From AZ to El Paso to Abilene…a whole lot of nuthin’ going on, except ghosts and snakes

We left the comfortable surroundings of our beautiful Scottsdale, AZ digs for the last 2 days with some uncertainty and trepidation about today’s journey, and ultimate destination – El Paso, TX.

The drive through AZ was uneventful, but we stumbled onto a way off-the-beaten path (we’re talking dirt road) place that was really cool…Shakespeare Ghost Town in Lourdsburg, NM (pop. 2,665). The Tour-mobile took gravel roads to get to the place where the “streets” were trod by Billy The Kid, John Ringo, Curley Bill, The Clantons and other famous gunslingers.

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This remote outpost isn’t a tourist destination. There was no one to be seen for miles…

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We read a little about this spooky place with the interesting past, and hightailed it out of there before we got rounded up by a sheriff’s posse. Can’t even fathom how these outlaws found this place to begin with.

The route between Las Cruces, NM and El Paso, TX is  called Dairy Row and for good reason.

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More than 30,000 cows live in 11 farms located one after the other and trust us, we smelled them long before we even saw them.

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Our next stop was Deming, NM (pop. 14,090), where Rorie continued to calm her nerves and satisfy her dairy needs with some medicinal sweets…

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Fully reenergized, we completed the last segment of the day’s itinerary and arrived in the border town of El Paso, TX. El Paso is a pretty prosperous city, so it was really startling to see the shacks and crumbling “houses” perched along the bank of the Rio Grand River 50 yards across the small bridge in Juárez, Mexico. It was sad for us to see how simply being born on the wrong side of a bridge sentences someone to a different quality of life.

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We freshened up at out hacienda for the night, and headed out in search of some good local BBQ. Oh boy, did we ever find it at the Rib Hut.

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Wednesday is “rib night” at the Rib Hut ($2.25 apiece for humungous beef ribs) and lucky for us, it was Wednesday. We were excited to try real Texas BBQ. The vibe in the place was great, the food even better. Bart KNEW it was gonna be his kind of place when he walked in and saw paper towels, Tabasco and jalapeños. Rorie KNEW it was her kind of place because there was a sale on ribs.

People were seated family style and we got a primo space near the fireplace and this wonderful couple, Richard and Leticia.

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They were fun and informative about the area, and told us what to order at this joint, which they go to once a week. We enjoyed meeting them as much as we did feasting on our fabulous, heart-healthy meal of ribs, brisket, sidewinder fries and coleslaw.

With full bellies, we went “home” and called it a night. The next morning we were greeted by plummeting temps. Time to put away the flip flops, t-shirts and shorts. Ugh!

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After packing the car – again – we started what we knew was going to be a long journey to Abilene… and immediately ran into snow.

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Bart was nervous because the route we were taking required us to go over some steep mountains and the last thing we needed to hit were icy roads. About 20 miles out of El Paso, in the mountains, we were surprised to come to a Border Patrol Station in the Town of Clint (pop. 941). We rolled to a stop and a member of the border patrol approached the Tour-mobile. He was menacing in his full face ski mask that looked like this…

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Bart asked the agent where we were and he said “You’re in hell, and it just froze over”. Hard to know if he was kidding or not but we didn’t hang around long enough to figure it out. After asking if we were U.S. citizens and of course answering “yes”, we moved right along. Glad to know that one little question keeps us safe from terrorists and aliens!

Bart used to work with a guy in DC who was from West Texas (San Angelo) and he always said it was a God forsaken place, where in many places there’s nothing but tumbleweed. Well, Bill Bivens, having spent a week one afternoon driving through the region and actually having a huge tumbleweed blow across the road and get stuck under our car, I think you understated the desolation that is West Texas…

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Further ahead we came to Fort Hancock, TX (pop. 1,713), which is a classic example of a place “where there’s no there there”.  We did stop at this place, happily not to eat but for a quick fill up at the adjacent gas station. There was a sign on the the station (which we forgot to take a picture of) that said it all, “Open 25/7“. You do the math!

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The town of Ft. Hancock is really struggling.

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“Outpost” says it all…

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With our tank filled, we continued today’s journey. Rorie was quite relaxed…

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We passed by, not through, the Texas towns of Van Horn (pop 2,063), Torah (pop. 92) and Pecos (pop. 8,903), Big Spring (pop. 27,291) and Colorado City (pop 4,821) before arriving in Sweetwater, TX (pop. 11,415).

