California 2022 Part 2!

~The San Francisco Chronicles~


Going to step back in time a few months for this opening story – our very first trip driving the Sundancer OVER the Golden Gate Bridge! It was so exciting. We stopped at our favorite cliff spot the night before for sunset. On the way up we grabbed sandwiches from an Italian delicatessen and they were massive!

After Daly City, the 1 takes you through some classic SF neighborhoods, through Golden Gate Park and joins back with the 101 right before the bridge. It’s funny, you expect to see it coming from a long ways off because of how big the iconic landmark is, but as you’re driving up from the west side, it’s kind of blocked by trees and houses and then all of a sudden you turn a corner and BAM, you’re on the bridge. And of course, always mindful of a contextually applicable and well-timed song for the moment…we listened to Lights by Journey as we crossed 🙂 Another thing that was well timed was the fog. It stayed away just long enough for us to cross the bridge and have 30 minutes or so by the Presidio Yacht Club to enjoy the view. Then it slowly drifted in from the bay engulfing the bridge and eventually the whole city, which you’ll see in the latter half of the pictures below.

A few months later when we again journeyed north across bridge, it was sunrise. Even MORE perfect for listening to Lights by Journey, which was written about the San Francisco Bay…at sunrise. Maybe we’ll just make it a tradition and listen to that song every time we cross it. 

But I digress. Rewind back to our first trip north of the city…to a little town on the waterfront (bay side) called Sausalito! Adorable and happy little area filled with thriving shops, houses on hills, and docks and marinas all over. Otis Redding wrote Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay about Sausalito. It happened to be super bowl weekend, so on Sunday we wandered into a few bars and restaurants trying to find a seat with a view of the game.

Little did we know the one we picked was a haunted bar. Straight. Up. Haunted. 

The first time I (Gabrielle) spilled a beer, I thought it was my fault. I told the waitress I didn’t think I’d hit the table, but I guess it was possible. With the replacement beer, I made sure to be extra careful. However, when it started sliding from the middle of the table to the edge of the table and then spilled over the side a second time, David and I both witnessed it with wide eyes. Neither of us were touching the table. 

The bar is No Name Bar. Come to find it’s this historic, well-known bar, having entertained famous actors, musicians, artists (and of course normal people like us) from all over the world since 1959. They have live music every night and right after the super bowl they were setting up. The table we picked, along the wall underneath their red bar flag, was apparently where a couple musicians that regularly played at No Name used to sit. It was THEIR table at this bar, up until the point they died. The bar has since put up each of their portraits above the table as an homage, on the wall across from where we were sitting.

Since their death, the bartenders have had a plethora of patrons from all over the bar who have had their drinks tipped over without anyone close to touching the table, beers lifting a little off the table – hovering – and then spilling over the edge. Entire drinks being flung by nothing but pure air and shattering against the wall in front of their faces….sometimes people even hear music being played that’s not there and voices singing along with it. And the waitress told us the table we were sitting at, “their table,” was the hot spot where people had the most amount of…er…encounters. 

It was such a cool, eerie, “supernatural super bowl” night. Let’s be honest…I barely remember paying attention to the football game, except for the Snoop, Dre, & Co. halftime show, which the bartenders cranked. In the words of Dre and and the legendary Tupac Shakur…California knows how to party. (The middle picture below we found on Google, posted years ago showing the original stage. Note that the ghost portraits are conspicuously absent!! They’re presumably still alive at that point.) Next time we’re in Sausalito, I’m definitely going to have to go back and ask the ghost artists’ names to look up some of their music.

Switching pace to a totally different weekend, we joined our friends Tricia and Damian for a fun day trip in San Francisco. There is just SO MUCH to do and see and feel in this city. Below are some photos of us checking out the splendid vistas from up at Twin Peaks, playing mini golf at Urban Putt in the Mission District, and then a relaxing afternoon chilling on a blanket and people watching at Mission Dolores Park. 

Urban Putt is an awesome indoor mini golf course with a bar and restaurant and some arcade games. The course is filled with all kinds of crazy mechanisms that carry the balls all over the place, Rube Goldberg style! We had so much fun.

Dolores Park is iconic. Folks have been spending the day on these grassy hills with swoon-worthy city views for as long as long as anyone can remember. There are photos from the 1960s, from the 1910s even of folks doing exactly what it is folks are still doing today: spreading a blanket, cracking a cold beverage, doing nothing, and enjoying being alive. It is a gathering place for all people and colorful personalities, and perhaps because of that it is excellent people watching. And there are all manner of things being sold by people walking around, you never know what you’re going to be offered – drinks, chips, jello shots, hand woven clothing, board games, card games, ice cream, Brazilian Brigadeiros (delicious little fudge balls), magic mushrooms, freshly rolled joints, hand made edibles, kids toys and favors, fireworks, hot dogs, you name it. 

Here are some comparison pics from the 60’s to today!

The vibes are joyous and palpable at Dolores Park. People cheers beers and laugh alongside others openly smoking weed and conversing alongside others quietly enjoying a book or napping in the sun alongside kids and their parents throwing a frisbee or playing at a playground just down the way. Music drifts through the air. We can always find some time for Dolores when we’re in the city. We even brought David’s parents when they were in town, for an afternoon and sunset.

There’s always something happening in San Francisco. I know that’s technically true for any city, but it feels like SF is especially dynamic. The day we went in with Tricia and Damian just happened to be Chinese New Year! After China, San Francisco has the largest Chinese New Year celebration in the world. What a NIGHT we had, oh my goodness. The parade around Union Square had sooooo many electrically lit dragons of every color dancing through the streets, an entirely epic fireworks show over Union Square that was so loud and close to the buildings that it had us all wondering questioningly about how safe it was….but still! AWESOME. 

Also, we need to emphasize the firecrackers and fireworks. It outdid the 4th of July. They were literally everywhere. Most of the streets in Chinatown were blocked off for cars, and as we walked the streets, you’d turn a corner and somebody would be setting off a mortar in the middle of an intersection. Firecrackers were thrown all over the place, and the red tissue paper from used firecrackers littered the streets. 

