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.
(Click the photos for larger versions)
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 »
Vineyard along the San Benito Wine Trail.
Another trip to San Juan Bautista, goody, goody. Once again we stayed overnight in the ‘Little House’. The day started very well. We planned to drive to San Juan, buy coffee at Vertigo and go to the house for breakfast. Our plans had a set back though. As we were approaching San Juan, we suddenly realized we did not have the key to the house so had to turn back home to pick it up. The journey which normally takes 40 minutes took us two hours.
Make sure you click on the photos for larger versions.
We were so hungry on the return trip we stopped in Gilroy at the Black Bear Diner for breakfast. We have eaten here many times before but it had always been early in the morning when few customers were around. On this occasion, it was gone 9 and the place was crowded. We had to wait fifteen minutes for a table. By the the time we were shown to our table, Tom was more than ready for his coffee and after twenty minutes he managed to snag a server and ask for coffee. Our order was not taken for another ten minutes. We were also a bit disappointed with our breakfasts when they finally arrived. Tom always asks for his hash browns to be extra crispy and this time they certainly weren’t. I, as usual, had oatmeal. The oatmeal was a bit runny. Not only that, the fruit and nuts came in little packets which were difficult to open. Must make a note to only go to the Black Bear Diner before 8 am.
After settling into the Little House, we set off to take the wine tour. I’d looked online for the names and addresses of the wineries and the times they opened. Our plan was to visit four today. To get there we drove along Highway 156 towards Hollister and then right onto Union Road. Before reaching Highway 25, we turned right on Cienega Road. Soon we were driving along a scenic road lined with nice houses, most of them with paddocks and horses. Along the way Tom spotted a derelict wooden barn in a field and just had to stop and take some photographs. As we drove along the road Tom began to get a little worried. Pleasant though the scenery was, it just did not look like wine country. I assured him we were on the right road and that we would eventually fine the wineries.
Tarantula crossing the road. A cute little guy (actually not so little).
We did find the wineries but before we reached our first winery we saw a lot of wildlife. First of all we saw several hawks , sitting on the top of fence posts or high up on telegraph wires. Then we saw a flock of wild turkeys. But our most interesting find was a tarantula. It was crossing the road in front of us. We stopped the car and Tom was able to take quite a few photos of it before it slowly made its made into the thick undergrowth. It seemed completely unaware of our presence.
The first winery we reached was DeRose Vineyards. According to their website, not only has it the world’s largest covered wine cellar but is also the oldest existing winery in California. It is situated right on the road and is not your normal winery. At first it was difficult to find anywhere to park as most places were occupied by Ford Mustangs. The entrance to the tasting room took us into a large warehouse with an intriguing musty smell. There were several other people tasting wine – obviously the owners of the mustangs – but we were greeted warmly and given a couple of glasses. We spent a very pleasant half an hour sampling quite a few wines. First we sampled the whites, starting with a Chardonnay and progressing to a Viognier and an Argentinian wine called Sur de Los Andes. The first two I liked but not so keen on the third. Tom tried the reds, starting with a Cabernet and carrying on to the Sangiovese, the Zin and the Hollywood Red blend. He liked them all except the Zin. We finished up with the a late harvest Viognier, which I really liked. A sign behind the counter took my attention. It said “Squeeze me, stomp me, make we wine” which I thought very amusing. We didn’t buy any wine because it was our first stop and we wanted to try the rest before we decided.
Just as we were walking out of the tasting room we heard two small planes roar past just overhead. We learned that the two pilots were on their way to the winery for a special BBQ they were holding and that was their signal they were about to land at Hollister airport. Someone from the winery would then make their way to the airport to pick them up. Just as we got outside they flew past again and it was amazing to see them pass so close.
Mustang day at the Pietra Santa Winery
We carried on driving down Cienega Road looking for the Pietra Santa winery but we missed it completely, instead finding the third on our list which was the Calera Wine Company. We drove up a steep slope to the winery. From the car park we stopped to admire the view. Just off the car park were picnic tables. It looked like a marvelous place to have a picnic whilst drinking a bottle of wine. We arrived just after they opened and were the first customers. Inside their tasting room were a couple of wine servers who were very friendly. A charge was levied to sample the better wines but four of the cheaper wines were complimentary. We went for the cheaper option. We noticed that the wine bottles did not have corks but glass stoppers and so asked why. Apparently all their wines are sold with the glass stoppers as they consider them to be better than corks. Of the four complimentary wines we sampled we liked two and bought a Chardonnay Central Coast and a Pinot Noir Central Coast. As we were leaving they gave us a glass stopper which can be used on any wine bottle, which we thought was very nice of them.
Pietra Santa Winery along the San Benito Wine Trail.
We drove back the way we came, looking for the winery we missed. We thought we missed it again as we approached DeRose Vineyards. Then we saw the Pietra Santa Winery sign. It was up a side road immediately next to the DeRose Vineyards. As soon as we started driving up the long road to it, passing through lots of vines, we knew we were finally into wine growing country. The leaves on the vines were starting to turn a lovely reddish brown and there were still grapes growing on the vines. One last turn and we saw the winery in front of us and the whole setting was perfect. What a surprise to find a beautiful winery almost on our doorstep. The car park was large and in each direction we could see vines growing on the gently sloping hills. In the car park were a large number of Ford Mustangs and when we got inside we realized why as there was a big group having a meal.
