Monday, July 27, 2015

Weekend Getaway: Atascadero/San Luis Obispo (Part One)

On our recent trip to the Central Coast, we had originally planned on staying in one of my favorite California college towns, San Luis Obispo. Due to a last minute cancellation however, we had to scramble to find a new place to stay and settled on a 2 bedroom cottage in nearby Atascadero. It turns out that it wasn't settling at all! The home was exactly what we needed...a charming 1915 craftsman with a picket fence and plenty of outdoor space for the kids. It was simplicity at it's best, and definitely made both me and my husband realize how nice it is to take things a little slower than normal.

We wanted to make the most out of drive down to Atascadero, so we planned a couple of stops along the way to give everyone a chance to stretch their legs. After a fun hike at Pinnacle's National Park (see post here), we made our way down to Paso Robles for our second detour of the day.   We arrived in town in the early afternoon, and headed straight to Kiler Ridge Olive Farm. The farm is set on the top of a hill, with beautiful views of the surrounding valley and olive tree orchards. As we pulled up we were greeted promptly by the owner's dog, who was a huge hit with kids. We settled in at one of their outdoor tables and had a picnic while we took in the views and enjoyed an informative olive oil tasting. I love that the tasting was done outdoors where we could enjoy the views and the kids could have a little space to run around.

Our next stop was a quick drive down the road to Barrelhouse Brewing. If I lived in Paso Robles, this would definitely be a regular stop for me. The beers were tasty and refreshing (we had the Sunny Daze and IPA) and the brewery was really kid friendly. There was a large lawn to run around on and free pretzels, which pretty much sealed the deal for the kids.

One of the unexpected benefits of staying in Atascadero was the proximity to both Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. After spending a little time in Paso Robles, we took the short drive to our rental home to check in and get settled (some showers were in order after hiking earlier that morning!) We got all cleaned up and then hopped back in the car to head down to San Luis Obispo for their famous Thursday night Farmer's Market.

I absolutely love San Luis Obispo. It has a small town feel, but with a surprisingly happening downtown and a nice mix of college students and families. The weekly farmer's market is a huge event for the city in which over 120 local vendors set up booths and six blocks of the downtown area are closed to traffic. Despite the crowds, however, there was still plenty of room to move around and explore the shops and vendors that line the streets. Most of the food offerings center around BBQ (apparently it's big in the Central Coast!), so we joined the crowds and had some tri-tip sandwiches, cornbread and baked beans at Old San Luis BBQ.

After dinner, we walked the streets, checking out Bubblegum Alley and then made our way to my favorite coffee shop in the area, Scout Coffee Co. We stumbled upon this gem on our drive home from Santa Barbara last year and it definitely left an impression on me. The decor alone is enough to draw me in, but the coffee and treats are what keep me coming back! The kids split an ice cream shake, and we treated ourselves to an affogato (which is quite possibly the greatest dessert ever invented).

We spent the rest of the evening perusing the stands at the Farmer's Market, people watching and enjoying the live music.

Check out part two of our weekend getaway here.

What are your favorite spots to visit in San Luis Obispo County? 

Details: San Luis Obispo is about a 3.5 hour drive from Berkeley. Olive Oil Tastings at Kiler Ridge Olive Farm are $5 (free with yelp check-in when we visited) and the fee is applied to any purchase of $25 or more. Pints at Barrelhouse Brewing range from $5-6. Dinner at Old San Luis Obispo BBQ was under $20 (we supplement the kids meals with food we bring along, but you can definitely get full for less than $10/person). Affogato and Ice Cream Shake at Scout Coffee was $9 (again, we shared).

Monday, July 20, 2015

Pinnacles National Park

In planning our recent trip to San Luis Obispo (post coming soon!), my husband and I were a little stumped about how to approach the drive down. We had already decided to take Highway 1 on the way home,  but what about the trip down on Highway 101? I wasn't particularly excited about any of the stops before Paso Robles, and that was a solid 3.5 hour drive from our home in Berkeley! Not something I wanted to tackle with two kids in the backseat. It wasn't until the morning before our departure that we realized we would be passing by (sort of) Pinnacle's National Park! It was already on my list of places to explore and it was the perfect midway point on our drive.

We had been warned that it gets really hot in this part of California, and that the middle of summer was a risky time to attempt hiking. I made the naive mistake of checking the weather in Soledad (the nearby town that we would pass through when we got off the 101) and was relieved to see that the high for the day was only mid-70's...totally acceptable! What I didn't realize is that during the 10 mile drive from Soledad to Pinnacle's, you are traveling inland and the temperatures can easily rise 15-20 degrees. When we got off the freeway, it was a cool 70 degrees, and 15 minutes later we were parking the car in 85 degree weather and it was just after 10 am (ooops!).

