Burlingame Eucalyptus Tree Rows

Motorists on El Camino Real notice something different immediately upon entering Burlingame. The road narrows and the fast food restaurants and businesses that line much of the highway suddenly give way to a residential street lined by towering 150-year-old eucalyptus trees. For over a century, these majestic trees have welcomed visitors to the
mid-Peninsula town. In the 1920s, a local newspaper declared: “The State of California, famed throughout the world for the beauty of its vistas, has no more inspiring portion of highway than Burlingame’s grand boulevard. In all the long stretch of highway from San Francisco to San Jose, Burlingame’s prospect of graceful sentinel trees is the one real beauty spot.” Planted in the 1870s by famed landscape gardener John McLaren, the tunnel-forming canopy of well over 500 eucalyptus and elm trees was designed to enhance the value of local landowners’ estates by creating a beautiful, wind-protected boulevard out of what was then a largely barren, dusty dirt trail. The resulting park-like, landscaped environment predates the earliest California Highway tree planting program by nearly 50 years. Despite development pressure—especially during the 1920s when newfangled automobiles cruised the highway in growing numbers—Burlingame residents continuously rejected commercial land use along their stretch of El Camino Real. By 1930, Burlingame had become the first city in the nation to enact zoning to protect a historic resource—the highway trees. The 2.2-mile grove, aka The Howard Ralston Eucalyptus Tree Rows, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. To learn more about Burlingame’s famous trees, visit burlingamehistory.org 

Festive Winter Drinks

While traditions may take a few twists and turns this year, festive winter drinks are always a great way to get into the holiday spirit—whether they include alcohol or just some added fizz. As Peninsula restaurants whip up dazzling seasonal concoctions, recently-released cookbooks add to the mix with tantalizing beverages you can make at home. PUNCH photography director and food editor Paulette Phlipot curates a selection sure to infuse an extra element of joy into your celebration.

Burnt Lemon Vodka Tincture 

from Nourish Me Home by Cortney Burns with permission from Chronicle Books, 2020

Makes 4⁄₄ cups

6 lemons 

3 1⁄₄ cups vodka 

Quarter the lemons and remove the seeds. Over an open flame, char the lemons until the flesh is blackened; leave the skins as unburnt as possible to retain the essential oils. Combine with the vodka in a large jar or container. Seal and leave in a cool, dark place for three weeks to infuse. Strain and store in a sealed container. 

(Paulette) There are endless possibilities for what you can make with this tincture. Here’s a simple idea to get you started:

Burnt Lemon Rosemary Cocktail 

Serves 1

1 oz burnt lemon vodka tincture

1-2  tbls of rosemary simple syrup*

4 oz sparkling water

1 sprig of fresh rosemary 

Fill a glass with ice, add vodka tincture and simple syrup (stir the syrup well before using), top with sparkling water and stir. Garnish with rosemary.

*Rosemary Simple Syrup

6-8 cocktails

1 cup water 

1⁄₂ cup honey

8 sprigs fresh rosemary

Add honey and water to a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally while bringing to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to a simmer and add rosemary sprigs. Simmer for 10 minutes, then turn off heat. Let it steep for 30 minutes. Strain the syrup to remove the rosemary. Once cool, place in a glass jar, seal and keep cool in the refrigerator until ready to use. Be sure to stir before using.

Grapefruit Soda with Chai Masala

from The Flavor Equation by Nik Sharma with permission from Chronicle Books, 2020 

My husband loves grapefruit, so one year I surprised him with a dwarf Ruby Red Grapefruit plant. The little plant is housed in a big pot only a few feet high but bears impressively large, orb-like yellow citrus that are extremely fragrant when sliced. Sometimes I collect the juice and stir it into a simple syrup made with chai masala (tea spices). I infuse whole spices rather than ground into the simple syrup to get a lighter flavor that delicately complements the citrus. 

The Flavor Approach 

+ The bitterness of grapefruit is complemented by a combination of spices. 

+ Aroma and taste molecules in the whole spices are extracted using a combination of heat and water. 

+ Club soda and grapefruit juice both provide acidity, while the soda’s carbonation adds the textural effect of fizz by playing with our receptors. 

+ The added sugar and the sugars present in grapefruit soda help temper the bitter tastants in the grapefruit juice. 

SERVES 8

1/2 cup sugar

2″ piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin slices

1″ piece cinnamon stick

10 whole black peppercorns

2 whole green cardamom pods, lightly cracked

1 star anise 

2 1⁄2 cups fresh grapefruit juice
(from 2 to 3 large pink grapefruit)

1  4 1⁄2-cup bottle club soda, chilled

Combine 1⁄ cups of water and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Add the ginger, cinnamon, peppercorns, cardamom, and star anise. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and immediately remove from the heat. Cover with a lid and steep for 10 minutes. Strain this simple syrup through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bottle or jug. Discard the spices. You should have 1⁄ cups of simple syrup. Refrigerate the syrup until chilled. 

In a large pitcher, combine the chilled simple syrup and grapefruit juice. Fill eight tall glasses with ice. Pour ⁄ cup of the syrup mixture into each glass, top with ⁄ cup of the club soda, and stir. Store any leftover syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

MaskCarade

Created by: Virginia McVeigh, beverage director 

Named after owner Andrew Welch’s son, Asa derives its influences from generations of Spanish and Italian heritage, with an emphasis on family. Committed to sustainable sourcing and local organic foods, the California restaurant house’s cuisine reflects the Old-World style of Spain and Italy’s wine as well as their culture and the way people dine. With festive heated outdoor patio seating, dress warmly and bring an appetite. 

Inspired by organic apple and pomegranate trees, the cold of winter calls out for the warmth of cognac/brandy-based cocktails. MaskCarade is one of Asa’s featured winter offerings.

serves 1 

2 oz  Asa’s House-Infused Cognac*  

1 oz fresh lemon juice

simple sugar to taste

5 dashes Fee Brothers Fee Foam

Double-shake and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with bitters, dehydrated apple and pomegranate arils (seeds). 

*Asa’s House-Infused Cognac

6-8 cocktails

Bache Cognac 

Combier Orange Liqueur

organic tart green apples

1 cup water 

1⁄2 cup honey

8 sprigs fresh rosemary

Aging adds complexity. We age ours three months but one month should suffice. Using the ratio ⁄₃ Bache Cognac and ⁄₃ Combier Orange Liqueur, make as little or as much as you like. Fill a container with thinly-sliced apples (with skin) and then add the spirits and the rest of the ingredients to cover the fruit and mix well. We store it in the refrigerator, but a cool, dark place is also fine.

Winter Citrus Cocktail 

Izzy’s is a second-generation family-owned and -operated dining destination that has been beloved throughout the Bay Area for over 30 years. Offering outdoor dining in tented, heated patio settings in San Carlos and San Francisco, Izzy’s serves craveable comfort fare, classic and inventive cocktails and high-quality wines with devoted personal service. Pickup and delivery options are also available.

Created by: Peggy Boston, beverage coordinator

Izzy’s always looks to the best seasonal ingredients for inspiration. Using flavors that are evocative of winter like pomegranate, blood orange and ginger brings a freshness to the cocktail alongside the beautiful colors it imparts. This drink is part of Izzy’s fall/winter cocktail menu and is also available as a festive cocktail kit, in large batched form, serving up to 10 people. 

serves 2

1 oz fresh lime juice

1 oz fresh blood orange juice

1 oz ginger simple syrup (can be found at premium food stores or can be easily made at home)

2 oz pomegranate juice 

1 1⁄2 tsp fresh grated orange peel

mint leaves

4 oz vodka of choice

*dehydrated blood orange wheels for garnish

Combine all juices and ginger syrup together and mix well to make winter citrus concoction. In a separate cocktail shaker glass, muddle 5-7 mint leaves. Add in winter citrus concoction and vodka. (This is great made without alcohol as well!) Shake vigorously and double-strain into two chilled cocktail glasses.

Drop in a blood orange wheel for garnish.

*Purchase or make dehydrated blood orange wheels for garnish ahead of time.

Sparkling Hibiscus Tea Fizz

Recipe by Julia Charles

Tea makes a good base for non-alcoholic cocktails, and cold-brewing the tea here rather than using hot water gives a smoother, more delicate taste. Top with sparkling tonic water for an elegant festive fizz.

SERVES 1

1 hibiscus tea bag

runny honey or agave syrup, to taste

well-chilled, good-quality tonic water, to top up

dried hibiscus flowers, to garnish

First, make the cold-brew hibiscus tea. Put the teabag in a measuring jug/pitcher, add ³/₄ cup cold water and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to make the drink, add a spoonful of honey or agave syrup to the jug/pitcher and whisk into the tea. Pour half of the hibiscus tea into a chilled flute glass, top with chilled tonic water and garnish with dried hibiscus flowers. Serve at once.

Random Walk Theory

This airy, contemporary Menlo Park tavern and restaurant offers an oyster bar, snacks, small plates, entrees, housemade desserts and breads, along with an extensive spirit, wine, beer and scotch selection. Specialty cocktail names are based on bank, venture capital and financing terms. Enjoy a late afternoon refreshment on the patio or in the rooftop bar, an elegant dinner with family and friends or private dining in the wine room.

Created by: A collaborative effort headed by former general manager Guilhermo Vidal

This is a very simple and easy drink to make. A number of local retailers carry the two spirits in this recipe—Spirit Works Sloe Gin and St. Germain—and they’re great to have on hand for your own creations. Not many places have a dedicated cocktail with Sloe Gin, which is a lesser-known style of gin. Spirit Works is located in Sebastopol and its Sloe Gin recipe has been handed down through the Marshall family for generations. It starts with their signature gin, which they macerate with sloe berries until the delicious fruit flavor and color have fully released into the gin. This vibrantly-hued liqueur features both bright berry and citrus notes, combining ripe sweetness with fresh acidity. The other main ingredient is St. Germain liqueur from France, giving a great balance to the cocktail. This drink is available anytime on our December drink menu. 

SERVES 1

2 oz Spirit Works Sloe Gin

1⁄4 oz St. Germain

1 whole lime juice squeeze

2 large basil leaves

Place one large basil leaf torn into pieces into mixing glass. Add all ingredients to mixing glass with basil leaf, add ice and shake all ingredients; strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a whole basil leaf.

This drink is served up or on the rocks; the choice is yours.

Into the Woods

Michelin-starred Madera offers a menu of refined yet approachable dishes honoring the many culinary traditions of the Bay Area. Northern Californian cuisine with bold flavors is created on the wood-burning grill and hearth using sustainably sourced seafood and naturally raised meats, coupled with the bountiful harvest of the surrounding farming communities. A premier fine dining destination in Menlo Park, Madera welcomes hotel guests and locals alike and is open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. 

Created by: Oreste Catenacci, lounge manager

This cocktail was created as a tribute to seasonal flavors, especially good after a walk in the woods around the Bay Area. Light, bright and a bit nutty, it’s a unique drink that takes on the flavors of the season. It will be part of Madera’s drink list for the winter time.

serves 1 

1 oz  plum brandy

3⁄₄  oz  Lillet Blanc

1⁄2   oz  Sweet Vermouth di Torino

1⁄2  oz  St. George Spiced
Pear Liqueur

1⁄4   oz  yellow Chartreuse

1⁄4   oz  maple syrup

spray of smoky whisky

1 skeleton leaf

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass or a pitcher; stir all with ice until chilled. When it’s ready to serve, strain into a rock glass with ice. Garnish each serving with one skeleton leaf.

This drink is easy to pre-batch at home in advance. Keep it in a cold place so it will be ready to serve. It also works well in a pitcher.

10 Inspired Ways to Give Back

A year packed with extraordinary circumstances and challenges, 2020 perpetually reminded us of the need to give back. Keep writing checks or making online donations, but also don’t forget that your own special skills, hobbies and insights can make a vital difference in our Peninsula community. Here’s just a sampling of the countless ways you can volunteer (both virtually and in person)—throughout this holiday season and into next year. For more ideas, check out volunteermatch.org 

1. Write Meaningful Messages 

Every week, through the Meals on Wheels (MOW) program, Peninsula Volunteers delivers over 3,000 hot, nutritious meals, primarily to homebound seniors and adults with disabilities in San Mateo County. In addition to helping seniors who are unable to cook and shop for themselves, MOW also provides critical “Are you doing okay?” safety checks. As volunteers quickly observe, combating loneliness is a constant struggle. With that in mind, Meals on Wheels needs your help to promote sustenance for the soul—by creating handwritten, inspirational notes to accompany deliveries. The request is for anonymous/unsigned missives, written in large print (not in cursive). Think kind, sincere and upbeat messages and images. Cards may be mailed or dropped to this address: Little House, 800 Middle Avenue, Menlo Park, CA 94025. Look for additional guidance on note writing and other ways to get involved at penvol.org/volunteer

2. Be a Sweet Volunteer 

If your language of love includes buttercreams, ganache and fondants, your culinary skills are needed by underserved and at-risk children, whether they’re in low-income housing, foster care, group homes or shelters. Through the nonprofit Cake4Kids, volunteers in San Mateo and Santa Clara County make and deliver birthday cakes, cupcakes, cookies, bars and brownies, custom-made and baked with love. No set time commitment is required—you can bake one or even 10 cakes a year. Choose which child’s request to sign up for, based on the theme, type of dessert, delivery time and location. What inspires you? Whether it’s soccer balls, superheroes or Mickey & Minnie Mouse, you can help raise a child’s self-esteem by showing them that someone cares enough to do something special just for them. Volunteer orientations are currently being held online. Register to get started at cake4kids.org/volunteer

3. Become a Blanketeer

As Charlie Brown once famously observed, “Happiness is a warm blanket,” and Project Linus is on a mission to provide gifts of love, snuggles and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need. Since the South Bay chapter was launched in 2002, more than 100,000 blankets have been donated to local hospitals, family shelters, school health clinics, social services and parenting organizations. Chapter coordinators request that donations be new, handmade and washable. All kid-friendly styles are welcome, ranging from baby to teen sizes, including quilts, tied comforters, crocheted or knitted afghans and receiving blankets. No need to be a professional seamstress. One of the most popular, high-demand patterns is a no-sew fleece blanket, which is also a perfect fit for community service projects. Find everything you need to know along with the closest drop-off locations at sjlinus.org 

4. Help Others Cope with Grief 

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is staggering, and it’s not always obvious where to find support. My Grief Angels, a nonprofit community network and mobile app, creates connections so that no one has to feel like they’re grieving alone. Through education and the sharing of experiences, My Grief Angels promotes the understanding of different types of grief, how grief impacts our health, families and work, how others have coped and even ways to turn grief into something positive. In response to the
COVID-19 pandemic, My Grief Angels launched free Grief Support Online/Virtual Groups in English and Spanish at a dedicated site,
griefsupportonline.com. After participating in online facilitator training, you can help guide group discussions, which requires compassionate listening rather than providing advice. Also needed is help in spreading the word through communications outreach. Put your phone and email skills to good use contacting local hospitals, senior care centers, public health outlets and other organizations to better publicize this free service. Learn more at mygriefangels.org

Courtesy of Bay Area Tutoring Association

5. Make Time to Tutor  

For most, the idea of “distance learning” was a vague concept before 2020, but with schools switching to online learning and reduced schedules, many students from low-income and frontline worker families lack the tools and support they need to be academically successful. To help keep students on track and combat learning loss, Bay Area Tutoring Association partners with Bay Area organizations to provide the engine behind free and subsidized local tutoring programs. Spanning different grade levels and subjects, whether your speciality is math, computer science, digital literacy or grammar and reading, you can fill a need for 1:1 and small group academic support. Training is provided by the nonprofit, and with 90% of tutoring sessions conducted online right now, there’s plenty of flexibility to match up your schedule and skill sets. Go to bayareatutor.org/I_want_to_volunteer to find out how you can help. 

6. Care for Kittens 

Help turn a feral cat into a familiar one by caring for adoptable felines from the Peninsula’s Humanimal Connection. Started in 1988 by two local sisters, Humanimal Connection rescues homeless, unwanted, abandoned and sometimes abused and neglected kittens and cats. They need help in the morning and evening to clean cages and socialize with the cats and kittens. For the more ambitious, the nonprofit is in desperate need to expand its foster-network rescue group because they are currently at capacity. Typically, families foster a litter of kittens for at least two weeks. Each litter is different, some need socialization, some are without the mother cat and some require bottle-feeding. They will match your foster kitties to your personal capabilities. Humanimal Connection provides the food, litter, litter box, bedding and everything you need to foster the kitties. To expand your family by a few tails, email info@humanimalconnection.com to volunteer.

Courtesy of Linda Forrester

7. Lend a Library Box Hand

Access Books Bay Area is on a mission to level the literacy playing field—by transforming inadequate library spaces and providing high-quality books to students in low-income schools. But with many school and classroom libraries temporarily closed, Access Books is implementing a creative alternative: wooden lending library book boxes. Akin to a Little Free Library, these boxes are filled with inviting, gently-used books for school kids to borrow and return. So, calling all carpenters, artists and bibliophiles! Volunteers are needed to help construct, paint and install the library book boxes on Peninsula school campuses. You’ll be provided with instructions and a materials list. Since this is a hands-on assignment, you will need to have basic construction tools and expertise and cover the roughly $30 cost for materials. If you have the artist’s touch, volunteers are also needed to paint and decorate boxes. And, like-new or new book donations for children in grades K-8 are always welcome. Check out accessbooksbayarea.org to get all the details.

8. Organize a Donation Drive 

Be the leader of the neighborhood and the maven of NextDoor by organizing a campaign for one of numerous local drives benefiting our less fortunate neighbors on the Peninsula. San Mateo nonprofit Samaritan House is putting out the call for most-needed items, including breakfast food and cereal, kids clothing, baby needs and household cleaning items. They ask that you call 650.294.4331 before you make your drop-off. Catholic Charities needs help with baby items (formula, diapers and more) to give infants a safe and healthy start and snack & hygiene kits to provide essential necessities. To reach out for a complete list of needs and instructions, go to catholiccharitiessf.org/how-to-help/volunteer.html. And helping to break the cycle of homelessness is Life Moves, based in Menlo Park. By launching a fundraiser, you can help LifeMoves clients feel more at home for the holidays. Team up with family and friends to provide holiday meals, purchase gift cards and spread holiday cheer to our neighbors who need it most. LifeMoves makes starting a successful drive easy with a five-step approach at give.lifemoves.org/vf/LMHolidays

Courtesy of Friends for Youth

9. Be a Friend

Remember that someone who inspired you and helped you reach your potential? The Redwood City-based nonprofit Friends for Youth aims to provide our younger population with this crucial kind of mentorship. Friends for Youth organizes direct one-to-one, community-based mentoring services to low-income youth ages 8 to 17 in San Mateo County and Northern Santa Clara Counties. When local teachers and other youth professionals spot kids who are “at-risk” for academic or life skills failure, they refer them to the program. Friends for Youth matches you with a young person in need of friendship, and you set up your own schedule to meet. The current focus is on online engagement like virtual museum tours and video chats, with plans to return to sponsored activities once it’s safe to meet in person. Given that friendship goes both ways, the program takes pride in its 90 percent success rate of creating long-term mentoring matches. Check out friendsforyouth.org to learn how you can make a difference. 

Courtesy of Cass Cleave

10. Give the Coast a Hug  

Step aside, trees; there’s another natural beauty to embrace. Sea Hugger is a Half Moon Bay-based nonprofit focused on reviving our coastal environment by removing plastic pollution and encouraging systemic change. Sea Hugger’s goal is to create sustainable coastal communities that are no longer polluted by plastic—which clearly benefits all of us who bask in our Pacific splendor. On the second and fourth Saturdays of every month, Sea Hugger sponsors beach clean-ups at two beaches in Half Moon Bay: Dunes Beach and Surfer’s Beach. Looking at this month, that means you can join them at Dunes Beach at 10AM on December 12 or pitch in with the 1PM cleanup at Surfer’s Beach on December 26. The nonprofit knows how to find fun in picking up trash, like how they collected 1,272 cigarette butts last year and are now in the process of transforming them into a surfboard. Visit seahugger.org for a free parking pass, a link to sign a waiver and further information.

Floral Holiday Cheer

If you’ve glanced at the holiday window displays of Williams Sonoma over the years, you’ve already seen the artful work of local designer Jennifer Carruthers. 

Handcrafted aromatic bay leaf wreaths. Freshly-cut evergreen garlands accented with crimson pepperberries. Colorful eucalyptus and pomegranate centerpieces. 

“Whenever I make something for the holidays, I make it as if I am creating it for myself and make it as beautiful as it can possibly be,” says Jennifer. This mindset is the secret ingredient that sets her work apart as she weaves deep green magnolia leaves and olive branches into festive, eye-catching designs. A Peninsula native, Jennifer’s floral creations grace prominent retail displays, deck the pages of upscale catalogs and inspire lines at local farmers markets. 

A recent Sunday finds Jennifer in Burlingame, surrounded by hanging natural wreaths and freeze-dried rose arrangements. She looks at home engaging with her customers, as she’s done season after season. “It’s like a family,” Jennifer notes, as a group begins to gather at her colorful booth. “People come here to support local artisans.” Rarely missing a market in Burlingame or San Mateo on the weekends, she appreciates the personal connection that keeps her in touch with colors and styles that appeal most.

Growing up in Foster City, Jennifer channeled her early creativity into oil painting with weekly lessons stretching from second grade through high school. “I was the youngest member of the Burlingame Art Society,” she recalls. “I would enter my paintings in the San Mateo County Fair and even had a painting in a local museum.” The color and texture of oil painting appealed to her but Jennifer eventually replaced painting with floral design. “I am inspired by color and new materials.” she explains. “I have always been good with my hands and fell in love with working with flowers.”

While attending San Mateo High School, Jennifer honed her design skills working at flower shops and often donated her arrangements to a local church on Sundays. Admirers took notice of her artistic touch with blooms and began hiring her for weddings and parties. 

After high school, Jennifer ventured to Southern California where she earned a business degree at Biola College. Determined to make a career out of floral design, she returned to San Mateo and opened her own flower shop and greenhouse on 3rd Avenue. With soft music playing in the background, Jennifer found the solace and space to nurture imagination and experimentation. “I had a lot of time at my flower shop so I started putting dried flowers and wreaths together,” she says, which led to a professional epiphany. “People were more interested in the dried wreaths and flowers than fresh,” she discovered. “I decided to make appointments at Gump’s and Nordstrom. I walked in with all of these wreaths and it was instant orders. People even stopped me on the streets.” 

Working solo soon gave way to the demand of Jennifer’s growing business and she hired a team to help. With that, J Carruthers Floral was born. Orders came in from large retailers such as IKEA, which had not even opened on the West Coast at that time and Jennifer quickly scaled to needing a warehouse. Today, having perfected her craft over decades, Jennifer beams with satisfaction, noting that dried flowers have come full circle again as the mainstay of home decor and wedding floral design. “Dried flowers are making a big comeback,” she says, “and it’s exciting to see how people are responding.” 

Jennifer also takes pride in the fact that J Carruthers Floral maintains its local roots, with most of the flowers and foliage sourced from small farms in Half Moon Bay or Pescadero. 

“I like to support the farmers and give them a fair price,” she says. With such an abundance and variety of flowers grown on the coast, Jennifer regularly hangs and dries yarrow, statice and blue thistle in her workshop. “It’s fun to get the fresh flowers and greenery foraged in Half Moon Bay or brought into the San Francisco Flower Market,” she shares. “I enjoy spreading it all out and putting everything together to design extravagant wreaths that smell amazing.”

When it comes to decorating for the holidays, Jennifer recommends getting outside to find inspiration in nature. “I like to go on hikes and observe the greenery, pinecones, mosses and bird nests—think about bringing the outdoors inside,” she suggests. For modern homes, she advocates using foliage with a lot of texture and contrast and in traditional homes, she advises that displaying an arrangement with one pop of color works best. She also encourages visits to the San Francisco Flower Market, which is accessible to non-badgeholders during public hours. 

Jennifer continues to stay at the forefront of dried floral design but she’s confronted her share of challenges. As a recent cancer survivor, she credits her four sisters with providing invaluable support and help with the business. At one point, Jennifer recounts, her identical twin filled in for her at work and some customers never knew there had been a sibling switch. 

Happily greeting familiar faces in Burlingame, Jennifer meticulously wraps a bow around a rose arrangement as she soaks up the market’s energizing spirit. “I just want to be surrounded by my flowers,” she muses. “I love the holidays because people enjoy buying gifts for people they care about.”

Barefoot Elegance

Thinking back on her childhood in San Marino near Pasadena, Amanda Shoemaker Teal recalls buying new knobs for her dresser and dragging it out onto the lawn to refinish it. “What?” she queries with a laugh. “Not all nine-year-olds do that?” 

At the time, Amanda didn’t dwell on her early proclivity for enhancing decor. As the only child of legendary racing jockey Bill “Willie” Shoemaker, her world revolved around horses. “I grew up in a barn almost literally. I was a total racetrack brat,” she says. “My mom rode hunters and jumpers and her father played polo, so I was surrounded by horse people from all angles.”

Amanda accompanied her father on his farewell tour through Europe, Japan and Australia, which she now credits with sparking her love affair with everything design-related. “It opened my eyes to a lot of different cultures and styles,” she says. “The horse community is a small community so we always stayed in people’s homes everywhere we went, and I was able to see how people live in all different ways.” 

Courtesy of Amanda Teal

When she couldn’t accompany her parents, Amanda would stay with her Dutch grandmother, who also contributed to her budding aesthetic awareness. “The Europeans mix in such a carefree way,” observes Amanda. “She had this eclectic style, where she would mix mid-century things that she had clearly picked up in California with pottery from Japan and old heirlooms from Europe. I remember looking at all these treasures and while it was abstract at that point, I fell in love with the decorative arts.” 

With her family life wrapped up in her father’s career, Amanda pursued an equestrian path of her own. When she wasn’t in school, she’d be out riding hunters and jumpers, and in 2002, she moved up to Menlo Park to work for Millennium Farm. “I rode all day,” she recounts. “My mornings were spent riding and my afternoons were spent teaching little kids on their ponies and horses.” 

Amanda’s work led her to other barns, including Portola Valley Training Center, where she experienced a fateful encounter with Rebecca Bradley, a fellow rider who also happened to be the founder of a well-known San Francisco interior design firm. “Until I moved up here to ride, I didn’t even know design was a career,” Amanda says. “I’ve always had this love of it and I was always drawn to it, but it didn’t even dawn on me. I didn’t know any interior designers.” 

