San Francisco is a great food city. There's plenty of Michelin-starred restaurants helmed by celebrated chefs. Locally sourced ingredients feature heavily on most menus, and you can find excellent examples of cuisines from all over the world there. It's a city where like to spend money on food, and dining out is a form of entertainment. But is it possible to eat well and cheap in San Francisco?
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park preserves mainly forest and riparian areas in the San Lorenzo River watershed, including a grove of old-growth coast redwood. Established in 1954, this 4,623-acre park is located near the town of Felton in Santa Cruz County and includes the non-contiguous Fall Creek Unit.
To celebrate my thirty-first birthday (woo! made it another year without dying!), my boyfriend and I drove up to Mt. Shasta for a hike. We woke up at quarter to five in the morning and made the five-hour drive up to the mountain. Along the way., we stopped at Hedge Creek Falls and ate lunch in Mt. Shasta City.
September is over and October is here. Autumn is in full swing: the colors of leaves are changing, the air is crisper, and every white woman in yoga pants is buying all things pumpkin spice flavored. After it was a million degrees in northern California at the beginning of September, the temperatures have finally fallen and I can start wearing sweaters again. Life is good.
Southern California draws visitors from all around the world with its many urban attractions (Disneyland, Hollywood, Los Angeles) and its world class beaches. Central California has the giant sequoias and the big granite walls of Yosemite. Northern California brings wild beauty: volcanoes, endless miles of redwood forest, and waterfalls. This is a guide to my ten favorite northern California spots.
I walk the short paved path to Lower Falls. Pushed into a narrow slot between basalt columns, Lower Falls is the smallest of the falls but has the best swimming area above and below it. Even in the early morning, people are out fishing right at the edge of the falls. I follow a stairway up to a picnic area to get an overlook of the entire area. Later in the day, we follow the dusty River Trail to a secluded swimming area.
An hour east of Redding are the towering volcanic peaks of the lower Cascade mountain range and green meadows of Lassen Volcanic National Park. One of the least visited national parks in California, Lassen Volcanic National Park is an excellent choice for hikers looking to get away from the crowds of Yosemite and Sequoia Kings Canyon National Parks. With a number of different landscapes to offer from sulfur vents to mountain peaks, Lassen is one of my favorite national parks.
Hiking is my favorite form of exercise. I can't think of anything better than enjoying beautiful nature, breathing fresh air, and the exhausted feeling of accomplishment when I finish. I don't hike nearly enough anymore. The rain this season put a hamper on a number of weekend days that I could have been hiking. Then there's my general laziness since I got a desk job. The only way to remedy that is to get out and do it more.
There's another post dedicated to my love of Fall Creek Unit in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. I can wax poetic about the verdancy of the ferns, the towering heights of the second-growth coastal redwoods, and the rushing creeks forever. I love taking people to Fall Creek and manage to get out there at least several times a year, even though I don't live in Santa Cruz anymore.
Almost ten years ago to the day, I graduated from UC Santa Cruz. More known for its radical politics and drug culture than academics*, Santa Cruz is not the most traditional of college campuses. This applies not only to its politics and choice of mascots (go banana slugs!), but to the physical layout of the campus itself; it's not what you see in college movies. Buildings sometimes resembling Soviet space bunkers hide amongst towering redwoods. In the morning, fog creeps down the bridge covered gullies and canyons, making it a magical walk to those 8 a.m. classes. It is the complete opposite of Stanford University.
The Santa Cruz Mountains is home to a number of state, regional, and county parks. With its towering redwoods, lush ferns, and unbeatable views of the San Francisco Bay, these parks provide visitors with plenty of hiking and biking trails. Not far from downtown Saratoga and about halfway up Highway 9 on the San Jose side, you can find Sanborn County Park.
Technically part of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Fall Creek Unit is tucked away up the street from downtown Felton on the way to Bonny Doon. I reverently refer to it as the "Magical Fairy Forest." Towering redwoods, a creek running full year round, and historic lime kilns, it is a favorite of locals and trail runners. The hikes run on the short side, but they are perfect for an afternoon hike in the hot California autumn.
If you want a beautiful, cool walk in the woods without the crowds you find at Henry Cowell or Nisene Marks, then Fall Creek Unit is the place for you.
I am an unapologetic morning person and lover of breakfast.Ask me what the perfect food is? I will answer breakfast burrito almost every time. Every Sunday my boyfriend and I sit down for breakfast at one of the Original Pancake Houses in the South Bay. My boyfriend, the obsessive pancake lover, always orders the same thing: four buttermilk pancakes and two eggs over easy. I tried a number of different items: potato pancakes, buckwheat pancakes, the Dutch baby, ham and eggs, and a disastrous salami omelette. What do I stick with now? Two eggs, bacon, and toast. Add endless cups of coffee and it's a solid breakfast.
