Pietra Santa Winery outside of San Juan Bautista
Several people have asked us where our favorite places are in the Bay Area and our suggestions of places to visit either for themselves or for ideas as to where to take visitors. Recently my daughter Lizzie and her husband Ric visited from England for a couple of weeks. We thought it would be a good idea to write about where they went while they were here to give some ideas to those people.
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They arrived at the tail end of an extremely wet period on a Friday night. The next day rain was forecast and in fact it poured with rain for most of the day. We could have gone into San Jose and paid a visit to The Tech Museum or taken them to the Monterey Bay Aquarium but we decided on a trip to San Juan Bautista. Our first stop there was at Vertigo Coffee at 81 Fourth Street in San Juan, where we all enjoyed a cup of their speciality hot chocolates. If you like hot chocolate you have to try their Marilyn Monroe with coconut or their Charlie Brown with peanut butter. Neither Tom nor I like peanut butter but Lizzie chose the Charlie Brown and we had to taste it just to see what it was like. To me it tasted more like a Snickers Bar, and therefore I liked it, though I will stick to the Marilyn Monroe in future. Also they have started carrying Bistro Blends Balsamic vinegar which is the best balsamic we have ever tasted and can thoroughly recommend it.
We would have liked to take a walk around the shops in San Juan and the Mission but it was raining too hard. Lizzie and Ric have been here before and know a whole day can be spent here enjoying the sights. Instead we drove into the foothills to visit our favorite winery Pietra Santa. After tasting their selection we bought a couple of bottles of their Signature Chardonnay (my particular favorite), one bottle of Pinot Grigio and one of their Sangiovese.
The next day we took a trip to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The weather was better than the day before bit still a little chilly and overcast. We had breakfast at Bab’s Delta Diner in Suisun City before taking tour favorite route to the old Chinese town of Locke via the ferry to Ryer Island, the ferry to Grand Island and drive across Grand Island to Walnut Grove. In Locke we visited the restored boarding house, the Dai Loy Museum and the old schoolroom followed by a walk around the residential area. Of course, every visit to the area finishes up with a vanilla malt in Mel’s Mocha and Ice Cream in Walnut Grove.
Liz at Crissy Field during their bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito
On the Monday Lizzie and Ric travelled on the train to San Francisco where they stayed for three nights at the Villa Florence on Powell. They spent one day shopping in Union Square; one day cycling and one day walking. For the cycle adventure they rented bikes from Blazing Saddles and rode around the bay, through Crissy Field, over the Golden Gate Bridge, into Sausalito and back to the city by ferry. The walking tour took in Chinatown, Coit Tower, North Beach, the Marina, the Wave Organ near the the Golden Gate Yacht Club, Fort Mason, Giradelli Square and the Hyde Street cable car back to Powell.
I picked them up, plus all their shopping bags, from the San Jose Caltrain Station on the Thursday evening. The following day I wasn’t working so the three of us took a trip to the coast. As they have never visited Franklin Point, it was the obvious place to head for. It was an interesting day. First of all the 10 foot high tree stump which marks the beginning of the trail to Franklin Point was gone. We found it lying on the ground and noticed the bottom was rotted through. Then we had to wade through 2 feet of water because part of the trail was flooded. It didn’t end there. We had to take a detour to get to the bench because the tide was too high; Lizzie found a necklace partially buried in the sand; I met up again with the guy Tom and I met on our last visit; when we tried walking back along the beach we got soaked when a wave came in much higher than we expected and finally we had a difficult climb to get back to the trail. It was a wonderful day though and we finished our visit by having lunch in Duartes Tavern in Pescadero.
Liz and Ric admiring the view from the top of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.
The next day was Saturday so the four of us drove to San Francisco to cover some of the sights that Lizzie and Ric didn’t get to see during the week including Golden Gate Park – where we visited the De Young – and Haight/Ashbury.
On the Sunday we drove up to Healdsburg in the Sonoma Valley. It was a beautiful day and what could be better than a trip to Healdsburg and to visit a couple of wineries. Lizzie and Ric have never been to Healdsburg so we knew they were in for a treat. The drive up was magnificent and, being early on a Sunday morning, traffic was light. At 8:30 we were driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco sparkled in the sunlight.
We stopped for breakfast at The Lighthouse Cafe in Sausalito where we had a short wait but it was pleasant standing outside in the sunshine and playing with a puppy which was tied to a lamp post a table became available. Our table was in the window so we enjoyed the view. Afterwards, on our way back to 101, we stopped to look at the houseboats juste to the north of Sausalito.
