The San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival

Wine festival

The San Diego Bay Wine & Food FestivalTM has been named one of BizBash’s Top 100 Southern California Events!

“The 2014 edition of the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival was the biggest year yet, with 10,000 wine and food enthusiasts coming for a week of epicurean experiences. The 11th annual event brought more than 200 wineries, breweries, and spirit purveyors and 70 local restaurants. It’s billed as the biggest wine and food celebration on the West Coast. Next: November 15-22, 2015”



Mendo-On the way there

When I first heard the name Mendocino it seemed like a perfect name for a song title.  I could imagine a little soulful ditty or a number one pop hit with smooth lyrics describing this remarkable town.

My curiosity got the best of me and I looked it up on Google and sure enough there were songs written about Mendocino.    Nothing of course matched the popularity of blockbuster hits such as, “I Left my Heart in San Francisco” or “Do you Know the Way to San Jose,” however, I was pleasantly surprised that at least there was a song.

After visiting the amazingly picturesque town of Mendocino , it actually did inspire me to compose something that could possibly be sung by generations to come just like the two blockbusters I mentioned above.    With inspiration in my soul and a song in my heart, I unfortunately discovered that apparently you have to have a little something called musical talent to actually create a song.   Imagine that?

Oh well, I guess I will put aside the soul and the song for the moment and do what I can do…write about it.

So with musical inspiration, I give you… Mendocino.

On the Road Again
Here at Staycations California, we like to include places and activities in all parts of California and not just the more populated Southern region.   In researching Northern California I saw an article about the Mendocino Wine Festival which was coming up in a few weeks.  The story also featured photos which amazed and impressed me on how breathtaking it appeared with its rugged coastline, the sea cliffs, the bay, the quaint village, and the green landscape full of redwoods.  It was then and there that I decided I had to go. 

All I had to do was find out exactly where it was and how to get there.

Mendo- A cove
Mendo- Coastline

Do You Know the Way to San Jose
Three weeks later on a Weds afternoon I am off to Mendocino. Our accommodations were in Fort Bragg which is about 10 miles away, but we knew we were close enough to drive over to Mendocino very quickly.

This turned out to be true because there are very few traffic lights between Fort Bragg and Mendocino and the view is so beautiful it takes away all your sense of time.  That amazing view consisted of chiseled bluffs, rock formations off the coast,  beaches full of driftwood, and of course the ocean itself.  It’s unlike Southern California where there is a traffic light every 50 feet and the view consists of the car beside you and a doughnut shop or 7-Eleven on the corner.

Getting to Mendocino from San Diego is another matter.   In reality, if you do know the way to San Jose, you are at least headed in the right direction.  As we drove through the bay area and into San Francisco, we were excited to discover that we would soon be crossing over the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.    We stopped briefly at a vista point on the Sausalito side to take some snaps of the bridge as well as the sprawling skyscrapers across the San Francisco Bay.

Mendo-Golden Gate
Mendocino is situated on the coast about 150 miles north of San Francisco.   Once you leave Highway 101 and head west, you begin the hour-or- so drive on winding roads that take you through the redwoods and the local wineries.

Along the way there are at least 5 tasting rooms so you can stop and sample the local wine, but keep it to a few grapes as the roads on the way are tight and dark. The redwoods cover the sky even when the sun is out.


Somewhere Over the Rainbow
The sun was rapidly setting and we were anxious to get to the coast to catch what we hoped was going to be an impressive sunset.  No such luck as these roads would only let you drive so fast.

When we did finally reach the end of the road, the sun was long gone and all that was left was a small sliver of blue twilight sky on the horizon.  Fortunately it was just enough light for us to get our first glimpse of the coast.

Even with diminished light we could still make out a river spilling out onto a vast empty beach with redwoods butting up against a steep cliff.  The sea was home to every size rock formation and the beach was full of driftwood.  I couldn’t wait to see it in the daylight and I thought to myself,  “ Toto, I‘ve a feeling we’re not in Southern California anymore.”

