A Few Places for Getting “Lost”

Fitzroy Island Beach, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Pretty darn close to paradise

My husband and I had watched “Lost” for all 5 seasons, and then, for the last, the one that answered all the questions, we took off on a trip around the world. (Fortunately, the quest for real doing still trumps the pleasure of good viewing.)

As we traveled in a few spots across the Pacific, more than a few locations reminded us of the gorgeous, paradise-with-secrets landscapes common to “Lost.” If you’re already missing it after the finale, and seek to enhance a real escape with memories of your more virtual pleasures, here are a few places where you may be able to convince yourself that the Smoke Monster lurks just around the next palm tree.

1) The Island: Fitzroy, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef is one of nature’s most amazing productions. With countless atolls and islands stretching along the reef, it’s easy to play castaway for one day or several. Fitzroy Island has just the right “Lost” ambiance: abundant natural beauty with a sprinkling of spooky abandoned buildings, some reminiscent of the Others’ compound.

After a gorgeous 45-minute trip from Cairns in Far North Queensland via Fitzroy Ferries, you land at the boat dock, at the foot of a nearly finished yet vacant luxury hotel. (The hotel project was begun a few years ago, and is always rumored to open soon, but the economy seems to create constant setbacks for that launch schedule. Whenever it opens, it will be an amazing place to stay.) 

Once on the island, you’re free to spend the day as you like–lazing on the beach, hiking trails that criss-cross the wooded island (a national park), and/or spending time underwater snorkeling in the island’s clear waters. We decided to embark on the guided sea kayaking and snorkeling adventure for the morning, which took us on a nicely-paced kayak trip to a clear, shallow lagoon off Little Fitzroy Island for a snorkeling break where we saw some exceptional soft corals. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and good-humored, even when temporary possession by the Smoke Monster caused me to crush his thumb with my kayak paddle.

After our kayak trip, for the afternoon, we left the group to hike alone to the lush jungle of the “Secret Garden” and down to the postcard-perfect Nudey Beach, where we ate our picnic lunch and snorkeled some more. (NB: There are no supplies or stores on the island, so bring your own water. If you don’t pre-order a picnic lunch from the Fitzroy Ferry folks, bring your own food. There are no Dharma stockpiles on the island.) We saw no one for hours, until a group of seemingly friendly people disembarked from a small motorboat on to Nudey Beach. Friend or foe? Could they be the Others?

Scuttling back up the heavy stone steps on the trail, the Fitzroy Ferry that would take us back to Cairns was a welcome sight. We had time for a bit more snorkeling, and hopped in the beach just off the dock. Some lovely sand-colored stingrays floated along the white sandy ocean bottom, delicate and sinuous like apparitions in a dream.

You can get more info about the Fitzroy excursions and/or other Cairns activities offered by the outfitters who run Fitzroy ferries at:
http://www.ragingthunder.com.au/

2. The Looking Glass: Quicksilver Platform, Outer Great Barrier Reef, Australia
When Charlie died in the watery lair of the undersea platform, it was one of the most memorable scenes in the entire series of “Lost.” If you’re making a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the Great Barrier Reef, you don’t want the most memorable part of your trip to be seasickness.

When we were in Australia in March, a storm’s approach made for rough seas, so we took the advice of numerous travel experts in the area and tried the Quicksilver company’s trip to the Outer Great Barrier Reef. With a big boat and a secure platform from which to snorkel, Quicksilver’s the best way to experience the reef when the water’s a bit rough and your travel companions want to avoid the ghastly experience of throwing up for hours with others who are throwing up for hours on a boat.   

Though waves were quite high the day we went, the snorkel area had convenient ropes and floating rest stops, making it easy to stay in the water and enjoy the wildlife. Some colorful giant clams were a highlight. We also sighted more large-sized fish than at other reef locations (due to some strategic feedings and the proximity of the open ocean). 

After a buffet lunch, before getting back into the water, we ventured down to a viewing area, designed for those who might not be able to enjoy the reef first-hand. Gazing at the aquatic life through the thick plexiglass, fish looking at me as if I were the object of interest, a human face suddenly pressed into the glass. Desmond? Charlie? No. Just a happy snorkeler.  

