I love to check out the local shopping scene when we go on vacation. Not even a pandemic can stop me (COVID safe shopping, only, though). Healdsburg is a small town but has some definite shopping gems. Most of these are located in the vicinity of the downtown plaza and are within a few blocks of each other. My recommendation would be to spend an afternoon wandering the streets around the plaza. Start by grabbing a coffee. Then wander a bit. Perhaps later you will be ready for an ice cream cone or slice of pie. Then more wandering. You might even pop into a tasting room or two before checking out the streets one last time.
There are lots of fun shops and I didn’t get an opportunity to adequately explore (damn rain). Below, however, are a few of my favorites.
Zizi is a fun clothing store one block off the main plaza. My daughter snagged a lovely jumpsuit here. Spacious store, not crowded.
Anthem Home, located just across the street from Oakville Grocery, has a beautiful selection of home decor. Relatively spacious store. Friendly staff.
Oakville Grocery is a Healdsburg standby. Located just off the main square, this is a mash up of food and goods. There are breakfast items, sandwiches and salads to go as well as a coffee bar. You can also purchase specialty food items, bottles of wine and fun local goods (oils, preserves, spreads, kitchen gear, etc). There is an outdoor seating area if you choose to consume your food purchases on site. COVID friendly? Kind of. They follow all the recommended protocols but the store is small and can quickly get crowded. Spoiler alert: the service here is SLOW! It takes a really long time for food orders to be prepared. I’m talking 20-30 minutes for sandwiches to go. Plan accordingly.
Healdsburg Running Company is the local running store, located just a block or two off the main square. This place is fabulous! Wide selection of running apparel, shoes and accessories with some of the best service around. I stopped in here because, as a runner, I wanted to check it out, but also because I didn’t pack enough warm clothes for this trip and thought I might find some solutions in here. I left with a few pairs of socks, Vuori joggers, and a Vuori sweatshirt, as well as shorts and a running hat for my daughter. I talked local running trails with the staff, one of whom also happened to know about the running community in my hometown. They also host various runs during the week which I would love to take advantage of on my next trip there.
Next up….the Jam Jar. I love this cute little jewelry and accessory shop located just around the corner from the running store. This little piece of paradise features local, hand made, ethically sourced and up-cycled jewelry, art and accessories. It has become my tradition in recent years to buy jewelry as souvenirs when I travel and the Jam Jar allowed me to keep this tradition alive. I found some great earrings and a necklace for myself as well as earrings and hairpins to take back to friends as gifts. My daughters found a few lovely pieces as well. The owner was really friendly and helpful. The shop is small but we were the only customers there and felt quite safe.
All in all, a diverse line up of shopping treasures. Enjoy!
With our bags packed and our intentions clear, we set off for our first post-COVID jaunt, headed to Sonoma. We found the most affordable flights out of an airport that is a three hour drive from our home. Luckily, the flight didn’t leave until early afternoon, giving us time to sleep in a bit before hitting the road. The sky was blue and the roads clear when we set off on our way (definitely not a guarantee here in early spring). All signs were indicating that luck would be on our side.
We arrived at the airport early, parked our car and proceeded inside. Having not flown during the pandemic, I was curious to see how air travel would feel. The processes inside the airport were basically all the same, except that, as expected, everyone was wearing masks. The lines all looked longer because of the distance between people but they moved along just about as (in) efficiently as usual.
In my mind, I was trying to normalize this adventure as much as possible, both for myself, and for my girls. I wanted proof that the outside world was still there, and still humming along as usual. I had to admit, though, that things didn’t seem quite normal. First, the airport read more like a ghost town than a bustling transportation hub. There were empty seats to sit on and an abundance of bathroom stalls to choose from. While this actually makes flying more enjoyable, it also makes it…..well…. weird. Second, many of the retail shops and restaurants are shuttered, leaving a lonely Hudson News and a solitary Starbucks to provide preflight refreshments. The final clue that something wasn’t quite right was the repeated announcement to “Please wear your mask IN and ON the airport”. Ummmmm……IN and ON the airport??? Are there people ON the airport??? Weird.