Mendo-Beach nearby

My Kind of Town
Mendocino was all it was cracked up to be and was just as stunning as the photos I saw on Google many weeks before.   Perched on a bluff overlooking the river and the Mendocino Bay, sits the part of town that caters to vacationers and visitors.  This area features quaint little shops, trendy boutiques, art galleries, bars, and restaurants.   The pastel colors of the buildings bring a Cape Cod or coastal Maine feeling to the town.

Mendo-Town close up from distcnce-TpwersMendo-Church
 Mendo-The Town G

The bay featured a long empty beach  covered with driftwood, pristine sand, and a few Geese grooming themselves in the river. In the water a lone surfer braved the medium sized waves on this crisp January day.

Mendo--From cliff in distanceMendo- Geese
Mendo-Geese 2Mendo-Bridge

In 1971 Mendocino was placed on the National Register of Historic Places so the residential part of town is rich in Victorian architecture and history.    Also scattered about are old or restored water towers and windmills with one such water tower now serving as a hotel for visitors.

Early settlers used the towers to supply themselves with water from the nearby river.   They must have been refurbished as they  looked new and added to the city’s historical charm.  In parts of the town, you feel like you are back in the early 1900’s and parts are every bit  the 2000’s, though both eras blend nicely together.

Mendo-Water tower

The views in Mendocino are magnificent and while standing on some of the streets you can see all the way down to the bay.    Take a drive outside of town and enjoy the gorgeous coastline and breathe in the salt air and negative ions coming from the sea.  On any given day in the whale migration, head for a hillside bluff and you will see at least one or two of these wonderful mammals heading south.

Mendo--Looking down street towards water

I Left My Heart in Mendocino 
The pace is obviously slower here and the lack of traffic lights makes it easy to get around. I had to acclimate when I came back home to Southern California where it seemed like every light was at least 10 minutes long.  Don’t get me wrong… I love my So Cal, but Mendocino is so worth the 12-hour drive.   Yes, 12 hours and don’t even ask me how to get there by airplane.  Split it up and stay in Morro Bay one night like we did and make the second half of the drive the next day.

Honestly, I could live there but I am not ready for that quiet of a life.  For now San Diego County is for me.  I did however leave a piece of myself back there… my heart.  I know that sounds really, really corny, but it is true.

I love it there.

Southern California Here I Come, Right Back Where I Started From
Traveling back on I-5 it didn’t take as long as when we drove up and, obviously it was not as scenic.

Leaving the redwoods on our way to Interstate-5 we were brought back to reality once we said goodbye to our last vineyard.   I had to pull over a few times to take a photo and was amazed by the beauty of this part of the wine country.   It made me wish that I liked wine so I could taste all of the wonderful flavors from each and every tasting room.   Then again, maybe not such a good idea, since I was the driver.

Mendo-Wine vines
Mendo-Ducks near grape vines

Mendo-Redwoods drive there

Onward we drove with a book on tape in the CD player and the dogs fast asleep in the backseat.   We hunkered down for the long drive with hopefully an excellent narrator reciting the words from an equally excellent author.

With memories of this magical place in Northern California etched forever in our brains, we were hoping the drive wouldn’t seem so long.

The truth is, it WAS long, but well worth it!!!!!



Cambria and San Simeon


Cambria and San Simeon

Staying Dry at the Castle
Cambria and San Simeon are two small seaside villages located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along the California State Route 1. San Simeon is best known as the home of the world renowned Hearst Castle.

This hilltop mansion was built by William Randolph Hearst in the early 20th century and is a popular tourist attraction. I have been there many times and have taken 4 different tours of this grand estate. Each tour gives you the choice of which part of the 165 room manor you want to see including the outside gardens, terraces, and walkways.

The appeal of Hearst Castle for me is when you get to walk outside to admire the beautiful coastline below and beyond. I always daydream on what it must have been like to live there or to be privileged enough to be invited up for a visit.

Featured on most of the tours is the beautiful 104 foot long sparkling Neptune pool which is adorned by an imported Roman Temple. Every time I am standing near it I fight an urge to run and jump in!  I imagine myself floating on my back with the sun on my face, reveling in the beauty of the crystal blue water plus the gorgeous tiles, the statues, and columns that are strategically placed about.