The tasting room we found at the top of a flight to stairs and once again we were warmly welcomed. We didn’t know at the time but we were in for a wonderful treat. There was a $5 wine tasting fee but it would be deducted from any wine we bought. Well we tried lots of different wines. Starting with the whites we tried the Gewurztraminer 2005 to kick off with and it was good. The Signature Collection Amore Pinot Grigio was next which was OK. My favorite was the Signature Collection Chardonnay, aged in French oak barrels. It was sublime with a hint of vanilla. Tom tried the reds – the 2006 Sangiovese, the 2006 Dolcetto, the 2006 Cabernet and finished up with a couple of the Signature Collection wines, the 2004 Vache Red Blend and the Cabernet Sauvignon. He was impressed with them all. In fact we were so impressed with everything that we joined their Wine Club there and then. We bought four bottles to take home with us – the Gewurztraminer, the Signature Collection Chardonnay, the Sangiovese and the Dolcetto. For good measure they threw in a bottle of their olive oil
We were all wined out so didn’t make it to the fourth winery. Instead we drove back to San Juan Bautista feeling very happy with ourselves for finding such a wonderful gem so close to home. We will be regular visitors to the Pietra Santa Winery.
December 28 2010 | Special Places | 2 Comments »
The midway at the San Benito County Fair. Win a prize if you get the ping pong ball in the glass jar.
Part two of our San Juan Bautista weekend.
On Friday, after being woken by roosters, we walked to Vertigo Coffee for our early morning pick-me-up. Walking through a sleepy San Juan gave us a warm fuzzy feeling. No harsh street lights and the feral chickens foraging for breakfast felt surreal. Most of the houses we passed were still dark but some had lights on and we could see the residents moving around inside.
Vertigo Coffee was a beacon of light and like moths we gravitated towards it. Inside it was warm and inviting. Both Dimitri and Kitty were working hard. We were under the impression that they opened at 5 am but they have changed their hours. As from October 1st they have been opening at 6:30 am. It was just before 6:30 when we walked in and were the first customers.
It was pleasant to chat with Dimitri and Kitty and to catch up with what they have been up to since our last visit. Tom tried their specialty ‘drip’ coffee – ground coffee put into a beaker lined with a filter, boiling water goes on top of the grounds and it is left to brew for three minutes. The nifty container is then placed over a mug and the coffee drips in. Tom chose the Baroque blend and enjoyed it so much he bought a pound of the freshly roasted coffee beans and a drip beaker so he can make his own at home.
I tried something completely different – a Green Tea Mojito Frappe infused with mint and lemon. It was refreshing and delicious. We sat on one of their squishy white leather sofas for half an hour. Tom read his Kindle and I read the latest edition of the San Juan Star. What a fabulous local paper.
We had planned to have breakfast at the Mission Cafe and at 7 am we strolled over to it. On the way
Food, food and more food at the San Benito County Fair
we passed the gardens of the Jardines de San Juan Mexican restaurant . Just looking over the fence transports you to a different world. Lots of flowers in containers, shady nooks and crannies with tables and chairs; rose bushes, trees and climbing roses; all sorts of cacti from the small to the huge and brick walkways.
Unfortunately when we arrived at the Mission Cafe it was closed. A sign on the door said is was closed that day and the next. What a bummer. On the window was a poster advertising the San Benito County Fair at the fairgrounds just beyond Tres Pinos. It was being held this weekend. Now we knew where we were going that day.
But we needed to sort out the breakfast problem. Nowhere in San Juan was open so we decided to drive the short distance into Hollister. It was sort of on the way to Tres Pinos anyway. A few weeks ago we had breakfast at the Cozy Cup Cafe on 4th Street so decided to return there. We enjoyed another good breakfast, this time Tom had the Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon for $10.99 and, as a change from oatmeal, I had the scrambled egg, ham and cheese bagel served with cottage cheese instead of potatoes for $6.99. Another enjoyable breakfast. Note from Tom: I know, I was shocked too. Margaret didn’t have oatmeal.
Strawberries being judged at the San Benito County Fair
The County Fair did not open until 10 so we killed some time walking around downtown Hollister. After a necessary stop at an ATM, we investigated shop widows in a couple of blocks. Several businesses catered to the Harley Davidson/rodeo crowd- tattoos, outfits for the discerning ladies with matching rhinestone decorated cowboy hats and one shop advertising ‘Restore Your Harleys’ and ‘Vesta Chaps Sewn’.
Just after 10 we set off for the fairgrounds. The sun was beginning to break through. Thank goodness, as Tom had been chilly walking around dressed in T-shirt, shorts and sandals. It was time for me to take off my ‘Oregon Ducks’ sweatshirt. The entrance to the fairgrounds was about a mile past Tres Pinos. Entrance fee plus parking (with a discount for seniors) was $13. Very few people here yet so parking in a bumpy field was hassle free. There were a couple of school buses already parked and we soon spotted one group of kids dressed in matching yellow T-shirts. They looked so cute walking two by two and holding hands, with grown ups supervising them.
