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I have mixed feelings on posting about Armstrong Redwoods. Armstrong feels more like home than many of the places I’ve lived. After spending a few years living out in my uncle’s riverside cabin in the semi-remote town of Guerneville, I explored Armstrong Redwoods often. It became a quiet place of meditation to me, my own zen garden, and it’s also my favorite place in the North Bay to take photos.

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  • Mt Tam View From The Top

    Mt Tam View From The Top

  • Old Water Tank

    Old Water Tank

  • Path On The Top Of Mt Tam

    Path On The Top Of Mt Tam

  • Mt Tam Skywalk

    Mt Tam Skywalk

  • Mt Tamalpais Watershed

    Mt Tamalpais Watershed

    Mount Tamalpais, or Mt. Tam, is close to San Francisco and has some of the most beautiful views in the world. From the top of the East peak you can see the fog rolling in from the sea, contrasting with the Golden Gate bridge and an unexpecting downtown San Francisco laying in wait. There are miles and miles of trails and some amazing mt. biking.

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    Picture of a Kokomo sticker on a barrel

    Picture of a Kokomo sticker on a barrel

    Solid wines across the board. One of my favorite wineries because the wines, value, location, and experience.

    Kokomo Winery, named after the city in Illinois where winemaker Erik Miller is from, is home to an extensive tasting menu where you can get cab with your pinots, but what really makes this winery one of my favorites is the friendly staff, the value, and I love all of their wines. That’s a powerful combo, and it’s in a little village of wineries out in the center of the Dry Creek Valley (Zin country).


     

    Why you should go: Go for the solid wines and cool staff. Stay to hit up the other family wineries next door.

    Website: kokomowinery.com

    Case Production: 4,000 – 5000

    Wines: Muscat Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Grenache, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Late Harvest

    My Favorites: ALL OF THEM, but especially Peter’s Vineyard Pinot Noir

    Location: 4791 Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

     

    Picture of the Barrel Room at Blanchard Family Winery

    A passion for wine, charity, with a tribute to the Air Force and the Special Forces.

    Brothers Mark and James Blanchard, came together one holiday to discovered they both had a passion for wine and both had the dream to open a winery. In the early 2000’s, while James became a special forces pilot in the Air Force, Mark moved out to Northern California and learned to make wine. In 2009, they opened Blanchard Family Wines.



    Why you should go: For barrel samples, great wine, meet the winemaker, casual

    Website: Blanchardfamilywines.com

    Case Production: 1500-2000

    Wines: Rosé of Grenache, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon

    My Favorites: Jackson James Zinfandel and Cash Allen Cabernet Sauvignon

    Location: 109 W. North St, Healdsburg, CA 95448


    Today, Mark manages the winemaking and James the financials. Mark’s passion comes through when you visit their small appointment only tasting room and production facility in Healdsburg, CA. He proudly and honestly will chat about how he sources his grapes, how he makes wine, what it’s like owning a winery, and everything and anything in-between. He’ll tell you how sourcing his grapes gives him the freedom to choose the best quality and varietals for his style of winemaking, and how he didn’t inherit land or a chateau and so this is how you build.




    Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs, A beautiful tasting room with a great view, Friendly Staff, in the heart of the Russian River. What’s not to like?

    People always ask me if I’ve been to “Winery XYZ,” and most of the time I get to say yes, but with about 400 wineries in Sonoma County (and another 400 in Napa) I’m always making sure that when I say no I write it down or make a mental note, then I go check it out on my days off. I know, tough job I have. Well I recently checked Twomey Cellars on a whim while I was driving out to the coast. I’ve been directing people there ever since.

    Twomey Cellars is owned by Silveroak (famous Cabs) and Twomey is their Pinot Noir arm. With a super friendly staff, beautiful tasting room with a great view of Mt. St Helena, and great location in the Russian River Valley (Westside Road); you can’t go wrong.

    Why you should go: Impressive tasting room, beautiful view, single vineyard Pinot Noir.

    Website: Twomey.com

    Case Production: 12,000-15,000

    Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot

    My Favorites: Sauvignon Blanc — Great notes of ripe peaches and grapefruit.

    Location: 3000 Westside Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

    “For me, wine is an attempt to capture time and place in the bottle. It is a prism we look through, providing a glimpse of the past as we enjoy the present.”

    Erin Miller

    Twomey Winemaker,

    Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc

    I recommend people start their day here. Oh, and they have been know to give away their logo glasses with your tasting fee, but I’m not sure they do it every time. Also a special shot out to their merchandise buyer — they have great jewelry, shirts, winery branded bicycle jerseys, hats, and kitchenware.



