Napa Girls Weekend

Napa Vacation Photographer | Sonoma | Russian River | A Sonoma Girls Weekend

When five girls from Texas emailed me to find out if I’d be interested in following them around wine tasting for a day as their Napa Vacation Photographer, of course I said yes.  They were smart, bright, gorgeous, and hilarious women.  Let me tell you, these women know how to do vacation right and they put me to shame: they rented an amazing house with a cabana and a pool, overlooking vineyards in Glen Ellen, Sonoma County; they hired a driver; brought us picnics; hired ME to be their vacation photographer; and filled the air with laughter everywhere we went.  You want an amazing Girls’ Wine Weekend, hire these girls to plan it!

Want your own Napa Valley Girls Weekend?

STAY:

  • The girls rented this amazing 3 bedroom home in Glen Ellen, Sonoma, on Airbnb.  It has 5 beds, 3 bedrooms and an additional private cottage.  It’s on a quiet road, snuggled up next to surrounding wineries that you can walk to in the afternoon if you have extra time.
  • VRBO also offers a slew of wonderful properties for large group rentals in the area.  This secluded wine country retreat in Sonoma sleeps 7 and has a pool and hot tub.

PLAY:

  • The Vichy Springs are a little under a 2 hour drive from Sonoma and offer day use of their mineral baths and pools.  The Calistoga Hot Springs are just under an hour drive from Sonoma and a great way to spend the evening: after 7 p.m. the entrance fee is only $10 so bring a picnic dinner and some wine to enjoy poolside.
  • Local Osmosis Day Spa offers a Japanese influenced spa experience for 2.5 hours that starts in your own private tea garden and is followed up by a Cedar Enzyme Bath and a 75 minute Swedish-Esalen massage for $219!

EAT:

  • The Girl and the Fig offers “country food with a French passion.”  The menu changes daily depending on ingredient availability from local farms.
  • The Harvest Moon Cafe also features daily changing menus based on supply availability from local farms.

DRINK:

  • Stay Safe.  Denise with Da Vine Wine Tours will come to your house or hotel, pick you up, and drive you around every day.  She knows all the vineyards and wine makers.  She’ll set out an unbelievable picnic for you, complete with a table cloth, make appointments for you, and keep you on schedule, all with a smile.  She is awesome and I can’t imagine every doing a Napa, Sonoma or Russian River Vacation without her assistance!
  • Iron Horse Vineyards are rustic and elegant, with grand sweeping views of the Sonoma countryside, exceptional pinots, chardonnays and sparkling wines.  I purchased a bottle of the 2010 Rued Clone Chardonnay while there – it’s delightfully crisp, clean and refreshing.  In short, a porch wine.
  • Lynmar Estate offers great wines and an unbeatable garden.  Their patio is lush, colorful and filled with veggies.  The estate is breathtaking and intimate.  Here you trade vast expanses of rolling hills filled with grapevines for tight narrow pathways overgrown with exceptionally green plants.
  • William Selyem produces award winning knock out pinot noir and I had to buy one, but only one because that’s all I could afford.   The grounds are spectacular, the building awe inspiring and the tasting includes a tour.  Tastings and tours are by appointment only and for wine list members only.  You need at least two weeks head time to make a reservation.  Go here to join the mailing list and make a reservation.

Sunset Sound System Season Opener

At the beginning of April I traveled to the Bay Area for a three day wedding aka THE BEST WEDDING EVER.  It was a quadruple whammy weekend of awesome: wedding photography, trivia nights, amazing food, and I got to spend time with some of my good friends who live in Redwood City.

I didn’t expect to have Sunday afternoon free.  In a surprise turn of events, I was able to join them for an annual Bay Area Party: the Sunset Sound System Season Opener.  It takes place every year at the unbelievably picturesque Stafford Lake Park in Novato.  The 139 acre regional park serves the local community and is able to host large scale events, picnics, musical performances and more.  There is fishing in the lake, a nature trail, picnic areas and a playground and a disc golf course.  Know before ya go: no dogs allowed and no swimming!

It had been a long time since I’d heard some legit deep dark house music so I was more than ecstatic to lay on the lawn of Stafford Park and listen to fantastic sets from Galen, Solar, J-Bird and Doc Martin.

It was a warm, balmy summer like day so there was lots of rosè drinking, napping and dancing.

Wine Tasting in Amador County

What’s better than a weekend wine getaway at friend’s ranch in the Amador County Wine Country for Easter weekend?

The answer: a weekend wine getaway at a friend’s ranch in Amador County Wine Country for Easter weekend where we have an adult Easter Egg Hung and roast a lamb.