The drive up to Healdsburg, though pleasant, was not exciting. In Healdsburg it was nice to get out of the car and stretch our legs. I love strolling around the cute little town, with its shady tree lined square, irresistible boutiquey shops and inviting restaurants. Lizzie bought a bag, Tom bought a birthday card for his grandson and I pounced on an old sign for my son.
The vineyard outside of Johnson's Alexander Valley Wines. Kind of a funky laid back winery with lucious Zinfandels.
It was time to head for the wineries. First we drove to Alexander Valley and our favorite winery - Johnson’s Alexander Valley Wines at 8333 Highway 128. Johnson’s is a small, family run winery set some way back from the road. We were greeted by Comet, a yellow lab who led us to the tasting room. In his mouth he carried an extremely well chewed tennis ball which he dropped in front of us and looked up at Ric with imploring eyes. Ric responded by kicking the ball so Comet could chase after it. We were told Comet would happily play that game all day long. Leaving Ric to amuse the dog, we retired into the cool tasting room to sample the wines. There were only three to sample and they were all reds. We ended buying two bottle of their late harvest Zinfandel before heading off to the next winery. If you like your wineries high class and a bit over the top then Johnson’s isn’t the place for you. Some of the reviews in Yelp are pretty bad but we think those reviewers just don’t get it. This is a laid back winery down a dirt road through a vineyard with some great Zinfandels. Our next stop was the Hop Kiln in Dry Creek Valley, another favorite or ours. Since our last visit they have redesigned the tasting room with more space for displaying their mustards, sauces, and dips which were produced locally. As there was no space at the counters to taste any wines, we sampled the other goods for sale and bought a jar of their Sweet Garlic Mustard. Later we drifted over to taste the wine when a gap appeared and came away with two bottles pf their Pinot Noir. To round off our visit, we walked to the lake and sat at one of the picnic benches where we contemplated the beautiful view and enjoyed the warmth of the sun before heading back home.
There were only a couple of days left of Lizzie and Ric’s vacation and they spent it getting around our neighborhood by walking and shopping. All to soon it was time to take them back to the airport for their flight home and it was sad waving them off. Next time they visit there will be a host of new places for them to discover.
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May 16 2011 | Neighborhoods and Special Places | No Comments »
Sign outside Babs Delta Diner. Our favorite breakfast place.
Rob, my son, was visiting from the UK. As he had never been to Locke we decided to take him for a day visit. The weather was not kind to us at all, in fact it rained for most of the time.
We also had a task to do. Cathleen made a comment on our Delta Eco Tour asking about an abandoned building on Ryer Island. We have never noticed any such building on the island but decided to see if we could find it.
(Click the images for larger versions)
Our first stop as ever was for breakfast. As Babs Delta Diner in Suisun City is the best breakfast place we have been to, we decided to take a detour and introduce Rob to their wonderful breakfasts. Babs didn’t let us down. I went for the oatmeal again and Tom, who has always had the corn beef hash in the past, went for the sour dough French toast. Rob, on the other hand, ordered the Short Haul which was two hotcakes, 2 eggs and 2 slices of bacon served with country potatoes. When he was asked how he would like the eggs he said ‘fried’ but of course over here that is not enough information. Did he want them sunny side up, over easy, over medium or over well? Rob was speechless and didn’t know what the server was talking about. After we explained he opted for the sunny side up. We were all amazed when Rob’s meal turned up on three plates – potatoes on one, bacon an eggs on another and two enormous hotcakes on a third plate served with butter and hot syrup. He was so impressed he even took a movie of it. And he very nearly ate the lot!
To reach Locke we took the scenic route by crossing the river on the Real McCoy Ferry over to Ryer Island. We were hoping to ask the ferry operator about any abandoned buildings on Ryer Island but he never ventured out of the cabin. Who could blame him as the rain was coming down hard. Once on Ryer Island we turned left. Usually we turn right and go round the southern tip of the island to reach the next ferry but decided to take a different route to look for any old buildings. We drove across the island on Route 220. At one point I thought we’d struck gold. Ahead was an abandoned building and it looked like there was a wooden cross on one end. Cathleen mentioned she thought the building could be a church or a school. But I was deceived. When we got a little closer I realized that what I thought was a cross turned out to be the top of a telegraph pole. So we were unsuccessful in our endeavors Cathleen.
In Locke we parked on Main Street. There were a lot of cars but nobody was walking around. None of the shops were open so where was
Al the Wop's in Locke
everybody? We walked up and down Main Street, peering into shop windows. Some had signs saying there were open but the doors were locked.