We walked through the midway (fun fair to the Brits). The rides didn’t start up until 12 so nothing was open. People were busy setting things up and running the equipment to test it. I was surprised to see so many rides and stalls. There was a lot to choose from including Whacky Whale and Bumble Bees rides for the kids and for the grown ups there was Hi Roller, Discotek and Starship to name but a few. As for the booths you could try to win a goldfish on Gotcha (a winner every time!) or try your hand at the shooting gallery, plus many more. And don’t forget Ride the Bull. A group of school children were hanging around this attraction as one of their mates was trying it out.
Then we came to the food section. All manner of delicacies were on sale – pork ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, kettle korn, funnel cakes, Polish on
How about some deep fried Twinkies? Deep fried Snickers? I know, deep fried Oreo Cookies.
sticks, pizza and ice cream. How about some alligator jerky – or ostrich, elk, venison, buffalo or even plan old beef. For a real treat though, you have got to eat something deep fried – artichoke hearts, bacon, mushrooms, zucchini, Oreos, Snickers or Twinkies? It was too early in the day to contemplate anything to eat, never mind anything deep fried.
Note from Tom: The County Fair is a fond memory from my youth and the entrepreneurial spirit that created things like deep fried Twinkies made this country great….and large.
We walked up a slight rise and found our way to the agriculture and horticultural area. Both home gardeners and wholesale retailers had entered their produce into different classes to compete for awards. There were melons, onions, sweet potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce and far too many other varieties of fruit and vegetables to mention. There was a large display of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. Taking center stage in the display was the heaviest pumpkin at 294 lbs, entered by Jason Bordi. I particularly liked the Veggie Art section where competitors had used their imaginations with a host of different fruits and vegetables, including dried fruits, peaches, persimmons, figs, sub tropical fruits, squashes, beets, tomatoes, onions, etc.
Our next stop was the Exhibition Hall where local political parties, businesses, churches and public service providers were keen to talk and hand out brochures. I spent some time looking at a family history display about the local ranches. Tom sampled some chocolate at one stand. The local churches and political groups were eager to talk as was the guy who was keen to refurbish our bathroom. In a side hall the baked goods and preserves competition entries were on display. I picked a time when the hall was full of competitors eager to find out if their entries had won a coveted ribbon so I backed out.
Outside in the fresh air the sun was shining. A nearby tree was a cacophony of sound from the myriad of red winged blackbirds singing in its branches. The amazing thing is that you have to get really close to the tree before any birds can be spotted. Close to the tree the Granite Rock Company had three fully refurbished vehicles bearing the company’s logo – a 1928 Model A truck, their first concrete mixer and a 1950 Ford F6.
We walked down the rise and were aware that a lot more people were around. The fairgrounds were filling up. I stood and watched a group of schoolboys playing football. They had to stop when the Rawhide Express train went by, clanging its bell, with its passengers merrily waving to everybody as they passed. It was time to go and look at the animals.
San Benito County Fair. Amazing to see these kids handle these big guys.
The livestock section was a short walk away. We looked first at the pigs or gilts as they were labeled. Most of them were sleeping but there was a very agitated pig who was squealing non stop. We could hear a loudspeaker and went to have a look to see what was going on. In a display ring three steers were being judged. Each beast has being controlled by a young boy or girl in white uniforms and green caps and scarves. There was a small stand under cover with a small intent audience. We found a space and sat to watch what was going on. I asked Tom what the uniforms represented and he told me that there were a couple of youth organizations which promote young would be farmers – on of them is 4-H and the other is FFA. He didn’t know what 4-H stood for but FFA was ‘Future Farmers of America’. It was interesting to watch how they handled their charges. The sticks were used to place the feet in the required position and to sooth the animals at all other times by gently stroking their tummies. They were all extremely professional. We watched a procession of small groups of cattle in different classes being judged and shared their excitement when the results were announced.
We were getting thirsty so made our way back to the food stalls, stopping on the way to look at the goats and sheep. All the goats looked the same breed and coloring and were dehorned. The lambs had recently been shorn and looked a bit undressed. Poor things were labeled ‘market ready’. Reaching the food court we found several people eating what looked like solid bricks of French fries. I wonder why fried food is so sought after at County Fairs? Neither of us really fancied eating anything but we were thirsty. We could have bought two bottles of water for $2.50 each but we decided to share one large cup of fresh squeezed orange juice, made with simple syrup and a special compound, for $5. It tasted really good but the ingredients didn’t sound all that healthy to me.
Our last port of call was the main stadium. There were not a lot of spectators and we found some good seats in the grandstand but before we could sit down it was necessary to wipe the seats as they were extremely dusty. We had a good view of the main ring. With a range of hills as a backdrop, it was a perfect setting. A couple of workers were busy dismantling show jumps in the main ring. All the activity was in the outer ring where riders were mounting and trotting around. After a long wait, while we amused ourselves by watching the interaction between the competitors and their supporters, the first event started. This was a Western Equitation, involving, walking, trotting, reversing and stopping. The second event was a Cross Section for 13 and under. We didn’t really understand what was going on so we decided to call it a day and made our way back to San Juan.
That evening we walked to the Faultline restaurant for dinner. Inside the door was a bar but there was nobody else there. We peeped into the restaurant itself, which was more like somebody’s dining room. There was only one other customer there. We waited quite a few minutes, not knowing whether we should call out or wait until we were found. Eventually the lady we spoke to yesterday came out of the kitchen and made us welcome. She showed us to a nice little table in the window and chatted to us as she gave us the menus. We had a lovely view out over San Juan Valley to the distant range of mountains. We had a really enjoyable meal and walked home feeling very satisfied, vowing that we would go back again.
