From the town with a thousand oaks to one with a thousand Jelly Bellies…nice!

Heading north on our way to Fairfield, CA  we took a few “we’ve got to stop here” stops. First place up was the small town of Gilroy, the undisputed “Garlic Capital of the World“.

gilroysign

Although they also grow mass quantities of mushrooms here, and there are some boutique wine producers, this town is all about the garlic. The Gilroy Garlic Festival is an annual event held in July where thousands of people come to try every food imaginable (and those you couldn’t possibly imagine) with garlic in it…including garlic ice cream.

wp-1480226643685.jpg

We poked around the aisles in a shop called Garlic World where we saw (and sampled) pickled, peppered, pectined and pressed garlic in every conceivable food product including jams, popcorn, jerky and sauces. Not the place to go on your first date.

20161130_085109.jpg

Even all the McDonalds in this part of CA get in on the act by offering garlic french fries. Thick fries, drizzled with melted butter and drenched in garlic, what could be bad… besides your breath.

garlic-fries-mcdonalds

Bart accosted a woman in the McD’s parking lot who was wearing a UCONN sweatshirt. She and her husband Bob have a daughter who goes to UCONN so of course Bart engaged in a lengthy conversation about his old Alma Mater. They couldn’t have been nicer and gave us all kinds of suggestions of places to stop on our way north.

wp-1480525642005.jpg

Leaving Gilroy and continuing our drive on Route 101, we stopped to explore the coastal town of Santa Barbara, nicknamed the “American Riviera”. The downtown area has a lot of public art including some awesome sculptures. Here’s Rorie playing hide and seek with a guy and his son. Bart said he had NO idea who she was.

wp-1480226685660.jpg

Santa Barbara’s downtown is hoppin’, has lots of diverse restaurants and shops, and is definitely a place we want to return to and explore on another DSTA tour.

wp-1480226743497.jpgwp-1480226717164.jpg

Love the Spanish architecture, courtyards and red tile roofs.

wp-1480226764426.jpg

Leaving Santa Barbara and winding along and through the mountains, we arrived in Fairfield – our “home” for the next few days. The town welcomed us with a huge banner and open arms.

wp-1480388944459.jpg

The DSTA Tour felt very welcomed in Fairfield!

The Town of Fairfield was founded in 1856 by boat captain Robert Waterman and named after his hometown of, where else…Fairfield, CT. It lies between San Francisco and Napa. A great place to stay if you want access to these great locations but don’t want to be in the middle of the busyness.

We passed this historic saloon while driving a backroad on our way into town and immediately pulled over. Built in 1902, this dive-bar, dance hall and community gathering spot is believed to also have been a brothel way back when. Locals also claim it’s haunted.

wp-1480388710597.jpg

Finally arriving at our home away from home, our gracious Airbnb super hosts Lerma and Elly had everything ready.

91939bf2_original

We were thrilled to relax in this beautiful, spacious, private and sun filled in-law suite. It was our first time sleeping in a giant CA king-size bed and of course, Bart wants to buy one now.

2112ec8b-6f56-40b7-bdb2-ebb8390b2fec

After a long day in the car, it was time to take a power walk through the neighborhood. Surrounded by mountains and parks, everywhere we went there was a beautiful vista to enjoy.

wp-1480394837875.jpg

After burning off some energy and calories, we needed to refuel and naturally it had to be with sugaaah. Fairfield just happens to be the headquarters of one of the most famous candies in the world…Jelly Bellys. It’s a fat free, gluten free fruit right?

bart-belly

But first, think back to a time a few years ago (well, maybe, more than 30) when Ronald Reagan was President. Back then, when Bart was the CEO of the National Association of Towns and Townships, he brought a delegation of small-town mayors to the White House for some serious policy discussions. Bart (opposite the President…can you pick him out?) tried to steer the conversation toward an issue that was a high priority to local government leaders. The President, however, wanted to let folks in the Cabinet Room know he liked to mix different Jelly Bellys together to create new flavors. Serious stuff!

20161130_160346.jpg

We couldn’t find any “President Reagan flavors”, but we did find so many samples at the store that our bellies were jelly by the time we left. But, oh so worth it!