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Sweetwater is the home of the annual (and world’s largest) rattlesnake roundup. Rorie wouldn’t get out of the car. You’ll understand why when you notice what’s hanging around the top left side of the sign.

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The event began in 1958 and is run by the Sweetwater Jaycees.

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Rorie and I thought of our neighbors the Lakes who are involved with the Longboat Key Kiwanis Club, and wondered whether they might want to organize a snake roundup in their/our Gulf Coast community. We hear it’s a great fundraiser.

World Poker Tour legend Doyle Brunson is from Sweetwater…Bart is a big fan.

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John Wayne was in the 1932 movie King of the Pecos, in which Sweetwater was the home town.

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Enough with our Sweetwater fascination. Onward to Abilene, where we settled in our room and grabbed a bite to eat. During dinner we met an interesting woman from Blanket, TX (pop. 342) with a great life story to tell.

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Chyrl Bradfield was raised by her “Mamaw”(Grandmother), who had 11 kids of her own. All the kids in town went to K-12 in the same little schoolhouse. She is part of the McClain Family which holds awesome family reunions each year. As the Welcome to Downtown Blanket sign says, she was what they call “friendly folks”.

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Tomorrow’s destination…Vicksburg, MS. Join us!

The Tour heads East, but first: coyotes, cakes and cookies…

Before leaving sunny CA to make our way 3,oo0 miles plus to New England (the next BIG leg of the Tour), we got up bright and early for a power walk in a nearby Pasadena neighborhood. This “dog”  was running across the street in traffic, so Bart took several steps toward the critter to see if it was wearing an ID on its collar. The “dog” it turned out was a coyote. Stunned, and a little freaked out, we decided to step up our pace and head in another direction – pronto!

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After returning to the hotel and cooling down, Rorie decided the only way to settle her nerves after our encounter with this wild beast was to go in search of some medicinal sweets. Using Yelp, we were led to the 5 star rated Eagle Rock Italian Bakery on Colorado Boulevard in LA.

Joined by Rorie’s sister Darcy, we parked and walked – no trotted – to this dessert mecca. If you know Rorie and her sisters and brother, you know nobody messes with them in the presence of cannolis, Italian cookies and other sweet pastries. Body language tells it all. For them, this selection process is serious business.

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The possibilities were endless, the choices overwhelming, the decisions agonizing.

Thank goodness they had their wonderful and amazingly patient guide Desiree to help them through the decision-making process (otherwise we’d be there all day). In reality, “the girls” decided on taking practically one of everything!

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Success…$70 later…pounds and pounds of goodies; pounds and pounds of weight gain!

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We left Pasadena after a quick breakfast and got on our way to Scottsdale, AZ. Our route took us to the iconic town of Palm Springs (pop. 44,321), which has a reputation as the 50’s home and playground of the rich and famous from that era. Think Frank Sinatra, Loretta Young, Liberace, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood hot shots.

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Unfortunately, their mid modern digs are now privately owned and we  couldn’t get near them. Luckily we were able to experience the outdoor shopping and dining  attractions of La Plaza, a quaint historic setting in town.

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Leaving Palm Springs we passed the Town of Indio, home to the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam, and Leonard Cohen are among the many headliners who’ve performed there.

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Continuing on we passed miles and miles of places where there’s no there there. Take the Town of Desert Center (pop. 204), for example. Years ago, it was a busy stopping point between Los Angeles and Arizona. Today it feels almost like a ghost town. The downtown has some old buildings, a cafe and a post office which also serves as a community center. That’s all folks.

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Nearby Blythe, CA (pop. 19,832) has a little more going for it, but don’t pick up hitchhikers there.

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We could get you a really good deal on land in this barren region in the middle of nowhere…

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We think you get the picture. The landscape between LA and Scottsdale is pretty desolate. Nevertheless, after several days of fun and sun in the big city, we actually enjoyed the peacefulness of the open road. Rolling into Scottsdale, we began planning what discoveries we could make during our explorations there. Stay tuned.

 

Bart & Rorie are on the road again – from Cambria to Old Town Pasadena. Join us!