    Here are five great small breweries to add to your bucket list

    Surrounded by vast grapevines Sonoma County’s brew scene is taking off with a bunch of new breweries popping up all over. It’s great to see, because the Russian River Valley used to be covered in hops long before the grapevines took over. Now all that remains are the old hop kilns, converted into wineries. Like they say in wine country, “It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine,” so the following is my list of the top 5 breweries to check out in Sonoma County. I’m leaving some out like Lagunitas and Russian River Brew Co, people can easily find those. This list is for people who don’t want the massive crowd and long lines. Link to the map

    Cooperage Brewing Company


    Santa Rosa, CA | www.cooperagebrewing.com

    Located in a warehouse in Northwest Santa Rosa, driving in will take you to a hidden spot in the industrial area of Santa Rosa — far away from the downtown area. That’s the beauty of Cooperage, away from the heavy traffic areas. The atmosphere is laid back with locals sitting at the bar after work. The beer is great here, they are rotating taps right now while they’re still new and seeing what people like. Cooperage brews some Belgian Style Sours and Barrel aged beers, focusing on wild and spontaneous fermentations, but they also offer some great hoppy beers and IPA. My favorite was the Makin’ Hoppies (Pale Ale).

    Why Go Here? Go here to get away from the crowd, play some corn hole, and great beer and some great music. Oh and no food as of yet, but there’s some great authentic Mexican food right down the street.

    Fogbelt Brewing Company


    Santa Rosa, CA | fogbeltbrewing.com

    The newish Fogbelt has some great beers on tap and I like their small tap room, but what really does it for me is their food menu which pairs great with their beers. I particularly like their pretzels and cheese sauce, along with their Double IPA. Fogbelt is tucked just outside the downtown area on the western side of the highway. Fogbelt has plenty of seating indoors and out to eat and drink at. Fogbelt is growing their own hops at their estate and is working with local farmers to bring back hops to Sonoma County. Gotta love it.

    Why Go Here? Bring the ladies, there are two wineries with tastings rooms right next door. Everybody wins!

    St Florian’s Brewery


    Windsor, CA | www.stfloriansbrewery.com

    Saint Florian is the patron saint of firefighters, which makes sense it a perfect name for this brewery started by Windsor Fire Captain and his wife, and their small tap room and beers are some of my favorite. 5% of profits go to fire-related and community based organizations. Seating is definitely limited as they have just opened shop, but certainly worth checking out as their beers are great. I really liked the 48/96. You can find them also on tap in many of the local bars and restaurants, and in local grocers.

    Why Go Here?If you’re a firefighter or know someone who is (they have t-shirts and other swag). Or if you just want to drink great brews and to support a fantastic brewery. Oh and they have a really cool looking growler!

    Petaluma Hills


    Petaluma, CA | www.petalumahills.com

    I don’t always drink heavy beers, but when I do it’s usually “Porterluma.” Okay, they make a lot of other beers here, but I like their Porter probably the most. The Triple J is a Belgian style Tripel that is pretty delicious as well. Located accross the street from Lagunitas, Petaluma Hills Brewery takes good advantage of the traffic generated by Lagunitas, but don’t discount their beers because of that. They’re just smart. The tasting room is small but has a great L shaped bar.

    Why Go Here? If you’re headed to Lagunitas, or don’t want to battle the crowds. If you want a cozy place to watch a game with friendly people.

    101 North Brewing Company


    Petaluma, CA | www.101northbeer.com

    Okay, I have to admit I’ve never been to their tasting room before, but I’ve drank so much of their beer that I’d feel remorse if I left them off this list. 101 North is located right next to Petaluma Hills and across the street from Lagunitas. I’m still in love with their Heroine IPA. You can find it on tap at lots of the local bars and restaurants, and in the bottle at local grocers too.

    Why Go Here? If you need a Heroine fix. And if you’re in the area.


    A few other breweries on my radar:

    • HenHouse Brewing (Petaluma)
    • Shady Oak Barrel House (Santa Rosa)
    • Woodfour Brewing Company (Sebastopol)
    • Old Redwood Brewing (Windsor)

    Picante in Bekeley

    Picante in Bekeley

    Picante is one of my go-to spots in Berkeley. The location is great, just off highway 80 at Gilman (1328 Sixth St., Berkeley). I love this place not just because of the location, but because the plates are amazing. As a bonus, my dad will eat here and he is incredibly picky when it comes to restaurants; always making sure the kitchens are clean and such.

