California Dreamin’

My desire to travel has always been a very prominent and present fixation in my life, and up until about 10 years ago, it was more a dream that I could not afford. I had wanderlust on my mind and an empty wallet. I still did an occasional trip somewhere once a year, but traveling on a budget limits the opportunities to really immerse yourself in a different culture, to really see things off the beaten path.

I’ve done the Vegas thing, Florida beaches at least 10 times, up and down the East Coast (which is stunningly beautiful, but I’ve seen it all and it all feels like home), I’ve done the Carolinas, Maine, Virginia, and every state in between. I’ve even done a road trip across the country (NY to AZ) and back again…I’ve been to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean which makes me “an international traveler” although it doesn’t feel that way.  And although I made it as far West as Arizona, I’d never stepped foot on California soil.  I’d never seen the Pacific Ocean. At least not until my cousin decided to get married in California this past June.

To sum up my cousin KK in one word would be impossible.  Choosing only one word for such a dynamic human being seems an injustice.  She is incredibly intelligent and stunningly beautiful.  She is talented, honest, kind, thoughtful, loyal, passionate, caring, responsible, independent and best of all, she’s genuine (something I don’t see everyday).

Karen and I circa 2011

KK is the kind of person that you want to spend more time with each time you see her because her energy and passion for life are infectious.  So when she called me up one day to tell me that she planned on getting married on the West Coast in the California Redwoods, how could I say no?!  That sounds like an adventure that I wasn’t about to miss.

So off to the airport my mother and I go, to a jam-packed 3.5 day adventure in California that we wont soon forget.  Bring on wine country, the biggest trees I’ve ever laid eyes on and a Sunday Funday with an old friend in San Fran!

Upon our arrival in San Francisco after a non-stop, 6 hour flight from JFK airport, and an abnormally long rental car waiting line (NBA finals as well as a professional soccer game that day) we decided to drive around San Fran to find a quick bite to eat before we needed to head North to California’s wine country.

We had done some research before we left as far as food places we wanted to try, but of course when we started exploring the city, we ended up at a place we had not seen or heard about and decided to just go with it.  It was called The Great American Grilled Cheese Kitchen and it was delish!  It was vegetarian friendly which made me happy and it had options for my meat eating-mom as well. It was a win/win. I had the Mushroom Gruyère grilled cheese (UGH, it was soooooooooo good) and my mom had the Club Turkey.  The service was quick and friendly and the outdoor dining was a nice bonus as we could look around the neighborhood while we dined. We would definitely go back!

After our lunch stop we drove through Chinatown, the red light district and a few other fun neighborhoods before heading for the Golden Gate Bridge. Not only was it an attraction that we both wanted to see, but in order for us to get to wine country, it meant we had to drive across it as well.  In all the times i’d seen the bridge on TV, or read about it, I don’t think you can understand it in all its grandeur until you are standing right on it.  It’s size astonished me. I mean, I knew it was big…but just how big was shocking.  The views are spectacular, even on foggy days. Definitely worth a stop!


The bride had reserved two different airbnb homes in Northern California for the big wedding weekend and so we headed to Forestville, CA to check in a get settled before we were due to arrive at the rehearsal dinner.  Both airbnb homes were stunning with open floor plans, which made for great entertaining with all the wedding guests. One house was reserved for “adults” while the other house was reserved for the wedding party and other “younger” guests.  There was a large pool and hot tub, plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms and a large kitchen/dining area. If you want to check out either of the airbnb homes that we stayed in they are: Black Mountain Retreat and Heart of Wine Country.

Who wants a pizza party?  Actually, who DOESNT want a pizza party? Yeah, that’s how we felt as well, so why not have a rehearsal dinner pizza party at the Union Hotel, a building that has been standing since the 1800’s and has seen its fair share of history.  The rehearsal dinner was a very relaxing, easy-going gathering of mostly close family and friends who made the trip to CA for the big day.   One of KK’s high school friends came all the way from Prague to celebrate the nuptials. That’s friendship at it finest!

The wedding day fell on a gorgeous, sunny, couldn’t have picked better weather, Friday morning. The ceremony was a top-secret event being held in the Redwood Forest.  The bride told the park rangers at the front gate that she was bringing a wedding party into the park briefly for a quick photo-op, but really, she was sneaking an entire wedding party and all the guests into the Redwood forest for a wedding ceremony out of a fairytale.

Pictures might show it best:

After the gorgeous ceremony and some photo ops in the forest, the whole gang piled into two large “party vans” and headed to the first of many vineyards.

The rest of the wedding day and the following day was filled with wine, cheese, laughter, family, friends and memories. In total, we visited 4 different wineries, a delicious italian restaurant for dinner and California’s Old Faithful Geyser (not the one in Yellowstone) to round out the wedding shenanigans. The wine was magnificent, the food was spectacular and the company was even better.

Wine tasting itinerary: MacRostie WineryThomas George WineryMumm NapaChandon Sparkling Wine.

Dinner spot: Flavor Bistro.  Make sure you try their butternut ravioli as well as their eggplant parmesan. So yummy!

Old Faithful of California: Old Faithful Geyser

With only 13 hours left before our flights were due to head back to NY, my mom and I decided to drive back down to San Fran to see more of the city (we only spent about 1.5 hours exploring when we first arrived in California) and we knew that if we wanted to see everything there was to see in the city, we needed a tour guide. A GOOD tour guide…so we called my old pal Ryne.


First, Ryne took us to his favorite burger joint, Super Duper for lunch.  He said it was a must-have as far as burgers go.  I had the veggie burger with added avocado and everyone else had the beef.  The place was packed and had a line out the door by the time we left which is a sure sign of its greatness. As Ryne had predicted, we LOVED it.

Then, onto the cable car for the most historically “tourist” thing to do in San Fran (and totally worth the wait).  As soon as we crammed onto the jam-packed cable car, I saw an opportunity to grab onto the railing and hang off the side of it as it whizzed down the narrow, hilly roads.  We saw Lombard Street (the most crooked street in America), the Mrs. Doubtfire house and Alcatraz. We visited Fisherman’s Wharf, watched the sea lions sun bathing and walked through the entire Union Street Festival before making our way to Dolores Park for a couple of hours of relaxation and local culture (Ryne called it “Sunday Funday”).  To be honest, the park was probably my favorite part.  There was so many things happening all around, so many happy, smiling faces. The weather was perfection, and being able to catch up with Ryne was so heart-warming, I could not have been happier. I can now say that Sunday Funday’s in San Fran with Ryne are TOP NOTCH.

We packed an entire weeks worth of activities and adventures into 3.5 days in California and would not change a thing (maybe other than more time).  California was more than we had imagined and exceeded our expectations.  I know both myself and my mom are itching to go back and do some more exploring.

Till next time West Coast.



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