Travel Diary: Celebrations in the Golden State

In case you missed it (though I’m not sure how), I’m a California girl. Born and bred, for the most part, though once I turned nine, I split my time between the Golden State and the Grand Canyon one. I’m lucky enough to consider them both home. However, most of my family still dwells in the golden hills of the wine country or the Sacramento valley. So, every year around my birthday, I head back there to hang out and celebrate.

This year was no different. (Okay, this year was a little different. Most years include a stop in Tahoe, but that trip’s happening later this time. That’s not really the point, though.)

This was less of a touristy trip than my last one to California, but it was filled with just as much good food and good wine as ever.

Where We Ate


Maybe it’s because I never get to eat it at home, thanks to a boyfriend who is not so much a fan, but I will leap at any opportunity for Asian cuisine. Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Korean… I love ’em all. My grandparents took me to a Thai restaurant they love called LemonGrass, and it did not disappoint! Let alone the fact that they offer mini bottles of Mumm Brut (and I believe bubbles are essential to any birthday celebration), but they also have a to-die-for ginger ice cream for dessert. Yes, I know that sounds odd. I thought so too. Just trust me on this one.

(There was also a delightfully sassy elderly couple seated behind us. The man talked too loud and we heart all their romantic woes. They’ve got quite the love triangle happening! He escorted her out by the arm for another drink at her place, so I’d say he’s the front-runner in the race for her heart.)

Jack’s Urban Eats
Guys – I was SO excited to go back to this place! I used to love Jack’s when I was a kid. It’s a Panera-style restaurant that started out in midtown Sacramento, and I practically lived off their mac and cheese for an entire summer. We met my cousin for lunch here, and though I’ve grown up to enjoy a big salad for lunch, we of course had to get a side of mac and cheese and cheesy bread.

East West Cafe
The family Saturday morning breakfast club meets promptly at 8:00 a.m. at East West Cafe in Santa Rosa. Unless, of course, someone’s in town to convince the president of the club (aka my uncle) to push it back an hour. 😉

Regardless what people say about the food – and my family certainly has varying opinions there – there’s something to be said for being an out of towner and still feeling like a part of a weekly routine. While half of our rowdy bunch now orders off the menu, if you’re ever in the mood for a quasi-healthy breakfast and don’t mind not having your toast buttered, I wouldn’t not recommend it. Just tell them you know the Nelsons.

What We Did 

Yao Family Winery

img_0901Yes, that Yao.

This was more of a me thing than anyone else, but you can’t go to the wine country and not taste some new wine!

On my dad and my’s commute over to Santa Rosa, we diverted through the picturesque wine town of St. Helena due to traffic on 80 (yes, Arizonans and So-Cal pals, the northern part of the country doesn’t put the word “the” in front of their freeways). My dad asked if I wanted to pop in for some wine tasting – to which the only answer should ever be a resounding yes! Of course, we ended up at the only winery in town owned by a basketball player. I guess because the boy couldn’t join this trip, it was only fitting. I tried the sauvignon blanc, rosé, and the sparkling wine. The bubbles, as you can probably imagine, were my favorite. The gigantic cutout of Yao Ming was my second favorite.

The Sonoma County Fair
Guys, this is probably my FAVORITE part of being in Sonoma County during August. While the fair is pretty much the same every year, you can’t not be sucked in by the small-town charm. This is so vastly different from the state fairs I’m so used to. There’s a little carnival that my family rarely rides on; there’s a hall of flowers that was dedicated this year to the firefighters that fought back against the Santa Rosa firestorm; there’s a whole room dedicated to crafts made by some super talented kids. This year, there was even a whole Harry Potter exhibit – which you know I had to take a seat in, and read a few pages.

Backyard Barbecues
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the big benefits of California summers – outdoor dining. My dad and his girlfriend spoiled us with a barbecue one night, and my family put on another barbecue for a little birthday party. It was a week of porches and sunsets, and even through the sadly smoky haze from the nearby fires, it was absolutely perfect. I already miss being able to sit outside without sweating.


In fact, I already miss a lot of things about California. I often joke that I get into a post-trip “funk” no matter where I go, but the truth is that it’s worse when I come home from being at home. Maybe it’s that paradox that does it.

Granted, I did get a little extra time at home this time around, if only due to a massive dust storm in Phoenix that cancelled my flight. It all worked out in the end, though, and I got an unexpected, but much-needed evening with my cousin. (In case you’re reading this… only feet!)

I’m just so grateful that home is so close, and that it’s not too difficult to hop on over for whatever the occasion may be.

See you soon, California.

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