Travel // California Trip 2011 – Part 2

Click here to read part 1!



We took our time that morning figuring out which Sonoma wineries would be best to visit and tried to remember the good tips from Tracy and Kasey the night before. Kelly printed out maps for us while Marc highlighted the wineries. We were off to Sonoma to do some wine tasting and spend the night at the amazing Gaige House.

Our initial plan was to stop in Glen Ellen for lunch, which was near the hotel and then head up one hour north to a few wineries in Healdsburg. It was a grand plan, but both The Fig Cafe and The Glen Ellen Inn were both closed for lunch that Wednesday. Marc was hungry, but we drove toward Healdburg while I was searching like crazy on my phone for a casual place to eat once we arrived. Just about that time, I received an e-mail telling me that I had exceeded my data plan. How did people travel before iPhones?


Remembering a post from Hither and Thither on their trip to Napa and Sonoma, I searched it out and saw that they had lunch at Ravenous. I quickly checked their online menu for items we both would like and it was perfect timing, because we were just entering Healdsburg. I typed in the address for Ravenous and we were there in minutes.

The weather was beautiful and we sat on the colorful back patio. The bread and butter was incredible. Slightly crispy outside, tender inside and fresh creamy butter.

Marc ordered the burger with oven fries and I ordered poached shrimp tacos with handmade tortillas. It was a wonderful lunch. Marc couldn’t say enough good things about the burger. I had a bite and it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I loved the oven fries, too. Mine was the light lunch I was looking for, but it was love at first bite with that burger.

Ferrai-Carano Winery

Kelly recommended this winery because of the beautiful grounds and it was a nice introduction to the area. Inside we tasted a few wines and the lady that was pouring recommended the wine tasting downstairs that showcased their finest wines. Once we agreed that the most expensive “upstairs” wine was our favorite, she recommended the other tasting, again. We decided to check it out, noticing that our time was running low before most wineries were closing.

We met another nice person in the downstairs tasting room and we did enjoy the wines significantly more. Of course, right? We purchased a bottle of their 2007 Tresor wine which was collectively our favorite. I made a comment about the Lancome Tresor perfume and she thanked me for knowing the brand of perfume because she hears that comment often, but nobody seems to know the manufacturer. I immediately felt bad, realizing that she must hear that comment too often.

J. Vineyards and Winery

Both Kasey and Tracy mentioned that J. was their favorite Sonoma winery and we made sure to make it there before it closed. Again, the grounds were very beautiful. Their tasting room was closed due to some redecorating, so the wine tasting was set up on the patio.

We enjoyed the wines here and it was relaxing to sit on the patio. At this point, I tried looking for the restroom and they sent me to the Rodney Strong winery next door. The restrooms were occupied, so I had to wait a few minutes and one of the guys that worked there asked if J. Winery was overwhelmed or what was happening. Awkward. He was very nice and said he didn’t mind that I was there, but apparently nobody told them what was going on. I headed back to J. where we finished our wine tasting and purchased their Chardonnay to share with our friends later. The wine tasting fee and wines were on the more expensive side, but it was a nice experience.

Gaige House

After a few glasses of wine and a fair amount of driving, we were ready to settle into our hotel. Tracy had recommended it on her blog and it sounded like just what we needed.

We were briefed by the front desk on how things operate and shown where the dangerous tin of homemade cookies resides. Nobody else was at the cheese and wine reception, so they handed us a bottle of wine and showed us where the cheeses were. We had a bit of cheese while we looked at their DVD collection and took one of each kind of cookie back to our room.

Marc was especially blown away by our room because he hadn’t seen Tracy’s post. The evening had cooled, so we flipped on the fireplace. It was so relaxing. Right about that time I started to feel sick. I was coming down with a cold and combined with the wine, driving, and cookies, it just wasn’t a good time for me.

Marc really wanted to try out the pool or at least the hot tub before it closed and I hoped the hot tub would help me feel better. The hot tub was relaxing and we sipped cucumber water that was available in the pool area. We had planned to eat dinner in Glen Ellen, so I rested for a little bit knowing I really wanted to try the nearby restaurants and not spoil our evening.

The Fig Cafe

Fig Cafe and Wine Bar Glen Ellen, California // Dula Notes

Both The Fig Cafe and Glen Ellen Inn were open for dinner and a short walk from the Gaige House. The hotel provides flash lights for the walk and we didn’t take one, but I would recommend doing so. The way back was pretty dark and there isn’t much shoulder on the road. We made it there and back fine, though.