More info on Quicksilver’s version of the Looking Glass (with the hope that it ends better for you than it did for Charlie) is found at http://www.quicksilver-cruises.com   

3. The Ancient Civilizations: Maori Carvings, Lake Taupo, New Zealand
Elements of ancient cultures frequently popped into the familiar, modern world on “Lost,” jarring your understanding of where or when the story was taking place. 

When visiting Lake Taupo, on New Zealand’s North Island, you will find all the signs of our post-industrial civilization– a lakeside roadway, modern power boats, fabulous homes, even a driving range right on the lake.  However, unlike lakes in many other parts of the world, there’s no over-crowding. It’s very easy to feel solitary on this massive, blue, stream-fed lake. 

Cruising around Lake Taupo, after we fished for some trout, we came upon magestic, 10-meter-high Maori carvings. Though the carvings look as if they had always been there, master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell created this monumental work in the 1970s. The carvings are a tribute to Ngatoroirangi, the legendary navigator who guided the first tribes to New Zealand over a millennia ago.

These beautiful carvings remind that you are a guest of the cultural descendents of the great Polynesians, one of the world’s most fascinating and epic civilizations. Resourceful survivors, the earliest Polynesians settled the vast Pacific on the smallest of boats with the most meager of rations, an extraordinary accomplishment in an age when the rest of the world’s seafarers were merely playing it safe and sailing along the various continents’ coasts.   

Ancient survival lessons you could still learn from today. Particularly if you are ever stuck on the Island.  

You can practice your fishing and get awestruck by the Maori carvings when you explore Lake Taupo on the White Striker. Our guide, Dan, showed us the carvings, taught us a lot about the whole Taupo area, and hooked us up with some fine trout when others were leaving empty-handed. The Maori carvings and Lake Taupo’s majesty mean you will never leave truly empty-handed, however.

To learn more about experiencing Lake Taupo with Dan, check out: http://www.troutcatching.com  (Note for non-fishermen: many other boat operators do tours of Lake Taupo leaving from Taupo’s marina so you can see the carvings without casting a line.)

4. Abandoned Dharma Initiative Station: Sweeney Ridge, San Bruno/Pacifica, California
There’s something exciting and slightly hair-raising about discovering abandoned buildings in the middle of nowhere. If the buildings have some whiff of military about them, all the better.  Indeed, one of the most intriguing things about “Lost” was the initial discovery of the Dharma Project’s endless hatches and complexes.

About 25 minutes south of San Francisco lies Sweeney Ridge, where you can take a moderately strenuous hike to the top of a crest where the great explorer, Portola, discovered San Francisco Bay. (There’s even a plaque here to commemorate the occasion.) With sweeping wildflower-strewn views of the Bay and the Pacific, it’s a very lovely and rare vantage point of the Bay Area.

Walking along the crest, after enjoying the natural beauty of the spot, we were surprised to find a block-shaped, whitish building, whose excessively bland, non-descript style could only have been made by the military in the 1960s or 1970s.

Adding to the spook  factor: it appears the occupants left in a hurry. Wires hang down from the ceiling where light fixtures were ripped off. Hinges strain from the stress of having doors yanked off.

As we peeked around, it occured to us that, perhaps, we should not be walking around this place. It could be dangerous. Since the entire Bay Area coast was fringed with Nike missiles not too long ago, we assumed this institutional ruin was somehow related to that.

Then, we remembered Dharma, the bomb, and all the “Lost” craziness. And then, truly spooked, we hightailed it back to our conveyance away from the beautiful yet potentially atomic spot where we had just hiked for hours.  
 
To discover the abandoned building and more sites in hikes around Sweeney Ridge: http://www.parksconservancy.org/visit/park-sites/sweeney-ridge.html

5. The Banyan Tree: Kawela Bay, Oahu’s North Shore
Soon, the state of Hawaii’s motto will be “Where ‘Lost’ was filmed.” Indeed, the series was rather notoriously filmed there, so seeing elements of “Lost” in Hawaii is akin to saying the Empire State Building reminds you of King Kong.