December 03 2010 | Special Places | No Comments »
The mission in San Juan Bautista, California. One of our very favorite towns.
When we had our house tented for fumigation, we had to vacate for a couple of days. Termites are a constant problem in the Bay Area but folks from other countries may not be aware of the damage they can do to wooden structures. Most houses in the Bay Area are constructed of wood. Where we live in the Santa Clara Valley, which used to be mainly orchards, termites have made this place their home. They feed on wood so when the fruit trees started to be torn down to make way for houses, they just transferred their living quarters to houses. Left to their own devices houses could literally fall apart. To eradicate them it is necessary to fumigate houses every now and then. The process entails ‘tenting’ the whole house and fumigating which kills all bugs in the house.
(Click on the photos for larger versions.)
We became aware of the fact we were sharing hour house with termites when they started to swarm from the vent in our kitchen on a particularly hot day at the end of August. At first we had no idea what the flying insects were but when it happened again about two weeks later (while we had guests staying with us) we finally realized what they were and promptly did something about it. We first had to get a couple of surveys done and then to arrange the deed to be done.
A week or so later we had to find somewhere to stay for a couple of days while the ‘tenting’ took place. We managed to arrange it so it could be done over a weekend and took the opportunity to spend a few days in San Juan Bautista, staying in Arlene’s and Don’s ‘little house’ just a few blocks from the Mission San Juan Bautista.
On the Thursday, Tom picked me up from work and we drove straight down 101 to San Juan. The thought of spending two nights in this beautiful town was intoxicating. We had no plans of how we would spend our time but that did not seem to matter. Something would turn up.
After we had settled in to the house on 5th Street, we took a walk around town, which is always an adventure. The usual bands of roaming roosters and hens fascinated us. We could hear them calling every so often and spotted them all over the place. Our quest was to find somewhere to eat tonight. As we wanted to try something different, we roamed a little further afield than the main shopping area on 3rd Street.
We found the Fault Line Restaurant tucked away at the end of Franklin, which is a no outlet road. It was closed and we could not see any menu
A San Juan Bautista rooster and his hens crossing the road. Now why you ask
outside. We didn’t even know if it would be open later on. As we stood outside pondering, the front door opened and a lady stepped outside. She asked if she could help, so we asked what sort of food was served. She told us it was mostly European and mentioned a few of the dishes. She used only fresh, organic ingredients and the salmon was caught wild and not farm raised. It sounded our sort of place and we asked if we could book for tonight. Unfortunately that was not possible and we were disappointed. “how about tomorrow?’ Tom asked. Yes there was room. She told us what there would be on the menu and we ordered there and then. We gave our name, thank her and walked away but looking forward to our meal on Friday.
We carried on walking down the old El Camino Real, which is just a footpath here. People were working in the nearby fields in the San Juan Valley. It was a beautiful, peaceful view. Along the way were lots of blackberry bushes but the season is now over. Only the trampled vegetation around them and the last desiccated fruit hanging on the prickly branches remained.
When we reached the Mission we walked up the steps and wandered around the rose garden and the Plaza. At this time on a Thursday evening, very few visitors were around. It was a warm, balmy evening so we sat in the shade of a tree and enjoyed the moment.
But we had to find somewhere to eat. We discovered a restaurant on 3rd Street called Casa Maria which we had not eaten in before. Peeping through the windows it look an interesting place but were was no sign of life. A lot of shops only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays so maybe the Casa Maria is one of those.
On 4th Street we found the Basque Restaurant. Now this is something different for us. I have never eaten Basque food so now is the time to try it. We were greeted by a charming man who said they served the best food in San Juan. A couple of friendly women at a table near the door told us the lamb shank was excellent, though she whispered the potato tart with onions and eggs was a bit bland. We sat in one of the window seats and enjoyed the view over 4th Street and the occasional chicken wandering by. For our first course we had calamari sauteed a garlic and tomato sauce. Now I’m not that fond of calamari – too chewy for me – but the sauce was delicious. We both ordered the lamb shank for the main course. While we waited we sampled the wonderful warm bread and a tasty salad sprinkled with feta cheese . The lamb shank, which was crisp on the outside and succulent inside, was served with mashed potato. To drink Tom had the house red – a Burgundy from Sonoma Valley – and he said it was very drinkable. We walked home feeling replete and satisfied.
Part 2 to follow……
November 28 2010 | Special Places | No Comments »
Motorcycles lined up at The 19th Hole in Tres Pinos
We spent the weekend in San Juan Bautista and it certainly was a hot one. Thank goodness the temperatures in San Juan were at least ten degrees cooler than in San Jose.
As we spent the weekend with Don and Arlene, Tom’s Dad and his wife, and they were not arriving until midday, we didn’t leave home until 11 am. Of course we encountered a lot of traffic at that time of the day and ended up taking a detour down Monterey Road – which is a more scenic route compared to 101. Eventually Monterey Road ran out and we were back on 101. We ran into really heavy traffic again just one mile from the San Juan turn off. Lots of people were heading for the Monterey Peninsula.
