Before this last week, it had been a hot-minute since the last time Lizzy and I had been on a real vacation. Our parents love us more than anything, and do their best for us, but when money is tight, it is hard to make extravagant adventures happen.
A few weeks ago I had been sitting in my usual spot in Caribou, (quite a shocker I know), and I was just using my time to read and write and think. I realized how sick of my city I was. I am not a girl who is meant to be confined to a small town on the Iron Range with only one coffee shop and no malls, farmers markets, book stores, and everything else that you find in a large city. I have been feeling this way for quite a long time… ever since I finally embraced who the fact that I am a girl with big dreams and many plans for life. The feeling always tends to get stronger over the summertime when my days are wide open and I can do just about whatever I want to do. I decided that I was not going to let this summer go on the way my past few had been. That meant that I was not going to spend the whole three months of freedom I had in Hibbing, Minnesota just sitting here and wishing I was somewhere else. I decided that if I wanted things to happen, that I would have to make them happen.
I spent a few days looking into different areas that I had relatives in where I could possibly stay. I knew that with my upcoming trip to New York that I had secretly been planning to ask to take would not ever happen if I went and blew all of our money on a different trip. I also knew New York would be a crazy, busy trip and wanted to take a trip with Lizzy where we could just relax and take a break.
One day remembered that I had a great aunt named Sandy who had recently moved back to California after living there in the past. I brought it up to my mother one day and then again… then again… It started off as just a conversational piece but eventually turned into some serious plans. My mom wavered on and off about it, but eventually she was on the phone with Sandy. Initially there were a few different times where we thought the vacation wasn’t going to happen, but one night I got a text at work from Liz saying our plane tickets were purchased. That meant that Lizzy and I would be traveling to California by ourselves to stay with Sandy for four full days.
July 13th (The morning before our departure)
Thursday morning was our last day in Hibbing. I had breakfast with my sister and my Dad so that we could talk before we left on our trip. After some quality father and daughter time, followed by last minute packing, we left for St.Paul to spend the night at my uncle’s house so that we could catch our plane early the next morning.
July 14th (The day our flight goes out)
Early mornings are my favorite kind. I started that day at around 6a.m. with a fresh new outfit and some caffeine. After being dropped off at the Minneapolis airport, where we were separated from our mom and uncle, Liz and I managed to navigate through check-in and security and find our gate with little experience and no help. This is the usual for people who travel often, but for us, we felt pretty good about ourselves at that time. We found one of the many overpriced airport restaurants and I had breakfast at the build-your-own yogurt parfait bar plus Caribou. Then Liz and I sat around for a little bit after that and eventually got on our plane. It was an amazing flight where I read quite a bit from The Wellness Project. Before I knew it, we landed in San Francisco. We met our aunt and immediately made the drive to Santa Rosa where Sandy calls home. The drive was another two hours piled onto the three and a half hour plane ride, but we got to do some sightseeing and talk with Sandy.
We arrived and immediately had lunch at a cute little cafe where I enjoyed a kale and quinoa salad along with the Spa Treatment (aka a sparkling water flavored with massaged cucumber, mint, and lime) (aka the best thing ever). Then we made our way to Sandy’s house.
Walking in, my first impression blew me away. The house was a bit older and had so much character. With an open concept kitchen that was flooded with sunlight from the two sets of sliding glass doors that outlook her gorgeous backyard pool and landscaped yard, I already felt at home. After dropping off our bags we made our way to Whole Foods to shop for some food for the upcoming vacation. I walked in and fell in love. I am a big advocate for local, organic, and whole foods. Not only does this grocery chain they follow those standards but they have a deli was full of amazing dishes, coffee ice-cream, bakery items, and so much more (some that I chose for dinner that night). They also carry all the hard-to-get-at brands where I live in the middle of nowhere without any health-food stores. I found Perfect Bars, Siete tortillas, Pressed Juicery juices along with so many fresh and exciting produce. Of course Lizzy grabbed ice cream balls, aka Mochi, that were surprisingly delicious. They had a doughy texture on the outside that resembles bread dough and the inside was pure ice cream, I am happy to say they were the first of my Californian treats that literally left me drooling. The rest of that night was pretty low-key. It consisted of visiting and unpacking along with planning and list-making.
