Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Airport Food

Last weekend, the New York Times published a piece about food in US airports. I couldn't believe that San Francisco International Airport got left out of the mix. Besides a few international airports, SFO has the best food at any airport--hands down. Even if you are flying domestically, head to the international terminal for a sampling of some San Francisco superstars--including Ebisu sushi! And in the domestic terminal, you can hit up Lori's Diner, Yankee Pier, Andale and Firewood.

Whatever type of cuisine you are craving, you are sure to find it here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Family Friendly Wineries

When I was pregnant, I never thought I would be interested in hitting up a tasting room with my child. However, I have had some of my favorite wine country experiences with Kai in tow. Here are a couple of places that kids are welcome and even catered to.

Chateau Montelena: Calistoga's winery, that put Napa Valley on the map, not only offers an out of this world estate wine tasting experience, but also has a lake with ducks. The grounds feel like a forest and will entertain the little ones for hours.

Domaine Chandon: This 300-acre champagne plantation not only offers fun tours of the winery with a wonderful (and generous) private tasting sure to get your head filled with bubbles, but also has one of the best gardens to sip champagne, order cheese and appetizers and let the kids frollic in the oak trees.

Landmark Winery: If your kid is as into tractors, or ducks, or ponds, as mine, head to this house of Chardonnay, where the descendents of John Deere offer an expansive property for kids to run around while mom and dad sip wine.

FIll me in on your favorite family friendly wineries, so I can add them to the next installment.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Minor Correction

Hotel Healdsburg (hotelhealdsburg.com) is offering $100 off your second night, not the first. This isn't so bad, since this is the type of hotel you want to spend more than a night in. Anyone interested in architecture, luxury, good food, spas and Dwell magazine will surely appreciate this hidden gem.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Calistoga--a small town for everyone

It's no secret that Calistoga has retained its small town allure, even though it is home to some of the world's best wineries, resorts and spas. And nothing shows this off more than the lighted tractor parade each December.

This annual event, 16 years strong, attracts more folks than a Republican Convention in San Francisco. Yet, when Eden Umble from the Visitors Bureau said it was "a kick in the head", I envisioned some tacky Christmas lights strung atop a few tractors, while local cheerleaders tossed out candy and marched to the tune of some cheesy top 40 hit. But I had traveled up north for my 17 month old son, Kai, who is infatuated with tractors, excavators, fire engines and the holier than Hanukkah concrete mixer.

It turned out that not only were families lined up on beach chairs along Calistoga's main street, but nearly every person who lived within a 50 mile radius had come out. Young folks drank beer at the Calistoga Brewery, elderly chatted over margaritas and guacamole while waiting for the extravaganza and kids, so many kids, laughed and joined in the carolers as they sang everything from Silent Night to Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.

My father in law, visiting from LA, kept remarking that this really felt like a community, where people gather to celebrate the holidays rather than collect at the mall to contribute to the consumerist circus called Christmas. And he was right. We all joined in Kai's excitement about the inflated Santas on fire engines, the bright Christmas trees atop a digger, the carolers on a plow. And though Christmas is still a few weeks away, we were able to engage in the heart of the holidays, something we often miss by living in a big city.

Once again, Calistoga brings me back to the heart of Napa Valley, where real farmers built crops on a dream, stuck through droughts, prohibition, vine disease, dodgy weather and the international wine community not believing in them. In Calistoga, you can see the roots, not just the vines. You can see that the growers are people, with families and friends, who gather to celebrate the seasons that they depend on for their livelihood. And it isn't bad to be reminded of that every once in awhile.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Some Spectacular Deals

I just learned about some hotel deals that you should all take advantage of. With the economy making folks afraid to go on vacation, some of Nor Cal's finest properties are offering deals that I have never seen before. Check it out.

The Cottages of Napa Valley (napacottages.com), usually one of Napa's most pricy properties, is offering three nights in Dec-Feb for $495--total. This is one of the best deals I have ever seen for this property. Get in now while you can.

Hotel Healdsburg (hotelhealdburg.com) has recently offered $100 off a night if you stayed with them in the last year.

Asilomar (visitasilomar.com), the most beautiful conference center resort in the central coast, is ofering significant deals to stay at the lodge, including the $159 bed, breakfast and dinner deal (put in the code: BEDANDDINE).

Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite (yosemite.com) is one of the most beautiful in winter and has some serious holiday packages, including a $330 a night room that include 2 hour a day entertainment for the kids.

In addition, local San Franciscans can score on some serious dining deals. Head to onlyinsanfrancisco.com to see the list of restaurants offering dining packages and yummy treats for a steal.

Let me know if you hear of more.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Rafting the Russian River

I wasn't raised as much of an outdoorswoman, so I often feel the necessity to prove myself in nature. So when Larry from SOAR Inflatables said we would be rafting 8 miles upstream for 5 hours, in an inflatable kayak, without a guide, with our 5 month old son, I took a big gulp of air and climbed aboard. It's not that I enjoy torturing myself, but my husband does. He heard of this physical challenge and opted for the main paddlers seat, claiming that all I had to do was take care of our son Kai.

After we were suited up and fully paid for our trip, Larry informed us that there were a few challenges of note. The first was negotiating under the Healdsburg bridge to assure not being grounded. He said we especially had to be careful, because we could tip over, and with a baby, that wouldn't be so fun. We watched most couples trying to paddle out towards the bridge end up working against each other and spinning in circles or running into one of the trees that randomly stuck out from the river (this ain't no Disneyland).