Arlene had a good idea for lunch. The 19th Hole in Tres Pinos had been featured in the local paper and it sounded like it would be a good place to eat. None of us had ever been there so it would be an adventure. We found the place easily as it is right on Highway 25, but we were in for a surprise. Parked outside were about 100 gleaming Harley Davidsons, with more arriving by the second. They were lined up on both sides of the road in neat rows. They were all different, which I found amazing. The predominant colors were back and silver chrome of course but there were some red and blues scattered amongst them.
The bikers and their passengers were thronged outside on the deck and in the bar, all holding bottles of beer and chatting loudly. Most of them were dressed in black jeans with studded belts and black tops. Some of them sported colorful bandanas; lots of them – including the women – had tattoos and the majority of the men were bearded. They looked intimidating but were a friendly bunch. We admired their bikes and asked questions and they were only too happy to show off how they had customized their prized possessions.
Catching the eye of someone behind the bar didn’t take too long and we were shown into the restaurant. What a difference. Here was all peace and tranquility as it was completely empty of customers. We took a table by the window where we could look onto the desk and watch the bikes passing. Even though it was quiet where we were sitting, the level of excitement vibrated all around.
Our server was very sweet and when we asked why there were so many bikers, he told us all about The Poker Run. Poker runs are a favorite pastime of bikers. The object is to stop at 5-7 several points along a route – most of the stops are at bars – and collect a card. The highest hand at the end receives a prize. There is an entry fee and the event is held to raise money for a particular charity.
Of course I looked online when I got home. This poker run was organized by the Top Hatters, who are based in Hollister. Now Hollister has been a magnet for bikers for many years. Back in 1947, on July 4th, an estimated 3,000 bikers descended on Hollister and things got a little out of hand. From what I have read they didn’t cause much damage but they partied all weekend. The media got wind of the event and turned up. Two weeks later Life Magazine ran a full page photo of a drunk biker sitting on a bike surrounded by empty beer bottles. An eye witness said it was a set up:
“‘I saw two guys scraping all these bottles together, that had been lying in the street. Then they positioned a motorcycle in the middle of the pile. After a while this drunk guy comes staggering out of the bar, and they got him to sit on the motorcycle, and started to take his picture.”
To read more, go here. Of course “The Wild Ones”, made in 1954 starring Marlon Brando, was based on that weekend and the reputation of bikers has been tarnished from that point on. I have always found bikers to be courteous and think they are much maligned. Apart from anything else, they raise a lot of money for charity.
Meanwhile, back at the 19th Hole, we all ordered beer – what else could we possibly drink? Tom and I shared a tri-tip sandwich, which was served in a basket with French fries. Mmmm.. it was good.
Back in San Juan we stopped off at the newly opened Vertigo Coffee Shop . We wrote about Vertigo in this post. We found Dimitri was busy painting the
The beautiful San Juan Bautista Mission
trellis outside and Kitty in the shop. Inside the place had been transformed. The first thing you see when you walk in is the pastry cabinet displaying goodies from La Boulanger – and very good they looked too. On the wall was a blackboard displaying all the different drinks available. On the counter a coffee machine and young boy and girl taking orders and making the drinks. Don and Arlene had an iced coffee, Tom a Macchiato – which is an expresso with a tiny bit of milk or foam – and I had a hot chocolate, which came in a large cup and saucer. Of course they only serve coffee roasted by Dimitri. [Update: Vertigo Coffee Shop has its Grand Opening on August 14-15]
Kitty came and over to talk to us and recounted some of the challenges they faced with getting the coffee shop up and running. Before the could open, the concrete floor had to be replaced because a former tenant used chemicals which had dissolved some the the concrete and made it unstable. Dimitri and Kitty had both learned that a lot of hard work, agony and frustration is involved in running a business but there is also a lot of satisfaction. The shop used to open at 6 in the morning but now it opens at 5. There had been a huge demand by potential customers for the shop to open earlier so they could get coffee on their way into work. It’s a longday for Kitty because it is late in the evening before she makes it home.
It has been beautifully decorated and, on the walls, original paintings were displayed. They were all done by the same artist and were available for sale. Kitty was telling us some of their plans. Soon they will have some squishy sofas in and in the near future they hope to get their coffee roaster installed, which will be fantastic. We all enjoyed our visit, and the coffee of course, and we wish them well in the future.
In the evening we walked into town and had dinner at Jardines de San Juan. It is a Mexican restaurant and has a lovely garden. Tables are set in shady spots and little nooks. The sound of live music wafted around the garden. Arlene and I wandered around until we found the source, a solo guy playing a Peruvian harp. He made wonderful music. We selected a table on the veranda. The service was a bit erratic and the menu didn’t look very exciting. The setting though was perfect and we thoroughly enjoyed sitting there watching the world go by. Pity the food was not memorable.
The next morning we had breakfast in the Mission Cafe on 3rd Street. We have had many breakfasts here and will undoubtedly have many more in the future. After breakfast we had a little walk around the town and found a very small farmers market on Washington Street. It hasn’t been running long and they only had six stalls. We bought some white nectarines which tasted really good.
Afterwards we went for a drive south of San Juan and found ourselves on Mission Vineyard Road. We drove a little way through farmland and then turned down a road which lead to St Francis Retreat. Boldly we drove through the gate and ventured up the drive. It was very pleasant inside but we did not see a soul around. There were cars about so presumed that, as it was a Sunday, everybody would be attending church. We left the way we came, driving out slowly so as not to disturb anyone.
