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California

Lodi Wineries – Zinfandel Capital of the World

As a California native I’m always excited to explore more of my Golden State. Since I haven’t yet been able to make it up to explore the Lodi wineries, I asked Lisa Waterman Gray to share all the details with you! Grab a glass of wine and enjoy this tour.

A ‘Taste’ of Lodi Wineries

In this cohesive ‘Zinfandel Capital of the World,’ individual families own most of 80+ wineries that thrive amid bountiful water in much of the Central Valley, and ‘delta breezes’ that create fluctuating temperatures. Many winemakers also follow the Lodi Rules – 100+ sustainable environmental, social, and economic winemaking standards. Here are five wineries that we visited during a small group tour: 

Eco-friendly wines from Bokisch Vineyards

Gregarious and welcoming, Markus and Liz Bokisch have produced grapes and wine here since the early 2000s. Nine wines reflect their deep affection for varietals they enjoyed while living in Spain, and the influence of volcanic soil. The winery is also Certified Organic.

Tempranillo was the first Bokisch Vineyards red, and the winery’s Zinfandel was the first Lodi varietal carrying the city’s name versus ‘California.’ Since 2012 the couple’s Tizona label has included specialty blends plus Malbec, Petit Verdot and Old Vine Zin. Their Terra Alta Albarino is widely available in markets as far away as Missouri. Bokisch Vineyards was also the first U.S. winery to crate Graciano. Served amid lush, natural surroundings wine tastings are $10.

Tasty sips at cozy Klinker Brick Winery 

At Klinker Brick Winery, fifth-generation grape growers, Steve and Lori Felten, produce grape varietals that include Grenache Blanc, Albarino, Dolcetto, Mourvedre and other varietals. Their efforts reflect a 100-year-old family tradition of producing top quality fruits. The pair also incorporates the expertise of winemaker, Barry Gnekow, and marketing wizard, Lynne Whyte Barnard.

This warm and inviting winery has won the Best of California competition and is renowned for its patented, award-winning Old Ghost Zinfandel. Klinker Brick Winery sells plenty of bulk wine too. And about the winery’s name? The façades of several nearby houses incorporate ‘Klinker Brick.’ 

Open-air tasting at Michael David Winery

Michael David Winery is another Certified Sustainable winery. A five decades-old pumpkin patch, herb and U-Pick flower gardens, and even chickens, share this 60-acre site – home to 12.5 acres of Carmenere grape vineyards. Fifth generation grape growers and winery founders, Michael and David Phillips, now work with sixth generation family members too. During 2018, Michael David Winery sold more than one million wine cases and The Seven Deadly Zins varietal has been ranked as the nation’s #1 Zinfandel. 

Multi-colored hand-painted murals decorate enormous fermentation tanks, and an expansive open-air room is a relaxed spot for wine tastings during nice weather. Colorful labels also decorate bottles of such varietals as Freakshow Zinfandel, Inkblot Cabernet Franc, and Petite Petit.

French and Italian varietals by Oak Farm Vineyards

Fourteen grape varietals grow across the 710-acre site of Certified Green Oak Farm Vineyards. Available in more than a dozen states, all publicly sold bottles carry a signature White Oak label. 

Natural wood and stone decorate the spacious, sun-drenched tasting room. Tasting samples include Petite Syrah, and Barbera reds (from Italy’s Piedmonte area) and crisp, clean Sauvignon Blanc crafted in stainless steel (originally from Bordeaux). There’s also an Estate Grown Chardonnay resembling Chablis, and a mellow Estate Cab. Oak Farm Winery also produces single vineyard Zinfandel. 

This is a lovely place to drink and eat, whether you purchase a $10 wine tasting or pay $30 for seated tastings with charcuterie. The winery now features a spacious and well-equipped commercial kitchen too.

Portuguese-style wines at St. Jorge Winery

St. Jorge Winery visitors will find varietals reflecting the family’s Portuguese roots. Owner, Vern J. Vierra, loves this land deeply, having made wine here with his father and grandfather since childhood. Wines were always at the family table too. St. Jorge Winery produces Tempranillo, Verdelho, Syrah and Touriga Nacional wine plus the area’s largest port selection. In addition, St. Jorge’s Old Vine Zinfandel descends from a 1914 vineyard.

Bottle labels and the tasting room have an Old World ‘feel.’ Ornate, decorative plaster surrounds large mirrors behind the marble-topped bar, as well as a massive roaring fireplace. And when Vierra talks about his heritage and wines, he glows with pride.