However, if you’re a “Lost” fan, seeing the actual “Lost” Banyan Tree on Kawela Bay is pretty exceptional. Lots of things happened in the show involving the spooky, gigantic tree. The capacious chamber formed by the tree’s boughs is impressive from a natural point of view well beyond the banyan tree’s brushes with TV fame.

Because all Hawaiian beaches are public, you can get to the banyan tree at Kawela Bay on your own. Or, you can take the excellent eco-tour offered by Shaka Kayaks, as we did in April.

Shaka Kayaks equipped us with a kayak that has a little window, so the bay’s aquatic life is visible from below and above on the easy, fun paddle around Kawela Bay. Most notably, the area is full of green sea turtles, a particularly adorable one of which is named, “Charlie.” We were also lucky enough to see an endangered monk seal lolling on the beach.

Along with the kayaking on the eco-tour, we took a pleasant walk to a World War II bunker and, of course, to the “Lost” Banyan Tree. With the amount we learned from the informative, friendly guides about the amazing ecosystem that is Kawela Bay, it was rather easy to forget the TV show that was an international obsession for 6 years. 

To take a paddle on Shaka Kayaks’ eco-tour and pay a visit to the Banyan Tree, see: http://www.shakakayaks.com/

In the Land of Giants

Grant's Tree in Parts, Sequoia National Park
Grant's Tree in Parts, Sequoia National Park

When you hear words like “the largest living thing,” or “the widest,” you know you have to see them, though you’re also slightly afraid that the object(s) in question may not live up to the hype.

The sequoias at Sequoia National Park do not disappoint. The fact that they adjoin a valley, Kings Canyon, that rivals Yosemite (and may actually be superior due to lack of crowds), makes this location all the better. (Warning: if you’re driving from SF, you will most likely take Highway 198 to get to the park. On Highway 198, you will encounter a series of bad smells until you reach the town of Three Rivers. These smells include, but are not limited to: the massive stench of industrial stockyards, an overwhelming aroma of pressed garlic, an acrid sulfuric chemical odor,  and more oppressive odors emanating from super-sized stockyards. However, in spite of these perils, Sequoia & Kings Canyon are well worth the trip down the Road of Bad Smells.)

The Sequoia visitor center provides a lot of interesting background about the world’s largest trees, along with a good orientation to help you plan your visit.  Though there are several hikes to take through the various groves, you shouldn’t miss the two most notable walks: the Sherman and the Grant. The Sherman Tree walk takes you on a descent to the base of the world’s largest living thing by volume. The walk through the lovely grove around Grant’s Tree (the widest of the giant Sequoias) has some of the prettiest tree specimens and a lot of amazing sites, including an old, dead sequoia, “The Monarch,” you can walk through that was once a miner’s refuge and a bar.

When you’re peckish in Sequoia and in need of a food/wine stop, Wuksachi Lodge has a nice restaurant with a lovely mountainside view. (Thankfully, food has come a long way in our national parks since the days of foil-wrapped cheeseburgers.) The wine list has a good variety and is surprisingly reasonable given the relative remoteness of the location.

Don’t miss a good hike or two in Kings Canyon, even though it’s a bit off the beaten path. The majestic peaks frame a verdant valley with a babbling river running through it, culminating in lively falls rolling over large boulders. Camping spots seem a lot sweeter in Kings Canyon than in Sequoia, so if you’re up for a few nights in a tent,  do the Kings thing.

For nights with a roof over your head, a good base camp outside the park can be found in the town of Three Rivers. The affordable Comfort Inn has shuttles into the Park (shuttles are mandatory at certain times of year), along with a swimming pool and hot tub. 

Two great places to spend your post-hike evenings can also be found in Three Rivers. The Cider Mill Restaurant stays open later and has outdoor seating. Many of the selections are grilled by a nice guy tending the BBQ out front. The wood-grilled Carne Asada (along with several ice cold Tecates) was the dining highlight.

