Summertime Adventures (or Be A Tourist in Your Hometown – Part 2 – South-East Sonoma County)

:::  S U M M E R   I S   H E R E  :::

Are  you sure? I am pretty sure that last month we just celebrated Valentine’s Day right?  It seems like time is somehow stuck in hyper-drive. A month goes by and I have no idea how it happened and what I did with all that time.  Now all of the sudden I have a bored pre-teen that I am apparently supposed to wait on hand and foot as if she were the royal princess of Summer-topia.  I am finding it much more difficult to keep a pre-teen entertained than a 2-7 year old. I am not sure why that is since at this age she doesn’t need 100% supervision; no diapers have to be changed, she needs no naps, we don’t need to pack a huge bag of necessities, toys, stroller or extra clothing. Yet somehow she seems more dependent on me than ever.

It’s been a few years since I was the parent at home during the day in the summer, so I decided we needed some new rules that relate to an 11 year old. So far I have been met with lots of resistance (not surprised), but I am confident that I will prevail as the grand champion.

  • Rule #1: I am not your servant, personal chef, maid, butler, or taxi-cab.
  • Rule #2: You still have to read a book at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Rule #3: You have to help do chores and special projects around the house.
  • Rule #4: You cannot sit and watch TV or movies all day long.
  • Rule #5: You cannot sit and play on your phone or other electronic device all day long.
  • Rule #6: You can stay up late, as long as you get up at a reasonable time the next morning.

Luckily for us one of her best friends lives across the street. This is very helpful when having an only child. They can come and go as they want and they keep each other entertained for the most part.  But even with friends over, they all still get bored, and I have to step in and find something for everyone to do.


::: SUMMER ACTIVITIES :::

If you are looking for some affordable and/or free things to do this summer, I have a few fun and interesting idea’s for you. We have been to all of these places and we just love them!  For fun things to do out west please see my earlier blog post: Be a Tourist in your Hometown

JELLY BELLY FACTORY – Vacaville, CA  – Free factory tours, plus free samples and a free bag of Jelly Bellies for everyone!  I realize this is not in Sonoma County, but it is located only about an hour from Santa Rosa and this makes for a fun day. The tour is about 40 minutes, includes videos and history of the company and on weekdays you can see all the workers in the factory and all the machines going. Weekends the factory workers have off, so it’s a little less exciting, but it is still fun. They also give out free chocolate and fudge samples in the gift shop, plus you can go through the line at the jelly bean sample bar as many times as you want and try all the flavors. They do have a  cafe with all sorts of Jelly Bean shaped food which is ok, but not great.  However if you are coming from Northern Sonoma County and take hwy 116 exit in Petaluma, there is a wonderful place to stop and eat either on the way to the Jelly Belly Factory or on the way back called The Fremont Diner (see next item on this list below).

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THE FREMONT DINER – Carneros Hwy Between Sonoma and Napa (AKA Hwy 121/12) – On your way out to or back from Vacaville, (honestly anytime you want an amazing home cooked, farm fresh, locally grown, organic, free range, utterly fantastic food) stop by this quaint historic landmark for some tasty grub that will knock your socks off. They grow as much of their own food as possible in their gardens, or they get it locally.  You will be treated like family as you sit inside and enjoy the antiques or outside at a picnic table in their “backyard”. Amazing views when you sit outside with gorgeous vineyards on the hills. Once we were treated to a rare double rainbow at sunset as we dined outside.  Check out their seasonal menu (they serve what’s fresh!) however they always have the popular dishes such as the Deviled Eggs, Nashville Fried Chicken, Fremont Burger and Mac-n-cheese. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you happen to have $5 bucks in your pocket, be sure to go inside and have your photos done in the Chicken Coop Photo Booth. You get two strips of 4 poses so you can share with a friend!

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CORNERSTONE SONOMA – (About 5 minutes from Fremont Diner)  Sonoma, CA – It’s hard to describe exactly what Cornerstone is. It’s part art exhibit, part garden, mix in some interactive outdoor experiences, and throw in a cafe and a wine tasting room and there you have it. What is so cool about it is that this kind of art appeals to all ages and types of people,  and the opportunity to wander & experience the outdoor art gardens is completely free. The gardens have separate sections and each one has something different and unique, created by some pretty clever artists. One of my favorites is the metal tunnel, called RISE. It has great acoustics and its fun to sing inside of it. There’s also a wishing tree with iridescent prismatic ribbons that you write a wish on then tie it to the”tree”. The ribbons sway in the breeze making the rainbow colors so vibrant and beautiful. If you are hungry you can stop and grab a bite to eat at the cafe, with indoor and outdoor seating. (Note that we have not eaten here at Park 121 yet.) Or bring a snack ans sit out on the grass in the middle of the gardens. Lots of fun adventures and silly photos are bound to keep any child or adult entertained for hours.

