Our first two days in wine country

For the past few months, Jake and I have been planning a trip out to California wine country with his parents (my in-laws) for spring break. Though we were only in town for a total of 7 days, it felt like far longer, and frankly I’m impressed at how much we were able to do while still taking time to unwind and relax. That, of course, means there’s no way I can fit everything into a single blog post, so I’m breaking this out into probably three chapters. Starting with our first two days primarily in Sonoma:

  • From when we flew in on Sunday to Thursday morning, we stayed at Beltane Ranch in Glen Ellen (in Sonoma Valley). It’s a breathtaking property with architecture that somehow felt Southern and a distinctly rural-luxurious vibe. Every morning, we woke up to peaceful vineyard views and were then served a full country breakfast. In the afternoons, there would be fresh-baked cookies up for grabs in the kitchen. I know that my father-in-law particularly enjoyed reading on the balcony while the rest of us were still asleep. I was extremely sad to leave and would definitely return, especially in the warmer months and ideally when they were hosting one of their signature Sunday dinners.
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Fresh chocolate chip cookies with sea salt!

  • Dinner at Glen Ellen Star, a Michelin-recommended (though not starred) restaurant only five minutes away from Beltane Ranch, was honestly fucking outstanding. We made this reservation for the first night of our trip, and I think it tied for first as one of the best meals of the whole vacation. Also maybe one of the top 10 meals of my life. It gets rave reviews from media outlets everywhere and I am 100% still dreaming about the roasted carrots we got as an appetizer and the strawberry shortcake dessert — not to mention the wine recommendations from our waitress (Three Sticks and Father’s Watch). If you’re planning a trip to wine country, Glen Ellen Star is a must. Must must must.
  • As far as actual vineyards go, we had an educational and beautiful tour at Kendall Jackson on Monday afternoon. I’ll admit, I was skeptical; it felt like we would be better off sticking to smaller businesses instead of industry giants. But, Jake and his parents encouraged me to keep the reservation I had booked for us, and I am so glad we did. The property was stunning, our tour guide was excellent, and I even spotted the Instagram-famous Farmer Tucker.
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Kendall-Jackson

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Shopping in downtown Healdsburg

  • After Kendall Jackson and some shopping in downtown Healdsburg, we drove over to Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. This was basically the only thing Jake had really wanted to cross off the list so we made sure to make it a priority. He ordered a flight of 19 two-oz(?)beers that we didn’t finish, alongside their Nu Deal pizza, and it was a fun experience / pit stop for lunch / opportunity for Jake to purchase some to beer with him to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, WA, where he’s currently doing an internal med rotation.
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Count ’em

  • We spent most of Tuesday in Sonoma at a close friend’s country house. I cannot possibly overstate how beautiful it was, and their property was extensive enough for a long walk followed by clay-pigeon shooting. Unfortunately, this is not open to the public, but I couldn’t not share.
  • Finally, we (and the aforementioned friends) ate dinner at El Molino Central in Sonoma. The San Francisco Chronicle called it “The Bay Area’s best Mexican food,” and it one-hundred percent delivered. Enjoy any of the red mole dishes and order some guac and chips to share. Important side note: consider bringing a blanket or at least a light jacket because the almost-exclusively-outdoor seating can get a little chilly, even with the space heaters. And basically everything there is at least a tiny bit spicy, but in a really delicious way.

Some other honorable mentions I’d like to note but not give their own bullet point: Ad Hoc (Thomas Keller’s “more affordable” restaurant in the area) and Flying Goat Coffee (which was recommended by The Everygirl). Both were, in my opinion, fine, but I probably wouldn’t intentionally go back to either. Ad Hoc’s menu changes daily, which means that you don’t necessarily know that you’re going to love the menu if you make a reservation. And when we went, it was BBQ, which meant I didn’t love anything except the salad and wine pairings. But if you’ve got an adventurous palette and enjoy most Southern food (like my husband father-in-law), you might disagree. Flying Goat was, similarly, good…but definitely nothing to write home about.

And that’s a wrap on (Jesus Christ I’m gonna have to write a lot of posts) days one and two! Let me know if you have questions as I’m happy to help answer. Now off to draft posts for the rest of the trip…

Love, me.

PS: I love organizing these kinds of things, and I’m really pleased at how the itinerary turned out. I think in another life I’d be a travel agent or event planner. If I were to do a post on how to successfully plan a vacation, would anyone read it? Let me know.

What I liked in New Orleans

I imagine you know this already because most of you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, but Jake and I recently spend a weekend together for a 24-hour whirlwind in New Orleans. He drove from the Pensacola, FL, Navy base where he was doing an aerospace medicine rotation, and I flew in from Bethesda.

