Northern California Road Trip

On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter February 18, 2022

2022 eNewsletter #7

by Tom Blakecolumnist


A Costco promotional email arrived in my inbox yesterday morning with this subject line: “Escape the humdrum – spring was made for travel.” Those words are appropriate for today’s eNewsletter.

When the pandemic began in 2020, my partner Greta and I canceled a train trip to Washington state to visit relatives of hers. The Seattle area was the first Covid-19 “hot spot” in the United States. Since then, we have not traveled except on two-hour road trips to our Palm Springs vacation home, and once last fall, to San Luis Obispo for two days.

When Greta received a “use it or lose it by March 1” message from a timeshare company, we decided to use the week to take a road trip. There was a cute place available in mid-February in the city of Napa in wine country that we booked for a week’s stay.

Napa is about a 10-hour drive from our home in Dana Point. That’s too many hours of driving for us in one day. We used to do it when my mom was living in Sonoma, a few miles west of Napa. But our bodies can’t handle that anymore.

We decided to visit as many old friends as possible on this trip. It has been such an enjoyable and nostalgic week, I decided to share some highlights and observations with you today. The cardinal requirement (for me at least) was to be settled into our timeshare an hour or so before Super Bowl kickoff on Sunday.
Day 1, Friday, February 11

We departed Dana Point last Friday shortly after 9 a.m. LA traffic is—well—LA traffic. A nightmare. We arrived at Harris Ranch, on the I-5 Freeway near Coalinga by 3 p.m. This is a wonderful place to stay. Check it out on the link at the end of today’s article. It’s a large historic inn with a gas station and a couple of restaurants.

The inn is surrounded by acres of farmland and a massive cattle feedlot nearby, which is particularly evident when going outside in the early morning. Putting the odor nicely, the cows have been busy during the night.

We decided to have wine and dinner in our comfortable room. So, I walked over to a BBQ express carry-out place within the inn’s grounds and brought dinner back. Harris Ranch has been in existence since 1937. Highly recommended with free parking and 24-hour security patrolling the grounds.
harris front entry Harris Ranch bbqThe express BBQ cookery on the grounds of Harris Ranch, where you just walk into the adjacent store and order bbq meats, sausages, and chicken. About a 200-yard walk from the hotel.
Day 2, Saturday, February 12

We drove north on the I-5, and then west on Highway 152, stopping at Casa de Fruta, a very cute mini amusement park for kids with a well-stocked grocery store featuring locally grown produce and nuts. We bought a bag of pistachios casa de Fruta signCasa de Fruta – a fun place to visit

We bought a bag of pistachios. A fun place and great for the grandkids. Miniature train, and games and shops. We bought a bag of pistachio nuts in the store.

Then, taking Highway 159, we did a quick visit to San Juan Bautista, a quaint town, home to one of the historic California missions, which I wanted to see. it was worth the brief stop.

From there, to the small coastal city of Aptos, to visit the newly acquired home that my Navy roommate from 1962, Charlie Canfield, and his wife Betty, now live in. Amazing place on nearly four acres that a French aristocrat had built years ago. Spectacular home. Their previous home was destroyed by the fire two years ago that damaged most properties on Swanton Road, which is 14 miles north of Santa Cruz.

Charlie and his family own the Boardwalk Amusement Park in Santa Cruz.

Betty served a delicious lunch. She said, “I know you owned a deli and are a sandwich expert; I hope I won’t disappoint you.”

I said, “These are the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.”

From there, we headed up Highway 1 to the Davenport Roadhouse, nine miles north of Santa Cruz, a few yards from the Pacific Ocean, to dine and spend the night. Why there? The daughter of Russell Kerr, my Stand-Up Paddle Boarding buddy, Vanessa Chamberlain, and her husband, Christopher, own the place. They purchased it two years ago. Greta and I wanted to show our support for their hard work in making the Roadhouse a success. The Canfields joined us for dinner there—the finest seafood lasagna I’ve ever tasted!
mission signMission San Juan Bautista founded June 1797mission bell The Mission Bell
Greta, Vanessa, and Tom
Davenport Roadhouse on Highway 1
Day 3 – Super Bowl Sunday

On Super Bowl, Sunday morning, Greta and I drove north on Highway 1 along the coast to Highway 92, which heads east toward San Mateo and then across the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge to the East Bay. Destination: Sunshine Saloon, Pleasanton, to drop off two cases of my “Prime Rib & Boxcars. Whatever Happened to Victoria Station?” books.

Bob Rossi, the Sunshine Saloon owner, opened the Saloon 41 years ago after working at Victoria Station. His saloon is more popular now than ever. Bob and I have been friends for 49 years. We attended the Mardi Gras together in 1974.

Greta said their brunch item Salmon Benedict is the best she’s ever tasted.

From Pleasanton, Greta and I drove up the 680 Freeway, crossing the Benicia-Martinez Bridge over the Sacramento River, to the US 12 westbound turnoff, to the city of Napa.

We arrived at 1:15 at the RiverPointe Napa Valley Resort cabins and were able to check in immediately—more than two hours before Super Bowl kickoff.