Regardless, we quickly adapted to our surroundings. We’ve had practice after all. The planes were maybe 50% full (weird). The flights were quick and drama free. The layover was painless and baggage claim and rental car pickup were efficient. Again, weird.
After some fumbling with the navigation system of our rental car, we entered in our destination and took off for Healdsburg. By this point, it was dark and pouring rain and I was really thankful I had driven these roads a few times before. Needless to say, it was still kind of stressful. I managed my stress successfully with a playlist curated by my 14-year-old, Gardetto’s snack mix and some Mike and Ike’s. Road trip food of champions. Finally, I was starting to feel a little more normal.
It’s a nearly 2 hour drive from San Francisco to Healdsburg. By the time we arrived, we were tired and hungry. We were also really, really lucky because my sister had driven up from San Francisco earlier in the day and had already settled into our AirBnB and was well on her way to cooking us dinner. Our little house for the week was situated on a quiet country road and the navigation system delivered us there flawlessly. We stepped inside to delicious aromas and a well-plated charcuterie board. My sister handed me a glass of wine. Bliss.
It felt surreal that night to sit there, vaccinated, in a vacation house, with my sister and daughters, talking, plotting, eating, drinking and laughing. It seemed surreal that just a year ago, we were hunkered down at home, alternating between worrying, crying and trying to hold it all together. It seemed surreal that I could, finally, gingerly, sit down, and take a breath.
When possible and practical, I like to include the details of a packing list for my various adventures. Partly, this is to perhaps help others in their journeys. I have to admit, though, to a certain selfish agenda. You see, I struggle with the packing. I want to have all the right things at all the right times. Kind of a tall order when you are allotted fifty pounds and one bag. Also, I want to be a minimal traveler. You know, the one who rolls through the airport, jauntily toting one weekender bag which will sustain her for a month or more in a foreign country. I have a long ways to go.
The packing for this trip was instructive. Mostly because I kind of messed it up. So I thought I would share. Maybe it will help both of us next time around.
I’ll start by confessing that I packed for the trip I wanted to have, not the trip I was actually going to have. Pretty much always a bad idea. You see, I wanted to escape for a sunny and relaxing getaway, replete with lounging in the sun, running, yoga, hot tubbing, strolling through the nearby small town, and sipping wine at sun soaked wineries. I envisioned a lot of sun and outdoor time. Never mind that the forecast called for clouds, rain, and highs in the upper 50’s. Not to worry. I’d just bring layers.
My other posts about this trip will detail what we did, for now we will just focus on what worked, and what didn’t, from the packing standpoint.
-Hat (for sitting in the hot tub during a rain storm. Also for wearing while snagging croissants in the early morning pre-shower hours)
-Running clothes (short sleeve top with arm warmers, crop leggings, headband, lightweight mittens, socks, water bottle)
-Comfy pajamas, like these from Cuyana. Seriously, these are the best!
A little over a year ago, the world was shutting down. We didn’t know where we could go, what we could do, how to be safe. Supplies were purchased, tears were shed, plans were canceled. For many of us, there has been no travel. It has now been 13 months since I stepped on an airplane.
For a long time, I simply had no desire. It was too risky to sit in airports, share space on planes, or contemplate navigating lodging and food and activities in a manner that was going to be safe. It felt too irresponsible to my patients to knowingly put myself at risk and then return to caring for them. It was all too hard.
Two months ago, with the protection afforded by a COVID-19 vaccine, I began to contemplate traveling again in this world. It’s far too soon for me to leave the country, but perhaps I could venture out a bit. I thought about my options (still somewhat limited), but decided that what I really wanted to do was visit my sister. She lives in San Francisco and it occurred to me that a wine country getaway might be just the ticket. I texted and asked if she might be interested. There was no hesitation in her affirmative response.
(COVID caveats: I am fully vaccinated. My sister has had COVID. My two daughters, traveling with me, are presumed to be non-immune. So I still wanted to be as safe as possible.)
(COVID caveat #2: No judgment here, please, about any choices we might have made. I tend to be thoughtful and conservative with what I am willing to do. I also recognize that we all have different levels of risk tolerance. I firmly believe that we all need to make the decisions that are both societally responsible and best for ourselves and our individual circumstances.)