Now she was regularly riding with one. 

Amanda worked up her courage and shifted the conversation away from horses. “What a cool job!” she remembers saying, followed by the question: “How did you become an interior designer?” Bradley became Amanda’s mentor and encouraged her to pursue an interior design degree from San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, which led to an internship, followed by a full-time position. “It was the most wonderful crash course not just in how to design but also in the business of design because her office ran like a well-oiled machine,” explains Amanda. “She’s sort of a singular talent and I was able to learn from her on both sides of the process—the creative process and the business process.” 

Courtesy of John Merkle

In 2010, with her days of professional jumping behind her, Amanda decided she was ready for a different leap: launching her own firm, Amanda Teal Interior Design. “I started small like everybody starts, helping a friend whose mom wanted some pillows or whatever it was, and then I really started to get some traction,” she says. Ten years later, working with a highly-collaborative team in a Menlo Park office, Amanda specializes in whole home—remodel or new build—projects. “I’ve always been obsessed with this idea of barefooted elegance, which feels very California to me,” she says. “Real elegance is the balance of livability and sophistication.” 

Remembering the intense impressions she gleaned as a child through her travels, Amanda now recognizes the emotional impact of design. “You can walk in somewhere and think that it feels really good or really relaxing or kind of edgy,” she notes. “Design is transformative in the sense that it really affects how you feel.” As a designer, Amanda says it’s her job to figure out how clients want to feel and how they aspire to live—and then translate that into a physical environment. “I love connecting with my clients,” she says. “We end up spending a lot of time together, and you get this glimpse into people’s lives that you wouldn’t normally get.”

Raising two boys with her husband in Portola Valley, Amanda finds that she’s naturally drawn to working with families, which brings an inherent durability requirement. Her goal is to create high-end, highly-livable custom interiors, and she’s quick to clarify that high-end is frequently misconstrued. Rather than being synonymous with expensive, the concept equates to quality, craftsmanship and the integrity of how things are made. “It’s finding those special elements and adding things like texture and comfort,” she says. “People are just looking to have really lovely homes that feel comfortable. We all had that room when we grew up that no one was allowed to go into, and people don’t want to live like that. Everything that we do is about the quality and being able to sit down and put your feet up no matter what—because if it’s not comfortable, what’s the point, really?”

Courtesy of John Merkle

A decade into the launch of Amanda Teal Interior Design, she is gratified by her firm’s organic growth and how she’s now seeing clients return for a second and even third time. “We are kind of growing together as their families grow and change,” Amanda observes. “We’re creating the backdrops for them to have family memories for years to come.” 

Between the juggle of work and raising children, Amanda doesn’t find as much time to ride these days, which made an October 2019 trip to Argentina to ride at an estancia with gauchos especially meaningful. Her oldest son is now riding Western (“We’re adding a new discipline to the family repertoire.”) at Woodside Horse Park, but for now, Amanda contents herself with the occasional ride and the realization that the lessons she learned in her riding days continue to provide inspiration. 

“The discipline of riding taught me a lot,” she says. “The value of hard work—when you’re taking care of horses, there’s no time off; you have to be even-keeled and have a lot of patience, and I think I’ve brought all of those things with me into my design career.”

Amanda’s father passed away in 2003, and although he didn’t live to see her professional change of course, she’s confident that he’d be satisfied with the path she has chosen. “He was always proud of me, no matter what,” she reflects. “His thing was always, ‘Just work hard. Whatever you do, just work hard at it.’ He just wanted to make sure that I was giving my all to whatever I wanted to do.” 

Courtesy of Amanda Teal

Brews and Views

On a sunny afternoon, Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. caters to a steady stream of customers—locals, tourists, kids and dogs gather on the open-air patio that’s been extended into the parking lot, keeping it safe for diners, while maintaining sweeping views of Pillar Point Harbor. Recognized for its award-winning beers, the restaurant and craft brewery is marking a major milestone in 2020—two decades sitting at the beating heart of local life.

“The Mendoncas bought the restaurant in 2000,” recounts CEO Craig Carroll as he walks through the bar. “It’s always been very community-focused and they’ve always been dedicated to giving back.” 

Lenny and Christine Mendonca, who still live in Montara where they raised their daughters, expanded their original holdings to include a large, recently refurbished event center and the Maverick’s Inn. With 130 employees, they are currently the second largest employer on the Coast after the Ritz Carlton. Even during these more restricted times, on a busy weekend day, the brewpub serves around 1,500 customers. 

Watching boats bob in the harbor and listening to the distant calls of seals by the docks, diners tuck into beer-battered artichoke hearts or a Smoked Monster Burger, along with daily specials like fresh ahi poke or a Dungeness crab roll. And, of course, there is a wide assortment of fresh, handcrafted brews, or as HMB Brewing likes to tout, “We have a beer for everyone.” An easy-drinking Kolsch and a rich, hoppy IPA are always on tap, punctuated by seasonal offerings like Pumpkin Harvest Ale, made with locally sourced sugar pie pumpkins. Opt for a flight to sample a broader selection, ranging from a robust amber to a rich coffee milk stout. 

James Costa, HMB’s award-winning brewmaster, is known as an innovator. “He stays on top of trends. Before I’ve heard of it, he’s making it,” Craig says. “Two years ago, we started making Belgian blonde with organic fruit from Oregon—Belgian yeast and clove add a really unique spiciness to it.” While serving as director of operations, Craig was instrumental in expanding the brewery’s outreach. “We increased our capacity tenfold; we went from $20,000 to half a million in sales in a couple of years.” Passing large metal canisters of boiling hops and cooling pipes that deliver cold beer directly to the tap, Craig explains how they were able to grow so quickly: “We were ahead of the curve in the craft beer explosion in the early 2010s. We were able to reinvent our approach and it coincided with a shift in American taste for craft beer.”

To help meet the demand, the brewery supplies Bay Area grocery and liquor stores along with local bars, restaurants and taprooms. A website beer map reveals a wide range of retailers including Whole Foods, Piazza’s Fine Foods and establishments like Old Pro, Fish Market and Pizza My Heart. HMB also sells bottles and cans directly to the public and the beer on tap is available in growlers (2 litres) or crowlers (32 ounces). 

Craig is quick to point out that the brewery is about much more than craft beers; it’s a cornerstone of the coastal community. “I didn’t grow up here,” Craig reveals, though his English accent immediately gives that away. “But I do know it’s a rite of passage to work here when you’re in high school.” The fact that every high school senior who works at the brewery receives $1,000 towards their college education may be one incentive. Over the years, Half Moon Bay Brewing Company has donated more than $750,000 through its philanthropic efforts. 

Craig is a living testament to the way hard work at the entry levels can lead to huge success. When his father married an American and moved to Moss Beach, Craig started spending his summers on the coast. He’s worked at the brewery for 14 years, holding every role from busboy to server to bartender before becoming CEO in 2018. “I worked my butt off, but Americans are much more generous tippers than the English,” he notes with appreciation. “I paid for my whole university education working here.” During the school year, he’d fly back to England where he attended Bristol College of Business. When Craig finished college, he returned to the restaurant that had always felt like home. “It was my first real job,” he says, “and it’s a great place to learn what hard work really is.” 

Lenny and Christine Mendonca set out to make HMB Brewery a fixture in the community. Lenny, a former senior partner at McKinsey & Company and a current advisor to Governor Newsom, instituted Brews and Views, a free monthly speaker series that explores everything from environmental issues to economic policy. “It used to be done in the back dining room, but it became so popular we had to move it to our events center,” Craig says, pointing out the window to a white building with an expansive green lawn. “Now, continuing on Zoom, we’re getting around 100 attendees at every forum.” 

A popular spot for hanging with friends—as well as corporate events and weddings—the Brewing Co. looks forward to recapturing the momentum achieved leading up to 2020. “We were in a really great place,” Craig notes. “For the last six years we’ve done a BrewFest and all the proceeds go to charity. Last year, we had almost 1,000 people and we donated around $20,000.” Other reminiscences include Levi Strauss & Co. buying out the whole restaurant with Snoop Dog as the guest entertainment. “I was on top of the world,” Craig says, in retrospect. 

Even with the shift in circumstances, HMB Brewing’s staff are anticipating a festive season ahead, prepping ugly Christmas sweaters for their holiday party and gearing up to serve frosty pints by the fire pits on foggy winter days. The deep sense of community that has always defined the brewery is proving to be one of its most enduring legacies. Watching hosts and servers warmly greet the lunchtime rush, Craig finds gratitude in the daily routine. “The staff are my favorite thing about my job,” he says. “I really catch myself thinking, ‘Wow, these guys are heroes.’”

Keeping up with Kasem

Keeping track of Kasem Saengsawang’s restaurant projects is enough to make your head spin. The chef-restaurateur—along with his wife Kumuth Chatterjee and business partners Arty Larpnampha and Jantima Ongpichatmatha—has opened seven restaurants since May 2015. Their latest venture is next-level: simultaneously opening award-winning Thai concept Farmhouse Kitchen and breakfast spot Son and Garden under one roof in downtown Menlo Park.  

Growing up in Loei, a northern Thai province bordering Laos, Kasem never imagined having a slew of restaurants, although he did start cooking early on. As a child, Kasem was tasked with helping his grandparents shop for food and prepare meals for the extended-family household of 15 people. “I learned how to select the right products from the market and to make things from scratch—like curry paste,” he says. It was an education he didn’t appreciate at the time. “Who loves that? No one!” he says of the chores. “I wanted to be something else. I wanted to be a tech guy—I wanted to be Bill Gates!” 

 Recognizing Kasem’s goals and drive, his parents arranged for him to attend private school in Bangkok. After graduating from university with a degree in computer science in 2006, Kasem knew he wanted to come to the U.S. He studied English in Colorado for six months before moving to the Bay Area to take classes at City College in San Francisco. To support himself, Kasem found work as a dishwasher and prep cook; it was the genesis of a six-year hands-on education in the restaurant business. More skills meant better pay, so Kasem learned every job in the kitchen and front of the house. 

Taking a management position at restaurateur Hoyul Steven Choi’s popular San Francisco breakfast restaurant, Sweet Maple, in 2012 was a pivotal decision. Kasem and Choi clicked, and Choi became his mentor. The next year, he offered Kasem an ownership stake in his new eatery, Kitchen Story. Kasem seized the opportunity.  

 While running Kitchen Story’s day-to-day operations, Kasem enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu to round out his culinary skills. The experience ignited his desire to get back into the kitchen, so he and Kumuth made plans to open their own restaurant. “We agreed that doing something we love was the most important thing,” he recalls. They landed on the idea for Farmhouse Kitchen, the name inspired by Kasem’s childhood in the Thai countryside. Opening their first location in San Francisco in 2015 was a revelation for Kasem. “Once I jumped into a Thai restaurant, I felt like, ‘This is me,’” he says. “‘This is who I am.’”

 Four restaurants followed in quick succession: Daughter Thai in Oakland, Farmhouse Kitchen Portland, Farmhouse Kitchen Oakland and Son and Garden San Francisco, which opened earlier this year in March. “I jumped to open different places because I wanted to challenge myself,” he acknowledges. “I wanted to see how far I could go.” 

Kasem says that Daughter Thai in Oakland was named in hopes that he and Kumuth would have a baby girl. He laughingly adds, however, that Son and Garden did not manifest a son; the couple are expecting a second daughter in December. A good school system and “the right place to raise your child” became priorities, he says, which led them to the Peninsula to find a home for their family and next restaurant. In Menlo Park, they found both.

 Choosing the restaurants’ Merrill Street location across from Menlo Park’s CalTrain station was a no-brainer. “I love the tall ceiling, all the windows and the nice veranda. And I love the weather here!” Kasem says enthusiastically. But there was a glitch. “The day after we signed the lease: shelter-in-place,” he recounts. Renovations and team training were put on hold, delaying the opening until October. Fortunately, this wasn’t the team’s first rodeo. “Once you pass three restaurants, you have systems set up,” says Kasem. 

Also set up: an investment in social media that emphasizes eye-popping plates of food and colorful interior design. With hashtags and likes in mind, potential for social media buzz was a factor in creating the restaurant’s look and feel. Keeping design in-house, Kasem provided the vision and direction. His approach has a Wizard of Oz effect: that Technicolor moment when you step into a world that is different from your everyday life.

 The wide veranda evokes an elegant country-home porch, providing outdoor dining with spatially-distanced tables and comfortable seating. The real show, however, is indoors. Walking into the flower-tunnel entrance of Son and Garden, guests are greeted by a pink neon “Hello Gorgeous” sign and a giant white giraffe statue with a chandelier in its mouth. A ring light stands by for selfie-takers. (Can you say “Insta-ready”?) Son and Garden serves breakfast and brunch, with a something-for-everyone menu that sticks to the standards: assorted egg dishes, griddle items, salads and sandwiches.

 Farmhouse Kitchen, at 4,200 square feet, is the full expression of Kasem’s vision. “This restaurant is all about light and color,” he says. The main dining room has a contemporary beachy look, with washed-oak floors, marble-topped tables and cane-backed chairs with plump neutral-colored cushions. Chic and inviting, the space provides a backdrop for Instagrammable luxe: wall-mounted gold shrines and custom-made tiered light fixtures from Chiang Mai—also in gold—hanging over the central family table, assemblages of pastel-colored faux flowers across the walls and an eye-catching, jewel-toned bar wall.

Farmhouse Kitchen’s cuisine is a shift to something new from what Kasem refers to as “mom-and-pop restaurants that make food in the old way.” His take: “I want to deconstruct it, to make sure that people will accept it in a nice, modern way.” The approach preserves traditional Thai flavors and emphasizes organic and local ingredients while modernizing the presentation.

 His riff on the classic beef curry, Panang Nuea, is a substantial slow-braised, bone-in short rib smothered in Panang curry sauce, served with butterfly-pea-flower blue rice and grilled vegetables. Live Lobster Pad Thai elevates the traditional menu staple, adding a half Maine lobster, crispy wontons and two sauces that complement the dish, balancing sweetness, vinegar, spice and herbs. Street food—curries, fried rice and noodle dishes—doesn’t get short shrift either; Kasem considers them essential to the menu. “Thai people grow up on street food,” he says. “This is the way I eat. This is the way I would teach my young daughter to cook.”

 Kumuth, who is a sommelier, manages the bar program, creating the cocktails and curating wine and beer lists that complement Thai flavors. The wine list includes European and California wines with tasting profiles that focus on herbal and fruit notes. Beers tend to be on the lighter side, and yes, you can get Singha. 

The cocktail list gives the Farmhouse touch to classic drinks, jazzing them up with herbs, spices or flower essences. Madam Butterfly is an aromatic gin cocktail with a violet hue and flower garnish—perfectly photogenic. The Kickass Negroni, a customer favorite, is a get-the-party-started, mezcal-based take on the classic. Alcohol-free options include Thai iced tea and fresh coconut water.

 While most people would take a beat, Kasem and company are on to what’s next: getting fast-casual concept Farmhouse Thai Express up and running and opening restaurants in Berkeley and Portland before year’s end. Farmhouse Kitchen Los Angeles is on the docket for 2021. 

 In the meantime, Kasem has settled into Menlo Park and is looking forward to being part of the community, both as a business owner and as a resident. “This is the place I want to be, and I can see myself here a lot,” he says. “My life is here.”

The Beat On Your Eats

Diets and December don’t really mesh, so here are a few sweet suggestions to cap off the year. 

La Biscotteria

Redwood City

This Italian-American and trusted mom-and-pop-run business specializes in biscotti and Italian baked goods. Baker and owner Augustine Buonocore credits his late Neapolitan grandmother for the inspiration: “All the recipes I have are over 100 years old,” he says. “What makes my products unique is that I use pure essential oils for flavoring, like anise, lemon and orange.” The proof is in each crunch where you can taste the lemon and see the almonds. Augustine makes a pumpkin biscotti and a pumpkin cannoli for the holidays and the special spiced gingerbread brown biscotti called ‘stomatico.’ Biscotti is far from being a stale option for a wintery treat. 2747 El Camino Real. Open Tuesdays through Friday from 6AM to 4PM; Saturdays 6AM to 2PM; closed Sundays and Mondays. 

Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe

Burlingame

 As a winter chill sets in along Burlingame Avenue, the aroma of Copenhagen’s freshly-baked cakes, cookies, pies, pastries and bread fill the air. The holiday menu welcomes the return of their revered cardamom bread with raisins and festive meringues made with whipped egg whites and sugar. Bakery items, specialty cakes and coffee cakes can be ordered online but Copenhagan advises you to put in your holiday requests in advance due to the high demand they’ve experienced in years past. 1216 Burlingame Avenue. Open daily from 6AM to 6PM.

Courtesy of Sweet Shop

Sweet Shop

Los Altos

If taste often begins with the eyes, then the Sweet Shop starts to pull you in through its gingerbread house-inspired front façade with white awnings and a border trim that evoke sugary frosting. Sweet Shop offers the traditional loot of sweets and candy by the pound (always with an emphasis on local confectioners), alongside an assortment of baked goods from the nearby Icing on the Cake bakery. Their revolving lunch menu refocuses on the savory side with panini-grilled sandwiches and there’s always frozen yogurt or a root beer float to wash it all down. The Sweet Shop even makes candy taste a tad better since all proceeds benefit local schools. 994 Los Altos Avenue. Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 12PM to 4PM.

San Mateo County Seven

If San Francisco is the U.S. city where all residents live within a 10-minute walk to a park, then San Mateo is the county where everyone lives equally close to an exceptional day hike.

 The Peninsula is sprawled with trails, preserves, mountain-tops and a bluff, all within reach for an impromptu jaunt. As the holidays contend with the limitations of 2020, opportunities to gather and socialize in a healthy outdoor setting have never been as cherished. Or, on the other hand, the trail is an individual’s safe haven for when four walls and excessive family time begin to feel smothering.

Ensuring that the routes in our region remain accessible and safe is the San Mateo County Parks Department, which is currently overseeing a new initiative for exploring the public lands that border our backyards. Running through the end of March, the inaugural “Take a Hike Challenge” invites locals to complete seven unique hikes dotted across the county. To win prizes, participants snap a photo at a particular point along each route to share online.

“It’s exposing people to new places in the county that they might not go to on a normal basis,” says Katherine Wright, the parks department ranger who conceived the project. “It’s a fun challenge for people to explore and get out there.”

1. San Bruno Mountain 

2.7 miles
555 Guadalupe Canyon Parkway
Brisbane

After parking in a grove of eucalyptus and cypress trees with a $6 entrance fee, this loop wraps around the northern saddle of the mountain to offer stunning panoramic views (fog notwithstanding). The mountain earns its nickname as the “island of open space in a sea of development” for its position surrounded by cities and roadways, which make for an urban explorer’s fantasy. However, for the insect enthusiast, San Bruno Mountain is home to rare and endangered butterflies including the San Bruno elfin and the (left) Callippe silverspot.  The park bench at the mountain’s peak during a clear day becomes your throne for peering out at San Francisco, the East Bay and as far north as your eyes can see.

 

 

 

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks
Courtesy of Frances Freyberg

 2. Edgewood Park 

3.3 miles
10 Old Stagecoach Road,
Redwood City

An expansive 467 acres of woodlands and serpentine grasslands with pockets of chaparral shrubland converge to make Edgewood Park, Redwood City’s environmental outpost. As the sole natural preserve in San Mateo County, Edgewood Park was worth the fight back when developers proposed housing subdivisions and a golf course but locals recognized the worth and secured the swath of natural splendor. The loop around the belly of the park reveals its vast open fields, perhaps best viewed in the late afternoon when the setting sun casts a golden gaze upon the bucolic landscapes.

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

3. Pillar Point Bluff 

5 miles
200 Nevada Avenue
Moss Beach

When a hike begins with passage through a cypress tree tunnel and concludes with a cliffside view of the ocean embracing the coastline, you know you’re in for a picturesque stroll. Charge up your camera battery and park at the Fitzgerald Marine Ranger Station to explore this coastal excursion. As one of the longer hikes on this list, it remains accessible for its relatively flat terrain; however, this is the only trail that comes with an extra warning to keep away from the bluff’s eroding edge so as not to tumble into the sea below. The hike is flanked by three miles of state-protected waters where schools of fish and aquatic species thrive and flourish. Leave the fishing pole at home.

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks
Courtesy of Robb Most

4. Wunderlich Park 

3.3 miles
4040 Woodside Road
Woodside

A horse rider’s haven and a coffee family’s legacy, Wunderlich Park’s main trail meanders through redwood forest, open meadows and the Folger Family estate. This route passes through the charming Folger Stable where a horse’s head might pop out of the stall to nod you along before arriving at the verdant pond, Salamander Flat, which was formerly the reservoir for the estate. Now it’s home to newts and their regenerative tails. The hillside hike concludes by weaving through a shaded grove before you stumble out of the mystical woods and back to the parking lot and reality

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

5. Sawyer Camp Trail

5 miles
950 Skyline Boulevard
Burlingame

Of the three segments that comprise the full Crystal Springs Trail, the Sawyer Camp route is the only one that passes by a natural monument that’s older than Columbus’s voyage. Midway along the paved trail you’ll discover the Jepson Laurel, a tree with a 600-year lineage that is the oldest known Umbellularia californica, or bay tree, in the state. It was named in honor of Willis Linn Jepson, a noted California botanist, in 1923. The Sawyer Camp Trail further delivers historical intrigue as it was a former route used by the indigenous Ohlone tribe and was traveled by Juan Bautista de Anza on the Portolá expedition of 1769. Although the trail borders a lake and a reservoir, there are no water fountains available so BYOW is advised. 

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

6. Quarry Park 

2 miles
1195 Columbus Street
El Granada

Just beyond the reach of the bellowing Half Moon Bay foghorn at the foot of Montara Mountain is a rock-lined circular path awaiting discovery. Assembled on the floor of a decommissioned quarry, the labyrinth is a gift to reflect on the nature of journeys and how they all end. Unlike a maze, there’s no code to crack here and the purpose is to enjoy a short roundabout while practicing gratitude. Dogs are permitted on this trail that threads through a massive eucalyptus forest before arriving at a Pillar Point lookout. What was once a place to harvest stone, Quarry Park is now an escape into the dense hillside mere minutes from Highway 1.

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks
Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

7. Junipero Serra Park

1.8 miles
2487 Crystal Springs Road
San Bruno

Aviation enthusiasts will want to pack a lunch for this one. Located on the eastern side of this hike’s route is a park bench with perfect views of SFO where take-offs and landings provide a spectacle for the cost of a slight incline. This hike at Junipero Serra Park is the shortest on the list but doesn’t lack historical importance; several archeological digs over the years have revealed how the Ohlone once flourished here thanks to the excavation of arrowheads, pestles, shells and segments of baskets. The route takes you through an evergreen forest while Monterey cypresses and Arroyo willows provide shade, but beware, poison oak is abundant.

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks
Courtesy of Frances Freyberg

Cheers to Your Return

The golf cart veers past the vines neatly lined against a rocky road dividing the venerable Chateau Montelena Winery into halves. Riding in the back, I’m careful not to spill a drop of the ruby red 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon because it’s too tasty to waste. And it’s not like we’re going to get those 15 years back.

My host, Olivia, wheels the cart to a lookout where the garden of grapes absorbs the sunlight in a cradle between the eastward Palisades mountain range and Mt. St. Helena. (Say “Mount Helena” five times fast and you might crush it into Montelena.)

 Located in Calistoga near the northernmost rim of the Napa Valley, Chateau Montelena is the ideal place to begin soaking up Napa Valley lore. After all, the winery made history in 1976 when its Chardonnay proved victorious at the international Judgment of Paris competition, thrusting California wines onto the global scene.

Courtesy of Chateau Montelena

Some of this success is due to the composition of the soil that feeds the grapes. Some five million years ago, a vast volcanic field stretched across this valley and left ash residue in the terroir. When Montelena grapes are planted, they’re forced to burrow deeper into the earth for water, which in turn, enhances the concentration. It’s that grappling for life that produces the finest wine. “Too much water and the grapes will swell,” Olivia explains. “We want our vines to struggle.”

Perhaps no other metaphor better describes Napa Valley in its current state. In the same way perseverance produces high-quality wines, Napa found itself confronting setbacks in 2020, including back-to-back fires that ravaged parts of the valley during the critical harvest season. But if doomsday was on the calendar, then it was clearly disregarded given the resurgence of vitality now echoing through the valley. Fires retreated, Napa remains. 

 While the harvest months tend to attract a rush of visitors to the area, the crisper winter season is not to be overlooked. Unlike the mild climate patterns on the Peninsula, Napa experiences four seasons with frostier months that encourage toastier getaways. A mere hour-and-a-half stretch beyond San Francisco, it qualifies as the Bay’s backyard—and now is the time to venerate the vintners.

Courtesy of Harvest Inn

Come On Inn

First stop: St. Helena, the center of the valley, home to more than 150 wineries, a charming downtown and expansive vineyard views. The oak trees lining the main thoroughfare of Highway 29 lead straight to the Harvest Inn, an 81-room resort nestled within a redwood grove. A quick turn off the highway after passing through dual, spiraling brick columns reveals an almost mystical setting enhanced by Tudor-style design.

 More than 300 California redwoods planted in the 1970s tower over the pitched roofs of the timber-framed structures that are tucked into five unique “neighborhoods.” The centerpiece of the eight-acre property is the manor, a two-story building flanked by vineyards against a backdrop of the western Mayacamas Mountains. Sprouting above the manor are several chimneys that twist towards the sky like monumental corkscrews, just one expression of the two million bricks that accent the property. 

Accommodations range from Vineyard View Collection rooms, with panoramic views of Whitehall Lane’s Leonardini Family Vineyards, to Harvest Inn rooms featuring garden and fountain settings. The dilemma I face after check-in: the beckoning warmth of my room’s brick fireplace or a soak in a private patio spa hot tub. A complimentary bottle of bubbly upon arrival further complicates the decision. 

Courtesy of the Napa Valley Lodge

On to Yountville

For a different wine country perspective, I also set course for Yountville, another valley hub known for sublime dining, including the storied French Laundry and small-town favorites like the perpetually busy Bouchon Bakery.

