Oceans. Mountains. Vineyards. Oh my!

Oceans. Mountains. Vineyards. Oh my!

So I mentioned in my last post that I would post about my family’s visit to see us a few weekends ago, and I’ve actually made time to do that this week amidst a busy week (work is pretty busy, plus it is cleaning week!). My parents got in on a Thursday and since Derrick and I were both working, we just had dinner with them at our apartment and got to show them our humble abode.

Friday, we went to Santa Cruz (finally!). As a side note, the University of California Santa Cruz’s mascot is a banana slug. Just thought this was worth sharing because seriously, who makes their mascot the banana slug? Awesome, right? We actually drove onto campus, which is tucked up in the hills and it is a beautiful campus. Plus you see students walking around sporting slug gear. The main part of our day in Santa Cruz was spent along the wharf and the Boardwalk along the ocean. The wharf has several restaurants and some shops along it, but my favorite part besides the amazing ocean view was the sea lions! There were so many, I don’t even know how to estimate how many we saw. They were so fun to watch, especially when they played their own version of king-of-the-mountain on the beams below the pier. After strolling along the wharf, we ate lunch at the FireFish Grill where we all ate delicious fresh seafood.The Boardwalk is an amusement park and, according to my boss, was purchased by Frank Sinatra at some point in time who helped clean and renovate it from what it had been (and if it wasn’t so late and I didn’t feel lazy I would have actually investigated this and given a little history lesson about it if it was interesting enough, but it is late and I am feeling lazy, so we’ll take my boss’s word for it). Because it was October and a weekday, nothing was actually open/operating, but we still could stroll through and see what it had to offer. I’m sure in the summertime that place is packed!

Kind of hard to see, but I don't have any other good pictures of the sea lions (I think they're on DQ's phone still)
Kind of hard to see, but I don’t have any other good pictures of the sea lions (I think they’re on DQ’s phone still)

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Standing on the wharf with the Boardwalk in the background
Standing on the wharf with the Boardwalk in the background

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I made everyone sit still in the car until I could take a picture of this one-legged rat-with-wings (seagull)
I made everyone sit still in the car until I could take a picture of this one-legged rat-with-wings (seagull)

All in all, I’d say we had a pretty enjoyable time and I’m glad we finally got down to Santa Cruz (although we still didn’t make it to the Mystery Spot, so I guess that’s for next time!). Now heading down towards Monterey Bay and Big Sur are next on mine and Derrick’s list of places to visit. On the way home from Santa Cruz, we drove through a bunch of mountains and a redwood forest, which was awesome! It still blows my mind how quickly you can go from desert areas to mountains to forests to beaches out here. Friday evening, my sister, brother-in-law, and favorite (only) nephew got in to San Jose and we all got to hang out, eat pizza, and I got to see how different my nephew is compared to when I last saw him in May! He has changed so much but he is so fun and quite the little personality 🙂

On Saturday, we all went up to San Francisco. We kicked the trip off by going across the Golden Gate Bridge. This was my third trip to the Golden Gate, so I wasn’t that excited about it, but it was actually the clearest, nicest time we’ve been to the bridge and we drove a lot higher up to lookout spots including Hawk’s Hill and got to enjoy some fabulous views. After that, we headed back into the city and down to Fisherman’s Wharf and then over to Ghiardelli Square. It had been a few years since the last time Derrick and I had been down that way, so it felt new again to be down there. We watched the sea lions at Pier 39 and then ate at a restaurant right off the pier, where we, again, all ate delicious fresh seafood. I tried crab cakes for the very first time and I was not disappointed by the hype that Derrick gave them. After lunch, my mom, my sister, my nephew, and I all rode the carousel that is down at the Wharf. I felt kind of silly and like a little kid, but watching my nephew (who is a little over a year old) enjoy the ride was a lot of fun. We walked off lunch by heading to Ghiardelli Square and then headed towards Union Square to the hotel where my sister and brother were staying overnight before going to SFO. We ate at a small Italian restaurant around the corner from the hotel and then went back to the hotel where my parents and Derrick and I said goodnight/good-bye to my sister and brother and nephew. It was a bummer to say goodbye to them, especially because I would have loved having more time to hang out with my super fun nephew 🙂

