Central California – Visiting Family, Coastline and Wine Country

santa barb
Santa Barbara coastline road

From San Diego we drove north through the Los Angeles area to visit my uncle Don, my cousin Skip, and his wife Janet.  As my “West Coast” family members on my father’s side, I had only met them a couple of times, so it was very interesting to get to know them as an adult.  Don, in his late 80s, has an amazing memory for dates – placing visits and events to the month anytime in the past.  I learned he was a founding member of the Ski Patrol in WWII.  He told me a few things I hadn’t known about my parents’ lives – what a gift!  Skip (previously an architect in the Navy) and his wife Janet met through their church and are both very active in it.  They were kind enough to take us to see Atonement in Los Angeles – another well-made depressing film.  I missed seeing my cousin Chris, who lives in Seattle but dropped down for Don’s birthday, but I had a good chat with her and hope to catch up with her soon.  Her voice instantly brought back memories of my aunt Carlobelle’s voice (Carlobelle was my father’s sister, who hated her name so much she was called “Button” by anyone who knew her).

Muir Woods view from hillside trail

Next we drove up the coast through Santa Barbara and to the San Francisco area.  We visited Chris’ uncle Gene and aunt Reta, who live just south of San Francisco. 

gene and reta

Gene and Reta’s House – front view


Gene and Reta’s House – view of Bay

The last time we had seen them was in Iowa at a wedding in April of 2007.  About twenty years ago Chris had spent a week or so with them at their house, when Reta taught Chris how to drive a stick shift on the near-vertical streets around their house.  Chris had fun trying to remember places and find her way around town, as well as spending time with them again.  Reta told us great stories of her life, including a few “Bumps in the Night” stories she has written down for her grandchildren.  Gene gave us lots of good suggestions about places to explore, had very fond memories of time spent in Chattanooga, and introduced us to Cooks Illustrated, which we now have subscribed to.  What a great magazine!  It will definitely have an impact on the mashed potatoes at next year’s Thanksgiving.

muir hike

Muir Woods trail – photo digitally lightened several times so the trail would be visible!!!

We drove north across the Golden Gate Bridge, snapping a few pictures in the cold pouring rain:

sf skyline

San Francisco skyline from north of Golden Gate Bridge


Golden Gate Bridge from north

We drove northeast through Sausalito, backtracked west toward the coast to Muir Woods, and went hiking there in the pouring rain.  Cathedral Grove in Muir Woods is where the first United Nations meeting adjourned to acknowledge the value of preserving nature.  From Muir Woods we continued driving north on PCH, through several flooded-over roadway areas, until we cut across to Santa Rosa to spend the night.  The hills between the ocean and Santa Rosa were lovely, even in the near-dark:  winding roads through small vineyards and gorges.  Then we drove east over the hills near Sonoma and into Napa Valley – absolutely beautiful country, again.  We visited Dean and DeLuca, and then Grgich Hills and Peju wineries – we could only survive two because it’s hard for me to spit or pour out such yummy wine, and Chris was driving.


Peju Winery, Napa Valley

peju 2

Peju Winery Vineyard View, Napa Valley

We were amazed and happy to find that Grgich Hills wines are all organic and biodynamically grown.  For people who don’t drink large quantities, the strong taste of their wine makes drinking even more enjoyable (they don’t water their vineyards artificially).  Having not done my homework on Peju, I didn’t realize the interesting looking mustards and sauces in their gift shop are actually what they’re known best for – and of course we didn’t buy them, but purchased a couple of bottles of wine instead!  Before we returned to the coast south of San Francisco, we went further east into Sacramento, where we saw The Savages at the lovely old Crest Theater.

When we drove south from San Francisco to Carmel, we passed this lighthouse:


Lighthouse on California coast

and somewhere along the way Chris snapped a photo of this flower:

purple flower

Purple flower near California’s coast


2 comments so far

  1. Lisa on

    Sounds like Northern Cali was the best yet! I just noticed the change to your title…moving to Asheville? I have a cousin that lives there and I have visited twice. It is a beautiful place!

  2. liz busrns on

    okay girls, what happened? here i was enjoying the trip since i am a slave to my life and no word for more than a month. did you get to and settle in asheville? other visiting? i just hope all is well. look forward to more news from you regarding travel and life plans in general.

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