It was a bittersweet holiday weekend: For the first time in our lives, Dan and I spent Thanksgiving away from our immediate families. Instead we traveled to Northern California to visit Dan’s aunt and uncle J&J in Mendocino County — and it was wonderful!! J&J are in the hospitality industry and they pulled out all the stops to make our stay comfortable and delicious. Plus, of all our relatives, their outlook on life seems the most similar to ours, which makes for great conversation.
On Wednesday we headed to the airport before dawn. The buffer time wasn’t necessary though — despite all the hubbub about nightmarish Thanksgiving travel, there was no line at security and even a live trombone quartet!
When we landed at SFO it was a beautiful sunny day. The rental car ended up being a Mustang. Felt a bit ridiculous in it once we reached hippie country, but it was fun to drive on the curvy coastal roads.
First stop was the park right before the Golden Gate Bridge.
It was 10am and we didn’t have to be in Mendocino until dinner, so we took our time winding our way up Coastal Highway 1. Every vista is more impressive than the last. The northern coast is so much rougher and wilder than our smooth SoCal beaches. In the afternoon we stopped at Sea Ranch to walk along the cliff trails.
After sunset we arrived at the inn managed by Aunt J in time for the wine hour. Then they took us to their home, where we stayed in their shed-turned-awesome-guest-cottage. Here it is in the morning light.
On Thanksgiving morning, Uncle J treated us to the loveliest breakfast I’ve ever had at someone’s house: eggs benedict with fresh-caught dungeness crab, homemade hollandaise, and garnishes of fruit and chive flowers.
Then J&J shooed us out the door, insisting we should take a hike while they prepped Thanksgiving dinner. We explored MacKerricher State Park, which proudly offers beach, bluff, headland, dune, tidepool, forest, and wetland all in one place. It was incredible! Here’s part of the beach which runs alongside an old logging road.
In the afternoon we called my parents and Skyped with Dan’s family. And then we settled in for the feast. J&J kept it traditional, but made everything from scratch — turkey and stuffing, fresh green bean and bacon casserole, fresh cranberry sauce, homemade mashed potatoes, and finally an apple tart with fruit from their own trees.
Friday we went exploring with J&J. We browsed the Mendocino artists’ fair and checked out the Point Cabrillo Light Station.
We saw whales spouting as they swam past on their long trek from the Arctic to Baja.
And we hiked through more amazing scenery.
At 4:30 (p.s., dear winter, this is a ridiculous time for sunset) we took camp chairs out on a remote bluff, poured champagne, and watched the sun set over the ocean.
The evening was full of wine, conversation, and leftovers. And then the next morning, it was time to say goodbye.
Dan and I drove inland through the Anderson Valley, Sonoma Valley, and into Napa Valley. We’d intended to visit a few wineries, but the first was even more expensive than expected — $20 for a four-pour tasting, and the pours were not generous at all! So we wandered through the vineyards for a while instead.
Then we drove into the city of Napa to explore. The big deal of the day was a Christmas parade. My favorites were the decorated horses and the marching bands, of course.
We had planned ahead to try one fancy restaurant before flying home. At the recommendation of Dan’s foodie friend, we made reservations at Bottega in Yountville. The polenta under glass (mmm crispy bits!) and zeppole dessert (mmm hazelnut cream!) were amazing.
There was just enough time for a leisurely dinner before driving into San Francisco, dropping off the car, and catching a late flight home to San Diego.
We both really missed having traditional Thanksgivings with our families. But this was a fantastic vacation — probably the most relaxing and refreshing trip we’ve ever taken. Normally we tend to crowd our travel with fast-paced urban sightseeing. This time the holiday and the rural destination helped us keep our schedule in check so we could truly enjoy our time together in one of the most beautiful places in the country.