At a different point in the parade (see above screenshot from phone video) we watched as a crane lowered a live 30-ft line of firecrackers into a circle of people dressed like dragons dancing around it as they went off at ground level…never seen that before. 

Anyways, it was a blast, pun intended. We topped off the night right by of course having some authentic Chinese food for dinner. Sat in-house at a really cool, low key Chinese place – all of us totally pooped, mind you – and devoured some of the best Mongolian beef we’ve ever eaten for dinner. I’m salivating just thinking about it. 

Another weekend this spring, we went to a Giants vs. Cardinals baseball game, which the Cardinals ended up winning (David was happy). The Giants stadium is situated in a really nice spot along the bay, so that you walk the whole right field side and the water is just beyond the wall. It’s cool when someone hits a home run or a foul ball out of the right field side, because kayakers sit during the games and paddle up to grab the floating ball! Too funny. Gabrielle’s new *2nd* favorite baseball stadium. 

We were lucky in our weather and had a lovely day out at the ball park. And the seats David got were KILLER!! First row along the first base line, right next to the Cardinals dugout. Gabrielle didn’t even know where we were going to be sitting, he had the whole thing set up as a surprise. It was a great game and we took a couple innings in the middle to walk around the whole park. David got 5 autographs on a ball before the game, including Willie McGee. After the Cardinals won the game, we hung out on the right field wall as long as we could until security ushered us out.

Lucky for us our frequented Ft Collins brewery, New Belgium, and the well-reputed 21st Amendment both had taprooms next to the ball park for us to explore! After waiting a while for beers at New Belgium we ended up befriending the bartenders and getting a bunch of free stuff (to make up for our wait) and a couple of free cans of barrel aged stuff to go! Which TBH is totally on-brand for things that happen to the Hamiltons when they go into craft breweries. We got to try some of their brewed in-house beers that you can’t find anywhere else.

At 21st Amendment, we sat at the bar and met Blake from SF who had also just gone to the game. He was pretty sloshed but we enjoyed his company having fun discussions on who were the best catchers in baseball, past and present. He wasn’t moving from Buster Posey and Gabrielle said Mike Piazza which he scoffed at. Blake also said Yadier Molina but David said yea he’s my favorite, but best of all time might have to be Yogi Berra. This entire time random drunk dude across the bar just keeps yelling Barry Bonds!!!!! And Gabrielle yelled back at least 3 times that we were talking about CATCHERS. It went on and on – best players or hitters while the pints kept rolling and the hilarious bartenders lined up shots. 

…side note, our new friend Blake texted Gabrielle this below picture and said “I better see this on the blog.” Hope you are reading this, buddy – cheers!

On their move from CA to IL in June, Gabrielle’s brother Jake and his wife Allie did a couple of days in the bay with us on their trek back east! It was nice sharing our love of this area with them, and we squashed a whooooole lot of sights and activities into just 2 days. Redwood forest hiking at Henry Cowell SP one day w/ downtown Santa Cruz shopping, dining, and boardwalk exploring the first day…and San Francisco the second day, which included a ride on the famous Powell/Hyde cable car, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 wanderings and shopping, ice cream at Ghirardelli Square, stopping at Tricia and Damian’s housewarming party at their sweet new digs in the Bayview neighborhood, and then meeting up with some of Jake’s friends to stroll the Castro late at night amongst the wildness of Pride Weekend festivities. I think we were all pooped by the end of the 48 hours!

They lived down in Ventura, CA just north of LA for the past 3 years. You forget sometimes how expansive California is to the north and south along the coast….SoCal is often completely different habitat. While big hikers themselves, Jake and Allie hadn’t yet had the chance to go hiking in redwood forests because their native range doesn’t stretch that far south. It was lovely being able to hike in Henry Cowell SP with them and share NorCal redwoods with peeps from SoCal. 🙂 We added most of those hiking pictures in our previous blog in the grouping with the other Henry Cowell pics. 

On Sunday after Jake and Allie headed out to continue their road trip, David and I ALMOST started back down the peninsula to south bay before remembering…wait! Today is the Pride Parade!! (Along with its Chinese New Year, SF also has one of the biggest Pride Parades in the country…I mean, c’mon.)

Remember earlier in this post when I said there’s always something happening in San Francisco?

Just as much of a wild ride as you would expect it to be, with all of the positive-charged energy of empowerment and everyone turning out to celebrate. There were people dancing in the streets everywhere you looked. Outfits were spectacular, the only limit seeming to be the extent of one’s imagination. We’d watch the parade pass for a little while, then hop to a different vantage point a block or so down for various parade viewing perspectives. The dancing and singing along to music from the floats was contagious, and that Sunday afternoon was just the embodiment of real pride in being exactly who we are and who we were meant to be, in whatever way, shape, form, or color that speaks your soul. 

How fun it is to be living your best life. 

California 2022 Part 1!

Smithwoods RV Park & Felton, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Santa Cruz, Highway 1


For the first 4 months of 2022, we stayed at a cozy little family-owned campsite in Felton, CA called Smithwoods. It was a sweet gig in the off-season; Because Gabrielle is considered an essential worker with PG&E, we got approved to stay there at a monthly, discounted rate – there were some traveling nurses in a trailer just down from us doing the same thing. 

Felton is a small, mountain town in the Santa Cruz mountains, about 10 minutes north of Santa Cruz proper. Together with Scotts Valley, Boulder Creek, and a few other towns along this area, they make up the San Lorenzo Valley. This valley a beautiful forested area with enormous redwood trees all over the place, and a chill, peaceful vibe palpable in most all the people you meet. One of the world’s last patches of old growth redwood trees (older than 200 years) is just outside of Felton: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. They have a grove there of incredibly old giants, some nearing 1,800 years and still going strong! During those 4 months, we spent a LOT of time in Henry Cowell – just hopped over the train trestle to get to the hiking trails! It was high privilege to have that kind of ancient wilderness in our own backyard. 