Pleasantly warm temperatures, abundant sunshine, good friends and a lot of wine equal quite possibly the best weekend ever.  Add some charcuterie and cheese plates to the mix and the whole weekend becomes as delectable as burrata on toast.

Want your own Amador County wine weekend?

STAY:

PLAY:

  • The roads in Amador County are perfect for road biking so bring your bikes along and tour the wineries in the best way possible.  There is a limited amount of road routes available at this site, but from what I can tell, most of the roads we were on, including the main highways, would be amazing to ride on.

EAT:

  • Taste has a rotating menu of seasonal ingredients and you can get an appetizer and beverage pairing for $13 at Thirteen Dollar Thursdays at the Wine Bar.
  • Andrae’s Bakery is heaven from the tables of cookbooks outside the door to the breads, pastries and sweets that line the glass counter inside.  Make sure you pick up some of their specialty sea salts while you’re there.  The Mediterranean Blend is great to coat on grilled fish, chicken or veggies and the Durango Hickory Smoked Sea Salt can’t be beat for steaks and burgers.

DRINK:

  • Holly’s Hill is my most favorite winery of all time. It’s not on the fastest road to Amador, but you should totally take the long way to Plymouth and Sutter Creek vie El Dorado County and stop into Holly’s Hill. Their staff is unbeatable and their grounds are gorgeous.  Nearby Madroña Vineyards is also always a clear winner.  I love their zinfandel.
  • Helwig has beautiful grounds with an amazing outdoor amphitheater.  Large groups can reserve the private tasting room for a true tour of what Helwig has to offer.  Check out their summer concert series schedule – buy a bottle (or three) of wine and take a picnic to enjoy the summer nights.
  • Cooper Vineyards is a favorite.   The owner, the grounds and the atmosphere are relaxed and unpretentious.   Locals love to visit on the nights they host their “Old-Timers’ Music Jam.”
  • Turley is one of my most favorite wineries of all time.  I can still remember the first time I ever took a sip of their wine.   Their wine is hard to come by and a must order when I find it on restaurant wine lists.  The tasting room is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM.

Mountain Bike Fruita | Sneak Peek

I’m currently on a kick ass mountain biking vacation with friends in Fruita, CO and Moab, UT.  You’ll have to wait til later for the full write-up but here’s a sneak peek to hold you over.  Just know this: mountain bike Fruita is awesome.

Travel Photography | Washington, DC

After spending a few days in New York City, Boyfriend and I headed down to Washington DC via bus to meet up with M, my post-college roommate, travel partner and marathon running partner.

A few years ago, M got the hare-brained idea to run a marathon and insisted I do it with her.  We chose the California International Marathon as our first event and despite apparently telling people that I was never going to do that again, we signed up again the following year for the Dallas Marathon.   By now, we are absolute pros at our drink-wine-and-don’t-train-marathon-training-program and took it to the streets of DC for the Marine Corps Marathon, which due to it’s popularity is as difficult to get into as it is to run it.

The race itself was absolutely outstanding, though it did have some lonely moments.  There’s an absolutely surreal bit of it that goes on the freeway overpass to Virginia: it’s very exposed, sun baked, and eerie, as if you’re in a zombie apocalypse movie all of the sudden.   The experience overall was phenomenal and awe inspiring.  It was hard not to cry at the starting line as jets flew over, dropping marines with American Flags and parachutes into the crowd as the anthem played.  It was encouraging to run along side Wounded Warriors as they pushed themselves on hand bikes with no gears up the hills of the 26.2 mile course.  It was invigorating to hear words of encouragement from Marines stationed every 200 yards in the last few miles.  “Keep your head up! Run with purpose!  Never give up!” they called.  It was thrilling to know that you were in the last tenth of a mile when the row of marines waiting to high five you for your efforts at the finish line showed up and then, as you cross the line, another row of Marines, waiting to shake your hand, hang your medal on your head and thank you for supporting them.

You think the laundry list of things to see in New York City is overwhelming?  DC is worse.  I wish we’d had two weeks there to really take in all the sights and museums available to you.  Here’s what we did, but this is by no means the extensive list.

STAY: Fred and Kadija’s Cozy Rowhouse on Airbnb is absolutely perfect for exploring DC from.  It’s extremely close to the NOMA metro stop and made it so insanely easy to get out on foot every day and check stuff out. The house is adequately stocked with almost everything you would need, was clean, comfortable and perfect for a group.  You won’t need a car if you stay here!

