Friday, July 15, 2016

Our West Point Inn Adventure

"Secluded among the trees on the upper south slope of Mt. Tamalpais, the Inn was a brief stop on the “Crookedest Railroad in the World”, where passengers could meet a stagecoach bound for the beach. The railroad is gone now, but the West Point Inn remains as an "off the grid" haven for hikers and a monument to the rich historic heritage of our region."

To say I am excited about sharing our recent stay at the West Point Inn would be an understatement. The Inn, which was built in 1904, is a beautiful building situated near the top of Mt. Tam that boasts huge original windows, built-in dining hutches, two large fireplaces, propane lights and a massive wrap-around covered porch that looks over the entire Bay Area. In other words, a dream of a place to call home for a night. The main Inn has 7 rooms (all of which are single or double occupancy) as well as 5 cabins (which accommodate 2-5 people).

I approached the day of this trip thinking the adventure was either going to be awesome or completely horrible. My trepidation mainly stemmed from the fact that when I eagerly booked the rare Friday night opening for one of the cabins at the Inn, I had completely failed to recall all of the research I had done months prior that led me to the conclusion that this would be a great trip for when our kids were older. My conclusion was based on the fact that a stay at the inn required a two mile hike to the lodge. Somehow I forgot this key fact and had revised it in my head to be more like a 15 minute jaunt.

Two days before our scheduled stay I decided to brush up on the facts and get prepared for our trip. Multiple reviews from people who had stayed with young kids had estimated the hike to be close to two hours with little ones. My initial response was panic. The hike to the Inn requires you to carry all of your belongings, which meant carrying a child was not going to be an option. More panic. So it was with this slight uneasiness that we set off on what we told the girls was going to be a "very big adventure". We made sure to not downplay the length of the hike with the kids and kept asking them if they were sure they could handle the "very big adventure". Thankfully they were up for the challenge, and they didn't disappoint.

After over an hour of hiking, we catch a glimpse of the lodge in the distance!

Check in time at the lodge is 2:00, so we arrived at the parking lot on Mt. Tam around noon, strapped on our heavy backpacks and set off on the trail. The first half mile or so is on a wide paved road, after which it turns into a wide dirt path with occasional rocky portions. There is a gradual incline, but overall the hike is not strenuous (the extra weight of a backpack made it challenging for me). In an attempt to keep the kids engaged and moving along on their own accord, we packed lots of snacks and had some fruit snacks to use as an incentive to reach the next bend in the trail. There were also frequent breaks to regain our strength and energy. Along the way we spotted lots of lizards and birds and even had a brief encounter with a snake that slithered past our 4 year old (which she thought was very cool).

The hike was easily my biggest concern, but I happy to report that we survived! The kids did an amazing job. Our youngest (almost 3 at the time) actually carried her own backpack for the first 1.5 miles and both kids walked the entire way there. The views along the way are nothing short of spectacular and they only got better when we reached the Inn. We arrived shortly before 2:00 (the hike took about 1 hour and 45 minutes) and got the keys to Cabin #10.

The sleeping porch is clearly the prized jewel of the cabin, which turns an otherwise small and rustic cabin into a truly special retreat. The large barn doors open onto a sizeable porch with an outdoor sink and shower and sweeping views of the Bay Area. Oh the views! I could have spent hours, if not days, just staring at the views. We quickly (and with quite a bit of relief) laid down our bags and began to explore the property.

Everything at the Inn was better than I expected. The grounds were so beautifully maintained and it was obvious that the volunteers that run the Inn take a lot of pride in maintaining both the buildings and surrounding landscaping.

We walked along the stone path that ran between our cabin and the main lodge, stopping to discover a small vegetable garden behind the Inn and taking a moment to relax in the adirondack chairs. The girls tried their hand at horse shoes (which is a surprisingly dangerous game when played by a three year old), and then happily occupied themselves for quite some time digging around in the dirt and rearranging rocks into small piles.

There is a nicely equipped kitchen at the Inn that is available for all overnight quests. It includes a refrigerator, gas stove/oven and all the utensils, bakeware, dishes you would need to accommodate a small army. I was concerned about how crowded the kitchen would get with all the guests sharing the space, but was surprised to never see more than a couple of groups overlapping at once. We brought along this sweet potato salad for our meal and I immediately wished we had taken on the extra weight of a bottle of wine!

After dinner, we headed back to the cabin where the kids eagerly tested out the outdoor shower! We were graced with absolutely perfect weather during our visit, which peaked in the mid-80's and made the cold-water showers refreshing and enjoyable for the kids. After changing into our pajamas, the kids settled in with some books from the main lodge and alternated between "reading" and coloring with some books we had brought with us.

Our cabin was furnished with a double bed and two single beds. There were pillows and quilts/down blankets available, but you are required to provide your own pillow cases and sheets (or you can rent them for a nominal fee). We brought along sleeping bags, so we just laid those on top of the already made beds and called it a day.

After the kids fell asleep, we snuck out onto the porch and enjoyed a beer while watching the fog roll in and the Bay Area light up as the night sky darkened.

a bit blurry...but you get the idea!
The next morning I woke up a few times to catch glimpses of the sun rising.

