The Palace Of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts SF

One of my latest finds in SF is The Palace of Fine Arts. Its a beautiful structure – central rotunda, flanked by pillared walkway on either side, overlooking a beautiful lake. It is on the most popular itineraries for SF visit and is definitely on any photographers visit to the city. Bing/Google Image search has some really pretty pictures of the Palace. On our way to Varun’s swim class or going towards Golden Gate Bridge we usually drive by it. The carvings atop the pillars and the rotunda peek out amidst the trees and we always think about going there. I am surprised it too us this long to visit it!

Palace of Fine Arts SF

Palace of Fine Arts SF

A few weekends ago, Varun wanted to go feed the ducks. He read about it in some book and asked me to take him someplace to feed the ducks. I looked up online and to my surprise saw that the Palace of Fine Arts listed as one of the places in our neighborhood to feed ducks. So we took some sunflower and pumpkin seeds and went one Sunday morning.

Palace of Fine Arts SF

Parking was easy to find at that hour. We walked on the pathway around to the spot where there were many other kids (with their parents) with the same intention of feeding the ducks. Varun was so excited to see the ducks that he just kept jumping. He threw a few seeds to the ducks and then snacked on some. One for them and one for him. Taking turns. Though eventually the ducks didn’t get a turn.

Palace of Fine Arts SF

Palace of Fine Arts SF

We strolled around the path. Watching more ducks, photo-shoots of families and couples against the beautiful backdrop of the trees or the monument. I didn’t have the best light to photograph it but it was the best morning in days. Vihaan slept. Varun walked along without protest or tantrums. I was in a good mood too as the kids behaved.

Palace of Fine Arts SF

Walk around Palace of Fine Arts. Fort Mason Farmers Market. Lunch over Crepes or Roti Roti Chicken and potatoes.It may just become our Sunday morning routine!

Savoring Summer Break At Lake Tahoe

Summer at Lake Tahoe

Varun’s preschool had a 3 day summer holiday last week. He graduated from previous “Rabbits” class into pre-K “Giraffes” class.

Vipul could take a couple of days off as well.

We took off to Lake Tahoe to enjoy its crystal clear waters. A 4 hr drive from SF, Lake Tahoe is a large alpine lake boasting crystal clear water and surrounded by mountains on all sides. Numerous beaches, hikes, ski resorts, casinos dot the area, Playing on its sandy beaches, taking the cruise boat ride to Emerald Bay, bob around on a cheery yellow paddle boat was the agenda. That and relaxing at the hot tub overlooking the golf course was on mine. Vipul added golf lessons at a nearby driving range to his travel wish list. And we all wanted to enjoy the scenic 72-mile drive around the lake one afternoon when both kids were asleep.

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Road Trip 2 Ukiah & Mendocino

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Over Memorial Day, we drove up north to Mendocino county – of wine country , red wood forests and rugged northern Californian coast fame. It’s about a 3 hour drive north from San Francisco which took longer with multiple pit stops. With a large group of friends it was bucket loads of fun.

As we were all driving up from various places in Bay Area we decided to meet up for lunch en-route at Quivira winery.

First Up – Lunch at Quivira Winery

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A boutique winery in Dry Creek area, the lunch stop here was perfect. We had asked them to reserve us tables under their olive trees which oomph-ed up a casual lunch. They have a huge vegetable garden, hens and a little pond with fishes and fountains that kept the kids entertained. We had idli’s for lunch while Varun ran about with his friends. A light breeze cooled us as we sat under those shaded trees, chatting about the rest of the trip and looked over the vast acres of vineyards around. The wines – Chardonnay and Rose were particularly good so much that we bought a few bottles for the weekend.

This was a fabulous start to a great weekend with friends.

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Home Base – Shambhala Ranch Inn

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Next we drove to Shambhala Ranch Inn – our home away from home for the weekend. It’s a rustic ranch overlooking a pond, sloping lawns and surrounded by mountains and trees in the distance. The drive from Ukiah to the ranch was as rural as it gets in California. Forested road winding up and down the mountains, an almost dry river bed with its stones gleaming in sunshine, open valleys and views and occasional houses with their horses or cows grazing in vicinity. The drive truly makes you leave the city with its routine behind. There is no cell phone reception in the area which helps unwind.

We drove past the Orr Hot Springs Resort and Montgomery Redwoods State National Preserve and finally reached the ranch late in the afternoon. Tara, the owner was around to let us in and we all settled in. Older kids explored, younger ones stayed put in the great room. We all gathered at the deck or in the kitchen with steaming cups of chai and pondered over dinner plans. Another Indian parents on Road Trip special – Theplas with Yogurt; Cheese dosas for older kids and khichadi for young ones.

Later that night we star-gazed, some saw shooting stars while being serenaded by crickets and bull frogs.

Varun was too excited to sleep though finally sometime later at night he crashed out of sheer exhaustion.

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Green Pine Cone

Foxgloves

Montgomery Redwoods State Nature Preserve

The next day we all woke up late. Had a communal breakfast and explored the woods around the ranch. Little swallows and dragonflies flitted around. Blackberry was in bloom. It was peaceful.

Swallow

Blackberry flower

Later than afternoon we drove down to Montgomery Redwoods which is famous for its old growth and massive redwoods.

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We hiked a bit to see a groove of majestic redwoods. Some of the trees were so massive that we could barely form a ring around its base. And of course it’s never possible to photograph them in entirety in a single image – they are towering. I always feel humbled in their presence.

It was cool, quiet and refreshing. Vipul and I headed back after the first grove of redwoods as it was time to nurse Vihaan but the rest of the gang continued up the trail. The trail is not wheelchair accessible and slopes steadily up. There are picnic tables very close to trail head and make for a nice spot for snack next to a stream.