With agreeable travel partners secured, the planning commenced. Our target area: Sonoma Valley. I’ve been to both Sonoma and Napa on previous trips and find Sonoma a little more approachable, a little more affordable, and a little more willing to accommodate the presence of my tween and teen daughters. We didn’t have a specific location in mind, choosing more based on available accommodations than on any other criteria. I searched AirBnB and narrowed the list down to 5 potential candidates. They all boasted various amenities. All had hot tubs (a must for this trip), at least 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms (another must), and all had been afforded multiple positive reviews. One had a pool (would it be warm enough to use it?), a few had spacious decks, most had beautiful outdoor spaces, one had a game room complete with pool, foosball, Pac Man, and backyard chess. I decided to let the girls choose. Not surprisingly, perhaps, they voted for the property with the game room, well situated in the little town of Healdsburg.
We secured our rental property, purchased plane tickets, and sent grocery requests to my sister, who would be driving up from San Francisco and procuring our provisions on the way. The girls and I excitedly debated the merits of various outfits, shoes, and accessories (half the fun of the trip is in the planning, right?). We scoured the weather forecasts. We brainstormed activities to enjoy while we were there. (The details of which will be reviewed in future posts.)
As we planned this trip, I thought a lot about my intentions. It had been a long, hard, emotionally taxing year. I was spent, both personally and professionally. I was struggling to feel mindful. I was struggling to feel passionate. I was struggling to balance everything. I was going through the motions and I needed to rectify that.
I often have lofty visions of all that I will accomplish when I travel. You know, sleep enough, eat healthfully, meditate, exercise, see all the sights, spend quality time with everyone, learn photography, etc, etc, etc. This time, though, I needed something different. As I pondered my needs and my intentions, I arrived on one very simple thought. I just wanted to be present. To exist in the moment, whatever that looked like. And sleep. I needed sleep.
It’s a pretty big deal for me to have my focus so narrowly defined. But I felt for sure that it was going to be exactly the reset I so desperately needed.
Most of my travel posts will include a section at the end entitled “The Cost of Doing Business”. This is a list format reporting of the costs associated with that trip, or that segment of the trip. I will attempt, where applicable, to indicate how many people are included in the costs.
Travel costs can, of course, be significant. Additionally, we all have different values when it comes to how we spend our dollars. You might be a bare bones traveler for whom the experience is everything and not dependent on any luxuries. Likewise, you might find your self splurging on some things while controlling costs on others. Very few will travel with reckless financial abandon (no judgment here if you can swing that, though!).
You will likely ascertain my style after a posting or few. I like to think of myself as a traveler with high standards but endless patience for finding the very best value. I am very discerning about where I choose to lay my head at night. I will search and search for a good bargain but rest assured, I am willing to pay for quality lodging. I also love good food and good wine. That doesn’t mean they have to be expensive, but sometimes they are and that’s okay by me. I make up for my occasionally expensive restaurant meals by almost always eating in for breakfast and picnicking frequently for lunch or dinner. Experiences are of high value to me when traveling but this is where I feel I can also find the most savings. I will definitely shop the bargains, find the free passes, take advantage of extended hours, obtain the discounts that apply, make the calls for the coupons. Where applicable, I will try to note these in my posts. If absolute bargain travel is your thing, I may not be the resource for you. But I like to think that I provide insight about good value, high quality travel.
On our first sunny morning in Monterosso, the hiking trails of the Cinque Terre beckoned to us. (By beckoned, I mean that the adults woke, bleary-eyed, at sunrise, sought out coffee, and waited impatiently for the children to arise. When that didn’t occur naturally, they were rousted unceremoniously out of bed.)
We set off for the trails at 10:00 in the morning. The “ideal” hike in this region would start earlier than that…..the weather would be cooler and the trails less crowded but compromise is part of every family vacation. Also, sleep is important. Well-rested tweens are more agreeable tweens.