Then reality hits and my fantasy is interrupted by the thought of security pulling me out of the pool by my soaking wet clothes, dragging me out in front of everyone, and then throwing my humiliated self on the next bus down the hill. I think it is best to stay dry and keep out of the pool.

No worries about jumping in the pool on this trip as we didn’t visit the Castle and, instead, focused on the beauty of the region with a stopover to see the seals.

Cambria--Hearst Castle
 Cambira-Hearst Castle driving by

The Seals
Another must see are the elephant seals at the rockery near Piedras Blancas Light Station.   More than 7,000 elephant seals live there and it is open daily for viewing from the bluffs. The viewing area is north and south of a nice sized parking lot that is about 4 miles north from the Hearst Castle entrance. From this viewpoint, you get plenty close to marvel at the thousands of seals lining the beach. Don’t try to get any closer as these seals are protected by the Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

You can visit the seals any time during the year but the seals are sparse during March, August, September, and October. The best time is when the mothers give birth in winter and you get to see the little pups from birth to infants.

We were lucky enough to be there when the seals were still infants and the beach was filled wall to wall with females as well as the larger males. The males hung out nearby and once in awhile you saw a male to male clash, but most of the time it was peaceful with the pups content to just hang out by their mothers side.

Cambria Seals on teh beach looking south.Cambria--Seals on Beach 3
Cambria Selas on beach 1Cambria--Seals
Cambria seals 1SONY DSC
 Cambria-Male sealCambria Baby seal

The Coastline
There are places to camp in the area as well as hiking, biking, surfing, sightseeing and more. The breathtaking coastline is worth the drive and it’s ripe with photo opportunities.

Farther up the coast sits one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth in my opinion, Big Sur.  Big Sur is a captivating drive that takes you around bluffs that overlook some of the most picturesque areas of the California coastline. The road clings very close to the slopes at certain points and if you are squeamish don’t look down!  Multiple vista points allow you to get out of your car to admire the amazing view. Do not take this drive without a camera!

Cambria-CoastlineCambria- Rocks out to sea

San Simeon Pier
Back to San Simeon, we took a stroll on their local pier. Though small, the pier still gives you a nice view of the coast and of Hearst Castle which sits grandly on the hill above. An elephant seal was hanging out just below the pier and a ranger was making sure nobody came too close. When the seals feel threatened, they can become quite aggressive.  Frankly, I don’t want a 6,000 pound elephant seal mad at me so I gladly kept my distance.

Because this part of California is not overly populated and San Simeon itself has only 500 residents, your stroll on the pier is usually with just a few other people.

Cambria-The pierCambria--On pierCambria--Pier with coast in backgroundCambria- View from pier north
Cambria coast near pier
Cambria--The coast from on the pier
Cambria--Looking south from the pier

We were lucky enough to be able to stay at a house in town even though we spent most of our time 10 miles up the coast in San Simeon. We did visit the town to grab a bite to eat and check out the small village of shops and restaurants where you will find unique treasures from this community of artists, designers, and craftspeople. Cambria’s population as of 2010 is just over 6,000 so it is much larger than San Simeon.

Nevertheless, Cambria’s coast is just as pretty and undeveloped as the towns further north.

Cambria coast looking at housesSONY DSC


Cambria--CoastCambira--looking north

As with San Simeon, Cambria is your perfect getaway to unwind, relax, or be romantic. Both places are the type of vacation you would choose to relieve stress and mellow out for awhile. On the other hand, don’t chill out too much because Staycations California also recommends the above mentioned Hearst Castle tour, viewing the seals, whale watching when in season, or a beautiful drive up the coast.

We have two last recommendations to make sure your vacation is relaxing and stress free; don’t get too close to the elephant seals and whatever you do, stay out of the Neptune Pool!!

Story:Debbie Colwell

Photos: Lily D and Debbie Colwell


A sunset from the car. Stayed this bright for over a half an hour.

.Cambria-sunset in the car.