We woke up the morning after the wedding having done precisely zero packing for the honeymoon. But as a certified Type A kind of gal, I’d of course done all of the necessary preparations in terms of hotel reservations, restaurant selections and reservations, and sightseeing excursions, all of which culminated in a color-coded Word itinerary the likes of which ye have never seen. So here’s a nutshell version of Honeymoon Part I, which we very much enjoyed.
Wake up, frantically pack, leave a check for the pet sitter, don’t bother to shower because we’ll be on I-5 all day and who cares?, get out the door, stop at McDonald’s for the Official Road Trip Approved McDonald’s Greasy Breakfast, drop off ceremony chairs at party store, finally get on I-5, drive drive drive drive drive. Stop for the night in Dunsmuir, CA, “Home of the Best Water on Earth,” which was good to know, because there were basically no other signs of life in this teeny town. There was one restaurant, a small microbrewery with surprisingly OK food. We stayed in a motor hotel that had the biggest bed and the smallest shower I’ve ever seen.
Continue on I-5 south and approach the winding hills of wine country. Stop in Calistoga (“Hot Springs, Cool Wines, Warm Welcome”) for an early afternoon at Lavender Hill Spa. We each had a “volcanic ash bath” (mud flakes in a normal bath, as opposed to the thick mud baths you’ve seen in movies) and a massage. Masseusse can’t stop talking and has a cackle that could tear paint off walls, but overall I leave better than I arrived. Continue on to Santa Rosa for the place we would stay for the next three nights, a guest house that we found on AirBnB. I know AirBnb has had some bad press recently (and for good reason), but this was my first time using the site and I couldn’t recommend the experience more highly.
The “cottage,” as they called it, was on the property of a nice couple (retired, I think?) who have the most amazing gardens and goats and chickens and koi ponds. Wireless, cable, comfy bed, indoor and outdoor tables for meals, a beautiful bathroom, and a fabulous mini-kitchen with all the needed accroutements to make breakfast, including FRESH EGGS from their chickens every day. The place is somewhat tucked away and feels like the country, but was a quick 5 or so minute drive to highway 101, which made getting around easy. They had maps and guidebooks and a list of recommended things to do in the area; they really seem to enjoy renting out this room and interacting with their guests. So nice! Go stay there if you’re ever in the area.
After some tasting at a Windsorwine bar, Tuesday night was the first great meal of our trip, at Willi’s Wine Bar. They have one of those somewhat-obnoxious menus that’s divided into Surf, Earth and Turf, but no matter, because the food is for real. We had oysters and scallops and wood-grilled asparagus (the best I’ve ever had) and French fries and Morrocan carrots and lamb chops and Greek “brick chicken” and too many other small plates to mention. I am, in general, not always enthusiastic about small plates restaurants because the value per dish is rarely high, but this place left me feeling that I owed them more money than they charged us. The wine list was impeccable, and we went with various flights to match our courses. I always appreciate a place with interesting white wines (one flight we tried had Hungarian, Greek, and Italian whites). We spent almost three hours there and stumbled out fat, drunk and happy.
Sleep in, have fresh eggs and coffee al fresco for breakfast. Our first stop was J Winery in Healdsburg, which has great sparkling wines and pinot noirs, but is un peu trop cher, so we had our tasting and bought some olive oil and slunk out quietly. We drove around and went to Korbel at lunch (before you even judge me, I know, I know. But they apparently have a tour of their beautiful grounds and gardens that’s supposed to be spectacular). We missed the tour and had lunch there instead. Then the coolest part of our trip: a plane ride over the Russian River Valley via North Coast Air. This was an excursion I picked up on Groupon, and I’m so glad I sprang for it. Our pilot was young (almost too young…the Doogie Howser of flight instructors?) and enthusiastic, and the whole ride (in a 4-seater Cessna) was surprisingly non-scary. Unfortunately, the coast was too foggy for us to see the ocean, but we got some great aerial views of the Buddhist monastery nearby. Like:
Whew, adrenaline! Highly recommended. Afterward we stopped at nearby Martinelli Winery for a tasting. As a wine geek interested in the rise of California wine in the 1970s, I had learned about Helen Turley and her role as Wine Consultant Extraordinaire to many California wineries. I saw online that Turley consults for Martinelli and that their wines are very well-regarded by the Robert Parkers of the world. So I had to see for myself. And they’re pretty good! Their Chardonnays are Burgundy-style, with lots of hay and richness and funk to them, which probably doesn’t sound that great, but is.
I’ll stop here for now. Stay tuned for…the best meal of our trip.