EAT:

  • Indigo is just around the corner from the Rowhouse.  Order menu items a la carte to share or scarf down by yourself.  It’s BYOB, casual and amazing.  Apparently, it’s the only authentic home-style Punjabi (North Indian) food that you’ll find in DC.
  • Our meal at Tash was one of the most memorable of our trip.  The grilled flatbread rivaled my own and was perfectly accompanied by heaping mounds of Baba Ganoush.  M’s meal, the Gheymeh Lamb Shank, was rich and cooked with precision.
  • Thank god for Teds Bulletin.  I spend four and a half hours of every marathon thinking about nothing but breakfast.  After a serious people-moving snafu occurred after the marathon (apparently moving 100,000 people via public transportation is not that easy), we were a bit concerned that it was so late we wouldn’t be able to find breakfast.  Teds Bulletin came to the rescue and not only did I have the most perfect post marathon breakfast of all time but our amazing waiter treated us to free homemade pop tart treats after we told him what we had just accomplished.

DRINK:

  • Little Miss Whiskey’s is awash with concert posters and a dark, but chill vibe.  The bartenders were great conversationalists and chatted with us for quite some time about our adventures.  The beer selection is varied and filled with local gems and the whiskey knowledge and selection is what you would expect given the name.
  • Beirgarten Haus serves authentic German beer and food in a eerily accurate setting.  It took me back to Oktoberfest.  The draft selection of German brews is extensive and the pretzel bread is not to be missed.
  • The Hawk n’ Dove is practically a historical monument in DC.  It was recently rennovated out of it’s “dive bar” status and while the locals may notice and dislike the changes, we were so comfortable here that we returned more than once to imbibe at the deep dark comfortable bar.

EXPLORE:

Travel Photography | New York City

In October of 2013, I was registered to run a marathon in Washington DC.  I felt we would be remiss to fly to the East Coast and not visit at least one major city other than DC.  Boyfriend and I settled on New York City: he had never been and I was excited to visit with my old college friends who live there now.

When I lived in Texas, I would travel to NYC frequently since it was an easy non-stop flight.  I hadn’t been back since moving to the West Coast and I how I have missed it!  New York City is a special place: not one that I’d ever like to live in, but certainly one that I enjoy vacationing in.  From amazing food, to fun character filled bars, to gorgeous museums and parks, NYC has something to offer everyone.

When we first started planning the vacation, I firmly told Boyfriend that at least one musical would have to be seen.  He complained about everything from the unforeseen price to the unknown forthcoming experience until the show started.  On a tip from my friend Darbi, we bought tickets at TKTS for Once.  It was the BEST musical I’ve ever seen. 

Once is the musical adaptation of the movie from Glen Hansard by the same name.  When it debuted, the musical received eleven Tony Award nominations and won 8 of those awards.  Less than ten minutes into the show, we could see why.  The cast, which also serves as the orchestra, was absolutely outstanding on their minimalist bar-themed set.   During intermission, the audience can walk up onstage and order drinks from the stage bar!

 In addition to Once, we also went to see an Off-Broadway production of Avenue Q, which I knew would appeal to Boyfriend’s love of non-PC humor.

There is an unbelievably long laundry list of things to do while visiting New York City that I won’t even begin to attempt to start.  Instead, here were the highlights of this particular trip for us:

STAY: We have the good fortune of staying with friends for free, but if we didn’t, I’d totally utilize Airbnb to book an adorable room in an East Village Apartment or book a totally affordable room pod at The Pod Hotel, where a room will set you back as little as $95 on a weeknight. EAT BREAKFAST:

  • At any New York City Bodega, where the cream cheese is plentiful, the bagels delicious and the breakfast sandos are made to order for less than the cost of a Venti Drip at Starbucks.

EAT DINNER:

  • Swine – A gastropub with killer cocktails and an extensive and mouthwatering menu peppered with delights like bacon mac’n’cheese, chicken and waffles, and bacon wrapped dates.
  • Joe’s Pizza – I was tipped off to Joe’s thanks to Jimmy Fallon, who likes to support businesses he loves on Twitter.  The pizza was everything you want in a New York pie: hot, messy, and sold by the slice.  Established in 1975 by Joe Pozzuoli, who is originally from Naples, Italy (the birthplace of pizza), Joe’s Pizza is a “Greenwich Village institution” offering the classic New York slice for over 37 years.

DRINK:

  • Upright Brew House in the West Village serves craft beers on tap and in the bottle from New York, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx.
  • Jimmy’s Corner was an unbelievable find.  In a town of $14 beers, we managed to order two and a shot of whiskey in this dive bar and our total bill was less than $10.   Found oddly tucked away in the middle of tourist chaos in Times Square, as soon as you duck inside everything is quiet and calm.  There long narrow bar is covered in photos from Jimmy’s days as a boxing guru and the jukebox has nothing but jazz albums.  Other than myself, Jimmy’s wife Swannie was the only woman in the bar.