Outside Al the Wop’s bar a man was smoking. He called across to us from the other side of the road and made some comment on the weather and then said it was the only place open and if we’d never been inside (which we hadn’t) it would be a good way to warm up. Nothing daunted we ventured inside. Al the Wop’s history goes back a long way. When the building was originally built it was a Chinese restaurant. In 1934 it became the first non Chinese business in town when Al Adami bought the building. He opened a bar and restaurant and called it Al’s Place, which became affectionately known as Al the Wop’s. Inside it has a long bar and tons of memorabilia on the walls. The biggest novelty were the dollar bills hanging from the ceiling. I asked the barman how they got there and he said it would cost a dollar to find out. Tom handed over a dollar bill and the barman stuck a tack through the bill and folded the bill in a specific way. He then put a Tahoe slot coin (in the past they used a silver dollar) and covered it with the folded bill with the sharp end of the tack sticking up. The next step was to throw the whole lot up to the ceiling. Tom went first but it all fell back to the ground. Then Rob tried and failed and so did I. Rob had another go and he succeeded. The tack attached the bill to the ceiling and only the slot coin fell to the floor. The guy with the cigarette said that once a year all the bills are taken down and donated to charity. It’s a very special occasion when this happens and the bar serves a liver and onion supper and they have a big fundraiser at the same time.
I did ask the only other group of people in the bar if they knew of any old buildings on Ryer Island. They were not locals but came regularly to the area on their boats. None of them knew of any abandoned buildings at all.
Tom and I had Irish coffees to warm ourselves up. Rob declined as he was still full from breakfast. At the back of the bar is a small restaurant where the food is apparently very good. The boaters recommended the cheeseburgers.
Rob inside Al the Wop
When we left the bar the rain had eased off a bit. Rob found a shop open and so we all went inside. It was a sort of antique shop though most of what was on sale would be classed as collectibles. This sort of shop is always interesting to browse around. I was absorbed in the books and found a small book of very short one act plays. Tom was perusing the old vinyl records where he discovered albums by Earth Wind & Fire, The Mamas and the Poppas, Joan Baez and many more. Rob was searching for license plates or old tin advertising signs but he drew a blank.
We then took a walk to the back of the town and showed Rob the toilet bowl garden. This is where Connie King, the unofficial mayor of Locke, used to live. She died a couple of months ago. Our last stop in Locke was to the museum in the old boarding house. We were the only visitors and the docent on duty was very interesting to listen to. He told us that most of the people living here now are not Chinese. Most of the Chinese moved away from Locke as soon as they earned enough money to move on. The museum has only been open eighteen months and it cost over a million dollars to bring it up to code. In the 1940′s it was owned by a Japanese family. They lived downstairs and the upstairs was turned into small bedrooms which had two beds in each. It is difficult to say how many bedrooms there were because I’m sure some of the rooms have been made into larger rooms but there must have been at least 8 bedrooms. There was just one tiny bathroom. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese family, along with thousands of other Japanese families, were forced to leave their homes to live in isolated concentration camps. They were never able to return to their property (a shameful bit of American history).
Before starting the long journey home we stopped off at Mel’s Mocha and Ice Cream for a vanilla malt. We can’t bring Rob all the way here without giving him the pleasure of tasting one of the best malts around. I got talking to another customer there and asked her if she was a local. She said she had live here for ten years. I asked her about any abandoned buildings on Ryer Island and she couldn’t think of any but she suggested I go next door to the realty office and they might be able to help. I did just that but the office was closed.
It was great to visit Locke again but such a pity the weather was not perfect. We could have done so much more if it had not been raining so hard. And sorry Cathleen we could not solve the mystery of the abandoned building. Maybe if you let us know exactly where it is we can have a look next time we are in the area.
January 18 2010 | Special Places | No Comments »
I have been planning this weekend for some time but at the last moment I thought it was not going to happen. It is Tom’s birthday next week and, as
Downtown Locke, California
a surprise, I booked two nights in Locke at a vacation rental. It is described as - ’A Delta Gem – Unique Loft – Historic Chinese Locke’. Check out the website. Doesn’t it sound idyllic?
Also on the agenda was a meal at Giusti’s, Saturday in Sacramento and a canoe tour on Sunday. Tom knew we were going somehwere in the Delta but did not know exactly where.
Locke is a wonderful, small Chinese town just south of Sacramento. We last visited in March. I thought it would be great to actually spend a couple of days there instead of driving all the way up and back in a day.
Work though nearly ruined the whole weekend. Without going into too much detail, I had to work on the Friday, which is usually my day off, with a chance that I would have to go in on Saturday and maybe even Sunday. We had planned to get away at lunchtime on the Friday. Fortunately I was able to get away from work at 2.30 so Tom picked me up and off we went.