July 15th (Our first full day)
Our first morning began with one of my favorite breakfasts: sunny-side up eggs on top of a Siete tortilla smothered with avocado. After enjoying, Liz and I went outside and took advantage of the beautiful backyard while laying in the sun and taking in the amazing view of the mountains. We relaxed like this for a bit and then got our suits on. After a few stops, and lunch-packing, we made our way to Bodega Bay. The drive to the ocean was such a sight. After going through a few towns, (some of which had cute surf shops!), we got to swerve through the mountains where I felt smaller than I ever had before. The Californian Mountains were so large and went back as far as the eye can see. They were full of luscious green patches and dry patches alike. I could not have asked to have seen a more beautiful sight on my first day.
Once we got to the beach Liz and I got settled in the sand, which included an episode of a barefooted Lizzy who reassured me with her scream and run tactic that, yes, the sand was extremely hot and that, yes, you do need to wear shoes. We settled onto the sand and enjoyed our lunch of our Whole Foods finds on our towels and then began our trek along the shore. Our time was filled with a beach photoshoot, sand dollar and seashell hunting, and squeals as we attempted to dip into the glacier-temperature water. After walking for quite a bit we found our way back to our little spot on the beach and I spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping in the sun next to the Pacific Ocean.
Eventually our beach bums got up and did a bit of sightseeing. We walked through some shops and candy stores along the road that ran along the whole beach.Our trip was finished with a stop near the top of the road withan overlook onto the whole beach and the gorgeous waters. Although the cold wind sent me into the car for half of this part of the sightseeing, the view was extraordinary. I have always felt most connected with the God when I spent time in nature, where I can really see His gorgeous handiwork. In those moments, I spent time thanking Him for the opportunity to be taking that trip to Cali and for the detailed and unique creations that he has put on this earth for my enjoyment. It is truly an amazing thought that God, the Creator of the Universe, created all of this and yet felt that the Earth also needed one of me as well.
Of course, after a day at the beach, ice cream is mandatory. So Sandy and her sister, Barb, took us to their favorite spot: Frosty’s Freeze. I got a chocolate cone that brought me back to my childhood days after visits to the cabin with my father when we would always stop at DQ and my order was the same (aside from the chocolate dip that I also added as a kid).
July 16th (Our second full day)
Sunday mornings have always been my favorite. I woke up and Lizzy and I enjoyed our breakfasts by the poolside. After getting ready, we left for church. It was a nice service with some amazing worship music, one that I felt very welcomed to. After realizing that Sandy had left the pool water running back at home, we rushed back right after the service to shut off the hose just in time before her backyard began to flood! Although, due of the fact that Santa Rosa broke a heat record that day reaching 108 degrees for the first time in years, I don’t think her plants would’ve minded much.
Once we hopped back in the car we made our way to the East West Cafe. This was only one of the many I had on my “Californian Foodie” list of places to stop. They served Mediterranean dishes that were very authentic. After enjoying a salmon wrap with hummus, brown rice, and tabbouleh, we stopped for coffee. Acre Coffee served an amazing soy latte that I sadly forgot to picture, but I did get a few snaps of the cute coffeehouse! Then we drove back to the house and Liz and I, again, suited up and had what we referred to as our ‘pool day’. Due to the heat we had a quick photo session again and then jumped in. With 108 degree weather, the cold pool water felt like a breath of fresh air. We jammed to the Disney radio and swam around while making up dances and just had fun. We had a fun time of relaxing on the furniture with books, some amazing sister talks, and just enjoying our afternoon. Then that night after supper we walked around Sandy’s neighborhood. We walked up and down streets that contained architecture of all kinds. One of my favorite observations I made on this trip was in this state you will see one house, but then turn your head and look upon the neighboring house and you’ll notice it is, most likely, completely different. I love that the people around here were not afraid to express themselves through their homes. There were houses of all colors and shapes that were decorated in such unique ways. These people really lived by the quote, ‘A home is for creative expression, not good impressions’ (one of my favorites from an old movie). When we got back from our walk that was quite a steep one, we felt we deserved to have a movie night by the pool, each with a pint of ice cream to reward ourselves with.
