for Unconventional Women
for Unconventional Women
I’m kicking off a new series where we will visit the hometowns of all the Hummingbird authors—not all at once, but over the next year or so. And because it’s my blog, I’m going to pop the champagne cork and celebrate this series by starting with my own hometown of Winters, California.
Winters is a small town about sixty miles North-East of San Francisco. Our closest city is Sacramento and we have a university (UC Davis) about fifteen miles to our east. Winters has about 7000 people and I like to say it’s one of the only small agricultural towns left that’s within 100 miles of San Francisco. And make no mistake, we are an agricultural town. Walnuts, almonds, and stone fruits are big around here, but we are also a major producer of sunflower seeds and tomatoes. On our own property, we have 200 olive trees (and press our olives every year for oil) and about 400 young citrus trees.
One of the things I love about my town is that while we embrace change we also honor and preserve all those things that make our town unique. What might some of those be? Well, here are a few…
Fourth Fridays - starting in March, every fourth Friday of the month, Main Street is blocked off and we have a Fourth Friday celebration—restaurants cook out on the streets, local wineries and breweries have their beverages available, long tables are set up for people to sit at, local vendors come and sell their goods, and sometimes there is even music. It’s a very social night and it’s almost impossible to go without seeing a ton of people we know.
And then in August, we celebrate the earthquake that destroyed our town over a hundred years ago. Yes, you read that right, we celebrate an earthquake. This festival is actually one of the biggest ones we host and generally several thousand people come in to celebrate…it’s gotten so big that we ended up skipping it last year because, being from a small town, we’ve become unaccustomed to having to wait in lines for things like food and wine and beer. Yes, we’re spoiled.
Speaking of wine, we have two great wineries in town: Berryessa Gap and Turkovich Wines. Between the two of them they put on several wine festivals including one for Tempranillo and one for Alberino. Both wineries produce very good wines and Turkovich has a charming tasting room with outdoor seating whereas Berryessa has a great space right on Main Street with lots of local products also available. I have a special love for Berryessa Gap because it’s where my writers group meets every week…we’re treated very well and we love seeing all the other “regulars” each week.
Now back to festivals…about four years ago, we started a small tractor parade leading to the tree lighting ceremony the first weekend in December. Well, this year I missed it, but my husband said he thought it was bigger than the Earthquake festival and our city manager estimated about 4000 people came into town that night. It’s an overload of lights, tractors, cookies, Santa, and holiday cheer. Honestly, I love it just because not many people get to enjoy a tractor parade to celebrate the holidays.
But what else is there to do in Winters if there isn’t a festival going on, you might ask. Well, we have some fabulous restaurants including the famous Buckhorn Steakhouse and Putah Creek Café, which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives—both are owned by the same family and both are very good. We also have Preserve, which hands down has the best cocktails in town (Buckhorn is close, but I’d still place my money on Preserve) to accompany their farm to fork menu. And two newcomers, The Greenriver Taproom and Yolo Traders Bistro. Of course, we also have a couple of great Mexican restaurants and fabulous tapas café: Chuy’s, El Pueblo, and Ficelle, which sells itself (rightfully so) as a “delightfully random place to eat”.
This blog wouldn’t be complete without mentioning two more places: The Palms Playhouse, which has live music shows every weekend, and Berryessa Brewing Company, a great microbrew with award winning beers. Both are family friendly venues as are most places and events in our town.
I know I’ve just barely scratched the surface and haven’t mentioned things like our summer Shakespeare festival or our brand new, community built park, but this blog would just go on and on if I wrote about every great thing about my town. So I’ll leave it at this and just say that if you are thinking of visiting California, and in particular the Napa Valley (which is our nearest big tourist destination), think about flying into Sacramento and stopping by Winters, the eastern gateway to Napa, on your way. We’d love to have you!
So a couple of weeks ago we had a girls weekend in Mendocino, California. It was me, my sister-in-law, my aunt, and my exchange daughter (from Italy). At the end of the weekend, my sister-in-law posted a few pics on Facebook with the comment of “Wanderful Weekend!” She did it unintentionally, but I think she just created the new best word ever and I plan to use (and live) it as much as possible from now on.