Below are a collection of pictures from many different hikes throughout Henry Cowell, which we will always think of with a tender spot in our hearts. ***BONUS TREE FACT: Henry Cowell has another really cool thing going for it – albino redwoods!! They are very rare and are a scientific marvel. There are estimated to be around only 400 naturally occurring in the whole world. By all logic of plant biology, they shouldn’t be able to exist and are a total enigma, which just makes them even cooler. Scientists think the albinos may store toxic metals for a nearby mother tree/clone in a kind of sequestration process. The albino redwoods essentially sacrifice themselves for the good of the trees around them, and act as a natural “waste dump.” We found 4 of them! Each such an intriguing and surprising little ghost of the forest. See some pictures below. 

Staying in Felton for 4 months gave us plenty of weekends to explore the iconic coastal city of Santa Cruz, California. Oh, man…how do I even intro Santa Cruz? It is a surfer’s paradise, a haven for the nature lover, a destination at the end of the road for the weary traveller, a thriving melting pot of ages and demographics….there is just so much to love about Santa Cruz. It sits at the north end of the Monterey Bay, facing south, with lovely sandy beaches scattered throughout. On summer days when it’s roasting hot throughout inland California, this coastal town stays perfectly temperate with the natural ocean breeze. Because it sits right where the mountains meet the water, it is a gateway for recreation both on land and sea. Ten minutes up the coast towards San Francisco you’ll find spectacular cliffside spots to watch waves crash on huge rock formations. I should also mention the whole dang Monterey Bay area is known for being a Marine Sanctuary! The biodiversity of these waters is immense. 

A few notable areas we’ve checked out around Santa Cruz:

The Boardwalk! Amusement park, sprawling swimming beach, restaurants, arcades, mini golf…the Santa Cruz Boardwalk has it all. A really interesting and deep history, too, with it being the oldest amusement park in the entire state. Family-owned and operated since 1907, the boardwalk has housed so many different things over the years, including huge diving shows called “Salt Water Plunge Water Carnivals” from the twenties through the forties. It has our new favorite wooden roller coaster (5th oldest operating roller coaster in the country) – the Giant Dipper! A “blast from the past” in both ways, and a super smooth ride for what it is. It’ll catch you by surprise!

The Wharf – sprawling out just down the beach from the Boardwalk, it’s the west coast’s longest wooden pier! There are restaurants, gift shops, ice cream and lots of sea lions to keep you entertained. Bonus is you can pay to drive your car out on it and park. At the end of the wharf you have great views of the area and the Boardwalk as well as watching the sea lions underneath and seals in the harbor.

Downtown/Pacific Ave: Historic downtown with, again, everything you could want in a beachy downtown area. There are almost always street musicians so music floats down the blocks. Local vendors often out selling their craft on the weekend, tons of little town kiosks with creative snack food (my favorite is the Indian food right outside the bookstore), and dreamy, Cali-vibe shops full of treasures that are unique and not usually found in a run-of-the-mill tourist shop. They can be hard to pass up, but RV living requires less accumulation of things due to the lack of storage space – it is without a doubt a blessing in disguise, haha. Also: Can’t forget to mention Gabrielle’s new favorite book store, Bookshop Santa Cruz. A huge earthquake in 1989 was almost the end for this bookstore, but the community came together and brought their own books to restock the bookstore’s lost inventory. It’s an inspiring success story, and I almost always stop in for some browsing when we’re in the area. 

We took a whale watching tour from the Santa Cruz harbor in January so we could see the grey whales migrating! These bottom feeders trek from the Baja all the way up to Alaska. There were several pairs of them that we followed for a while. The grey whales dive down for 5 minutes at a time sometimes to scrape the bottom of the ocean floor to suck up all the nutrients down in the mud. We saw several flukes where the full tail is exposed out of the water as they dive. It was a beautiful calm day and we had a very energetic tour guide named Sidney. She was the resident marine biologist, we liked her a lot! She gave us too much information to remember. Whale watching can be hit or miss with sightings, but it is so worth it when you do experience those moments with these amazing and elusive sea creatures. 

A common drive we enjoy cruising the sights on and stopping along is the Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Cruz and Pacifica. It’s 60 miles of ocean driving with plenty of hidden gems in the form of sleepy beach towns, roadside produce stands often with produce picked that very morning, lighthouses, hidden beaches and trails, and delightful local cuisine. Also, a few good breweries here and there like Hop Dogma in Half Moon Bay. We also loved Pescadero with its tiny but mighty old school Italian deli. They bake fresh hot artichoke bread every day filled with artichoke hearts! We have had many great days parking the RV on the side of the highway and lounging on the beach. 

California for the Holidays

Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz, Livermore, San Francisco, Ventura, San Jose, Highway 1 (parts of)


Our first new home was Sanborn County Park just south of Saratoga. It is the closest commute for Gabrielle to Mountain View and its a nice quiet park with lots of deer, turkeys, newts and birds.

Gabrielle’s friend from Oak Park Tricia and her husband Damian live in Mountain View so we have been able to hang out with them several times! Our first night we went out for dinner, came back to their apartment, played some games and then the boys fell asleep on the couch next to each other!

Our second campground was Coyote Valley, located in the southeast of San Jose up in the foothills of the Coastal Mountains. It’s a newer campground with nice facilities. The campsites are spread out and one whole section was empty so I turned it into my disc golf practice area! There are some really great trails here that give you beautiful views of the valley. I saw a lot of wildlife here including many firsts like my bobcat encounter! After seeing me, the bobcat trotted the other way stopping now and then to look around. It might have been a juvenile just starting out on its own since you usually don’t see them in the middle of the day. 

For our Thanksgiving weekend we headed to Monterey Bay! This was our first visit to Santa Cruz and it certainly would not be our last… We parked at the Boardwalk and walked the beach and the famous wharf. It is the longest wooden wharf on the west coast at 2,745 feet! There are restaurants and shops, fishermen and benches for seal watching, even parking for the many custom classic cars that people drive to the beach to show off and hang out. It’s a whole culture in itself. We had Thanksgiving day lunch at a restaurant sitting next to the window overlooking the bay. Sea lions poked their heads up out of the waves as we ate. It was wonderful.