SEE THEATER:

  • TKTS – Do not do TKTS as the tourists do, which is to wait in line for hours trying to buy tickets.  Either mosey on down to the South Street Seaport late in the afternoon and buy tickets for whatever strikes your fancy OR mosey on up to the window in Times Square after 6:00 PM, which is long after the rush.  Sometimes theater’s will release additional seats to shows not available earlier in the day.

EXPLORE:

  • The High Line – The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side.  It is maintained as a public space for residents and visitors to enjoy by a non-profit group that works with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation and is open every day from 7 AM to 7 PM.

Travel Photography | Napa, CA

I’m catching up on old shelved projects and photos that were shoved to the bottom of my list during the busy season.  This list includes these stunning photos from Napa, CA from this past Fall.  I was there to photograph Adam and Tracey’s wedding on a private estate in the area and spent the extra days visiting with my friend Jessica and her girlfriends and eating pastries from Bouchon.  I’m anxious to get book for another Napa Destination Wedding so I have a reason to return!

Destination Wedding in Temecula | Haley + Dave

My best mate Haley and I have been friends for over ten years now I think.  We’ve never lived in the same city.  If one of us suddenly gets the feeling that it’s been too long, then we make a point to meet up.  We call them our “rendezvous.”  In 2006 we travelled to Coachella together.  Sometimes we each go half way to San Franciscosometimes I fly to LA.  When Haley and Dave became engaged, I felt honored to be asked to take their engagement portraits.

Though we’re often far apart and sometimes go months without catching up, when we’re together, we’re just the same as always.  I love her to death and I’m so honored to have been able to travel to Temecula Wine Country to witness her marriage to the man she loves.  It should go without saying that I also approve of him.  He drinks great wine.

Haley rented a beautiful house on the top of a hill over looking the wine orchards of Temecula for her venue, which the groomsmen and bridesmaids also stayed in during the week.  It was very much so a family affair – we cooked together, decorated together, puffed up puffy lanterns together, drank wine, laughed and danced and joked together.  Haley’s family and friends all pitched in to arrange flowers and fill ice buckets.  It was a whirlwind of activity and a truly DYI wedding, right up until the point that her amazing wedding coordinator showed up and took over for us.  In the end, it all came together in the most beautiful of ways.

I was not the photographer for the wedding and I was more than happy to put away my camera and dance my butt off all. night. long.  I did photograph most of our week and getting ready photos before the photographer arrived, so that’s what you’ll see here.  Haley and Dave hired the uber-talented, super fun, really adorable Caroline Fontenot and eventually their photos will grace the pages of her blog.  You should go check out her work, it’s fantastic: energy and fun exudes from the very page when you look at her photos.

Haley’s wedding was nothing short of a spectacularly good time: beautiful but relaxed, stylish but informal.  We were paraded around by mariachis, ate street corn and tacos, drank wonderful wine and beer that went down all too easy from Stone Brewing Co, took silly photos in a photobooth, and danced long after the sun went down until we had blisters on our feet.

Temecula was such a great place to visit and if you are in the southern CA area, it would make a great weekend get-away.  I wrote about our adventures wine tasting the other day.  Temecula also has an adorable main street called Old Town, filled with bars and restaurants, hotels and tiny shops.  I stayed in The Palomar Inn, an amazing European (read: shared baths) style hotel right on the main street of Old Town.  The 10 room historic inn is family run, was built in 1927 and is supposedly haunted, though their ghost didn’t show his face to me.  Right around the corner from my Inn every Saturday is an awesome farmer’s market where I sampled amazing hot sauce from Vera’s Tamales Express and then filled my belly before the wedding with a blue crab burrito from Street Foods Co.  I needed it because I’d woken up at 6 AM to run 10 miles with the Temecula Running Club!

Photographer: Caroline Fontenot | Violinists: La Libradolce | Mariachis: Los Salazar | Dress: JLM Couture | Flowers: The Empy Vase | Decor: West Elm | Caterer: M&L Taco Catering | Wedding Cake: Hotcakes Bakes | Popsicles: Front Porch Pops | Bartenders: Always a Happy Hour Bartending | Rentals: Temecula Party Rentals | Wedding Coordinator:  Vanessa Vargess | DJ/Lighting: Brett Elliott | Vacation Home Rental: Eva Woodsmall