I spend my second evening at the Tuscan-style Napa Valley Lodge. Clay roof tiles and Italian cypress pine trees create a relaxed atmosphere that’s perfect for recharging following tasting tours and outdoor exploration. The 55-room boutique lodge offers a laid-back style of service that begins with a complimentary champagne continental breakfast buffet. 

A garden fountain provides the soundtrack as I walk to my room, where a wood-burning fireplace awaits, along with a private veranda overlooking vineyards stretching north. I make a note of the complimentary bicycles available for self-guided tours, while munching on chocolate chip cookies in a welcome basket courtesy of Annie the Baker, a treasured local confectioner who works down the street.

Courtesy of John Troxell and PRESS Restaurant

 ImPRESS ive Eats + More

With nearly 150 restaurants spread across the Napa Valley, deciding what to pair with your wine is a process of discovery. 

A culinary gem at the southern end of St. Helena is PRESS Restaurant, a first-class chophouse with genial staff who genuinely want to share and celebrate their cuisine with you. If you can, ask for Greg, who has been with the restaurant for years and has never been more excited about the menu since the kitchen was assumed by the renowned chef, Philip Tessier.

PRESS is located in an airy, glass-paneled building with a majestic emerald-colored clock holding court above the kitchen area. Famous for its filets, PRESS’s Wagyu ribeye is topped with charred onion and a chanterelle jus while the seasonal pumpkin raviolo features a sunchoke crumble. For dessert? Charred corn-cob ice cream served up with Meyer lemon curd, coconut butter mochi and an onion purée. 

Courtesy of John Troxell and PRESS Restaurant

Back at the Harvest Inn, the on-site Harvest Table restaurant is run by chef Vincent Sanchez, who arranges a fixed, nightly menu that he modifies throughout the month. With ingredients locally sourced from small producers like Spitfire Farm and Hen Pen Egg Farm (not to mention their on-site garden), my two-course meal begins with chickpea fritters dipped in tzatziki followed by roasted chicken complemented by a ricotta raviolo with wild mushrooms and bacon lardons. Per the recommendation of my congenial server Todd, I went with a bottle of RAEN Royal St. Robert Cuvée Pinot Noir 2018, a selection offering a tantalizing aroma of wild strawberries and dark red cherries. A taste so impactful, I keep the cork as a memento. 

Nestled along the Napa River in downtown Calistoga is the casually charming Calistoga Inn Restaurant and Brewery, an excellent brunch spot with delicious Dungeness crab cakes and savory scrambled eggs topped in Vermont cheddar cheese. Also on the premises is the Napa Valley Brewing Company, which has been producing a variety of ales, including their smooth Palisades Pilsner, since 1987.

Like the confluence of two rivers, the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa is where locals and visitors unite under one rooftop. Following a tip from a retired local math teacher, I gave C Casa a try and was pleasantly impressed with its healthful and innovative approach to taqueria cuisine. The Bay Area micro chain uses sustainably sourced greens, fresh fruits, vegetables, artisan cheeses, meats and handmade tortillas.

Courtesy of Napa Valley Bike Tours

Embracing Wine Country Life 

In addition to the valley’s now iconic hot air balloon rides, activities are abundant with the Napa Valley Train Tours returning to service and enough wine tasting opportunities to fill a few lifetimes. 

Napa is synonymous with sipping but you can also try your hand at crafting from the vine. Located just off the Silverado Trail, you’ll find Judd’s Hill, a winery that specializes in a bottle blending day camp experience. Through its microcrush program, Judd’s Hill invites guests to become their own winemakers. 

The session begins with a quick lesson about grape growing from the engaging and colorful host, CJ, who has worked in the valley for the past two decades. She explains how Napa’s precise and contained rainfall season allows for ideal growing conditions. Using four wines with various tannins to choose from and with help from a graduated cylinder and beakers, I concoct my own blend of red. Next, I bottle my own wine, cork it and then devise my own label and name. In honor of my host, I choose the moniker Caroline’s Joy.

For a more traditional wine tasting, I stop by Chateau Montelena Winery, where the easy-going demeanor of the master winemaker Bo Barrett pervades. The winery features a distinct 19th-century stone structure resembling a castle with a small lake below the knoll. The winery dates back to 1882 when Alfred Tubbs built the chateau following a visit to France (inspired by none other than French winemakers). Another owner added the small lake (initially hoping to create a moat before hitting developmental snags) before the Barrett family took over in 1968. Less than a decade later, the winery prevailed in Paris, an event that ushered in the modern era of Napa Valley winemaking.

Courtesy of Napa Valley Bike Tours

 Following a weekend of wine tasting and lounging, it was time to sweat out the toxins. Offering easy-to-use rentals of bicycles or e-bikes is Napa Valley Bike Tours in Yountville, which is conveniently located in the middle of two routes: heading north for vineyard-focused adventures or a cool eight-mile ride into scenic downtown Napa. 

Riding along the Napa Valley Vine Trail, a smooth bike path with convenient free roadside bike maintenance stations, offers serene views of the valley. Once in Napa proper, I head to the Wildcat Vintage Store to flip through racks of cultivated styles, then venture by the town’s Rail Arts District (RAD) Murals featuring local artists’ urban artwork.

 As the Sunday sun begins to dip behind the western edge of the valley, it’s time to return to Yountville to exchange my bicycle for a car and make the journey home as bottles of wine gently clink in the backseat.

Minister, Lawyer, Cartoon Character

Author of four books. Attorney focused on poverty law. Unitarian Universalist preacher. Dean at two prestigious universities. Stanford Business School lecturer. 

Sitting down with the Rev. William (Scotty) McLennan in his Menlo Park backyard, that seems like a lot to unpack. Not so, he explains: “In my mind, they absolutely connect. I’ve tried to build bridges across disciplines. To me, the ministry is the arena that relates to all of life, that allows for the inter-relationship.”

Originally from Lake Forest, Illinois, Scotty had an early fascination with the law and his interest in ministry grew steadily during his years at Yale University. “They represent two separate sides of the brain,” he notes. “Result-oriented/rational on one side and emotional/spiritual on the other side. I couldn’t do one without the other—but I’m basically a minister. I’ve just done that in a variety of contexts over the years.”

It was at Yale that a group of housemates, as Scotty describes them, left a permanent mark on his life. “Seven of us stay in close touch, meeting every Labor Day for 35 years until this year when we’ve been gathering via Zoom on Saturdays,” he relates. “Cartoonist Garry Trudeau was part of the group. He was focused on going to art school but he started a comic strip, Bull Tales, for the Yale Daily News.”

What began as Bull Tales launched as the daily comic strip Doonesbury in 1970, with Trudeau drawing inspiration from familiar characters in his own life. “The character BD is based on Brian Dowling, who was the quarterback of the football team and a big man on campus, although not a part of our group,” says Scotty. “We called Charlie Pillsbury ‘The Doone,’ so he was the basis for Mike Doonesbury. He looks somewhat like the character.”

As for Doonesbury’s streetwise priest and Walden College’s unofficial chaplain, the likeness is an immediate tip-off. “I’m the Rev. Scot Sloan character with bright red hair and beard,” acknowledges Scotty. “Mixed in with the character is my mentor, Yale chaplain the Rev. William Sloane Coffin.” 

What’s it like to be forever immortalized in the funny papers? “Being a cartoon character is a great compliment,” he says, “but from time to time you realize you are a lifelong joke!” 

For the record, Trudeau did go to art school. But he also won the Pulitzer Prize for Doonesbury and figured out that “being a cartoonist was a profession he could genuinely be proud of,” as Scotty explains.

As a graduate student at Harvard University, Scotty did something that no one before had done. He enrolled simultaneously at the law school and the divinity school. “I would run back and forth between the two schools,” he recalls. “The law was narrowing. Divinity school was broadening. But I couldn’t do one without the other.”

The goal upon graduation was social justice work. “This was a period when peace activists like the Berrigan brothers, both of whom were Catholic priests, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., were in the news,” he continues. “They were all religious figures; it was the sense of religion being connected to social justice.”

Scotty was ordained in 1975 as a Unitarian Universalist minister and admitted to the Massachusetts bar the same year. He immediately went to work in what he describes as “legal ministry” in Dorchester, a Boston neighborhood. “In our work, we’d ask, ‘What is the life problem that led to your legal problem?’ The people we worked with were frustrated with the legal process and often alienated. We’d explain the legal process, but we’d also pray with them when asked to do so.”

Scotty found great satisfaction working with low-income clients who could be helped in a wide variety of ways, maximizing their income, dealing with family issues, negotiating with landlords and helping with consumer issues. “What was frustrating was the amount of time I had to spend in law libraries and courtrooms arguing with other lawyers,” he says. “It was a kind of chess game over people’s real human needs.”

Following his work in Dorchester with the Unitarian Universalist Legal Ministry, he served as University Chaplain at Tufts University for 16 years. While there he was invited to teach part-time at Harvard Business School’s ethics program. He saw teaching business school students as an opportunity to reach people “on the other end so that they can understand the real plight of low-income people and people of color,” Scotty explained in an article spotlighting Harvard Divinity School alumni.

Scotty continued the tradition of preacher and professor when he became Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University in 2001, teaching both undergrad and graduate students. A highlight of his tenure was meeting with one of his spiritual mentors, the Dalai Lama. “It was my honor and great pleasure to be part of two visits by the Dalai Lama to Stanford,” he says. 

In 2005, Scotty moderated a public conversation with the Dalai Lama about the nature of nonviolence in the chancel of the Stanford Memorial Church. In 2010, he welcomed the Dalai Lama back to Stanford Memorial Church to deliver the Rathbun Lecture on a Meaningful Life. “In both cases he spoke in depth about compassion, altruism and the importance of nonviolence in all aspects of life,” Scotty recounts. “In my personal time with him I was amazed by his warmth, his down-to-earth approach and his sense of humor. He also seemed to be deeply attentive to everyone he met. He has a great ability to connect science and religion, modern medicine and spirituality, pragmatism and idealism and the sacred and the secular.”

Scotty retired as Dean in 2014 but continues to teach Stanford Business School students, making a practice of integrating novel approaches. “I love teaching and being with students in a classroom setting,” he says. “It’s just so much fun—and that’s been my retirement goal, to do things that are fun.” 

In one course, students explore the experience of respected business leaders who have been able to integrate their spiritual and business lives successfully. Another examines the deeper levels of attitudes and beliefs, often unconscious, which lie beneath the way business is done in various countries.

“You can’t really do business in the United Arab Emirates without knowing something about Islam and you can’t do business in China without knowing something about Confucianism or in India without knowing something about Hinduism,” Scotty explains.

Over the years, Scotty has been disappointed and frustrated that students were not more involved with social justice issues like institutional racism. “They’d spend time at a homeless shelter but that was making it a personal issue, offering a band-aid solution,” he says. “But in the last few years I’ve noticed a shift with students looking at the institutional basis of poverty, racism and gender issues. That’s been promising.”

In addition to retiring as Dean, Scotty also retired as an attorney and as a minister in active service including his association with the Universalist Unitarian Church of Palo Alto. “There were all these things I hadn’t had time to do in my life,” he says. “The first and foremost was more time with my wife, children, grandchildren and friends.” 

Although no longer on the pulpit, Scotty emphasizes that ministry remains at the forefront of his life: “Religion is about emotion and engaging with other people and about art and music and all those other ways of connecting with something grander than yourself.”

Perfect Shot: Sunset on 2020

Through the ups and downs of 2020, photographer Mary Ries Fischer has found respite with her camera in the Baylands. She captured this Perfect Shot of ducks taking flight on a recent visit. “The Baylands has been my salvation,” reflects Mary. “I thought seeing Mother Nature at sunset could bring the best end to 2020.”

Image by Mary Ries Fischer 

Fashion Driver

Kelly Dixon is on a mission to save women from their yoga pants. As a fashionista and founder of a unique retail concept called Park Alley, Kelly cruises the Peninsula in a former food truck, helping women transform their style. Brimming with clothing, gifts, handbags and jewelry, Park Alley is “a mobile fashion truck with a stylist on board who can actually tell you what’s hot, what’s working and how to rock it,” as Kelly describes.

It all started when Kelly had the idea of applying her decades of fashion experience to a more flexible business outside the bounds of a traditional brick-and-mortar. She envisioned a mobile boutique inspired by the luxe looks of Park Avenue, combined with the notion of discovering them in a chic secret place, and thus, Park Alley was born.

To set her dream in motion, Kelly bought a food truck and customized it with wood floors, a marble countertop and a changing room to create a warm, inviting ambiance with seating and pillows. By bringing her specially curated pieces directly to customers, Kelly fills a gap she saw in the retail space.

“I know a lot of people who don’t like going to the shopping center or some of the brick-and-mortar stores because they feel like some of the sales associates don’t have the experience,” Kelly says. “I’m going to tell them that that product does not quite suit you, but I have something else that might. I want them to walk away, even if they don’t buy anything, knowing that I can find something for them eventually.”

Kelly traditionally hand-selects her unique merchandise by attending the big fashion markets in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. With shopping currently being conducted online and via Zoom, Kelly is disappointed that she can’t touch the fabrics and try things on herself like she usually does. However, her fashion expertise has helped her adapt with the times, and brands are coming to her with what’s hot next season.

“You still have to have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening,” she explains. “I’m on Instagram a lot. I follow certain bloggers and I’m ahead of the game; I get tips ahead of time. But I also follow my gut and I know my client.”

And who is that client?

“Anyone from the teenager to the 80-year-old woman,” notes Kelly. “I know that’s funny to say, but it’s true. I get them all.”

At this time of year, Kelly is usually helping customers prepare for holiday parties and festive dinners. In the past she’s even styled families for their holiday cards. However, it’s a little bit different now due to the restrictions on group functions. The result is fewer sequins and a greater emphasis on comfort.

“Right now I have a couple of ‘teddy bear’ coats that are just such a feel-good. That is what is really in, making people feel comfortable,” she says. “The sweater dress that I have is so cozy and warm and you can wear it a few different ways. Especially with people maybe gaining a little bit of weight in recent months, that’s why I bought it.”

Kelly recognizes the value in being nimble, shifting to meet market demand. After all, in 2020, staying at home is the new going out.

“I did a poll not too long ago asking if anyone is going to be dressing up this season while they’re staying home with their families or are they going to be hanging out in jeans,” she says. “A lot of people said they want to hang out in their jeans.” So Park Alley is stocked with a variety of styles you won’t find everywhere, along with other on-trend staples, like long, flowing dresses in winter hues and shirts in fresh plaids. 

“I’m still doing some really cute holiday outfits and also some incredible coats,” she adds, “because people still go out for walks and they are driving around and looking at holiday lights.”

Since launching Park Alley in 2018, Kelly has fully optimized the flexibility of a mobile shopping experience. The advantages of such a highly-personalized business model are even more apparent in 2020. She’ll drive up to a girlfriend’s house for a private shopping appointment or host a limited number of women for a public shopping event that she posts on Facebook or Instagram. A Park Alley visit is even the prize for a local school auction: “People are bidding on it and it’s by appointment only for a sip-and-shop.” 

As someone who’s worked her entire professional career in fashion, Kelly is well-equipped to find a solution to this year’s wardrobe challenges. She grew up in Atherton and Menlo Park and caught the fashion bug more than two decades ago while working for her mom and aunt in their former boutique, Gracious Jewels, off of Menlo Park’s Santa Cruz Avenue.

“I just loved it,” Kelly says. “Even as a little girl, I would literally lay my clothes out the day before school. I had this pink Polaroid camera and I would take a picture of my outfit and hang it on a poster board so I wouldn’t be wearing the same thing.”

After graduating from Notre Dame High School in Belmont, Kelly attended FiDM—the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in San Francisco—then worked for Macy’s West doing fashion shows as a stylist before styling on her own.

Now back in Menlo Park, she’s the proud mom of a college student, a high schooler and a middle schooler and appreciates raising a family in her own familiar childhood surroundings. She loves the area and says fashion moments often sneak up on her, even at the most unexpected of times.

“I was walking down California Avenue and this woman fell in love with my jumpsuit,” recounts Kelly. “I’d literally put it on 20 minutes before and she said, ‘I have to have that!’” So Kelly did what any savvy Silicon Valley business owner would do: She sold it right off of her back and won a new customer.

As Kelly tells it, fashion isn’t about a single look—it’s about the way you live, work and feel. “I want women to feel good-in-their-skin comfortable, to give them the best shopping experience possible,” she says. “Park Alley is really a celebration of self.”

Diary of a Dog: Chili

I keep hearing about what a tough year it has been but I’m grateful to 2020 for giving me a new “leash” on life. To tell it straight, I had a bit of a bleak start in this world. I came from a litter of five born in July 2019, and Redwood City’s Pets in Need rescued me from a kill shelter in Fresno. Alicia, Andros, Giorgio and Jacques knew they had a lot of love to give a “trauma dog,” and on January 4, they picked me up and brought me home to San Mateo. (That’s why I’ll always be a big fan of 2020!) Alicia’s dad lived in Fresno and loved Fresno chili peppers, so she named me Chili in his memory. Alicia is also a chef, which makes my name even more appropriate. If you’re thinking I look familiar, I get that all the time. With my distinctive brown patch over one eye (a nod to my Jack Russell Terrier heritage), I look just like the iPhone dog emoji. When I first arrived in San Mateo, I felt safest under the kitchen table, but I got all the support I needed to build up my confidence. Now I am super social with other dogs (including my Central Park buddy seen here) and absolutely devoted to my family. Not to brag, but they’re always saying, “That Chili—he’s a lover!” Given that my nickname is “Chili Dog,” it’s not surprising that I still enjoy hanging out in the kitchen, but my new happy place is curling up right behind Alicia’s feet when she’s cooking. Here’s my tip for making 2021 a special year: Visit petsinneed.org to find a companion like me!

Shoveling Snow

We have great weather on the Peninsula, but there are times when I miss having the four seasons that I experienced growing up. Especially the snow. People often are surprised that we enjoyed the full depth of seasons in Amarillo, Texas, my hometown. But we were in the northern high plains, closer to New Mexico and Colorado than to our Texas neighbor, Dallas.  

There’s a lot of weather in Amarillo, and I loved that about the place. 

In the winter you can wake up, unexpectedly, to an unbroken carpet of snow. With the silent, cold beauty comes dangerous icy streets, perfectly formed icicles hanging from the edges of your roof, and—best of all—no school, no work and hot, toasty logs in your fireplace. When those days happen, most people stay inside, warm and secure, sheltered in their homes from all the bad weather out there.

But for boys with ambition, those days mean opportunity.

On those mornings, my neighbor friend down the street, Scotty Watkins, and I would quickly eat our breakfasts and head out dressed in our heavy coats, galoshes, woolen gloves and hats, gather our big snow shovels and trudge through the snow, heading for the biggest homes with the longest driveways. We would make our way through the unbroken snow to the front porch and ring the doorbell. Someone was certain to answer.

In our still-high-pitched voices, we would ask, “Would you like us to clear your driveway and sidewalk?” 

We must have looked sweet to these generally older adults and they good-naturedly would smile at us. But we meant all business. Shoveling snow was a way to make some big money. And despite living in the finest Amarillo neighborhood and both our fathers being doctors, we lived very moderate lifestyles, far from the children of the affluent today. No trips to Cabo. If we wanted things, we had to earn them. 

“Well, how much would it be for both of them?” they would ask.

And we were not shy in our prices, given that without our services they could be shut in for days at a time. Our quote was as much as $20, though given the time and the luck we were having, we were open to negotiate. But mostly they met our numbers.

Once the dealings were complete, we went right to work. Even though we were both small, we were good workers. The first thing we would do was to discard as much of our clothing as possible. Shoveling snow heats you up good and fast, and we knew from experience to go ahead and shed the extra layers first. Often, even with the temperatures in the tens or twenties, we would be in short sleeves.

Sometimes our charge was to clear a whole driveway, but with the really long ones, we would usually just do tire lanes. We would ask the homeowner to open their garage doors for a moment so that we could see how to start and then each of us would take a tire lane and do our best to stick with it. Once we had taken care of a customer’s driveway, we would go to work on the sidewalk stretching from the street to the front door. 

When the snow was new, light and not full of moisture or ice, the work was not difficult. But if it were the second day after a big storm, and the snow and mush were frozen overnight, the shoveling could be very demanding. Whatever the conditions, we just stayed at it until we finished. We wanted
to get to as many homes as
possible before the temperature rose and melted our
business opportunities.

When we were done, we went back to the front door and rang the bell. Almost always, the residents approved of our work, though now and then there was a curmudgeon who told us that we had not done a very good job and to go back at it, which, of course, we did, though vowing not to offer our services to them after the next big storm.

When they paid us, they often added a couple dollars as a tip, something we were grateful for. And inevitably, we would get an invite to come inside for hot cocoa and cookies or cake. Unless it was our last home of the day, we would politely decline, wanting to get to the next spot. On a good day, we could do four homes—two before lunch and two after—which meant around $40 each. This was serious money to us. 

I always hoped for a snowstorm before Hanukkah, since I enjoyed picking out nice presents for my family and this meant I could up my level of gift-giving significantly. And that’s what makes a good holiday, isn’t it? Giving and making the people you love happy.

Landmark: Palo Alto Tower Well

Amid the ever-changing landscape of the Peninsula, some historic treasures remain, iconic reminders of an earlier time when farm animals grazed in Palo Alto and the local water bill was just $1 a month. The century-old Palo Alto Tower Well at the corner of Alma and Hawthorne is one of those relics. The 78-foot-high cylinder also symbolizes the ingenuity and forward-thinking of a small town that became one of the nation’s first to purchase and operate its own water utility in 1896. In 1910, the Tower Well was built to store Palo Alto’s water supply, provide safe water for the growing population and protect local structures in the event of a fire. With thick, reinforced concrete walls and a 155,000 gallon tank, the Tower Well pumped and regulated water using a state-of-the-art electronic water capacity control system. Manufactured in the early 1900s, the Tower Well’s valve opened and closed in response to electrical signals. By the late 1980s, Palo Alto relied on water from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and the Tower was abandoned. The City Council considered proposals to convert the Tower to a single-family home and day care center but ultimately decided to preserve the structure as it was originally constructed. Today, surrounded by native plants, interpretative panels and park benches, the Tower Well stands as a symbol of community roots.

30 Years Building the Peninsula

Serendipity or fate—who knows? Either way, for Steve Ackley and Brad Smith, a like-minded affinity for real estate sparked a conversation at an open house that resulted in a life-changing professional partnership.

Backing the story up, Steve was born and raised in America’s heartland and graduated from the University of Iowa with a business degree, which led to Bank of America’s private banking division. After focusing on high-net-worth individuals, Steve left Bank of America to work as CFO for one of his clients in Los Altos.

Hailing from St. Louis, Brad also grew up in the Midwest and graduated with a degree in hotel administration. While working as a consultant and feeling “like a fish out of water” in New York City, he jumped at the offer to handle real estate acquisitions for a large syndication company in San Mateo.

Both Brad and Steve arrived on the Peninsula in 1982 and experienced the exact same reaction: “Oh, this is nice!”

Courtesy of Bernard Andre

The momentous crossing of paths happened in 1988. “Joyce and I walked into this house in Palo Alto that Steve and Maryan had remodeled,” recounts Brad. “I think Maryan and I were working in the garden,” adds Steve. Brad nods in agreement, summarizing what happened next: “We had a three-hour conversation and discovered that we had very similar backgrounds. We didn’t have cell phones at the time; I think I wrote his name down on a post-it note.”

After a few meetings and “quite a few Sundays” of touring open houses, Brad and Steve decided “to give it a go to build homes.” In March of 1989, they officially founded Pacific Peninsula Group (PPG), growing the business to encompass spec development, architecture and custom homes. Sitting in a conference room in their Menlo Park office, they take a moment to process more than three decades of partnership and the perspectives they’ve gleaned on Peninsula home building trends.

On the face of it, combining finance experience with “a little bit of real estate acquisition” doesn’t obviously translate into a successful career in building. “There was no grand vision,” acknowledges Brad. “We didn’t have architecture training or construction backgrounds. Neither of us had MBAs, and we didn’t have a written business plan.” Steve makes a slight amendment. “Maybe we had a paragraph,” he says with a chuckle.

What the two did have was a passion for real estate. Even as they were toiling in their respective fields, both made a practice of frequenting Sunday open houses, with an eye out for potential projects. “We just knew we enjoyed the process of looking at real estate and looking at opportunities—trying to figure out what could be built,” says Brad. And coming from Midwest entrepreneurial roots, they recognized the hum of potential on the Peninsula. “You could sense the opportunity, you could feel it in the growth of the Valley and the companies and the people you met,” recalls Steve. “That was sort of inherent in our belief of what could be.”

Courtesy of Bernard Andre

With their wives holding down the financial fort with full-time jobs and steady incomes, Brad and Steve launched Pacific Peninsula Group in a small office over a doughnut shop in Los Altos. They cut their teeth doing minor lot subdivisions in the Allied Arts neighborhood of Menlo Park—cumulatively building seven homes on Partridge Avenue. “We had to start off small and take small bites,” says Steve. “We laugh at some of the razor-thin margins we made on our first projects, but that slow-growth mentality has been part of our success too.”

After learning first-hand about the uncertain costs of remodeling, they decided to focus on starting from scratch—bigger projects with more capital, but also more opportunity. “We morphed from the remodels on Partridge to doing teardowns and new houses and that just kind of grew and grew from there,” says Steve.

Courtesy of Bernard Andre

In 1990, Steve and Brad, together with principal architect Jude Kirik who leads the firm, launched Pacific Peninsula Architecture (PPA). Brad sums up the thought process: “With all the work we planned to be doing, it made sense to start our own architecture group.” And 1991 marked the building of PPG’s first Atherton spec home, followed by PPG’s Menlo Park office in 1996. By the mid-’90s, in addition to their core business, they also were building custom homes, leading to the 2000 launch of Pacific Peninsula Custom Group (PPCG), headed up by John Maxwell and later joined by Greg Pagonis.

Edging into PPG’s fourth decade, the three companies (development, architecture and custom home building) under Pacific Peninsula’s umbrella collectively employ a staff of 60 including architects, designers, project managers and coordinators, as well as customer service reps. “We’ve worked very hard but I think our vision for the opportunity was well-founded,” says Steve. Having worked in more than ten Peninsula cities (as well as Pebble Beach, Tahoe and Carmel), they unequivocally prioritize projects within a 15-minute drive—with their sweet spot in Atherton. “We’ve designed, built or remodeled more than 200 homes in Atherton,” shares Brad. “That’s 10% of the entire housing stock in the city that we’ve touched over the last 31 years.”

