1. At Sheba’s place after dinner, Troy was putting on his pajamas and said to me, “I’m sad, our vacation is half over. Surprising even myself, I served up this negative/positive thinking analogy on the spur of the moment: “Troy, when a glass is filled halfway with lemonade, do you see the glass as half-full or half-empty?” “Half empty,” he replied. “Well there’s another, more positive way of looking at that,” I told him. “It can also be seen as being half FULL, meaning that we still have HALF the vacation left, which is good.” “OHHHHH, I see,” he said. Gotta love when you can trigger that lightbulb moment….
2. In San Mateo’s Central Park, the kiddies had just finished their third revolution on a miniature train ride when I had one of those “gotta-know” journalist thoughts so I took my inquiry to the conductor who sat on the locomotive for each lap. His answer: on an average day, he makes 300 trips around the track, with a high of 1,000 times on Easter.
3. Shortly afterwards while eating our lunch at North Beach Pizza, Miss A looks up from her salad and asks me about the physical aspects of the growing process. For the next 10 minutes, my explanations of “You can’t actually see yourself growing,” to the more scientific “We grow in our sleep” were met with comments like “I don’t understand” and why-did-I-even-ask stares. I may not have shed much light on the topic, but it was a very cute, vacation-y repartee.
4. At the J. Lohr winery, a woman came up to me and asked how DO we get the kiddies to sit so nicely in a corner of the tasting room while Irene and I partake. I replied that half the battle is simply setting them up with the individual devices (Irene’s iPhone and iPad and my Android). The other 50%, I said somewhat pompously, was good parenting/discipline. Yes, that is how it is done my good woman, and everyone went back to their respective wine buzzes.
As the journalist with travel writing background, I’m the designated travel agent when it comes to vacation planning. Whether it’s a larger scale trip to visit Irene’s sister in Japan or a more compact summer road trip, I am master of the itinerary. And as things panned out, I must say I was yet again on top of my game for our whirlwind jaunt up US 101 to San Francisco earlier this month.
After working out the initial logistics of where to stay and whom and what to visit, I took to my usual network of resources and booked three separate hotel nights via amex.com/hotels.com, and arranged a fourth sleepover at our good friend Sheba’s house in San Jose. With their Buzz Lightyear and Dora the Explorer suitcases all packed, our seasoned little travelers jumped into the minivan and we embarked on our adventure.
Day 1 Had lunch at Huckleberry’s in Pismo Beach; did a little shopping at Pismo Beach Premium Outlets (A & X got Vans sneakers and I picked up two casual blazers at Calvin Klein); checked into Best Western Casa Grande, a Spanish-style “Plus” property in Pismo and jumped in the hotel pool before eating dinner at Old Juan’s Cantina in adjacent Grover Beach.
Day 2 After a continental breakfast at the hotel, we continued north through Central CA farm country (making a brief exit for a drive-by of one of California’s oldest Missions – San Miguel Arcangel; had lunch at Monterey Coast Brewing in Salinas; stopped in Los Gatos for a late-afternoon visit with my favorite Chamber of Commerce associates; shortly afterwards, we arrived in San Jose to stay the night at Sheba’s place, where we had a pre-dinner swim and enjoyed grilled chicken and salmon shish kebobs by Chef Rebecca (Sheba’s daughter), vino and conversation into the late evening.
Day 3 Had a great breakfast at Sheba’s B&B, thanked our gracious host and continued on our journey to S.F.; we briefly exited at Cupertino to see Apple HQs; had lunch with Irene’s good friend Amanda at the very kid-friendly Squat & Gobble Cafe & Creperie in the Marina District; walked around the Palace of Fine Arts/Exploratorium located at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, which unfortunately was way too shrouded in fog to see in the late afternoon, so we opted for brief stops to look at Lombard Street and Coit Tower, and then drove through the Italian North Beach district on our way to the night’s accommodations at the Homewood Suites in Brisbane (just 7 miles south of the city); for dinner, we brought Chinese takeout back to hotel and the kiddies played their new favorite “21” dice game.
Day 4 Following an al fresco breakfast at the hotel, our clan headed south to meet our friend Erin in San Mateo at Central Park/Japanese Garden, where we enjoyed a leisurely stroll and saw some beautiful koi; the kiddies also took a few laps on an oversized Lionel train on the other side of the park; had lunch with Erin at a great pizzeria and said our goodbyes; further south, we stopped in the Garlic capital of CA – Gilroy – and had garlic ice cream, which was strangely good; the final night’s lodging was La Quinta Inn & Suites in Paso Robles, where we ventured downtown and had dinner at F. McClintock’s Saloon (the kiddies had their placemat art hung on the restaurant wall for posterity); after our meal, we headed back to the hotel for a night swim in the heated pool until 10 p.m., after which the kiddies played another few rounds of the dice game and watched the Olympic closing ceremonies.
Day 5 Did yet another hotel continental breakfast and actually finagled an adult activity: wine tastings at J. Lohr and Eberle vineyards, where the kiddies were intrigued by the cool maze of underground wine caves and even more charmed by the winery’s pet, a black standard poodle named Cabernet.
Finally, it was time to head home so we veered off the 101 in Oxnard and took the more scenic PCH for the home stretch into Santa Monica. Once home, I asked Troy what were his favorite parts of the trip and he replied, “Cabernet, sleeping in Sheba’s “big” bedroom with our whole family and the breadsticks [at J. Lohr]!”
Whenever I have child-free time, I gravitate to one of three luxuries: listening to a favorite band at higher-than-usual decibel levels, reading a good chef-driven autobiography, or enjoying a dinner out / happy hour (or better yet, both) with Irene. So as we headed into our final child-free Thursday evening of July (the kiddies were spending the night with Irene’s parents before their last day of summer school in the Valley), the extra-curricular wheels started turning.
Joining us to mark the occasion would be our very good friends Jackie and David, and, of course, Irene tasked me with finding a cool spot for dinner and drinks. In this department I lean towards a festive atmosphere with equally imaginative and tasty food so I immediately went into OpenTable mode and found SmithHouse Tap & Grill, a brewery/restaurant occupying the old Lunaria space on Santa Monica Boulevard in Century City (think BJ’s on upscale steroids).
With a menu created by “Top Chef All-Stars” Angelo Sosa, SmithHouse’s ambiance sets the tone for a lively outing with its exposed brick walls and large centerpiece bar offering 120 beers on tap. Our early dinner reservation snagged us one of the raised booths adjacent to the bar, where we had a primo view of the televised sporting events and general restaurant buzz. Service and food are equally noteworthy and you can even reserve a private booth with built-in taps to pour your own draft! Coincidentally, David had been to SmithHouse the night before for a business gathering and told us about the private room with its extra-large screen TV that can also be reserved for big groups.
Selected Happy Hour beers are $3 (domestic) and $4 (import) and “the rest of the rail” tap beers are $1 off, with 50% off a few special small bite dishes (we all split the warm spinach artichoke dip and beer battered onions rings). For a main dish, I really liked my grilled cheese with its blend of aged cheddar and smoked gouda cheeses and bacon bits served on cranberry walnut bread.
Beyond the food and drink, it became readily apparent to me how infrequently I’m able to enjoy the simple act of sharing your views on topics like the current presidential race (David and me) or your mutual love of organizing/The Container Store (Irene and Jackie) with other adults.