The River View Restaurant & Lounge has a nice perch above a perky river run, where you can sit outside and listen to the river race by. There’s often live music here, and if there’s not, the kind folks at the River View were playing some awesome live concert Grateful Dead tracks the night I visited. Even better, the beer was ice cold, and the onion rings were some of the best you’ll ever have.

Cold beers. Big trees. Bigger canyons. Fewer crowds. Sequoia/Kings Canyon are definitely worth a visit.   

Do:
National Park Info, http://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm

Eat:
Cider Mill, 40311 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198)
River View Restaurant & Lounge, 42323 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198)

Sleep:
Comfort Inn, 40820 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198), http://www.comfortinn.com/hotel-three_rivers-california-CAA26

A Guide to the Outerlands

Ocean Beach Sunset, San Francisco, California
Sunset in the Outer Sunset

Having lived out in the Avenues for a decade, I always enjoyed it when the rest of SF came out to our neck of the woods for events like Outsidelands and the Bay to Breakers. There’s something amusing about drunk people asking how far away Haight-Ashbury or the Ferry Building is, when most of them have just walked from there.

But you shouldn’t wait for a special event to bring you out where the streets have numbers and alphabetically sequenced names. The Outer Sunset (also indicated on old maps as the Outerlands when it was a somewhat barren terrain of rolling sand dunes) is one of San Francisco’s most original, authentic neighborhoods– a groovy mix of surfers, artists, folks starting cool local businesses, and just plain ordinary people (if anyone residing in San Francisco can ever be described as merely ordinary).  Here’s a few things to do before or after a good walk in Golden Gate Park or on the beach, or anytime you’re lucky enough to find yourself out in OB (Ocean Beach).

Community Coffee Klatsch
If you head down in the morning to enjoy the beach, you may need some caffeine. For some of the best espresso in the city, head to Trouble Coffee, on Judah between 45th & 46th Avenues. You can also recharge with the excellent toast and the refreshing juice from freshly cracked coconuts.

At the end of Judah where the street car turns around is Java Beach, which offers coffee, some light fare, and beer when the time’s right. The outdoor patio and garden across the street are perfect places to sip a beverage and watch the neighborhood go by if it’s a sunny day. (Some nights, Java Beach also has music, and you can check out the calendar here: http://www.javabeachcafe.com/)

Picnic Items
The Outer Sunset is a zone of independence against the tyranny of encroaching chain stores. So much so that the neighborhood’s residents successfully got chain stores banned from the neighborhood when the mermaid-logo people from Seattle tried to muscle in.

The epicenter of this independent, up-with-people movement in the Outer Sunset is Other Avenues (http://www.otheravenues.coop/),  a worker-owned co-op offering natural and organic foods and merchandise since the 1970s. Other Avenues is located on Judah between 44th and 45th Avenues, and you should pick-up a kombucha drink, micro-brews, or organic vino along with cheeses, fresh breads, and great organic produce for a beach and park picnics here.

Surfer Gear
If you left your board at home and want to catch some sets at OB, swing by Mollusk Surf Shop at 45th and Irving (one block toward Golden Gate Park from Judah). The apparel’s also great here, particularly the brilliantly designed t-shirts with sea/surf motifs. Year-round, Mollusk hosts a lot of fun events, from yoga classes to art shows to movie screenings. You can find out more here: http://www.mollusksurfshop.com/

Eat Your Veggies (It’s a Treat)
For organic, contemporary fare, Outerlands, at 4401 Judah (on the corner of 45th), offers a menu that changes with the seasons, with a real focus on vegetables that will make you forget they’re not the main dish. (I had brussel sprouts here once that would have changed any sprout-haters mind!) The soups and fresh bread are super-stars on an already tremendous menu, and the wine list offers several interesting options, along with a beer menu that changes daily.  Take a look at what’s on offfer at Outerlands here: http://outerlandssf.com/

Currying Favor
Good, solid Indian food can be found at Golden Gate Indian & Pizza, in a little strip mall on Judah, right off 46th. The veggie samosas are some excellent fried goodness, and you can get your chicken tikka as spicy as you like, if you ask. The Indian pizza is also a novel combination of two awesome foods: pizza and tandoori chicken. Mmm. When worlds collide.