The trail heads steeply out of old town Monterosso, hugging the seaside cliffs and affording glorious oceanfront views. This trail is 3.5 km (2.2 miles) with 804 feet of elevation gain. We completed this in an hour and 15 minutes. There are multiple sets of stairs, some decent climbs, treks through lemon groves and vineyards, and a final, steep descent into the town of Vernazza. The views along the way are stunning with vast ocean panoramas, glimpses of daily life in the orchards and vineyards, and a bird’s eye view of Vernazza at the crest of the final hill. The trail is quite manageable but occasionally is narrow. There are some uphill portions but it is well balanced with long stretches of flat trail. Take your time on this one, the beauty is definitely in the journey here. As an aside, you will see many notices in the Cinque Terre regarding the dangers of hiking on the trails. We are from Montana and are quite accustomed to narrow, steep, rocky hikes. The trails of the Cinque Terre are no more challenging than what we routinely climb at home. That being said, be smart. Wear appropriate footwear (no sandals, flip flops, open-toed shoes), bring sunscreen, snacks, and water, and know your abilities. If you are in poor health or significantly out of shape, this might not be the adventure for you.
But I digress.
Upon arriving in Vernazza we climbed up, up, up again through the narrow village streets to Al Casello, a restaurant perched seemingly on the edge of the cliff. The absolute best feature of this restaurant is the view. Stunning 360-degree oceanfront vistas are a lovely backdrop to lunch. Some of the food was really great, some just good. The mussels were quite delicious. Service was quite hit or miss. After paying the bill in a backroom (cash only), the owner allowed us a shot of her very delicious homemade limoncello.
We set off from there along the continuation of the trail to the next village, Corniglia. This trail is much more open and therefore, much less shaded. It gets hot in the middle of the day. This is a 4 km (2.5 miles) trail with an elevation gain of 765 feet which we covered in an hour and a half. We shopped here for some small souvenirs and had gelato at Albergo’s. This is some of the best gelato in the region and worth the hike to find it. From Corniglia, we descended a long staircase to the train station where we hopped the train back to Monterosso.
The afternoon was spent beachside again. While the adults lounged in shaded chaise lounges, the girls took a paddle boat out into the bay and spent many happy hours in the water.
We wrapped up the evening with dinner at Ciak where we ate on the outdoor patio. This place is simply stunning. Delicious, authentic, Ligurian cuisine served in large crockery dishes. The mussels were quite amazing and squid ink risotto was delicious. Service was generally good although lagged a bit once our food was served. The flavors here are exceptional and it’s well worth a stop. Reservations recommended.
There hasn’t been much travel lately, for obvious reasons. We have largely settled into our new lives at home but we yearn for the days of carefree travel and adventure. Months before the advent of coronavirus in our country I had requested a few days off in October. My plan was to attend a professional conference that was scheduled for that weekend. We can all surmise what happened with said conference. But I still had those days off work and they beckoned to me with possibility. Obviously, they would afford me some extra time to spend with my girls. I had to wonder, though, if there were other opportunities hidden in this situation that I just hadn’t recognized yet.
For over a decade now, we have traveled with our dear friends at least a few times a year. We have a summer camping trip with them every August and a girls only Nutcracker weekend with them every December. Many years we also take a winter vacation with them to either Mexico or Hawaii. A handful of times they have visited at our home or at our cabin. The last time we were at their house, though, was when I was newly pregnant with my second child (she is now 11 years old). They live far away and it just didn’t work to get back there.
It had been on my mind for some time, this lack of a visit. People used to go visiting all the time. Now it seems that we go places and do things but we rarely visit. It seemed that my fortuitous few days off in October might be used for a visit.
Our friends live in the far northeast corner of Washington state, in a rural area where they garden and run a small vineyard. It seemed an idyllic place to escape from reality for awhile.
Given the current state of affairs we determined that the safest way to travel was to book a vacation rental so we weren’t sharing a living space with anyone else. In a small town it is not always easy to find a vacation rental but we totally lucked out. We found this newly built, absolutely adorable rental located just minutes from the river. If you’re in the area, check it out.
We arrived and settled in, stocking the kitchen with the groceries we procured along the way. We pulled out some board games and spent the afternoon snacking, sipping and playing. We met our friends in town and saw the places they frequent. We enjoyed a dinner together. The following day we met at their house and walked through the gardens, vineyards and flower beds. We walked up the road to a cemetery to find a geocache. We traipsed along the railroad bed. The girls decorated pumpkins and sat in the hot tub. We enjoyed a delicious bowl of potato leek soup.