As much as I enjoy the Original Pancake House or the buttery poppy seed pastries at the locally owned Flour Flower just down the street, San Jose has nothing on Santa Cruz for breakfast.
Here is a breakdown of my favorite Santa Cruz breakfast places:
Located blocks from the beach in the same shopping center as a specialty butcher shop and a wine tasting room, Kelly's Bakery is known more for their exquisite French pastries and loaves than they are for breakfast. Be aware, though, this does not stop patrons from lining out the door for a meal on a weekend morning.
What to order? After trying a couple of things at Kelly's (bread pudding, granola, polenta with eggs), I hit gold with the smoked salmon and poached eggs. The eggs are perfectly molded mounds of eggs atop thin slices of smoked salmon served on toasted bread with sliced avocado.
If the weather is good, enjoy the sunshine and salt air sitting outside. Threatening clouds or rain, sit inside. It's pretty cozy in there.
Firefly Coffee House
I used to live down the street from this place; it's one of those neighborhood places I wish I could transport anywhere. Tucked behind the Kaiser Permanente Temporary Stadium, home of the Santa Cruz Warriors, and a cosmetology school is Firefly Coffee House. The coffee is great here, the staff is laid back and friendly, and bagels are bomb. Like, they are so great that they needed 90's slang to describe them. Also, this place is dog-friendly and one time when I was waiting for my coffee I got to pet a six week old Boxer puppy. It was love.
What to order? My order depends on my mood and the seasonal jam on offer. Fruity jam? I go with a cinnamon sugar bagel, goat cheese, and jam. Jalapeno jam? Jalapeno cheese bagel, goat cheese, and jalapeno jam. If I'm feeling super hungry and adventurous: Original Breakfast Bagel, egg, cream cheese, and cheese with bacon and avocado added. To drink, the Nutty Irishman: a hazelnut and Irish creme mixture of amazingness.
Always busy but delicious, Zachary's delivers on homemade bread, enormous portions, and sourdough pancakes. Be aware this place is packed on the weekends and some weekdays.It's a great place to take your parents for brunch when they're in town.
What to order? I would definitely order either the sourdough pancakes, the junior Mike's Mess (you go full Mike's Mess if you like, but it's a lot of food), or Zach's "Old Fashioned." Mike's Mess is a combination of home fries, mushrooms, cheese, eggs, and bacon topped with green onions, sour cream, and tomatoes. The "Old Fashioned" is poached eggs served on an herbed roll topped with cream sauce and bacon. Served with a side of home fries. Get some toast here. The molasses oatmeal bread is fucking awesome.
It is hard to miss the bright green and yellow building with a line out the door on Mission Street. The favorite of college students (it's not far from campus) and a great place to take visitors from out of town. Get here as early as possible or come way before you want to eat because wait times can be up to an hour on the weekends and some weekdays.
What to order? Fresh juices like all the juices. Watermelon juice? Yes. Coconut juice? Yes. Cashew fruit pulp juice? Yes. You need to order a juice. They're fresh made and delicious. Then you need a cup of coffee. All the Brazilian coffee. If you want something healthy and delicious, go for the acai bowl. Acai puree, strawberry, banana, and apple. Need something more filling? Order the orfeu negro. Two poached eggs, mozzarella cheese, black beans, and Brazilian salsa served with potatoes. Something simpler? Coffee with milk, baguette, and fresh fruit; this is called pingado.
The Picnic Basket
Okay, so this is not one of my favorite places. Then why did I put it here? Most of my favorite breakfast burrito places have closed: Taqueria El Dandy and Cafe Campesino, but the Picnic Basket is still open. They are locally owned by the same people who run Penny Ice Creamery. They really should stick to ice cream, but their breakfast burritos are damned tasty.
What to order? The breakfast burrito, of course. Their coffee is good, too. It's expensive, though. More than I want to pay for a plain cup of coffee.
With multiple locations, this is a Santa Cruz standard. They're not going to be everyone's favorite bagel. They're very dense and chewy. I happen to love them! It's hard to disappoint me with a bagel. They not only serve bagels but salads and soups.
What to order? Salt bagel with Cheese Louise (herbed cream cheese) or Pink Flamingo (a blend of lox and cream cheese with dill). Oatmeal Date bagel with Royal Palm (date-walnut cream cheese spread). Coffee is okay here. If you're at the Cedar Street store, I would skip the coffee at the Bagelry and grab one at one of Pacific Avenues numerous coffee shops.
