02.05.2017 - 05.05.2017
I first visited California when I was 3 years old and have since frequented the Golden State on at least 6 occasions. Ryan, on the other hand, had never been to this part of the west coast. A few hours after leaving Las Vegas, we pulled into Baker, California for a quick bite at the fast food chain known as Carl’s Jr. I have fond memories of the burger joint’s star-shaped chicken nuggets (aka “c nuggs”) that I enjoyed in my youth. The chicken tenders and fries were a decent solution for lunch. As I like to say about food that is not the most nutritious: “it’ll make a poop.” The thermometer rose to 101 degrees on the outskirts of Death Valley. Thanks goodness for air conditioning! We did not plan accordingly for gas and paid a whopping $3.57 per gallon in the desert. Ouch.
We rolled into Rancho Cucamonga, California around 5:00 pm on Tuesday, May 2. My Uncle Pete, the former President for Smithford Products, and his Chilean wife Cecilia welcomed us into their lovely home for the next two nights. Our stay at the “Hotel California” was a lot of fun. We started the evening with happy hour, which translates to alcoholic beverages, scratch-off lottery tickets, and munchies (cheese and crackers, in this case). Ryan and Pete grilled delicious New York steaks and we enjoyed catching up about life since the last time we saw them at our wedding in September.
Prior to our arrival, Uncle Pete emailed me: “Give us a heads up on ideas of what you and Ryan would like to see and do when you get to Calif.” I responded, “Ryan has never been to California so we are up for whatever. He wouldn’t mind seeing some of the sites. Perhaps a visit to the ocean? The less car travel time the better since we are getting plenty of that over the next few weeks." ‘White Passion’ took over and we ended up driving 240 miles throughout California that Wednesday! Good thing I packed my travel Jeopardy! and puzzle book for entertainment. Our first stop was the ritzy Coronado Island next to San Diego. We entered the parking lot for the Hotel Del Coronado and my jaw dropped when I noticed the price for parking was a minimum of $30 for the first hour. The exception was if you spent $50 or more at their retailers, the fee was waived down to $5. What a deal. Peter informed us that a lot of the Presidents vacation at this Hotel and I could easily see the appeal. Located adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, the flowers and construction were designed for royalty. Sometimes you have to spend money to save money, as was the case with the parking situation. Our group purchased a couple of souvenirs then took off for lunch down the road in La Jolla. A beach bar named Shore Rider received rave reviews for their Ahi tuna and Mexican-themed cuisine. The chips and guacamole were phenomenal and the outdoor seating made for a pleasant dining experience.
Following lunch, the four of us drove to Newport Beach. The sand was soft and the ocean was a refreshing 63 degrees. We all waded in the water with Ceci and I later coming to the unfortunate realization that we were in an area littered with petroleum oil. Luckily I was wearing my cheap Old Navy flip-flops! Pete and Ryan patiently waited while the girls tried to scrub the black resin-like substance off the bottoms of our feet. Even before the incident, Ceci kept saying that we should have gone to Laguna Beach instead. Touché.
Yet another unsuccessful casino stopover was followed by dinner at the Yardhouse. We received the late-night discount on our food and beverages which were all scrumptious. After a wonderful day of site-seeing, it was eventually time to get some shut-eye.
Ryan and I headed north to Santa Rosa on Thursday, May 4. Based on a terrific recommendation by our friend Sarah Farwell, we made reservations for two nights at the Hotel La Rose. We walked around downtown and found some local watering holes, including an upscale bar/restaurant called Jacksons and a British dive bar by the name of Toad in the Wall. We befriended the bartenders and chowed down on Bangers and Mash at the latter. Like Napa Valley, Sonoma County is well-known for its vineyards. Ryan and I booked a wine tour through Wine Country Journeys and were picked up in a swanky van that Friday morning around 10:30 am. Jerry was our knowledgeable guide who runs the business with his wife Amanda. We were joined by three other couples for the day-long outing. The first was Shawn, an ob-gyn, and his wife Stefanie, a social worker from Tampa, Florida (right to Ryan and I in the photo). Another pair from Denver, Colorado was Jason, a police officer in the canine unit, and his significant other Amy, a human resources representative for a government agency (furthest left in the photo). Lastly, Linessa, a pediatrician, and her husband Robert, a Harvard-taught lawyer, were from Houston, Texas and celebrating their 1-year wedding anniversary. Ryan and I were glad to be in the company of such a dynamic group of people.
Our entourage stopped at four wineries in the region. Ryan and my favorite was the first place called J Rickards. We reveled in the private tour and especially liked seeing the cellar where the wine barrels were stored. Since the region is renowned for its red grapes, we bought a bottle of J Rickards petit Syrah and a cabernet franc from J Pedroncelli. Other purchases included a t-shirt for Ryan at Kokomo Winery, lunch consisting of paninis and chips from the local general store, and a present for my sister Alayna from the David Coffaro winery. Afterwards I took a nice nap back at the hotel to rest up for another night out. Feeling rejuvenated, I accompanied Ryan to the local whiskey bar, Jack and Tony’s. We saw our bartending buddy Omar again at Jacksons and ate dinner there. A final trip to Toad in the Wall was a delightful way to end our stay in California.