The West Coast Inspiration Tour

DSC_0296 It has been about a week since I returned from a road trip down Highway 1 with my Mom. It was a trip we had talked about for a while, and one we actually did back when I was 18, but it felt really nice to spend some time, together, cruising at our own pace... a leisure that is not achievable in our daily routines. We started our weekends separately, my Mom with her friends at a beach house and me with my friends in Berkeley. Our adventure together began Sunday morning. But, first things first. While spending the weekend with my long time friends, we ventured on a road trip of our own. One to a little place called Napa Valley. As my week was filled with a multitude of rejuvenating inspiration, I think I am going to have to divide by California posts into a couple different segments. Let's start in bountiful wine country.

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Our morning started at Gregoire Restaurant in Berkeley. This was something so simple and delicious that I immediately wondered why they don't have this in Birmingham. Located in a small building, filled with big scents, we ordered our breakfast sandwiches and parked it at a nearby picnic table. I love the idea of a small little kitchen, tucked on a side street, serving up delicious grub for unsuspecting customers. This was right on.


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We kicked off Napa at Hall Winery which hosts tastings in the lovely court yard pictured above. There is something just so inherently lovely about a California setting. The gravel patio and teak furniture aren't necessarily something awe inspiring, but there is still such a sense of serenity. It also probably helped that the day was perfect. Not too hot, not too cold. And we were sitting slightly shaded under a canopy of trees.


We followed Hall with a nice, leisurely walk around St. Helena. I am bummed I didn't take too many photos, but their tourist website had this shot that captures the main street. One of my favorite things about traveling is popping in unique shops to check out displays and diversity in goods and services offered.

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Jan de Luz offers a beautiful array of custom monograms. You can monogram any item from their store.... napkins, placemats, table runners, blankets, robes... a really wonderful selection of products. The monograms all are very unique, with a slightly hand crafted, artistic flair. My mom and I popped into the same shop, later on our trip, while in Carmel and they actually were able to monogram items by the end of the day!


We had already made lunch plans, but next time I return to St. Helena I would love to dine at French Blue. It looked like the perfect combination of California chic and tasty.


Blue Bottle Brooklyn

For a late morning pick me up we snagged an iced coffee made with Blue Bottle Coffee. Believe me when I say- I drink a lot of coffee. My Napa travel companions and friends probably drink even more coffee that I do- and that's really saying something. Let me tell you, this might have been the best ice coffee that has ever touched my lips.



Our afternoon lunch plans were to visit V. Sattui and have a picnic. They have an awesome market with a vast assortment of meats, cheeses, dips, salads and basically any other culinary delight you might want to savor on a grassy lawn shaded by some lovely trees. In the court yard they are cook BBQ and pizzas. The buildings were quite extensive and buzzing with activity. We didn't wine taste here, but instead picked up a few bottles to enjoy with our enormous cheese spread.

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After the picnic and lounging at V.Sattui we headed to Sequoia Grove to cap off the day. 6 o'clock in the evening is usually my favorite time of day. Especially in Napa. The sunlight was perfect. It was one of those late afternoons where you want to soak in every drop of natural beauty. That perfect time of day always seems to pass so quickly.


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As luck would have it, we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic leaving Napa. This gave us just enough time to hook up with some friends at the Bardessono in Yountville on our way out of town. As if the perfect dusk wasn't enough, the round of loaded potato chips and onion rings proved to be the perfect way to end our Napa road trip. The Bardessono is a LEED certified building that seems to seamlessly combine understated elegance with a warm, contemporary aesthetic. The building and the grounds blend into the landscape and, as I keep noting is so inherent in California design, the atmosphere is one of tasteful restraint and easy style.


Next... Carmel & Hearst Castle!

California State of Mind

As it appears, summer is officially over. We have hung up the white pants, started to give up on our annuals, and the neighborhoods are pretty quite until about 4 pm. Summer 2012 was a good one. As many are, it was filled with weekends spent on the water, after work evenings spent out on the deck and times spent celebrating friends & family through various weddings and birthdays. When you get to be an adult there really isn't officially a summer vacation just as there isn't officially back to school, but I cannot help but feel revived as the days are just beginning to feel slightly cooler. Fall will forever have the air of newness and as an adult I think it translates more towards organizing, catching up and having a reinvigorated outlook on life. It's like with every deep breath of fall air the heart begins to pitter patter for the  potential and possibilities to come. For me, this excitement might also have something to do with the fact that fall allows slightly more time to follow ideas, constitute new ones and cultivate what is already in process.