When we arrived, The Fig Cafe was full and buzzing. We looked at both menus and felt The Fig Cafe’s food excited us a bit more (but it was a hard choice!), so we stepped in and were seated in a few minutes.

The fresh and casual menu perked me up and we were ready to order. The carrot orange soup special sounded quite good and the  mussels and fries sounded great, too. I enjoyed the bright seasonal soup and they gave us a crazy amount of mussels. We counted 41 mussels, no joke. After the cup of soup, I ate a few mussels and fries and my body was telling me to chill out. If  only I could go back right now!

We headed back to our room and rented The Graduate to watch from the hotel’s movie collection. Neither of us had seen it before. I fell asleep about half-way through, but that was one restful night’s sleep.


The next morning I woke up feeling much better and we headed to the main house for breakfast. We ate outside, but were quickly greeted by bees that wanted our fruit and juice. We kept debating whether we should go in or not, but we just decided to stay on the patio and enjoy the view of the grounds. I had homemade granola, strawberries and assorted pastries. Marc had smoked ham, swiss cheese and croissants. Everything was delicious. It was sadly time to say goodbye to the Gaige House.

B.R. Cohn Winery

Our friend at Ferrari-Carano recommended the B.R. Cohn winery and it was close to The Gaige House. The manager of the Doobie Brothers owns this winery and in addition to their wines, they also make olive oil and vinegar. We liked their wines and the service was friendly.

The atmosphere was casual and fun with music memorabilia on the walls. We purchased their Pinot Noir that tasted just like blackberries, but had a nice dry quality. We shared that bottle with our friends later and we were glad they liked it, too. The guy that was pouring suggested we head to Imagery just a short drive away and it sounded good to us.

See the specks of red wine on our tasting menu? The guy next to me tried to spit out some wine and well, that happened.

Imagery Winery

We had a wonderful time at Imagery and I feel it was our favorite overall. The girl there made us feel at home and poured us lots of wine. I was trying to take it easy and just sipped a bit from Marc’s tasting, but with all of those pours, I’m not sure how easy I was taking it. We enjoyed many of their wines and found her suggestions helpful because they had lots to choose from. She told us that most wines from 2008 have a smoky flavor due to the wild fires. How interesting!

Every year they change the art on their bottles and use different artists to design the labels. We purchased their 2009 Sangiovese and 2007 Petite Sirah Port from Paso Robles. We also really liked their 2007 Petit Verdot, which she said was rare because not many wineries make a 100% Petit Verdot wine. We were visualizing the space in our suitcase and could not purchase any more wine there knowing we had another winery to go.

She sent us to their sister winery, Benziger, with a free tasting coupon and it was great because we were already planning a trip there.


We did a tasting and then took a tour of the vineyards at Benziger. The grounds are gorgeous! Marc loved the tractor and had the biggest smile on his face as we were being toted around the vineyard. On the tour we learned how much they care about the health of their vines and find natural ways of growing their crops and warding off pests while keeping the integrity of the end product.

The girl in the tasting room was super nice and encouraged us to try out the tour if we had the time and we’re glad we did to get a better view of their beautiful vineyard. After the tour you get a few tastings in the tasting room, but we had already done the tasting before the tour. Unsolicited, our friend in the tasting room offered to get us some wines from their special pinot noir tasting menu. She told us that many of their French guests gravitate towards the pinot noir. We enjoyed their wines and purchased a 2007 Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

We headed back to our friends’ house and spent time with these adorable kids until dinner time. Kelly, knowing Marc’s weakness for In-N-Out, thought we could head there for dinner.


We got in the car and headed to the In-N-Out in Pleasanton for that special California treat. Marc likes the double double animal style with animal style fries. I went for Kris’ recommendation of animal style minus the spread with ketchup.



I’m a fan of Allison’s blog and as soon as she and her friend opened Homeroom, I wanted to go. Knowing the quality of the food on her blog, I had a feeling that Homeroom would be special. I love the look and theme of the restaurant.

Kris took a half day and met us at Homeroom for lunch. Allison’s partner, Erin seated us in a booth and we were ready for some comfort food. We ordered strawberry limeades and Marc ordered a local beer. We all ordered different kinds of mac and cheese and promised to share. When I receive my gooey Mac the Goat with a combination of goat and aged cheddar with buttery breadcrumbs on top, I regretted offering to share. Everyone’s mac and cheese was good, though.