The view from Fremont Peak
At the end of Mission Vineyard Road, we turned left onto what eventually became San Juan Canyon Road. We were on our way to Fremont Peak, which is the highest point around. It was a scenic drive and the higher we climbed the more distant panoramas we could see. Eventually we reached a car park. The sun was shining down and it felt like the hottest day of the year so far.
I strolled over to an information board which explained how Fremont Peak obtained its name. It was originally called Gavilan Peak after the Spanish name for hawk but renamed after the American soldier, Captain John Charles Fremont. In 1846, when the area was part of Mexican province of Alta California, Fremont, along with a small group of soldiers and accompanied by his guide, Kit Carson, planted the American flag on the top of the peak and built a small fort nearby. His action nearly provoked a battle but Fremont saw that he would be greatly outnumbered if the Mexicans attacked and he escaped with his men.
There was a trail nearby to the top of the peak so decided to walk along it for a bit, leaving Tom, Arlene and Don in the car park. The peak did not look that far but it was deceiving. Nevertheless I kept going for a while, being amazed how far I could see the nearer I got to the top. I did not have any water with me and the climb was steep. Unfortunately I did not quite make it to the to because I had brought no water with me. I realized how stupid I was to attempt to climb in such hot weather without any water, so turned round and walked back down. No doubt we will make the trip again and I will make sure I am better prepared.
Our day rounded off nicely by cooking up hot dogs and enjoying a nice salad in Don and Arlene’s backyard.
August 09 2010 | Special Places | No Comments »
San Juan Grade road heading down towards Salinas
We decided to take a drive to Salinas today. Instead of taking 101, we drove down Monterey Road all the way to Gilroy. Now Monterey Road can be a bit of a pain, but early in the morning, with the lights mostly in our favor, it was a pleasure to drive along. Admittedly the road is a bit rough in places but there was a lot of things to catch our eye.
At first, it was urban sprawl but before long we were driving through the countryside and although 101 was close by, it seemed a million miles away. Tom said that back in the late fifties and early sixties most main roads in the valley were like this. Along the way we passed a few orchards and lots of businesses associated with farming.
Driving through Morgan Hill we were on the look out for somewhere for breakfast but were unsuccessful. Morgan Hill looks an interesting little place and the hill itself stands sentinel over the town. Must check to see whether there is a way to get to the top.
South of Morgan Hill we passed several properties which intrigued us. One was obviously some sort of attraction for children as there was a sign which said ‘Pumpkinville Railroad’. Of course I checked online when I got home and discovered it was a huge pumpkin patch which is only open during October every year. It is situated at Uesugi Farms. The other place had a couple of wooden archways, an old tractor and other assorted antique machinery in its grounds.
After breakfast we hit 101 down to Highway 156. It seemed strange not to turn left into San Juan Bautista. Instead we turned right at the first traffic signal and took the back road to Salinas.
We took the same route which we took in January this year when we visited Dimitri and Kitty Fridman. Their coffee shop in San Juan, which will be called Vertigo, is not quite open yet. They have been held up for floor problems but hopefully it won’t be long before we will be able to pop in there and say hi.
The road we traveled on is called San Juan Grade Road according to my map but we saw no signs at all en route. We passed through green pastures
Typical peaceful scene on the back road to Salinas
and ranches with cows and horses grazing. One ranch had cattle that looked like Texas Longhorns.
When we started to climb up hill the views opened out and we looked down on a large housing development. Tom commented on how old the road was. He could tell because of the concrete sections between the many patches of tarmac here and there. Lo and behold a vintage Model T appeared around a bend ahead of us and drove by. An elderly couple were inside. It was if we were back in the ‘good old days’. The moment passed very quickly. It would have been a great photo to capture but of course Tom was driving and his camera was in the trunk.
It is beautiful countryside. Rolling green hills, some heavily wooded, rise and dip all around. Occasionally there is an outcrop of rock. Red wing blackbirds are busy and their song fills the air. Wildflowers are in bloom along the edge of the road. Tom stopped several times to take photos.
The road twisted and turned, rose and fell, for several miles. At one point we turned a corner and suddenly there was a distant view of Salinas nestled in its own valley. If it had been a clear day, we would have been able to see the ocean as well. The sun attempted to shine but it was still a bit hazy.
There was a roadside sign saying this is the Juan Bautista de Anza Historic Highway. Juan Bautista de Anza was a lieutenant-colonel in the New Spanish army and found the overland route to San Francisco in 1776, presumably riding along this very road. At this point, a whole procession of old Ford cars and one truck passed by. A lot of the cars were well preserved ’67 Mustangs. We concluded there must be a meet somewhere for vintage and classic Fords.
Tom spotted another historic landmark. This time it was a bronze plaque marking the site of the Battle of Natividad in November 1846 between combined American forces and the Californians.
Now we were down into the Salinas valley and passing both houses and crops. The houses were on one side and fields of lettuce and strawberries on the other. As we did not want to drive into Salinas, we turned left on Borondada Road and skirted around the top of the town, turning left on Natividad Road and further on another left onto Old Stage Road. This eventually brought us back to San Juan Grade Road and we headed back the way we came into San Juan Bautista.
May 09 2010 | Special Places | No Comments »
One of the San Juan Bautista feral roosters
San Juan Bautista is one of our favorite towns and it is only forty five minutes from home. It is a place we will be visiting more often in the future because Tom’s father, Don, and his wife Arlene have bought a home there. Normally we visit San Juan (as it is affectionately called) early in the morning and we are back home in San Jose by lunch time. This time we stayed overnight so were able to spend more time there.
