even a torture chamber. We opted for the cheese and wine pairings tour, which was wonderful! Our guide paired 6 different cheeses and wines for us AND allowed us to pick a few more to try on top of the tasting! We found a wine that Dylan and I BOTH enjoy, so we definitely purchased half a case of wine that day! Now, we just need to find a reason to enjoy them!
I love my goofball! He makes life fun!!
After Calistoga and visiting Napa Valley, we headed up to Fort Bragg. We were the third couple in the cheese and wine pairing for the Castello di Amorosa tour and the other two couples both recommended going up to the Mendocino area. Some of our friends from church had also recommended the cute town, so that is where we headed. We stopped for lunch there and picked out our second hotel for the trip. (Funny enough, one of the couples from our cheese and wine tour was also at the same restaurant at that same time, so we got to catch up with them!) . Yes, we were picking our hotel for that night, which worked in our favor!
One of the new hotels in Fort Bragg, Noyo Harbor Inn, was trying to get customers via Groupon, so we found a steal of a deal on a waterfront hotel that was just newly remodeled! This was the view from our hotel. You can see the Pacific Ocean just past the bridge and we were surrounded by the harbor on 3 sides. It really was beautiful! And, if you got up super early in the morning, you could see seals on the dock with the boats. There was a fireplace in our room with a huge soaking tub that looked out into the Harbor.
We did break down at this point in our trip to admit that I needed to purchase some outer layers. I came home with a warm plaid vest and rain coat, but both were needed to spend any time outside here, which we both wanted to do! Everything in California was blooming and beautiful!!
It just so happened that we timed our visit with Mendocino’s Whale Festival! I loved that!! We spent the morning drinking local coffee, being guided by the sweetest grandma-figure who knew SO MUCH about the town (and went above and beyond the tour to even show us some cool sites well after the tour was over), AND watching Whales swim their way back up the coast to Alaska. There was also an option to buy tickets that included local wine and beer tastings throughout the town to visit the local shops!
There was also a lighthouse tour. Again, the sweetest grandma-figure lady told us all about the families that used to live there and about the process of restoring their homes.
We visited the Glass Beach and got to watch a storm roll in. It truly was rainy and cold for most of the trip, but also beautiful!
On Sunday, we took time to visit the Pygmy Forest and Montgomery Woods. We, unfortunately, missed The Petrified Forest while we were in Calistoga, as it was still recovering from the recent fires in California, so we were excited these were unharmed and able to view. Of course, my first order of business was to play with the dog that greeted us as soon as we got out of our vehicle! We were missing our fur-babies, who stayed home in Texas with their grandparents. You can see the dog slobber on my leg here and I didn’t even mind it!
You can’t really imagine how HUGE these trees are until you step foot in these places. Some had spaces that Dylan, who is 6’6″, could walk through comfortably. If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings, these trees remind me of Ents. They’ve been there longer than we can imagine and are quiet giants. We could have spent all day here! We practically had the park to ourselves. It is quite the drive out there from the nearest town, so not many people were there.
Sunday night, we took one of the locals’ recommendations on where to eat (we always do this!) and visited Django’s Rough Bar and Grill. They had live music that night with delicious chowder! More than that, the server suggested a local beer for Dylan that we BOTH loved! Y’all – I don’t like beer. I never have. However, I tried this one, which is technically a cider, and loved it! We actually looked up the brewery to find that it was in California, but, unfortunately, is only open on Fridays, so we missed the chance to do a tasting there. However, we found the beer here in Texas and currently have some in the fridge! It’s Ace Cider’s Space Bloody Orange!
On Monday, we headed to San Fransisco for the last few days of our California trip. One thing that we didn’t realize is that there are LOTS of places that close in San Fransisco on Mondays (and Tuesdays). Some of the things we really wanted to try (including a Tiki Bar that we saw on Anthony Bourdain’s TV show years ago and STILL remembered that we wanted to visit) were closed for the entirety of the few days we were there. While this was super sad, at first, we did find some pretty great back-up options!
We weren’t super excited, admittedly, about San Fransisco, but everyone talked so highly of the town, so we went. . . And, we loved it! We actually wish we had allocated MORE time in San Fransisco! There are so many diverse sections of the city that you could probably spend at least half a day in each section!
Tuesday was our tourist day, so we headed to the Ferry Building Marketplace and had a hobbit’s breakfast! Seriously, I’m pretty sure we had food from at least five different shops that morning! One was named a top breakfast in San Fransisco! It’s Humphry Slocombe’s Secret Breakfast, which is bourbon ice cream with cornflakes! Yes, we had ice cream for breakfast and loved it!
We walked over to Pier 39 to watch the sea lions!
Between Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, we stopped into a few different art galleries. One was for Dr. Seuss. My favorite was the work of Mario Jung! There was just something so captivating about his ability to create texture on a canvas.
After San Fransisco, we headed back up to Sacramento, where we flew out of. The Kimpton Sawyer Hotel was where we stayed our last night. It had a wine hour in the lobby and a heated rooftop pool with a nice bar/restaurant attached. It was a relaxing end to our 10-day tour of California! And, our puppies were super snuggly when we got back! Look how cute they are!
We would absolutely recommend California to anyone who wants an outdoorsy vacation with plenty of things to see and try! It was a great break for us to get away from work and the “to-do” list of life. We have three more trips planned for this year, as we think time away to rest and discover makes us better humans. We come back to work with fresh ideas and a happier frame of mind.
– Mylah Renae