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Sunday was our trip to Napa Valley. We got up to the Valley around lunch time so we ate lunch at this swanky newly-opened restaurant, where I had this crispy chicken sandwich and it was delicious! We went to 4 wineries: Frog’s Leap, Rutherford Hill, Charles Krug, and Castello di Amorosa. In case any of y’all are interested in visiting wine country and want my two cents about the places we visited, here’s my run down. Frog’s Leap was a cute place with decent wine. We did a garden tasting so we just got to enjoy the garden and mountain views and had 4 different tastes, I think. Rutherford Hill was a really cool place to visit. We took a tour and I learned so much about how they actually make wine and a lot about the blends, etc. At Rutherford Hill, they have caves for aging their wine and when you take the tour you get to go in them and do some tasting in the caves. I had no idea caves were the thing in terms of aging wine, but apparently they are. Cool stuff and the wine there was really good. Derrick and I bought a bottle of savinougn blanc there, although their reserve Merlot might have been the best (and most expensive?) of the ones we got to taste. Derrick and I sat out the Charles Krug stop, and then we went to the Castello di Amorosa, which as you may have noticed, got it’s own link when I listed it above. Why? Because I don’t even know how to begin explaining why there is a medieval Italian castle in the middle of Napa Valley. But bottom line, it is pretty darn cool! There are emus and goats and these chickens with feathered feet, which is all quite random, but, again, cool. We took a tour of the castle that finished in a tasting room. The castle had a torture room and dungeon, a big dining hall, a chapel, among others, and it also had caves for aging. The wine itself is also good, although they only sell directly from the castle so you won’t ever see their wines on the shelves. We also bought a bottle of wine here as well, so now we have two nice bottles of wine to enjoy. (And since we aren’t too far away from Napa we can always get more!) Four wineries (in my case 3 wine tastings) in one day may have been a little ambitious, but it was a fun day and my dad, who planned our day, did a good job of giving us all a taste of Napa. My parents left Monday morning so it was back to the daily grind, but the time with family was so good. Sometimes I feel a little isolated out here since all our family and friends are so far away, so having them here (and Derrick’s sister back in September) is a fantastic remedy for that feeling! I feel very blessed that we’ve been able to have family come see us out here already as we are still adjusting to our new home.

Swanky restaurant (I stole this picture from my mom's facebook...thanks for the picture, Mom!
Swanky restaurant (I stole this picture from my mom’s facebook…thanks for the picture, Mom!
Lounging in the garden at Frog's Leap.
Lounging in the garden at Frog’s Leap.
The caves at Rutherford Hill
The caves at Rutherford Hill
Barrels full of wine in the caves at Rutherford Hill
Barrels full of wine in the caves at Rutherford Hill
At Rutherford Hill
At Rutherford Hill
View from Rutherford Hill
View from Rutherford Hill
This guy was in the weapons room.
This guy was in the weapons room.

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Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
view from up on the hill at the castle
View from up on the hill at the castle

 

Well, this post has gone on long enough, and if you’ve actually stuck with it and read the whole post up to this point, kudos! In other news, my baking on Sunday was a success…I made pumpkin spiced oatmeal pecan cookies. I normally am not a pumpkin person, but, as I mentioned last time, I’m feeling adventurous about baking. So I gave them a try (from a recipe off of skinnytaste.com again) and I thought they were pretty good. When Derrick taste-tested, he asked for a second cookie immediately, which is a sure sign that they are delicious (I consider Derrick a cookie aficionado). I took a bunch to work and just in three days, they’re almost gone, so I guess they are popular. My favorite part about them is that while you bake them, the kitchen smells like fall and holidays and everything autumnal.

IMG_2525Happy Hump Day! Hope the rest of the week is a good one. Thanks for bearing with me in this ridiculously long post 🙂

 

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