July 17th (Our third full day)
It is true when they say that you can find it all in big cities!! We had breakfast that morning at the Omelet Express; a restaurant dedicated to omelets. I had an omelet filled with turkey, avocado, veggies, and sprouts that was to die for. I then nursed my food baby, because I obviously ate my whole omelet, something that the waitress was very impressed with… Apparently most people don’t finish the whole thing, but I could’ve kept going if there had been more! Despite my past of being afraid of food and of trying to resist my intake, I now love to fuel my body and give it all the nourishment it asks for… and that morning… it asked for quite a bit! Soon after we stopped at The Flying Goat Coffee Shop. I was able to try my first ever latte made with oat milk! I have a favorite blogger who raves about it, so I have been dying to try it. That latte had unique flavor that I really enjoyed, along with the thickest layer of froth I have ever received without asking for extra! We walked back to the car and made our way to the main street where Sandy found a parking spot downtown and let us loose. Lizzy and I spent that morning exploring Santa Rosa’s beautiful downtown shops and sights including a magical bookstore that I could’ve explored for hours. I got to spend quality time with Lizzy bonding, laughing, and making the most memorable of memories!
After finishing up in that area we traveled to Sonoma Avenue so that I could hit up The Pharmacy for lunch. It is a cute cafe where they use local and organic ingredients. Their motto is ‘Food is medicine,’ which couldn’t be more true. I ordered the avocado toast, which if I could, I would do over a million times. The thick sourdough was toasted to perfection, it had such a thick layer of avocado, and it was topped with fleur de sol, Katz Olive Oil, chili flakes, and sunflower sprouts. I enjoyed it on their patio furniture while Liz ate their lemon meringue jar. We then continued with our adventures throughout Santa Rosa’s many different offerings of shops and villages.
Near dinner time we went home and rested up for a bit and then got ready for what we named our ‘really fancy dinner night’. We told Sandy we would like to treat her to an amazing dinner at a restaurant of her choice along with buying her a bottle of her favorite wine. We ended up at The Villa; an Italian restaurant in the mountains with the most breathtaking view. That night was what I considered to be a breaking point, so to say, of our vacation. Although I had felt comfortable with Sandy throughout our whole time together, we really bonded that night. She told Lizzy and I about all her different life adventures. She has lived in many different homes in many different towns and states. She has traveled to many countries of which included Israel (where she was able to walk on some of the same streets as Jesus). She told us all about her romance with her husband Bill, of which has now left me with expectations of Prince Charming for my future mate. She told us all kinds of stories of her past and of family history. Liz and I were absolutely amazed with the knowledge that Sandy held. You never realize how much one person has to share until you really take time to get to know them. And I had never realized, until that night, that I had a great aunt who had lived such a fulfilling life full of adventure, traveled to so many places, taken so many crazy opportunites. This lady that I was spending my vacation with was truly someone who had taken life and experienced it to the fullest. So we talked, and laughed, and shared stories, and eventually made our way home to nurse our bellies full of amazing Italian cuisine.
July 18th (The last full day of our trip)
Our last full day began with another breakfast at the house next to Sandy’s beautiful bay window out-looking her backyard (and conveniently located next to her Keurig machine). Once we had all gotten ready we drove over to Soco Coffee where I got my usual soy latte and where Liz and I had a quick photoshoot outside on the patio. Then came our drive through the mountains aka ‘wine country’. Before this drive I hadn’t seen too many vineyards and wasn’t quite sure yet why that area is considered the wine country in the first place. However, once you take the drive to Sonoma from Santa Rosa, the question isquickly answered. We went by many, many vineyards, everyone getting more beautiful than the last. They went on for miles, the rows of grapevines. They were such a beautiful, deep shade of green that outdid many of the evergreen trees that I had, before that day, thought were as green as they got! The vineyards were so symmetrical, their rows forming large patches or lines throughout the mountainsides that resembles the rows of lines that are made with a hoe being pulled through the dirt of a garden. The wineries were all just as mesmerizing with their gorgeous architecture and the beautiful gates that were welcoming tourists to turn onto their roads. This 18 mile drive was my absolute favorite view that I witnessed on the whole trip by far, had it been the only bit of nature I got to see on my trip, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.
Once we made it to Sonoma however, once again I wasin awe. It was such a gorgeous place. There was a big square park in the middle of the town surrounded by a large square of boutiques, wine-tasting shops, coffee houses, bookstores, and so much more. We walked all afternoon going in and out of places with a stop at the Cheese Factory for lunch along with coffee at the Sunflower Cafe. My favorite was a shop that went by the title ‘Love Sonoma’ where I found a few cute items. The best part about the place was the lady working there who went by Amy. Amy, Lizzy, and I talked for what seemed like an hour. We told her all about our vacation, and our upcoming summer plans. Then she shared suggestions, advice, some stories. Exchanges like ours with Amy are one of the wonderful pleasures that I most enjoy about life. What an amazing thing when you are able to genuinely connect with others, despite being strangers, and you can enjoy each other’s personalities and experiences, it is quite beautiful.