800px-jellybellypile

The factory cafe serves a “healthy” Jelly Belly bacon fried onion ring burger shaped like the iconic candy. No we didn’t eat this, just drooled over someone else’s lunch.

wp-1480381184194.jpg

Not sure how the Jelly Belly factory arranged for this fruit colored rainbow to appear just as we were leaving.

wp-1480394782968.jpg

After consuming so many samples of candy, we needed a little something to wash them down with. Staying with the fruit theme, we stopped in for some heart-healthy wine tasting at Sonoma Harvest.

img_2068

Guiding us through Sonoma Harvest’s selections of wines, olive oils and other products was the knowledgeable ambassador, Lee. She really knows her stuff and loves her products. While Bart sampled the wines, Rorie tasted the olive oils, tapenades, mustards and fruit flavored vinegars. Delicious.

img_2067

Leaving the tasting tours and before turning in for the night, we took a spin through downtown Fairfield. The huge palm trees lining the main street through the town reminded us of Longboat Key, FL.

wp-1480388753325.jpg

Tomorrow the real tasting begins when we head up through the backroads to wine country…Napa.

It’s “wine o’clock” somewhere…The Tour heads to Sonoma and Napa towns

Our 70 mile drive north from Fairfield to our first stop Healdsburg, took us past the amazing Sears Point Tidal Restoration Project on San Pablo Bay. Pictures don’t do it justice, but what a great “habitat renewal” story. The recent and ongoing restoration of over 955 acres of tidal marsh provide a home for endangered and native species of the bay ecosystem.

img_2075

Our primary (we thought) destination for the day was Healdsburg, CA (pop. 11,254), a small town located in Sonoma County. We want to give a shout out to Bart’s Longboat Key, FL friend, neighbor and tennis partner Anthony Manifold, a wine expert and writer (http://grape-press.com). Mr. Manifold recommended we go to this wonderful town to experience “wine country”. And did we ever!

Welcome to wine-loving Healdsburg.

wp-1480383423265.jpg

Wine is big business in this area and the town is packed with tasting rooms and shops selling every kind of local wine imaginable. Wine bottles displayed on the sidewalks are both decorative and informational, letting you know the type of wine sold.

wp-1480383956385.jpg

After strolling through the wonderful downtown area filled with unusual shops (not a big box store in sight), restaurants and winery tasting rooms, we stopped for a quick snack at the Downtown Bakery and Creamery.

wp-1480568603496.jpg

It was tough to pass up these amazing desserts but we were strong.

wp-1480383979922.jpg

Fortified with food, we looked for one of the most highly recommended stops in Healdsburg, the Williamson Wine tasting room. 5 well-deserved stars on TripAdvisor.

5184

Owners Dawn (pictured here on the right) and her husband Bill Williamson came all the way from Australia 30 years ago to start a business that would “produce the best grapes and small batch wines possible”. Based on their huge fan base, we think they succeeded.

wp-1480384380921.jpg

Our  assigned “wine guide” and expert Kaleigh, led us through an introduction to the Williamson’s white and red wines paired with small bites that complimented the individual wines. Bart loved the wine, Rorie loved the interesting food pairings.

wp-1480384341164.jpg

After Bart tasted 5 different wines and food pairings offered during his “lesson”, we bought a fine bottle of the God’s nectar to tote 4,000 miles back to Longboat Key, FL.

unnamed

We continued our walk about town and saw The Blackbird Cafe and Soda Fountain, a cute, popular cafe lined with old fashioned candy and serving amazing gelato in unusual flavors like honey lavender and blackberry honey.

wp-1480383702388.jpg

Heading over to the Healdsburg Plaza, we noticed “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”. It was a little jarring to see the Christmas decorations on the gazebo flanked by fruit laden orange trees. Not a snowflake in sight.

wp-1480383563546.jpg

The wine theme continued with casks lining the sidewalks advertising the Healdsburg Bar & Grill.

wp-1480383459059.jpg

Rorie thought this window sign was cute, especially the comment about water. Neither Bart or our son Brendan like H2O…

wp-1480383384229.jpg

So many temptations, so little time.

wp-1480383356705.jpg

Having had a wonderful walk throughout Healdsburg’s lovely downtown, Rorie and Bart decided to head out again – truly to parts unknown. They set their navigation preferences to back roads and let it decide where they’d end up. Surprise, surprise. The Tour-mobile ended up on country roads winding past more beautiful vineyards in the Napa Valley.

view

The biggest surprise of all was when we ended up at the world famous Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena (pop. 5,947). Beringer Vineyards is said to be the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley, and is on the National Register of Historical Places.