Another four spec and six custom homes are currently underway with eight to ten more in the design, approval or permitting process. From the company’s humble beginnings over a doughnut shop, PPG is now widely recognized as a frontrunner in driving Peninsula building trends. “We’re always exploring and trying to keep with the curve or ahead of the curve,” says Steve.

Courtesy of Bernard Andre

With three decades of PPG under their belts, Steve and Brad are actively anticipating the challenges and opportunities ahead. “We’ve experienced a lot of different business cycles together, and our team is a big part of the sauce,” Steve says, emphasizing the “new generation” that is integrating into management roles like Greg Pagonis and recently-promoted PPG principal Rex Finato. “We’ve been very lucky, not only with our partners, but also in having really talented people who work for us.”

For whatever reason their paths crossed, the two partners remain grateful. “Either one of us could have gone out on our own 30 years ago and started our own thing,” reflects Brad, “but the synergy of ideas and collaboration in our partnership has far exceeded what we could have achieved alone.”

Living the Sweet Life

Tucked off Highway 1, just south of Half Moon Bay, rest the lush fields, elegant heirloom gardens and wide pastures of Sweet Farm. As you walk up the garden path lined with towering sunflowers and leafy greens, the crow of a rooster may greet you, followed by the bellow of a cow wondering when her lunch is coming. A flock of wild geese fly down to the hilltop they’ve claimed as their haven. Sweet Farm is a sanctuary, so the animals that live here are not compelled to have any interactions with humans, but as you walk through the enclosures, you’ll likely meet a trio of handsome goats—Hoover, Brownie and Butterscotch—who’ll fall into step with you and happily accept scratches between the ears. Emboldened by the curiosity of the goats, a few tentative sheep and a pair of fuzzy Vietnamese pigs may edge just a little closer to take your measure.

This feeling of encountering animals on their terms is one of the many things that sets Sweet Farm apart from a traditional ranch. Here, animals focus only on their own existence. “We are a sanctuary, not a petting zoo—it’s a very important distinction,” co-founder Nate Salpeter explains. “The animals are allowed to come and go as they please; a sanctuary is a safe place where they can live out their lives.”

dolly + chica

These two lovely llama sisters are recent arrivals from Southern California. “They were on a very small property,” Nate shares. “Their diets weren’t great and they had a severe thiamine deficiency that led to Dolly becoming blind. Luckily, as soon as that happened, we got contacted about bringing them here. A vet came out to see them and put them on thiamine treatment so Dolly got her eyesight back.”

Still, Sweet Farm’s animals play an important role here. In this setting of simple, picturesque beauty, there’s a far more complex mission underway. Behind the scenes, Sweet Farm is actively redefining what it means to be a sanctuary—through farm-animal rescue, education programs, veganic agriculture and cutting-edge food and agricultural technology—and the animals are Sweet Farm’s ambassadors.

As co-founders of Sweet Farm, Nate Salpeter and Anna Sweet (the farm takes its name from hers,) work tirelessly to increase awareness around the impact of factory farming on animals and the planet. With over 140 farm animal rescues, each with a story, Sweet Farm seeks to inspire a message of compassion, respect and sustainability. From Gizmo, a young steer and 4-H project who was destined for auction, to Nibblets, a goat rescued from a live market by a local family, they’re brought here to find healing. “If there’s quail who needs tiny stitches, a turkey that needs a CT scan or a cow that needs an ultrasound because of a belly ache, we make sure every animal gets what they need,” says Nate.

Some animals, like one of Sweet Farm’s first rescues, Stella, just need space and freedom. Nate discovered the sheep standing off by herself at a petting zoo when he went to buy a truck from a farmer. Stella had grown too big to work at the zoo but too small for meat or wool, so the farmer was going to put her down. Remembering the encounter, Nate smiles fondly at Stella, who is keeping her own company at the far edge of the paddock. “I said, ‘Well, if you want this check for the truck, she’s coming with me,’” he recalls, adding, “Now, she wants nothing to do with people.” Luckily for Stella, at Sweet Farm, that’s not a problem.

Sam + Frodo

“Because they’d lived their whole lives in cages, when they were first let outside they couldn’t even really run,” Anna says, of Sam and Frodo. “They didn’t even know how to be pigs.” Named after characters in The Hobbit in tribute to the long, challenging journey that brought them from a dermatology lab to Sweet Farm, the pair enjoy playing in their pasture and napping in piles of hay with their sheep friends.

Introduced through corporate retreats, school field trips and monthly open houses, Sweet Farm’s animal ambassadors are at the heart of Nate and Anna’s mission to show how small changes can make a big impact. By telling the individual stories of how animals are rescued, the larger view comes into focus. To bring their unique spirits to light, Nate and Anna give every animal a name that reflects how they came to be at Sweet Farm or a personality trait. Sweet Farm stresses progress over perfection and visitors learn how they can be part of the solution. “When we teach people about the animals, we interject little things people can do to make small changes, like oat milk in your coffee instead of cream,” says Nate. “Things that are beneficial for animals, the environment and one’s own health—we can all make changes that have an impact.”

The origins of Nate and Anna’s “farm with a mission” dream date back to when they were living in downtown Seattle, nurturing a rooftop garden and working with dog and cat rescue shelters. Nate remembers the effort that went into that first garden project with a laugh. “We hauled 4,500 pounds of soil up to our roof,” he says. “We were growing sunflowers and cucumbers; we had apple trees up on the roof. We were very much into this realm of sustainable living and growing food for ourselves and our community.” Anna leans forward to expand on Nate’s point: “We’ve both always been animal lovers. We wanted to find a way to make a bigger impact and farm animals are the least talked about.”   

Stella

Stella was one of Nate and Anna’s first rescues from a petting zoo. “You might think because she comes from a petting zoo that she’s social and used to people,” Nate says, “but actually the opposite is true. She’d been forced to live in a confined space where she was tugged around, and when she came in here she was like, ‘I’m going to spend my days about a hundred feet away from any human.’”

When Anna was recruited to work in Silicon Valley in 2015, the pair decided it was time to start implementing the larger dream that had been percolating for years. As Anna puts it, “Starting a farm seems like something you could always want but never do, so when we found this property we just jumped in and started working.” Shortly after buying the land, they were married on their new Sweet Farm property.

Though Sweet Farm feels rural, it’s centrally located between Santa Cruz, San Jose and San Francisco. “When we founded Sweet Farm, we knew we wanted to make it accessible to all people, but we also had to make it sustainable as an organization,” Nate explains. “Being here near Silicon Valley and the Bay Area made it possible to have corporate groups come out and do retreats and volunteer days.” The fees charged for corporate events offset the cost of Sweet Farm’s education program, which allows public school students the opportunity to come out for visits. “It’s a Robin Hood model, if you will,” Nate clarifies, “to make sure the whole community is supported. And we’ve done that with all of our programs.”

Nate and Anna both have demanding full-time day jobs—he’s a nuclear power consultant for a number of organizations, including the Department of Energy, and Anna is CEO at Bad Robot Games. As Sweet Farm continues to grow, Nate focuses primarily on building funding and choosing the agricultural technology projects used in the farm’s veganic gardening; Anna concentrates on animal rescues and expanding their education program. To keep Sweet Farm running, Nate and Anna engage a staff of eight, including two full-time farmers, development and education directors. They also rely on a team of roughly 25 volunteers committed to spending an hour or two a week working with the animals and gardens, as well as running Sweet Farm’s CSA and farm stand.

Because of Sweet Farm’s dedication to avoiding all forms of animal exploitation, they use only veganic farming techniques to grow their diverse heirloom crops including beets, basil, eggplant, purple chives and squash, along with flowers like dahlias and sunflowers. As Nate walks carefully between rows of bright red strawberries, he talks about Sweet Farm’s partnerships with humane and sustainable startups: “With our technology programs, we’re helping entrepreneurs in food and ag tech all over the world get their companies and ideas off the ground to transform them into global game-changers.”

Nate points to a scalable technology they use called biochar, created by Redwood City-based Bioforcetech. Biochar is created from human—rather than animal—waste. “It sounds weird,” acknowledges Nate, “but a lot of times the biomass that comes out of waste water treatment plants is packed into bricks and tossed in a landfill. Bioforcetech burns it with little to no oxygen and turns it into a highly porous carbon that contains the microbes that make soil really rich, fertile and healthy.” As another example, Sweet Farm partners with InnerPlant to further research into the development of a robotic pest spotting device that is capable of detecting pest, water, nutrient and fungal stresses in a matter of days as opposed to weeks.

A timely illustration of Anna and Nate’s innovative, get-it-done mindset is the wildly successful launch of Sweet Farm’s “Goat 2 Meeting.” Nate explains how the idea was conceived on March 25: “We had an emergency board meeting and one of our board members, Jon Azoff, said, ‘I’m stuck in these video calls all day, every day, and it would be great to have one of the Sweet Farm animals jump in and have you tell us their story.” Sweet Farm joined a meeting the very next day and then a few more the following day; by the end of the first week, they were booked a week out. After Goat 2 Meeting started gaining media attention, the quirky concept took off and they’ve now brought farm animals to over 6,800 meetings worldwide, reaching over 250,000 people.

When Goat 2 Meeting demand exceeded what Sweet Farm could independently manage, they reached out to ten other sanctuaries to spread the meeting time out to additional goats, llamas, horses and any other camera-ready farm creatures. They also partnered with GoToMeeting—the platform that inspired the playful play-on-word offering—to meet the technological demands of managing bandwidth and the difficulties of stabilizing phone cameras while walking over uneven pasture land.

As they creatively manage more complicated times, Nate and Anna look forward to further expansion, hopefully gaining more acreage in the next few years, while they grow their message of promoting farm animal welfare and working together to create a more compassionate world. Looking out over the land they’ve cultivated with their unique brand of principled commitment, Nate notes that Angel, a small black cow recently rescued by Sweet Farm, appears to be happily communing with Gizmo. “Animals dream, they get excited about things, they get into mischief,” he says. “Every animal rescue is fulfilling. We try to give voice to the voiceless.”

Sturgis

Even with the loss of one eye due to ocular cancer, Sturgis is a handsome devil of a stallion who keeps defying the odds. After arriving at Sweet Farm with an array of health issues, he was initially given only three to six months to live by the equine veterinarian who treated him. Sturgis has outlasted that prediction by five years. He is now best friends with Sweet Farm’s steer Gizmo, and they’re frequently seen playing and napping together in the pasture. Watch how their sweet relationship developed by searching “Sweet Farm Love Story” on YouTube.

Bringing the Inside Outside

It’s really important to bridge the gap between indoor and outdoor—it doesn’t just stop at a wall or a door or a window. We try to take that barrier down and have a seamless flow,” says designer Eric Greenblott, whose wife Mae is his partner in life, and also his partner in design.

“Our approach is to start by creating a master plan,” explains Eric. “Figuring out what makes sense and what is just the right location for positioning seating and dining areas, whether inside or out.”

Eric and Mae run Palo Alto-based Greenblott Design, a comprehensive landscape and interior design firm that gets a lot of buzz for bringing the indoors, outdoors. “We don’t like things too busy or complicated,” says Mae. “We take that approach to all of our projects, regardless of the client’s exact style.”

Eric and Mae met in New York’s East Village. Eric earned a landscape architecture degree at Cornell and Mae has a civil engineering degree and studied at the New York School of Interior Design in Manhattan. Married in 2010, they spent four months wandering through Europe, enthusing over architecture and gardens before hanging out their own shingle. Attending a wedding and visiting relatives introduced them to the West Coast. They fell in love with the Peninsula’s entrepreneurial mindset and made the decision to uproot. Now raising their son in Palo Alto, they are enthusiastic about designing for the Peninsula community, whether it’s an estate or a bungalow.

Courtesy of Crystal Lee

The pair designs with an eye toward what’s elegant and sophisticated, but also functional and practical. “We love to create warm and inviting settings that continuously flow together while being aware of how those spaces relate to each other,” explains Eric. “They can be connected by a sense of shared materials, where the indoor flooring and the outdoor tile are the same, or maybe it’s through adding new outdoor structures.”

The team looks at where the sun comes up, the site plan, the orientation of the home. They get a sense of who their clients are and how they live. “It’s a really intimate process,” notes Eric. “We get to know our clients. We look at the whole connection between the interior architecture and how it flows into the most appropriate exterior space in the landscape.”

They’re mindful of placing “really nice furniture for outside that feels like you’re in an interior space,” says Mae. “There are so many choices for furniture nowadays. You can get really great, comfortable luxurious materials, finishes and fabrics that are resilient enough for outdoors.”

Courtesy of Greenblott Design

With clients spending more time at home, Eric and Mae are seeing a spike in demand for spaces that can be used year-round, which requires gracefully integrating elements like infrared heaters and fire pits. “You’re sitting outside and it’s so comfortable because the details are embedded so well into the design,” observes Eric. “Heating and lighting that’s really well-thought-out and strategically located so that you can use the space, any time of day or night, winter or summer.”

When it comes to the flora, Mae says, “We ask our clients what flowers or plants they really love, and then consider how things will look year-round.” As an example, Mae cites the “Little Ollie” evergreen olive shrub: “They require a lot less water, but are very sophisticated and rich-looking.”

The Greenblotts specialize in high-end projects, and many of their clients have children, which makes them especially mindful of surfaces, especially around pools. “It should look beautiful, says Mae, “but not so you slip and hurt yourself.” A key design factor is identifying the best perspective or vantage point on the property—and then figuring out appropriate spaces. Here’s how Mae summarizes the goal: “Create a sense of privacy and separation between the adults and kids but still have an eye on them and make sure that they’re safe and comfortable and everyone has what they need.”

Eric says it comes down to space planning and knowing how someone is actually going to use that space, versus “just randomly dropping furniture because it looks pretty—actually doing it with intent.”

Courtesy of Greenblott Design

For that reason, Mae and Eric like to use products like Resysta for outdoor decking. It’s a high-end synthetic wood made from rice husks and plastic that can be sanded, sealed or stained to look like real wood interior flooring but without the splinters and wear expected outside. Notes Mae, “It looks beautiful. You would be hard-pressed to think it wasn’t real wood.” They also use just a few select kinds of artificial grass. “The key is knowing the difference between what’s high-quality and what isn’t,” Mae says, “balancing what looks really nice with what’s practical.”

At the top of everyone’s wish list? A custom-built Accessory Dwelling Unit or ADU that can morph from home office retreat to pool house to guest house. That can include details like arbors, pergolas and cantilevered or extended roofs to create outdoor nooks that feel cozy, luxurious and expansive.

“Our approach is that this is a great opportunity to start from ground zero and build a structure that really engages with the landscape,” says Eric, “adding elements like big, open sliding pocket doors and living rooms that extend out, so that the indoor and outdoor spaces feel like one.”

Mae says that their clients want to increase both their usable square footage as well as focus on added function: “Maybe we add an indoor-
outdoor kitchen that can be used at different times of the year or a sleeping-bedroom element where there’s a Murphy bed or some fold-out sofa for families visiting.”

Courtesy of Greenblott Design

Whether it’s new construction, a remodel or a conversion, Mae says they ask themselves, ‘How is the new room best utilized?’

“You don’t want to go through the main house to get to a bathroom,” she points out. “So how can we incorporate a way that a bathroom can be easily accessible from the outdoors? That might be a side door to the ADU so when everything’s closed down at night you still have access to the bathroom or add an outdoor shower.” Mae also recommends using outdoor furniture inside ADUs to create multifunctionality. “You don’t have to worry whether kids are going to ruin it from the pool or from the outside,” she says.

From major features to minute details, everything maps to the goal of seamlessly blurring the line between inside and outside—and making outdoor living possible all year round. “One of our favorite comments,” says Mae, “is when we hear from clients, ‘We’re still using the pool and it’s December.’”

Secret Neighborhoods of the Peninsula

While traffic rushes up and down El Camino Real, they’re tucked out of sight—picturesque nooks and peaceful enclaves laden with historical treasures and unique architectural finds. With the expansion of the railroad through the Peninsula in the early 1900s, clusters of homes began to emerge, rising from orchards, ranchlands and even once-grand hotels and estates. Although our list is far from comprehensive (and we’d welcome your feedback for future rounds), here is a sampling of the secret neighborhoods that can be discovered in the midst of our charming tree-lined streets and towns.

Felton Gables, Menlo Park

Unless they know someone who lives there, even many Menlo Park residents are unfamiliar with the quiet, hidden-away neighborhood of Felton Gables. With only two access points off of Encinal Avenue and no through traffic, the small neighborhood of 115 homes is completely surrounded by Atherton. Settled within the footprint of Senator Charles Norton Felton’s 1870 estate, the land was subdivided in the 1930s and ’40s, making way for single-family residences. The neighborhood’s original cottage homes are either charmingly remodeled or have been replaced by mostly large traditional homes, reminiscent of the East Coast and even English manors. Collectively, the neighborhood is big on whimsy—with touches like rustic wood entry gates, imaginative mailboxes, rusty sconce lanterns and cobblestone drives. Signature features include winding, curvy streets with occasional trees and planter areas stuck right in the middle of the roads. Residents and children treat the streets as sidewalks, with a steady stream of walkers, bikers, strollers and scooters. The secret status of Felton Gables is upended every Halloween by the neighborhood’s safe and spirited trick-or-treating tradition that attracts hundreds of children. Homeowners also enjoy a private gate to Atherton’s expansive Holbrook-Palmer Park, which borders the neighborhood.

Lloyden Park, Atherton 

The small Atherton neighborhood of Lloyden Park is insulated from the rush of El Camino Real by fencing overgrown with greenery. Originally the Coryell Estate, with gas lamp pillars still marking the entrance, the area was subdivided in 1927, and many of the neighborhood’s 86 homes were constructed in the 1940s on mostly one-third-acre lots. Today, antique street lights with green poles and crackle-glass lanterns light the pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. While Lloyden Park is home to a variety of architectural styles—including Cape Cod, colonial, contemporary and art deco—two homes in particular capture the unique flavor of the neighborhood. Designed in 1912 by famed San Francisco architect Willis Polk, the Coryell Carriage House on Lloyden Drive was built for real estate tycoon Joseph Coryell. The Mediterranean-Mission style home is a nod back to California’s Spanish roots while another neighborhood showstopper is a nod to the future. Built in 1937 as a “Home of the Future” for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, the George C. Davis House on Rittenhouse Avenue was designed by Mark Daniels in a streamlined modern style. Although Lloyden Park’s train depot at Dinkelspiel Station Lane is no longer in use as a Caltrain stop, it is still a beloved part of the neighborhood, with plans to incorporate the 1913-era structure into the Atherton Town Center.

Glazenwood, San Mateo

Decorative stucco-covered brick pillars stand tall at the entry points into the Glazenwood Historic District in San Mateo’s Hayward Park. Built on the estate of successful mining millionaire Alvinza Hayward, the property’s 100-room Victorian-era mansion was acquired and turned into the palatial Peninsula Hotel in 1908. The pillars are remnants of the iron gates that once surrounded the hotel, which burned to the ground in 1920. In 1921, the Peninsula Hotel site was subdivided into the Glazenwood neighborhood with lots selling for about $15,000. Bounded by Palm Avenue and B Street and 9th and 10th Avenues, about 72 Spanish Colonial Revival homes comprise the tiny community. Although homes reflect a common architectural style, each one has its own unique characteristics with a color palette ranging from shades of white to goldenrod, sage and light pink. Characteristic features throughout the neighborhood include arched windows and doors, cylindrical turrets and bow windows, along with decorative elements like hand-painted tile work and wrought iron grates.

Old Los Altos, Los Altos 

Lincoln Park’s lengthy green expanse buffers the wooded serenity of Old Los Altos from busy Foothill Expressway. Appropriately named, the city’s oldest neighborhood bounded by Foothill, University Avenue and El Monte Avenue began to take shape in 1906. That’s when the Southern Pacific Railroad made a deal to buy Sarah Winchester’s 160-acre ranch to extend the rail line down the Peninsula. Paul Shoup, an assistant general manager with the railroad, partnered with other investors to buy the excess Winchester land to establish a town near the new train depot. To promote Los Altos, in 1910, Shoup built a California bungalow-style home for himself on University Avenue—the main artery of the original village. The Paul Shoup House is the only Los Altos home on the National Register of Historic Places. A half-mile away, the Winchester-Merriman House on Edgewood Lane is the oldest home in Los Altos with roots dating back to an 1840 farmhouse. Sarah Winchester updated the home in 1888 into a Carpenter Gothic-style Victorian for her sister Isabelle Merriman. With mature foliage lining its picturesque streets, Old Los Altos gradually filled in over the years and today reflects a diverse range of architectural styles with abundant access to parks and preserves.

Willborough Place, Burlingame
words by Jennifer Pfaff

In the midst of the Great Depression, early local developers George W. Williams and Frank F. Burrows bet on Burlingame’s future by building nearly two dozen homes on the grounds of a former nursery. Wedged between the newly constructed firehouse on California Drive and Crossway Road, the development was named Willborough Place—a combination of both the Williams and Burrows names. The developers engaged acclaimed architect William Charles Frederic Gillam, architect of the newly constructed St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, to recreate an English-style village of modest homes built close together to enhance their charm. Bungalows with second-story dormer windows and cottages with steeply pitched roofs line the narrow streets. The designs relied heavily on extensive wood trim, both inside and out. Climbing ivy overtakes the sides of some homes and colorful flower beds and rosebush plantings add curb appeal. For those concerned about property investment in unsure times, real estate advertisements published in 1931 touted “quality and attractiveness, with prices in keeping with the times.” Five-room homes were offered between $5,950 and $6,150, while six-room homes could be purchased from $6,300 and $6,500. The homes in this charming neighborhood are largely still intact—a testament to the timelessness of the developers’ plans.

The Beat On Your Eats

Some tasty tips for however you’re defining a “traditional” Thanksgiving in 2020.

Gambrel & Co.

Redwood City

Historians cannot definitively tell us what was served at that first Thanksgiving feast in 1621, so why rely solely on turkey? Downtown Redwood City’s craft butchery Gambrel & Co. serves a diverse selection of protein entrees for any table looking for an excuse to stretch its wings. Butcher Ben Robert offers fresh turkeys from Diestel Turkey Ranch (requesting three weeks in advance to order) as well as ducks to roast, game hens from Point Reyes and his personal favorite: quail wrapped in prosciutto. He recommends roasting this combo in the oven to infuse the skin of the quail with the ham so you can crack off delicious, crispy pieces that taste like “salty, porky goodness,” a review straight from the butcher himself.

810 Main Street, Redwood City. Open Tuesday through Friday from 11AM to 7PM; Saturday and Sunday from 11AM to 5PM.

Draeger’s Markets

Menlo Park, Los Altos and San Mateo

As the Peninsula’s elder statesmen of grocery, Draeger’s Markets provides grandmotherly and full-service approach to Thanksgiving that should come as no surprise. Favorite options include the full “family banquet dinner” that can serve up to 14 people or the more casual “turkey breast dinner” that serves four. These packages include the essentials: roasted turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans almondine, traditional bread stuffing, cranberry relish—along with pumpkin pie and freshly-baked butter rolls. To process hundreds of orders, Draeger’s begins accepting requests in October with a deadline of Monday, November 23 at noon. Draeger’s provides the meal, and all you have to do is polish the silverware. 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; 342 First Street, Los Altos; 222 East 4th Avenue, San Mateo. Open daily from 8AM to 8PM for Menlo Park and San Mateo locations; 8AM to 7PM for Los Altos.

Harry’s Hofbrau

Redwood City

Michael O’Brien, the operations director for the Redwood City meaty mainstay Harry’s Hofbrau, isn’t exaggerating when he lays out the annual numbers for the popular Thanksgiving takeout: 75 turkey birds sold the day before, another 75 on Thanksgiving itself plus, on average, 40 more sold in-house for families dining in. These turkeys can reach up to 28 pounds apiece and come with a gallon of gravy and a half pan of stuffing (with a veggie option available), capped by Harry’s celebrated pumpkin cheesecake. Harry’s is already accepting orders and as Michael adds, they’ll slice the turkey for you or are happy to bestow the honors upon thee. 1909 El Camino Real, Redwood City. Open daily from 11AM to 10PM; Thanksgiving Day from 11AM to 8PM.

Claire’s Crunch Cake

BRRRING, BRRRING…

What begins with a simple phone call eventually ends in a slice of cake, although this isn’t a dessert you can purchase from any store—this is Claire’s Crunch Cake, inspired by a recipe from a bygone confectioner that’s homemade by a single baker inside her own kitchen.

When Claire Mack’s hands aren’t carefully sculpting cakes or hand-delivering them to customers at her doorstep, they’re reaching for the ringing portable phone.

The houseline for 233 North Grant Street in San Mateo rings frequently throughout the hour during this calm Monday afternoon with callers from around town or as far as Dublin, 30 miles away.

They call with a sole desire: three-layers of yellow gateau conjoined in icing and liberally topped in the titular crunch (bits of honeycomb candy comparable to molasses chips). Of the five flavor options available—mocha, lemon, coconut, strawberry and pineapple—one appears to be the hit of the day.

“You are the fourth order of lemon crunch today,” Claire says on the phone call. “Very interesting… hold on, I need to find my glasses.”

She reaches across the work table she keeps next to her open floor kitchen. The tabletops and kitchen counters are crowded with ready-to-build cake boxes, baking supplies and her prized possession of a triple-
picture frame showing her three beaming daughters. Claire’s home, which she’s owned with her husband Eddie since she was 17 years old, is filled, but not necessarily cluttered, with life.

Mhmm, pick up on Friday at noon. An eight-inch lemon and an eight-inch straw,” she repeats, while jotting it down on her calendar.

After thanking her caller, Claire begins to return to the cakes at hand awaiting their crunchy tops but soon pauses to assess her upcoming workload. “These are coming in fast and furious!” she exclaims with a grandmotherly joy oft heard when there’s something delicious rising in the oven. She grabs a handful of crunch pieces out of a white bucket and returns to molding her specialty.

Although it closed in the 1970s, Blum’s bakery is believed to be the inventor of this variety of cake. Its origin, something out of culinary folklore, tells of a mistakenly boiled batch of soft candy that turned solid before a chef took a mallet to it for crumbled cake flavoring. The crunch is a mix of water, sugar, corn syrup and baking soda that’s heated to high temperatures and tastes like a caramelized graham cracker.