After we had decided that we were all exhausted from a long day we made the gorgeous drive home. We spent that night getting ready to go home the next day which included packing and some cleaning. Once we had finished we relaxed for our last time near the pool, each with a book.
July 19th (The day we depart Cali)
Another early morning called for a quick breakfast as I had one more coffee shop that was on my mandatory to visit list. After leaving we made a stop at City Garden on 4th Avenue. Here I enjoyed a ‘Lover’s Lane Latte’ which had Lover’s Lane Honey and was dusted with bee pollen. Lizzy ordered the ‘Garden Latte’ with lavender and rose syrup and was garnished with rose petals and lavender buds. Along with her coffee she ordered their Guittard Chocolate Donut which are made fresh daily with locally sourced ingredients. We took a few photos, had a few sips of our coffee (or if you are me you finish your own and then sip the latte that Lizzy didn’t finish), and we were off to the airport. The drive through San Fransisco left me in more awe than it had on the way in. I was so flustered by the fact that I was in California on my first day that I had not truly taken in the sites. I love the busy city of San Fran. I had been there a little over a year ago with my choir and it was as amazing as I remembered. So many sights, so much cultures, a city of dreams… and fog.
Eventually we made it to the airport, and with another flawless experience making it through the airport to our gate, we safely landed in Minneapolis that night and I immediately suggested we have dinner at Whole Foods (duh), and then went home. That night consisted of reuniting with my parents, my dogs, and my bed. And the hellos were all very quick due to the fact that I was back to work at Caribou the next morning.
There were a few things that I took away from my short but sweet trip to The Golden State:
- If you want something to change, you need to make it happen. No amount of sitting around Hibbing, feeling sorry for my small-town self, was going to get me to California.
- Take time to get to know the people around you, they all have stories to tell. I had gone years of seeing Sandy, but had never really talked to her. She was always my great aunt, now she is a lady who I see as one who has both seen and done it all. I was granted advice and wisdom in so many areas of life: school, family, romance, traveling, Christianity… and to think that it had always been residing in her, yet I never before took the time to listen.
- Life does not need to revolve around money. I realize that these days it seems as though you need to have a high-paying job to really experience life, but that is not the case at all. Although I did spend some savings in the boutiques that we visited, and we went out to eat quite a few times, most everything else that we spent our vacation doing were relatively low-cost activities, or even free ones. If you are able to budget well, and be a smart shopper, you can make money stretch quite a bit farther than you may think you can.
- Take time to smell the roses, and be thankful for them. I cannot tell you all the amazing sights that I saw on my trip that weren’t mentioned, and that I did not picture, because they were unexplainable, and couldn’t be captioned by even the world’s best camera. It takes an eye that is looking to see the details sometimes, but they exist. Not only do they just exist, but they were given to us by God. He created this world for us to enjoy and to see His glory.
- You and your siblings WILL grow up to be best friends. Everyone always told me this, but Lizzy and I fought so much as kids I thought the idea of even staying in touch after becoming adults was funny. However, as we have gotten older, and I have been able to work through the wall I built around myself throughout my last few years of life, I have realized hey were right. No one can ever come in-between the bond that is built between siblings. It is a strong one that is truly unbreakable.
- And lastly, always stop at every coffee shop you see!! One reason this is one of my favorite things to do is because not only do I love the beverages, but the experiences. Most cafes tend to be each their own. They are like people; every one with its own personality. I love to go to new coffee shops as they all have their own story which are told by the baristas, the regulars, the decor, the vibes of the shop, the beverages themselves, even all the way down to the uniqueness of the different cups and sleeves you will find at each one (which I have a collection of at home). I base my favorite shops off of the experience I remember having along with the coffee I remember drinking… and of course, the pictures that I am able to get, which is dependant upon how good the lighting is at the shop.
All-in-all, I had an amazing experience in California! I was blessed with seeing so many beautiful sights and got to learn so many lessons. I am looking forward to my next upcoming vacation to New York City, which is the gift I am receiving as an early graduation present from my mother! I am excited to experience the East coast, as I just did the West, and learn all the lessons that will be taught there as well. Until then, I plan to use what I have learned and continue to grow.