There is always such a lot of traffic making its way out of the Bay Area on a Friday and we did not want to get caught up in the rush (or rather the crawl) out of town. We did have a couple of slowdowns on 680 but managed to avoid the bad jams which were bound to occur later on in the afternoon.
Old building in Locke, California
I must say it made a big difference traveling north on 680 in the afternoon instead of our usual time of 6 am. Then it is always dark but in the middle of the afternoon there is so much more to see. Our route took us over the Antioch Bridge and it was amazing how quickly we left the rat race behind us as we crested the bridge. Ahead of us the Delta was holding out its arms, ready to embrace us and we readily succumbed to the peace and utter tranquility of the area. It was a lovely warm day and there was no wind at all. There was not a cloud to be seen in the sky. The water was calm with only the occasional small fishing boat to ruffle the surface.
We followed Highway 160 all the way to Locke, passing through Isleton and Walnut Grove. Tom was surprised when I told him to turn right into Locke. We passed the end of Main Street, which did not appear to be busy at all, and turned right onto Key Street. Our destination was right at the end.
Ten minutes later we were inside our home for the next two days. The couple who own and refurbished it are Deborah and Russell. Inside it is marvelous and much bigger than we expected. There is a cozy sitting room with a corn burning stove, a large, well equipped kitchen, a bathroom big enough for a party with a laundry room off of it and a wonderful loft bedroom upstairs with a small seating area as well. Outside is a well screened porch and a garden. Deborah was a mine of information on where to eat in the area.
After a quick wash and brush up, we took a walk around town. It was was only a block away and to get to it we walked down a narrow ally between tall, flimsy, wooden buildings. A couple of days ago there was a huge storm in the area – some people called it a 30 year storm – and there was a slightly damp smell in the air. On Main Street I noticed a newspaper clipping stuck on the inside of a shop window. It was an obituary for Connie King who died just a month ago. I was very saddened because on our last trip here in March I met and spoke to her. She was a legend in her own time and was affectionately called the ‘unofficial mayor of Locke’. A wonderful character who will be greatly missed. In fact the house we are staying in is very
Rental cottage where we stayed in Locke, California
close to Connie’s house with its toilet bowl garden. I wonder who will tend it now.
We wandered down the both sides of the street. Not too many shops were open. Tomorrow will be busier I expect. At the end of the street we turned right, passing Locke Garden Chinese Restaurant and then turning right again and walked back along the highway, passing the back of the the houses on Main Street and turned right again into Locke. Then we kept walking to the back of the town, passing a huge walnut tree and a bit further on in the Community Garden, a pomegranate tree. We were looking for a footpath which will take us to the levee at the back of the town where we have to report on Sunday for our canoe trip.
Earlier Deborah mentioned that Russell would be working in the Wood Shop which was on the footpath. As we approached the Wood Shop we saw someone outside so, guessing it was Russell, we went over to introduce ourselves. He was most welcoming and showed us around his little factory. He uses recycled wood only and he had an amazing collection of many different types of wood af all colors and grains. He introduced us to his colleague, Alfredo, and they both showed us what they do with the wood. At the moment they are making cutting boards, each one made out of strips of multicolored wood. They are glued together, planned, smoothed and varnished. Each one is signed with Russell’s name. They are definitely a ‘must have’ article. Not only functional but extremely decorative. An ideal gift for any kitchen. He showed us one he was in the process of finishing which had a distinctive green strip in the middle. Russell turned on a machine and demonstrated how they are planned. I immediately put our name on it. Russell promised to have it ready by Sunday. What a memento of our weekend and it will be even more precious because we actually saw it before it was finished. Alfredo showed us some little wooden picture frames he makes. He paints pictures on them and gives them as gifts to people. Russell is also a cabinet maker so he is a really busy guy.
Our walk down the footpath resumed. It was not a very long path and we were soon climbing up the levee. At the top was a gravel roadway which was also a car park for the boat ramp. This is where we have to meet for the canoe trip on Sunday. We clambered down the other side of the levee through trees and bushes to a beaten path next to the water. This is the Railroad Slough and very peaceful it was too. We heard a lot of splashes and saw ripples so the fish were rising. This must be a good spot for fishing and in fact we did see one girl trying her luck.
Time to go to dinner. Tonight we decided to try out Giustoi’s. Thank goodness Deborah explained exactly where it was. For some reason I thought it was over the bridge at Walnut Grove on the far side of the Sacramento River. When we arrived there was a lot of cars in the car park and we thought we would have to wait for a table but there was space for us. We both ordered filet mignon with blue cheese sauce. Here they served a ‘family style’ dinner – all meals come with a tureen of soup to share, bread & butter and a salad with salami, garbanzo beans, kidney beans and a lovely dressing. We were nearly full before our steak was served. The steak was really tasty. Although Giusti’s is a no frills restaurant they do serve really good food. They don’t accept credit cards though so I’m pleased I brought my check book along this weekend.