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CLINE CELLARS – Sonoma, CA – Just a hop, skip and a jump from Cornerstone, is Cline Cellars.  Cline Cellars has some beautiful property that makes for a wonderful morning or afternoon walk. They have a small tasting room (free tasting of 5 non-reserve wines), California Missions Museum (also free), gorgeous pond, gardens, and even some beautiful pheasants and other exotic looking birds, they also offer tours of the estate.  This makes Cline Cellars a perfect stop with or with out kids. For those wine snobs out there, Cline Cellars are well known for having Ancient Vines, some of the oldest and most rare grapevines in California that range in age from 80 to 120 years old.  They are also pesticide free and sustain organic practices on all their vineyards.

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JACUZZI WINERY– Sonoma, CA – Only 417 feet from Cline Cellars is this fabulous Italian themed winery. They have a beautiful tasting room, food & gift shop. Here you can also sample glorious house made olive oils and vinegars.  Like Cline Cellars, they offer a complimentary wine tasting of 5 of their non-reserve wines. The grounds are spectacular and you almost feel as if you are on vacation in Italy, and yes they are the ones who invented the “Jacuzzi Spa Tub”. Go ahead and take some photos of yourself while you are here, your friends will be jealous that you are in Tuscany!

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Be a Tourist in Your Hometown – Part 1 West Sonoma County

:::  BE A LOCAL TOURIST :::

I bet many of you are probably a lot like me. You have lived in your city for years, but rarely go out and explore your domain. When you do go somewhere for a day-trip, it’s usually to San Francisco or the East Bay, or maybe a jaunt out to the coast. I mean who doesn’t love Bodega Bay or Pier 39, right?  We tend to go to places that we have been before, locations that are easy to find.

I challenge you to take at least one day this spring or summer and try out something new. Go be a tourist in your county. Get off the beaten path and go explore. Take a road you have never driven before or have no idea where it will lead to. (No cheating using GPS or Googlemaps.) If you are an obsessive planner, like me, you might want to choose your direction first, then search the net for at least one or two new places to stop at. Then let the rest of the day’s activities just happen.

I know what questions are roaming around in your head right now: “I am not spontaneous”, “I like to have a plan” or “What if sucks and it’s a huge waste of time?”. Or you might be saying:  “What if the food is disgusting?” or “I am awful with directions, what if I get lost?”  Well, the answer is quite simple: TAKE A CHANCE – DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT – HAVE AN ADVENTURE !  Seriously when was the last time you just got in your car, picked a direction and then went off to explore? No timelines, no GPS, just drive and see what happens? I guarantee even if the places you go are terrible, the adventure will become a fond memory.

If you are seriously nervous about this concept, then you can do a little research before heading out. But to save you time, I have already done some research for you. I will be posting separate blog entries by region with a list of my top must-stop locations. All you have to do is pick at least one of them, then jump in the car, and go enjoy. So what are you waiting for?

I find it best to take a friend with you. You will want someone to experience this with; to share in the triumphs and the defeats; to laugh when you get lost, and to be there to push the car if you run out of gas. A group of 2-4 people is perfect. I prefer a smaller group. Sometimes the more people you have the more opinions you get and the more stress you can have. This is meant to be fun. As adults we think we can’t have fun anymore, and boy we could not be more wrong. [ Note: taking silly photos of you along the way makes the trip even more fun!]

In 2014 so far I have been exploring the towns of Sebastopol, Bodega, Sonoma, and some locations in Napa County. I have mainly gone out on weekdays with one or two friends at a time.  If  you can take a day off work I highly recommend this. For one, there are less crowds and you tend to meet more locals that are really friendly. I tend to get more tastes at wineries because they are slower, and I have often received complimentary snacks as well. The pourers are chattier and I have met several wine makers and got to talk to them about their products. I was lucky enough to get a photo with a winemaker, have him sign the bottle, and got to experience the bottle of wine he personally bottled only 6 hours earlier that same day. You won’t usually get these opportunities on the weekends.  If there is a special place you really are dying to try, make that your focal point, then see if you can find some surprises along the way.



