Last weekend was the Almond Festival in Capay Valley. A 108 year old tradition celebrating the beautiful sight of almond trees in bloom. I heard that the bloom is usually best experienced a week before the festival, around mid February. But maybe because of the unusual weather patterns we had, blossoms held off for a while. They are in full bloom now and it is a spectacular sight!
Going up Rd 16 you will go by small towns that offer various activities, local delicacies, arts and music. We went all the way to Rumsey and enjoyed getting to know the local farmers, were impressed with the art show, and will be back next year for their famous oven fired pizza. We had already decided to stop on our way back in Guinda for BBQ oysters offered by the volunteer fire department. At the Grange Hall, crafts were available and we savored our almond vanilla ice cream.
After we enjoyed the festivities I wanted to stop at an almond orchard and take a few pictures of the Yolo snow and the trees. This turned out to be more involved than we bargained for. Our car got stuck in the mud and it took us a long time to push it out on the road.
The Almond Festival of Capay Valley is always the last weekend in February.
If you are looking for inspiration for a short hike near Vacaville to start the New Year, I can recommend the Jack Hume Grove as a very attractive destination. A part of Lagoon Valley Park, the Jack Hume Grove, is surprisingly quiet and calm. We walked by some disc golfers to reach the grove. The road that goes by it is being newly paved.
The grove is a tribute to Jack Hume, a conservative philanthropist and co-founder of Basic American Foods. He was best known as the world’s largest producer of dried onion and garlic.
The grove itself is not large but conveys the calmness one feels among redwoods. A few nicely constructed walkways give you a bit of an elevation change. The augmented waterwise plants on the rim of the grove and the dried up stream are interesting additions.
Overall this is more of a picnic destination than a workout place. Unless you decide to venture out of the grove and enjoy the mountainous paths or spend some time along the lagoon.
Lagoon Valley Park is located at 1 Peña Adobe Rd, Vacaville, near the I-80 exit of Peña Adobe Rd. Parking is $5 per day with options for a 6 month or year pass. You can use the Park Mobile app or use one of two pay stations, which accept exact cash or credit card payment.
There is currently construction on the way to improve the park. Please check the city’s website for updates.
Start of the New Year with a hiking challenge at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. First Day Hikes is a nationwide program to promote a healthy lifestyle. To start off easy I recommend the 40-acres Redwood grove at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The loop trail is a 0.8 miles flat hike. The loop starts at the visitor center, which is only open Friday – Sundays from 10am to 3pm. During the rain it gets muddy, so it isn’t wheelchair accessible, at least in the wet months. If you’d like to learn about the park while on the trail I recommend downloading the audio tour and then start on the right hand side of the loop. This way the audio clues are counting up. The parking fee is $10 per vehicle.
We did enjoy the rain and were somewhat covered by these 1,500 year old trees. There are a few possibilities to ‘hide’ inside one of the giants. The largest is the Fremont tree, it was the campside of the Fremont exhibition which surveyed the shortest route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. A whole family can fit inside the Fremont tree. You should bring a flashlight to look around while inside. The other options are more covers than hiding spots. But nevertheless they give you a close encounter with these majestic trees.
In addition to the 0.8 loop there are a few other trails with different difficulty levels and terrains.
In January, each Saturday at noon, there will be an Old-Growth Redwood Tour. Check out their event page for even more educational fun.
Esplanade Beach was our most recent discovery. We grabbed some lunch from Rosalind’s Bakery (recently featured on a post about my favorite sweet treats) and drove down to Esplanade Beach. Street parking was plentiful. The first impression from above was not too thrilling. We parked near a chain linked fence that was obstructing our ocean view and left us with an uneasy feeling about the safety of these cliffs. The entrance to the beach is on Esplanade Ave, which has multiple apartment complexes. There were a few benches on a lookout above.
The real treat is the stairs leading down to the beach. This is quite a workout! I did not count how many steps or switchbacks there were but they kept on going. I would recommend slowing down for the last part because the sand on the stairs makes them slippery.
You can tell that the stairs have gotten an overhaul recently. The plants to minimize erosion haven’t filled out the netting yet. This is Pacifia’s only official off leash dog beach. We saw a few dogs enjoying the run. Visit Pacifica warns to check out the tide schedule since the beach can be narrow at high tide. For the same reason, you should probably refrain from walking here during stormy weather.
If you are looking for a volunteer opportunity, September 18th is Coastal Cleanup Day. A great way to beautify these beaches and remove plastic pollution. If you’re really enjoying this you can help clean Esplanade Beach every 3rd Saturday of the month.
In last week’s post about the AirBeeNBee at the Gardens of Lake Merritt I mentioned there was more to come. The bonsai garden, the only all volunteer based bonsai garden in the U.S., is an outstanding display of this Japanese tradition. Over a hundred little trees in a pot are presented. The oldest is over 1,600 years old!
