Monday, August 31, 2015

Guide to West Berkeley

It's been a busy couple of months for us! Both of our girls had birthdays (officially 2 and 4 years old now!) and we unexpectedly found ourselves in the midst of a kitchen remodel that started with me casually removing the dishwasher and ended with my husband and I tearing out most of our kitchen (I blame this entirely on our recent addiction to HGTV's Fixer Upper!). With all that said, we have been spending a lot of time at home and the itch to get out and do something has been growing! After throwing around some ideas we landed on a day trip right here in Berkeley! We live in such a great city and while we regularly find ourselves traveling all over town, we rarely devote an entire day to just one neighborhood. Since we love a good beer, we decided to center our day in West Berkeley, which just so happens to be home to two fantastic breweries (and so much more!). Below are some of my favorite places to drink, eat and play in West Berkeley.

Where to get coffee:

Let's start off with the most important part of the day, your morning coffee! Berkeley has no shortage of coffee houses and a few of my favorites happen to be in West Berkeley. In no particular order;

1) Artis Coffee: Artis strives to offer the freshest coffee by roasting sustainably and ethically sourced coffee beans in small batches. I love the selection of brewing equipment that they sell as well as the option to get a coffee subscription and have their freshly roasted beans mailed right to your home!

2) Catahoula Kaffeegarten: This artisan coffee roaster offers a range of fair-trade coffees and has a laid back feel. Their goal is to offer a high-end coffee at a moderate price (horray!). An added bonus is the nearby Aquatic Park where you can let the kids loose on the play structures while you enjoy your morning cup of jo.

3) Philz Coffee: This is where I head when I want a more decadent cup of coffee. Philz offers specialty blends of coffee and offers unique options such as fresh mint and cardamom. I feel like their coffees are more of a dessert than the standard cup of black coffee that I get most places. And if you start your day off here, then you must head next door to Doughnut Dolly!

Where to eat:

This beautiful contraption is used to fill each donut with your choice of gourmet filling.
1) Doughnut Dolly: If you opted for Philz Coffee, then doughnut dolly is the only next logical step in your day! This lovely little shop serves up gourmet donuts hand-filled with delicious choices such as Naughty Cream, Dark Chocolate, Coffee Malt and a rotating selection of seasonal jams. (Light breakfast)

2) Acme Bread: If you are willing to wait in line, this place offers some delicious fresh breads and pastries. The storefront is very small, so there is almost always a line out the door. (Light Breakfast)

3) Tomate Cafe: (Brunch/Lunch) This cafe is a great spot for your morning brunch and has a nice outdoor seating area that is both kid and dog friendly. They also have a well priced kids menu that our kids love!

4) 900 Grayson: There is a reason they were voted one of America's top 25 burgers by USA Today. In addition to the burgers being delicious, I highly recommend the Demon Lover which consists of homemade waffles and fried chicken with gravy or syrup. I had some reservations about combining waffles and chickens, but it turns out it's absolutely amazing! (Brunch/Lunch) The lines can get long here, so it's best to either get there right when they start serving breakfast or lunch OR try visiting on a weekday.

5) Vik's Chaat & Market: Tucked behind Vik's market, this local favorite offers Indian street food at reasonable prices. It's a great way to try items that you might not find at your typical Indian restaurant. The atmosphere is very casual and easy to enjoy with kids. (Lunch/Dinner)

6) The Pasta Shop: This is hands down my favorite place for prepared foods. I have been going here since I was a kid and everything is always top notch. Some favorites include the spicy tofu with brocolli, chinese noodle salad, kale caesar salad, farro salad, white bean salad, curried chicken salad... The list goes on and on and I'm pretty sure you can't go wrong with any of your selections.

7) Tacubaya: Located right next door to The Pasta Shop, this is a great option for healthy and fresh mexican food.

8) Farm Burger: One of the newer additions to the area, Farm Burger is one of my favorite spots to take the kids for a meal. The burgers are 100% grass fed beef and the kids menu is great. There is also an indoor area for kids to play while you eat your meal! (Bonus: if you didn't already stop by Doughnut Dolly's in the's just next door and would make a great after-lunch treat!).

