Last week Wendy and I took a nice little vacation in celebration of Wendy's birthday, and boy did we have an absolutely wonderful time!

In what has apparently become an annual adventure for the two of us, we depart the comfy confines of Old Town and head to one of our dream destinations in search of a little rest and relaxation to mask the fact that we've (or more specifically, Wendy has) somehow grown a year older much too quickly. And though it might not be some sort of youthful potion or magic elixir, we've discovered that copious amounts of sun, food, and wine, tend to do just the trick in obscuring our focus from our aging vessels. Instead, we fixate on the wonderful time were having, placing our concerns more in the realm of fun and enjoyment. I like to think it keeps us young.

If you follow us on Instagram you likely saw some of our hijinks as we spent several days in Northern, California.

We started our journey in one of our favorite places on the planet, Carmel-by-the-Sea on the Monterey Peninsula. This was actually Wendy's fourth time to Carmel, and my fifth (counting a 1st grade trip with my parents some 30 years ago during Clint Eastwood's mayoral term in the city). The thing that's interesting about Carmel is that each time we return, we find it just a little bit harder to leave.

I don't know if it's the sound of the crashing waves, the sea air, the consistently cool, comfortable, and crisp weather, or the fact that it feels like something out of a fairytale, neither of us feel like we can get enough.

Now that we're so familiar with the area, we tend to spend our time doing the things we enjoy the most. When in Carmel, do as the Carmellons (I don't think that's actually what they're called), which means walking on the beach...

...and watching (very proud and very wet) dogs run all over the place...

...and occasionally take a break or two to eat and drink at some of the good restaurants and bars in the area.

In addition to our primary destinations, the California coast has an abundance of National Parks that are essentially a stones throw from just about anywhere. One of the closest to Carmel is Point Lobos, right on the coast just a few minutes south on Highway 1.

From idyllic and picturesque settings... frolicking seal pups annoying their mothers...

...this park is a perfect place to spend a whole day hiking around.

The red you see on the tree is a type of algae that grows on the trees in this Pacific Cypress grove, one of only two left in the world. 

At one point during our hike we even happened upon a little ground squirrel who was mugging for the camera, hoping for a few human treats. I'll tell you one thing for sure, Lulu would've gone nuts!

Before heading out to Point Lobos we stopped by The Cheese Shop in Carmel to pick up some hiking necessities, such as a baguette and a few small samples of cheese. We also brought some fruit, nuts, and water from home. Together, on a picnic table nestled against a calm water inlet, we enjoyed a nice little lunch with a backdrop of nearby seals popping up out of the kelp and floating just off the rocks.

If there's one thing about Carmel and the California coast in general that truly stands out in my mind, it's the treat you get when a clear evening grants you an amazing sunset. Everyone in the area gathers to watch the spectacle as the sun slowly falls into the Pacific Ocean... all of the spectators a spectacular display of fire and light.

Before leaving Carmel, we drove around some of the more outskirt areas of the town to check out all of the houses that are for sale that we can't afford. 

It seems like no matter where you turn, the houses are simple adorable. Oh lottery, why can't we win you?

Carmel even has a beautiful Frank Loyd Wright house nestled right into the rugged coastline.

Begrudgingly, we left this town where we hope to one day live, and headed up to the valley, where we one day hope to live close enough to that we can enjoy it more frequently. That's right, Napa Valley wine country!

Now that we've been going to the Napa Valley and surrounding wine country for eight straight years, we've really started to establish our favorite places to taste, tour, and dine. But with over 200 vineyards in the Napa Valley alone, and more good restaurants than we could cover if we lived there full time, we commit ourselves half of our stops new places each year, while spending the rest of our time at places we already know and enjoy.

One interesting aspect of our trips is that we simply can't leave the old "home improvement" bug behind. Everywhere we go we're looking at various items for ideas or inspiration on our home. It's a bit odd to look at California for things that can help us in our home, but our focus of late has been on our options for our patio area. A great inspiration for the feel we'd love to establish is in the patio area of the restaurant, Brix.

The setting just has that certain something we'd love to somehow accomplish in our outdoor space, though our area is significantly more modest. Perhaps we should focus more on the casual setting behind Gott's Roadside? Perhaps more attainable? Maybe?

As one of our most surprising and memorable moments of our entire vacation, we ended up with a chance encounter that simply blew our minds. While enjoying the wonderful Napa Valley weather on the patio at Sequoia Grove, another of our favorites, we decided it was time to head out. Wendy and I approached the counter to purchase a few bottles of wine when another customer of the vineyard approached us and said "I'm sorry to interrupt, but do you run a blog?" Incredulous, we responded, "Yes, we do." She went on to tell us how she and her husband, from Indianapolis, had made the trip to Napa Valley and were using our three day Napa Valley itinerary as a guide. We. Were. Floored!

Our itinerary is several years old now and can definitely use an update given all of our new favorites, but we're unbelievably flattered that people are actually using our recommendations. Also, what are the chances that someone on a trip from the midwest just happened to use our itinerary as a guide, then ended up in the same vineyard as us (out of 200 plus), at the same time as us, and recognized our faces? It's just crazy, really.

We'll go into more detail on our various Napa Valley stops when we update our recommendations, but we had a wonderful time throughout our three days and were already looking forward to our next trip before we even left the smell of the vines and clink of the bottles.

We wrapped up our trip with a brief stop in San Francisco to spend a few hours with friends who live in the heart of the city and then headed home to good old Alexandria, Virginia. It was another amazing and memorable vacation in so many ways. From visiting favorite places to discovering so many new spaces and experiences, we're fortunate to be able to experience these wonderful locales and hope our adventures can inspire you to try it out as well.

Comments 4


5/9/2014 at 12:45 PM

Did you eat at Cassanova in Carmel - Tra Vigne in Napa? Two favorites!

5/9/2014 at 1:38 PM

Looks like you had a fabulous trip. I'll be looking forward to reading about your updated Napa recommendations as my husband and I will be making another trip there in the near future. The next time you visit CA, may I suggest a trip to Big Sur just 40 minutes south of Carmel by the Sea. It boasts some of the best coastline you'll ever see (well,imho!). And the best place to view said coastline (along with hiking trails in most of the State parks scattered in the area), is at Nepenthe perched high up on a cliff. I was there in 2012 and it was just breathtaking! Order a drink, sit on their patio, and enjoy the view!

5/11/2014 at 2:51 PM

Beautiful photos guys! Looks like you had a wonderful time, and lucked out with beautiful weather! :D

Lauren O.
5/12/2014 at 3:50 PM

Just a quick recommendation from my first trip to Napa at the end of last summer. Our first and by far most amazing stop was at Palmaz. The land is beautiful, the wine was fantastic, and the set-up of their production and intimate nature of the tour and tasting just rounded out to be our favorite stop! My husband and I and the other couple we were with easily agreed that it was our favorite stop and now always recommend it to any friends we know planning a trip. I also just read your old 3-part itinerary and smiled and nodded as I saw some familiar restaurants on your list. Now I'm starving...and thirstyAlt smile

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