WEST SONOMA COUNTY – Sebastopol, Forestville, Bodega Bay



::: Wild Flour Bread :::

::: Hours: 8:30am to 6:30pm Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday
::: Location: 140 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone, CA 95472

Wild Flour

The glorious selection of fresh bread

Wild Flour

Yummy samples to try

Wild Flour

Myself in the garden

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Audrey & Melody in the garden

 

What’s Awesome about them: If you are heading out to the coast or just happen to be in Sebastopol, you should stop in here at Wild Flour for some truly remarkable crusty bread. All their bread is baked in a wood fired brick oven, that has pretty much stayed lit for the last 10 years. They offer free samples of lots of breads, you can eat in the beautiful garden where they grow vegetables, herbs and flowers.  They have many vegan items including scones, and they  have coffee, tea and other beverages, Be sure to check out all the beautiful murals inside.

Best Bets:  The (ginormous) Sticky Bun, Fougasse, Goat Flat and the scones {Please note they only take cash or checks.}


::: Enduring Comforts :::

::: Hours: not 100% sure – but seem to be open when Wild Flour is
:::  Location: 142 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone, CA 95472

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{From L to R: Audrey finds the hats : Melody admiring the wares : My friend Dusty looking dapper in a top hat}

What’s Awesome about them: Enduring Comforts is located right next to the Wild Flour Bread. They have a unique selection of new items and antiques. Its fun to stroll over and try on hats and scarves and then browse through the store checking out some of the more interesting antiques. Prices are reasonable, but I am not sure of the days they are open. I did go once when Wild Flour was closed on and they were also closed.

Best Bets:  Fabulous bar soaps, fun hats, jewelry, silly photos

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{Photos above: Some of the antiques and unique items in Enduring Comforts}


::: Patrick’s Salt Water Taffy :::

::: Hours: Mon-Thurs 10AM-6PM / Fri-Sun 10AM-7PM 
:::  Location: 915 Hwy 1 Bodega Bay, CA 94923

Patricks Salt Water Taffy

Best taffy on the whole West Coast!

What’s Awesome about them: If you are out at the Bodega coast, you just have to stop here at Patrick’s (look for the pink and white stripes). They seriously have the BEST salt water taffy I have ever devoured. And so you don’t wind up with a bag full of a flavor you hate, just ask for a (free) sample. Their prices are very reasonable. A small bag runs about $1.50, while larger bags are about $3.25. All taffy is sold in pre-portioned bags, some are one flavor per bag, but they also have great mixed bags as well. They have other candy for sale if you are one of the few people who do not like taffy and they do accept credit cards. There’s also a neat little eclectic shop next to them in the same parking lot. They carry a lot of nautical treasures, including mermaids, anchors, picture frames, pj’s, sweatshirts,  etc.

Best Bets: Chocolate mix, birthday cake, caramel swirl and rum


::: Red’s Apple Roadhouse :::

::: Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
::: Location: 4550 Gravenstein Hwy. N (next to Mom’s Apple Pie) Sebastopol, CA

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{From L to R: Dusty at the entrance : Checking out the awesome menu }

What’s Awesome about them: If you are heading out Sonoma County’s west side (towards Forestville), Red’s Apple Roadhouse is a tasty stop to grab some of the best homestyle comfort farm-to-table food out there.  They also recently added a small tap room, so you can grab a local beer (or wine) with your meal. Some nights they have live music and they have seating inside and some outside on thier deck. I heard their Apple Cider doughnuts are to die for, but I have yet to order them.