The Locals Local
If you’re out in the avenues for a special event or on a banner weather day, don’t try to fight the crowds and claw your way back downtown. There’s a place for you called Pittsburgh’s. One of the only places that’s open until 2 a.m. in the area, Pittsburgh’s attracts an eclectic crowd: surfers, sports fans watching a game or two, locals shooting pool, and professional drinkers who could give Bukowski a run for his money. The bartenders are always friendly, and never bat an eyelash if you walk in wearing cowboy hats or other costumes. As long as you’ve got the green to pay for your ice cold PBR, it’s all good.  Cruise over to 4207 Judah, at 47th Avenue for a solid, old-school American local.

Festivals that Find You in the Outer Sunset
If you’re an SF resident who’s skeptical of the Avenues, you’ll already know about these festivals. If you’re a tourist, here’s some things you should definitely take part in when you come to SF for a visit.

  • Bay to Breakers – Third Sunday in May traditionally. People walking, running, and drinking from the SF Bay to, you guessed it, the “Breakers” of Ocean Beach. Wear a costume. Mexican wrestling masks count as a costime. The Beach/Park Chalet is a hot spot on the finish line. I’d give you the link, but every year, they annoyingly/intelligently change the URL to include a corporate sponsor’s name. Google will show you the way if you’re game.
  • Outsidelands – Mid to late August, this music festival combines top name acts with the best up-and-coming artists. For the festival’s first year, I saw Radiohead play at night when the fog rolled in, and I’ll never forget it. I’ll also never forget the deep-fried fancy macaroni and cheese sticks with a side of spicy tomato sauce. It’s like all the other festivals…without the crappy camping! Get details on the upcoming hoo-ha at: http://www.sfoutsidelands.com/
  • Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – Mid to late September/Early October, the park plays host to multiple FREE venues where you can hear acts like Joan Baez sing “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” It’s free because a very nice man made a lot of money in Silicon Valley/investment banking and decided to put on a music party for his favorite kind of folk/bluegrass tunes. I have never heard of a better expenditure of cash, which probably makes Warren Hellman (the funder of said festival) the smartest money human on the planet. Bravo, Mr. Hellman. Bravo.  

Coastside Weekend – Ano Nuevo & Half Moon Bay

Yellow Flowers in Pescadero
Yellow Wildflowers in Pescadero

In addition to the myriad delights of the city itself, one of the best things about San Francisco is the ability to get away from it all fairly quickly. In just over 25 minutes, you can find yourself in the Marin Headlands, in the middle of the Bay, or, if you head south down the coast, to the charming enclave of Half Moon Bay. On weekends when everyone in San Francisco seems to be heading up to Marin for a daytrip, cruising south is a great way to get out of town while fighting less traffic and crowds. The towns of Half Moon Bay and Pescadero help you instantly forget city stress, and get the cool, chill vibe of the coastside lands.

Day One – Elephant Seals & Pocket-Sized Pescadero
Starting out from San Francisco on a Saturday morning relatively early in the a.m., head south on the Great Highway and keep following signs for Highway One. The drive’s a beautiful one, particularly once you get to the open stretches of coastal road that dramatically hover above the coast past Pacifica. The coastline’s dramatic, the water’s blue, and there are scads of lovely little beaches if you want to get out for a leg stretch, or just to marvel at the great waters of the Pacific.  

Your destination this morning is Ano Nuevo, a California state natural reserve. Ano Nuevo is a beautiful landscape, representing coastal dune vegetation and the NoCal coast as it was before modernity began to forever change these habitats.