9) Anchalee Thai: This is my favorite thai food in Berkeley. Great curries and quality ingredients including a number of organic, vegetarian and vegan options.

10) Berkeley Bowl: Last, but not least, is Berkeley Bowl. Yes, it's a grocery store, but it's famous in these parts for the amazing selection of fresh produce (and don't forget the bulk bins!). The West Berkeley location also has a cafe if you are looking for an affordable and casual place to have a meal. The breakfast burritos (served in the morning) are a hit with our family.

Where to shop:

1) 4th street district: The strip of 4th street that runs between Hearst Ave and Virginia Street is lined with plenty of stores to keep you busy for an afternoon. They range from chains such as Anthropology, Apple and CB2 to local boutiques. My favorite shop to browse is The Gardener, which has a beautiful selection of home goods and a wide range of prices, so there is something for everyone! If you happen to be in the area on a Sunday, make sure to stop at Cupkates mobile truck for a delicious treat (pictured below).

2) The North Face Outlet: The name says it all. You can find deeply discounted North Face gear at their outlet located on the corner of Gilman and 5th street.

Where to play:

1. Aquatic Park: This park has a great playground for kids as well as a walking path around the water. I recommend grabbing a cup of coffee at Catahoula and then walking down to the playground to let the kids run free while you enjoy your coffee.

2. Cesar Chavez Park: This is a beautiful spot in the Berkeley Marina to enjoy your breakfast or a picnic lunch and take in the views of the Bay and SF. There is a level path that wraps around the park, making for an easy and peaceful walk. There are a good number of benches along the way to sit down and enjoy the views. The park is dog friendly and good for strollers and kids on bikes. It's also a popular spot to fly kites, so bring yours along or just enjoy watching others!

Where to drink:

I began this post with places to get your morning coffee, so it seems only right to end the post with where to enjoy a beer! These are two of my favorite kid-friendly breweries with excellent beers on tap.

1. Fieldwork Brewing: This is one of my favorite new additions to West Berkeley. The beers are fantastic and the vibe is very laid back. There are both indoor and outdoor seating options and there are usually a couple of families with kids enjoying a beer. An added bonus is the table of games that you can borrow from (Jenga can definitely entertain the kids long enough for me to enjoy a beer).

2. The Rare Barrel: If you enjoy sour beers, then you will LOVE this place. I'm not normally a fan of sour beers, but they make some excellent options here. The venue is aesthetically pleasing and nobody seemed to mind our kids running around. They also have a pretty tasty grilled cheese on the menu for just $5 which was a hit with everyone. If sour beers aren't your thing, don't worry! They have a rotating selection of non-sour beers from guest brewers. Check the website for hours as they are limited at this time.

Now what?

So now that you have a list of all my favorite places it's just a matter of building your perfect day trip! If you're like me and you get a little overwhelmed by a laundry list of great places to visit then I've put together a few options below!

Option #1:
Coffee: Catahoula
Pastries or Brunch: Tomate Cafe
Play: Let the kids run free at Aquatic Park
Lunch: Vik's Chaat for Indian street food or 900 Grayson for a delicious burger or Chicken and Waffles (note that if you choose 900 Grayson you might want to drive, it's a bit of a walk). All other options are walkable.
Afternoon drink: The Rare Barrel is a must stop if you enjoy sour beers! And the $5 grilled cheese are a bonus if you or your kids get hungry.

Option #2:
Coffee: Artis
Pastries or Brunch: Betty's Oceanview Diner (note: The Pasta Shop is currently renovating to add a full service bakery!)
Play: Browse the shops along 4th street and make sure to stop in at The Gardener.
Lunch: The Pasta Shop is a great casual option. Grab your food to go and sit outside. Tacubaya is a nice option for a casual sit down meal.
Afternoon drink:  Fieldwork is your closest option. Enjoy a beer while you play a game of Connect Four or Jenga. *You will probably want to drive to Fieldwork, so since you will be in the car, The Rare Barrel is also a great option.

Option #3:
Coffee: Philz
Pastries: Doughnut Dolly is right next door!
Play: Drive over to Cesar Chavez park and enjoy your coffee and doughnuts on one of the many benches that offer beautiful views of SF and the bay. *This option is best on a warm and clear day, since it can get windy down by the water and the views aren't the same with the fog.
Lunch: Since you are already going to be in the car, any of the options on the list above are great!
Afternoon Drink: Rare Barrel or Fieldwork.