After visiting the Lodi wineries, you can learn about more things to do in the Lodi region, here. You can also explore California’s wine regions and AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) here. You can also explore more things to do in California here.

During the coronavirus pandemic, most wineries are closed to the public. Check individual web sites for updates. 

Sequoia National Park: A Trip in Photos

I feel quite fortunate to live in a state that has nine National Parks, the most of any state! And I only live a couple hours from some of them so Sequoia National Park is the perfect weekend getaway for me. If I’m feeling really ambitious I can actually squeeze in a day trip but it’s necessary stay rather than driving home after hiking. Hopefully some of these pictures will inspire you to plan your own trip to Sequoia. Or to the National Park closest to you.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy.

Sequoia National Park: The History

President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation on September 25, 1890 to create Sequoia, making it just the second US national park. He made this decision because he was trying to protect the trees from the logging industry. This reasoning made Sequoia a bit different from Yellowstone, the first national park, as it became a park with the purpose of protecting a particular living organism. This park is also home to the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney, and more than 800 miles of trails.

I haven’t hiked all those trails so this is just a glimpse of the natural beauty found in Sequoia. Until you’re standing next to these trees, it’s difficult to fully grasp just how tall they are. Standing next to one of the trees I like quite small!! The General Sherman Tree is 275 feet tall and stands at the north end of Giant Forest.

If you’re planning your own trip to Sequoia National Park I highly recommend this Lonely Planet guide. In fact I’d recommend a Lonely Planet guide for almost any trip you take.

You can also check out my visit to Arches National Park in Utah.

California Missions: A California Challenge

Stretching more than 600 miles from San Diego, California up to Sonoma, California (just north of San Francisco), the Royal Road is an iconic California road trip. Known in Spanish as El Camino Real, this road connects all 21 of the California missions. Founded in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s it provided a way to connect the missions. Visiting all 21 of the California missions is perfect for history buffs, 4th grade Californian students, or anyone wanting to learn more about the history of California.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy through the links.

In 2018 I decided that I wanted to do more travel in my home state of California. And so the California Challenges were born. In 2018 I decided to visit all 21 of the California missions. I headed south to San Diego and as far north as Sonoma to cross all 21 off my list. So let’s hit the road and go visiting the California missions. If you want a sneak peek without reading the whole post, you can see the highlights on my Instagram story.

San Diego De Alcala

Located in San Diego this became the first mission when it opened on July 16, 1769. The gardens are beautiful and the grounds are peaceful. Since this was the first mission you are able to learn more about the origins of the missions while visiting San Diego De Alcala.

San Luis Rey De Francia

Mission San Luis Rey De Francia was founded on June 13, 1798 as the 18th mission. Named after King Louis IX of France, this remains an active parish. Not only can the church and cemetery be explored but also the grounds beyond the church to see what life would have been like in the early 1800’s.

San Juan Capistrano

This mission is located just a bit north of the last one, in San Juan Capistrano. It was the 7th mission and it was founded on November 1, 1776. (History lovers will appreciate the timing as it provides context for what was happening several thousand miles away when the Declaration of Independence was being signed) This mission is considered the birth place of Orange County and is known as The Jewel of the Missions. This was the largest structure built by the Spanish during their 65 years in the west and offers many interactive exhibits today.

San Gabriel Arcangel

Home of the first orange and tangerine trees in California, the San Gabriel Arcangel mission was founded on September 8, 1771. This makes it the 4th mission and was the first to produce wine grapes in Southern California.

San Fernando Rey De Espana

Founded in 1797, San Fernando Rey De Espana is located in the Mission Hills community of Los Angeles. It was the 17th mission and is the final resting place of Bob Hope.

San Buenaventura

Located in downtown Ventura San Buenaventura was founded on March 31, 1782 making it the 9th mission. It is not a very big mission, but it has an absolutely gorgeous courtyard.  This was the last mission founded during Fray Serra’s lifetime.

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Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara is said to be founded on December 16, 1786 as the 10th mission. However this is the only mission that has potentially two founding dates because Father Serra died before being able to confirm the founding date. This is also the only mission with twin bell towers.

Mission Santa Ines

I spent 24 hours in Solvang when I visited the mission, which was founded on September 15, 1804. It was the 19th mission and is located within walking distance of downtown Solvang.

La Purisima Concepcion

La Purisima is probably the most well visited of the missions as it is incredibly visitor friendly. The mission was founded on December 8, 1787 and is the 11th mission. There are quite a few interactive exhibits available at the mission and you can see various animals and workshops in action.