That night we headed to our campsite south of Santa Cruz along the Hwy 1 to Sunset State Beach. The whole campground sits on top a huge hill rising quickly above the beach below. Our campsite was a short walk from the top of the long set of stairs to walk to the beach. It really wasn’t that bad, especially since being that close to the cliffside yielded great sunset beach views. Due to the nature of our weekend on the road, we knew we weren’t going to have the time to make a big, classic Thanksgiving meal (plus, we had done that last year and wanted to switch it up). So instead, we’d picked up Boston Market carryout for Thanksgiving dinner which started the day early waiting in line for an hour… so worth it! Although we waited too long apparently to heat up our dinner since the campground host came knocking on our door yelling at us to turn off our generator because it was after quiet hours oops. HA, oh well, everything was already hot by that point anyway!

The next day aka Black Friday we headed back north on the 1 past Santa Cruz in search of the secret Shark Fin Cove! It’s not really a secret, but if you were to drive by quickly, you can’t see it from the highway (just a brief second, then it’s obscured by rocks) so it looks like just another parking lot for people looking to walk to the cliffs and look at the ocean view. However, in classic-Gabrielle fashion, she’d researched ahead of time the best hidden gems/beach coves, so we made a point to stop and walk down the steep path to check out the small cove…what a reward. It has since become one of our favorite places to return to in the recent months. 

Its namesake is a large rock formation rising up just off the beach in the triangular shape of a shark fin. The pure energy of the ocean in this cove is intoxicating – waves wrap around the rocks and ricochet in every direction so there is foam and spray and the sound of crashing water almost all around you. The waves are so forceful so that the beach closest to the ocean is soft, constantly being molded anew like clay in a potter’s hand, so that you sink down to your ankle when you get close. It is NOT recommended for swimming! That turbulence could take control of you. There’s a little tunnel cavern that has been eroded by the beach over time, and you can walk through and feel like you’re walking through a secret passageway to a whole different place, coming out right at the waves. 

We lingered in this magical spot for a few hours, having brought some beach chairs and snacks along. The confluence of the waves from every angle here is hypnotic, the crashing sounds so close to you all-encompassing. I found myself unable to look away at times, lost in thought.

We continued north and found ourselves coming up to a big sign for Highway 1 Brewing Company using the California highway symbol for their logo. So we had to of course make a pit stop! We had a nice flight of satisfying brews on their large back patio complete with the local blue scrub jays ready to grab any abandoned fries or chips they could find (definitely the prettiest bird of the the traditional “scavengers” like pigeons, grackles, and seagulls!). If you ever find yourself in this area, this is a cool spot with great looking food.

Our next stop was Pigeon Point Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse on the west coast. Built in 1871 and still in use, it stand 115 feet tall on a pivotal point on the coast to warn ships but mostly to take selfies with. There are some cabins you can rent on the peninsula, as well as a small gift shop/museum. The cliffs all around are beautifully adorned with lush ground cover leading to sharp rocks and waves below and lots of seals!

Sunset was upon us so we stopped at San Gregorio State Beach and walked out to bask in powerful color array against the ocean. We stayed for a while but they close the official parking lots at dusk and we eyed a spot on the cliff side just before the beach. There was one RV there and some cars of ppl still leaving from sunset. It’s called the South Coast on google maps and is honestly just a small dirt lot on top of a cliff right off the highway that isn’t regulated. Soooo a perfect overnight spot for RVs or camper vans! (Shhh, don’t tell). You wake up to the sounds of the ocean and walk out to the cliff with your coffee or tea and a chair to just relax. We have stayed here several times now as a nice in-between stop on our way to and from destinations.

Some good friends from Colorado, Jason & Cheryle, were going to be in San Fransisco for the day coming back from a cruise and we planned to have lunch with them. The driving from our South Cliff spot to downtown San Fransisco was, frankly speaking, QUITE the experience. Up and down large hills along the ocean, diving through a small tunnel to Pacifica, then merging with 280 in South San Fransisco before heading into to the city. It was all going pretty well with great views, but then I get off the highway into the tight urban streets packed with pedestrians, vehicles, street cars, buses, and potholes. And remember we are driving our 29 foot RV! When we had to merge in front of a street train…because the light rails go through car lanes and cars have to merge around and with them….and cars are zooming around us and honking and the light rail was still coming towards us….Gabrielle had to cover her eyes. Later, she claimed that it was the most stressful and nerve-wracking RV experience to-date, and she wasn’t even driving! HA! We did make it eventually squeezing into a street parking spot.  Don’t even get me started on the sharp, vertical hills that this city is known for. We decided it was the Sundancer’s last trip to downtown San Francisco.

After a great lunch we ventured over to a beer bar with Jason, Cheryle, and their friends from the city. A fun afternoon filled with hilarious stories of the cruise, new friends, old friends, and great beer trying made all the better by a cool, witty bartender who we all became instant friends with. As they headed off to the airport, we headed back south to Pacifica, a beach town just south of San Francisco.

Ended the night with a good dinner at Pacifica Brewing Co. Notable story: As tends to happen when Gabrielle is around, we got a free dessert out of the manager for some bad beers. Most of them were tasty though and we had a good time. There was a bowling alley next door, but after hearing there was an hour wait for a lane we hit the hay. 

The beginning of December brought us to Del Valle County Park campground just south of Livermore. The joke of this campground was that Gabrielle never saw it during the day! She would leave early to get to her morning meeting in Mountain View at 7:30 AM sharp, and not get home until after it was already dark. We only stayed there during the week while she worked, so by the time we’d come back from weekend adventures elsewhere on Sunday night, it would already be dark and she’d leave in the dark morning all over again! We’ll likely make it back to Del Valle this summer, and chances are she’ll finally get to see it in the light since evening daylight lasts so much longer in the warm seasons. Also this campground had no wifi and you had to hike 2 miles to get cell signal or drive 10 minutes up the hill toward town – sometimes great to get away and unplug, sometimes annoying when you’re trying to accomplish things. It was nice though, similar to Coyote Valley. Some days David would hike up with his lunch, backpacking chair and/or hammock and have a few hours of signal. There was a big reservoir with lots of pelicans and other water fowl.