    If you do decide to visit Picante, you must try the mole! It’s probably what they’re most know for, but you can’t lose here with any dish. This last visit I ordered the tostada with battered fish, and split a ceviche with my dad. The chips are house made and cut into strips, perfect for dipping into the ceviche –I highly recommend Picante’s ceviche!

    “Mole is one of the most representative dishes of Mexico, especially for major celebrations. Ninety-nine percent of Mexicans have tried at least one type of mole. The dish enjoys its greatest popularity in central and southern Mexico, but simpler versions of mole poblano did make their way north. However, northern versions are far less complex and generally used to make enchiladas.

    The consumption of mole is strongly associated with celebrations. In Mexico, to say “to go to a mole” (ir a un mole) means to go to a wedding. Mole has a strong flavor, especially the dark ones and is considered to be an acquired taste for most. This has spawned another saying, “en su mero mole”, which means something like “one’s cup of tea”.”
    — From Wikipedia (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_sauce)

    Picante Berkeley Design Interior

    While Picante may come off looking like a glamorous cafeteria, it is pretty beautiful inside and out with plenty of seating to handle high volume, but I’ve never been there when it’s super busy so tables have always been easy to find. It’s not the most authentic Mexican food out there, but it makes up for it in a lot of ways, and they also cater to the Bezerklian, Non-GMO, vegetarian crowd; complete with a vegetarian only menu.

    Flo Healdsburg

    I might have a new favorite place to grab a beer in Healdsburg. Flo is a new beer and wine bar just south of the town next to Mill St. Antiques and The New Parish Café. Offering, a good selection of beer and wine for local prices.

    Flo has two tv’s and the inside is small, but they also have a massive patio with umbrellas and plenty of parking. It’s so new that the wedding parties and honeymooners haven’t crashed the party yet. Not that I care too much about that, it’s one of the things that makes Healdsburg’s nightlife fun. But sometimes you just want to grab a beer in a quiet, not so uppity or not too loud, not too divey type of place and Flo might just be that place.

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    Cuban Restaurant - Rumba

    Rumba Cuba Cafe

    If you’ve ever seen the movie Chef, you know that Cuban food is not only delicious, but also incredibly ridiculously delicious. In an area where the deli sandwich is king, hey it’s wine country, Rumba Cafe in Windsor is a very welcome change of scenery.

    I had passed by this place a bunch of times, but today I finally decided today to try it for lunch. It doesn’t look like a fancy restaurant, but like I’ve learned from traveling all over, looks are deceiving when it comes to food. And like Latin food the heart beats strong in this place. It’s family run and the siblings that helped me out were super nice. I order the Little Havana sandwich (mojo roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickle, and garlic aioli), served with plantain chips it was perfect size… delicious! The citrus dipping sauce and marinade was something they should bottle. It should have a holiday named after it, it’s that good.

    Maybe one day they’ll open a rum bar in there, but for now it’s got three taps with Lagunitas, Blue Moon, and Pacifica. I will be taking my tours there!

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    Ramen Gaijin

    I tried desperately to spend some time in Japan on the tail end of my 4 months abroad in Asia, pretty much just to eat a ton a ramen. Not the $0.30 cent packet variety, well, kinda not. I was after the authentic noodle soup original. While I only spent 16 hours on a layover in Tokyo — where I ate 4 full sized meals, just because, hey Tokyo — I managed to find Ramen in a little whole in the wall and do my Ramen research.

    So ramen changes depending on where you’re at in Japan. In the North it’s a miso base broth. And in the South the noodle changes as well as the broth. But I’m pretty sure that’s a horrible description of the way ramen can change. But like in wine, the best way to experience ramen is to try different types.

    I came here for the second time on a whim. Well it wasn’t a huge whim, the first time was magical, haha. Totally satisfying. They’re only open Wednesday to Sunday (as of now), so for the first month or so they opened, I always seemed to catch them at the wrong time. And unless you have their address, then you may not find them. They’re in the old Forchetta restaurant building, conveniently located a few doors down from Screaming Mimi’s.

    I’d share more about the menu, but honestly we got there late tonight and ate in a haste as to not be assholes. But the vegetarian broth with pork belly…and the special wings. Just awesome. There’s plenty to check out and the staff were great. This is a great addition to a funk Sebastopol and if your looking for a cool restaurant to eat at in Sebastopol, well you just found it.

    Ramen Gaijin

    6948 Sebastopol Ave
    Sebastopol, CA 95472
    707-827-3609
    ramengaijin.com
    facebook.com/RamenGaijin

    DSC04296 (1)

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