San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was the 5th of the missions and founded on September 1, 1772. It is worth visiting if you would like to see all 21 of the missions, but due to its location in downtown San Luis Obispo there is less to see than many of the other missions.

Mission San Miguel Arcangel

San Miguel Arcangel was founded on July 25, 1797 as the 16th mission. After being closed for nearly three decades in the mid-1800’s it was reopened in 1878. Today the mission is known for it its well preserved murals.

Mission San Antonio de Padua

Most of the missions are located along Highway 101 but this one will take you off the beaten path…and on to a military base. This was the 3rd mission and was founded on July 14, 1771. It is located in Jolon and be warned that because of its location, if you go in the summer it will likely be quite hot! You are able to book overnight stays if you would like to experience more of what mission life was like in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s.

Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

In its present-day surroundings Nuestra Senora de la Soledad gives you one of the best visuals of what the missions would have been liked when they were founded. It is out in the middle of rolling vineyards so you get an idea of what it would have been like when it was founded on October 9, 1791 as the 13th mission.

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San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is located in Carmel and was just the 2nd mission, founded on June 3, 1770. This was said to be Father Serra’s favorite mission and it is where he passed away.

San Juan Bautista

Mission San Juan Bautista was the 15th mission and has been serving daily mass since June 24, 1797. This mission is uniquely positioned right on the San Andreas fault so it is quite a feat that this mission has never been abandoned.

Mission Santa Cruz

In its present day form there is a church located where Mission Santa Cruz was founded on September 28, 1791 as the 12th mission. Across the street there is a historical site where some of the mission activities would have taken place but very little is left of the original mission.

Santa Clara de Asis

Of all the missions I had the most difficult time finding this one because it is located on the campus of Santa Clara University. So it’s not as easy to plug into Google Maps. The mission was founded on January 12, 1777 as the 8th mission.

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose is located in present-day Fremont and was the 14th of the missions, founded on June 11, 1797. It became known as the “Queen of the Missions.”

San Francisco de Asis

San Francisco de Asis was founded on June 29,1776 as the 6th mission. Located in the heart of San Francisco none of the surrounding land remains, but it is still a gorgeous church.

San Rafael Arcangel

Mission San Rafael was founded for different reasons than many of the other missions. Located further inland from San Francisco it was founded on December 14, 1817 as the 20th mission. Since it was located further inland it had much less fog and so was founded to be a place of medical respite.

San Francisco Solano

San Francisco Solano is located in Sonoma and is the furthest north of all the missions. The mission was founded on July 4, 1823 making it the last of the missions to be founded.

You can find more suggestions of things to do in California HERE. Or head here to see more of my California Challenges.

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Palm Springs Botanical Garden: A Secret Treasure

Palm Springs brings to mind mid-century modern architecture and the desert. So it’s only fitting to include a visit to a Palm Springs Botanical Garden. This is your chance to explore the wide variety of cacti and plants that call the desert home. You might think that one cactus is about the same as next but with about 2,000 different varieties of cacti around the world, Palm Springs is home to quite a variety.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy.

Palm Springs Botanical Garden

Established more than 80 years ago, Moorten Botanical Garden, is family owned and specializes in cacti and other desert plants. The botanical garden is also home to the world’s first cactarium. Admission is just $5.00 making this an affordable way to spend a morning or afternoon in Palm Springs. It is worth noting that the winter and summer hours are quite different. During the summer temperatures often climb into the triple-digits so during this time Moorten’s is only open in the mornings.

As you enter the garden there is a stone with the following inscription…

Take your time like a turtle…and you will see more.

I would encourage you to take time to enjoy these photos from this stunning botanical garden, head over to their site to see even more, and schedule a visit on your next trip to Palm Springs.

If you are planning a trip to Southern California be sure to check out these other things to do including a day trip to Ventura, the piers of Orange County, San Jacinto Valley and more. Also be sure to take some time in Palm Springs to check out all of the unique front doors!

Enjoy a Day at the Piers in Orange County

I think the first two things most people think of when they imagine visiting Orange County are the beaches and Disneyland. Orange County has 40 miles of coastline passing through seven cities. Any trip to these beaches should include stops at the piers in Orange County. With a total of five piers a trip to all of them gives you a pretty good look at the Orange County coastline.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy through the links.