Small town America road trippers need fuel to power not only their vehicles, but also their bodies. We found ours at Sandy’s in Cambria before heading out for our next round of discoveries…

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Deciding to eat light for a change, we split this healthy, overstuffed sourdough sandwich…for breakfast.

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It was time to say goodbye to the coast and head inland. Not far out of Cambria Village is the cool VERY SMALL TOWN of Harmony (population 18).

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Considering there’s only 18 people living here, we wondered who attended this beautiful old chapel and…

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Harmony Cellars Vineyard is yet another beautiful wine tasting venue.

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Its wines, according to Bart, are really tasty.

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Who else besides us, buys the infamous jars of “Frog Balls”. They’re hot selling pickled brussels sprouts we bought for a particular friend. Susan, you know who you are and why these are for you!

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After heading out of Harmony, feeling full of harmony ourselves, we continue on. Well, looky loo…we did it!

The Tour-mobile and its occupants hit another milestone: 5,ooo miles.

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Continuing the Tour, we hopped on State Route 46, which is a major crossing of the Coast Ranges. It wasn’t long before we hit a breathtaking view of even more CA mountains. Rorie and Bart agreed that, while they’re nice to look at, the roads through these steep inclines can be really intimidating.

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Cruising on to and through Paso Robles, we stumbled onto another outrageously gorgeous vineyard and winery. We had to stop and investigate Heart Hill Vineyard, one of 3 vineyards of the family-owned, small-lot bottler Niner Wine Estates. See how this vineyard got it’s name?

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The tasting room and restaurant are housed in a stunning stone building and Matt, a wonderfully friendly staff member, shared the story of the vineyard and the wines they produce.

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Matt was a great source of information on the Niners commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability, and its passion for excellence in its products. Although we didn’t buy any wine, Bart couldn’t leave without a bag of salt and pepper pistachio nuts. No red dye on these shells, just pure natural flavors. Sooo good.

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Leaving the vineyards behind, and entering the San Joaquin Valley, we passed through the Lost Hills Oil Field. Discovered by accident in 1910 while drilling for water, 2 drillers struck oil…literally. With huge reserves of oil and natural gas still in the ground, this oil field has already produced over 458 million barrels of oil. It was shocking to go from green mountains dotted with vineyards to flat desert-like grounds dotted with oil rigs.

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Continuing on, we jumped on the brakes when we saw this awesome view…Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet, CA.  This man-made reservoir is one of the largest in Southern CA.

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Our final destination of today’s drive is Old Town Pasadena, home of the iconic Rose Bowl football game and parade. Our brother (brother-in-law) Jeff was involved with the parade committee for years.

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Here’s the 2015 FSU float from our new hometown state. Where are the palm trees, white sand beaches and Speedo clad men?

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Old Town Pasadena is the city’s original commercial district. With endless options for shopping and dining, museums and turn-of-the-century architecture, we spent a lot of hours strolling along the streets and ducking into restaurants. Our first stop was a wonderful diner-type restaurant with a real catchy name – Russell’s.

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After a long afternoon exploring the town with family, we were all in need of a little something sweet and knew just the place to go…Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain on Rte.66 in Old Town Pasadena.

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Opened in 1915, this turn-of-the-century landmark is a mecca for anyone who loves ice cream, malts, shakes, phosphates, egg creams, sundaes, cones, banana splits or The Kitchen Sink...a $35, over the top concoction of pure heaven. Just sit and watch the specially trained soda-jerks make your dessert dreams come true. Then hope you can still fit into the dress you brought to wear to your niece’s wedding.

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And talk about wedding venues, we have never been to a more spectacular setting than the one where our niece Sami got married. The wedding was held on the penthouse rooftop of the historic Oviatt Building which is smack in the middle of downtown LA. The art-deco high rise building is surrounded by towering buildings and their lights, in concert with the moon, North Star and a passing blimp created a magical glow to the outdoor festivities.

Rorie’s niece Sami and brother Jeff. Spencer, the groom is waiting his turn for a dance.

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Having recovered from the wedding, indulging in a final goodbye lunch with family and packing up the car, it was time to head back across the country for our return trip East. Time to say “see ya” to CA and “hi ya” once again to AZ…this time Scottsdale.

Rorie & Bart discover CA’s central coast towns. Say “hi” to Cambria’s liar, San Simeon’s seals and Morro Beach’s shark

“Bart the Navigator” mapped out today’s journey. Given the beauty of our surroundings, he didn’t have to work too hard on our itinerary.

