The historic Point Reyes Lighthouse in Northern California reopens today to the public after being closed for 15 months for restoration.
Jutting 10 miles into the Pacific Ocean, the oft fog-enshrouded lighthouse starred in 1980 cult-classic movie The Fog. Decommissioned in 1975, the lighthouse contains the nation’s only brass clockwork mechanism and first-order Fresnel lens in their original place.
In addition to the 148-year-old lighthouse, the visitor center, observation deck and other areas also will be open, according to the National Park Service. In August 2018, I wrote about the temporary closing of the lighthouse.
The $5 million restoration project began on Aug. 6 and was scheduled to be completed this October, but was delayed. Cicely Muldoon, superintendent of Point Reyes National Seashore, said in a July 2018 news release that the lighthouse was “showing its age” and “long-deferred maintenance” needed to be undertaken.
Restoration included new concrete walkways, restoration and replacement of the 1,032 crystal pieces that comprise the Fresnel lens and updating indoor and outdoor exhibit panels.
Credit of featured photograph at top: Rshao via Wikimedia Commons
Autumn in California means wine harvest and the release of previous year’s new vintages.
Wonderful weather also means it’s a great time to visit the northern part of the state for wine tastings and vineyard tours.
Newbies and dedicated wine lovers will find long lists of wineries to visit, so I won’t duplicate that here.
When choosing where you want to visit, ask yourself these questions:
What type of wine do you want to taste? Red, white, rose or sparkling wine. Some wineries also offer port wine or other spirits made by affiliates.
Do you have a particular wine region you want to explore? Northern California alone has several, including dozens of designated appellations, in Alexander Valley, Napa Valley and Russian River Valley in Lake, Napa, Sonoma and other counties. I wrote an article on one of the region’s newest wine appellations, the Petaluma Gap, in April for The Dallas Morning News.
Do you want to visit a winery at its vineyard or a tasting room? Many wineries offer tastings and tours of their vineyards on site. Others only have tasting rooms, which also can be at the vineyard or in a town. The town of Healdsburg, which is about 70 miles north of San Francisco, boasts more than two dozen winery tasting rooms, including Hartford Family Winery, La Crema, Seghesio and Portalupi Wines. Tastings and tours can range from $10 to over $100. (See the last bullet item.) During fall harvest, you may be enveloped by the heady aroma of grapes at vineyards.
Joe and Margaret Valenzuela outsource much of the work for their young Rubia Wines label, including their wine aging in barrels at their winemaker Julien Fayard’s property in Napa. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
Do you want to visit a large or small winery? A new label or a well-established brand? Family owned? Napa Valley alone has more than 500 wineries. In July, I wrote an article about how a Texas couple started a boutique Rubia Wines in Napa Valley. Its tasting room is at the industrial park office of its winemaker. It offers small bites with tastings. I also wrote an article last year about Hall Wines in Napa Valley, which offers tours and tastings (from $30 to $250 a person) at three locations: vineyards in St. Helena and Rutherford in Napa Valley and a tasting room in the nearby historic town of Sonoma.
Visitors to Hall Wines in St. Helena, Calif., enjoy the view of the Mayacamas Mountains from one of the outdoor seating areas. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
Do you want to eat as you taste wine? Nowadays, a winery experience is almost as much about food pairings as it is wine. Some tastings come with small bites or palate cleansers, but more often a winery will charge extra for a “culinary experience” that’s often with fruit and vegetables grown on site and noshes or meals prepared by a well-known chef. That also drives up the cost of a visit, usually starting around $35 and rising into triple figures. Some wineries also feature restaurants where you can order a la carte from a limited menu.
Do you want a winery visit with a touch of the unusual At Hall Wines, for example, visitors can wander through 38 large pieces of artwork. At the FrancisFordCoppola Winery in Geyserville, you can reserve a spot at its large pool, which quite the scene when weather permits. Severalwineries, includingSchramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga and Bella Vineyards in Healdsburg, boast historic caves that visitors can tour. You can play a game of croquet at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in Windsor.
I recently drove along the stunning 70-mile Historic Columbia River Highway, which is a tourist destination in itself. I decided to check out Multnomah Falls, the most visited natural site in Oregon with some 2.5 million visitors a year.
The Columbia River Gorge is made for waterfall lovers (see map above), with Multnomah Falls being the most famous of several that are free to visit. Multnomah Falls is the nation’s second highest year-round waterfall at 620 feet tall: The upper fall plunges 542 feet and the lower fall plummets 69 feet with a 9-foot elevation drop in between.
Eons ago, lava and mudflows from volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain Range formed the Columba River Gorge. Remnants of these flows can be seen today in the gorge, including the cliff of Multnomah Falls.