The kids are awake!
Once everyone was awake, we headed to the main Inn where I retrieved a loaf of banana bread that we brought along (I froze it the night before we left so it would travel better, and it was perfectly defrosted by morning). We sat on the porch and enjoyed a light breakfast along with some coffee while we stared in awe at the view.

While I would have loved to savor the morning, it was going to be another hot day and we had a long hike back to the car. So with a bit of reluctance, we said goodbye and set off down the dusty trail. The walk back was considerably easier since we were walking on a slight decline. While there were no encounters with snakes on the walk back, we did get to see a deer standing in the middle of the trail! This might not seem like a big deal to many, but we don't have deer in the flats of Berkeley, so this was a pretty exciting encounter with nature for us! We quietly watched the deer for a minute or so before it effortlessly scaled the rocky mountainside and peered down on us from above. With a boost of adrenaline from our deer sighting, we powered through the rest of the hike and made it back to the car in about an hour and a half.

What are you favorite overnight adventures in California?

Interested in more cabin camping options? Check out our visits to Samuel Taylor Park near Point Reyes, and the Steep Ravine cabins near Stinson Beach.

Details: Cabins/rooms at the West Point Inn are $50 per adult and $25 for children ages 2-17. Even if you don't plan on spending the night, I highly recommend taking a day hike out to the lodge for a picnic and the views!

Friday, July 8, 2016

10 kid-friendly breweries with a side of adventure

If you have been following the blog for a while, you know that we love to incorporate some good beer into our outings. We often goes as far as to plan our adventures around new breweries that we are eager to try out!  Over the past couple of years we have had great luck in finding a number of excellent East Bay breweries that offer both a kid-friendly environment as well as really great beers. I'm excited to share with you a roundup of our favorite spots that I recently put together for 510 Families. For each of the 10 breweries on the list I have included suggestions for outdoor adventures to pair with your brewery visit. I hope you enjoy!

You can see the full post here on 510 Families. Happy drinking!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

36 hours in San Luis Obispo County

San Luis Obispo is one of my favorite places to take an easy weekend trip. It's a relatively short 3.5 hour drive, making it the perfect destination for a quick getaway. This past spring, we stayed in an airbnb rental in Los Osos, which is nestled just between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay and offers great access to the entire county.

Just like with our first trip to the area last summer, we made it a point to break up the drive down with a quick stop at Pinnacles National Park (read more about our visit here). From there, we headed to Morro Bay for an early dinner at Sunshine Cafe, which we absolutely loved! It's a small cafe with an adjacent market that is full of organic goodies at reasonable prices.

The entrance to the 400 acre property we stayed on.
After dinner we checked into our rental, which was a very rustic miners cabin situated on a 400 acre ranch. I have to be honest in saying that it was probably a bit too secluded for our comfort, but it was a beautiful setting nonetheless and quite the adventure getting to manually light the overhead propane lamps!

When we originally booked the weekend, we had forgotten that Sunday was Easter and that we of course, needed to be home for the Easter Bunny. So we only really had one full day in the area on Saturday. Our first stop was Avila Valley Barn, which we have incorporated into all of our trips to the area because it's such a hit with the kids. For $1, you can buy a bag of veggie scraps and the kids get a solid half hour of entertainment feeding the animals.

We then headed out to Oso Flaco Lake, which is about 20 miles south of San Luis Obispo. It was a bit out of the way, but we really wanted to see something new in the area and this particular hike seemed both unique and kid-friendly. Thankfully it did not disappoint!

There is a small parking lot at the trailhead (parking was $5) as well as free street parking just outside the entrance to the park. The trail starts along a wide path with tall shrubs and trees along each side and eventually leads to a wooden boardwalk that spans across Oso Flaco lake. This was one of my favorite parts of the walk. The boardwalk was well maintained and had safety railings along the entire span, so there was no fear of our kids falling into the water. Gazing out at the calm lake with the sand dunes in the background provided a beautiful backdrop for bird watching and enjoying nature.

The boardwalk portion of the hike is about 1.4 miles and then there is a short portion at the end that requires walking through the sand to get to the ocean. When we made it to the sand it was very windy and the winds only picked up as we continued out to the ocean. I have a feeling that it is typically pretty windy out here, so this is not the spot for you if you're looking for a day of lounging in the sun.

We found a little refuge from the wind behind one of the sand dunes and managed to have some snacks while the kids ran around. The wind didn't bother them a bit. The hike is out and back, so we returned the way we came in and then headed off to San Luis Obispo.

As a reward for all our efforts on the hike we made a quick stop at Libertine Brewing in downtown SLO. If you are a beer lover, then Libertine is a great place to grab a drink and relax. We visited early afternoon on a Saturday and we were the only people in there, which was perfect since we had our kiddos with us.

Our kids often ask if they can smell our beers :)
We finished up our visit with a walk around town and an affogato and ice cream shake at Scout Coffee. They make some seriously good coffee and great desserts, which I highly recommend if you find yourself in the area.