One of the weekends in December we explored Livermore, the town closest to Del Valle Regional Park. We went Christmas shopping, stopped for coffee, got lobster rolls at a food truck, tried whiskey at a fully-stocked whiskey bar, and attended the Livermore Christmas parade with oh-so-may lights and abounding holiday cheer in everyone around us. We stood in front of a round fountain that all of the children wanted to climb on to see the parade better. 

While we were at Del Valle, we had a gasket bust that leaked out all of our engine coolant. #RVlifeproblems. Finding a place to work on RVs is tough enough already, even more so one that will work on the chassis side of things…and we needed one fast! Guess we had some holiday luck in that we found an RV repair shop in Fremont that would get us in the next week. Also lucky: There was a brand new campground just down the road called Dumbarton Quarry that is built right up on the East Bay near an old quarry. The commute for Gabrielle was better than Livermore – she doesn’t mind doing the longer commutes for a while, but she likes having breaks periods in between with shorter, less stop-and-go traffic commutes (I mean, who doesn’t?). David got in a couple of nice hikes here where you can see all the way up the bay to San Fransisco and Oakland. Again, lots of birds! 

Long story short, we got the RV fixed and the guy said we should try to find a more permanent home to help not having to drive as much for a while. So we began our search for a monthly lease at a private campground which is hard here because a lot of them are either way too $$$ or they don’t take RVs that are older than 10 years old… (our 1994 Winnebago is almost an antique lol). We’ve jokingly taken to calling this unfair exclusivity in campgrounds “RV ageism.” In the year and a half we’ve been living our nomad life in the Sundancer and in the myriad of states we’ve explored, California if the first place we’ve encountered this. There’s more to the story here, for sure, but I won’t get into that now. We had to submit photos of our RV on all sides for them to see if it’s aesthetically up to par and guarantee them it’s in good working order. We finally got accepted at Smithwoods RV Park in Felton starting on January 2nd!

We found an RV community next to a big park in the middle of Mountain View were Gabrielle worked and a 10 min walk to our friends Tricia & Damian’s apartment. We got the last spot on the street where it looks like a lot of these RVs have been posted up for years. After seeing a yard sign nearby saying “We support our RV neighbors” with a hashtag and QR code, we learned that this area near the park is units of people who had jobs in the area but could not afford to buy a home or even rent an apartment because of how expensive it is in Silicon Valley (or the Bay Area or just California in general). Here’s the website it directed us to:

https://www.rvneighbors.org/

It was a good, free place for the time being although with no electric hookup it meant no heat, so we just had to put on an extra layer in the evenings and have more snuggles with the kitty. Really not that bad – I mean, this is coastal California winters we’re talking about, they’re MILD compared to what we were used to in CO and IL. It was great for grabbing the train to SF! Plus, Gabrielle had her favorite commute to-date: Roll out of bed, throw on clothes and drive 7 minutes up the road to the morning meeting!

The weekend before Christmas we took the early train into San Fransisco for a full day in the famous Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood. First stop should always be the amazing Boudin Bakery Cafe where they make their famous sourdough bread in hundreds of shapes and characters. They also have clam chowder and lobster bisque bread bowls that are mouthwatering.

The big attraction in Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 39 which has rides, shops, bars, restaurants, and an aquarium. It has two levels and it reminded us of an amusement park. On the end of the pier is a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge. Also lots of sea lions on the nearby floating docks. 

Another cool place along the wharf is the Musée Mécanique, a fascinating hybrid of an arcade and museum in which you could spend hours and hours and easily whittle away a whole bag of quarters. It is filled to the brim with a history of coin operated entertainment ranging from late 1800s antique hand crank music boxes to modern arcade games, to everything in between. You could just pick an era and play the games or watch the kind of entertainment people had in that era. Our favorite were the completing surprising series of death machines where you pay a coin to watch a show of puppets executing people! It was hilarious and also absurd to think how children from the turn of the century fed quarters to watch a puppet guillotine head chop, or another puppet getting hung from a noose. There were at least 6 of them…not to mention one with the title “opium den.” If you’re interested in seeing these videos, reach out to either of us and we’ll text them to you haha.

earby, Pier 45 houses some old ships that are now museums and you can explore through parts of them. Unfortunately it closed while we were inside the arcade so add it to the bucket list for next time. Onward towards San Francisco’s famous Ghirardelli Square, a personal bucket-list item of Gabrielle’s since college!

Gab has a soft spot for Ghirardelli because Jil’s family – one of her best friends from college – owned a condo in Chicago that sat right above the Ghirardelli across from the water tower on Pearson & Michigan Ave. The girls (and later David when he was accepted by the girls into the cool kids club) would go there every time they’d stay at the condo to get a free square of chocolate…and hey, if we walked by the storefront multiple times in a day, who’s counting squares?! ) And sometimes ice cream sundaes. Or shakes blended with caramel chocolate squares. I mean, we have been to Hershey, PA. It is incredible. But if we had to choose: Ghirardelli is superior chocolate. 

This beautiful square sits above a park overlooking the Bay in all its lit up glory. Better get in line for that famous sundae because it’s already formed daily when they open the doors. You can get all their varieties of chocolate, lots of sundaes, and our favorite that I mentioned before, the square shake.

It’s been so popular and busy they opened a 2nd ice cream and chocolate shop on the other end of the square! There are some other shops and restaurants here as well, including San Fransisco Brewing Co tucked away in a corner. We had some tasters and played on their badass, full length shuffleboard table! Both of us are pretty evenly matched at shuffleboard skills, so it just depends on which way the wind is blowing that night, haha.

We had a late night dinner reservation at the legitimately famous Scoma’s Restaurant on the Bay where we finally got to try THE local seafood dish of San Francisco: Dungeness crab! It was delightful. Gabrielle got the Lazy Man’s Cioppino, a kind of stew/gumbo with the crab (amongst other seafood) that originated in this neighborhood. It was equally delectable, and also very warming after being out in wind once the sun had set. 

It was an absolutely wonderful day, filled to the brim with memories and laughs. We were WIPED. Caught the train station out of the city at 12:05 AM and fell asleep on the train ride home.