Waterfalls are just part of the Columbia River area’s rich history — from American Indians and explorers Lewis and Clark to French Canadian trappers and missionaries. The Oregon Trail ended at The Dalles at the eastern end of the steep gorge, which was impassable.
Multnomah Falls is a 45-minute drive east of Portland, Ore., on the stunning Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. It takes about 15 minutes less if you stay on Interstate 84 the whole way.
From I-84, you can see the top part of Multnomah Falls, but it’s worth the 5-minute walk from the parking lot to the base of the falls for a stunning view. Tilt back your head in a vertigo-inducing move to see the clifftop from which the waterfall drops in two tiers. Picturesque Benson Bridge spans the falls in the middle of the two tiers.
Built in 1914, Benson Bridge is named for Simon Benson, a wealthy Portland lumberman who owned the falls in the early 1900s. He gave Multnomah Falls to the City of Portland, which later gave ownership to the U.S. Forest Service.
For a closer view, walk a quarter mile on a paved trail to the 45-foot reinforced-concrete arched bridge 105 feet above the lower Multnomah Falls. As I stood there last month, spray from the falls covered my face.
A U.S. Forest Service ranger told me that Multnomah Falls and other nearby falls were as powerful as she had ever seen them. Unlike many other falls, Multnomah Falls doesn’t dry up in the late summer because it’s fed by an underground spring augmented by spring snowmelt, she said.
If you want to hike further, a steep paved trail leads to a fenced platform above Multnomah Falls. A section of Larch Mountain Trail from Benson Bridge to the top of Multnomah Falls is closed indefinitely because of falling rocks and a dangerous overhang.
Another interesting feature is the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, a Cascadian style stone-and-wood building built in 1925 and designed by Portland, Ore., architect Albert E. Doyle. Today, it houses the U.S. Forest Service Information Center, a restaurant, café and gift shop.
Continue reading for more waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge and a list of the top 10 national parks with splendid waterfalls.
Do you know the way to San Jose?
I’m going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose …
–Burt Bacharach and Hal David
If you find yourself in fast-paced Silicon Valley over the holidays or for business, the Dolce Hayes Mansion may provide a welcome escape.
The San Jose, Calif., hotel exudes personality. Like history? It has that, too. And the rumors is it’s haunted.
This stained glass graces the ceiling in the hotel lobby. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
The glorious grounds include palm trees, an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts and a large outdoor patio. It’s location in the southeast corner of San Jose still offers easy access to freeways, many tech companies and two parks: one with a playground and one with a mixed-use trail.
The mansion was home to the prominent Hayes family. Matriarch Mary Hayes Chynoweth commissioned the 65-room, 41,000-square–foot Spanish Colonial Revival house, but died just before it was completed in late 1905. Her two sons, Everis and Jay, and their families lived there. Everis was a U.S. Congressman and Jay was involved in state politics. In addition, the brothers owned and operated mines, farms and other businesses, including the San Jose Herald, San Jose Mercury and The Evening News. Those newspapers eventually became the San Jose Mercury News. At one time the Hayes family’s estate covered nearly 700 acres.
When you walk through the hotel’s main entrance, take note of two old photographs in the vestibule. The one on the left shows the first Hayes mansion, a Victorian affair that burned down in 1899. The one on the right shows the current mansion in 1953. At check-in, make sure to ask for the self-guided walking tour (a brochure) of the mansion.
All of the wood trim in the lobby is mahogany. Just off the lobby is a beautiful library filled with legal volumes serves as a guest sitting area. From the lobby, a marble hallway takes you to other parts of the mansion, passing two wonderful murals (see photo above). More modern art of California landscapes by San Francisco Bay Area artists are in other parts of the mansion and wings.
This inglenook is below the grand staircase on the south side of the mansion. The mosaic is made of pieces of marble. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
The Hayes family’s former sitting room serves as the Palm Plaza Lounge. Two inglenooks below the stairways in the mansion provide a cozy resting spot. The stairways lead to an historic photo gallery on the second floor.
The City of San Jose bought the mansion in 1985. A division of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts now operates the 214-room hotel, which includes newer wings besides the main house, a conference center, two restaurants and a fitness center.
The hotel rooms seemed a bit dated, with heavy furniture and dark carpeting that should be replaced. (Was my view colored because I stayed there during gray, rainy weather?) Still, my room in a wing was clean and quiet, with a comfortable bed. You can find rooms priced at just over $100, but consider splurging for a large suite in the mansion (see photo below).
As for the hotel being haunted, who knows?