 To officially end summer, we travelled to a wedding out in California the weekend after Labor Day. To fully utilize the time change, 5 hour flight and days off, I went out early to spend a couple days in San Francisco before heading down to Laguna. Sometimes, this is the best type of traveling: entrusting your time to the locals. I did zero pre trip planning. Yep, me, planner mcgee, winged it. That's the beauty of visiting people you totally trust to show you a good and inspiring time. In the typical fun of hanging out with good friends, this trip did not fall short on expectations. We ate at delicious restaurants and I got to feel engrossed in a true California experience. On our first evening we visited Reed & Greenough located in the Marina. They had me at repurposed wood facade. The distressed leather, killer light fixtures, zebra, dark mahogany, copper (!) bar, lovingly worn rugs and antiques all made me feel like I could settle in and stay a while. With this collected interior I felt as though I had stepped right into a turn of the century gentleman's mens club. And as someone who would prefer to visit an establishment based on atmosphere rather than quality of food, it was a pleasant surprise that the libations also proved delightful.

images via yelp

As the fog is particularly thick at the beginning of September, we used the days to get out of the city and go on some day trips. Our first stop in Sonoma County was the Bella Vineyards & Winecaves in Healdsburg.

There are many reasons this place was awesome. Let's start with the fact that we could take our own picnic, set it up on a perfectly weathered teak picnic table, shaded by a crisp white canvas umbrella, and look out at the vineyards rolling indefinitely before our eyes.  There were multiple families settled in for the afternoon, their kids hula-hooping or trying to climb the enormous olive trees that partially shaded the lawn.

The wine caves are carved out beneath the vines and as you walk through they have tastings available and the walls are lined with the barrels. As the feeling is unmanufactured the sentiment is intimate and personal. The attention to detail gives the sense that you are privy to a little secret concealed in the hills of Sonoma, just enough off the beaten path that you are able to feel as though you are having a totally unique experience.

This is the private dining room in the caves. I can only imagine the good times that have been shared here amongst friends and families. The idea of eating well and drinking better, in an cave, surrounded by worn antiques and perfectly detailed ambient lighting must make reality seem hundreds of miles away.  This is a place to dine, focus on your companions and soak in every moment.


 Our next stop was the Dry Creek General Store to stock up on some additional snacks. While they are known for their sandwiches, we did not have the pleasure of sampling them. I did love perusing the classic store set up and admiring the selections of food and wine from local vendors. There was also a wonderful array of unique gifts and cookbooks. When I was about 9 I got a doll house that was a general store. I would painstakingly stock the shelves with miniature cans of soup and fill pint-sized barrels with apples- only to sneeze and have everything tumble to the floor and back into an unorganized combination of dry goods. I envisioned myself somewhere between John Boy Walton and Laura Ingalls Wilder- maybe with a dash of desperation of the Oregon Trail and the wild, wild west. Dry Creek General was my childhood idyllic general store come to life- right down to the storage bins and the long front porch where the lucky guests got to enjoy their sandwiches.


Knowing me as they do, my friends planned a trip to the Alameda flea market on Sunday morning. As I planned this trip around the timing of the wedding, I believe landing on the Alameda weekend was almost serendipitous timing. I have been itching to go as I keep hearing reviews, but there are only about, ohhh, 2,500 miles separating me from this flea market mack-daddy. This flea did not disappoint. I mean I could have slept under one of the vendor booths and still have not had enough time to see all the treasures that were laid out in rows A-Z and then AA-ZZ. You've got that right... the last row was ZZ. I purchased a pretty awesome pendant light for my kitchen that's not actually antique, but has a very cool patina and will be a fresh way to replace the recessed light over my sink. The flea market is next to a big port and it is pretty cool to be walking all the aisles, looking at a very diverse range of goods, and feeling dwarfed by the large cranes and stacks of enormous cargo units. It's an interesting juxtaposition to be scouring a flea market for items that bring the art and craftsmanship of the past into the present while being in the midst of a sophisticated harbor that imports goods from all around the world. It was a bit full circle on why, when I started my own business, I decided to call it PORT mfg. & design.  It is this idea that PORT can be a haven for inspiring goods, whether they are antique finds or custom designs. It's the idea that the cornerstone of American trade was built in the pride of craftsmanship and the ability to deliver products to customers that were exclusive, unusual and peculiarly remarkable. It's those values that I want to remember as I build my business.  After some discussion with my flea market warriors, we all concluded that the modern day cargo units were all probably filled with thousands of Samsung TVs.