After researching the different hikes here,  we decided on the Balconies Cliff-Cave loop. I was particularly excited about the portion that takes you through "caves" that have been formed from large boulders that rest on one another to create a cave-like feeling. With the exception of a short incline at the beginning of the Balconies trail, the hike is level and easy. 

A little over a half mile into the hike the trail splits and you have the option of continuing up the hill along the Balconies trail or going directly to the caves. We had read that approaching the caves from the back end (via the Balconies trail) was the easiest way to make your way through the caves. Since we had two young kids with us, we figured the easier route was probably the smarter choice. Taking the Balconies trail first was also good because this portion of the hike is completely exposed and we wanted to complete it before it got even warmer.

We arrived at the entrance to the caves and were thrilled to find a spot in the shade to have a snack and some water before our cave hike. It was easily 90 degrees by this time and we are all complete wimps when it comes to heat. After scarfing down some grapes and water, we got our flashlights out and our homemade headlamps and continued on our way.

The first portion of the hike involves climbing up some large boulders to get to the entrance of the caves, at which point the trail takes you through a portion that is completely dark and requires a flashlight or headlamp. This part was so much fun! The kids loved it, and with our flashlight and headlamp (made by attaching a bicycle safety light ($3.99 at the hardware store) to an old headband of mine) we were easily able to see our way through the darkness.

The portion that is completely dark is very short (a couple of minutes) and ends with a steep (but short) climb out of the darkness (pictured above). This portion is why it was recommended that you approach the caves from the back entrance, since climbing down into the darkness is more difficult than climbing up.

We were a little apprehensive about doing this hike with small kids, but we saw a handful of other families with toddler aged kids going through the caves as well. Our 4 year old had no problems at all, although there are definitely portions where a kid could get hurt if they were to fall off the rocks, so you will want to monitor closely. Our 2 year old definitely needed to be in our ergo carrier for safety reasons.

The entire hike took about 2 hours, and by the time we were back to the car it was a sweltering 95 degrees. Definitely not a hike to do in the middle of a summer day, but absolutely worth the effort if you can get there early, or visit during a cooler season.

What are your favorite stops on the way to Central/Southern California?

Details: Pinnacle's National Park is about a 2.5 hour drive from Berkeley. Admission to the park is $10. Get there early to avoid any crowds and the heat! Also remember to bring water, snacks and sunscreen.


Monday, July 13, 2015

A summer day in Berkeley

This past Father's Day weekend was also our 6 year wedding anniversary, and since we had a big day planned in Sonoma for Sunday, we spent Saturday enjoying the wonderful city we get to call home. With an ever-growing list of places to visit, we decided to tackle a couple of Berkeley classics. 

The morning started off with a trip to The Cheeseboard Collective, arguably one of the best bakeries and pizza spots in Berkeley. Surprisingly, this was our FIRST visit to the bakery! We regularly visit Cheeseboard for pizza, but had never made it over in the morning for pastries. Oh what a treat it was! With almost 400 types of cheese to choose from and a beautiful selection of pastries, we had no problem finding something for everyone. We settled on an assortment of scones and muffins and settled down at an outdoor table to enjoy our breakfast.

Despite being in the midst of a vibrant and bustling neighborhood, on one of Berkeley's busiest streets, the sidewalk seating outside The Cheeseboard is one of the most calming places in the city for me. If it weren't for the people patiently waiting to steal your seat when you leave, I think I could spend the entire day just people watching and enjoying the amazing food.

Next on the agenda was a drive up the hill to Tilden Regional Park. This is one my favorite places to explore with the kids, and a real hidden gem when it comes to affordable family fun. Our first stop was the Redwood Valley Railway, which is a scaled-down steam train that takes you on a 12 minute ride along the scenic ridge-line of the Berkeley Hills. It always puts a smile on my face to see how much the kids enjoy the ride.

After our train ride, we drove a short distance down the road to Lake Anza. One of my favorite parts of living in Berkeley is how quickly you can find yourself in nature. Just a short drive from the streets of downtown Berkeley and you can be relaxing at a lake! We quickly settled into a nice spot on the sand and had a picnic lunch before playing in the water.

What does a summer day look like where you live?

P.S. Some more fun places to explore in Tilden Regional Park.

Details: Scones/Muffins at The Cheeseboard Collective: $2.25 each. Redwood Valley Railway: $3/ride or 5 rides/$12 (kids under 2 ride free). Lake Anza : Admission is $2.50 for kids (under 1 is free), and $3.50 for adults.