San Clemente

I’d recommend visiting the piers of Orange County from south to north because you’ll first want to have breakfast at La Galette. Located right across the street from the pier, this is delicious casual dining with a view. After enjoying a crepe walk across the street for a stroll down the San Clemente Pier. After you finishing your trip down the pier, I’d suggest a walk down the coastal path for views of the pier jutting out into the water.

Newport Beach

Newport Beach is home to not one, but two piers! The Balboa Pier was constructed in 1906 and is home to the original Ruby’s Diner. The Newport Pier is 1,032 feet long and is registered as California Historical Landmark number 794. While there is not a restaurant at the end, on a clear day you can see the Balboa Pier to the south and Huntington Beach to the north.

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Huntington Beach

In my opinion, this is probably the most iconic pier in Orange County. It is arguably the most photographed spot in Huntington Beach and at 1,850 feet in length, is one of the longest public piers on the West Coast. On a clear day the views from the end of the pier are simply breathtaking as you can see miles of coastline with snow capped mountains in the background. Stroll down the pier and watch the surfers below, browse the shops or grab a milkshake from Ruby’s Diner.

Seal Beach

Admittedly, the Seal Beach pier is not what it once was, but it’s still worth a visit! I remember walking out on the pier to the restaurant at the end as a kid. Unfortunately a fire in 2016 burned down the restaurant and damaged the end of the pier. While you’re no longer able to eat at the Seal Beach pier, the view of the coastline makes it a worthwhile stop.

If you’re looking for more things to do in Orange County, be sure to browse my Orange County Bucket List. The list has more than 150 things to do including a trip to the Redwoods and mining for gold.

Literary Connections

If you want to explore more of the Piers of the California Coast, I’d recommend the book by Ed Grant. If you are interested in the 840 miles of coastal California this is the book for you. The book will look gorgeous on your coffee table and is filled with historical anecdotes.

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Spending One Day in Ventura California

I believe that any trip to Southern California should extend beyond Venice Beach and Disneyland. As iconic as these places are, Southern California has so much more to offer. I’d recommend setting aside one day of your trip to venture just north of LA to visit Ventura. With so many wonderful things to do in Ventura, you won’t regret your visit.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy through the links.

Things to do in Ventura: The Food

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day so kick off your day with a yummy breakfast. Not only does Marie Shannon Confections have a fun vibe, you’ll get a yummy breakfast to fuel you for your day.

I would argue that you can’t go to a beach town in Southern California and not get fish tacos. Specifically, the fish tacos from Spencer Makenzie’s. Voted the best fish taco in Ventura and ranked in the top 50 Tacos in America, you don’t want to miss these!

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Be sure to stop by Beach House Fish located on the Ventura Pier for a happy hour drink and appetizer. Grab a table along the windows and enjoy the coastline views.

Why not wrap up your day with a Fish Waffle Cone from Coastal Cone?!? Located in Ventura Harbor Village this is the perfect spot for strolling by the boats and enjoying your ice cream.

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Things to do in Ventura: The Sights

To learn a bit about the history of Ventura I’d recommend beginning your exploration of the city with a stop at the San Buenaventura Mission. The missions are an integral part of the history of California. Continue your journey through the history of the city with a stop at City Hall. The architecture of City Hall makes me feel like I’ve stepped on the set of a movie. In 1971 the building was declared a county, state and federal historical landmark so it’s definitely worth setting aside time in your day to visit.

If you’re looking for an unrivaled view of Ventura I’d recommend a visit to the Ventura Botanical Gardens. Not only will you get to see a carefully curated selection of plant life but with an easy hike up to Grant Park you will be treated to stunning views of the city and beach below.

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You’ll also want to make sure you set aside time for a stroll down Main Street. I always enjoy popping into bookshops when I travel and Main Street has several great options. Calico Cat Bookshop and Bank of Books. While usually I don’t recommend a stop at the post office, you won’t want to miss the post office just off Main Street. Inside you’ll find Gordon Grant Murals painted in 1936-1937. The murals are listed on the Federal Register of Fine Arts and you don’t even have to pay to see them…just pop in the post office!

A trip to Ventura is definitely not complete unless you’ve stopped by Surfer’s Point. With a south facing point right hand waves roll in consistently throughout the day. Not only will you be able to watch surfing, but on days where the wind picks up you’ll also be able to enjoy watching kiteboarders and windsurfers.

As you’re planning your time in Southern California I would also suggest a day trip to Solvang or a trip out to the San Jacinto Valley. And if you want to explore what Orange County has to offer beyond Disneyland, be sure to check out my Ultimate Orange County Bucket List.

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