Freshman year of college at UC Santa Cruz and I was living on a floor with three students from Eureka. Whenever someone from San Jose would mention being from NorCal (I was from southern California and had no idea there was a SoCal/NorCal rivalry), these three would roll their eyes and say, "Uh-uh. Eureka is the real NorCal." Geographically speaking they're right: Eureka is much further north than the San Francisco Bay.
Northern California is known for beautiful forests, rivers, and let's face it, marijuana. Plentiful rain and sunshine, the rugged (read difficult to navigate and easy to hide) landscape, and isolation make it a perfect environment for growing weed. Though they are known as the Emerald Triangle, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties have far more to offer than just getting baked.
Over Labor Day weekend, we took a trip up the coast, through the Trinity forest, and over Interstate-5 to volcanic rock country. Here is what we found and why you should go there today.
The Mendocino Coast
The spectacular blue waters and jagged coastline of Mendocino county brings visitors from all over the United States and the world. I found Fort Bragg's glass beach to be rather disappointing, but the coastline is beautiful none-the-less. Further north from Fort Bragg are black sand beaches coupled with turquoise waters. Adventurous folk should continue to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park on the Lost Coast and check out Usal Creek Beach at the most southern end of the Lost Coast.
Mendocino Village and Fort Bragg
Mendocino Village will be popular with the older crowd with its boutique shops and art galleries. The village is adorable: wooden sidewalks, restored water towers, and colorful decorative signs.
Fort Bragg, a bit larger and grimier, is just a few minutes north. As we walked the main road, women in vibrant silk bustled costumes walked the street: it was Paul Bunyan days. Ride on the Skunk Train through the redwoods. Or if you're more laid back, get a bite to eat at Eggheads, a Wizard of Oz themed restaurant. The No Place Like Home Burger with avocado, bacon, and cheese is a fantastic choice with endless cups of coffee. Just a block up the street is North Coast Brewing Company, home of Old Rasputin.
Los bagels in arcata
Los Bagels, opened in 1984, has two locations: one in Arcata and the other in Eureka. We visited the one in Arcata after staying at the rather shady and run-down Fairwinds Motel. Los Bagels has a wide variety of bagels and toppings. We tried the Izzy's Guac 'N Lox (lox, guacamole, and cream cheese) and the Seafood Combo (lox, hot smoked salmon, smoked albacore, and cream cheese). They were so filling that I didn't eat anything else the entire day. Try the Mexican Mocha to go with your bagel.
The Trinity forest
Drive Highway 299 through the Trinity Forest for epic views of mountains, rivers, and forests. The green hued Trinity runs through the dense forest known for sightings of Big Foot. Stop along the way for river rafting, hiking, and fishing.
The Joss House in Weaverville
Wonderfully restored, the Joss House is a prime example of the diverse history of California. The small historic park houses a Joss House, or a "god" house. It was a temple built by Chinese miners in the 1880's where they would make offerings and pray to the gods. It's a surprising find in this small western town.
The stop is worth it, but beware: the tour guide we had was a little intense and kind of racist.
Mama Llama is a solid coffee house in town which seems to be the only place where people under 45 can hang out.
Macarthur-burney falls state park
Living in California during a drought, it's hard to remember there's still running water in places. MacArthur-Burney Falls is one of those places. Over the Labor Day weekend it was ridiculously crowded. The bottom of the falls is packed with people and you can't get a view of the falls without someone's back in the way. But, it's worth it and it's good to see people enjoying the natural beauty the state has to offer. I would love to see these falls snow covered in the winter.
Check out more photos to see the beauty of the real NorCal.
California State Highway 130 is a route going from northeast San Jose (Alum Rock area) to Mount Hamilton where Lick Observatory is located. Originally, the highway was supposed to go from San Jose to Patterson and create a link between the bay area and the central valley. However, this would create increased light pollution for the observatory, which has been there for over a hundred years. The project was abandoned, but the road is still there: one way, each way.
As you drive up to Mount Hamilton, you pass by Joseph D. Grant County Park, which I have been to but don't really recall. There are some homes, but not many. The road is narrow, steep, and full of switchbacks. Around each of these switchbacks lies a danger: a cyclist. Okay, so cyclists are not dangerous in and of themselves, but it can be dangerous driving around them. It can get a little annoying, but I am so impressed with these people's ability to get up that steep mountain in the summer heat that I just stuff my annoyance down.
Once you arrive at Mount Hamilton, definitely check out the observatory and the telescopes. They're really cool. The views of San Jose are spectacular, especially in the summer when it is clear. Driving back down the other side of the mountain, the environment changes. Gone are the golden hills and are replaced by green, golden, and reddish shrubs and ponderosa pines.