Marc had the Mexican Mac with chorizo, Kelly had the Gilroy with aged cheddar and garlic and Kris went classic with aged white cheddar mac. Kate had the Little Mac with a mild cheddar that tastes like a far superior version to Kraft, but just as palatable to kids. I asked Marc and Kelly which was their favorite and they both said the one they ordered. I felt the same way.

I highly recommend the food. It was comfort food with local ingredients carefully chosen to make it the best it could be. Our waiter was having a bad day and said as much, but the other server seemed quite good and even helped out when we needed some assistance.

The strawberry limeade really hit the spot and that homemade oreo was so, so good with just a sprinkle of sea salt on top. One of the best things I had on our trip, for sure. I ordered the strawberry crisp and Kelly and I shared our desserts with each other. The crisp was light and tasty, but that oreo!


Scottish Festival

Kelly is part Scottish and suggested heading to the Scottish festival on Saturday for some unique entertainment. They said it was a fun time and it sounded like great people watching.

They had a bag pipe competition where judges listened and scored each group. You don’t get to hear bagpipes every day and it was a treat.

Probably the best part, though, was the caber toss that just seems ridiculous, but is fascinating! There were other Highland games like rugby and weight over bar (people throwing bell-shaped steel over their head).

They also had different booths set up with information on the different clans by family name. Kelly spent some time at the McDonald booth and was pleased to find some new information on her heritage.


Our friends love Acapulco and regularly order their authentic Mexican food. We had to make a trip before we left, so we picked it up to-go and had a relaxing last evening with our friends. We cracked open some Sonoma wine, too.



For our last breakfast in California, I asked Kelly for a recommendation. She wondered if we might like Sideboard and that coincided with positive reviews from Foodspotting.

We loved the fresh food. Marc had a smoked bacon and aged cheddar scramble and I had poached eggs on levain. We were a bit rushed because we wanted plenty of time to return our car and settle at the airport. I wish I could have relaxed there more, especially considering our flight was eventually delayed. It’s a nice little spot and Danville is very pretty, too. Next time we’ll have to go back.

Heading Home

Marc carefully packed our 5 bottles of wine we acquired in Sonoma and we ended up with a 67.5 pound suitcase. Whoa. Marc was excited to use a rolling technique he learned from a guy online that teaches travelers how to use one carry-on bag efficiently for a week-long trip. We definitely did not take all of his advice, but Marc rolled to his heart’s content. I was praying that the wine would not break and leave us with no wine and ruined clothing. Thankfully, Marc is a master packer.

We had a wonderful time in California and it was over all too quick. Our 3 pm flight turned into a 5:30 flight that missed our connection and we unexpectedly ended up in Dallas for a quick night’s nap and an early flight back to Detroit.

We became well acquainted with the San Jose aiport and I picked up a book and Marc made sure to stock up on Scientific American and Popular Mechanics. I was so proud of myself for packing snacks and not resorting to airport food at that point, but the delay forced us to go there. We made it through and have wonderful memories of the food and good times we had that week.

Thank you Keuser family, you are the best! Thank you Kasey, Matthew and Tracy for meeting up with us and for all of your wonderful tips!

5 Notes Leave a Note

    • Nancy – Why thank you 🙂

      Heather – That caber toss is really something! Official smeller 🙂 V. Sattui is one of our friends’ favorites in Napa and we visited a few years back. I remember it being a nice spot. I heard about the mud baths, but so little time! The poached eggs were wonderful!

  1. Scottish Games! We have that every summer back in Wisconsin, complete with caber toss. Great fun. Wineries are also great fun, and one of our more exciting escapes. I visited Napa and Sonoma once with my parents way back when. Just shy of 21 (dangit), I was the “official smeller”. Ha. Regardless I learned a ton, and my already strong appreciation for wine and wineries grew. I recall V. Sattui Winery being my favorite. The mud bath in Healdsburg wasn’t too shabby either.

    Your stops look equally as great. The last morning’s breakfast has me craving poached eggs on toast now.


  2. Will definitely check out Homeroom next time! Looks awesome! And that place you stayed in Sonoma looked pretty wonderful, too. Glad to hear that our restaurant in Healdsburg worked out.

    • Thanks for bringing up Oakland in your post! It was fun to reread and revisit my California trip 🙂 Yes, thank you for the Healdsburg tip! Your post saved the day when I had a hungry husband and a short window of time for lunch.

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