road trip: napa + mendocino coast + bay area


over the summer, sean and i had a chance to get away sans kiddos while they were at camp for nearly 2 weeks (more on that later).

we had known we’d have this time to take advantage of for several months, but just couldn’t decide what to do with the time.  work was a consideration, but for the most part, sean can work from anywhere that has cell and internet access.  we thought big and far (alaska?  mexico?) and small and close (staycation at a nearby hotel?).  in the end, i decided on a wednesday night to catch a plane on a thursday night to meet sean in sacramento where he was already traveling for work.


while i wouldn’t necessarily say sacramento is a great place for a romantic getaway, its just what worked for us to start at.  sean was heading south from northern california, and we have family nearby, so we had a free place to crash for the night before heading out the next day.  i loved this “art installation” at the sac airport of all the “lost luggage” – i would love to have some of those pieces in my home!


after a slow morning of sean working and me sneaking off to a nearby anthropologie to drool for a little bit, we hit the road.  i tossed it out on instagram that we were heading toward napa and asked for suggestions.  we got so many great ideas!  we were definitely very last minute in all of our planning, reserving hotel rooms via priceline and travelocity as we went each day.

one of the suggestions was from a winemaker at the Hess Collection winery.  she was working that day and offered to give us a tour.  i’m not a big wine drinker, but i love hearing about how things work, are made, and their history.  stephanie was so sweet to spend some time with us, teaching us fun things, and we loved the tastings!


the winery is also home to a modern art museum, all part of the massive collection of donald hess.



the grounds were also beautiful.  we would’ve spent more time there, but it was getting late and we needed some dinner.


since all i think about is food when we’re on vacation, we decided to split dinner into 2 meals.  Ad Hoc in yountville had come highly recommended from several people but our reservations weren’t until 9:30.  Stephanie, from the winery, gave us a more local recommendation for a little hole-in-the-wall place in nearby browns valley, called hop creek.  it was tucked back in a shopping center, but the outdoor seating was so quaint, along the creek.  we shared really yummy ahi poke salad to hold us over before the big dinner.

after all the hype, we were actually disappointed with the food at ad hoc.  which was a huge bummer because it was really expensive!  the meals are set each night, so maybe we were just there on an off night.



we started off our second morning with a nice long hike at skyline park in napa.  it was really nice and beautiful, with incredible views.


while we planned to spend a day or so exploring napa and nearby areas, we weren’t able to get a hotel in napa.  there were drag races that weekend and everything (under $800 a night!) was sold out.  after our hike we went back to the hotel to clean up and pack up.  since were were staying outside of town, we had to drive about 20 minutes back toward napa.  when we got on the road the traffic was dead stopped, meaning our 20 minute drive would’ve probably been well over an hour.  since we were on vacation and really had no set plans, we decided to ditch napa altogether and just head toward the mendocino coast, planning a few stops along the way.


along the drive we stopped whenever we wanted.  we stopped at carneros brewing company in sonoma valley.  i am not much of a beer drinker either, but sean has been experimenting with brewing his own beers for a few years, so trying new breweries is really fun for him.  it turns out, it was really fun for me, too!  i was able to try all sorts of different beers and see what i liked, what i didn’t and start to distinguish different characteristics of the beers.  we had originally thought our trip might be more of a wine tasting trip, but after this stop, breweries became more of the draw.  the setting at this brewery as great – a nice grassy area with a few more private picnic areas.  we had a section all to ourselves overlooking a small pond, with music playing in the background and had street tacos from a vendor outside the brewery for lunch.


later in the day, we stopped by lagunitas brewing company, for second lunch i guess!  the place was packed!  it has a huge outdoor seating area and the only table we were able to find was a low coffee table with some stools nearby, that we shared with another group.  after ordering, we realized we were sitting right in front of a stage and within a few minutes the timothy 0’niel band came on.  it was such a nice treat to relax with good food (we shared the beet salad) and drinks (i had a cider) and good music.  we loved the band, too and walked away with one of their cd’s.


we headed toward healdsburg, walked around the cute town for a bit, and landed at Bravas for tapas (we had sliders and scallops, which were really so good!), then we headed straight for noble folk ice cream and pie bar.


goodness, this place was yummy.  like we (ok, i) almost went back for seconds.  we shared a slice of blood orange custard pie with spiced graham crust and raspberry compote, and homemade vanilla ice cream.


any place that puts attention to detail in their food as well as their decor has my recommendation!


the next day, still heading toward the mendocino coast, we went on a couple really beautiful hikes.  the first was montgomery state woods nature reserve, with HUGE redwood trees that had survived a fire years before, which created some really interesting hollowed out giant redwoods that were still thriving.



we only saw a small handful of people on the trail, which was fun to have the place to ourselves.


our next hike was on the coast, fern valley waterfall trail in russian gulch state park.  this one definitely had more hikers on it, but it really was so pretty, and very different from our hike earlier in the day.  at the end of the fern covered trail was a really pretty waterfall.




we stayed in fort bragg at north cliff hotel.  i could’ve stayed a week there!  our room overlooked the small bay and had this huge tub, where i gladly hung out and watched tv while sean worked!


one of my must-see stops in fort bragg was seaglass beach.

sean’s not much for following rules, so seeing a small roped off area means to him that there’s something good to see on the other side!


and there was!  rather than visiting the heavily populated beach, we walked down a (clearly regularly visited) trail down to a neighboring beach.



we were there at high tide and apparently low tide is the time to go to find amazing treasures.  but i was pretty happy with our finds!

after a long day of travel and hikes, we got take out from north coast brewing company and headed back to our hotel.


the next day was a slow morning ofbreakfast at our hotel, sean working and me… not working!  we went to town for lunch and ice cream.  we had sushi at taka’s grill and went next door to cowlicks ice cream.  both were amazing!


cookies and cream for the win!


sean had meetings in san francisco the next day, so we stopped at the spinnaker in saucelito for dinner on our way into the city.  our timing was perfect to watch the sunset out one window and the lights of the city come on in the other window.


after a day in the city we drove down to monterrey, another work stop for sean.  after walking around the wharf for a bit, we stopped in at cannery row brewing company for dinner.  they have a great outdoor seating area with fire pits that we had been to before.

that night we stayed at possibly the worst hotel/motel ever.  sean would say i’m being dramatic.  its possible.  let’s just say we were happy to head out early the next day.  after a stop for lunch with friends and a visit with their family, we finally headed home.


we decided to make one last stop 30 minutes from home at barrel house brewing, a favorite of ours.  it has a great outdoor area and live music, and these recently added bathrooms which i just thought were done really well!

while our trip was so super last minute, a ton of driving, and sprinkled with days of work, i was so glad i got this time away with sean.  i am a huge fan of dating my husband and will take any time i can get with him.  even driving for hours in the car is great when its just the 2 of us!


  1. 1

    I am so glad you found all the great ice cream spots! I am proud of you. Cowlicks might be my favorite EVER though. Last time we were there, we ate ice cream twice in 18 hours… Noblefolk is also tasty… but that cookies and cream is AMAZING. Fun trip!

  2. 2

    This sounds like the most perfect vacation to me!!! (Minus the work…) California, food, walking, beer, wine, redwood trees. I can’t imagine anything better than that!

    I am planning a California road trip for my family next summer, so thank you for this!!! I will refer back to this post but you’ve got me really curious about the bad hotel. I am a total princess when it comes to hotels. Ha!

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