Haven't had enough of Berkeley? Here are a few other posts on things to do in the area.

Cheeseboard Pizza and Tilden Park
Visit the UC Botanical Gardens
6 Things to do on the UC Berkeley Campus
5 Things to do in Tilden Park

Here's a google map with all the locations above included so you can map out your day accordingly!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Santa Cruz Swimhole

Ever since our trip to a swimhole along the American River in Auburn, I have had this mild obsession with finding more swimholes. There is just something that is so appealing about them. The water tends to be clearer than the ocean and there's usually no sand, which is a bonus for me! There is also a sense of adventure that comes along with hiking to a remote location and having a little piece of nature all to yourself.

A few weeks ago we headed down to Santa Cruz to spend the afternoon in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The entrance to the park is only a few miles from downtown, so we made a quick stop to fuel up at Verve Coffee, Santa Cruz's local third-wave coffee roaster. And since us adults were getting a treat, it seemed only fair to let the girls indulge in a scoop of ice cream from The Penny Ice Creamery.

With our sugar/caffeine highs in full effect we headed down the road for our days adventure. Unlike a lot of state parks, there was plenty of free parking along the road, which was a nice bonus. We parked just past the first parking lot and started making our way down the only marked path in site. We really had no idea where we were headed, only that we were supposed to cross over some railroad tracks and eventually we would find ourselves on the San Lorenzo River.

The trail down to the river was wide and relatively gradual (safe for our 2 and 4 year old). Every time we visit this area I am blown away by how beautiful everything is! Just minutes from the charming downtown area and we were hiking through a redwood forest!

At the bottom of the canyon the trail begins to run alongside the San Lorenzo River and there are clear paths that take you down to the water. It seems like every 100 yards or so there was another opportunity to cut down to a small opening where you could settle in for the day. We found a nice spot with a small patch of sand and had a picnic lunch before hopping in the water.


There really is something extra fun about splashing around in a river. It was so peaceful wading around in the water with the kids and looking up at the surrounding canyon walls covered in trees. There were probably dozens of other groups along the river that day, but it felt like we were the only ones there.

Where are you favorite swimming spots in Northern California?

Looking for more to do while in Santa Cruz? Check out this post on Westside Santa Cruz. Beer Bonus - Discretion Brewing in nearby Soquel is a family friendly place to grab a beer and some snacks.

Details: Santa Cruz is about an hour and a half from Berkeley. Coffee at Verve: ~$3, Ice Cream at Penny Ice Creamery: ~$3, parking at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park: free

Monday, August 17, 2015

Highway 1: Cambria to the Bay Area

If there is one thing I have learned from planning road trips, it's that the drive to and from the final destination is half the fun. On our recent trip to San Luis Obispo, we decided to make a day out of our drive home and head up Highway 1. This option is definitely longer than the alternate route along Hwy 101, but there are so many beautiful spots to stop along the way that it almost feels like another vacation.

Our first stop of the morning was Centrally Grown in Cambria. This relatively new spot along the Central Coast is sure to become a must-stop for visitors and locals alike. The grounds feature edible gardens, lawn games and sculptures along with hand-crafted chairs and fences that are pieces of art just on their own! Our kids loved running around in all the open space and there was so much room to explore that we didn't feel like we were getting in anyone's way.

Rule #1 for ladder golf: Stay hydrated.
Centrally Grown features a market place with a deli, coffee bar and local produce along with snacks, cheese, wine and beer. Pretty much everything you need to enjoy a relaxing picnic in the garden! We arrived early, so we stuck with coffee and a loaf of their ginger bread. While we were enjoying our breakfast in the garden they were warming up the pizza oven and it definitely made me wish we were staying for lunch.

Really yummy!

A short drive down the road from Centrally Grown are the Elephant Seals in San Simeon. I had heard that this was a stop you had to make but I was still surprised by how much we all enjoyed it! The pictures really do not do the experience justice. The noises that the seals make is something you just have to hear in person and the same can be said about the way they flop themselves along the sand. The kids loved this stop and were screaming and laughing as the seals barked. Definitely a place I would like to return to during breeding season when the male seals fight one another to show their dominance.