There was a Blum’s in San Mateo and it was Claire’s middle daughter Lesli’s favorite birthday cake. Years after the bakery’s closure, Claire discovered a honeycomb candy and attempted to recreate Blum’s recipe. This was in 1988 when she was an on-air interviewer for community affairs-type programming at KCSM-TV. She started bringing cakes into work, which prompted requests for more. To pay for the ingredients, she started her side business. A crunch cake revival was born.

Over 30 years later, her original crunch recipe is scribbled on a brown and tattered piece of paper that’s taped to the door between her kitchen and garage, where five refrigerators store her ever-flowing supply of cake. Her system is always in motion, from baking the yellow cakes to mixing the frosting to creating the crunch.

Now her daughter Lesli, who lives in Oakland and, after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, worked for The Ritz-Carlton, helps out her mom by making the crunch in her kitchen before a friend of Claire’s drives it over each week. It amounts to about 25 gallons of crunch every week or so.

After Claire applies the frosting to her cakes, she pulls out a white, five-gallon bucket. “This is the crunch,” she says, as she scoops out a handful. She firmly packs the pieces onto every inch of the cake, coating the cake by hand in horseshoe rotations to cover all the bare spots. The creamy frosting is a scrumptious adhesive and the process concludes by delicately inserting the cake into a white box with two important labels: “Refrigerate” and “Clean knife after each slice.”

A crunch cake will accompany Claire each time she goes in for a checkup at the Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame. It’s her way of spreading a taste of cheer to the place where she was born. Claire’s mother’s family arrived on the Peninsula in 1913 and Claire was born in 1937. She and Eddie represent some of the last Black residents born and raised on the Peninsula from this particular era, both a time for planting suburban roots and for navigating the practice of racial redlining.

Claire met Eddie when they were children growing up in the same neighborhood and just a few blocks from their current home. Eddie is a few years older and Claire dropped out of high school when they got married.

Years later, in 1995, Claire would appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss overcoming obstacles and the caption on the lower screen introducing her read: “High School Dropout Turned Mayor.”

After being told during a TV job interview in San Francisco that her “face was too dark and her lips were too big,” Claire, already deeply determined, did not falter.

She landed at KCSM, where she interviewed cultural leaders such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Huey Newton. Claire’s public affairs program provided her with a keen sense of her community, which led her to a seat on the San Mateo City Council in 1991. She served three terms as the city’s first Black mayor during her 12 years in office.

Claire’s love for San Mateo is palpable. After all, she’s only ever paid property taxes to one county her whole life. She’s published several novels, all based in town.

“My city is worth talking about and I’m a great advocate of my city,” she says. “I was at a restaurant once where I told some of the people there that I used to be the mayor and I hope you are enjoying my city. This is my city and I’m very possessive.”

Claire’s hometown pride is perhaps only surpassed by her passion for the family she and Eddie raised together in their tree-lined neighborhood in San Mateo. Her oldest, Vicki, founded the successful GospoCentric Records, and her youngest daughter Kelli is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, continuing a family tradition of serving in the military. With Lesli helping with the crunch recipe, Claire feels complete.

“I grew up on welfare and my mother and father divorced. To know that a multi-millionaire came out of my family…” she says, holding back tears as she reflects on the success of her children. “That’s amazing.”

On a street light pole outside their home is an honorary sign that says “Mack Family Way.” It’s a small tribute to Claire and her family, who host benefit concerts in their backyard when there isn’t a global pandemic afoot. Claire passes underneath the sign as she helps nearby neighbors by furtively pulling their garbage cans up off the street. The former mayor never really takes a day off.

Claire and Eddie now have their first great-grandchild to cherish, a three-year-old named Hayward, who is the inspiration every time Claire begins to bake another crunch cake.

“I think in a few more years, I’ll have a little nest egg for him to go to college. That’s what I’m working on but it’s not work,” she clarifies,”I have a real goal in mind.”

Havana Haven

A lot of people who don’t  know us think we’re kind of like a Mexican restaurant,” says Michael Ekwall about La Bodeguita del Medio, the Cuban-inspired eatery that he owns and operates with his wife Lara in Palo Alto. “The challenge for us has always been getting past the hurdle of people asking why we own a Cuban restaurant.”

The “why” started with a trip that Michael took to Cuba in the mid-1990s. At the time, the Menlo Park resident was living in Palo Alto’s College Terrace neighborhood, having completed his studies at UCLA (which involved commuting from Palo Alto every week for two years) and was working at Empire Tap Room.

Michael applied to a program at Oxford University to continue his studies, but then reversed course.

“I was in a life transition,” he says, which prompted the idea to travel. “And Cuba was always kind of a mysterious place.” At the time, travel from the U.S. to Cuba was difficult and usually had to be routed through a third country. Michael opted for a tour out of Canada.

He didn’t love the packaged tour but Cuba was worth it. “Great music, the vibrancy of the people—especially with what they were facing at the time. I loved that. I loved the artistic nature of it,” he says.

During his trip, he visited the original La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, famous for its mojitos and notable clientele. “I thought it was such a memorable, cool little place,” recalls Michael. He returned home with the idea to trademark the name, thinking he might do something with it in the future—although he didn’t have a plan in mind. (He has also trademarked LaBoToGo, which came in handy when the restaurant started doing takeout.)

In the spring of 1997, a business associate invited him to see a possible restaurant space that was then a small bar for sale on Palo Alto’s California Avenue. Michael had never considered starting a restaurant but was open to the idea. “At the time, I looked at it as a bridge project,” he says. “I’d do it for a couple of years and then pursue my other goals.” He had no idea what he was in for.

“I knew nothing about opening a restaurant. If I did, I might not have done it,” he says now with a laugh.

With the La Bodeguita del Medio trademark in his back pocket and the idea for a Cuban eatery in mind, the restaurant’s concept came together. Michael and his partner took over the space on Memorial Day and spent the summer cleaning, making minor renovations and reconfiguring the kitchen. They opened in August 1997. “We didn’t have a soft opening,” he says. “We just opened one day and had a rough menu.”

The lack of restaurant experience wasn’t a total roadblock, but Michael admits that they had some huge challenges from day one. Fortunately, friends stepped in and offered financial support and business education during those early years, creating a foundation and community that helped the business thrive.

Lara joined Michael in working at the restaurant after the opening, although he says, “I don’t even remember how I talked her into it.” With a vivacious energy and warmth that can make guests feel at home, Lara sets the tone for the restaurant’s front of house. Michael is no slouch in the hospitality department either, but he says, “Lara is more hands-on in that arena,” while he focuses on the kitchen.

When it opened, La Bodeguita consisted only of what is now the bar side of the restaurant: a long, narrow space dominated by a large polished wood and stainless-topped bar that seats 10–12 people, a narrow walkway and two-top dining tables lining the wall across from the bar. Michael and company took a lease option on the other half of the building four months after opening. Today, the restaurant, which fills the entire 3,800-square-foot space, includes a spacious dining room (accessed through a large, curtained opening near the host stand), a walk-in humidor, cigar lounge and small back patio.

Warm yellow walls, polished concrete floors, dark wood and eclectic art in the bar and dining areas evoke the namesake restaurant’s style without duplicating it. Unique details personalize the space, like the hand-carved host stand that was a Cuban cigar roller’s table and came to the U.S. via the Bahamas. Creative, colorful paintings by Cuban artists dress up the walls of the dining room and vibrant painted photos of Cuba line the wall opposite the bar.

While La Bodeguita’s interior is closed to the public, outdoor seating options include four high counters and three small tables with spatial distancing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, as well as picnic tables for groups of up to six right on California Avenue.

When it comes to the menu, Michael makes it clear: “We are not a traditional Cuban restaurant.” The approach has been to pair Cuban-
inspired flavors with fresh California ingredients for an elevated result. Take, for example, menu mainstay Ropa Vieja, a Cuban classic of shredded beef and vegetables, served with rice and beans. “Ours is so different from any traditional version you’ll get,” he says.

Maintaining the core menu is the kitchen’s primary focus, but there’s also room for La Bo-style creativity. One of those ideas was the development of the restaurant’s Cuban Table Oil, a spicy, versatile condiment for dipping bread, dressing salads or adding to pasta. Another was the creation of the vegetarian Impossible™ Savory Cubano Picadillo Hash, thanks to a long-time customer who provided a sample of the plant-based pork substitute. Other dishes have come about organically, such as the Seafood Ajiaco, which started out as the Saturday evening staff meal.

When it comes to cocktails, mojitos are de rigueur. In a good year, the restaurant sells about 50,000 of them. The cocktail menu, which has a core of classics like the Dark ‘n Stormy and the Hemingway cocktail, continues to evolve as well. Recent specials include the Havana Sling, a rum-based riff on the Singapore Sling.

Beer drinkers can choose from a small, curated selection of European and West Coast brews. As for the eclectic wine list, Michael says, “Lara and I love wine. Our premise has been to offer great, affordable wines that people can drink by the glass.” The resulting list consists of mostly small-batch California and Spanish wines that pair well with La Bo’s food menu.

Now 23 years old, La Bodeguita del Medio has outlasted many other local establishments. Michael credits “loyal guests who appreciate what we do” for the restaurant’s longevity.

“Our thing is great service—friendly service—great food and a place that’s approachable. You might just come in for a beer and have a chat, or have a mojito and some empanadas, but you don’t need to come in and spend a hundred bucks for a meal,” he explains. “We have always considered ourselves ‘neighborhood.’ That has always been the secret to our success.”

Although a really good mojito doesn’t hurt either.

Let’s Talk About Your Weather

How’s this for a myth buster? Samuel Clemens (AKA Mark Twain) never actually said this famous quote: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” While Twain erroneously gets credited for it, anyone who has ever ventured to the City in July without a jacket knows the chill that inspired the sentiment.

Twain did, however, make this observation about the northeastern U.S.: “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

Translate that “Twainism” into our current era and local geography and you get this: “If you don’t like your weather on the Peninsula now, just drive a few miles.”

Isn’t that the truth?

“It’s definitely fair to use the term ‘microclimates,’” says Bob Cohen, a certified consulting meteorologist who lives in Menlo Park. “I would define it as significant changes in weather over a short distance.”

With degrees in meteorology and physical oceanography (“one works with air and the other works with water”), Bob’s professional expertise ranges from weather forecasting in the marine environment to routing ships around the world to optimize speed and fuel consumption. His favorite hobby shouldn’t come as a surprise: “I love watching the weather and I love talking about the weather.”

Andrea Cohn Hillsborough

I like to think of my town as smack-dab in the middle (weather-wise) on the Peninsula. Fifteen minutes or so south to Palo Alto, temps are 10-12 degrees warmer while the same distance north to Daly City brings dense fog and a cooler climate. I drive 20 minutes west and I’m greeted with the ocean’s overcast skies, cool breeze and mist of Half Moon Bay.

While getting his masters degree from Texas A&M, Bob spent his summers launching weather balloons into the area’s huge local thunderstorms. “Each area of the country has its own weather phenomenon—thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes,” says Bob. “The Bay Area is relatively benign, which makes it a great place to live weather-wise.”

Photography: Gino De Grandis

Benign, as in we have every right to brag about our awesome weather. “We live in a Mediterranean climate, and there’s not another one like that in the U.S.,” observes Bob. “You can plan on dry weather from approximately May into October.”

From a meteorologist’s perspective, benign could also be perceived as boring, and that’s where appreciating the nuances between Peninsula cities, and even neighborhoods, comes in. While the gradations can be subtle, we’ve all remarked on distinctive climate shifts in play—whether it’s surging afternoon breezes perfect for windsurfing off Coyote Point, watching the temperature gauge plummet driving north on 280 or socked-in summer mornings in Half Moon Bay.

Michael Battat Burlingame

With a strong onshore breeze in the afternoon, Burlingame stays relatively cool compared with the rest of the Peninsula further south. We get a good mix of the breeze and the warmth. In general, the weather never gets so hot that I want to find air conditioning.

Simplifying the complexities of Peninsula weather starts with understanding the marine layer—a  blanket of air that’s been cooled sufficiently by the Pacific, usually to form clouds, which can extend from a few hundred feet to several thousand feet high. “Air within this layer is usually about 58 degrees, same as the water temperature,” says Bob. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, that layer can get held up against the coastal hills or spill through the Highway 92 and Golden Gate passes. If the marine layer is thick enough and the winds are strong enough, it can blow over the top of the coastal range and come down into the valley on the other side.

Photography: Robert Siegel

“The biggest factor is the elevation combined with the wind direction,” summarizes Bob. “That greatly affects who gets what weather.” Proximity to the water—Pacific Ocean or Bay—also plays a key role. “A lot of immediate coastal locations are more moderate in temperature,” he notes. “Even a little bit of distance from the coast can make a big difference.”

Lexi Bisbee Woodside

We moved here from the 101 side of Atherton, and I really expected it to be a bit cooler in the summer because of the proximity to the redwood forests. I was stunned to find the opposite. We haven’t seen as much fog and the afternoons have been hot the past two summers. Winters seem consistent with other mid-Peninsula towns.

Applying those principles helps “generally” explain some of the microclimate conditions we experience. Along the upper Peninsula coast, cities like Burlingame and Foster City get more intrusions of the marine layer, which means cooler temperatures and fog. “From Coyote Point down into Foster City, when you get right on the water during a warm day, it’s breezy,” Bob says.

San Mateo also runs cooler because of the marine layer spilling through the Highway 92 pass. When the marine layer comes into the Bay, it goes to the flat areas first, so that means Hillsborough, at a higher elevation, doesn’t get the same coastal response. As you get higher up in elevation, the fog tends to burn off earlier as well. Bob describes San Carlos, Redwood City and Palo Alto as fairly moderate: “You don’t get as much marine layer and also if the wind is off the Bay, you don’t get the higher temperatures on the immediate coast.”

Lisa Levin  San Carlos

We have the best mix of microclimates—very mild, perfect weather. We are not as foggy as the North Peninsula and not as hot as the South Peninsula.

Menlo Park and Atherton are buffered in the middle. “You’re not having the Bay temperature-moderating influence or the higher winds as well,” Bob observes. “It can get warmer and less windy during the summer, but during the winter, it can also get cooler and there’s the potential for more frost away from the coast.”

Courtesy of Mary Ries Fischer

Bob summarizes Woodside weather as similar to Menlo Park, albeit a bit warmer. And Los Altos also gets toasty: “It’s similar to Hillsborough but it’s also away from the gap of San Francisco; there’s not much marine influence there unless it’s a very strong push up through the Bay.”

Janet Galen  Menlo Park

In the summer, Menlo Park is generally warm and dry but rarely stifling hot; Indian summer in the fall, with the sun lower in the sky, is more intense than in summer; winter is cool, but rarely cold. Spring is the best—gently warm, blue skies and new fresh growth everywhere.

As for Half Moon Bay, Bob points out that coastal temperatures are a function of exact wind direction. “Half Moon Bay is frequently much cooler during the summer and warms up in the late summer and fall when there are fewer occurrences of westerly winds,” he says. “When the marine layer is super thick, the sun can’t mix it out, which is why sometimes Half Moon Bay doesn’t clear during the day.” 

Courtesy of David Hibbard

So, take your pick. Do you prefer crisp, foggy mornings, a gusty afternoon cooldown or a steady dose of sun? And to that point, if you don’t like your zip code’s climate on any given day (or even in any hour), just hop in the car. Bob confirms what we already know: “Within a half-hour drive you can usually find different weather.”

Gwen Books   Atherton

I believe we have ideal weather. I would describe it as a perfect Mediterranean climate. If we experience a few heat wave summer days, the ‘Peninsula air conditioning’ AKA fog creeps in over the hills to blanket us in morning coolness.

Nurturing your Nest

It was 1984, during a deck replacement job in a Burlingame backyard, when Steve Spratt’s passion for home preservation dawned on him.

He watched with sorrow as precious and priceless slabs of redwood were tossed due to a lack of maintenance. Witnessing the waste deeply moved Steve and he set out to promote new remedies to combat such domestic oversights.

“Back then, I liked to drive up to Mendocino and hang out at Fort Bragg on the weekends. I’d drive through an area of redwoods that had been mostly cut and see stumps as big as this room from trees that were not there anymore,” he recalls, seated inside his bustling office in Los Altos. “When I saw that deck getting torn out, it was like, man, that’s not right.”

The experience led Steve to found a business that would evolve into Home Preservation Services, a unique residential steward company he launched in 1993. Using a holistic approach to home management and repair, HPS is to a home what a financial adviser is to balance sheets and a doctor is to blood pressure.

The service provides a different kind of “house call” that offers subscribers efficiently-bundled tasks aimed at delaying deterioration, reducing surprise repairs and maintaining that new-home glow.

“We’re trying to completely change an industry—or create one,” Steve explains. “The current home service industry (I’ll pontificate if I may), is completely reactionary-based: things break and we fix them. The whole industry is predicated on that but nobody is preventing it from happening. We’re focusing on that—we’re trying to flip the industry to where it is proactive.”

Steve explains how the business attempts to replace the stress of owning a home with a simple monthly fee. Steve’s 45 employees, including his youngest daughter, Lexi, who works to onboard new customers as she considers future management roles, are specialists capable of completing numerous individual trades and crafts. The company recently named the former San Francisco Giants general manager Bobby Evans as its new CEO, and he joins HPS after years of subscribing to its services.

A home is first given a score that rates the property on its current condition and desired standard. Then a member of the team conducts quarterly visits to each location to provide routine inspections and maintenance. HPS oversees large projects like pool installation or provides homeowners with a guide to begin budgeting for that inevitable roof replacement.

Because a home is often a person’s biggest personal investment, Steve developed HPS to offer resources so that the homeowner can live in the home comfortably while maintaining its market value. He stresses to his subscribers that their homes should be kept at marketable conditions, even if the plan to sell is still years away.

“You’ll hear realtors say ‘location, location, location’ but that’s BS,” Steve says playfully. “Location is important when you’re buying the home but when you’re selling, there’s nothing you can do about the location. What you can do involves its condition. The condition is directly tied to the value of the home. And the better the condition of the home, the more fun it is to live in and the more of a safe refuge it is. One of our clients has a plaque in their entry hall and all it says is: “Breathe you are home.”

Steve’s own sanctuary is several hundred miles north on a 10-acre plot outside Roseburg, Oregon, that he purchased in 1999. Over the years, he’s built the home using recycled materials, including stereo speakers for a deluxe sound system that had previously blared in the arena for the Fighting Illini basketball team at the University of Illinois. Steve’s amassed a vinyl and 78s record collection well into the thousands that leans mostly on jazz. He was elated to learn of the brand-new live Thelonious Monk record, which was taped at Palo Alto High School in 1968 and intends to add it to his collection.

Courtesy of Steve Spratt

When he’s traveling between Oregon and California, Steve often listens to books on Audible such as Annie Dillard’s American Childhood or any title from Bill Bryson. “He’s a great researcher,” he says of Bryson. “I’m probably solely financing him into his retirement.” Approaching 70 years, Steve reveals that he recently solidified his maturity by purchasing an RV.

In the summer of 1988, Steve was living in Redwood City when he watched the series Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth on PBS hosted by Bill Moyers. He was transfixed, admitting he’s returned to the conversation hundreds of times throughout his life. He remains particularly inspired by Campbell, a sage for dissecting the human experience, who suggested to “follow one’s bliss.”

“One of my favorite quotes that Professor Campbell says is, ‘As humans, we mistakenly are continually trying to find meaning in life but what we’re seeking is the experience of being alive,’” Steve says. “To me, that was really powerful to realize. Campbell is confident and calm about the whole thing and it stuck with me. What we’re really after is the exhilaration.”

In heeding the advice, Steve realized he felt the most exhilarated when he’s building something that endures. From its earnest foundation, HPS developed into a helpful docent that guides homeowners.

“Buying a home should come with a warning label,” Steve jokes. “The home is way more complicated than most people think. It took massive amounts of labor, raw materials and money to make it happen. The average homeowner isn’t equipped to take care of the problems, but we’ve come up with a way to relieve them of all that.”

Dog Days in Carmel

“Hi cutie!” a complete stranger calls out as we’re strolling down Ocean Avenue in Carmel-by-the-Sea. “What a doll!” is the incoming utterance as we walk up the steps from the beach. Seated at a courtyard table, we hear, “Hey sweet thing!” followed by some kissy sounds. 

What sounds like incessant catcalling doesn’t offend us—given that these comments are directed at our dog.

The object of all this attention looks up from her perch under our table, where she’s resting her head on her paws. “Her name is Teddi,” my husband says, acknowledging yet another affectionate greeting on her behalf.

Clearly, Carmel is an amiable destination, but there’s an underlying theme that compounds the friendliness: a genuine love of dogs. You don’t need a canine companion to enjoy a visit here, but if you have one, this is a town with a well-deserved reputation for rolling out the water bowls and biscuits.

Courtesy of Visit Carmel

Dogtown U.S.A.

Frequently referred to as the #1 dog-friendly town in America, Carmel traces the roots of that moniker to Hollywood legend Doris Day. The actress became enamoured with the Monterey Peninsula while filming the1956 film Julie and returned to Carmel to live in the early 1970s. “I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like,” Day once famously said, “and I can’t say the same thing about people.” In 1987, when the animal advocate partnered with Dennis LeVett to co-own Carmel’s Cypress Inn, she had one stipulation—that the hotel extend its welcome to dogs. Headlines around the world barked the news, with the California coastal community trailblazing the pet-friendly travel trend.

Twenty-five years later, Carmel is still leading the pack, as evidenced by the town’s numerous dog-friendly hotels and inns, restaurants, stores, tasting rooms and galleries. “To find a place where you can go that you love and bring your dog comfortably is a huge draw for people,” notes Amy Herzog, executive director of Visit Carmel. “You see a lot of camaraderie because dog people tend to bond with each other.”

Courtesy of Visit Carmel

Sniffing out the Fun

After the two-hour drive from the Peninsula, we are eager to stretch both two legs and four. At roughly one square mile set along Carmel Bay, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a walking destination. Thanks to plenty of unrestricted parking on residential streets, there’s rarely a need to move your car. With Teddi on leash, we beeline it for Carmel Beach, getting a preview of what will become the weekend’s slower-than-usual pace.

How much do canines love Carmel? Judging by the number of intriguing smells—blades of grass, the roots of a tree, a magazine stand, something in the gravel—the answer is a dog-gone lot. We’re here to relax, so we let Teddi sniff a path to the Pacific at her leisure. With access points at the end of Ocean Avenue (including public restrooms) and along Scenic Road, the iconic beach is easily reached from any direction.

Our shoes quickly come off, followed by our seven-year-old Labradoodle’s definition of true liberation: the removal of the leash! Teddi scampers off to play with the other pooches on the one-mile crescent stretch of Carmel Beach. For obedient dogs under voice command, it’s a legal off-leash nirvana: a pair of black Labs chase balls into the surf, tail-wagging Doodles gleefully romp and a Bulldog puppy gets his first taste of sand.

For another leash-free outing, we explore Carmel’s Mission Trail Park. With a trail system of over 30 acres, the park offers two entrances—via Mountain View Avenue or across the street from Carmel Mission Basilica. After we wrap up our hike, we hear the mission bells ringing and venture over for a closer look. First built in 1797, the national historic landmark is also the final resting place and shrine of Saint Junipero Serra.

Courtesy of Cypress Inn

Resting the Dogs

After full, active days, there are plenty of choices for resting the dogs, so to speak. With more than 25 canine-welcoming hotels and inns, options range from boutique luxury at the Cypress Inn to cozy B&Bs. Originally built in 1929, the Cypress Inn is a Mediterranean-style landmark, offering 44 guestrooms and suites. The decor evokes the feeling of old Hollywood and Doris Day fans will relish the lobby’s memorabilia and movie posters including Pillow Talk and That Touch of Mink.

Teddi receives an enthusiastic welcome at check-in: “Do you need any dog blankets or bowls?” In the morning, the Inn’s complimentary buffet-style breakfast (with fresh house-made popovers) is served by dining room staff. We carry our trays to outside seating in Terry’s Restaurant & Lounge, instinctively smiling at a couple with an Australian Shepherd and a gentleman with three Corgis. We find it easy to imagine Terry’s Lounge in less restrictive times with its festive afternoon “Yappy Hour” featuring live music and “muttinis.”

Other popular dog-friendly accommodations include Carmel Country Inn with one- and two-bedroom suites and romantic studios, The Getaway, a favorite pick for families, and the Lamp Lighter Inn, a B&B with charming cottages tucked into a grove of trees.

Courtesy of Visit Carmel

Doggy and Retail Heaven

An artists’ haven with more than 100 studios and galleries, Carmel is known for its quaint cobblestone streets and eclectic mix of locally-owned boutique shops and stores. Steps away from the Cypress Inn, Teddi catches a scent and we follow her into Carmel Dog Shop, which opened on August 1. We are greeted by the owner Cindy Montgomery, who was born and raised in Carmel. A former buyer and general manager for other local dog stores, Cindy shares that she was laid off in January.

After “sitting around and feeling sorry” for herself, the lifelong dog lover decided to hang out her own shingle. “I couldn’t be happier,” she says. “We have everything from tennis balls and frisbees to RN Design dog collars with real crystals.” We take in the shop’s treat bar, greeting cards, plush toys, grooming products and stylish canine clothing. “We even have a dressing table for the dogs to try on outfits,” notes Cindy, “so you don’t have to get down on the floor.”

The art-size photography on the walls also draws our attention—portraits immortalizing what it means to live a dog’s life. Love Dog and Co. pet photographer Liz Stavrinides has a dedicated space in the store. “I do studio shoots here, I do beach shoots, I go to people’s homes,” Liz tells us. “The biggest takeaway of photographing dogs is that you have to be very, very patient—you want to capture their souls through their eyes and their expressions.”

Courtesy of Randy Tunnell

The Dish on Dining and Wine Tasting

With its many outdoor courtyards, Carmel lends itself well to dog-friendly dining opportunities. In recent months, cue the addition of tents and heat lamps, tables lining the sidewalks and parklets popping up in the streets. “Now that every restaurant has outdoor dining,” Amy explains, “almost every restaurant is considered dog-friendly as well.” With Teddi happily ensconced at our feet, we pluck garlic-steamed clams from their shells at Flaherty’s Seafood, share a hefty potato pancake topped with Monterey Bay salmon at Stationæry and dip pita bread into a tangy hummus at Dametra Cafe. Although we always arrive equipped with Teddi’s kibble and a bowl, we encounter a common query: “Would you like to see our doggy menu?” Judge away, but you try resisting those ever-so-hopeful golden brown eyes. Amidst the lush garden and brick fireplaces at Forge in the Forest, we chat over a fresh burrata appetizer, while Teddi chows down on a ‘Quarter Hounder’ hamburger patty.