Eddie, the constant student, observed the physics of how to paddle just the right way to use the water to push us in the right direction. The first few tries, we too went in circles; though just as Kai started nodding off to sleep, he figured it out. I could see him enjoying the rush of manuevering past small inlets or trees (some of the other obstacles Larry mentioned), other kayakers, and even tough waters, but the real challenge came on the last mile.

Kai had woken up and we had stopped on a riverbank to swim and eat some lunch. We knew we were about a mile away from our pick up because we had spotted the only manmade structure along this stretch of river. We also knew that this was the most challenging part, when the current basically stopped. After seven miles of paddling Eddie's honeymoon with kayaking was beginning to fade. Yet, I was taking care that Kai didn't fling himself over the edge of the kayak when he tried to touch the water.

Like most stories of soft core adventure, we made it back to camp safely, with no bruises to speak of (though Eddie did have a sore back for a couple days). We watched as other paddlers (some with dogs, others with kids) arrived at the pick up spot and I asked Larry why he was the only outfit to allow people to bring their pets and babies. He smiled the smile of a true outdoorsman--one who surely takes his kids on massive adventures--and said that he trusted parents to decide for themselves, since he knew his trips were very safe (that could also be because we all are required to bring cell phones along). I'll say this, Larry's kayak trip does make Healdsburg one of the more kid friendly wine country destinations.

for more information visit soar1.com.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Perfect Day in Mendocino

8am: Grab a coffee and pastry at Mendocino Bakery and Cafe, then stroll along the bluffs of the Mendocino Headlands.

10am: Have brunch at the Ravens Restaurant.

11:30: Explore the bounty of color at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens.

1pm: Lunch at Mendocino Cafe, then have mushroom ice cream at Frankie's.

3pm: Go on a kayak trip to a sea cave or hike Russian Gulch State Park to see the waterfall.

5:30pm: Have a cocktail at the Mendocino Hotel bar or at the Heritage House restaurant.

7pm: Dine at the Moosse Cafe or Cafe Beaujolais.

9:30pm: Take a moonlight stroll through town, then have an Irish coffee at Patterson's Irish Pub.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Caretakers of the Earth

Last night I had a dream that my son Kai, looking over the wreckage of the planet, asked why I brought him into the world. Upon waking, I read a quote that appears in most holy books about humans being caretakers of the earth, not masters. Both made me feel lucky to live in Northern California, where people attempt to care for the planet rather than destroy it.

A friend recently told me that the spraying of grapes in Napa gives some residents permanent coughs and yet the growing organic and biodynamic wine movement (that started in Mendocino County--more on this soon) is helping to offset the effects of a century of pesticides.

Here in San Francisco, local people are fighting to add more bike lanes and charge a fee to drive into downtown during rush hour. Every other day I get a flyer on my door about local tree plantings or house cleaners that use organic cleaning products. And the new Academy of Sciences teaches us about the planet in fun and interesting ways.

In Lake Tahoe most new restaurants serve organic and locally grown produce. Go to Yosemite at Earth Day and kids learn about why it is a good thing to care for the planet. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch list is on the menus of most evolved chefs in the country. You'll find more organic restaurants in the small town of Mendocino than almost anywhere else on the planet. The protected redwood forests of Humboldt County help our famous trees survive in spite of logging efforts. Mt Shasta City's water is some of the best in the world. And the list goes on and on.

I suppose a thank you is in order to everyone working to protect the earth rather than destroy it. But a plea is also in order. For all of us--visitors and inhabitants--to do our part to help keep this land as one of the most beautiful places in the country. I am open to suggestions that I would love to list here as a guide to helping people know where to start. Your help is appreciated.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Perfect Day In San Francisco

Recently the SF Chronicle ran a piece on the perfect day in San Francisco and though the article was great, I have to disagree. Here is my perfect day in the City for singles, romantics and families.

8am: A latte at Ritual Coffee Roasters

9am: Breakfast at Boogaloos.

10:30am: Drive the 49 mile drive to Baker Beach (if it is a nice day, there is a nude beach at the far south end, near the bridge).

12:30pm: Lunch at the Ferry Building or Greens in Fort Mason.

2pm: Stroll the shops of Union Street.

5pm: Happy Hour margaritas at Mamacita.

7pm: Dinner at Nopa or Osha Thai.

9pm: Bar hop downtown through Boubon and Branch, Rye, Slide and Bambuddha Lounge.

9am: Coffee and pastries at the Boulangerie de Cole while you wait for breakfast at Zazie.

10:30am: Stroll through the Strybing Botanical Gardens and Stow Lake.

12:00pm: Drive along the coast, through the Presidio to Swan Oyster Depot or Nick's Crispy Tacos for lunch.

2pm: Wander through the Ferry Building and stop for wine at the Wine Merchant.

4:30pm: Ride the cable car for cocktails at Top of the Mark or a spa treatment at Huntington Hotel Spa.

7:30pm: Dine at Forbes Island or Piperade.

10pm: Have a nightcap and dessert at the Campton Place hotel bar (if you call in advance you can have the dessert tasting menu).

8am: Coffee and pastries at Cafe Roma in North Beach.

9am: Take a food tour through North Beach and Chinatown.

11:30am: Explore Musee Mechanique at Fisherman's Wharf.

12:30pm: Ride the cable car to the Ferry Building for lunch and gelato.

2pm: Head to Golden Gate Park to play.

4:30pm: Mom and Dad grab a beer at Park Chalet while the kids eat pizza and run around.

6:30pm: Dinner at Foreign Cinema or Gialina.

9pm: When the kids are asleep, mom and dad pop open that bottle of wine and relax.