After a good night’s sleep and a morning run through the countryside we met at a corn maze which the girls enjoyed immensely. Then we headed to a campground where we picnicked and hiked. After that there was a stop for ice cream then back to our place to make caramel apples and play games. The following morning we had to pack up and leave. We met our friends at the local bakery, snagged drinks and pastries and hit the road.
This trip wasn’t anything like our former vacations. There were no fancy condos, no pools with water slides and swim up bars, no whale watching cruises or sunsets from balconies. But there were things even more important than that. There were good friends, authentic conversations, new adventures in a new place, relaxation and restoration. It was the best interlude in this strangest of interludes.
Below are some links to the places we visited.
This is the cutest coffee shop. Variety of espresso beverages, smoothies, and baked goods. Service is not very fast but that’s not really the point here. Attached to a collection of antique shops if browsing is your thing.
Meyers Falls Market is a well stocked natural grocery store located in the same building as the coffee shop. They feature fresh produce, a nice bulk section, a wide variety of local products, and a cafe serving ice cream crepes, smoothies, wraps and more.
How else to describe this time we find ourselves in? We talk a lot of “before” and “when this is over”. We reminisce about the past and anticipate the future. It seems to be our natural tendency to talk of times past and times to come. This is particularly true when the “now” is nearly unbearable.
We are staring down the gauntlet of a devastating pandemic. We are living in a nation deeply divided and deeply fearful. Unrest is around every corner. We are collectively holding our breath, unsure if or when we will breathe deeply again.
Uncertainty haunts us.
Many of you can relate. And while the big uncertainties are, indeed, very big, I have also been uncertain about what to write on these pages. This was meant as a sort of travel/adventuring blog and those opportunities are in short supply these days. They also seem, well, trivial. So I haven’t written.
But as time wears on, I find that I am more and more compelled to write. It may well be that I write about the pandemic. I may write about parenting and doctoring through a pandemic. But what speaks to me now is to write of travel. I’m still wrapping up some posts about our Italian holiday. And while European travel hasn’t really happened this year, we have had some small adventures that have been really meaningful. So I hope you will forgive me for indulging in those topics in forthcoming posts. I know there is a pandemic raging. I know there is unrest in our country. Those are really big issues and they deserve my thoughtful attention. But sometimes, I have to break from those issues and give my mind and soul a little respite. An interlude during the interlude, if you will.
Now it’s time for the nitty gritty details. The last post was a bird’s eye view, now we are getting down and dirty. Here’s my take on what we did, what worked and what didn’t, on our recent couples trip to Clearwater Beach, Florida.
We have to start with food because the food here is simply amazing. There is an abundance of fresh, local seafood offered at reasonable prices, often with the opportunity to dine al fresco. Here’s the rundown:
Frency’s Saltwater Cafe. There are a handful of Frenchy’s around the area. We dined at the location on Poinsettia Road which is just a block off the main street. There were a lot of locals eating dinner which is always a good omen. This location offers open air dining but not really outside seating. Service was really friendly and attentive. The stuffed grouper entree is not to be missed. Delicious and affordable and set just the right vibe for our trip.
2. Lulu’s Oyster Bar and Tap House. This is a classic beachside oyster bar in Indian Rocks, about 7 miles down the road from Clearwater Beach. We biked here (which is another story) but you could easily drive, too. Located just a block off the beach, offers indoor seating. The raw oysters are amazing and reasonably priced. Lightly breaded oysters were also delicious. I loved the sides here, sweet potato fries and coleslaw. Service was excellent, once again.
3. Bait House. Oh, this is a good one! Al fresco dining on the very small deck of a small restaurant located at the back of a bait shop at the end of the pier. The catch of the day platter was a definite winner. Sides of kettle chips, broccoli and coleslaw. The key lime tart was utterly amazing. Don’t miss this one!