On the libation side, Carmel’s nearly 20 tasting rooms offer the chance to sample some of the region’s best varietal wines. Even with new outdoor tasting venues, restricted capacity means it’s highly recommended to reserve ahead. Over the course of the weekend, we stop by Carmel’s first tasting room, Galante Vineyards, which offers a tucked-away rustic setting and a five-wine tasting menu capped by a 2014 or 2017 “Blackjack Pasture” Cabernet Sauvignon. On a recently-constructed deck, we enjoy al fresco street sipping at Albatross Ridge. And we count ourselves lucky to secure one of two tables at Silvestri Vineyards on 7th Avenue. Founded by Alan Silvestri, the award-winning composer and conductor of film and television scores, and his wife Sandra, Silvestri Vineyards features wines grown, produced and bottled from the family vineyard in Carmel Valley.

Courtesy of Visit Carmel

Dog Days, Afternoons and Evenings

It bears repeating that you can fully enjoy Carmel’s pleasures without a dog—but if you’re a dog lover, this is a town that sincerely loves you back. “Dogs are the new kids,” Cindy observes, as she offers Teddi a complimentary nibble while we chat at Carmel Dog Shop. “If you love your dog, it’s like your kid—and if you go on vacation, you don’t want to leave your dog behind.” Watching Teddi happily crunch on a Sweet ‘Paw-tato’ treat, it’s a fair bet that any dog would agree.

Cirque du Christopher

Christopher Childers pauses on his backyard patio to take a well-deserved break. WooShi, one of his two rescue dogs, sits at his side as the nearby eucalyptus grove shelters them from the afternoon sun and ocean breeze.

This year has been unusual for the dancer and choreographer because he’s had to actually abstain from activities—a function of both 2020 and recovering from knee surgery.

When tracing his career, an escalating routine is revealed; Christopher soared alongside pop music luminaries as their backup dancer, earned the lead in the largest contemporary circus in the world and is fresh from releasing his debut film.

However, the Foster City native and current Half Moon Bay resident is allowing himself a respite today as he rests his right knee following a torn meniscus. He’s five weeks into an eight-week recovery and can admit he’s feeling rather antsy about his sedentary status.

“I’ve had a little arthritis and injured my knee a few years ago, but I feel so lucky,” he says, before cracking into a smile. “But, of course, I’m stupid and still pretend like I’m 25.”

At home with dogs WooShi, a stray Christopher found while in China, and at his feet, Blake, an 18-year-old rescue from Muttville.

Having hung up the lavish leotard he donned as the Red Bird in Cirque du Soleil’s “Mystère” show years ago, he hankers to return to leading cardio dance classes at the FIT Studio in downtown Half Moon Bay. He describes these classes as his lifeblood where he imparts passion onto fellow dancers by fusing hip-hop, country, Bollywood, Broadway and club dance choreography into a single hour.

Christopher was raised inside a dance studio, joining his mother at her dance troupe by age three, and he’s reached the point in his arc where he’s focused on mentoring. “I’d rather share my experiences with other people,” he says. “It’s all about helping each other. That’s what happened with Carnival of Wonders.”

Courtesy of Christopher Childers

Released earlier this year, Carnival of Wonders is Christopher’s first foray into moviemaking. He’s appeared on screen as a dancer in several Hollywood features including Mel Brooks’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Showgirls, and he choreographed movement for 2002’s Spider-Man, but Carnival of Wonders is a new venture into creating and choreographing a film.

The dazzling short is directed by Cristopher’s longtime friend Jonathan Lawrence and follows a young and wayward dancer who finds herself in a purgatorial town of lost souls who’ve betrayed their dreams by refusing to pursue them. Elaborate dance sequences were shot locally at the Long Branch Saloon & Farms with a scene at Seal Cove Cypress Tree Tunnel in Moss Beach. The film is a celebration of dance and movement while further serving as motivation for any viewer to pursue their innermost ambition.

“When teaching my classes, I mostly have women of an older age and a common theme I heard was that ‘I always wanted to do this.’ Some of them have stories like, ‘I was going to be a dancer but my parents said there was no career in it.’ I thought about why there are so many people who did not pursue their dreams,” Christopher explains of the film’s genesis.

Courtesy of Christopher Childers

His own dreams of dancing were hatched not long after Christopher learned how to walk. Growing up in Foster City as the youngest of five children, he was closely nurtured by his family.

“My mom was 44 when she had me and said because it was later in life and my siblings were older, I was their super love baby,” Christopher shares. “Everyone’s attention went into this new surprise in life. I’ve always felt that love. My older brother is still protective and I tell him, ‘You know I’m over 50 now, right?!’”

Christopher’s mother, Sabina, was a dancer during World War II for the USO where she met his father Sherman, who was a pilot for the Air Force. Sabina taught dance inside the Wells Fargo bank lobby in Foster City during the late 1960s and later established the Foster City Dance Theater School with Christopher’s sister Suzanne in 1983. Christopher is naturally flexible and although his mom was strict in class, the payoff came when Christopher began professionally dancing before even becoming a legal adult.

He left home at 17 to work for Disneyland in their “Show Biz Is” production, performing on the stage underneath Space Mountain. He later took a job dancing in Lake Tahoe, where he was spotted by a young, up-and-coming choreographer from Los Angeles.

Paula Abdul was shooting a video in town and after noticing Christopher, told him that she had never seen a guy kick his legs like he can. She was choreographing for the Tracey Ullman Show and encouraged him to come to Los Angeles.

“I was so excited. I was one of those dancers who couldn’t wait to show off. I was in the train of thought of wanting to take every audition and every job,” he says. “My first job was for a benefit and it was free. I never said no to a job. A month later, I was shooting with Tracey Ullman.”

After seeing Madonna on her Blond Ambition World Tour 90, Christopher hatched a new goal and would go on to dance for the megastar, later backing the likes of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston on stage. For 1989’s Batman, Christopher danced in the music video helmed by Prince.

“He was the first famous person I met who took the time to remember every single dancer by their first name,” Christopher says of the Purple One. “The fact he knew our names by day two blew my mind! And he also carried around a clear trash bag for all of his high heels.”

Courtesy of Christopher Childers

Leaving Los Angeles for Las Vegas, Christopher began choreographing and coordinating for shows such as “Le Rêve – The Dream” at the Wynn Hotel. On a whim, he sent an audition tape to Cirque du Soleil and nine months later, he received a call back for the Red Bird role in the “Mystère” show.

He also coached choreography for other Cirque shows such as “O” and during one afternoon in 2004, while vacationing at a hotel in Palm Springs with other cast members, Christopher looked across the pool and locked eyes with a man named David.

“We talked in the pool and decided to meet later,” Christopher says, “and that was it.” Coincidentally, both were living in Las Vegas at the time, not too far from one another. After getting married, the couple took a year-long, cross-country road trip in an RV to scout where they’d like to live.

Courtesy of Christopher Childers

After a flirtation with Miami, they landed on the Peninsula, which brought Christopher home for good. Their house is perched on the mountainside above Half Moon Bay and reflects their mutual admiration for Eastern spirituality and Christopher’s lifelong cultural passions: Star Wars and Marvel and DC Comics. An original print of the grandiose superhero artwork In the Light of Justice by Alex Ross is signed by the artist and hangs above the couple’s headboard.

The recent downtime indoors is an opportunity for Christopher to continue expanding the reach of Carnival of Wonders as he applies to film festivals worldwide. The film is appearing at festivals across the globe including Cannes International Independent, Tokyo Lift-Off and LA Shorts Fest and has already nabbed multiple awards including best costume, story and producer from the Oniros Film Awards.

The film’s acclaim continues to humble its creator but the success should come as no surprise; after all, the film’s tagline reminds us that “the soul must go on,” a credo that Christopher never forgets.

Perfect Shot: The Keeper of Crystal Springs

Photographer Robert Lico was on his way to Pillar Point Harbor to pick up fish when he spotted a roof poking through the trees near the shore of the Crystal Springs Reservoir. Tucked within the 23,000 acres of the watershed are eight residences for the families of watershed keepers and water department supervisors. “I have used this location many times to photograph and each picture tells a different story. Once while photographing the keeper’s house, it was shrouded by a green haze formed by the fog and sun combining to produce some eerie effects,” the Redwood City resident says. “Growing up in the Bay Area and spending over 60 years living close to Crystal Springs has filled my camera with memories and warms the heart. We are so blessed to live on the Peninsula.”

Diary of a Dog: Max

First off, no, I’m not any kind of doodle—although that’s what I’m constantly getting asked. My name is Max and I’m a Portuguese Water Dog. Although most “porties” are black and white, I have a distinctive chocolate and white “whirly” coat with lots of wavy curls on my belly. I was born in Seattle in 2007 and happily came to live in San Carlos with Lisa, Bart, Sarah and Zachary. I may be 13 years old now, but I still have the heart (and mischievous nature!) of a puppy. One of my favorite tricks is pretending to be asleep when my family is eating dinner. If they step away for even a second, I pounce on any unguarded plate. I especially love eating vegetables: cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, you name it. I also crave this soft, papery substance that comes in a roll in the bathroom. Lisa and Bart try to hide it from me, but I keep finding ways to outsmart them—and gobble it down like I’m at a salad bar buffet. I’m not always making trouble; I also love to help out. For example, I’m a pro at “stripping” the bed. I butt every pillow off with my head and then nudge the sheets and comforter off too. All that hard work makes me tired, so I doze off on the bare mattress afterwards. I seem to be sleeping a lot more these days. I still get the “zoomies” at night and race circles around the living room but maybe not as many as I used to do. My favorite place is Carmel Beach where I follow Lisa into the water and frolic in the surf. Last time we were there, I noticed it was getting harder to walk down the stairs. It’s on my bucket list to get back, but I’ve found my own way to visit. Whenever Lisa and Bart see me twitch in my sleep, I’m running through the sand in my dreams.

Storing Memories

Rather suddenly, as per my last essay, I have five grandchildren. And the time went by so quickly that it did not dawn on me until recently that I needed to attend to an important chore on their behalf.

In our family home, off of the upstairs playroom, we have a storage area, about 8’ by 10’ with a roof that you can almost stand up in. Throughout my kids’ childhood years, we sloppily packed their outgrown clothes, toys, books, dolls, ski gear and everything else we couldn’t bear to throw out in cardboard boxes and plastic tubs and eventually filled the space.

The result was a crammed mess, and I so disliked having to think of dealing with this room and its contents that, despite the blossoming of the next generation of Citrons and the obvious purpose of saving all of this hazarai, I put it out of my mind. Almost two years went by after the birth of the first grandchild until I realized that I needed to get up there and start the dirty job of sorting everything out.

Emboldened on a boring Sunday afternoon, I waded in there as if I were entering a dirty swamp, unsure of what might lie beneath the water. In the dusty, dimly lit room, I pulled a few boxes aside, only to realize the enormity of the project. As I slowly moved some of the heavy, reachable pieces into the playroom, a bit of quick math led me to estimate that there were 40 to 50 boxes and tubs of various sorts in there, along with much else. After tugging and tossing for a half-hour, trying to make sense of it, I realized that the only thing to do was to take everything out of the room and figure out what we really had.

That I did and our once clean playroom became a total mess. I created six areas: clothing, books, toys (including dolls), saved school projects and art, miscellaneous and throwaway. I opened each box and placed it into its proper area. It was slow going as I found past treasures that elicited happy memories, causing me to pause.

I tackled clothing first. Some boxes had faded markings on them (0-6 months) and some had none. My 22-month-old grandkids had already outgrown some of the items. I found that about half the boxes were wrongly labeled or not labeled at all, so I pulled out the clothing and tried to find sizes on them. Then I placed everything in the correct boxes and wrote in black Sharpie my best guess of the age and sex (Boys 5-6 years; Girls 8-9 years).  Apparently, we stopped this nonsense when the kids were 12 or so since there was nothing after that. All told, there were about 25 boxes of clothing.

There were about 10 large plastic tubs of toys, and I enjoyed opening them and remembering with great fondness my children playing with them. One of my favorites was the rotary phone with a sound-producing dial. I laughed, realizing that my grandkids wouldn’t have a clue what it was! There was an overflowing tub of Beanie Babies, hundreds of them. Still not worth anything. Two huge containers of Lego blocks, a box full of American Girl clothing, though no dolls, and two heavy boxes of wooden blocks.

In the four large boxes of books were titles that meant a great deal to me since I had read to each child every night for as many years as they would let me. I happily pulled out appropriate books to share now. The rest I put back into tubs, labeled by when I believed our new generation would be interested in them.

Apparently, we had saved every art project and report our kids had ever done. I knew that my now adult children were not going to want these. I also knew that I could not bear to throw them out and that I would just put them back in the storeroom, waiting for my future demise and forcing my children to deal with them someday.

And so much more: the telescope that my Dad had taken such pleasure in giving to me that I could never throw out; boxes of ski clothes, again by age; bikes and trikes; furniture and well, a lot of stuff.

There was one category that was neglected: the throwaway area. Besides some broken plastic tops and some bent hangers, the pile never materialized. I felt strong time-shifting melancholic memories seeing and touching these material objects. I wonder if we saved all these items more for ourselves than for our grandchildren. I’ll gladly pull everything out in another few years to once again be transported to one of the happiest periods of my life.

Rewilding the Peninsula

Just 50 feet to the east of the thousands of cars that rumble along Highway 101 each day, Palo Alto’s Emily Renzel Wetlands is hidden in plain sight. The main entrance is a single-car-wide gravel pullout on the side of Bayshore Road, which then requires stepping over a rope fence and crossing a paved two-lane bike path. Nothing visual about the 154-acre marshland suggests that it is of great ecological significance. But much like letting your eyes adjust to the night sky, it takes time to appreciate the magnificent Wetlands: the closer one looks, the more one sees.

“It is much more interesting than a duck pond… oh, green heron!” Matthew Dodder blurts out, interrupting himself to point out the stocky bird with dark green wings and copper throat darting out from the underbrush along the side of the marsh. Emitting a guttural “Scaut!” call, the small heron flies low over the water.

In Peninsula birding circles, the Wetlands are earning a reputation as a hotspot for less common, elusive birds like the green heron. Migrating American white pelicans and terns frequent the freshwater ponds during their winter migration south. Lesser goldfinches and other songbirds flutter amongst the brush. Raptors like the white-tailed kite patrol the large grassy saltwater marsh from high above.

“What I look for is a nice variety of really rich habitat,” Matthew, the executive director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, explains. “You can come here at any time of the year and find something interesting. If you’re not seeing breeding bird activity, you might see some new arrivals. If it’s the dead of winter and all the migration has stopped, you’re going to have hundreds and hundreds of ducks here of various kinds.”

The birds are just the cherry on top of the Emily Renzel Wetlands ecological sundae. As one embarks farther into the marshlands and the roaring drum of the freeway fades, a plethora of marsh wildlife emerges. Dragonflies of all colors gracefully ride the coastal breeze. Large jackrabbits and raccoons scamper between patches of grass. Ornately-patterned beetles from the stinkbug family cluster on bush branches or reeds. And amongst the pickleweed plants, one of the largest populations of the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse builds their nests.

The Wetlands are incredibly biodiverse for the area, thanks to a rare juxtaposition of freshwater and saltwater environments. While walking the trails here, stimulating sights and sounds constantly flood the senses. But restoring the area to what it is today required fierce advocacy and engineering ingenuity, making the existence of this rich habitat even more remarkable.

Today, Emily Renzel Wetlands consists of two sections: freshwater ponds and a saltwater marsh. But when Emily Renzel, a former Palo Alto Council member (1979-1991), was introduced to the area in the 1970s, it looked much different. The marsh was owned by the International Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (ITT), which had set up 200 antennas on the marsh to bounce electrical signals to ships leaving or entering the Bay. Additionally, the Regional Water Quality Control Plant utilized the marsh as a drainage site for treated water.

“People were pretty disrespectful of the natural habitats in those days,” reflects Emily, who has cherished nature her entire life.

A member of the Sierra Club since 1964, Emily spent much of her professional career advocating for environmental preservation. She fought against and ultimately stopped the dredging of the Palo Alto yacht harbor in 1970. She also created the first Baylands Master Plan in 1978, which formulated the structure of the Bayland Nature Preserve. Her respect for the Bay Area’s natural environments is deep-rooted.

“We had wildlife around us the whole time I was growing up: birds and ducks, raccoons, possums, owls, crawfish,” Emily says of her Coyote Creek childhood home near San Jose.

But the wetlands project presented a new challenge for Emily. Because the marsh had been cut off from tidal flows by the landfill (now Byxbee Park), all the freshwater drainage from the water plant had turned the marsh into a biologically unproductive, brackish environment. If the drainage had continued unchecked, Emily believes that the marsh would have converted entirely to freshwater, killing the pickleweed plants and the endangered salt marsh harvest mice along with them.

When the City of Palo Alto purchased the majority of the property from ITT in 1977, Emily saw the opportunity to take action.

“At that time, there was still a lot of pressure to build the southern extension of the Dumbarton Bridge into Bayshore Freeway,” Emily recalls. “It would have come right across that property.”

Working with city engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists, Emily spearheaded the creation of a “Beneficial Use” plan for the area. Her plan called to restore the majority of the area to its natural salt marsh environment, while also creating a permanent, separate freshwater ecosystem fed by the water treatment plant.

Pulling off this ambitious proposal required some creative engineering. To restore and preserve the salt marsh, the restoration team installed an underground valved pipe system that artificially reconnected the marsh to the Bay, allowing in just enough saltwater to saturate the marsh and fuel plant growth, without drowning the harvest mice and other wildlife. ITT also removed most of its giant antennas, with only a handful, along with the old radio station building, remaining today.

The drainage from the water treatment plant was routed into levied-off ponds near the highway, and both the ponds and the salt marsh drain into Matadero Creek. To this day, Emily says she is amazed by the way the area rebounded. The wetlands are now bursting with ecological diversity—curiously, even fish have managed to populate the ponds over time despite no natural connection to a body of water. The restoration project was completed in 1992 and named in Emily’s honor. Outside of some minor enhancements, Emily’s original concept for the wetlands remains intact.

“The area is bouncing back and seems to be a favorable habitat or it may be the only habitat available to these creatures,” she observes. “I’ve seen whole flocks of pelicans feeding in the wetlands.”

Migrating white pelicans are just one of the many bird species that frequent the area. New public trails around the freshwater ponds create up-close access to this Peninsula birding paradise.

“Because it is a wetlands area,” Matthew says, “there’s a lot of activity here year-round.”

Duck-like, but noticeably smaller than a mallard, pied-billed grebes are showstoppers in their own right. Matthew explains their remarkable talent: by letting out the air between their feathers, they can submerge their bodies while keeping their heads above water. During the late summer and fall, the grebes will masterfully construct floating bowl-shaped nests on the water’s surface.

“They don’t seem to pay much attention to us,” Matthew observes as he passes by a swimming grebe. “They’re feeding, they’re foraging, they’re squabbling—they’re doing things as if we’re not even here.”

Despite their name, common gallinules are less common in the Bay Area than their close relative, the American coot. Not at the Renzel Wetlands, though: gallinules are plentiful here, brandishing their bright red beaks with dusky black feathers. Their clown shoe-sized feet help them walk over bent reeds and long grasses without slipping and falling into the water—similar surface area physics to snowshoes.

“They feel very comfortable here,” Matthew says of the gallinules’ affection for the area. “I think it’s the abundance of emergent vegetation and reeds. They love these little islands here where they can nestle down and hide.”

Amongst many mallards, an experienced birder also will notice an imposter: gadwalls. They feed like mallards, they swim like mallards and they look like female mallards. But Matthew points out that these lesser-known ducks have a subtle white patch on the middle of their wings, along with an orange bill—two features that mallards do not have.

“There’s a world out there to study,” Matthew says. “I’ve never gotten bored—ever—with birds. Just walking around our neighborhood or sitting around the office with the window open, I’m counting birds all the time.”

Matthew praises the convenience of Emily Renzel Wetlands. Although not readily obvious to the cars zipping by, with its easy access from 101 and new pond trails, it’s an inviting destination for both birders and outdoor enthusiasts. “Along the trail, you’ve got these nice hedges here,” Matthew notes. “You’ll often find different kinds of sparrows and in the winter there will be more. Right now you have song and Savannah; in the winter, you get gold-crowned and white-crowned and maybe white-throated or something rarer.”

Now dividing her time between Palo Alto and San Juan Bautista, Emily is pleased to see that the new trails are increasing visibility and appreciation of the area, although she hopes that’s the last modification for a while.

“Honestly, I would have left that natural area alone in a better world,” Emily acknowledges. “Hopefully it will be at least another 30 years before anyone has to interfere again in this once natural marsh.”

Stanford microbiology professor and nature photographer Robert Siegel lives minutes from Emily Renzel Wetlands. Here’s his account of a memorable experience from this past summer:

On July 10, 2020, late in the afternoon, I had the extraordinary good fortune to see a baby killdeer hatch. The nest was right in the middle of the walking trail but so camouflaged in the rocks that one could easily step on it. Thinking back, I could not recall ever having seen a chick hatch before. It was certainly not what I expected. It was remarkably fast—a few breath-stopping minutes. The chick did not peck its way out. A moment earlier, the egg seemed intact. Then the mom cracked it open, removed the shell and flew off with it. I did not see where she flew. I was fixated on the chick—watching it, photographing it. At that point, I was alone with the chick and its recently hatched sibling. The hatchling looked like a disorganized pile of feathers and legs. I was not even sure it was alive at this point. In a flash, metaphorically speaking, the mom returned and settled back down over the chick.

In fairly short order, the chick staggered to its feet. Killdeer are precocial, which is to say, they can stand up and start feeding soon after they hatch. Like chicken hatchlings, mom watches over but never feeds or grooms them. As the light began to fade, I departed but returned the following morning to try and find them. They had not left a trace, but eventually, by looking and listening for the parents, I found the chicks, hunkered down and hidden by the spillway. I was hooked. I returned every day for the next two months. Each day brought new changes in physical appearance and behaviors. It was like a biology course in miniature.

Because killdeer hatch with mere nubbins for wings, they did not wander far and were fairly easy to find at first. However, after a number of weeks, their wings grew more spectacular and one day they were gone. But soon, I heard them again. They had relocated to the nearby slough. As before, they allowed me to get quite close. I visited the slough daily and the killdeer would approach me within five or ten feet. I imagined that the killdeer had imprinted on me, but then I realized that I had imprinted on them. With the coming of September, the killdeer appeared less frequently, and I realized it was my turn to fledge, to wander off in search of other wonders of the wetlands.

Unlocking Filoli’s Secrets

Her official title is Director of Museum Collections, but functionally, Julie Bly DeVere is also a detective. She has to be, given that her single-minded focus is Woodside’s Filoli House, the stately centerpiece of one of the Peninsula’s finest remaining early 20th-century country estates. “You want it to feel like it did when it was a home,” Julie says. “To experience that moment, that walk back in history.”

For Filoli, that history spans two families: William Bowers Bourn II and Agnes Moody Bourn (1917-1936) and William P. Roth and Lurline Matson Roth (1937-1975). Tasked with evoking the look and feel of what it was like to live in the 56-room, 54,256-square-foot house, Filoli’s curatorial and interpretive teams confront significant challenges:

Predominantly recognized for its 17th– and 18th-century English and Irish antiques, Filoli’s original collections drew from 20 cultures and 600 years of furniture and art history.

When Mrs. Roth donated Filoli to the National Trust for Historic Preservation back in 1975, the house had essentially been cleaned out of its furniture, artwork and decorative items.

Annie Barnett

“There were two auctions historically,” Julie recounts, explaining how the Roths purchased Filoli fully furnished but sold off pieces that didn’t fit with their own aesthetic. “The 1937 auction was described as ‘A Treasure Trove of a Lifetime of World Travel Never to Be Gathered Again,’” she says, “and then in 1975, Mrs. Roth had another auction before she realized that she wanted to donate the house and that eventually the house would become an historic house museum.”

The largest sale Butterfield & Butterfield of San Francisco had conducted to date, the 1975 auction required four days for the furniture and four days for the library. “It was advertised as a collector’s dream,” cites Julie. “We lost the huge majority of the furnishings throughout the house, and most of the pieces lost in the sale are still out in the world waiting to come home.”

And thus, the vital need for detective work—to tirelessly hunt down, restore or recreate Fioli’s treasures and make the house as authentic as possible, a truly “livable” museum.

Annie Barnett

When Filoli first opened to the public as a National Trust for Historic Preservation site, it was only for garden tours. “I think everybody was pretty curious about what the inside of the house looked like,” Julie says. “Mrs. Roth even complained in those first few years that every time she came over she would see people’s face prints on the windows from trying to peek in.” The historic house began to allow visitors as early as 1978, with great attention given to the property’s wall coverings, marble fireplaces and vaulted ceilings. “According to my predecessor Tom Rogers, we talked a lot about architecture,” notes Julie, “because the rooms were largely empty.”

To fill the house, Filoli turned to loans from the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. After donating the property, Mrs. Roth continued to visit Filoli and is said to have remarked, “It’s odd when the house is filled not with the things that you recognize; it doesn’t have that same sense of home and that same sense of place.” With her death in 1985, Mrs. Roth stipulated that original Filoli furnishings still in her possession be returned to the house and more donations followed—from other Bourn and Roth family members and even family friends who had purchased pieces at Filoli’s auctions.

Courtesy of Filoli Archives

By the time Julie joined Filoli in 2011, the focus had begun to significantly shift—from “filling” the house to building a permanent collection of original and period furnishings. “Today, we focus on studying inventories and photos and try to recreate the rooms as close to what they were at the time the families were here,” Julie says. “We want it to feel like it did when it was a home.”