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First stop, Cambria (pop. 6,032), a seaside village halfway between San Francisco and LA along CA Highway 1. We checked into our new digs  – the Moonstone Landing Inn -overlooking the spectacular Pacific Ocean beach by the same name.

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The views at Moonstone Beach made Bart speechless (well, not actually speechless, since he made this little video for Tour followers).

We decided to take what turned out to be a 5 mile power walk into the Village of Cambria, which is the Latin name for Wales. Besides the spectacular scenic coastal views, we took in the abundance of Monterey Pines, wild turkeys, and historic homes and buildings.

Rorie seemed a little confused by the directional signs on our way into town.

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We had the good fortune to stop in the Chamber of Commerce and were warmly greeted by Lesley, who gave us an “armchair” tour of Cambria, great recommendations about places to go and information on upcoming events – including the Cambria Christmas Market light display…You can tell she loves this village.

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The light display is colorful…As Lesley said, “you’ve never seen anything like it”.

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Continuing on our walk, we were startled by the local amphibian life. The shop behind this giant frog is full of other amazing art glass pieces.

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After all that exercise we needed breakfast and we needed it bad, but this guy had no recommendations for us.

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Luckily, we found the best place in town…the Cambria Cafe, which has 4 plus stars on TripAdvisor. Everything here is made from scratch and delivers down home goodness.

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We loved the Cafe’s prices. Sadly…this menu was just a reminder of days gone by. Even so, the restaurant has great food (and service) at very reasonable prices.

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Rorie ordered a super sized breakfast burrito jam packed with eggs, cheese, ham and potatoes. Just a little something to start her day. Bart got his favorite kind of breakfast sandwich, called the Mac Copy. Crisp bacon, eggs cooked to perfection, fresh lettuce and tomato on a lightly toasted english muffin. The hot sauce was a great compliment!

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Say “hi” to Tom Weaver, a member of Cambria’s Last Liars Club which meets regularly at the cafe. This is the local hangout and we were delighted to get a chance to talk with one of Cambria’s most friendly and interesting residents…no lie. To our good friend David, formerly from the small town of Avon, CT, this place is Cambria’s version of Luke’s.

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After breakfast we headed back to Moonstone Beach to plan the rest of the day. On our way, we stumbled onto this place. Can you say “Holy Cannoli”?

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Meet Brooklyn transplant Bob Simeone who owns the bakery with his wife Phyllis. The specialty here is Taralli which are Italian gourmet pretzels. The pastries were amazing too.

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The historic East and West Villages are packed with neat boutiques, art shops, and restaurants housed in an eclectic mix of buildings.

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But without a doubt, the most interesting place we saw was a house called Nitt Witt Ridge. Built entirely out of recycled materials by artist/recluse Arthur “Art” Harold Beal, he spent almost 50 years creating this “masterpiece”.

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Having fully explored the Village, we decided to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Simeon (pop. 462), home to the majestic Hearst Castle. The mansion, which sits high on a hillside, took over 3 decades for newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst to build. His estate includes 3 guest cottages and is filled with the “best things he could find”.

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Driving by the grounds of the retreat Hearst called “La Cuesta Encantada”, Spanish for The Enchanted Hill, we were shocked to see a herd of zebras roaming along side the cattle. Only in CA!

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Continuing down the road, we discovered another startling sight in a cove near the Piedras Blancas lighthouse – huge elephant seals lounging all over the beach. Every year over 17,000  of these blubbery guys and gals migrate thousands of miles to what is called the Piedras Blancas rookery.

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After taking in these amazing sights, we turned around and headed South to another waterfront town…Morro Bay (pop. 10,234). Tourism and commercial fishing are the big industries here and even off season, the place was bustling.

The most striking sight in town is this hulking 576 ft volcanic rock (or plug), in the entrance of the harbor. Gulls, sea otters and peregrine falcons are common sights in the bay and around the rock. Truly an awesome sight.

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Strolling along the waterfront enjoying the shops and sights, we stopped in Giovanni’s Fish Market, a family owned seafood shop.

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Can’t get much fresher than this. We’d rather run into a shark here than out there.

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 Rorie couldn’t resist getting a piece of mahogany colored smoked salmon to go.