Bart and Rorie “oohed and aahed” as they strolled the Vineyard’s spectacular grounds. This is the historic Rhine House.

0_BER_RhineHouse_076A4959_Murad-1-_DC724997-F567-4CE8-BDFE1259F626D57E_f7ee429c-b5b1-4ecd-9a5a156e0c41e536.jpg

One of Beringers many beautiful tasting rooms and gift shops.

wp-1480383079154.jpg

What a wonderful day experiencing the bucolic sights and tastes of Sonoma and Napa area towns. Tomorrow your small town adventurers take on the big city of San Francisco.  Join us…

 

Beach boys, beach bunnies, beach bums & boogie boards abound in SoCal towns

After a great and sorely needed night of sleep in an amazing beachside condo (“Thank you” to Rorie’s brother Jeff and sister-in-law Pam, who let us use their fabulous place in Solano Beach, pop. 12,857).

The town is surrounded by vistas of rocky cliffs and endless ocean. Notice how many steps you need to go down to get to the beach. This is the view from our “backyard”.

wp-1479856217828.jpg

With the Pacific Ocean at our back door, shopping and restaurants at the front, and the gorgeous Fletcher Cove Community Park down the street, we couldn’t have found a better home base for our tour of SoCal beach communities. They even put out the welcome sign.

wp-1480206656925.jpg

Birds of Paradise taking flight outside our beach condo “roost”.

wp-1479859024955.jpg

Solano Beach’s Fletcher Cove Community Park sits high above the  Pacific Ocean. Parents…keep a close watch on your kids!

wp-1480208292729.jpg

Surfer dudes and dudettes enjoying some fun in the sun.

wp-1480206910227.jpg

Cool local restaurants are around every corner. Bart loved this hidden gem.

wp-1479855600745.jpg

Right down the road from Solano Beach is the seaside city of Del Mar (pop. approx. 4,311). It has fabulous beaches and a pedestrian-friendly lifestyle. It’s also one of only a few U.S. locations where the rare, endangered Torrey Pine trees grow.

Del Mar is also home to a world-famous thoroughbred racetrack. 

bing-crosby-season-starting-gate

When it opened in 1937, crooner and actor Bing Crosby was at the gate to personally greet the fans. He loved the ponies and his association with the racetrack brought it many celebrities during its early years. The races are named Bing Crosby Season.

bing

At the northern end of Del Mar, Scripps Bluff has amazing views of the San Diego coastline. Locals come here to to train by running up and down the endless steep wooden stairs from the beach to the Preserve. We were exhausted just watching them. It’s Mother Nature’s version of the Stairmaster.

Cardiff-by-the-Sea (approx. pop. 11,537) in Encinitas borders Solano Beach but has a completely different “vibe”. Cardiff Reef (“The Reef”) is a surfing hot spot producing waves that excite the pros and newbie surfers. They were out in force the day we were there, riding the waves.

sunset_at_cardiff-by-the-sea_san_diego

Continuing our ride North on the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 101) we stopped in the town of Carlsbad, a seaside resort city on a 7 mile stretch of the Pacific coastline. Spa-goers have flocked here since the 19th century when it’s mineral spring was discovered. Bart loved the idea of relaxing in soothing mineral water, Rorie…not so much.

Carlsbad Mineral Water Spa

day-spa-carlsbad-mineral-water-spa_1

Carlsbad Village is jam packed with shops, galleries and restaurants. Our Visa card is starting to warp from all the use at these great stores.

There was no way we were going to pass by this “everything is chocolate” shop without going in.