Open since 1999 the Bonsai Garden also features a collection of suiseki stones. Suiseki stones, also known as viewing stones, are stones that suggest a scene from nature. They are usually displayed as found and not modified.
The cedar entrance gate to this garden is by master carpenter Hiroshi Sakaguchi from Northern California.
The Gardens of Lake Merritt are free, but donations are appreciated.
What is your favorite garden at the Gardens of Lake Merritt?
Here is a link to last week’s post about the AirBeeNBee.
Montalvo is Saratoga’s first address for art and culture. Did you know they also have a cactus garden? I stumbled on this treasure when I visited the Loneliness exhibit. It is tucked away in the gated part of the Italianate Garden.
Enter the gate and stroll past the rose bushes towards the fountain. The fountain creatures hanging there might not spit water right now, but are impressive nonetheless.
The succulents and cacti are imposing. Some so large they need to be propped up by a belt. Others stand tall like a monolith the size of a yard stick. The Phelan Cactus Garden was designed by Senator James Phelan in 1920 as a ‘showcase of interesting and unusual plants’. A magical little escape great for recharging.
Montalvo’s park hours are Monday – Thursday, 8am – 5pm and Friday – Sunday, 9am – 5pm.
Did you know about the Phelan Cactus Garden at Montalvo?
Hiking is always a great pastime in the Bay Area. These days, with the continuing of shelter in place, hiking is a well deserved alternative from your walk around the neighborhood. We went Tuesday to Rancho San Antonio, a hilly terrain in the Los Altos Hills mountains. My health app recorded a 24 floor climb and almost 11,000 steps!
There are multiple hikes and different levels of difficulty. As a COVID-19 safe measure, the most narrow paths are one-way. Please check out the map before you start. They no longer offer printed maps, so you might want to take a picture. When we were there on Tuesday the bathrooms were open again. Of course this might change without much notice. Bring plenty of water since the water fountains are all taped up.
Deer Hollow Farm is currently closed, but on our way we saw wild turkeys, a few deer, and some lizards, so a short hike with your young ones is still a lot of fun. Plus they put up signs of encouragement from the farm, e.g.: “You goat this!” or “Sheep your distance!”
If you are up for a longer hike you will be rewarded with gorgeous views of the Bay.
Easter will be April 12th, this year. There is a confusing tradition that links bunnies to eggs, which I don’t understand or even feel qualified to explain. But for now let’s just focus on eggs.
Before the shelter-in-place order I went to Aptos to see the egg vending machine at the Glaum Egg Ranch. I believe it is still open, but in these days and times anything can change. Are we even allowed to drive that far? I think not.
Please take this as a virtual tour and when you have the chance of freely moving around again consider this as a fun activity for young kids. It is not the vending of the eggs that I refer to here, it is the show that is offered after you vend. You can see this demonstrated in this YouTube video (be my first subscriber to my new channel!):
To see the show you need four crisp dollar bills and you will be rewarded with 18 eggs and a show. The barn store will be happy to provide you with wrinkle free money. By the way the barn store is open Mon – Fri 8am – 4pm and Sat 8am – 2-pm. There you can get a lot of products around eggs. One was succulents in little egg shells, such a cute idea! They also have interesting gift ideas mostly food related.
The nice thing about the Bay Area is there are a myriad of options for hiking in relatively short distances from where you live. If you are a dog owner and want to bring your pooch with you on these hiking excursion, you might find that a lot of open spaces don’t allow dogs. To find a place that has an off leash policy is even rarer.
While the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space allows dogs in 11 of it’s 24 parks, only one – the Pulgas Ridge Preserve – has an off leash dog area. The 17.5 acre area where you can let your dog roam free in is located in the middle of the Preserve and is surrounded by the Hassler Loop trail. Your dog needs to be voice controlled and you should have a leash with you. And of course, you are always asked to pick up after your dog (only leave paw prints behind).
For discoverers, the park is the former home of the Hassler Health Home, a tuberculosis sanitarium, some remnants of the building and stairs still remain.
For thrillseekers and beachgoers the Santa Cruz boardwalk is a great destination since 1907.
There are more than 40 rides, something for every kind of rush seeker. The romantic gondola ‘Sky Glider’ and the 1924 wooden roller coaster ‘The Giant Dipper’ are just examples of the variety of rides offered.
On rainy days you can enjoy a game of bowling or mini-golf, or play some arcade games. The food rises to the occasion: soft serve ice cream, hot dog on a stick and pizza all classic accompaniments for your boardwalk experience are here.
Tonight, August 30th, is the last Bands on the Beach event for this year. Papa Doo Run Run has the honor of ending the free concert series with two show (6:30 and 8:30). For the prime seating area reserve your seats as early as 4 pm. You might enjoy a nice picnic on the beach. If you bring chairs make sure they are low backs for the prime area.