Roaming the Napa Valley

spring flowers

A couple of weeks ago, we spent four days in the Napa Valley to celebrate our 59th wedding anniversary. Although Calistoga is not the most centrally located town, we chose to stay there at the Stevenson Manor Best Western because this hotel is a bargain for this pricey area. It is not luxurious, but it is certainly attractive, clean, and comfortable with constant work going on to upgrade it. The breakfast is a bit above average for an accommodation of this level, and we were pleased to find the other guests to be a friendly bunch.

We did four bicycle rides during this stay which we were fortunate occurred within a break in the rainy weather that we have had this year. These rides were ones that we have done before and that I have written about on this site. Our longest ride was from Yountville to downtown Napa, and I just want to mention this ride because we found the bike path that runs from just south of Trancas Street diagonally across Napa to be one that we would recommend against using. It crosses several busy streets without four-way stops, and it runs through neighborhoods that are not particularly appealing. It does, however, end in downtown Napa, where we cycled to the new CIA restaurant at Copia, a pleasant place with memorable food. Coming back we used a bike boulevard that started at the end of this path and followed that across a good part of Napa through some interesting old neighborhoods along quiet attractive streets. When this bike boulevard ended, we just sort of used our instincts to return to  the wonderful Vine Trail that runs back to Yountville. Most streets in Napa are bicycle friendly.


Patio at Ottimo

As always in the Napa Valley, we ate very well. In Yountville, there is a new restaurant called Ottimo across from Bottega, where the salads are served in jars and the panini are small and extraordinary. It is wonderful to sit out under the olive trees after a bicycle ride and enjoy the beauty of this area; I find it easy to pretend that I am in Italy. We ate two lunches at this spot.

Another restaurant that we truly enjoyed was the St. Helena Bistro, a small place on St. Helena’s main street that has an eclectic menu. We especially enjoyed the crispy calamari and the salmon tacos. And on our last night, we ate at Veraison,  a fairly new place on the main street  in Calistoga. We were seated in the window where we could watch the passing scene and savor our moules frites.

All in all, I would say that if you do not have the wherewithal for a trip to Europe, a trip to the Napa Valley is a good substitute. Despite lots of traffic, it is a pretty, relaxing place to roam and to linger over excellent food.


The Marvin Braude Bicycle Path (Part One)

At the start of Marina Del Rey segment of the path

At the start of the Marina del Rey segment of the path

Attractive beachfront house

Attractive beachfront house


The bikes only path

The bikes only path


The Marvin Braude ( a Los Angeles city councilman for 32 years) Bicycle Path is a jewel of a path running along the Pacific Ocean for 22 miles. The pavement in most sections of the path is smooth and makes for an easy ride; in fact a good part of it is concrete. We did the path in three segments over as many days.

The first day I rode alone, starting out from our hotel, the Marriott in Marina del Rey, where my husband was attending a seminar. I rode down Waahington Ave. toward the ocean and found the path on the right just before reaching the beach. In Marina del Rey, the houses facing the beach were attractive; the  landscaping was pretty with lots of grass and palm trees, which somehow seem appropriate in southern California, but always seem out of place to me in northern California.

I had always heard about Venice and I expected a hippie sort of area, but as I entered the Venice section of the path, I found the whole atmosphere changed. The buildings were covered in graffiti, and there were homeless people everywhere with their untidy piles of possessions, some asleep and  others just wandering around, many alone but a few in groups. Since I was riding alone, I found the entire scene unnerving, and I did consider turning around. But I  wanted to ride up to Santa Monica to see the famous pier, so I kept going. No one approached me, and there were a few others riding on the path, which gave me some reassurance.

When I crossed into the city of Santa Monica, again the entire ambiance changed, this time for the better. The landscaping was well maintained, and the people looked more like folks  enjoying the outdoors and the beauty of the ocean. Just before the Santa Monica Pier, there is a playground for adults, something I consider a good idea. Surely exercising in the out-of-doors in more appealing than exercising in a stuffy gym.


The playground for adults


The Santa Monica Pier


An elegant hotel on the Santa Monica beach front


I rode under the Santa Monica Pier through a rather dark, rough surfaced tunnel. A bit north of the pier I decide to turn around. I briefly considered riding city streets back to avoid Venice, but I decide to return the way that I had come, along the beach. Coming back was not too bad because it was later in the morning, and there were more people about.

After a brief stop at the hotel, I headed east on Washington Ave. to find the Marvin Braude Path in the other direction because I wanted to visit the Waterside Shopping Center. The path was well marked to the right off of Washington, and while the surface was a bit rough, the beginning of that segment of the path runs through a pretty area to come out along one of Marina del Rey’s main streets, Admiralty Way. On this particular day, the main path was replaced by a detour through some parking lots, a rather unusual ride. However, I soon found the shopping center and after a couple of hours browsing and eating lunch, I returned to the hotel for a well-deserved swim following my enlightening southern California day.