Our coastal cruisin’ was a great way to explore the beach towns of Southern CA. Now it’s time to head north on the Pacific Coast Highway and explore what’s going on in small towns and vineyards. But first, the 405 Freeway. Oy.

 

 

 

 

The Tour takes a detour for a Thousand Oaks, CA family gathering

Leaving the southern CA beaches behind, we headed North for a break from backroads and a long overdue visit with family in Thousand Oaks.

thousand-oaks-1-final-mixvy4inj196euxzjgj60xs680f3taqwyuakbeimq0

Hopping on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) again, we drove on some twisty narrow roads with no guardrails high above the rocky coast and through some pretty intimidating mountains. As we came down the mountains, we cruised through multitude of gorgeous beach communities where the sand is literally in your front yard and surfing is king. Although the beach communities all share the same ocean, Pacific Coast Highway location and reputation as surfing meccas, each town has it’s own personality and attractions. Here’s the rundown of our beach destinations.

Better hope you don’t get behind a “Sunday Driver” because there is no passing on the PCH. Gorgeous views but who wants to take their eye off the road to look?

wp-1480353606407.jpg

 

We left the PCH and jumped over to I-5, soon passing Camp Pendelton Marine Corps Base, which is located near the town of Oceanside. We’re proud of our military and know they train hard to be prepared for any eventuality. But while training, Oceanside must be a good place for some R & R.

11329811_10153054274304565_6206944574668542550_n

This is also where The Tour hit the 4,000 mile mark. 

wp-1479964934372.jpg

Bart and Rorie continued to sail along the highway ever mindful of the speed limit of course. We saw our first CA Highway Patrol (CHP) cop riding an impressive BMW. You gotta love the boots. If you watched the old TV show “Chips” starring Erik Estrada, you know these bike-riding highway police officers were hot (Rorie says). Reportedly, the CHP is going to be switching to Harleys soon.

wp-1480126969916.jpg

Thankfully, we didn’t see one of these.

trafficticket-298x575-1

Our last stop before meeting up with family in Thousand Oaks was the resort town of Santa Monica. Famous for it’s iconic Pier where you’ll find the Pacific Park amusement park, the National Historic Landmark Looff Hippodrome Carousel, and the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, there is so much to see and do without ever leaving the beach. But right next to the pier is the best attraction of all…Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym. 

wp-1480385463056.jpg

This is where we saw some amazing buildings barely perched on top of some seriously steep cliffs overlooking the ocean. It’s unfathomable how these homes just don’t slide down the mountain. Can you imagine living in a “glass house” precariously balanced on a sheer crumbling cliff in a state known for earthquakes? Talk about a view to die for!

wp-1480385420453.jpg

We’re here! Meet the Munsons (no, not the CT Chocolatiers and owners of Munsons Candy). We were welcomed to our hotel with open arms by Rorie’s sister Helaine and our brother-in-law Alan. What a great ending to a great drive. Family and Cowboy John’s award-winning BBQ…who could ask for anything more.

bbq.jpg

Heading to the Munson homestead to break bread after a great nights sleep, we first drove by miles of fertile farmland. Unfortunately, we then put our lives at risk by taking the “shortcut” path through those treacherous mountains in the background, finally landing safely in gorgeous Thousand Oaks.

near helaine.jpg

Why is it that the minute you get together with your family, you revert back to behaving like a child? Rorie, is that YOU?

wp-1480216110062.jpg

Here’s our niece Brianna with her boyfriend Tom, and our nephew Derrick. Great fun and we were so happy to spend time with them. We all worked up an appetite in the park playing frisbee and kickball. We won’t tell you who won the kickball game but Rorie is hugging her winning teammate. You never outgrow that competitive spirit.

wp-1480391225709.jpg

After a wonderful visit and a heavenly home-cooked meal, it was time to continue north and explore some out of the way places on our way to Fairfield, CA. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

From the mountains, to the prairies, to the ocean, white with foam…

Day 16 of the Tour proved to be both exhilarating and exhausting. It was the last segment of our east-west, cross country journey. We left Arizona in the morning knowing that by the end of a long day on the road we would finally reach the Pacific Ocean.