Of course, it was so amazing to be back together after nearly a month, but, a minor confession, I did not love New Orleans itself! I liked New Orleans — particularly a few specific experiences that I’ll detail below — but generally I found myself kind of lukewarm. The highlights:

  • The Henry Howard Hotel. For some reason, the prices were sky high while we were in town — and no, we weren’t there during Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras — but we splurged anyway and loved the ambiance and neighborhood surrounding the Henry Howard. It definitely felt like a much-needed respite from the party vibe. Plus, they leave out warm chocolate chip cookies as part of their evening turn-down service.
  • The beignets at Cafe Du Monde. I am sure there are other amazing beignets in New Orleans, and you probably don’t have to wait as long for them, but since we were short on time and happened to be nearby, I am so glad we stopped and tried them here. They were every bit as amazing as everyone made them sound. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t care about sweets.

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  • The jazz show at Preservation Hall. Full disclosure: you have to get in line like 45 minutes before it starts to buy tickets, but it is totally worth it — even if, like me, you hate being surrounded by drunk people somewhere like Bourbon Street. The show itself runs less than an hour and is truly extraordinary and fun. I had a blast despite it being hours past my bedtime.
  • Courtyard Brewery. Obviously this one was Jake’s discovery, but I really loved it! It smells strongly of boiling hops and they’ve got an adorable little tent out front where they make $3 tacos. You can also bring your own food, which I learned from the people who had a pizza delivered while they sat outside enjoying the beer. A great way to end our weekend.
  • We also ended up eating dinner one night at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. It wasn’t our first choice, but an extreme lack of planning meant that we hadn’t made a dinner reservation anywhere and spent like an hour trying to find a spot we agreed on. K-Paul’s was cute, the portions were huge, and the pours were generous which means I was happily full of seafood pasta and wine.

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So that was that! A quick pit stop before heading back to Pensacola, which was followed by a week in wine country with Jake’s parents. Hoping to have at least one (if not two!) posts on that coming soon — though, frankly, there were a few aspects of the trip that deserve their own writeup entirely. If you saw something on my Instagram that you’d like to hear about, let me know.

Love, me

The road to Da Adolfo

Da Adolfo is a beloved hidden gem on the Amalfi Coast — a favorite among locals and travel bloggers who seek fresh ingredients, exclusive beaches, and a story to tell. By some fluke in the universe, though, we got a table during our honeymoon. And this is how you can, too:

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First of all, the place basically never answers their phone, and rumor has it that they only pick up for local numbers, nor do they take online reservations. So your hotel has to call to book your table during a particular window of hours when they do answer the phone, as far in advance as possible, and it’s very competitive. Then, on the morning of your reservation, you take a boat from the main beach in Positano to the beach where Da Adolfo is located, which the restaurant shares only with Le Sirene hotel. Oh, and though the boat ride is free with restaurant reservations, the skippers on board the boat will make sure your name is on the list before letting you board. If — even by a fluke — it isn’t there, they will turn you away. Then, after an admittedly beautiful ride to the Da Adolfo beach, you rent lounge chairs (and umbrellas, if you don’t want to fry in the sun), and wait for your table to come available around lunchtime. That’s…three hoops just to make the call, a literal boat ride and the hope that they remembered to write your name down, money to rent space on the beach, and a few hours waiting.

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But none of that is necessary if you stay at Hotel Pellegrino. If you stay at Hotel Pellegrino, owners Luiggi and Sandra will refuse to call and book you a table because it’s “too hard” (something I initially doubted but now understand to be extremely true). They will, instead, cryptically drive you to a stretch of cliffside highway as early in the day as you’ll let them, point you to an incredibly inconspicuous set of stairs, and wave goodbye. And then down the cliff stairs you go.

When you finally reach the bottom, you are standing on a beach and staring at the back of the Da Adolfo building. Walk around the front, add your name to the list, et voilá. You’ve skipped the entire reservation circus and get to spend your morning on a private beach with an Aperol spritz, followed by lunch at an iconic restaurant (likely surrounded by influencers, celebs, and more). And you can take the boat back to Positano at the end of the day — if only so you don’t miss out on that part of the experience.

So, basically, you have two options: go the insane phone call route and cross your fingers it works, or stay at Hotel Pellegrino and be dropped off at a secret cliffside staricase early enough in the day that it doesn’t matter you don’t have a formal reservation.

Some extra tips: maybe don’t try to do the latter with a big group, since it’s easier for restaurants to accommodate two surprise guests rather than, say, four or five. Also, ask nicely since you’re asking for a spot on the waiting list, get comfortable with a good book, bring sunscreen sunscreen, and relax. Tip generously. If you’re lucky, you’ll get seated at a table next to a celebrity chef (hi, Thomas Carter and Danny Meyer) or just your average, run of the mill A-lister like Gwyneth Paltrow.

No matter what route you take to get there, it’s worth the trip. You can read about what (and how) we ordered here.

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I hope this helps at least some of you! Feel free to comment or ping me with any additional questions.

Love, me.