So what made the weekend the wanderful? Well, aside from being with some of my favorite people, we also had great food, fun drinks, saw crazy waves and weather, and even spotted a whale. If you’ve never been to Mendocino, it’s a small town on the coast about three-and-a-half hours north of San Francisco. The drive is a bit rough if you get car sick, but is also really pretty and winds past several wineries, orchards, and small towns before hitting Highway 1.
Mendocino itself sits out on a bluff and is actually where they filmed all the old “Murder She Wrote” series—at least the scenes that “took place” in Maine. So despite most definitely being a small California coastal town, there is a little bit of the east coast whaling town feel to it. The entire place is walkable and there are boutiques and shopping galore if that’s of interest to you (lots of galleries, jewelry stores, a couple of bookstores, etc.).
We arrived around lunch at ate at Tote Fete . I had the crispy chicken sandwich (because I’m a sucker for crispy chicken sandwiches), my aunt had fish and chips (huge helping, fresh fish, she gave it the thumbs up), my sister-in-law had prawns and chips (same review as the fish and chips), and my exchange daughter had a burger with avocado and bacon which she said was great, though almost too big to eat. The prices are very reasonable and though we ate inside the small café, on a nice day, it would be fun to get take out and have a picnic on the bluff.
After lunch we walked out to the sea and watched the crazy waves then poked around the shops for a bit. At 3PM, we checked into the Mendocino Hotel which is a very charming hotel right in the middle of town. I’d recommend it, but there are probably several other lovely places—the only thing I’ll say though is that if you travel to Mendocino, it’s best to stay in town if you can. There are so many places to walk and just poke around that it’s fun to have that right outside your door.
Around 5(ish) we headed back out to the bluff where there is a bit of a tradition that people gather to watch the sunset. We were lucky to be there on a clear day and we definitely weren’t alone as we watched the sun sink into the pacific—it’s well worth making a point to do this if you are in the area.
For dinner we supped at the MacCallum House —a sort of mainstay of fine dining in Mendocino. The restaurant is located in the old MacCallum house and is lovely. The room we ate in was likely the original breakfast room and it had high ceilings, wood moldings, gorgeous wood floors, and a toasty fire place (it had been a sunny day but it was still January!). The food was good, I’d even go so far as to say very good, but perhaps not so far as to say exceptional. But the ambiance is warm, the building beautiful, and the cocktails super fun. If you’re looking for something less formal, I’d skip this experience and head to one of the many pubs in town, but if you want a lovely evening in a unique setting with excellent service and good food, you should definitely give this a go.
On Sunday morning, we had a lazy few hours but eventually made our way a little bit north and stopped at the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. We walked down to the lighthouse which is housed in a ridiculously cute building that even has a little museum attached to it. Two very cool things about this place: first, we saw whales—January is migration season but it’s always hit or miss whether you’ll see them or not, but we did! And second, you can actually stay at the lighthouse—not the lighthouse proper but there are four houses you can rent and stay in that are right next to the lighthouse. They are all adorable and really, they’d be the perfect place for a writing retreat (you can bet I added them to my list of places to go hideaway).
The last place we stopped was Mara’s Coffeehouse in Fort Bragg. We all had breakfast sandwiches (or burritos) and coffees of one sort or another. I had a dirty chai and it was great…I actually wish I had one now. One of the other charming things about Mara’s is that the walls are covered with photos of animals that are pets of the family that owns the place—everything from goats to pigs to dogs to cats…it lends a warmth to the café and definitely gives it a unique personality.
It was a short but packed visit to one of my favorite little coastal towns. We didn’t have a chance to go on any hikes or kayak in the rivers but rest assured, if you are interested in those types of activities, Mendocino and the surrounding area has them in spades. Makes me want to plan another wanderful weekend!
About the Author: Tamsen Schultz is an avid traveler and prefers to seek out the different or unusual even when visiting some of the more tourist-heavy spots (Capuchin Monastery in Rome, anyone?). Her contemporary novels are set on the other side of the country from where she lives (which may or may not be an excuse to travel) and she’s currently writing an historical mystery set in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, which adds a new dimension to her obsession by giving her a reason to travel in both space and time.
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