When I think California, I think of surfers and beaches. However, California’s vibrant immigrant community has formed some areas with distinctly European flair – one of them being Solvang, a quaint town that look as if it came straight out of a Disney movie.
An incredibly well-maintained and safe city in the Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang is just two hours outside of Los Angeles – though you would feel as if you’ve been transported across the world. Known for their baked goods and pastries, it’s a favorite pitstop for many travelers. Olsen’s Danish Village bakery is one of the town’s most popular bakery shops and with four generations of family recipes people come from near and far to indulge in these award winning treats. Be sure to take home a bucket of butter cookies on your visit!
The city is also home to the Hans Christian Andersen Musuem, the author of “The Little Mermaid”, “The Ugly Duckling”, “Thumbelina”, and countless other fairytales. The musuem itself is modest and the displays are old fashioned; however, this FREE attraction is a nice place to reminisce your childhood, The musuem is located at the second floor of The Book Loft and next to the Solvang Coffee Shop. So after browsing through the classics you may be inspired to enjoy a cup of coffee with your nose in a book.
There are countless speciality shops and local restaurants in the area, but one of the best things to do eat are the fresh Aebleskivers at the Solvang Restaurant. These crispy pancake battered balls are doused with a gloop of raspberry jam and lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. You can enjoy them at the restaurant, or order them at the outside take-out counter. There’s almost always a line, so you can be sure to grab a fresh trio of this treat. Yum!
Napa Valley is a well known popular travel destination for wine connoisseurs in the Bay Area. With acres of grapes and hundreds of vineyards to tour, it’s a wine-o’s dream vacation. Yet, those in the know flock to another California favorite with equally picturesque rolling hills and less tourist traction than the former. Paso Robles is a Southern California hidden gem with spectacular food and wine.
With over 200 wineries in the area it can be quite intimidating on deciding where to go. However, after extensive research we decided on Calcareous Vineyards in part because yelp offered a complimentary wine tasting upon check-in, and there were many positive reviews on the amazing view. I think we scored he jackpot on that account. 🙂 When we arrived we were given four samples (one white and three reds) and took home the 2014 Calcareous Chardonnay and the 2013 Devil’s Canyon Syrah. The Chardonnay is sweet with fruity notes whereas the later is more gritty and bitter with a heavier tobacco accent.
Good wine and food makes a winning combination and the Golden Oak Grill is a great establishment that serves fine dinning cuisine at an affordable price-point. We visited during lunch and ordered the Goat Cheese Salmon Salad ($13) and BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich ($12) with sweet potato upgrade. You can tell that the chef really takes pride in the food he prepares as the presentation of each dish is meticulously executed. And yes I can confirm with you that the food tastes just as good as it looks. I will definitely return here in a heartbeat and can’t wait to try other items on the menu.
My friend and I took our rental and headed towards Monterey Bay – home of the world famous aquarium. I remember visiting the aquarium back as a child, but with adult admission circling the $50 range, I had a hard time convincing myself to make it a pitstop on this road trip. But I was able to kill two birds with one stone, by booking a local air bnb room with complimentary tickets! Sweet!
Just an FYI, many of the local air bnb lodging will provide this incentive to attract visiting guests.
After my friend and I checked into our airbnb space to pick up tickets we headed towards Cannery Row. There’s certainly a great deal of things to see, hear and touch and as an educator I especially loved learning about all the different sea creatures.
The aquarium is divided by themes spread across two floors. We were recommended to start on the west wing and work our way towards the east as it’s home to the new exhibit – Tentacles (yes!!! octopuses! :D).
Penguins, sea otters, sharks, sea turtles, you name it and they probably have an exhibit dedicated to it. My favorite was the jellyfish exhibits. They’re just so graceful and calming. Combined with the serene music that they play in the background you just can’t help but feel at peace.
We finished the aquarium in about three hours and spent the rest of our late afternoon and early evening walking around Cannery Row and enjoyed the sunset.
Now a post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t give a recommendation on a hidden gem and this one is definitely a must especially if you love carbs!
When we punched in directions and headed towards Palermo Bakery we were surprised by the industrial exterior. You would never think to go here as it looks like a warehouse. There was no cash register, menu, na-da! It’s straight up bread factory. Regardless, we went in bright and early in the morning to see their offering. They sold everything from sourdough, to dinner rolls to entire loafs. My friend and I each bought a loaf for $2.40 a piece since our next destination is considered the SoCal Napa Valley. Stay tuned for my next post to find out where!
What’s a must see local attractions in Monterey Bay?
Visiting the Golden State would be incomplete without a photo with the Golden Gate Bridge. However, capturing this iconic panoramic view from this perspective is one that out of town visitors seldom uncover.
I’ll be honest, this shot is a bit of hike (literally) and you can’t just drive here, but it’s definitely worth it – and that’s coming from someone who hates exercising! My friend and I left our rental at a local bart station and took Lyft to the beginning of the Lands End Trail. Be sure to stretch and wear comfortable shoes! Your thighs and calves will thank me later!
The trail is relatively easy for a novice outdoor girl like myself and the spectacular view makes it a noteworthy trip. The hike is about 1.5 miles and many moderately fit people can complete it within an hour. You could go here to relax and enjoy the scenery or watch the sun rise or set. Either way it’s a great place add on your travel agenda! To learn more about this trail click here.
I’m starting up my travel series again! Who’s excited?! 😀 This time I focused on some of the smaller cities in the Golden State (with some larger cities sprinkled in) and went from top to bottom. First stop Oakland…
Now when you think of Northern California you probably don’t think of Oakland as your first travel destination; however, if you’re looking for something off the beaten path and some really awesome locale fare you should bookmark the Lake Merritt area (aka “The Lake”). Grand Lake Kitchen is a popular brunch joint and for good reason. The wait time was a good hour and a half! Luckily the area has some great attractions to help pass the time AND they text you when your table is ready. Sweet!
Right across the street is Lake Merritt and the Lakeside Park, a great place to just take a stroll and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The landscape is breathtaking and my photos don’t do it justice. Just imagine yourself walking your dog or going for a leisure jog.
Across the Lake there’s a small area called the Cleveland Cascade – the ideal place to complete all your staircase workouts. I saw a number of individuals in fitness gear running up and down the staircase. I wasn’t quite prepared for a workout, but my friend and I did one round before heading back to the restaurant.
After perusing through the menu, I ordered their signature Savory French Toast ($14) as it came highly recommended. Served with Rye bread, two poached eggs, fresh arugula, and assorted mushrooms this unique take on a brunch classic is a home-run. The bread was a perfect base for the runny egg yolk to soak into and the greens complimented the dish perfectly. Perfect way to start my morning and I highly recommend getting this dish!
I read some reviews on their orgasmic Pork Belly Hash dish, but heard that they no longer served it. *gasps* So my friend and I decided to try the next best thing – Pork and Polenta with an overeasy egg ($16). It was certainly a tasty dish with complex flavors but I can’t wait to try some of their other offerings!
Overall this area is a great family friendly one and I can’t wait to come back! What are some other Oakland destination must see and/or eat?