Most people think of California as a palm trees and beaches, lazy surf days, and maybe some LA hip city vibe mixed in there. But there is a whole different side of California, more beautiful to me, full of farmland and rural towns that travelers from other states may not ever visit. Welcome to NorCal!
It has been a tradition each year for a while to switch off visiting my family in Chico, CA for either Thanksgiving or Christmas, and my husband and I usually make a trip of it and stop a few times along the 10-11 hour way. This year: San Francisco, Calistoga, and Chico! Last year’s trip was pretty nightmarish. Each leg stretched at least two hours longer than usual due to the need for me to nurse our almost 6-month-old, and she screamed for almost 3 hours straight on the trip back in LA to San Diego traffic. I can clearly remember frantically trying to hand express milk into a bottle for her just so we could make it to the next exit, which is no easy feat when you’ve never done it before!
This year, Lucy’s age and I suppose some acquired parental wisdom made for much smoother sailing. I’ve mentioned busy bags in a previous post, and having activities to occupy Lucy was again a crucial part of our success on this trip. I purchased a few of these coloring packets and they kept her entertained for several minutes at a time. I also brought stickers and a lacing cards, which she had fun trying to figure out for a while. Finally, occasionally we would pull out the good old iPhone when she requested “Tata” (“Hakuna Matata”) and “Meh-may” (Little Mermaid songs).
First stop, The City By the Bay! San Francisco has had a special place in my heart because of fond memories from childhood and fun visits as an adult. I’ve visited good friends who moved there, spent time with my family there, and even got engaged there. We are familiar with the City, but I think we learned most on this trip that it has changed a bit, or maybe we have. Our old stomping grounds and where we booked our hotel were not exactly child-friendly, and my husband even had a scary run-in with someone on the street. If you are traveling to SF with a small child soon, I would recommend the following:
- Going during the week, if you can: It was so nice to sight-see without huge crowds everywhere, and much less over-whelming for a toddler.
- Stay in Knob Hill, the Financial District, or near Fisherman’s Wharf: These areas seemed cleaner and safer than our downtown digs. Yes, Fisherman’s Wharf is a little tourist-y, but it wasn’t so much that it didn’t feel authentic and it was fun to relive childhood nostalgia there!
- The Aquatic Park Cove: The Aquatic Park Cove was a calmer, mostly-empty green space to let Lucy stretch her legs. Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities for this in a big city, or at least we didn’t feel it was safe to let her down often in SF. This was a nice break for her to wander for a while.
- BABY. WEARING: I’ve mentioned before how baby-wearing has saved us during travels. It is especially conducive to keeping baby safe and close in crowded places! We have one by Tula.
(BTW. We ate the most DELICIOUS breakfast I’ve had in a long time at a nice little joint called The Grove. Super original decor and menu…check it out if you are in the area!)
After San Fran, we like to stop in a sleepy little town in Napa Valley called Calistoga. We stumbled upon Calistoga after buying a Groupon to the Calistoga Inn, an adorable old inn that boasts a delicious restaurant and even its own brewery. There’s not much to do in Calistoga except taste wine and wander the old downtown area, which is exactly why we like it! It’s a lovely place to just breath for a beat. Lucy also enjoyed wandering with us, and we let her play for quite a while in Pioneer Park.
Finally, we spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my family in my happy place, Chico, CA. Chico is also old, full of my personal family history, and just the very best place, in my humble opinion. We got to roam around Downtown Chico, eat at favorite restaurants (T Bar and Tres Hombres, I’m looking at you), and soak in some small-town spirit. Lucy had a blast playing with her cousins and my family was all together for the first time in too many years. Maybe I’ll get more into the specifics of my favorite town someday, but today I’ll just say that we left Chico with such full hearts. I may have shed a tear (or five) when we left, and I’m still feeling the after-glow from our time there.
Did you travel anywhere for Thanksgiving? I hope it filled your bucket up as much as it did ours!