(Click on the photos for larger versions)
Our first stop today was to visit the home of Dmitri and Kathy Fridman. In 2007 Dmitri posted a comment on our first San Juan entry. At that time he invited us to come and have a look at his roastery and sample some coffee. Several times I tried to set up a visit but could never get the timing right. This was the first time we have been able to arrange a meeting.
Dmitri and his wife Kitty live about 5 miles outside of town and Dmitri gave us directions on how to find their place. Don and Arlene came with us and the road we traveled was completely new territory for all of us. It was a stunning ride along Salinas Road, with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. The road climbed steadily uphill and soon we had a marvelous views back towards San Juan. When we arrived at Dmitri and Kitty’s home, the view was spectacular with Monterey in one direction and Salinas Valley and Hollister in another.
Top Dog was the first to greet us, closely followed by Dmitri. We admired his sheep. They only have a
Vertigo Coffee's roaster
few and they are a breed which do not need to be sheared. (Forgive me Dmitri I don’t remembering the name of the breed – I knew I should have written it down.) Dmitri built a separate building to house his roasting business, which is called San Juan Bautista Roasting Company and the coffee is called Vertigo. Check out Vertigo Coffee. Inside was his pride and joy, a German built cast iron roaster he bought on Craig’s List. He told us of his journey to becoming a passionate roaster of coffee. He started out by experimenting at home with a small roaster as he was dissatisfied with the taste of the locally brewed coffee. Friends who sampled it liked it so much he roasted more for them and over the years his roasters became bigger. Now he has a flourishing business in the area, selling to local restaurants and online.
Kitty came out to join us and the six of us spent a wonderful couple of hours talking, listening and watching Dmitri roast some coffee beans. It is a very hands on operation and Dmitri cannot wander very far while the forty minute process takes place. First the roaster has to be brought up to the correct temperature before the the green coffee beans are placed in the hopper at the top. The temperature was closely monitored the whole time. At one stage he extracted a small sample for us to smell. The beans smelt of fresh baked bread and nothing like coffee at all. When the roasting process had finished, the beans were emptied onto a revolving screen and channeled down a shoot into the bag. I’m sure there was a lot more to the process but I was enjoying chatting to Kitty.
Dmitri then started to brew some coffee and I was amazed at the meticulous way he went about it. Brewing coffee is a serious business for Dmitri and everything from the equipment he uses to the temperature of the water is important to him. The coffee we saw being roasted was an espresso called Monks Momentum. It was not ready to be drunk but we were given some to take home with us. We sampled some other coffee and I was very proud of myself for drinking it almost black. Normally my coffee has to be a half milk/half coffee.
Dmitri and Kitty are soon going to open up a coffee shop on 4th Street in downtown San Juan, almost next door to the Post Office. We wish them all the best and will certainly pop in every time we visit San Juan. We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Thank you Dmitri and Kitty for making us welcome and for giving up so much to your time.
Clam chowder cook off. We tasted several and they were all good.
Time to get some lunch so we drove back to San Juan. Downtown was busier than I’ve ever seen it but considering we are usually long gone by lunchtime, that was to be expected. There are several places to eat but we decided to try out one of the saloons. There are two to choose from, Mom and Pops and Daisy’s. There are very close to each other but we chose Daisy’s because a lady stopped us outside and said if we were hungry they were having a clam chowder cook-off and for $5 each we could eat as much as we wanted. Well, who could resist such a tempting offer, especially when you are hungry.
Inside it was buzzing. The judging of the 12 entries had just ended so we had arrived at the right time. I never realized how many different ways you could cook clam chowder and I sampled three of them, steering clear of the spicy ones of course. I spoke to a couple of the cooks and they were very pleased to talk about their entries and what was in them but both had ‘secret ingredients’ which they kept to themselves. A table was found for us at the end of the bar and we were well looked after and all of us enjoyed our lunch. We stayed to hear the results and the commentaries were very funny. This group of people hold many different cook-outs during the year and all monies go to charity. Today’s went to the local firehouse which is manned by volunteers.
We spent a quiet afternoon pottering around the house but in the evening we walked into town for dinner. Our choice was the Cutting House Steakhouse on 3rd Street. We had to wait for a table but that was OK. On the walls are individually designed, quirky cattle brands. The building itself is made of brick and over the last 150 years has been a grocery store, a brothel and, from the early 20th century, a bank. It is reputed to be haunted by several ghosts, the most colorful being “The Lady in White’ or Deanna, who ran the brothel and died when when she fell down the stairs on her wedding day.
After a pleasant meal we sauntered back to the house. Another interesting day in great company and we looked forward to being woken by roosters in the morning.
February 22 2010 | Neighborhoods and Special Places | 3 Comments »
We drove into San Juan Bautista at 7 am and the sun was shining, which was pretty amazing as fog was surrounding the area. South of Gilroy we hit light fog and it looked thicker ahead. We were convinced San Juan Bautista would be blanketed in fog.
As we left the highway and entered the town Tom said ‘turn the clocks back 20 years’ and it’s true. Straightaway we encountered the first chicken, ambling across the road in front of us. Before too long we had seen at least another 20, either in groups, pairs or on their own, wandering around.