Our next destination was McWay Falls which is about an hour and a half drive from the Elephant Seals. The falls are probably one of the most photographed destinations in Big Sur so parking can be a bit of a challenge. The good news is that you can view the falls from the highway! We found parking just up the road from the entrance to the short hiking trail, but chose to just take in the views from the highway (which runs parallel to the trail but a little higher up). The colors of the water are so spectacular along the coast and getting to see the waterfall was a nice treat that required minimal effort on our part.

Our last stop for the day was Big Sur River Inn, located just 30 minutes up the road. I was initially hesitant at making this stop since we were driving on 4th of July and I knew there would be crowds. Thankfully most of the people were eating at the restaurant when we arrived and we were able to grab some snacks from the General Store and head down to the river. This stop was SO worth it, even on a crowded holiday! The kids both loved the novelty of sitting in chairs that were in the middle of a river!

By this point in the day the kids were ready for a nap and we got lucky with some very light traffic for the last leg of the trip. Overall the longer drive was definitely worth it and it gave us a great sneak peak at what Big Sur has to offer.

A couple other ideas for stops between the Bay Area and Central California (including some tasty Mediterranean food just off the freeway in Monterey):

Last minute getaway to Carmel and Monterey

What are you favorite stops on Highway 1?

Details: The drive along Highway 1 from Cambria to Berkeley is about 5.5 hours without stops. There are great places to stop all along the way so I would plan on making a day of it. We left Atascadero around 9:30 and got home by 5:00. 2 coffees and a loaf of ginger bread was $9 at Centrally Grown. Snacks at Big Sur River Inn were $5. We packed sandwiches and snacks for the family the night before, so our costs were minimal.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Treasure Island Flea

It's funny how childhood memories can stick with you decades later. My grandpa loved a good bargain and as kids whenever we stayed with him we would undoubtedly spend our Sunday mornings driving to garage sales and attending flea markets. It made the holidays particularly entertaining since all of our gifts were a random collection of "treasures" he had found. He always wrapped our gifts in about 15 layers of newspaper and we would all get a good laugh as we spent forever just pealing them off to get to the gift.

Fast forward twenty years and I have to admit that the idea of a flea market does not hold much appeal for me. I prefer to browse through a curated selection of products opposed to searching for a gem among dozens if not hundreds of items that do not appeal to me. I think it was the word "flea" in the Treasure Island Flea that kept me at a distance all these years. The monthly event is in fact much closer in resemblance to an antique market and the small size makes it very manageable to tackle with kids. Plus the views of San Francisco are amazing!

Our trip was prompted by our recent backyard renovation (in which my husband and I spent months tearing everything out and then slowly putting it back together the way we wanted it). We had just enough left in our budget for a new outdoor dining table and I knew exactly what I was looking for. Probably five years ago, we were walking through another great antique fair in Alameda and we fell in love with the outdoor tables from one of the vendors. I had the tables tucked away in my mind all these years and was thrilled to finally have a home for one of the pieces. (side-note: If you have the better part of the day to explore, then the Alameda Point Antique Fair is a must visit!)

Taking in the view while we pick out our table.
We purchased a beautiful table within our first 15 minutes and then spent another hour perusing the stalls and finding a couple of great bargains. The Flea has a handful of food trucks and a grass area for picnicking, as well as a full bar serving up mixed drinks and beer. We brought our own picnic and let the kids run around on the grass before taking a short walk along the waterfront. The kids loved climbing on the rocks and watching for ducks bobbing in the water for food.

Overall, it was a day well spent and definitely worth a visit if you are looking for unique pieces at reasonable prices. Our dining table was delivered a few days later and now serves as a beautiful focal point in our backyard. It is honestly a treat to eat our meals at it.

Our first meal at our new table.

Do you have a favorite piece in your home that makes you smile every time you see it?

Details: Treasure Island is located at the midway point of the Bay Bridge. Coming from the city, there is no bridge toll, but coming from the East Bay you can expect to pay $6 toll. Admission is $3 for adults and children are free. Parking is also free! The Treasure Island Free is held on the last weekend of the month. Check here for updated schedules and details on live music performances.