Note: I recently stayed at the Dolce Hayes Mansion on my own dime.
Cheese is such a big part of the American diet that it’s used to make people smile.
We love cheese. We eat a lot of cheese (each American consumes nearly 37 pounds of cheese a year) and we’re expected to eat more cheese.
The Dallas Morning News recently published an article I wrote about five artisanal cheesemakers in western Marin County, Calif., about 35 miles north of San Francisco. They produce some of the nation’s best cheese — from cottage cheese to brie to blue.
During my reporting, one of the cheesemakers, Nicasio Valley Cheese Co., let me observe its small production process unclose and take a tour of its creamery. I thought I’d share what I learned there.
The dairy run by the LaFranchi family, owners of Nicasio Valley Cheese Co. in the tiny town of Nicasio, will be 100 years old in 2019. Its cheese operation, however, will only be 10 years old next year.
The LaFranchi family uses 100 percent certified organic milk from cows on their 1,150-acre certified organic ranch to make eight farmstead cheeses at the on-site creamery. All production, aging and packaging is done on site. The creamery also has an attached retail shop and tasting room.
Following in the footsteps of their Swiss-Italian ancestors, the family’s first product was an aged mountain cheese thanks to help from Swiss mentor Maurizio Laurenzeti. He isn’t a family member, but makes cheese in the same Ticino region of Switzerland.
“Maurizio’s cheeses were the inspiration for the line of cheeses we make,” said Rick LaFranchi, part of the third generation that runs the dairy and creamery. “We went [to Switzerland] in 2007 to make cheeses with him.”
Here’s Nicasio Valley Cheese Co.’s cheesemaking process:
1. Workers milk 450 cows daily on the 1,150-acre certified organic ranch. Each morning, a tanker delivers 300 to 1,000 gallons of fresh milk from the dairy to the creamery, which is in a remodeled dairy barn.
2. The milk is quality tested before being pasteurized in a high-temperature, short-time process by high-tech machinery installed in May.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Co. head cheesemaker, Aaron Langdon, currently follows a single-vat, single-batch production process to make one type of cheese a day. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)3. The pasteurized milk is pumped into a large vat and heated to a certain temperature (that’s confidential). Head cheesemaker Aaron Langdon adds cultures and then rennet (a coagulant) to help the cultured milk solidify it.
4. In a little while, curds start to form in the vat. Langdon stirs this curds and whey mixture and then drains it into molds for the desired cheese shape. It takes six hours from fluid milk to the finished cheese (before aging).
5. Workers move the cheese molds to a nearby temperature-regulated room for a few hours or overnight, depending on the type of cheese.
6. The cheese (all types except Foggy Morning, an award-winning fresh cheese that’s soft like formage blanc but a big tangy) is put into a brine solution for a few hours to 24 hours.
7. The cheese goes into a warm room called a “hastening room,” where it starts to form a rind. Here, the cheese is flipped daily so moisture doesn’t set in for inconsistency, Langdon said.
8. The cheese goes into an aging room, which are recycled shipping containers, set at various temperatures. Aging can take a few days to months. Foggy Morning, for example, is left for just days. Its bold, washed-rind Raclette-style San Geronimo cheese is aged up to 6 months, Langdon said.
9. Some cheeses go into a washed-rind room for four to six weeks, where the rind is washed by hand in brine every day.
“We focus on quality, and try to be as consistent as we can be from batch to batch,” said Langdon, who’s been making cheese for 13 years.
This summer, Northern California residents Annie and Peter Gommers paid their second visit to the creamery to buy some San Geronimo cheese.
“What we like about this place is that it’s most like European cheese,” said Annie, adding that Peter is Dutch. “It’s organic and it’s not outrageously expensive. Farmstead is very special and needs to be supported.”
If you visit, you may see some of the LaFranchi’s cows on nearby rolling, golden hills dotted with California oak trees.
Note: I didn’t duplicate much from my story in The News, so please read that for more information about Nicasio Valley Cheese Co., including staying on the ranch, and the other four cheesemakers.
Visitors to California can look forward to the reopening of one of the most scenic parts of California Highway 1 that winds along the Big Sur coastline in September after being closed for more than a year.
Highway 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway, is the state’s best-known scenic byway, starting near San Juan Capistrano and ending in Mendocino County.
Highway 1 winds for hundreds of miles along much of the state’s coastline, hugging cliff tops and passing through some of the state’s best tourist spots. Visitors will see California’s largest cities, many beaches, Redwood trees, Elephant seals, boardwalks, lighthouses, missions, wineries, Hearst Castle and spectacular coastal views.