There are no houses out here. Maybe once every five miles or so we would see a mailbox or a cattle guard. It was not until about thirty minutes into our drive that we saw any signs of civilization other than a mailbox. Water once ran through here; you can see the creek. And for how hot it was, there is still green in the riverbeds, so there must be ground water.
Eventually, you reach a valley, and you are no longer hugging the sides of the Diablo Mountains. You are surrounded by them, encompassed. At about forty-five minutes to an hour into the drive, you reach a fork. One way goes to Patterson, which is on the I-5, and other is Mines Road, which will take you to Livermore. We took Mines Road to Livermore because we really didn't need to go to the central valley.
Once you are on Mines Road, there are many more houses, mailboxes, and cattle. The road begins to hug one side of the mountains and a dry creek bed runs on the other. On the west side, on the other side of the hills, is Del Valle Reservoir. Mines Road brings you to the surface streets of Livermore, which we then took to 84 and finally back home to the San Jose area.
If you are looking for an isolated, hilly highway with great hugging turns and few other drives, Highway 130 is a great choice. I would probably go in the winter because it was scorchingly hot (I even got a sunburn just sitting in the truck.)
What do you do when you think you're coming down with a cold? Rest in bed, put on Netflix, get a bowl of chicken soup? Maybe. Do you know what I do? I get my boyfriend out of bed at 7:30 am and tell him we're going on a hike even though my throat is sore and that soreness is working its way into my ears. Body aches? Check. Tickle in the throat? Check. But the sun is shining and I want nature.
I thought Henry W. Coe was beautiful in the fall with rolling hills and the foliage, but this late winter/early spring border time the rain creates hills with a neon Crayola spring green velvet fuzz. Grass is not just a well trimmed lawn. It's flowing green sprinkled with the silver locks of an aging death metal singer. Trampled with mud and soggy with run off from the impromptu creeks. Scratchy stiff stalks buzzing with bees.
Oh, the bees. As much as I value those black and yellow deliverers of honey and beeswax, they mildly terrify me when they are anywhere above the knee, which is why I screamed when my hand grabbed one from my hair. I will probably never live that moment down nor the later one when I requested my boyfriend remove a bee from my sleeve and had to look away when he did so.
The rain brought many surprises: washouts, bees, and seven salamander friends. In the redwood forest, I normally count banana slugs as a hiking ritual but Henry W. Coe is not their habitat; however, it is the home of salamanders. Initial salamander, we thought, must have been a rogue. Kicked out of the creek side congress, it sought higher and dryer ground away from the rain swollen torrents. But no, this was a community exodus. First among seven sighted salamanders, it was a leader guiding its compatriots to comfortably moist freedom.
The trail leaves the creek side and salamanders as you progress back toward headquarters. Meandering away and from the California black oak and ponderosa pine studded hillsides, run off cross-hatches the trail making what would be a rather mediocre dry weather trail into something fun and muddy.
As you may have read from previous posts on this blog, I am continually trying to find things in San Jose that make the extravagant cost of rent worth it. Yes, there is the relative proximity to the city an hour's train ride away, and there is also the closeness to the already arrived awesomeness of Oakland, the sunny beaches and cool redwood forests of Santa Cruz, and the quaint coastal beach towns of the San Mateo coast, but what is in San Jose itself? I regularly lament the lack of cool spots in this flat farm sprawl of single family homes turned tech hub. Is it important for a city to be hip and cool? Am I just not looking in the right places, or is the biggest city in the San Francisco Bay dull compared to the hip, shiny products that come out of it? Okay, maybe I'm just feeling a little bitter about my rent. *end rant*
One bright light in this sea of mediocrity and tech mono-culture is San Pedro Square. A great group spot for parties, coffee meet ups, and first dates. Need a place to take your out of town business associate? San Pedro Square is the perfect place in San Jose. With almost twenty different options for food ranging from pizza to pho, there are affordable options for almost everyone. My favorites? Phonomenal Noodle House, Konjoe Burger Bar, and B2 Coffee.
While car-less me can just walk the two miles from my house, those burdened with vehicles can find parking in the multi-level garage across street and validation from a number of businesses inside. I love the long communal wood tables, the outdoor space, and the number of choices available for food. One positive for San Jose: a wide variety of cuisines are available in its innumerable strip malls.
Located in Soquel, California, Land of the Medicine Buddha provides several miles of walking/biking trails lined with Buddha statues, stupas, and redwood groves. Definitely think the trails here would be more fun on a mountain bike, but there were some interesting things to check out.