When we all left feeling inspired for the day and full on gyros, we decided to walk around downtown Berkeley and then stopped over at my friend's house for dinner. It was an absolutely perfect evening spent with friends, old and new. We all hung out on the porch, which is perched about 4 stories above the street.  The hills allow for the seamless effect of being able to feel like you can see forever.  It was one of those nights where the sunlight, gently diffused through the trees, casts a warm glow over everything in it's path.

We started off Labor Day by taking an early morning hike through the Marin Headlands to atone for all the cheese, wine and other sinfully delicious snacks we had savored in over the last days. It was awesome. First of all, I loved pulling up and seeing all the surfers congregating and donning their wet suits for the early morning dip. We hiked and hiked and eventually ended up above the thick fog. Ultimately, we found ourselves about a mile from where we started due to a little mapping complication, but it was well worth it for the views, scenery and aerobic activity.

After the hike we enjoyed the Labor Day BBQ at Cavallo Point, a turn of the century army based turned luxury resort. I was staying in the Presidio and I think it is so cool how these army bases have been adaptively reconfigured to become housing and recreation areas.  We ended our day by walking around the Marina and popping in different shops. We couldn't pass up the $1 oyster special at Cafe des Amis... delicious!  Dinner was then at a friend of a friend's house, which is another perk of traveling to visit people- you aren't always dining in restaurants but also experiencing the flavor of what it is like to actually live in the visited city.  We watched football and helped create a delicious dinner that consisted of Ina's fried chicken, greek salad and, of course, a selection of fine cheeses.

On my last day in the Bay Area we, once again, found ourselves escaping the fog and heading out of town to Mill Valley.  This might be my new favorite little spot. We grabbed a coffee at the Depot and I loved checking out all the new titles in the bookstore. Since Borders has closed in Birmingham there really isn't anywhere to go and pick up a new book after browsing various titles. Call me old school, but I always try to support the local independent bookstores whenever I come across one. I picked up some reads for the next leg of the trip. We aimlessly walked around and popped in the little shops centrally surrounding the Depot and they all had a wonderful collection of goods. I think what I liked best about Mill Valley was the unassuming essence of the town.  It had a slower pace, a neighborhood feel, tucked in hills with tall trees shading overhead and the discerning quality of goods was consistent in every store we visited.

Tyler Florence's store was a gem. I don't even really cook that much, but I thought it was so beautiful that I was completely inspired. It was like a more boutique-y and creative than any kitchen store I have visited. The displays mixed hand selected objects with antiques and gave a rather homey feel. Actually, when I got home from this trip I cleaned and reorganized my entire kitchen.  It was some seriously inspired motivation. His restaurant, El Paseo, was not open at 10 in the morning, but we walked down the twisty-turney brick alleys with vine covered walls that apparently were inspired by the California missions. It might be worth a trip back just to be able to dine in such a whimsical environment. At the end of the courtyard there is a fabulous antique shop, Moss & Moss, that had a wonderful assortment of items ranging from antiques to custom artwork. Another store worth a visit is Summer House for some cool textiles, jewelry and curated items for the home.

Then we just drove up to Sonoma checking out places along the way. The drive itself is almost therapeutic, and I don't think it just had to do with the fact that I was in the passenger seat. There were antique stores to check out and vineyards to see. We ended up having lunch at El Dorado Kitchen in downtown Sonoma and then turned around and headed back to the city.

Making it back to the city we had a late dinner at the newly opened Corner Store. Delicious! Perfect place to cozy up with some American style comfort food for an evening when a little drizzle set in and it was finally is time to bid adieu to some best friends.

Next Stop, SoCal.