Though Ano Nuevo is a beautiful place for a nature hike anytime of year, the best times to visit coincide with the presence of the elephant seals. Ano Nuevo is an important spot for elephant seals, where they haul out to recreate, reproduce, and rest. And they do need some rest; Ano Nuevo is also a popular haunt of Great White sharks, who feed on the abundant elephant seals here. Marine scientists have deemed the sharks of Ano Nuevo a significant population for understanding the mysterious Great Whites’ behaviors overall. Before you go, be sure to check out any permit requirements. Because Ano Nuevo is so important for the elephant seal population, there are times of year when visitation of the beaches is restricted: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=523

After 2 or 3 hours at Ano Nuevo, the sea air and the hiking should have amply whetted your appetite, preparing you

Duarte's Tavern, Pescadero
Yum. Duarte’s Tavern.

 for one of the best meals you’ll ever eat at Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero. (Also affectionately known as “Doo-arts” by some SF locals.) To get to Duartes from Ano Nuevo,  just need to head north on Highway One, and after about 30 minutes, turn right when the sign for Pescadero appears. The restaurant’s one of the only things in the sweet, pocket-sized town of Pescadero, so you can’t miss it. Give your name at the front of Duarte’s for a table, and then, go wait in the wood-paneled, wonderfully old-school bar. Sample a local beer, Anchor Steam, or try one of their refreshing bloody marys.

Once you get your table, prepare to be delighted. This James Beard award-winning restaurant serves some of the freshest seafood around, along with the best of local ingredients in general. Start with a cup of “half and half” soup, a combo of their cream of artichoke (made from chokes growing down the road) and chile soups. For your main course, the cioppino (the Italian fisherman’s stew) never disappoints, nor does the abalone sandwich. Whatever you order, be sure to save room for pie; pies served at Duarte’s are nothing short of fantastic, particularly the ollalieberry. For more detailed directions or some other info, check Duarte’s out online at: http://www.duartestavern.com/

After lunch, you’ll need to walk off whatever you gorged on at Duarte’s. You should check out the shops on Pescadero’s main street, which showcase crafts made by local artists, and also, foods featuring local ingredients. Stop in Arcangeli Grocery/Norm’s Market (http://www.normsmarket.com/store/) to pick up some wonderful breads and foccacias, cheeses (especially the local, delicious, Harley Farms goat cheese), more pies, and local treats like pickled garlic, artichoke spreads, and more.  (Be sure to stock up on items that will keep until tomorrow to enjoy at a picnic.)

If you still feel like a little more nature as you leave Pescadero, on the way back out of Pescadero at Highway One, there’s a wetlands for bird watching and a beach with some tide pools. If you go to this beach, be careful: the surf is treachorous here, and the rocks very jagged. Make sure you know which way the tide’s running so you are more certain to keep sure footing. (Particularly if you’re one of the lucky passengers who got to have more than one Anchor at Duarte’s.)

Smoking bus at Camerons Pub
Double-decker bus at Camerons Pub

Once you’ve enjoyed all of Pescadero’s delights, you’re heading back to Half Moon Bay, and after the intersection with 92, you will see Camerons (http://www.cameronsinn.com/) on the left of Highway One. You should definitely stop for a pint, and, if you’re hungry even after Duarte’s, some decent pub grub. (Camerons also has a little shop with British goods, should you need a Cadbury Flake fix.) You won’t be able to miss it, as the pub is surrounded by double-decker buses from England. (You can even smoke in one of them, if you’re one who still indulges in tobacco products.)

After a quick pit stop at Camerons, continue north on Highway One, until you get to the Beach House on the north side of Half Moon Bay, where you’re staying for the night (http://www.beach-house.com/half-moon-bay-hotels.html) Rooms are spacious, and can sleep 4 if you’re trying to save a penny or two, as they have living areas with pull-out beds. Enjoying a bottle of wine on your patio while the sun sets from your perch right on the coast is a very nice way to end a busy day. You can also soak your troubles away in the hot tub or the small pool.

If you feel a bit more peppy in the evening hours, walk on the coastal path a short distance to Sam’s Chowder House, conveniently located just next door. Sam’s has good seafood staples, and really nice ambiance outdoors, where you can sit on a deck above the sea next to communal fire bowls and enjoy a cocktail or several. Sam’s also has music on weekends, and you can see the schedule here: http://www.samschowderhouse.com/ 

NB: Though there are many fine places to go in Half Moon Bay for drinks and/or dining, particularly in the charming downtown that’s inland from the coast, Sam’s is the best evening pit stop when staying at the Beach House, as you can walk back to your bed rather than driving after imbibing. If you actually have a designated driver with you, your evening options are a bit more open, though Sam’s is a very worthy place to spend an evening regardless of its proximity to the Beach house.   