An hour later, I attempted to turn on the Super Bowl pregame coverage only to discover the NBC channel wouldn’t work. I telephoned the front desk. They said, “We’re sorry, our wi-fi isn’t working properly. However, we will have the game on a TV upstairs in the main building.” We reserved two spots.

I went to Safeway to get us something for dinner. When I came back, we got pregame coverage on Telemundo, the Spanish-speaking station. We decided we could handle that and enjoy the game in our cabin. The commercials were mostly in English and of course, the halftime was mostly in English. We watched the Rams eke out a victory over Bengals.
rossi at saloonBob Bob Rossi, Greta, and Tom in front of Bob’s Sunshine Saloon, Pleasanton, CAcabinsRiverpointe Resort Napa CANapa Trail is just steps away from the resort
Day 4 – Monday, Valentine’s Day

I was up before 7. I had to figure out how the coffee maker worked and where kitchen stuff was. Thank heavens for the breakfast leftovers from the day before at the Sunshine Saloon.

Greta and I took a ride through the city of Napa and were surprised at how old many of the houses are. We shopped at Safeway, so had food to eat when not dining out. There was a huge Valentine’s Day display inside the entrance. It was our 23rd Valentine’s Day together.

Day 5 – Tuesday, February 15

We departed RiverPointe at 9:30 a.m. Drove an hour to Mill Valley, in Marin County. First stop, the home of Bill and Anne Wamsley, who live in the same Harbor Pointe complex that my sister Christine lives in.

Had a half-hour catch-up with Bill, aka “Wams.” Anne was at work. Wams and I also worked together at Victoria Station in the 1980s.

Second stop, to rendezvous with sister Christine. Greta and I followed Christine in her car to San Anselmo a nearby city. Our mission was to visit the Heldfond Book Gallery, a bookstore that purchases rare books. I had packed in the car two books that came from our mom’s estate that I had decided to sell (as a part of our downsizing), and Christine had one to sell as well.

The street construction around the bookstore made it impossible to park nearby. We walked three blocks to get to the store, only to discover that they were closed. There was no sign on the door; we assumed it was likely due to the construction.

Then, Christine took us to Rustic Bakery – Magnolia, in Larkspur, a great bakery/deli, where we celebrated her birthday with lunch. From there, Greta and I drove north to Santa Rosa, for a quick stop at Oakmont, an age-55-plus community, where Mom had lived for 33 years. We drove past both homes she had occupied. I must admit, seeing those two homes gave me a tug on the heartstrings.

We drove past the real estate office where realtor Nancy DeVoto works. Nancy was the agent who sold both of Mom’s homes. Greta said, “Let’s stop and say hello to Nancy; she might be there today.”

We stopped. We were told she was in a meeting with clients. One of the agents said, “I recognize you. Nancy would be heartbroken to miss you. Let me tell Nancy you are here.”Nancy came out and gave us big hugs. We chatted for a minute. And then, Greta and I drove through Sonoma back to RiverPointe in Napa. A wonderful, heart-wrenching day for me.
wams living roomView of Mt. Tamalpais in Mill Valley from Wamsley’s living room is breathtaking
moms house for 25 yrs
The house in Oakmont where my mom lived for 25 years brought back memories.
Day 6 – Wednesday

Napa Valley wine country

For lunch, we drove north a few miles to an exquisite restaurant named Bistro Don Geovanni, where we were joined by former Victoria Station co-workers, George and Nanci McCullagh. It was their 42nd wedding anniversary. My mom used to love to dine there.

We sat outside, enjoying the view of vineyards surrounding the restaurant. This restaurant is a must to visit, considered by many restaurant critics to be the finest in Napa County. Great service. Great food, and atmosphere.

After lunch, we drove north 15 miles to the city of St. Helena, in the heart of Napa Valley. Our mission was to see the memorial park named for the McCullagh’s son, Stephen C. McCullagh, who died at age 29 in a tragic lightning strike on July 28, 2005, while leading a Boy Scout troop who were camping near Mt. Whitney.
The small park is tucked away on Crinella Drive in St. Helena and hard to find; I went into the post office where an employee gave me directions.
fountain  at don g
Outdoor seating at Bistro Don Giovanni in the Napa Valley. Note the fountain in the middle with a ladder in it and a cartoon character on top.stephen C McC
Memorial Stephen C. McCullagh Park plaque on Crinella Drive in St. Helena
Day 8 – Friday – Meeting family and friends

For lunch, Greta’s brother Peter, and his wife Barbara, drove from Petaluma to have lunch with us.

For dinner, Bob Freeman, one of the three original founders of Victoria Station, and his significant other, Andrea, met us for dinner at Q, a bbq restaurant in Napa. I handed over a case of “Prime Rib & Boxcars. Whatever Happened to Victoria Station?” books to Bob. He uses them for promotion in the BV Restaurant in San Francisco, which he owns. The BV is known inventing the Irish Coffee cocktail. They’ve sold over 50 million of them.

Day 9 – Napa with an overnight stay at Harris Ranch Again
And, in case you are wondering, yes, we did enjoy some nice Napa Valley wine link to Harris Ranch website