Another weekend, we spent an evening in at Tricia and Damian’s building gingerbread houses, watching Jingle All the Way, having holiday drinks, and baking cookies. Well…Tricia baked cookies. Gabrielle helped where she could, and the boys just talked, drank their drinks, and at the fresh cookies. Tricia knocked it out of the park this year – she baked a TON of cookies from scratch so she could make little gift baskets for all of her coworkers, and ended up being able to make around 25 little boxes of around 5-10 cookies each. TWENTY FIVE! So glad I have this generous, amazing friend back in my life. If you’re reading this, Trish, LOVE YOU ❤

We knew we couldn’t afford to fly home for Christmas and Gabrielle was out of vacation time. So we took our 3 days, rented a car and drive down to Ventura to spend Christmas with Gabrielle’s brother Jake and his wife Allie! 

Did we mention they live across the street from the beach and have a nice pool and hot tub at their apartment?! It was three days of “sibling Christmas!” with a Christmas Day afternoon hike up a mountain, Grandma Lolly’s hilarious Christmas glasses that we wore on the hike and in the hot tub, dinner out in Ventura, boxes of presents sent from the midwest, cat toys, and bundt cakes! My parents sent us a dozen bundt cakes… SO MANY BUNT CAKES! So delicious. 

For the week leading up to New Years, we house-sat and cat-sat at Tricia & Damian’s place while they flew to Chicago for the week. We brought our cat Beaker with us to hang out with their cat, Bean! Let’s just say they coexisted with some separation at times…no cat fights, but some hissing . By the end of the week they would be okay being in close proximity to each other, but there was never any cuddling. It was good though and nice for us to have a little more space. We wouldn’t trade our Sundancer experience these past years for anything, but after living in it for so long you do start to miss and appreciate large indoor spaces. (Insert quote from Step Brothers “There’s so much room for ACTIVITIES!”)

Boundaries
The Great Standoff.
Seperation

For New Year’s Eve we thought about going to San Francisco but decided that since we don’t have Elon Musk money, we should find something local. The night before New Year’s Eve, David just happened upon a website for San Jose area and found that the local amusement park was hosting a New Year’s Eve party with 6 hours in the park and fireworks! Tickets weren’t too bad so we thought why not? We like rollercoasters. 

If we as a couple had a middle name, pretty sure it would be Spontaneity. 

And so: California Great America for WinterFest NYE! Holiday music and dance shows, dazzling themed lights and decorations, spiked eggnog topped with a cookie pierced on the straw, NYE hats and noisemakers, cranberry chutney topped chicken fingers with french fries, arcading (in which Gabrielle played DDR for the first time since high school and finished scowling and claiming that the roll out pad she’d had at home to play was far superior lol), fireworks midway through the night, and…sprinkled in between it all….ROLLER COASTERS. The best was RailBlazer (quite Raging Bull in it’s style and feel, for all you Illinois people) with Flight Deck taking a close 2nd. 

It’s a good thing we each found a partner that loved roller coasters just as much as the other. 

I’ll let our ridiculous pictures from this night close out the post. 

Road Trip! From the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean

Annapolis, Bourbon Trail, Nashville, St. Genevieve, Fort Collins, Longmont, Las Vegas, Ventura


We had two weeks to get to our destination of Santa Cruz County in the San Francisco Bay area, for which Gabrielle would then have to report to her first day of work at the new Davey Resource Group project. Two weeks to cross the ENTIRE COUNTRY, you say?!

Challenge ACCEPTED.

Our first stop was to see Gabrielle’s college roommate Jil and her husband Derek at their new house in Annapolis, Maryland! They set us up right: First thing we did when we got there was hit the water for some stand-up paddle boarding out on the harbor while they kayaked alongside us. Their new home in Annapolis is situated perfectly, just down the block from the waterfront, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. We literally walked the kayaks and the SUPs down from their house – talk about prime location! It was the perfect and relaxing way to kick off a number of long driving days. Just what the doctor ordered : } We finished our night off with delicious fresh oysters at SOB aka Sailor Oyster Bar and some crab kisses.

A quick trip but so wonderful to see our two favorite doctors. Wish we could’ve stayed longer… but duty called to the West. So we closed this chapter on the East, said goodbye to the Atlantic (can you call the Chesapeake the Atlantic? Oh well, I’m going to) and pointed the Sundancer towards Kentucky.

Made a brief stop on the Bourbon Trail on our way to see friends in Nashville, but by the time we were planning it out a lot of the distilleries were already booked up. We did snag a reservation for a tasting seminar at Willett and a tour at Maker’s Mark! Since we had time to spare, we stopped in at Town Branch distilling, also home to the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel beer.

A little about bourbon that most people don’t know: There are 3 particular reasons why Kentucky is bourbon capital of the world. 1) The area allows the proper soil and climate for growing corn and other grains used to make bourbon. 2) The area has the proper water composition of minerals, like limestone, that are present in the water and good for the bourbon process. 3) The climate has temperature swings ideal for barrel aging whiskey as the liquid goes in and out of the wood. Additionally, bourbon has 3 rules to be called bourbon 1) made in the US 2) 51% corn mash 3) aged in virgin charred oak barrels.

Our final stop on the Bourbon trail was the most well-known name: Maker’s Mark! We got the full tour and tasting session plus we got to hand dip our own bottles! David picked the cask strength and Gabrielle picked the Maker’s 46. We wondered over the bar and got to try two versions of their wood finishing series FAE-01 & 02 that are their most expensive offerings.

We liked the grounds and property at Maker’s Mark better, but our favorite whiskey we tried was at Willett. David’s overall favorite was Willett’s Pot Still Reserve, Gabrielle’s the Willett Small Batch Rye.

Next stop after the Bourbon trail was Nashville! We stayed with Gab’s best Batavia bud Emma and her husband Stacy. Their back yard was big enough for us to pull the RV in and turn around! That was crazy. We got to finally have burgers and fries at GABBY’S, the joint that Emma had been telling Gabs about for years. SO. GOOD. A solid greasy spoon.