Day 2 – Beach Walk & Bocce
In the morning, be sure to make the most of your coastal location, and have a great walk on the shore and/or coastal path from the Beach House, after enjoying the complimentary continental breakfast. Have a soak in the hot tub, and enjoy yourself until check-out.

Before you leave your hotel, pack up your picnic lunch that you assembled yesterday. You’ll head south a bit on Highway One to 92, and turn left, going to La Nebbia Winery.  (The entire trip will take you about 15 minutes.) On 92, you’ll pass by a lot of the garden/farm supply places that Half Moon Bay is known for, and see a lot of pumpkins if you’re here in the autumn before Halloween. (Half Moon Bay is the pumpkin capital of NoCal, and has a festival to prove it.)

La Nebbia gets surplus juice from a lot of different wineries in Sonoma/Napa/Santa Cruz and bottles it, meaning you get some wines that normally cost $40 for more like $10 when you buy them at La Nebbia. The folks who work here are always really informative about what’s being poured and very fun and friendly. The property has picnic tables and a great bocce court, so have your picnic, raise a glass or two, and enjoy some bocce for the afternoon. La Nebbia also has many events, so see what’s on before you go: http://www.lanebbiawinery.com/

Depending on the weather (fog or lots o’ fog in the summer), after La Nebbia, cruise home on Skyline or take Highway One back. For either route, signs of city life will appear quicker than you think, shaking you out of the cool, laidback coastside ambiance. You’ll be so restored you won’t believe you’ve been gone from the city for only 24 hours.

Pittsburgh’s Pub

Grab a cold one at Pittsburgh's
Grab a cold one at Pittsburgh's

There are days when you just want an icy cold beer, some TVs with sports on, along with a few pool tables, dart boards, pinball machines, and video games for good measure.  

Pittsburgh’s Pub will satisfy all these needs, and the jukebox isn’t too shabby either.

Named in honor of the owner’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (adulation which has finally paid off with the Steelers over the past few years), Pittsburgh’s is a good place to get a drink and sit at the bar peacefully solo or with pals.

When you’re sitting at the bar, you’ll generally have an interesting conversation or two with the area residents who frequent the establishment. The management’s also kind enough not to eject you from the premises if you and your friends happen to be wearing random hats when you call on Pittsburgh’s at midnight, a degree of openness which is always good to know about a place.

Sometimes, a brewski while shooting pool is all you need. Especially when wearing funny hats.  

Check Pittsburgh’s out for some day drinking or lates at 4207 Judah (at 47th Avenue).

Della Santina’s & Enoteca – Sonoma

Della Santina’s is one of those Italian places where it is difficult to decide what to order because everything you see on the menu and coming out of the kitchen looks great. Fortunately, you won’t go wrong with anything on the menu here. Roast meats are fantastic. Pastas are fresh and sauced well. You really can’t go wrong with anything featuring mushrooms. If they have penne con funghi or anything con funghi, give it a try as they really seem to understand how to honor mushrooms.

The main room is a sweet white cottage-type area, making you feel as if you’re eating in an old school Sonoma family’s home. (And, in a way, you are!) The vine-covered patio, out back, is a beautiful place to have dinner when the season’s right.  The servers are always nice and knowledgeable.

The wine list offers an amazing variety, and Della Santina’s is run by one of the most knowledgeable wine guys in the county. (Which is saying something in a county of wine experts.)  I was introduced to Radio-Coteau here, which you should try if there are still a few bottles kicking around. On my last visit, there weren’t, but, we discovered the restaurant’s own private label, “R Cellars,” that had a fantastic, very nicely priced, pinot noir.

The commitment to wine knowledge is why Enoteca (also owned by Della Santina’s folks), next door to the restaurant, is worth stopping by before or after dinner. Many interesting wines are on offer there, for sipping on site or taking home with you. There’s even a wine club if you just can’t get enough. 

For more info & hours (they also do lunch), check out www.dellasantinas.com, or just swing by: 133 East Napa Street, Sonoma (right off the town square).