The rest of the evening was spent back at the cabin, where we put together a home cooked meal (the perks of renting a place with a kitchen!) and did a little star gazing.

Have you been to San Luis Obispo County? What are your favorite finds?

Be sure to check out our first visit to the area here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Steep Ravine for my birthday!

I am not one for elaborate celebrations, however, when a cabin at Steep Ravine had a last minute cancellation on my birthday, it seemed meant to be! Typically reservations are booked seven months in advance, but if you make a habit of checking the reservation site weekly, there are often last minute cancellations to be swooped up. 

Let me start off by saying that I am NOT a camper. I don't enjoy roughing it, and would far prefer a home with electricity, plumbing and all those other glamorous things I take for granted in my everyday life. With that said, our budget doesn't always afford us the fancy things in life and certainly doesn't get us accommodations a stones throw from the ocean! So I have a few exceptions to my preference of sleeping in a real bed and Steep Ravine is one of them. 

Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, these century old cabins provide a pretty amazing backdrop for a little time in nature. This was our second visit to the cabins (see our first visit here) and both times I have left with a huge appreciation for the simplicity of the setting. I am not exactly sure how to explain it, but when you strip away most of your belongings and settle into a bare cabin with just the necessities, it is extremely refreshing. I suppose that's why people love camping so much! Everything seems to slow down. 

We arrived around 3:00 in the afternoon, and after eating a very early dinner (we picked up pizza from Tony Tutto's on the way in), we quickly got to exploring. Our first stop was a small beach at the base of the hillside. On our previous visit, the tide was a bit high, but this time it was much lower and we had easy access to the sand. Both of our girls enjoyed climbing the boulders and tossing rocks into the ocean. 

One thing that immediately struck me as different this time around was how colorful everything was! Our last visit was in September and the hills were brown, but this time the hills were green and doted with calla lilies, poppies and flowering ice plants. 

We returned to the cabin for a short coloring break and some snacks and then took off once again to explore the rest of the grounds. There are a couple of short hiking trails, but we stuck with the main trail that takes you past all of the campsites (where the real campers stay!). The views from the campsites were amazing and had my husband and I really wishing it was something that appealed to us more (maybe someday?). 

We got back to the cabin just before sunset, and the girls quickly got to acting silly. There were some new dance moves and a lot of giggles. Everyone was pretty worn out by about 9:30 and we all packed in tightly on the queen sized sleeping platform in the bedroom. As I have mentioned before, my sleeping expectations for overnight trips are pretty low, especially when we aren't sleeping in real beds. Having a very realistic expectation is the key to success in these situations. I learned that my kids talk a great deal in their sleep and that my youngest loves to toss and turn. Needless to say, I didn't wake up well rested, but it was nothing a cup of coffee couldn't fix.

Since this was a mid-week getaway for us (we took off from work early on Wednesday and then took Thursday off) we opted to keep the meals as simple as possible. For breakfast we ate a delicious assortment of scones and muffins that we brought along with us from The Cheeseboard Collective and some fresh fruit. The mornings can get pretty chilly in the cabin, and we had used all our kindling the night before to heat the place up. So if you are looking to savor the last few hours in the cabin before the 12:00 checkout, make sure you have everything you need to get a fire going. 

After breakfast we said goodbye to the cabin and took off for the nearby town of Bolinas. If you have never heard or read about Bolinas, this NY Times article was pretty entertaining. The town has no desire to become a tourist destination, which in many ways seems to be half of the appeal to visiting. The main strip has a handful of shops and cafes as well as a nice community park to spend a quite morning. We made a quick stop at the Bolina's People's Store, which has a small but nice selection of groceries to assemble a picnic or just pick up some snacks. We grabbed some coffee and fig bars and enjoyed them while the kids ran around the park. 

Our next stop was a few miles down the road at Duxbury Reef. I have wanted to take the kids tide-pooling for a while now, so I was very excited for this portion of the trip. This was my first time visiting tide-pools, so I am not an expert by far, but I enjoyed tip-toeing along the reef looking for hermit crabs and shells. The kids really enjoyed watching the crabs scurry along the reef and swim in the pools of water. 

After our visit to the beach we decided to take the slightly longer route home through the Olema Valley. If you have the time, this drive is really beautiful and well worth the extra couple of minutes. If you are looking to take stops along the way, Point Reyes Station and Samuel Taylor State Park are two great options. Stinson Beach is also a great place to spend the day. 

You can also check out a short video of the view from the cabins on my instagram account. And be sure to follow along for more frequent updates on our trips!

Have you been to Steep Ravine? Any suggestions for our next trip to the area?

Details: The Steep Ravine Cabins are just over an hours drive from Berkeley (about 2 miles south of Stinson Beach). You can reserve a cabin up to 7 months in advance at a cost of $100/night. Bolinas is about a 15 minute drive from the cabins. If you don't have GPS to get you there, you can simply follow the highway through the town of Stinson and at the end of the lagoon there will be a left hand turn that allows you to continue driving along the lagoon and towards the town of Bolinas. For a more comprehensive list of tips on planning your trip, check out my first post.