We walked back to the car and found our way to Locke and our little house. No television but we were content to write (me) and read (Tom) before sinking into the wonderful bed. What bliss to be somewhere where there is no noise from aircraft approaching San Jose airport, trains blowing whistles a quarter of a mile away or cars passing down the street.
October 27 2009 | Special Places | 2 Comments »
Corrugated sheetmetal building in Walnut Grove, California
Instead of turning right at Ryde we turned left on Highway 60 to the next bridge and crossed over the river into Walnut Grove. We parked the car and went for a wander around the small town.
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Walnut Grove is one of the earliest settlements along the Sacramento River. At the start of World War II, the town was racially segregated with whites living on the western bank of the river and Asians on the left bank. The eastern side was segregated further into a Japanese section and a Chinese section. Today it is a sleepy little town. The main street is Market Street which is divided into two sections, historic Chinese town at one end and a historic Japanese town at the other end.
We walked around the China town first but there were not many businesses left. On the corner of the street was an Mexican restaurant which was open but not at all busy. Further along was a building with an adobe front with two large round windows which were blacked out. The rest of the building was made out of corrugated sheetmetal. On the opposite side was a old building with Chinese Free Masons on the front. There was a buildings with fading pictures of underwater scenes painted by children and a building with a sign proclaiming it to be the Pump House. Then I realized it was a fitness center. Japan town was more interesting. The first building had a wood veranda and a sign which read All Sure. It was only when I checked the internet when I got home that found out it should read A.L.L. Sure. It is a construction company which began operating in 1922 and is still a going concern. But looking through the window is misleading. On one of the windows is a very interesting newspaper article, dated January 1996, on the history of Walnut Grove, Courtland and Locke. There are also old tools and bottles and an ancient train set. One of the bottles is a Mason’s Root Beer with a small American flag stuck inside. Further along is Ben’s Drugs, which is a large room with work benches inside. Goodness know what they do now, for in the window is a set of false teeth and an old aerosol can of Colgate shaving Cream. All the buildings look a bit ramshackle.
At the end of Market Street is A Street. Here it was mostly houses but in the middle on the right is a community garden. It is divided into about
Old firetruck in Walnut Grove
twenty small plots with a variety of vegetables and flowers being cultivated. At the back was a large cat sitting. Behind the garden, we could see the back of the houses on B Street and on the roof of an upstairs veranda a pair of pigeons were engrossed in a mating dance. Also on this street was the Walnut Grove Market.
I could see Tom making a beeline towards something. A rusty truck had caught his attention. It was an old fire truck and he busy taking photos. I continued wandering along Grove Street and started all the dogs barking. I wasn’t too worried as they were behind fences and their tails were wagging. On the corner of Grove and C Street I spotted a really old tree and heavily coppiced tree. Half of it looked dead but it spread out a long way and all the branches were supported by a weird collection of wooden and metal props. On another corner, this time C Street and Tyler is the Kabuki Gallery. In the garden to the side I passed the time of day with a lady sitting in the sunshine, enjoying the moment. Just after that, Tom caught up with me and we returned to the car.
Downtown Locke, California. One of our favorite little towns.
Our next stop along the way was Locke. Now this is one interesting place and if you visit nowhere else in the area, Locke is one place you just have to go to. It was built entirely by the Chinese. Back in 1915, when a disastrous fire in Walnut Grove destroyed most of China Town, Lee Bing came to an agreement with land owner, George Locke, to establish a settlement. Until recently, the residents of Locke owned the buildings but not the land. There are only three streets in Locke – Main Street, which is just a few yards down from River Road, Locke Road and Key Street. All the shops and businesses are on main street and all the houses are on the other two streets. Finding Locke is not difficult but easily missed. It is only half a mile north of Walnut Grove. Watch out for a large boathouse on the left hand side. There used to be two roads into Locke but they have been turned into one way streets.
We parked right outside the Chinese School, which is now a museum. All the buildings on Main Street are two stories and narrow and most of them have verandas over the sidewalk with balconies above. All the supports don’t look sturdy or straight enough to hold up the balconies and some of the buildings look very unstable. Most of the buildings are shops with several galleries and one famous bar. The bar is called Als Place but it has the politically incorrect name of Al the Wops. The building has been a bar since it was built in 1915 and Als Place since 1934.
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March 26 2009 | Special Places | 4 Comments »