On the 2nd day, Emma and Gabrielle took a girls’ afternoon and took a creekside walk to chat, followed by a lovely little teashop stop for a hot brew. Meanwhile, the boys went to some Nashville Breweries (David wasn’t gonna stop in Nashville and NOT check out a craft brewery, let’s be honest). But then the girls joined the boys for the last stop, Jackalope Brewing. Good stuff! I guess we’ll keep them 😉

Ended our time in Nashville with an evening around the bonfire reunited with old friends from high school, Charissa and Carson!! It was wonderful to see them again. Talked about our days of youth and innocence long past, good ol’ Rockford Christian Camp days, life perspective that 30+ years has brought, old high school crushes, and on it goes. Love these people so much: Time and words with friends like these is usually filled with depth beyond a typical human conversation. AKA the best kinds. Always meaningful, often hilarious, undoubtedly treasured. 

On our way West from Nashville we stopped in Missouri and RV camped side-by-side with David’s parents in their RV. We spent the evening visiting with David’s cousin Rachel to meet her newborn son, Caiden! (Phil was there, too). Laurie & Chris surprised us to crash the party and we had a great night with a pot of chili, beers, desserts & a tiny tyke laying on the floor like who all deez peoples?!

And as we passed through Missouri the next day, we picked up David’s favorite hometown pizza and toasted raviolis, Imo’s! You gotta try them if you’re in St. Louis or Missouri.

Next stop on the Westward trek was good ol’ Fort Collins, Colorado, our home for most of the 2010s decade. And purely by chance…we were passing through at Halloween again, the same weekend we were in Colorado last year in the RV! Funny. Had a good couple days seeing our Apolonio’s crew: Friday night backyard Halloween barshed hang w/ a campfire (even the dogs dressed up! Be sure to note no less than 3 taco costumes by coincidence: 2 dogs and 1 human).

Grabbed another local fav, FoCo DoCo – or Fort Collins Donut Company – on Halloween morning. They have the best mini donuts, always hot and fresh, in lots of creative flavors! Spend the day at a couple more of our Ft Collins favorite spots, meeting up with various friends when they were free. It was great to see the Colorado fam again. And then on November 1st, we woke up to walk to Old Town for breakfast….and were greeted with a BLIZZARD! Classic. Once Halloween is over, the state decides: SKI SEASON HAS COMMENCED. It’s glorious.

We were lucky enough this year to see our good friends in Longmont, Jason & Cheryle, for 3 nights in a row! They drove up to Fort Collins 2 nights, and we drove to their place and had Raclette (a French style meal where you cook meats and cheeses on a hot plate in the middle) and game night. So fun!

Next up: Las Vegas baby! We have been before and since we only had one night, we walked most of the strip including our last volcano show at The Mirage : ( Had a blast finding some new stuff like the best $2 footlong hot dogs & an amazing and elegant 3-story bar that was a giant chandelier! Cool bfast spot in the morning and then a failed attempt at a hotel seminar for $$$ because they didn’t have room for our RV in their parking lot even though the guy who’d signed us up the night before told us there would be… Vegas is always full of surprises and bullshit.

Then….California!!! We finally made it to the endlessly beautiful Pacific ocean!

Our last stop – before we got up to the Bay area – on this ultimate of road trips was Ventura, CA to hang with Gabrielle’s brother and sister-in-law, Jake & Allie! It was amusing to watch our black cats, Nyx & Beaker, be awkward and vie for the special spots in the apartment. Like the bed or next to the warm Xbox! We went on a great bike ride along the beaches with their apartment’s e-bikes, on a windy day where the swells were HUGE and the surfers were out in full form. Another day we went on a hike up in Ojai and hit up some local breweries. Ventura is pretty cool and their wooden pier is one of the longest in Cali!

Our last night in Ventura, we all did a late afternoon beach walk and watched the moon rise over the pier. Founds some crazy weird and wild beach art, too. It was beautiful, eerie, and meticulously crafted.

We made it to Silicon Valley after traveling a total of 3,500 miles! (Don’t ask us how much it cost in gas money). It was a fantastic 2 weeks, and the perfect prologue to the start of our chapter in the San Francisco Bay.

Pennsylvania Part 3 – Autumn 2021

Altoona, Raystown Lake, Huntingdon, Pottsville, Towanda, Hills Creek SP, State College


Our final day in Pennsylvania we went to Penn State game

Back to Altoona! Like we said before, we stayed here for a while – under the walnut trees that pounded us with fresh walnuts in September and October! Check out the picture below with all of the walnuts covering the ground at our campsite, about the size of baseballs when they fall off the tree. They were so loud when they hit the roof! Those things would drop on the Sundancer with a huge BANG and would always make us jump before we remembered. It was a daily occurrence in the fall, kept us on our toes.

Early on at this campsite, we would occasionally do yoga or stretches at a grassy spot with bamboo shading it. One day in early fall, an especially large walnut dropped between our yoga mats, mere inches from our faces. It was quickly decided that outdoor yoga was quits for the season in the efforts of preventing painful lumps on the head or broken teeth/noses.

The campsite sat adjacent to a big cemetery on the side of the mountain, so it kind of became our daily evening walk spot. There’s a picture from it below. Also wanted to insert a picture of Gabrielle near the end of her time on the Pennsylvania project, cleaning off the resistograph that she hiked all over the place with for the summer and fall. It’s a drilling instrument that is designed to detect heart rot and weak points in wood – that thing was heavy! Quite an accomplishment, especially in some of the harder to reach places up steep mountainsides and through waist high brush. Even though she was physically exhausted by the end of almost every week, she still says the tough side of it was worth it for how great it made her feel getting stronger and was a nice change from sitting in an office for years.

There is a huge reservoir in the mountains east of Altoona called Raystown Lake. We spent our Labor Day weekend there camping at Seven Points Campground. Unfortunately the storms from hurricane Ida had just came through the area the week before and the lake was 15 feet above the fill line! Half the campsites were flooded, all boating was prohibited and the beach was entirely submerged. We made the best of it and had a lot of fun just chilling and walking around outside. When the Hamilton seniors came in their RV to camp with us near the end of September, the reservoir was back to normal levels and it was interesting to walk the same areas where all the water had been. We even got to swim at the beach on the last weekend of the Fall before it closed down for the season. Was just warm enough that the swim was refreshing. Also found a good outdoor BBQ joint near the entrance to Seven Points called the Backwoods Smoke Shack.