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After a day full of exploring and the discovery of unexpected sights, it was time to settle down to a good meal at a local joint. Family-owned Medusa’s Taqueria in Cambria was just the place. Casual and unassuming with friendly service, there was nothing low-key about their food. Bursting with flavor and freshness, this was one of the best Mexican meals we’ve had.

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Taste buds and bellies satisfied, we went back to our beachside retreat to sit by the fire and, hopefully, get a restful night’s sleep. Ahh…

San Fran is more than hills, carbs and crabs. But, ya gotta start somewhere…

As an East Coast kid, Bart grew up thinking San Francisco was only known for the jingle Rice A Roni…the San Francisco treat” from the popular 60s TV commercial. He thought this ad was as close as he’d ever get to “The City by the Bay“.

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Rorie first learned about the city from the 70’s TV show Streets of San Francisco, starring the dashing Michael Douglas. Fast cars, fast women, dashing crime fighters.

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Our investigation of the place some call “Fog City“gave us both the chance to find out what the real San Francisco is all about (though Rorie kept looking for Michael Douglas).

The Tour-mobile got a primo parking space at the waterfront. 

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We wandered the San Francisco Aquatic Park Historic District, which includes the Maritime Museum housed in a bathhouse built in 1939. So much to learn about the city’s seafaring roots.

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Right across the street from the park is the world famous Ghirardelli Square. It’s the Christmas season and, while some may have “visions of sugar-plums dancing in their heads”, Rorie was fantasizing about one thing and one thing only…The Mother Ship!

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Ghirardelli Square chocolate vats…Look, but don’t touch Rorie! 

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This complex, which now has a variety of restaurants and shops, was the original chocolate factory. All nice places, but we had only one thing on our minds….

AAHHH…the breakfast of champions.

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A master craftsman at work.

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Lori’s is a cool looking retro, kitschy diner near Ghirardelli Square.

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Across from the Aquatic Park, the Argonaut Hotel is in what was once the largest fruit and vegetable cannery in the world. The hotel shares space with the Visitor Center and Interactive Museum…a great place to see, hear and feel the maritime history of the city.

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The one and only Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge with two 746 foot towers supporting two main cables (do you think that’s really enough support?). Not being a fan of any kind of bridge, this was as close as Rorie would get to the famous icon.

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Fishermans Wharf and the Embarcadero are huge tourist attractions, but the area is still home to many fisherman and their fleets. If you want fresh fish, this is the place to be.

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Alioto-Lazio is one of the last family-owned and operated fishing companies in San Francisco. We stopped here to check out the local Pacific Northwest catch.

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BEFORE: Dungeness crabs are some seriously big and scary looking crustaceans. Bart made friends with this guy. Hey, you looking at me?

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AFTER: These sea critters are sold all along the Wharf. Kids, don’t try this at home.

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FINALLY: Rorie needed a little snack to hold her until her next taste treat and had an overstuffed, fresh crab salad roll. After wolfing one down, Rorie was overstuffed too!

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We continued wandering and ran into Boudin Bakery, home of the original San Francisco sourdough bread. If you’ve never eaten their tangy bread bowl filled with thick, creamy decadent clam chowder, you haven’t had one of the greatest inventions in the world!

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Obviously, Boudin has expanded its repertoire since the early days…

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OK, OK…this may seem a little cheesy (pun intended), but our friends Linda and Bill told us we MUST try an IN-N-OUT cheeseburger, which isn’t available in the East.

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Folks who worked there were very cheery. And YES, the cheeseburger was great!

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Bart looked across the Bay at a place he’s glad he avoided being sent. Given his checkered teen years, Rorie agreed he was lucky he didn’t have to spend time in an exclusive island room at Alcatraz Prison.

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Bart loved Steve McQueen’s 70’s movie Bullit…especially the chase scene on these hills.

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Our very own Dale “Bart” Earnhardt decided HE needed to drive one of the City’s roller coaster streets too. As a result, Rorie “left her heart (and stomach) in San Francisco”.

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Time to leave the “City by the Bay” and head south. Next stop, the small seaside village of Cambria and it’s famous Moonstone Beach, midway between San Francisco and LA. See ya soon…

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“.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Love the Spanish architecture, courtyards and red tile roofs.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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So many temptations, so little time.

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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.

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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.

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One of Beringers many beautiful tasting rooms and gift shops.

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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…