Passing through Northern California

Sometimes when you travel for work it’s just a tease for other trips you’d like to take later. I decided that late April seems like a lovely time to visit wine country: not too hot and not too many tourists in the middle of the week. But I was just rolling through in my trusty Versa from Enterprise. I did see some nice countryside and had a meeting at a vineyard (sounds way more glamorous than it actually was).

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I used Airbnb for the first time, a service which lets you pay to stay in spare rooms (or whole apartments) for less than the cost of a hotel, and visited an ideal location in wine country. The hosts even had chickens and I could help myself to fresh eggs in the morning. Very different from a hotel!

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I had a few free hours in the late afternoon, so I decided to check out Howarth Park in Santa Rosa. I had my pocket-sized binoculars with me (bird nerd alert!), so I walked on the horse trail for a few miles around the two man-made lakes. With minimal effort, I saw about 20 species, but I was most excited by the California quails because we don’t have them on the east coast and they are amusing to watch. The park reminded me of other peri-urban parks I’ve been to, except for the warning sign about possible mountain lion sightings and the bugs that sounded like that sinister noise on Lost.

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Then I stopped in Petaluma for the night. Sadly, the much-praised creameries were closed by the time I arrived, but my delightful Airbnb hosts recommended Central Market for dinner. The chef also owns a local organic farm where he sources many of the ingredients. My buddy Harrison says that one of the ways he judges restaurants is by the quality and freshness of the butter served. The McClelland’s butter was a flavor bomb of grassy richness. I knew then that I was in for a real treat (and that I would consume way more bread than I had initially intended). I had the spring vegetable soup, simple and fresh. The salad, with incredibly fresh Bibb lettuce, creamy dressing, thick cut bacon, and potent Point Reyes blue cheese, was delicious. I finished with a slice of Meyer lemon pie, which had paper thin slices of lemons– rinds and all– in the custard, perfectly tart with just a hint of sweetness, and a flaky crust made with butter and lard. The server was refreshingly knowledgeable. All told, I had an extraordinary meal and definitely hope to come back.

In the morning, my host served granola, fresh fruit, and yogurt. They also have chickens, and Deborah offered to make me eggs, but I had to dash. She’s an artist and he’s a tinkerer and their colorful and fun home was truly welcoming.

I set out for San Francisco and even more freeway traffic. But it really is glorious to wind through redwood trees and rolling hills to eventually see the bright red Golden Gate Bridge poke out of the morning fog.

Then I had a drip coffee at Sightglass Coffee. It was rich and complex and the bright, open space was typical San Francisco: on-site roasting, bike storage indoors, informed but aloof service, and serious coffee. And no wi-fi or outlets, in a deliberate move to discourage people from working at a table all day, but very inconvenient for those of us just passing through.

All this is why Northern California is one of my favorite regions in the country for good food.

Next stop: East Bay.

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