Photos below are a combo of our Labor Day weekend trip and weekend with David’s parents.

The end of September came and it was time for our big trip to North Carolina for Gabrielle’s cousin’s wedding! Since we were driving right by it and our national parks pass was about to expire, we drove through Shenandoah and camped overnight. It was an amazing experience driving the RV along the famous Skyline Drive. The next morning we woke up early to see the sunrise and Beaker saw his first deer! He was completely baffled and acted like a spaz, meowing all weird and trying to leap out the window:

We did a short hike down to Dark Hollow Falls that morning, which was one of the more intricate waterfalls we have come across on a hike out East.

We had a fantastic clear afternoon and followed by a beautiful and cool fall morning so everything was just…sublime. The pictures of Shenandoah really reflect the joy we were feeling in this mountain paradise nestled in Virginia.

Very glad we took the long way south.

And then…Brooks & Courtney’s wedding weekend in North Carolina! A fun-filled weekend with a small family get together on Thursday night, rehearsal dinner on Friday, and big wedding on Saturday. Got to spend quality time (and hilarity time) with family we don’t get to see very often on Gabrielle’s mom’s side. It was a total blast.

Not sure when our paths will cross with these North Carolina relatives again, but when they do… we look forward to it with gusto. Congratulations again to my cousin Brooks and my new cousin Courtney! Psyched to kick both your butts shreddin’ the slopes in Colorado sometime.

On our way back to Pennsylvania we took a brief detour to Asheville because why not? When your house has wheels and your home is the road…vacation is your life. Or life is your vacation. Either way.

Plus as prior Fort Collins residents and having frequented New Belgium of the West countless times, stopping at the New Belgium of the East was a must. We miss you, FoCo!!

Mom & Dad met us in Asheville for one last sandwich, flight, rehash of the shenanigans from night before, and then a parting of ways as they headed north to Chicago. They were the behind-the-scene stars of the weekend in charge of the grandparents care, logistics, and transportation. Grandma and Pap Pap couldn’t have made it to the wedding without them.

Best parents any girl could ask for.

David and I stuck around an extra day to explore just a little more. We of course did some more Asheville brewery hopping (I mean, our blog is named Hoppy Purpose for a reason…click the link at the top that says ‘What is a Hoppy Purpose?’ for more on that) intermingled with a delightful Indian buffet lunch and some shopping at cute stores in the downtown area. Would love to come back in the summer to do some backpacking, river tubing, and tour Biltmore House.

Our favorite was Sierra Nevada Brewery, which was SO cool. It’s a California-based brewery, and this location in Asheville is absolutely worth checking out. All over the brewery and grounds there is evidence of how they’ve invested in green, environmentally-conscious technology for their production – LEED certified architectural designs (Platinum level, the highest one!), recycled and upcycled raw materials, hops and produce and fruit gardens, runoff-displacing parking lot designs to discourage erosion…the list goes on and on. It’s so encouraging to see a large business put time and money into shrinking their carbon footprint! Innovative thinking and choices showing a genuine care for the Earth’s well-being are two things that will bring me back to spending money at a place.

And their beer was crisp, clean, and delicious. AND they have a baller back patio complete with a stage for concerts.

And now we can say we have officially been to Hillbilly Heaven! Little roadhouse bar we found on the way back while passing through West Virginia. Tasty wings, onion rings and fish n’ chips washed down with a frosty Yuegling Lager. We played some pool and watched some super random old movie involving Dracula and Billy the Kid…so pretty much exactly what you’d expect.

Also in October: Pottsville, PA – home of Yuengling! Not only is it America’s oldest brewery (continuously operating) but it is also America’s LARGEST craft brewery! On top of that, this was one of my favorite brewery tours I have ever been on. So much history!

The original brewery from 1831 is in the middle of town built into a hillside where they tunneled back 150 feet to create natural cellars for cold lagering. The tour led us through many tunnels and stairs going up to the many different levels of the brewhouse which had been replaced several times before they bought the former Stroh’s brewery in Tampa in 1999. From there, they opened a new large production facility down the road in 2001. The old dairy across the street now houses the tour center, gift shop & tasting room where we got unlimited 2 oz pours for an hour!

For the wrap-up of Gabrielle’s work project in Pennsylvania, we headed Northeast for a few weeks to basically the middle of nowhere. It was great! No, seriously…we love being in the middle of nowhere. Most of her work centered around a small town named Towanda up near the New York border, so that’s where we camped. It had some great scenic overlooks of the country side, creative and pretty damn good Halloween window art, and a couple cool dives we wandered into different nights.

On one of these such Friday nights, we walked into a place for drinks and stumbled across a fully decked out bar OVERFLOWING with the color pink. It was a breast cancer awareness party and fundraiser! All of the food, desserts, alcohol, apparel, koozies, gift bags, and everything else had been donated by locals and staff so that 100% of the proceeds from that night would go towards breast cancer research.

They named the event “Save the Rack” – clever, eh?

We were only gonna stay out for an hour and then ended up staying until 1 AM. Did pink animal cookie shots with whipped cream, entered the raffle and won a gift bag, ate a bunch of pink starburst that were scattered all over the bar (the best Starburst color that I always used to trade for when I was a kid!!) listed to some locals playing guitar, had strawberry daiquiris with pink umbrellas, sang a bunch of karaoke, made friends with all the bartenders and the bouncer. And the bouncer’s wife.

It was our favorite night in Towanda. Highly recommend the bar Towanda On The Rocks to anyone passing through. Great people. They made a BUNCH of money to put towards breast cancer research.

I also want to touch on how completely fantastic the fall colors were this Autumn and how lucky we were to be in Northern Pennsylvania at this time of year. The mountains aren’t quite as big as they are in the central PA Appalachians – they’re more like rolling hills with strong pastoral and farmland feels that weave in and out of Eastern forests. It’s quite wonderful, and I would consistently be pleasantly surprised while out working in coming across another breathtaking forest full of Autumn color or another sweeping vista with no cars in sight. I’ve shared some of my favorite “Fall-Feels” moments.