Saturday, December 20, 2014

California There We Went - Part Two

Hello! Continuing where I left off in yesterday's post...rain was imminent Monday, so indoors activities were a must. With that in mind, we headed toward Fairfield and the Jelly Belly factory tour there. 

First, we got lunch at a In-N-Out Burger place. I'd long heard that In-N-Out burgers are sorely missed by those who move away from the chain's locations, which are currently only in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Texas. I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. 

I can't say I was overly impressed, but I am hard to please when it comes to restaurant meals. One appeal of In-N-Out is its adherence to fresh ingredients. Another positive aspect is its business practices, which are said to be employee-centered. 

Then there's this:

That's the size of the entire menu: three types of burgers, French fries, shakes and fountain drinks. No chicken, no salads, or any of the myriad other choices found at its competitors. (note: there's a so-called "secret menu" with burger configurations customers have requested over the years. This "menu" is on their website). 

I imagine that the brevity of the In-N-Out menu is similar to what the McDonald's menu looked like when that chain first started. In-N-Out may be on to something: McDonald's recently announced it would be taking several items off its menu. 

Don't have any photos from the Jelly Belly factory tour - none were allowed. It was still a cool experience. I've always loved to see how things are made on a large scale. The level of automation, the design that went into the productions of all the machinery - it just boggles my mind. It was something to see a gigantic robotic arm lift up three different sizes of boxed candies, one at a time, and place each on the correct pallet for shipping. It was also quite something to see hundreds of pounds of Jelly Bellys, ready to be packaged up in various ways. At one point, our tour guide directed our attention to a conveyor belt with large swathes of different Jelly Bellys, heading toward a mixing step that would result in the multi-flavored blend commonly found where that candy is sold.  Too bad we weren't allowed to take pictures - that would have been a very festive-looking photo!

The rain had subsided for the time being, so we decided to drive over to Petaluma; I had heard it's a cute town. We traveled through the Napa Valley wine country on our way; saw many signs for wineries. Also saw signs of flooding; this area had been hard-hit by recent heavy rains. Some vineyards were flooded and every so often we'd see standing water on the road. 

Petaluma turned out to be as cute as I'd heard - lots of charming shops and restaurants, most in restored Victorian-era buildings. I'd sure it gets crowded on the weekends and for special events, but as we were there on a Monday with iffy weather, there were very few people around.

We didn't have much time to shop, unfortunately, but a couple of small purchases were made. One business that we gave our money to was the Petaluma Seed Bank. The shop is housed in an old former bank building and is a gardener's dream! We saw rack upon rack of heirloom seed packets, garden tools, garden/hobby farm magazines, garden tools, cookbooks, soaps and more. We limited ourselves to four seed packets, but later on I learned that a free seed catalog is available, as seen HERE (click on "catalog" to order one).

I also checked out a secondhand store called The Thrifty Hippy. It was a bit disorganized, as those types of stores can be, so looking around was a bit of a challenge. Then I spied a familiar sight: a miniature pair of wooden shoes, tied together with a red ribbon, and with green and red windmills painted on the sides. Also familiar was the town name and state written on the sides next to the windmills - yes, this object came from the town where I now live. Judging by the red and green color scheme, I'm guessing that the pair of shoes was meant to be a Christmas ornament. 

I'm sure I could buy something just like this in my town, but hadn't. It seemed more "exotic" to find it on the West Coast. Once back home, I wrote on the bottom of the shoes the date and place where this ornament had been found. Not a bad little souvenir for a buck, I'd say! 

That was basically it for Monday. Tuesday's weather sounded similar to Monday's, only the rain was supposed to hold off until the afternoon. So off we went to the Muir Woods National Monument, home to old-growth coastal redwoods. We'd made a brief visit there in 1996 and were glad to return. It is a special place.

Entrance to the trails. 

Portion of a fallen redwood, with growth rings labeled by age. An explanation of what the rings represent can be seen HERE. The tree had been "born" in 909 AD and lived until it fell in 1930!

The bottoms of some of the redwoods...

and the treetops. My pictures don't do these majestic trees justice. 

The above signage says "CATHEDRAL COVE enter quietly". This admonition is there to enable visitors to enjoy a stand of redwoods in peace. Even a group of young women who looked to be giggly types walked around this section of the park in whispers. 

More evidence of recent heavy rains: one hiker advised us to turn back on one trail since it was covered in water, and a main access road to and from Muir Woods was closed. We had to return the way we'd come, on a rather convoluted route out of the nearby town of Mill Valley. 

And Mill Valley is where we headed for lunch, at a Puerto Rican restaurant my husband had suggested, Sol Food. I wasn't crazy about my chicken sandwich, but that was in part because it was rather drippy to eat. And the various components of the sandwich didn't seem to blend well. However, the restaurant is well-regarded on various online review sites, so maybe it's just me. 

It was a cute place, and in general the other customers seemed to be enjoying their meals. And I have to admit, it was very pleasant to take advantage of Sol Food's outside seating on a mid-December day! While waiting for our lunches to arrive, I wandered down the plaza to a nursery. Ah, to see flowers meant for outdoor plantings (pansies and other cool-weather bloomers) for sale! Long past that where we live, of course.

Downtown Mill Valley looked very cute, but we acquiesced to our daughter, who wanted to shop at the mall near our hotel in another local town, San Rafael. Since the rain was due to hit any second I agreed, and found a Christmas present for my dad there. 

Mall-saturated, but still not quite hungry for dinner, we headed to downtown San Rafael and took refuge from the rain at an indie bookstore, Copperfield's Books(actually a small chain, but still indie). It was the perfect place to relax for a spell, and then we headed down the block to Crepevine. It, too, is a small chain. Despite its name, it serves much more than crepes - sandwiches, salads, pastas and egg dishes are also on the menu. 

Do you ever feel like breakfast for dinner? I did, perhaps because of the rain. I also wasn't hungry enough for a big meal, so was delighted to learn that I could order the cinnamon-raisin bread French toast for my dinner. My husband got a crepe and our daughter, a sandwich. Both their meals came with mounds of potatoes and organic mixed greens - large amounts of food. It seemed like the sort of place where just about anything one ordered would be good. I can recommend it.

Our Bay area stay was winding down. Weather was nice again Wednesday as we drove across the famed Golden Gate Bridge and toward the airport in San Jose. Lots of babies and small dogs on our flight, but other than a few cries or whimpers, all behaved just fine! 

Was hit with a blast of cold air as we got off the plane at Chicago's Midway Airport - welcome back to the Midwest! Back to reality for us, but it had been a fun trip. 



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