Best Bets for Breakfast:  (Juicy & flavorful) Chicken & Waffles, Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
Best Bets for Lunch:  Pulled Turkey Sandwich, Pastrami Burger, don’t forget the onion rings!
Best Bets for Dinner:  (Juicy & flavorful) Fried Chicken Southern Dinner, Red’s Hot Brown


::: Kozlowski Farms :::

::: Hours: 9 am – 5 pm 7 Days a Week Closed:New Years, Easter, Thanksgiving & Christmas  
:::  Location: 5566 Gravenstein Hwy N (Hwy 116) Forestville, CA 95436

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{From L to R: Dusty at the entrance : Audrey with a trio of mustards to sample}

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{From L to R: Selection of wares : It’s the best chocolate sauce – TRY IT OR ELSE :  Delectable Pies }

What’s Awesome about them: If you are heading out Sonoma County’s west side (towards Forestville), past Red’s Apple Roadhouse, be sure to stop at Kozlowski Farms Visitor Center to try all sorts of jams, jellies and sauces!  They have a larger variety of flavors than you can find in the grocery store. You can pick up a few jars or make a custom gourmet gift basket with all sorts of goodies. They also have amazing PIES (better than Mom’s Apple Pies) and they come in two different sizes. Grab a smaller hand pie so you can get a variety of flavors and they are more portable. I tried almost everything they had out to sample, and when I asked about a few flavors that were not available to try, the clerk opened the fridge and let me pick out of all the ones I wanted to try that they had not put out that day!

Best Bets:  My favorite jams are the Apricot & Mango, Pear Butter, Pineapple, Blackberry, Fig & Muscat Wine, and the Strawberry Rhubarb. All of the pies are great and the Oatmeal Fruit bars are da bomb!


::: Russian River Vineyards  :::

::: Hours: Tasting room is open daily from 11 am to 5 pm
:::  Location: 5566 Gravenstein Hwy N (Hwy 116) Forestville, CA 95436

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What’s Awesome about them: At Russian River Vineyards, you will be treated to a beautiful location and greeted by Chester the sweet rescue dog, who also graces the label of one of their zinfadels. Also if you go to their website, they have a coupon for a free wine tasting for up to 4 people. This is one of the oldest vineyards in the region and they have been slowly upgrading the property to be 100% organic & green. Love the purple front door, and the tasting room staff is very friendly, knowledgeable and they have some really great wines. Also if you unable to drive after tasting so many scrumptious wines, you can stay there and grab a bite to eat at Cork’s. I have not have the chance to eat there yet, but I have heard the reviews were great. Be sure to ask about the bats in the belfry!

Best Bets: 2013 Sonoma Coast Gewurztraminer, 2012 RRV Chester’s Zinfandel, 2011 Estate Grown Pinot Noir


::: SUB ZERO Ice Creamery :::  

::: Hours:Mon-Thur: 12pm-9pm, Fri-Sat: 12pm- 10pm Sun: 11am-9 pm
::: Location: The Barlow @ 6760 Mckinley St. #11, Sebastopol, CA 95472

Sub Zero

The entrance to the most glorious ice cream in all the lands

What’s Awesome about them: So if you haven’t heard of the BARLOW yet in Sebastopol, then click here to find out all about it. It’s a new concept bringing together the community with artisans, wine makers, art and food.  They still have many open spaces just waiting for the right tenants to sign their name on the lease. SUB-ZERO  is one store within the complex that already has a line out the door most of the time. Don’t worry its usually not a long wait, and even if it is, I promise it will be worth it.

So here’s how it works (click here for the  MENU). They have no pre-made ice cream here. It’s all made fresh right before your very eyes using the highest quality and freshest ingredients. You start of by selecting a cream base, an ice cream flavor, and things to blend in (“toppings”), then sit back and watch as your bowl of ice cream is made instantly with liquid nitrogen!  Its dessert and a science lesson, how cool is that? You can even choose how soft or hard you like your ice cream. The flavor combinations are endless and you can’t go wrong with adding a freshly made waffle bowl or cone.

I have to admit that I am totally spoiled now, and no other ice cream compares to Sub Zero. It’s literally the creamiest, richest, smoothest, ice cream you will ever experience in your lifetime. Additionally, if you’re looking for a low-fat alternative, They are very smart and also have soy and rice milk on hand for anyone that is lactose intolerant or vegan. They have something for everyone! Also Friday nights beginning at 7:00 pm they have Fire-pit Fridays. Sit out by the pit and chat with the locals while you slurp up your delicious concoction. There’s also a bocce ball court next to the pit for anyone who wants to use up their energy.

Best Bets:  Specials of the month are pretty much always going to be a win win (February’s flavor was stellar), but another favorite was Marshmallow Custard Cream, with graham crackers and chocolate chips. It tastes just like a s’more.

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{From L to R: Melody, Audrey and myself with our amazing treats : Looks like a zombie movie, but nope it’s just the liquid nitrogen }