The road outside Tucson took us to Gila Bend (pop. 1,922), where we were warned to be careful because it’s a major drug trafficking route. We stopped there for gas and quickly departed. Somebody should have warned us about the freaky high mountains too!

i8_sign

We occasionally describe certain parts of the Country as “having no there, there”. Sentinel, AZ is one such place. Read the sign closely and you’ll get the picture.

Sadly, the one attraction in town that seemed to draw some visitors, The B-B Cafe, recently closed.

azroute80pc347

The Imperial Sand Dunes near Yuma AZ are a magnet for off-road riders. It was amazing to see ATVs racing along this huge sandbox. Return of the Jedi was filmed here.

Continuing our westward journey, we landed in the tiny town of Dateland, Arizona (pop. 852). Founded in the early 1920’s as a water stop along the railroad lines, the town is located just north of the Mexico border between Yuma and Gila Bend in the Arizona desert.

the_dateland_travel_center

We stumbled onto the Dateland Travel Center, home of “the world famous” date milk shake. Its Medjool Date is also said to be world famous. We were greeted by Lee, who explained the different types of dates grown here. And don’t get us started on the samples Lee gave us to taste…delicious.

Bart was our very own taste tester.

wp-1479829534347.jpg

This is the AZ-CA border crossing. Looking for Medjool date thieves?

checkpoint

Our day long journey to the West Coast ended in the welcoming town of Solana Beach, CA (pop. 13,326). We’ll roost in this beautiful spot a couple of days and enjoy some fun in the sun…SoCal style.

wp-1479829412174.jpg

The Discover Small Town America Tour has logged nearly 4,000 miles on its east-west, coast-to-coast quest to find amazing places and people off-the-beaten-path.

wp-1479829455012.jpg

Wow. Our first look at the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Spellbinding and not a “surfer dude” in sight. Yet…

wp-1479765921236.jpg

The West Coast’s rocky cliffs and magnificent surf are so different from the Gulf Coast of Florida, where the Tour began on November 5. Both scenic views are beautiful.

seaside-beach

Next up: Stayed tuned for our next road report on some cool SoCal beach towns – including Solano Beach – as the Tour continues exploring places along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway.

Wildcats, poutine, a gangster named Dillinger and Santa? Tucson has it all

Yup, we know Tucson isn’t a small town but…we wanted to get out of the car, stretch our legs, and do some sightseeing on foot. After visiting so many small towns in a relatively short period of time, The University of Arizona (UA) campus and Tucson’s bustling, historic downtown were the perfect places to take a relaxing stroll.

The University of Arizona (UA) is near downtown Tucson. “Old Main”, also known as UA’s School of Agriculture, was the first building constructed on the UA campus. Opened in 1891 with 32 students, it’s one of the oldest surviving structures in the western United States. The wide porches offered a cool place to relax during AZ’s hot summer. We loved the mix of old and new buildings on the campus.

wp-1480126074733.jpg

The UA Mall is rated one of the top 5 most beautiful college campus “squares” in the Country. We couldn’t agree more!

wp-1480123784533.jpg

UA’s campus features an amazing array of cactus…you can look but don’t touch.

wp-1479613941655.jpg

What is a “Wildcat” anyway? Apparently, it’s a bobcat and UA’s mascot named Wilbur.

wp-1480123401722.jpg

UA students seem to favor environmentally friendly modes of transportation. Not a car in sight.

wp-1480123367953.jpg

After a really long walk exploring the University of Arizona campus, we meandered into the artsy section of downtown Tucson. The aroma of french fries wafting onto the street compelled us to follow our noses and find the source of that heavenly smell…U.S. Fries.

us_fries_interior_saria

This place is a Tucson hot spot, specializing in something our son Brendan introduced us to last year, poutine. Poutine is an addictive combination of crispy, golden french fries and Wisconsin cheese curds smothered in a rich decadent gravy. It may sound like a weird mix, but we promise, once you try it you’ll be hooked. Not great for the waistline but oh so good. Go find some immediately!

wp-1479614169830.jpg

We loved the idea of this Tiny Town sign in such a big city like Tucson. Tiny Town is actually a very cool local art gallery.

wp-1479613882657.jpg

Arizona Party Bikes are a really unique way to see the city and do a local pub crawl. Riders power the bicycle pedals attached to their seat to get their beer and move the bus. Wonder who the designated driver was.