Currently, however, you cannot drive along Highway 1 past Ragged Point just north of Hearst Castle to Big Sur. The detour route winds inland and adds about 30 minutes to the drive. The featured photo at top of California Highway 1 in Big Sur is about a mile north of Ragged Point looking south. (Fred Moore via Creative Commons)
Caltrans closed that section of road in April 2017 due to dangerous conditions. One month later, a massive landslide — one of the biggest in state history — occurred there at Mud Creek. (An earlier mudslide in March 2017 destroyed the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which is used to access Big Sur from the north, but it reopened in October 2017.)
The treacherous stretch of Highway 1 around Big Sur has seen upwards of 60 road closures since 1935. A Caltrans report detailed 56 road closures from 1935 through mid-2000, but there have been many more since then.
San Quentin Prison inmates and locals, like writer John Steinbeck, built Highway 1. It opened in 1934.
When traveling, I try to taste as many local delicacies (I use that word loosely) as possible to get a real taste for a place and its culture.
Last week, I blogged here about trying iconic Scottish soft drink Irn in its original form. It wasn’t for me, but I had to taste it to find out.
The frothy craft beer and distillery movements across the country and globally make it easier to find local products — made with locally grown hops, berries, flowers, and more. It’s all about supply and demand. For every $100, Americans spend $1 on alcoholic beverages, according to government data.
Travel mixed with beverage tours — whether it’s beer, wine or liquor — have become popular across the country and worldwide.Many breweries — big or small, mainstream or craft — offer free tours and samples.
Here’s a flight of breweries to consider:
Old and new: Milwaukee is a city rich in beer history (Blatz, Miller, Pabst and Schmitz), but it’s also big in craft beer. (See photo above and at top.) Read my article about some of Milwaukee’s craft breweries that was published in The Dallas Morning News.
Fun learning: Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City, Mo., is a bit unusual in that it starts its free 1-hour tour with a small sample of its original pale ale. It also does an excellent education job: exhibits tell you about the history of beer in Mesopotamia as well as its owns product, which dates to 1989. My tour guide, Kelsi Pile, noted that 75 percent of Boulevard beer is sold locally. She also mentioned that Boulevard made 19 beers before it was bought by Belgian-owned Duvel Moortgat Brewery in 2013; now it brews 41 varieties. Boulevard also has a large beer hall, gift shop and hosts events, such as trivia and bingo nights.
Brewery Goliath: Coors beer has been around since 1873. I’ve been on a tour of the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colo., which claims to be the world’s largest single-site brewery. On its 30-minute tour, you’ll learn how Coors beer is brewed and packaged and then try free beer samples in its “Hospitality Lounge.”
Go overseas: For a taste of something different, head to Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, Belgium. This small, family owned brewery has made Lambic, Gueuze, Faro and Kriek beer using the same tools and brewing process since 1900. If you like the sour beer trend, then you’ll love Cantillon. Lambic beer is fermented using wild yeasts and bacteria native to the Zenne valley. Gueuze, a blend of lambics produced during different years, has a slightly acidic, fruity taste. Kriek is a blend of lambics and sour cherries. Cantillon also blends lambics with grapes, raspberries, apricots, hops, elderberry flowers and rhubarb. Tours are not free, but include a tasting.
In a way, you are. It’s the western edge of the United States.
The 1885 lighthouse is still used today, so it’s open for only three hours a day three days a week: from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays. Visiting it is like being let in on a secret.
The U.S. Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse, which is on on the Marin Headlands and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The National Park Service provides access to visitors.
Be prepared to walk a half mile to the site, through a rough rock tunnel (open only during visiting hours) and over a suspension bridge to the lighthouse, which sits on a small patch of land jutting into the Pacific Ocean. My National Park guide said it took 3.5 months to dig the tunnel by hand.
You’ll be rewarded with spectacular coastal views and seeing nature at its wildest and windiest best.
How it works
The 1885 lighthouse was the third one built on the West Coast to help lead ships through dangerous water and thick fog. The original lighthouse was 300 feet above sea level, but fog often obscured the light. It moved to Point Bonita in 1877.
The Point Bonita Lighthouse can shine its beam 18 miles across the ocean in clear conditions using a Fresnel lens, which is based on ground glass prisms arranged in rings around a light source.
In dense fog, sound is used. First, there was a cannon, then a fog bell and a steam siren. Today, an electric fog horn emits two blasts every 30 seconds.
To reach the Point Bonita, visitors must to drive up and down a narrow, steep, twisting road through the Marin Headlands. Parking is limited. A free Marin Headlands Shuttle operates on weekends through September along Bunker Road, Field Road and Fort Baker, stopping at the lighthouse.