(Click on the image for a larger version)
The main street, Third Street, was almost deserted. All the cute little shops were closed and may be open by 11. We passed the Mission Cafe with the Open sign in the window. Last time we were here it was closed so we will come back later for breakfast. We decided to take a walk beforehand to take advantage of the sun. Who knows when the fog will roll in.
We headed towards the Mission along Mariposa Street, walking along the side of the Plaza Hotel and the two story outhouse at the back. The building is looking a bit dilapidated and in need of a new coat of paint. At the corner of Mariposa and Second Street is a small park and I walked across the road to check it out. There were a few chickens scavenging around and in one corner is an old settlers cabin but as the park doesn’t open until 10 I’m not able to get a closer look. There is an old rustic seat on the outside of the park at the crossroads which I had never seen before though, from the look of it, it has been there some time.
While I stood there taking photos, someone behind me said ‘Good Morning’. I turned and there were three young men, two of them in identical smart black and white pin striped suits with white shirts and white dress shoes. They looked so out of place there. I discovered that there 14 more young men around wearing the same suits. They belonged to a Mexican band from Santa Cruz and they have just cut their first disc. The reason for their visit is to take photos for the cover of their album and they were just off to Salinas to take more photos.
Tom was taking pictures outside the Mission so I wandered past and paused in the rose garden, peeped through the gate to the cemetery and gazed at the stature of St John the Baptist, raising his arms to heaven. At this time of the day, with the early morning sun blazing down on him, he looks glorious.
At the back of the Mission, alongside the original El Camino Real, are overgrown concrete bleachers. At one time El Camino Real was the route linking all the Californian Missions with Santa Clara Mission to the north and San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo – which was the headquarters and second Mission to be built – to the south. I climbed over the metal guard rail and walked along the bleachers amongst the brambles. Along the way I helped myself to a few blackberries. They are past their prime and were small but also very tasty. I am sure there were good pickings to be had a few weeks ago.
I sat down and started to write but spent most of my time gazing over the farmlands and especially a field of golden sunflowers in the foreground. The sun was still shining but the fog was out there in the distance.
After a while I walked back and found Tom. I told him about the sunflowers so we took a walk along the old road to get closer. Tom wandered off and I found some more blackberries. There were some bigger fruit here but all out of reach. If only I had a walking stick with a hooked handle.
It’s time for breakfast so we walked back to the Mission Cafe (see Breakfast Blog).
Afterward we took a walk along Third Street, where the shops were still not open. I noticed there were a few empty shops and the Inca Line one of my favorites specializing in goods made with alpaca wood – was gone for ever. Also missing was the wooden statue of the top half of a man wearing a read hat outside the Casa Juan de Anza House on the corner of Franklin and Third Streets.
The only shop open is the San Juan Bakery where we bought a French loaf, which was still warm from the oven and smelt wonderful, and an along poppy seed pound cake.
There are many more people around now so it’s time to head home. It’s been another wonderful morning, going back in time, in the magical San Juan Bautista.
August 27 2008 | Special Places | No Comments »
The Mission Cafe in San Juan Bautista is again open for business. This time last year it was closed and forlorn but in March 2008 it reopened. Many times in the past Tom and I have had breakfast here. My first visit was in February 2001, just half an hour after Tom had proposed and I had accepted. A few years ago the cafe was for sale and we ventured down the path of make believe and imagined buying the place and running it. What better place to live than San Juan Bautista? To be so close to San Francisco, the ocean and everything we love so much about California but living in this quiet, rustic, community is almost irresistible.
Now it has a new lease of life. Inside it looks almost the same. The stools at the counter are new as is the bar but the layout is identical. It is not a large diner but it’s compact. In the front window is a large table for 6. Along the side are 4 four-seater booths. In the middle are 4 small tables for 2 and there are ten places at the counter.
Decorating the walls are lots of old photographs, some of San Juan Bautista views and a few portraits. There are a few other knick knacks on the window sills.
I ordered my normal oatmeal – $3.95 – and added toast – $2.45. Tom ordered Huevos Rancheros with hash browns – $9.70 and, of course, he had coffee.
The place was bustling but there were no queues. Mind you, it is only 8 am so maybe there will be people waiting later. Music was playing in the background. Our server was very pleasant and efficient. There was a nice happy, relaxed feeling.
Now to the food. My oatmeal came in a large, round bowl – it looked just like a small pudding basin but I doubt whether that description would be understood by many in America. Back in England it would be understood as they are used to steam our hot treacle sponges and Christmas puddings. The milk, in a small stainless steel jug and the brown sugar, raisins and, would you believe it, honey, in small plastic containers came on a medium sized plate. I saved the honey to have on my toast instead of using the prepacked runny marmalade and jams already on the table. The oatmeal tasted great – nice and creamy – but it could have been a little warmer. Tom’s Huevos Rancheros and hash browns covered his plate. He said it was spicy but that was due to the excessive amount of Tabasco he put on it because the stopper was missing from the bottle. His comment after though was ‘great’.
The restroom was unisex, large, bright and clean. It was much better than the restroom in the previous version of the Mission Cafe. The only decoration now is a small black and white photograph on the wall near the sink. The water was nice and hot, which pleased me.
Our verdict – we’ll come again.
August 21 2008 | Breakfast Log | No Comments »