Later that evening we used the outdoor grill to make burgers, corn on the cob and roasted marshmallows. A first for the older kids and many of us adults as well. It was hit.

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The ranch has a large meeting room space where we lounged at night. Kids played, we chatted over more bottles of wine till wee hours of morning. A couple of rounds of Settlers of Katan and other casual games were played for old times sake.

Drive to Mendocino Coast

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On Monday, after a late breakfast; it was time to pack up and leave the ranch. Our earlier plan was to drive to Ukiah and visit the Temple of Thousand Buddhas but at Tara’s advice we decided to drive to the coast.We planned to drive to Mendocino for lunch and then spend some time in the area (Fort Bragg’s, beaches etc ) before we headed  home.

On the drive to the coast, all kids piled into one car. The kids valued their time with their friends as much as we did with ours. While it made for a quiet drive to the coast, it felt weird to not have our chatterbox with us in our car. Another parenting first for us.

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The coastal scenery here is breathtaking. Rugged cliffs, blue pacific water, little kayaks bobbing in coves.The beaches at the confluence of river meeting the sea were particularly tempting. But the coast was windy and we decided to skip the beach.

Drive Thru Anderson Valley and back home

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Luckily after lunch, Varun missed us ( warmed my heart!) and decided to come back in our car. He wanted to go to the beach but he was exhausted and slept all the way to San Francisco. He had too much fun over the weekend.

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On the drive home, we drove by more magnificent Redwoods on Route – 128 and through Anderson Valley – another excellent area for wines.

We were all tired by the end of the trip. And equally refreshed. Something that only those who do road trips with close friends will understand. Blessed and grateful for Memorial day weekend!!

Cherry Blossom Festival @ Japantown

Northern California Cherry Blossom

Last weekend, while Vipul was in Japan, Varun, Dad and I visited Japantown in SF.

Handling an active 3 1/2-year-old and a new-born is a challenge. When the energy is not channeled, it leads to the said preschooler wanting to play with the baby, singing loudly near the baby waking the baby up from his nap (which he finally does after hours of nursing and fussing), which agitates the baby leading to loud crying, time outs and more crying.

The best way to prevent this cycle and drama that goes with it was to take him out for an hour or so.

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Sonoma Wine Tasting – The Local Way

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Years ago, I should say a decade ago, we visited Napa Valley with a bunch of friends.

Some drove from Florida, others flew in from DC; one was in all the way from India.

We all were visiting San Francisco for the first time. And as with all SF itineraries, we all had Napa on our radar. An afternoon tasting wines, driving from one winery to another. Packing as many tasting rooms and flights in that short time as possible. Before we headed on to another SF vacation destination.

This was Dec 2004. We didn’t know our Chardonnay from our Syrah. We didn’t care what the area specialized in. It was drizzling and overcast. We just went with the flow.Napa was on the list. Napa was done.

Now, we are older, wiser and seem to know our wines and know which ones we like. So after a spell of rainy spring days, when the weather was warm and sunny last Saturday, we decided to head out to Sonoma Wine County.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

With a baby and a toddler in tow, a family friendly winery was the name of the game.

Wine tasting was important but more important was a reasonable driving distance, picnic tables, food options and restrooms, bocce ball court, lawn to let Varun run about. We wanted to spend an afternoon at one winery where we could real, enjoy the sun, the views and the wine.

Larson Family Winery came highly recommended and it didn’t disappoint.

Since it was our first trip with the baby, and we were not sure how he would fare, we set out during his longish nap for the day. Vihaan slept during the hour-long ride to the winery. He fussed a bit but was largely in deep slumber.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Once past Golden Gate Bridge and Marin county, we saw vineyards dotting alongside the road, rolling hills in the distance, cows grainy on pretty green meadows and low hanging clouds. It was a beautiful day for a picnic at a winery. We picked up sandwiches, cookies and chips at a deli en-route.

Sonoma Vineyard

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

We reached the dirt road that led us to the winery. A barn, tractor, petting animals gave way to tasting room and a patio with tables overlooking the vineyards. The place was very casual, and laid back. Not as crowded as Napa wineries are. And certainly not pretentious.

One thing we didn’t realize was that we could have booked a table earlier. Luckily, there were still a couple of tables available for us to grab in the shade and  staked our claim.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Wines Sonoma

There were many groups with kids, toddlers, babies and even pets in tow. Some were there to just enjoy a sunny California day, others to celebrate a birthday. Food and drinks were spread out on the table. People were chatting, laughing, playing bocce ball or simply lazing with their glass of vino.

We had lunch while Vihaan slept. Along with table side wine tasting. Even mom had fun tasting wine. I abstained.

Sonoma County Vineyards and Wine tasting

Varun promptly wandered off with his bat and ball and played on the lawn and then went to check out the vines. He was hoping to see grapes but since its early spring, was disappointed to see tiny buds.

Well, we need to simply plan another trip in Fall when the grapes are ready for harvest. Hopefully then, I can indulge in one glass of their famous 3 Lab Cab!

Vihaan woke up and nursed and was awake for almost an hour while we were there. It was pretty hot by then even in shade and we decided to leave before the baby got too cranky. We headed back, a bit tipsy. Vihaan fussed a bit on the way back but slept right away, alongside Varun and grandparents.

It was an uneventful first outing. That’s good in my books.

Sonoma had us hooked with its pastoral beauty. Even though we barely have seen it, we can’t wait to try other wineries in the region. Further north are more famous ones. One winery, one weekend at a time!