If you don’t equate California’s Silicon Valley with nature, then you’ll be in for quite a surprise at Mount Umunhum, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s newest open spaces.
The 3,486-foot summit provides stunning panoramic views (see my photo above) of San Jose, Santa Clara Valley and the Bay Area’s three other highest peaks — Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais to the North and Mount Hamilton (the tallest) in the South Bay. It was a clear day, so I also could see San Pablo Bay to the North and the Pacific Ocean to the West.
The Mount Umunhum (the ‘h’ is silent) summit and trails just opened to the public six months ago, but they’re already popular with Sunday drivers, hikers and bicyclists. Mountain bikers are allowed on most of the trails and you’ll see road bikers on the steep and winding, 12-mile paved road to the summit.
I didn’t know anything about Mount Umunhum, but learned that it’s steeped in history.
Originally, the Ohlone Indian tribe inhabited the area. The name “umunhum” comes from the Ohlone word for hummingbird. At the summit, a Ceremonial Circle honors the site’s American Indian heritage.
Mount Umunhum also was part of California’s first legal mining claim — the nearby New Almaden Quicksilver mine.
From 1957 to 1980, the summit was home to the Almaden Air Force Station. The early warning radar station was one of 23 in California and hundreds across the nation during the Cold War era. The radar tower still stands at the summit, but it’s closed.
You can download an audio tour app to your smartphone to learn about the site’s history.
The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District bought the 36-acre site in 1986 and received $3.2 million in federal funds to help clean it up. The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council and the California Coastal Conservancy also provided funds, and helped develop and restore trails.
Today, 3.7 miles of trails from the Bald mountain parking lot to the summit traverse stately, moss-covered Coast Live Oak trees (see photo below), Foothill Pine, Mountain Mahogany, Manzanita and Madrone. On a recent walk there, I could smell the spicy sent of California Bay trees.
It may be the first day of spring today, but there’s still plenty of that white, fluffy stuff around to make skiers and snowboarders giddy with excitement.
Snow from late winter storms has piled up in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, making for some excellent spring shredding.
After last week’s storms, many Sierra ski resorts have accumulated hundreds of inches of snow. Last week, Tahoe’s Sugar Bowl resort and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows received over 7 feet of snow at high altitude.
And there’s more snow coming to the mountains this week (rain at lower elevations).
Now is your chance to ski in the spring — and perhaps even into the summer. (See end.)
After a slow start to winter, this month’s unusually heavy snowfall in the Sierra mountains has spawned the label “March Miracle.” Tahoe Basin has received about half of its normal snowpack, up from 3 percent in January.
The National Weather Service expects another storm system to dump up to 4 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada, possibly starting today through the weekend.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, take off a mid-week day to hit the slopes. If you’re visiting from out of town, grab a rare chance to ski or snowboard in spring or summer.
The OntheSnow website lists the amount of snow at dozens of ski resorts in California. Many ski resorts also put their webcams online so you can see the weather, the snow pack and trail conditions in real time.
You can buy discounted lift tickets online to several Sierra ski resorts at Liftopia and REI. And many ski resorts offer specials to attract customers, especially on weekdays. For example, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is offering two free lift tickets for each midweek night you stay in its lodging.
If you don’t want the hassle of a long drive or dealing with tire chains and closed roads, consider taking a ski bus. The price of transportation on the Bay Area Ski Bus or the Sports Basement ski bus includes breakfast as well as snacks and après-ski drinks on the way home. Both buses leave early in the morning to account for the four-hour drive.
Sports Basement’s ski bus has schedule trips to Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows through March 31 for pick up at its San Francisco Bryant Street and Sunnyvale athletic stores. It costs $75. Discounted lift tickets and rental gear packages are available.
The Bay Area Ski Bus, operated by Recreation Connection Inc., will pick you up at one of six Bay area locations and take you to one of six Tahoe ski resorts through April 8. A ride costs $69 or $159 with lift tickets. Equipment rentals and lessons are available.
Skiing in June
So far, five Sierra ski resorts in California have extended this year’s season because of the mountains of snow, according to Liftopia. Here they are:
Mammoth Mountain in the southern Sierras will stay open at least through July 4.
Heavenly Resort, Northstar California and Sierra-at-Tahoe will stay open through April 23. Heavenly also will open for the weekend of April 28-30. Sierra-At-Tahoe will throw a customer appreciation day April 24, with the proceeds from $35 lift tickets going toward local youth recreation and education.
Credit for the featured photo at top: Skiiers at Heavenly Resort get a view of Lake Tahoe about half way down from the 10,000-foot summit. (Hilton via Wikimedia Commons)