4. Clear Sky Café. Another favorite. We ate here twice for dinner and it was great both times. Located just one block off the beach with both indoor and outdoor dining, this cafe is funky and fun. Live music at night. Extensive menu is reasonably priced. Lobster mac and cheese, blackened seafood grill and key lime pie were all amazing. Reservations would be worth it although we walked in both nights and didn’t wait for long.
5. Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber. I love this place. It has an old school, supper club vibe that is somehow just perfect. It is a welcome respite from the beach themed cafes scattered all over Clearwater Beach. This is a place where the bartender knows your name, and your drink, and provides exceptional service all night. We stopped in here for drinks and appetizers and had an amazing time sitting at the bar. Oysters and crab cakes were delicious!
6. Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill. This is one of the only restaurants that is truly on the beach. There is a large verandah that provides ample outdoor seating. The food is good but not great but the views more than make up for it.
7. Bobby’s Bistro and Wine Bar. This is the more casual, younger sibling to Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber. The wine list is really extensive, particularly if you want to buy by the bottle. Menu is not large and the service was slow. It was fine, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back.
8. Another Broken Egg Café. I love brunch and this place delivered! New Orleans inspired cuisine in a friendly setting with indoor and sidewalk seating. Crab cake Benedict and beignets were amazing. Variety of mimosas and other drinks. Cold brew coffee was the best I had in Clearwater (why are there not better coffee options here???).
9. Sandbar Restaurant and Bar. Hands down, the best place to watch the sunset while sipping a drink and eating snacks. Don’t miss it!
10. Clearwater Oyster Company. I hate it when my last meal on vacation is a bust. It happened here. First the good. The raw oysters were delicious and there was a good variety to choose from. And that’s where it ends. Service was slow. The ambience was totally lacking. We had to watch a manager and two young employees gossip in front of our table for most of the meal. The food was mediocre. Disappointing.
Two mysteries remain to me after eating my way through Clearwater Beach. First, why do so many restaurants serve water in plastic cups???? We are on a beach! If that doesn’t inspire environmentally friendly practices, what will? Please, please choose something reusable or recyclable.
Second, WHERE IS THE GOOD COFFEE IN CLEARWATER BEACH??? I had literally one good cup of coffee here, despite searching high and low. Untenable.
Now that we’ve eaten our weight in oysters, it’s about time to contemplate a place to sit and rest while all that food digests. I really only have one recommendation here. If you can stay on the beach, do it. The views are stunning, the people watching is fabulous, and the ease with which you can pop out of your resort and hit the beach, or the shops or the restaurants makes the whole thing worthwhile. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach. The location is perfection. You can literally walk anywhere in Clearwater Beach from here. We booked a king suite which had a small kitchen. I love this convenience when I travel. It allowed me to eat a healthy breakfast every day and stock reasonable snacks and drinks, saving us money and time. I also love having a separate sleeping area and this suite did not disappoint. The pool is small but the surrounding terrace is lovely with amazing afternoon sun and views. Service was good. The spa was quite nice. There were multiple issues with the fire alarms during our stay. Presumably this is not an ongoing problem.
Now that we have eaten and rested, we are on to the final topic. What to do in this lovely seaside town? In this case, the obvious answer is the best one. Go to the beach! Sit on the beach, put your toes in the sand, walk from one end to the other (my personal favorite). I made it a point to walk along the beach as often as possible. It is simply restorative.
I also enjoyed hanging out by the pool with a good book and a glass of rosé.
Shopping here is pretty minimal. There are the expected touristy shops and not much more. There is a well stocked grocery store right on the beach, about half a block from the Hyatt, for any necessities (snacks, wine, La Croix, sunscreen, etc) you might require.
Bike rental is a big deal here (like many beach towns). I had an idyllic vision of tooling around town all day on our rented beach cruiser bikes. However, we rented single speed, uncomfortable, prone to breaking down bikes which didn’t actually turn out so well. We did ride them a good 15 miles with a wicked head wind for half of that. The chains fell off six times. It wasn’t idyllic. Still, if I return, I would rent bikes again. I would just make sure it was something with multiple gears, or, even better, a hybrid bike.
Bottom line, this is a lovely little spot for a relaxing get away. The pace is slow, the food is amazing and the views are exquisite. Just plan your bike riding carefully.