That’s where the detective work comes in. And there’s no shortage of sources—starting with Filoli’s archives, spanning 63 linear feet of newspaper clippings, magazine articles, blueprints, inventories, auction catalogs, letters and legal filings. Regional archives yield nuggets too—not to mention the 8,000 books in Filoli’s house libraries and curatorial library, along with family and staff interviews and oral histories. “There’s about 5,000 photographs so far,” adds Julie, “and we’re still scanning; there’s probably another 10,000 slides that have yet to be scanned and catalogued.”

Courtesy of Julie Bly Devere, Filoli

Filoli dates back to 1917, so there’s also the matter of choosing which era—and even decade—to focus on. “That can be the hardest thing to decide because we had two different families living here,” Julie says. “We ask ourselves, ‘What stories do we want to tell and what objects do we have that support those different stories?’” As illustrated by the following restoration projects, once a decision is made, then it’s a matter of chasing clues and solving the right mysteries to bring each Filoli chapter back to life.

Courtesy of Julie DeVere, Filoli

The Drawing Room

“This was probably the least historically accurate room,” Julie says of Filoli’s most recently completed restoration. Derived from the phrase “to withdraw,” Filoli’s drawing room is where the ladies would gather after dinner, leaving the men to enjoy their drinks and cigars. “It just felt wrong when you walked through it,” Julie explains. “It felt like a big hallway instead of a space that you want to linger in and have tea and listen to the piano and walk around and see the art.”

Guided by some 30 historic images and a 1936 “down to the ashtray” inventory, the Filoli team, with donor support, embarked on a top-to-bottom restoration, from rewiring the twin Louis XIV design crystal chandeliers to refinishing the Louis XV parquet-patterned floors. With the return or replication of signature objects and furnishings—fuchsia-upholstered sofas, a late 19th-century Steinway piano, Qianlong period Chinese enameled porcelain vases—Filoli’s 35-foot-long elegant salon-style drawing room began to reappear.

Annie Barnett

However, the room was missing one defining element—the most memorable hallmark of the space. “Originally, Agnes Bourn selected roughly 40 mezzotints to display; they were sort of a collectible late 17th- through 19th-century poster of the day,” Julie says, “and Agnes pulled together a lovely, very curated collection.” The 1936 inventory meticulously detailed every mezzotint: “We knew the artist, the title and engraver of every piece on the wall, and so that gave us a shopping list to scour the world’s art market.”

Partnering with donor Brad Parberry of San Francisco’s Cavallini & Co., the hunt began in December 2018—with 37 mezzotints secured to date, custom matted and framed and returned to their original positions in the room. “What comes across is that Agnes chose to surround herself with beauty,” Julie observes, “images of women and children and scenes of garden and home life.”

Courtesy of Julie DeVere, Filoli

The final step in the restoration is just wrapping up, changing the drawing room’s contemporary cool grey-green fabric wall coverings back to their original color—a warm, buttery yellow with gimp trim. “It’s going to sort of glow like Midas,” says Julie, anticipating the sight. “I love when you get to walk back into the room and see it as it was intended; it feels like a sense of wholeness coming back together.”

Courtesy of Filoli Archives

The Gentlemen’s Lounge

With the completion of the drawing room, the next project gets underway. “Now we get to fully dive into the gentlemen’s lounge,” Julie excitedly shares. Converted into a trophy room by Mrs. Roth, the space showcased horse show trophies and awards but no original furnishings. “We often had Mrs. Roth’s carriage sitting in the middle of the room,” Julie says, “so it felt more like a gallery space because the family obviously didn’t keep a Viceroy carriage in their home.”

With a bow-tie inlay in the oak floors, the original intent of the room was clearly a gentlemen’s lounge, where Mr. Bourn would retreat with his friends. Mr. Roth enjoyed the masculine space as well, with inventory records and photos showing a card table, leather club chairs and a billiard table. Restoration began with the reintroduction of the room’s original Baccarat chandelier, found broken and hanging in an upstairs bedroom.

And while original and period furnishings and floor refinishing bolstered the room’s authenticity, there remained some unfinished detective work: the original wall coverings.

Damaged by plumbing leaks and replaced with a modern striped linen fabric, the only two historic photos convey a stylized floral silk wallpaper. “The photos are both black and white,” Julie says, “so I was constantly interviewing Roth family members saying, ‘Do you remember the room in the ’50s? Can you give a sense as to what color it may have been?’” The only clue Julie was able to glean was “a sort of peach.” Then, in the final process of a top-down inventory of Filoli’s closets, Julie discovered an envelope containing little strips peeled off a wall. “I danced in my office the day I found it,” she recalls. “‘This is it! This is the paper!’”

Using the period photographs and recovered fragment, Filoli is working with a wallcovering designer to recreate the original pattern and fuchsia, baby blue and peach color palette, the finishing touch on the room’s restoration. “Some of the peony flowers are larger than my head,” exclaims Julie. “This was a bold room for a gentlemen’s lounge.”

Annie Barnett

The Family Room

Although the Roth family enjoyed throwing big lavish parties at Filoli, they spent the majority of their time in the smallest room downstairs. “We know that the family room was their favorite,” Julie recounts. “Filoli has 20-foot ceilings so the rooms got cold. The family often tells me that they fought over who would get to sit on the bench in front of the fire.”

With donated Roth family portraits hung in their original spots, the room presented an ideal opportunity to share Roth-era stories with visitors. The sole heiress to Matson Navigation Company, Lurline Matson Roth married William Roth, who guided the family business into the building of luxury cruise ships and Hawaiian hotel properties. “We want to show the room as it appeared during the 1960s,” Julie says. “We have a lot of historic views of the room from that period.”

Like other Filoli restorations, it’s all about the details: “Everybody was smoking in that period, so we have Zippos on the table, Mr. Roth’s cigars being brought out, a bridge game with an ashtray at every corner as well as a drink.” For the Roth family, the drink of the house was Jack Daniel’s. “This was the birth of California casual that you would make your own drink,” Julie says, “rather than your butler serving drinks to you,” referencing the room’s well-stocked wet bar, as well as a vault the Roths converted for upstairs wine storage. During the shelter-in-place orders, she personally refurbished a 1960s Zenith TV, similar to the one the Roths owned. “It looks great in the space,” she says. “I wanted a television in that room for nine years, so it was really exciting to finally get one that fits the look and feel.”

Courtesy of Filoli Archives

Ready for Visitors

Each of Filoli’s rooms strives to capture a family snapshot in time—whether it’s being transported back to the Prohibition Era in the formal dining room or World War II in the kitchen. With new interpretive panels and custom soundscaping further enhancing the feel of bygone eras, now all that the historic Filoli House needs is the return of visitors. The garden and estate trail are currently open with the Filoli team eagerly anticipating the resumption of the property’s indoor tours when San Mateo County’s COVID-19 restrictions lift.

Julie sees parallels to the historic site’s early days, when Filoli’s secrets were lost or locked away—with only tantalizing hints of what was once inside. “I was onsite last week with the sun coming through in the afternoon and I looked at the middle doors of the reception room, and they were just covered in nose prints,” she says. “I just stopped and started laughing; I could almost hear Mrs. Roth telling us that we need to wash that window.”  

Landmark: Angel of Grief

Tucked behind the Stanford Mausoleum in the Stanford University Arboretum, the marble Angel of Grief kneels over a funeral altar, her head resting on graceful arms and her wings drooping in sorrow. This haunting, larger-than-life monument marks the resting place of Henry Clay Lathrop, the beloved youngest brother of Jane Lathrop Stanford, who died in 1899.

Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

Already in mourning from the loss of her son and husband, Jane Stanford ordered a replica of the Angel of Grief Weeping Over the Dismantled Altar of Life. The original memorial was created by William Wetmore Story, an American sculptor residing in Rome, for his own deceased wife. While graveyard angels usually represented the innocence and immortality of loved ones who have passed on and the link between heaven and earth, this figure expresses the pain and suffering of those who are left behind.

Jane Stanford commissioned a well-known Italian sculptor, Antonio Bernieri, to carve the statue from a single piece of Carrara marble. The seven-ton sculpture arrived from Italy in 1901 and was placed under a marble cupola to mark Lathrop’s grave. Heavily damaged in the 1906 earthquake, the monument was replaced in 1908, without the cupola. After succumbing to years of neglect and acts of vandalism, the statue was fully restored in 2001. Today, the Angel of Grief waits for anyone needing an empathetic presence or a quiet corner for reflection.

Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

The First Family of Framing

Janet Martin possesses an intuition, inherited from her father and refined over decades of practice, that allows her to promptly match a piece of art with its most suitable frame.

Within minutes of assessing a canvas, she’ll swiftly rummage through the thousands of options catalogued in her memory to produce its ideal framework.

“I get really excited when I match frames with art,” Janet says. “A lot of artists can’t afford the right frame so they just pick something in stock, but there’s a harmonious relationship between the frame and the art; if it’s not right, the eye will not land on the artwork. It’s an extension of the art.”

Such unification is a daily practice at the Studio Shop Gallery, a cornerstone downtown Burlingame business that’s both a custom frame shop and a fine art gallery.

Janet and her husband Carl, two Burlingame natives who met in the orchestra at Lincoln Elementary School, have been at the helm since 1994. The duo continue a unique tradition of managing a couple-run business; they took over from Janet’s parents, John and Martha Benson, who had purchased the shop in 1955 from the founding Crawford family.

As the oldest business in Burlingame (and oldest art gallery in the state), the Studio Shop Gallery commemorates 105 years of matching the perfect frame with its art counterpart in the exhibit Every Day is a Miracle, showcasing local talent on Studio Shop walls until November 18.

The exhibition spotlights ten new artists over the course of ten weeks. In lieu of a traditional large anniversary celebration and group art shows, the Martins will host one artist a week to intimately display their work in mini private receptions for up to four people at a time.

It’s a first for the shop that has withstood the hardships of multiple World Wars, recessions and pandemics. The Martins prevailed by tapping into their creative side. During their months of sheltering in place, they adopted a new online sales system that allows them to market their art inventory across the country. And the ingenuity behind the new exhibit—facilitating personal one-on-ones with the artist as opposed to bustling art parties—perpetuates this spirit of revival.

“The business feels like it’s in a rebirth,” Janet explains. “With the exhibit we’re having, ten artists in ten weeks, my creative side feels like it’s coming out. We wanted to create something so that the artists could go out and show their work. We asked, ‘What can we do to support them and their work?’”

Julie Brookman, Burgau, encaustic on panel

“I like how the artist captures a particular moment in her paintings. Being able to stop the crashing waves for a swift moment and to emerge in the beauty of the ocean is a special gift. Brookman’s unique method of using multiple layers of wax and pigment creates the perfect movement in her work and makes it so interesting to look at.”

    — Janet

Stepping into the shop on a recent afternoon reveals a harmonious duality between the frame shop and the art gallery—perhaps best represented by the Martins themselves. Janet is at the front desk, the face of the business, while Carl works on a frame in the back workshop. When asked who’s the art piece and who’s the frame in the relationship, Carl remembers a Halloween costume the pair crafted many years ago.

“We made a box around Janet where she was the artwork and I was the artist. She was Mona Lisa and I was da Vinci. Maybe you are the picture,” he says, complimenting his partner. “You’re the pretty one.”

“You’re handsome,” she smiles back. “We had a designer years ago who explained how the frame was like the person doing your hair and makeup.”

Carl fondly recalls the day in the fifth grade when Janet played cello and he was in the back of the orchestra on the trombone. They attended Mills High School together and started dating on New Year’s Eve between 1977 and 1978 when they shared their first kiss in Lake Tahoe. The couple married in 1985 and raised two sons in a home close to Burlingame High School.

The walls in their house showcase paintings by the likes of Jasper Johns, George Condo and Roland Petersen. When strolling through a museum, they tend to admire the frame before the art itself.

Carl continued with the trombone and has played in classical, jazz and Latin bands. During quarantine, he improved his ability on a unicycle to be able to play trombone while cycling.

Roland Petersen, The Swingers, 2020, acrylic on canvas

“When I see Petersen’s most recent painting, The Swingers, I see pure joy and happiness. Despite sheltering at home for months, and personally struggling with health issues, the 94-year-old artist still finds great joy in what he is doing. I can feel the positive energy the painting radiates and it makes me want to get on a swing.” — Janet

As a child, Janet swept and dusted the Studio Shop while observing how her mother and father dealt in art and matched works with their frames. She supported herself as a wood sculptor prior to taking over the shop and recently earned her master’s in intuitive medicine from the Academy of Intuition Medicine during the downtime earlier this year.

Initially, the couple planned to title their 105th anniversary show Reflections but pivoted after Carl awoke one morning with a change of thesis.

“We reflected for a while how the studio shop survived the 1918 Pandemic, the Great Depression and two World Wars,” Janet says. “You get to the point where you’re here today and really feel how ‘every day is a miracle.’ It had us feeling more optimistic. And after that, the next step is to be grateful.”

Mirang Wonne, Alchemy 4872-3, gold leaf on torched stainless steel mesh

“Mirang’s work resonates with me in particular, because of her one-of-a-kind way of making art. Inspired by nature, she uses multiple layers of stainless steel mesh and gold leaf to create stunning pieces of art. Her work feels very authentic and powerful.” — Janet

Making Every Home Its Own

“When you ‘world travel’ as a designer, you have a constant pulse on the world’s global trends,” says interior designer Colleen Dowd Saglimbeni, and she should know. Before starting her Peninsula-based interior design business, she was a former fashion designer for some top brands, including the once-ubiquitous Spiegel catalog. For several years, Colleen was living her dream as a successful businesswoman with a globetrotting life.

“A huge part of that job entailed around-the-world trips where we would start in the Pacific Rim, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul,” recalls Colleen. “Then we’d go to India, lay over in London and come back home. So much of our time there was spent on factory floors, where the garments were being made, approving fit, fabrics and styles.”

The world was her inspiration board, where Colleen would source ideas for new products and designs. “We would do a lot of our sample shopping in Europe,” she notes. “We’d go to the fabric shows in Italy; we went to fashion shows and shopped in Paris. I look back and think, ‘That was so fun!’”

Colleen’s life as an artistic road warrior continued after she moved to the Bay Area with her husband for his job. She commuted from San Francisco to Chicago and around the world until external and personal developments gave her pause and prompted her to look for employment closer to home.

“I became pregnant and September 11 happened,” she says, “and that changed the scene on travel.” So Colleen sent a resume to Gymboree in Burlingame and got a coveted job as design director for Gymboree’s Janie & Jack children’s apparel and Janeville women’s stores.

Looking back, Colleen recognizes that she committed to a creative path early in life. “I think I was really born to create and I definitely had a calling,” she reflects. “I knew what I wanted to do very early on.” Having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago, she eschewed the traditional college route for Otis Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles.

“As soon as I got to Parsons it was definitely an ‘aha’ moment,” she says. “It was super exciting to have that epiphany and be surrounded by just incredible talent. You were judged not just by taking a test and studying, but on sheer ability. The fashion industry is so aggressive and can be very difficult, and it really prepared me for the real world.”

Based on the successful track record that followed, Parsons prepared Colleen very well—but she ultimately realized that something needed to give. “I had two kids and my husband’s job wasn’t flexible, so I took a step back,” she says. “I went from the top of my career to doing some freelance work.” Then Colleen made another pivotal shift: “I just thought, ‘I love interiors and I love fashion—why not marry them together?’ They’re so similar.”

That’s when CDS Interiors was born. Launched in 2006, it’s been nonstop project after project, one successful client relationship at a time.

“My first projects came when all my friends were having babies and there was a need for ideas for children’s rooms, and they didn’t want something generic,” Colleen says. “So I would come in and I would do hand-painted murals and monograms on the wall, things like quilt bedding and window treatments. For the older kids, I picked out wallpaper and did custom-upholstered headboards and pillows with beautiful trim and higher-end fabrics.”

And while Colleen was creating special rooms for their children, the parents would peek in and take notice. “I started with kids rooms and then one friend after another would ask, ‘I really need help with my master bathroom’ or ‘I would love a new bedroom.’ It started very small and then my business just took off.”

Colleen is now living and designing out of her home in Hillsborough, and a favorite project is a Menlo Park home she recently completed for a young family.

“It’s a beautiful home,” effuses Colleen. “A builder built the home to live in so the details like the moldings and the doors are exquisite and just the quality of the house is incredible. I came in and freshened up the overall look and feel and customized the interiors. All of the furniture in the living room was custom designed and made locally.”

Colleen says her specialty is working with each client to personalize their style. “They wanted a home rooted in tradition, and my philosophy is that I always have to go with what the home tells me,” she says. “I can’t do mid-century in a traditional Tudor, and their home kind of spoke to that, but they didn’t want it to look like their grandmother’s house. So a lot of the fabrics we used look luxurious, but they are actually performance-based because their children are so young.”

Another creative challenge for Colleen was how to update the look of all their antiques.

“For the dining table, I was told, ‘This is my grandmother’s and I love it but I hate it because it’s so traditional,’ so we reupholstered and replaced the springs in six of the dining chairs. We chose to do them in a really cool snake-printed leather with nailheads and then we added new armchairs that had a fun, updated shape.” With a smile, Colleen adds, “It’s not like your mother’s traditional—it’s more like a hip and updated traditional.”

Colleen’s goal is making sure that every house tells its own story. “I am not what you would call a stamp designer; there are designers who leave a similar look on all of their projects, but my philosophy is that it’s not my home, it’s your home,” she says. “And so my goal is really to bring out the personality of what my clients want, to nudge them towards the impeccable design that they would do themselves. So in the end, it looks uniquely theirs.”

The Beat On Your Eats

Need a little luxury in your life? Try takeout dining from these Michelin-starred restaurants.

The Village Pub

Woodside

Don’t feel like dressing up for dinner—or even putting on pants? Fine-dining OG, The Village Pub, has you covered with an à la carte menu for takeout and DoorDash delivery. Indulge in seasonally driven dishes like Sweet Corn Mezzaluna or Duck Confit with huckleberries, or head straight to the “Luxury Items” section of the menu for specialty cuts of beef for two and caviar from Tsar Nicoulai. Dishes are packaged individually, and some include finishing and plating instructions. Requests for gluten-free and allergy-related modifications are accepted. Along with a substantial wine list, the bar program offers handcrafted cocktails by the cup, pint or quart. 2967 Woodside Road, order online at thevillagepub.net, open nightly from 4PM to 9PM and for brunch on Sundays from 11AM to 2PM.

Courtesy of Sushi Yoshizumi

Sushi Yoshizumi

San Mateo

You could wait weeks to score a spot at tiny nine-seat Sushi Yoshizumi to experience the chef’s exquisitely created omakase menu, but now you can purchase takeout boxes of freshly made Edomae sushi to enjoy at home. The week’s offerings go live on Monday with popular indulgences, like the Toro Uni Ikura Box and the Kaisen New Chirashi Box, selling out quickly, so plan accordingly. Chef Akira Yoshizumi changes the menu every two weeks and includes seasonal fish as much as possible. Add a bottle of sake from the curated list of exclusives to complete your at-home tasting experience. 325 E. 4th Avenue, order online at sushi-yoshizumi.myshopify.com, open Wednesday through Sunday from 5:30PM to 10PM.

Courtesy of Baumé

Baumé

Palo alto

While the cozy, four-table dining room behind Baumé’s orange door remains closed, you can experience Chef Bruno Chemel’s French-influenced modernist cuisine via Baumé 2 Go. The four-course, prix-fixe takeout menu—with dishes such as vichyssoise with salmon roe, prime New York steak, warm goat cheese with honey and raspberry-peach chiboust—changes monthly. The menu is gluten-free, and food allergies can be accommodated (no vegan or vegetarian options, however). Meals are packaged in simple, elegant containers and include at-home finishing and plating instructions. Want to level up the luxury? Consider add-ons like Golden Osetra Caviar and wine pairings. 201 California Avenue, order online at exploretock.com/baume, open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 4PM to 7PM.

Going Au Naturel

As is the case for many, Kasim and Guldem Tanyeri Syed’s introduction to natural wine began with a bottle from a friend and ended in newfound appreciation. However, unlike the masses, the couple followed their interest into establishing a wine bar focused exclusively on the increasingly popular style of winemaking.

The Palo Alto-based entrepreneurs of eateries and libations were visiting with friends outside New York City in 2017 when they first sipped natural wine, a simplified vino that uses the fewest manipulations possible. This means omitting commercial yeast, filtration, additives and synthetic pesticides in the vineyard while excluding or limiting the use of sulfites. It’s an organic and traditional method of winemaking, existing for centuries across the planet, that’s progressively gained traction in the United States over the last couple of decades.

When Kasim and Guldem took their first sips after cracking a magnum of a Frank Cornelissen, their interest was promptly piqued, leading to the Peninsula’s first natural wine bar.

“I was coming from the craft beer scene and I relate natural wines to sour beers,” Kasim explains. “They’re funkier. And since we were drinking from a larger bottle, it took us longer to finish; while going through it, I was seeing it evolve. It felt like you were drinking multiple bottles on a journey. My wife, who typically gets an irritation when drinking red wines from a reaction with sulfites, did not have that with this. That was enough to make me go looking for more.”

The couple returned west where Kasim owns the Palo Alto Brewing Co., The Rose and Crown and the Tap Room in Palo Alto and co-owns QBB in Mountain View. Access to natural wines, however, was difficult to come by.

“We got home and nothing like that was on the Peninsula,” he says. “There’s Ordinaire and The Punchdown in Oakland and we’d bring bottles home, but eventually we said we should do something like this down here.”

Welcome to Salvaje (sal-va-hay), a wine bar in downtown Palo Alto focused on natural wines made with grapes grown organically on biodynamic farms or with sustainability in mind.

Launched in June 2019, Salvaje (which translates to wild in Spanish) is the newest concept from a hometown gastronome who wants to share his latest passion with his community.

The shop’s inventory is sourced worldwide with bottles from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and domestically in Mississippi, Missouri and California. Kasim is particularly fond of Mexican and Chilean wines, with a special affinity for Louis Antoine Luyt, who relocated to Chile to start a local movement to create jug wine.

The wine bar was just starting to hit its stride before COVID-19 hit, with the Salvaje team fully engaged in exposing Palo Alto to the thrills of going all-natural.

“I’d start by asking how adventurous they are,” Kasim says. “We’ll have stuff that’s out there that people might not be ready for, but natural wine doesn’t always have to be funky or adventurous.”

With indoor dining and drinking restricted, Salvaje is rolling with the punches by selling bottles online and opening its outdoor dining area for food and drinks. On Saturdays, the kitchen is extended to local pop-ups such as Redwood City’s Tacos Los Gemelos, Vietnamese cuisine from San Jose’s Het Say and savory smashburgers from Lil’ Eagle Burger.

Born in Mountain View and raised in Palo Alto, Kasim has worked in the local food industry since he received his work permit as a 15-year-old attending Paly High School. His neighbor founded Round Table Pizza and he worked at their Midtown location in Palo Alto where he started in the dish pit.

Kasim attended Cal Poly and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering before returning to the food industry. While working at The Rose and Crown, the opportunity to purchase the pub arose in 2006 and he jumped on it, reinventing the beer list with then-burgeoning craft brews.

“When I find something I’m passionate about, I tend to want to share it with people and make them excited,” Kasim says, explaining his overarching modus operandi. “That has been the reason behind each of the bars and restaurants I have opened.”

What’s Cooking at Mama Coco

Omar Piña, owner of Menlo Park’s Mama Coco Cocina Mexicana, fell for the Bay Area the first time he visited. “Everything was amazing!” he says, enthusiastically recalling the experience. “It was like a movie for me.” The year was 1996, and Omar, a business administration and marketing student at Universidad Autonoma de Sinaloa in his native Sinaloa, Mexico, was visiting family.

During the last week of Omar’s vacation, his cousin, a busser at Il Fornaio in Palo Alto, suggested that Omar come to work with him. It was an opportunity to make some extra cash, so Omar figured, why not? Earning $100 the first night, the business student saw an opportunity. He called his parents to tell them he wanted to stay for a year, to work and save money for a car.

Looking back on that first restaurant job, he says, “Who knew that was my destiny?” After completing his studies in Sinaloa, Omar returned to the Peninsula in 1997, taking a job bussing tables at Palo Alto’s white-tablecloth Evvia Estiatorio. The following year, he married his high school sweetheart Mónica Pilotzi, and the couple established their home in Menlo Park. Within a couple of years, they had a son and then a daughter.

From 1997 to 2014, Omar worked at some of the Peninsula’s most popular restaurants—Flea Street Cafe, Left Bank and Reposado—progressing from busser and food runner to server. Along the way, he gained experience in customer service and the inner workings of the restaurant business. “After five or ten years, I started to love this work,” he says. “One day, I wanted to get my own place.”

Omar’s first foray into restaurant ownership came in 2004, when he partnered with his nephew to run Habibi in Belmont, serving an assortment of Mediterranean, Japanese and Chinese dishes. Omar had really wanted to open a Mexican eatery, but there was already a Mexican restaurant in the shopping center. In 2007, they closed Habibi, intending to relocate, but ended up selling instead.

By 2012, Omar was ready to open his own Mexican restaurant. He had solid front-of-the-house experience after 15 years in the business, and although not a professional cook, he was comfortable in the kitchen. “I grew up with my grandma, my mom, my sisters and everyone cooking at home,” he says.

Omar envisioned a casual, family-friendly restaurant with a menu that included dishes from each of Mexico’s seven culinary regions. “I spent a lot of time on the menu and tried to be different from other Mexican restaurants,” he notes. For recipe ideas and advice, he turned to his wife Mónica’s grandmother, Socorro Tarano, known affectionately as Mama Coco.

Mama Coco had, for many years, run a home-based food business to support herself and her 12 children after her husband died in a car accident. She cooked traditional dishes—enchiladas, moles and quesadillas—generously feeding customers, even when she knew they couldn’t afford to pay. Loved and respected in her Mexico City community, she was “Mama” to everyone who needed help and enjoyed her food. “The first time you met her, you loved her right away. She was a beautiful, sweet person,” says Omar. She was also generous with her recipes.

“I give a lot of credit to Mama Coco,” he says. Several dishes are named for her: Mama Coco flan, the Mexico City-style empanadas (filled with huitlacoche, epazote, zucchini, corn and cheese) and Ensalada Poblana with cilantro-mint dressing. Mama Coco also provided recipes for Fajitas Quesadillas and Huarache, which would eventually become customer favorites.

Rather than offer a full bar, Omar focused on beer and wine, keeping the cocktail list simple but classic: sangria, agave-wine margaritas and micheladas. The beverages menu also includes non-alcoholic agua de jamaica (hibiscus) and horchata.