11923572_868116243269414_2470457487272931622_n_lg

As we wandered through the older downtown section of Tucson, we were impressed by all the vibrantly colored murals we saw. Local artists participating in the city’s Mural Program are creating a visually exciting environment.

wp-1479614091506.jpg

Another great mural depicting some of our favorite musical icons. Can you “name that tune?”

wp-1480123304477.jpg

The Hotel Congress built in 1919, is the last surviving historic hotel in downtown Tucson.

wp-1479614028392.jpg

A hotel fire in 1934 inadvertently resulted in the capture of the infamous gangster John Dillinger and his gang. They were staying on the 3rd floor of the hotel laying low after a series of bank robberies. Talk about bad karma.

52e0568fd7e77-image

One of our favorite things to do when we visit different towns is to strike up conversations with people we meet along the way. We met this great hometown “boy” and his beautiful family at dinner and he was fun, friendly and full of suggestions about places to check out. He was treating his granddaughter, who went to college in town, to dinner out and they couldn’t have been nicer.

wp-1480131860636.jpg

This guy was fun too, but his ideas centered on reindeers and toys…even before Thanksgiving. Kinda weird.

wp-1480131885033.jpg

After our brief stay in AZ, it was time to head on to Southern California, the land of opportunity and movie stars.

 

The Tour heads to the Grand Canyon State…”Hey AZ: Got small towns?”

We woke up to “good news, bad news” weather. GOOD NEWS? The sun was shining and gale force winds had subsided. BAD NEWS? Check out these sub freezing temps. Brrr. We bundled up and headed out to the State of Arizona.

wp-1479478390406.png

First stop on this leg of the Tour was a place our friend and neighbors The Lakes told us about – Rudy’s County Store – just outside the City of Albuquerque. Can you say smokey, lean brisket for breakfast?

Rudy.jpg

rudy09

Chris x 2, this rub’s for you!

wp-1479487169496.jpg

Nothing like BBQ-shaming

wp-1479487219475.jpg

Leaving Rudy’s, we continued our trek west. We passed the site of the annual international Balloon Fiesta, a nine-day event featuring over 500 balloons. Wow!

wp-1479599154205.jpg

Driving on, we traversed some stark but powerful scenery on Native American reservation land. We kept “oohing and aahing” over the landscape, finally just calling it the “Wow Wow West”.

Stark.png

We couldn’t help but stop here in NM because it’s…

wp-1479488161667.jpg

This was where The Tour hit the 3,000 mile mark.

wp-1479486930933.jpg

Not far from Truth or Consequences (pop. 6,246) is the Chile Capital of the World – Hatch, NM (pop. 1,597).

wp-1479598995322.jpg

Sparky’s Restaurant is a local sensation and famous for their green chili burgers.

wp-1479598976411.jpg

It appears that Colonel Sanders might be trying to steal some chili trade secrets (see him hiding on the ledge?) Bet they’ll be introducing a bucket of KFC’s Chili Chicken soon.

wp-1479598919521.jpg

These figures line the street across from Sparkys. Why you might ask? We have absolutely no idea.

wp-1479598823562.jpg

Everywhere you look in Hatch are these gorgeous swags of dried red chili peppers. We were told to just put the chilis in a blender and then add the mix to anything for extra spice. Bart was in his nirvana!

wp-1479598792433.jpg

Our last stop in New Mexico was Lordsburg (pop. 3,379 people). The town is the final destination in Stagecoach, the 9th greatest Western film of all time according to the American Film Institute, starring John Wayne in his breakthrough role as the Ringo Kid.

3224-309x316

Leaving NM and crossing over into Arizona, we had to take a picture of this rest area. This is how Arizona does rest stops. You feel like you’re in a wild west outpost.

wp-1479490618063.jpg

Next stop: Tucson, AZ for a little sightseeing and a lot of R&R.