Marin County, California

sunset at bolinas beach

sunset at bolinas beach

If you cross the Golden Gate Bridge, just north of San Francisco you will find Marin County, a beautiful, sparcely populated oasis of redwoods, beach and countryside. I roadtripped with a friend north up the 101, and then went west towards Muir Beach, until finally driving along the coast up to Stinson Beach. The drive over the hills was a little trecherous, speckled with road-side grazing deer, but the small, single lane highway made it seem like we were miles and miles away from the city when we were really only about a 30 min drive away.

Once we arrived at Stinson, we tipped our hats to the (amazingly) good weather by heading straight to the beach, where kids were still swimming and surfers still catching waves, despite it being late October. There was barely a breeze, and luckily enough no fog either. We ate lunch at a locally run, organic, open-air cafe before heading out for some surf. We drove around Bolinas Lagoon to the north side of Bolinas Bay where the town, Bolinas is actually situated. We rented boards and wetsuits and spent the next 3 hours riding waves without ever feeling cold.

We welcomed the evening by settling on the beach ontop a sleeping bag we took from the Bolinas “free box,” a place where you leave or take what you dont need or have. We stayed there throughout one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, and on through to the darkest point of night where the only light you could see was the distant city glow of San Francisco, still within eyesight but definitely out of mind.

The following day we drove through Samuel P. Taylor Park, home to some enormous redwoods, and all the way to Pt. Reyes Lighthouse which sits at the end of Drakes Bay in Pt. Reyes National Seashore Park. Enroute we stopped in some tiny, historic towns like Pt. Reyes Station, Inverness and Olema, and dipped our toes in the sandy beaches of Drakes Beach and North Beach.

It was the perfect getaway out of the city, only a short drive away, with enough natural beauty, solitude and quietude to make us totally forget about the stresses awaiting our return home to the huslte and bustle of the bay.

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Autumn in Berkeley

Berkeley Clock Tower in AutumnToday is the first day of rain I’ve seen since moving to California in August. And boy is it raining; 4 inches in just one day, with lots of wind and grey clouds to complete the miserable day. The leaves are starting to turn auburn, the days are getting slightly shorter, and the air is begining to cool, but I still have nothing to complain about since the coolest day here is still substantially warmer than the hottest day in Reykjvaik. I just find my wardrobe unprepared for the cool, since I ignorantly expected sunny California weather until December, and walking around in my flip flops and tank tops hasn’t proven viable for the last couple weeks.

The houses here seem to expect the same thing, since lack of insulation and the delayed arrival of fall mean that overnight, my room gets so cold and getting out of bed in the morning is one of the most difficult things I have to do. Once I get out of bed, there really isnt any relief til noon or so, since it takes the whole morning for the house and outside to warm up. Then it will get deceivingly warm for a few hours and sunbathing on the lawn would be totally acceptable, until the sun starts to set and dusk brings a cool front over you again.

It is beautiful to see the greenery on campus right now. There are mixed forests sporadically dispersed between school buildings, palm trees, evergreens and deciduous trees happily coexisting. The melange almost stays as green as it always is, except for the oaks and maples slowly turning into hughs of gold and copper. No leaves have actually started falling, but soon the ground will be speckled in orange, red and yellow, and seeing the bare trees among the palms and evergreens will also be a sight, especially if the sun keeps coming out.

With fall comes more pressure in school, so students are too busy and too stressed to really enjoy their days or nights. For some reason I find myself doing just the opposite – wasting my time trying to maximize playtime in the shortening days outside and avoiding staying at home in the evening in fear of being too cold. However, there is actually lots to be done, so hopefully the blissful, romantic days of fall can pass, not to be forgotten, but just to stop tempting me with their distracting appeal.

American Rural Life

Village Nursery

Village Nursery

As part of the international student body here at Berkeley, I decided to sign up for a day trip offered by the International House (in collaboration with the Rotary Club) that was intended to take exchange students on visits to a handful of different farms and homes of traditional American, rural family life.

We started by going to Village Nursery, a plant farm that sold beautiful flowers and trees, and also seeds and gardening supplies. It was about an hour drive east from San Fransisco, over in the dry, hilly area called Contra Costa county, but they somehow managed to sprinkle enough water to keep acres upon acres of green houses as humid as a rainforest, with uncountable sprinklers keeping the vegetation alive.

Our next stop was at Smith Family Farm, where we stayed for one hour wondering what to do after walking through a corn maze that had only one path out and poking our heads into a recreated Indigenous Indian village that comprised of one straw & mud teepee-like hut.

Then was Roddy Ranch, a working cattle farm where Jack Roddy, a retired rodeo champion, rode around in wranglers, a plaid shirt, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat on his stocky quarter horse saddled up in western, all the while chewing tobacco and spitting between sentences.

Then we visited a family run winery, with bottles of wine priced so cheap I had to wonder if they weren’t secretly franchised by Walmart. I bought a bottle of port for $7 and didn’t ask any questions.

Finally we went to an old-time family ranch that had been bought by the city and turned into a public park, preserving all the turn-of-the-century buildings on the lot and making them into a museum-like exhibit. A man dressed in ranger uniform (star badge and all) called Ranger Joe showed us around, with hints of a southern drawl in his stereotypical American accent, and we ended the day with a delicious BBQ dinner hosted by members of the Walnut Creek Rotary Club.

All in all it was a wonderful day tour, getting an intimate view on rural life in California, but still getting the satisfaction and curiosity of wondering “is this really how some families live, fulfilling these little quirky stereotypes you thought you only saw in movies? they must have known we were coming and staged this…”

Sonoma & Napa Valley Wine Tasting

the oldest wooden structure situated at Green Strings farm, with a healthy field of grape vines growing behind

the oldest wooden structure situated at Green Strings farm, with a healthy field of grape vines growing behind

Many know the Northern California region is quite famous for its wineries, so going wine tasting in the Sonoma and Napa Valley regions seemed like a necessary trip to take while living in California. It’s only about an hour’s drive north from San Fransisco, and I’ve been told there are about 400 wineries in the entire region, ranging from small, 10 acre family run farms, to hundred-acre, major distributing wineries like Sebastiani.

A friend visiting from out of town and myself spent a couple days in the area, starting at Green Strings Farm, an all-organic, sustainable, grape and produce growing farm near Petaluma. It was the most beautiful, idyllic, relaxing country landscape, nestled near the Sonoma hills, with some of the best tasting food I have had in a long time.

The following day we weaved our way through a few Sonoma Valley vineyards, visiting some of the oldest wineries in the USA including Bartholomew Park Winery, Gundlach Bundschu, and Buena Vista winery. They all cost between $5 – $10 for a tasting flight, specializing mostly in red wines except for a few chardonnays, gewurztraminers and white rosés.

We carried over to the Napa Valley, driving north along the Silverado trail, famous for its back to back wineries. We visited some modest wineries, like Judd’s Hill that specilizes in private sales, and built up to the more extravegant, $15 – $25 per tasting flight wineries like Darioush, Black Stallion and Signorello.

In addition to the amazing wines, wonderful weather, and scenic roadtrip, wine tasting Sonoma and Napa Valley served as the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the Bay area, so I would suggest to anyone planning a visit to San Fransisco, you should include a little wine tasting time in your itinerary.