When it came time to name the new business, it was Mónica who suggested naming it for Mama Coco. Her name represented everything they wanted to share in their restaurant: family, love and food made from the heart. It was decided. All they needed was the right space. Easier said than done, however. After a year of looking at places up and down the Peninsula, Omar hadn’t found the right spot—but there was a place he and Mónica had in mind. They were regulars at Menlo Park’s Cafe Borrone and had been eyeing the Mex To Go space across the street for months.

“I saw how packed Cafe Borrone was, and I knew that if we did good Mexican food, we could do well there,” he says. Encouraged by their children, Mónica and Omar approached the owner about purchasing their dream space. As luck would have it, she was ready to sell. “We remodeled for four months,” Omar says. “We had to work a lot to get it to look the way it does now.”

Mónica managed the restaurant’s interior design, which is cheery with pastel yellow and blue-green walls, red cafe chairs and colorful papel picado (tissue-paper art) hanging above the dining room. Framed words are reminders of what’s important: amor (love), comida (food), familia (family), sabor (flavor), vida (life) and tradición (tradition). The outdoor patio, with colorful chairs and red and white-topped tables, has a play area for young diners. “In Mexico, that’s very typical,” Omar says. “You go into a restaurant where they have toys and things for kids.”

Omar and Mónica planned to bring Mama Coco from Mexico to see her namesake restaurant, but sadly, she passed away a few months before the restaurant opened. She never saw the business that bears her name, but her influence lives on in the food and in the philosophy of service that she imparted to Omar: “The best thing you can do is always take care of the guests. Make sure they are happy.”

Mama Coco Cocina Mexicana opened in July 2014. “The first six months were really tough,” Omar recalls. Although the kitchen was turning out authentic Mexican dishes, customer feedback was that the food was too spicy. Putting his customer-first philosophy into practice, Omar reworked the menu to hit the right level of heat. Little by little, the business grew. “Word of mouth was the best advertisement,” he says. Mama Coco continues to receive “local favorite” accolades and was featured on KQED’s Check, Please! Bay Area in 2018.

With Mama Coco well established in Menlo Park, Omar is planning to open a second location in San Carlos in October 2020. Taking an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, Mama Coco San Carlos will have the same design and food that has made the original a Menlo Park favorite; however, it will have a smaller menu because it has a smaller kitchen. Despite this being an uncertain time for the restaurant industry, Omar says he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

While Mama Coco never saw the restaurants she inspired, “She would be so proud of us,” Omar says. “We have a picture of Mama Coco in the restaurant, and every time I look at it, I feel like she’s watching over me. I feel like she’s got my back.”

Historic Hikes

Hiking and history don’t usually go hand in hand, so we’re lucky to have local trails offering an enticing blend of both. If you’re a history buff, don’t miss the opportunity to explore stunning scenery while discovering the Peninsula’s rich past.

Rancho San Antonio in Cupertino

Managed by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Rancho San Antonio includes a  3,988-acre open space preserve and a 289-acre county park. All told, that translates into a hiking mecca—24 miles of trails with stunning views ranging from easy and scenic to more challenging climbs into the backcountry.

Historically, Rancho San Antonio was first home to the Ohlone Indians over 3,000 years ago. The park’s docent-led tours and educational programs are temporarily on hold, but it’s worth the effort to study up on your own. With its wide valley tucked between the coastal range and the Bay, it’s easy to picture Colonel Juan Baptista de Anza, a founding father of Spanish California, leading the first San Francisco overland expedition through the ranch in 1776. In the 1800s, several prominent rancheros and a former Presidio soldier owned Rancho San Antonio, which became a thriving cattle ranch with grain crops and vineyards.

I begin my ascent on the Coyote Trail above the park’s valley floor and climb radiant hills dotted with oak trees. Hiking deeper into open chaparral, civilization slips away and I relax into the expanse of the forest. While the coastal mountains look golden in the late summer sun, this trail first enticed me in the spring when its lush greenery evoked memories from the Swiss Alps. From the Coyote Trail, I connect in with the Wildcat Loop Trail and follow a fern-rimmed creek down to Deer Hollow Farm for a three-mile loop.

Pausing to let a gaggle of wild turkeys cross the trail ahead of me, I take in the working farm alive with cows, goats, sheep and flocks of chickens, ducks and geese. An open barn offers shaded picnic tables with views of towering sunflowers and vegetable gardens. Note: Deer Hollow Farm can also be reached by a paved (stroller- and kid-friendly) one-mile trail from the parking lot. Admission is free; however, check public access restrictions before visiting.

Also, be prepared to share some trails with mountain bikers and equestrian visitors. The popular park has several parking lots, but it’s a good idea to arrive early to ensure a spot and to take advantage of the park’s tranquility.

Courtesy of Jennifer Jory

Sam Mcdonald Park in Loma Mar

For those who love the serenity of the redwoods, Sam McDonald Park is an ideal destination located just three miles west of La Honda on Pescadero Creek Road. As Steinbeck said, “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always.”

The park’s namesake, Sam McDonald, was a beloved superintendent of athletic grounds at Stanford University. A grandson of southern slaves, Sam became the first man of color to own property in the redwoods in California in 1919. Famously hospitable, he often hosted the Stanford football team on his property and even befriended President Herbert Hoover.

In this 867-acre redwood forest, I took on the challenge of Sam McDonald’s Forest Loop Trail for some elevation changes and climbs. The trail begins with a fire road and narrows in sections to a level dirt trail. Following a deep green fern forest floor, I connected in with Youth Camp Fire Road for a 4.5-mile loop. Surrounded by towering redwood trees, rich sage moss and tranquil creeks, the benefits of ‘forest bathing’ (the Japanese term for immersing oneself in nature) are calming and tangible.

Courtesy of Jennifer Jory

For views of the ocean, try the 3.6-mile Ridge Trail Loop that begins from the main parking lot.  On a clear day, the Pacific Ocean cuts a stunning contrast to the towering forest framing the panoramic view. Take the Town Fire Road Trail to Ridge Fire Road and turn right. To complete the hike, connect in with the Forest Loop Trail, which leads you back under the canopy of towering redwoods to the trailhead.

For an alternate path from the parking lot, the noteworthy Heritage Grove Trail boasts some of the largest old-growth redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Follow it 1.6 miles to Heritage Grove and then loop back on Town Fire Road for a four-mile round trip. To top off your hike with some more local history, drop by Alice’s Restaurant a few miles up the road. Originally built in the 1920s as a general store, the now iconic dining spot was later turned into a restaurant and named after owner Alice Taylor and the famous Arlo Guthrie 1967 hit song.

Courtesy of Jennifer Jory

Water Dog Lake Park in Belmont

In the heart of the Peninsula lies a jewel of pristine open space called Water Dog Lake Park, known for its dog-friendly trails, lake vistas and accessibility. Just minutes from Highway 92 and 280, hikers and mountain bikers flock here to enjoy a peaceful mountain setting hidden in an urban landscape.

The 100-million-gallon Water Dog Lake Reservoir has roots dating back to the early days of the Peninsula when affluent San Francisco families established “country” estates. In 1869, Bank of California founder William Ralston built Ralston Mansion, now home to Belmont’s Notre Dame De Namur School and University. To provide water to his estate, Ralston hired hundreds of laborers to dig Water Dog Lake Reservoir and build intricate piping to carry the water down to his property. During that era, the reservoir became the primary source of water for the new town of Belmont.

Water Dog Lake Park has two distinct trailheads and an abundance of routes that navigate this unique open space with expansive views. Joined by my Labrador Retriever, I parked at the trailhead on Lake Road in Belmont and studied the large map at the entrance. Choosing the left fork on Lake Loop Road Trail, we began bounding down the fire road. Descending the trail, I could see the Bay in full view and the wide fire road easily allows for companionable side-by-side hiking with friends (and/or) dogs. The lake soon emerged from the canyon below and we took the Berry Trail to the right and headed down to the deep blue reservoir. After exploring the lake shore, we followed the Lake Loop Trail around the lake and circled back the way we came for an easy 1.4-mile hike. For a longer hike, take the junction with the John Brooks Trail and access a network of miles of trails.

Lake County + Calistoga

In uncertain times, it’s easy to wonder if genuine respite can really be found. What would it take to escape the present?

Perhaps, we thought, a visit to the past.

My husband and I set the parameters: An easy, pleasant drive. Places we’d feel secure. Smaller—rather than bigger—but plenty of room for discovery. We selected two family-run historic inns as idyllic home bases and set out on a three-day road trip to Lake County and Calistoga.

Courtesy of Tallman Hotel

Undiscovered Lake County

Before this adventure, I could vaguely pinpoint Lake County on a map, mostly thanks to neighboring (and much more familiar) counties like Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. Enticed by the novelty of an unfamiliar destination approximately three hours from the Peninsula, we hop on 101 North with a planned mid-route lunch stop at Campo Fina in picturesque Healdsburg.

Just beyond Ukiah, we veer off 101 to connect with Highway 20 East. With scenic waterscapes coming into view, the “Welcome to Lake County” sign doesn’t surprise us. Renowned for its many lakes, this rural wonderland offers another hint that we’ve arrived: Lake County’s Quilt Trail. “There’s one!” I say, spotting a hand-painted plywood quilt block on a weathered barn. Mounted on a mix of buildings and businesses around the county—over 100 in all—the blocks replicate traditional quilting patterns, with themes ranging from grapevines to sunflowers.

Courtesy of Becki Willman Photography

Pulling up at Tallman Hotel

Our first destination, the historic Tallman Hotel, is located in the small community of Upper Lake. Founded in 1854, with a population just a nudge above 1,000, the phrase “one horse town” pops into mind—and we sigh contentedly at the bucolic setting.

Originally built in the 1870s by Rufus and Mary Tallman, the hotel, along with a saloon and livery stable, served stagecoach travelers and visitors “taking in the waters” of Lake County’s hot springs. The current owners, Bernie and Lynne Butcher, discovered Lake County in the 1980s as a weekend escape from San Francisco. While searching for a development project in 2003, they came across the abandoned hotel. “The ‘For Sale’ sign had been there for 40 years,” Bernie remarks, as he pages through a photo album documenting the Tallman’s journey back to period perfection.

After lovingly restoring, upgrading and expanding the property, the Butchers reopened the 17-room hotel in 2006—and found themselves becoming innkeepers as well. “We wanted to create a quality destination,” notes Lynne. “You get a genuine rural experience.”

We settle into our garden view room, and the sound of live music soon draws us out to the property’s tree-shaded courtyard—the outdoor dining area of the Tallman’s Blue Wing Saloon. Sipping glasses of Lake County wine and tucking into our blackened salmon entrees, we soak up the restful, yesteryear atmosphere. Our room’s private back patio beckons, offering a different kind of soak: a Japanese Ofuro wooden tub, designed for deep relaxation. Not surprisingly, we sleep well.

Courtesy of Faith Rigolosi

Exploring Clear Lake

Following a continental breakfast served to our front patio table, we head for Lake County’s most famous body of water—Clear Lake. Thought to be the oldest lake in North America, Clear Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in California, with more than 100 miles of shoreline.

Bass fishing. Swimming. Kayaking. Water skiing. That all happens on Clear Lake. But one of the biggest draws is the lake’s 300 species of birds. Through her Eyes of the Wild tours, Faith Rigolosi (backed by Jim Shipley) offers guided excursions. “This is the largest breeding area for my favorite grebes that have different ways of courting,” Faith tells us, as she backs the pontoon boat away from the dock. “And we also have herons, pelicans, cormorants, egrets and bald eagles, just to name a few.”

After motoring for a bit, Faith slows down the boat. “Look!” she calls out, pointing to a pair of western grebes sinking low in the water. Suddenly, the grebes lift up in unison and appear to magically float across the surface together. “That’s the rushing ceremony!” Faith says excitedly, before gesturing to another pair nibbling on a shared piece of greenery. “That’s the weed ceremony, but I call it the moss dance,” she relays, before making a prediction: “We’re going to have lots of nests, lots of babies.”

While Faith takes out bird photographers from New York, Florida and even Japan, she hosts the casual tourists as well: “People will say they just want to get out on the lake, but when they see the birds out here, they fall in love. They always say, ‘Wow! That was amazing!’”

Courtesy of Karen Pavonne Photography

The Way Napa Used To Be

Anticipating a full afternoon of wine tasting appointments, we refuel (in the form of wild mushroom tacos) at Lakeport’s Lampson Field airport, home to Red’s at the Skyroom. Lake County’s vineyards date back to the 1850s but Prohibition dealt a near-lethal blow to the county’s reputable wine industry. In the 1960s, local farmers began planting wine grapes again, and today, Lake County touts itself as “The Undiscovered Wine Country,” with over 30 wineries and 9,000+ acres of vineyards.

“This is the way Napa used to be,” Bernie had told us back at the Tallman, when asked to describe Lake County’s burgeoning wine industry. “At least half the time you’ll meet either the owner or the winemaker.” That’s certainly the case at our first stop: Gregory Graham Winery in Lower Lake. The former award-winning winemaker at Napa Valley’s Rombauer Vineyard, Gregory, with his wife Marianne, purchased a Lake County vineyard in 2000 so he could begin producing world-class wines under his own label.

Sitting on an outdoor tasting patio surrounded by vineyards, we begin with a flavorful 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. “This is my afternoon aperitif,” Greg tells us, as he talks about Lake County’s personalized wine country experience. “People can see it, taste it and touch it here,” he says, before pouring a 2015 Lake County Chardonnay, the second of five wines we’re sampling today from a selection of eleven. “If I was a smart person, I’d be making three to four wines,” Greg acknowledges, “but I’m a winemaker. I love the craft.”

Courtesy of Boatique Winery

Our next stop is Boatique, a destination winery in Kelseyville with expansive views and the opportunity to tour an antique wooden boat collection. Passing stunning lake vistas and terraced hillsides, we arrive at Chacewater Winery & Olive Mill, where we meet Emilio De La Cruz, Chacewater’s mill master, who gives us a personal tour of the olive tree orchards, followed by both wine and olive oil tastings. “Olive oil is exactly like wine,” Emilio explains, as we sample Sevillano and Manzanillo blends. “It has different varietals and characteristics.”

After catching a bite with the locals at the Saw Shop Public House in the slightly-bigger small town of Kelseyville, we bask in the glow of a beautiful sunset driving the 20-minute stretch back to Upper Lake.

Courtesy of VisitCalistoga.com

Lake County’s Saffron Farm

We start our day with a hike along a levee bordered by pear orchards and then make one final Lake County stop: Peace & Plenty Farm. Desiring a farmer’s life, Melinda Price and Simon Avery moved from San Francisco to Kelseyville in 2017. They sell organic seasonal produce at the Peace & Plenty Farm Stand, but they’re staking their future on one high-value crop: saffron.

“People see saffron as an exotic, special occasion spice, but it’s one of the highest antioxidant foods,” Melinda tells us, before describing the labor-intensive process of hand-picking flowers, separating the stigmas and drying them. Possibly the largest saffron growers in the U.S. now, Melinda and Simon are fully embracing Lake County’s rural pace. “I wouldn’t go back to my corporate city life for all the money in the world,” Melinda reflects.

For visitors seeking a similar escape, Peace & Plenty also books farm stays in a vintage Airstream or studio cottage. Accommodations can be found amidst the vineyards too, including offerings at Gregory Graham Winery and Boatique.

Courtesy of LOLA Wines

Art Deco Aesthetic in Calistoga

From Kelseyville, it’s a curvy one-hour drive down CA-29 S to Calistoga, where the Mount View Hotel & Spa welcomes us to the Art Deco era. Built in 1919, the landmark Mission Revival-style property offers 33 individually-designed rooms. Michael Woods originally purchased the building as a real estate investment but bought out his partners in 2009. With his wife, Stephanie, he turned the Mount View into a family-run hotel. “It was the best thing I ever did,” Michael says, crediting his wife with the hotel’s memorable decor. “You feel like you step back to a simpler time,” Michael says. “We give our guests the art of relaxation.”

After gobbling up turkey & brie sandwiches at Calistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery, we meander along Lincoln Avenue, still vibrant with outdoor dining, tasting rooms, art galleries and shopping. (Calistoga’s famed spas and mud baths close in line with COVID-19 restrictions.) Just off Lincoln, a few steps down Highway 128, we arrive at historic LOLA House, where owner and winemaker Seth Cripe escorts us to a charming garden patio. Seth founded LOLA Wines in 2008 with the goal of making handcrafted top-quality wines at affordable price points. “It’s a passion for me,” he tells us, as he pours LOLA’s 2014 Dry Riesling. “We work with nature every step of the way.”

Calistoga bestows more timeless memories—from hiking up a stretch of the Oat Hill Mine Trail, an old stagecoach route with breathtaking views of the valley, to relaxing in a cabana by Mount View’s lovely pool. To mark our final evening, we dine al fresco (again with live music!) at Veraison, a wine country bistro. From Calistoga, we know it’s an easy two-hour drive back to the Peninsula—back to the present. Enjoying our continental breakfast by the pool the next morning, we settle back in our lounge chairs, happy to linger just a little bit longer in the past.

Courtesy of Mount View Hotel and Spa

Five Generations Strong

On a stretch of Alpine Road just off 280 in Portola Valley, a familiar green “Webb Ranch” sign comes into view. Smaller print reveals what marks this place as a local landmark: A Family Farm Since 1922. At nearly 100 years old, Webb Ranch may well be the last family farm on the Peninsula not located coastside.

“We were encouraged by my grandparents and parents to roam the fields and taste the crops,” recalls Atlee Frechette, a fourth-generation Webb family member. As the current farm manager, Atlee’s job requires “a lot of juggling and wearing of multiple hats,” contingent on the season. October traditionally means pumpkins—lots and lots of organic pumpkins, grown on 30 of Webb Ranch’s 300 acres, with a pumpkin patch open seven days a week. Weekend activities include hay rides, a corn maze and petting zoo, with a modification this year: visitors need to schedule and pre-purchase online 80-minute passes in advance.

With Webb Ranch committed to helping Peninsula families mark Halloween, Atlee admits that pumpkins will always be her favorite crop. “When I was in middle school, I remember helping pumpkin patch customers load their pumpkins into their cars,” she says. “Today, we’re still experimenting with them. This year, my husband Jonathan and I planted Atlantic giant pumpkins in the garden by our home.” That home, the original ranch house, is shared by Atlee and Jonathan’s son Wyatt, one of the youngest members of the Peninsula farm family’s fifth generation.

Courtesy of the Hubbard Family

How it All Began

In 1904 at age 14, George Webb rode his horse from Lockhart, Texas, to Watsonville and went to work in the strawberry fields. Seeking to find a farm closer to the markets in San Francisco, he was introduced to James Rolph, who leased land from Stanford University. In 1922, George arranged for a sublease and Webb Ranch officially began.

According to Cliff Pierce, who boarded horses at Webb Ranch and chronicled its history in 2003, George initially built a barn and brought in 40 milk cows. He lived in an existing house built on the property by Irish immigrant Dennis Martin in the early 1850s. “Living way out here on the ranch was my whole world,” Stanley, the youngest of George and Florence Webb’s six children, told Pierce. “Some mornings when I got to school…I had already milked four cows. I would get up at 4:30 and get a fire started in the kitchen stove for my mother. It wasn’t just for cooking; it had pipes that went through the fire box that heated the water for the whole house. We had a big mare named Babe and a mule named Molly. Often by 6:00AM I had them harnessed and was out plowing a field.”

Under George’s oversight, Webb Ranch planted fields of strawberries, blackberries and raspberries and delivered the produce to local markets. Stanley, who died in 2018 at the age of 98, assumed responsibility for the ranch following World War II. He married Alice Gurley and they lived in the same house Atlee’s family resides in today. Stanley guided additional expansion, including the planting of corn, green beans, tomatoes, squash, bell peppers and pumpkins.

Courtesy of Robb Most

The Arrival of Horses

According to Pierce, the idea of horse boarding was seeded in the 1950s. One day, Stanley’s daughter Lyndal rode the sole horse on the property to school, and her friends asked if they could board their horses at the ranch. In 1958, a well-known horseman and polo player, Fay Humphries, moved his stable from the San Mateo hills to Webb Ranch. When he arrived, the old dairy barn existed, but no stalls or paddocks, so he began turning the dairy barn into a horse barn by dismantling stalls in San Mateo and rebuilding them at Webb Ranch. Humphries and Stanley came to a working agreement, and Humphries continued at Webb until his death in 1997.

Horse boarding for the public officially started in 1960. Lyndal’s friends got their wish, and Lyndal and her sister Sharon started their own stable, which today numbers up to 200 horses. Summer Hensley, Atlee’s oldest sister, is the current owner/director of the riding program with husband Nathan acting as barn/stables manager.

Courtesy of Robb Most

The Farm Stand Opens

“Heading to Webb to pick up some corn,” was a familiar afternoon refrain spoken on the Peninsula. The original produce stand was not the large structure that’s still viewable today but rather a small stand that sat where the northbound entrance to 280 is now. It was the result of Webb sisters Lyndal—Atlee’s mother—and Sharon who, in 1962, begged their father, Stanley, for the chance to make some money by selling strawberries. Although reluctant at first, Stanley quickly changed his mind after the girls sold 80 crates at $2.00 each on the first day. In 1963, Stanley opened the Alpine Road Fruit Stand, offering fresh-picked seasonal produce directly to consumers, which led to the addition of even more crops.

“Initially, we grew strawberries, corn and Ace tomatoes,” relays Tom Hubbard, Webb Ranch president, who married Lyndal in the early ‘70s. “We’ve added heirloom and cherry tomatoes along with pumpkins and a wide variety of berries.” The ranch was certified organic in 2007, a process that took only six months rather than the usual three years because the farmlands had been pesticide- and herbicide-free since 1962. In recent years, Webb Ranch stopped offering farm stand produce on a daily basis and returned to Stanley’s tradition of selling to farmers markets, restaurants and local grocery stores, including Bianchini’s in Portola Valley and Sigona’s in Redwood City.

Courtesy of Robb Most

Bring on the Berries

Every June and July, Webb opens its berry fields for U-Pick, a Peninsula tradition upheld through summer 2020. If you’re not a berry fancier, you may not have heard about three varieties grown on the ranch—olallieberries, loganberries and Prime Ark blackberries. “None of these are common berries,” says Atlee. “Since taking over this portion of the business two years ago, I’ve learned so much about berry varieties—the cross breeding and how they came to be.” Other offerings include boysenberries, red and golden raspberries and two other types of blackberries, Navajo and Obsidian.

Menlo Park restaurateur Jesse Cool is a fan: “Every year, we wait for their berries. We use them in sauces and a fruit tart and sometimes Taste of Season at Flea Street. And, we freeze them for winter.” The berries all have distinct looks and tastes. “That’s important to customers who make jams and pies,” notes Atlee. “Many of these folks arrange to come out when a specific berry is ripe. They come with lots of flats and pick all morning.”

All in the Webb Family

There are currently nine family members (spanning three generations) living on the ranch, with even more still involved in ranch operations. The fact that Webb Ranch endures after nearly 100 years doesn’t surprise Atlee; she credits her grandfather Stanley’s powerful influence. “He really passed on the excitement and passion of farm life,” she says. “To this day, I’m grateful to go out before dinner and pick a basket of berries or some tomatoes for a salad.”

Perfect Shot: San Mateo Lightning Storm

As covered in our May 2020 issue, PUNCH photography director Gino De Grandis is also a storm chaser, always ready to hit the road to document the largest, most destructive tornadoes. But on Sunday, August 16, a rare, violent thunderstorm struck close to home, fiercely lighting up the Bay Area night sky. Gino describes how he captured this Perfect Shot: “I had all my gear assembled, ready to head out but then I realized that my own street was the perfect setting to immortalize the lightning bolts striking over San Mateo. I placed my tripod facing the Hillsdale/San Mateo hills and started capturing a continuous succession of amazing lightning bolts until sunrise. This particular twin bolt is difficult to get at such high resolution without an automatic trigger; it takes some good instinct and loads of patience to hit it at just the right time.”

Image by Gino De Grandis/luiphotography.com

Ambrosi’s Dreamscapes

Approaching Daniel Ambrosi’s enormous “Dreamscape” of Point Montara Lighthouse is a disorienting experience that hits you in a series of little shocks. The size alone—sixteen feet wide by eight feet high—stuns. The tumultuous sky of tumbling clouds, shimmering ocean and vivid setting sun feel almost too real. Beyond the glowing clusters of coastal succulents, the path to the lighthouse beckons, and the closer you get to the backlit aluminum frame covered with a seamless fabric print, the more the image knits together and falls apart. Little swirls of unexpected purples and blues, the impressionistic whorls that make up the landscape, come into full focus and profoundly alter how you experience the work. Suddenly, you’re asking yourself, “What am I looking at?”

That’s no accident. In fact, that wavering sense of reality shifting is exactly where the Half Moon Bay artist wants you to be.

“I’m an avid hiker, skier, traveller and a lover of special places,” says Daniel, standing in the corridor of Princeton-by-the-Sea’s Oceano Hotel where Point Montara Lighthouse is currently displayed. “In certain places, the scene before you just knocks you out, takes your breath away, and my attempts to capture that and convey that experience through traditional photography never fully worked. I’m a very analytical guy, and I was always asking myself, ‘What am I missing?’”

For Daniel, answering that question launched an exhaustive quest, leading him to become a founding creator in the emerging artificial intelligence (AI) art movement. With architecture and 3D computer graphics degrees from Cornell University, he helped pioneer the use of 3D graphics in the architecture industry in Seattle before turning his attention to Silicon Valley. During breaks from his demanding career working in visual and marketing communications, Daniel continued his efforts to capture awe-inspiring views through a camera lens. But it wasn’t until 2011 that he had an epiphany in Zion National Park. He realized that taking single-shot images would never convey the expansive, immersive experience he wanted to share. “We see with a much greater field of view and a more dynamic range of light and shadow than a camera can,” he explains. “The healthy eye sees with an incredible level of detail.”

In a flash of insight, Daniel realized that he could get closer to his vision by combining many pictures into a single scene. He devised a method, which he calls XYZ photography, that involves taking multiple images—horizontally (X), vertically (Y) and with multiple exposures from dark to light (Z)—and then he compresses those pictures into one by applying three different software packages. Daniel felt he’d finally cracked an aspect of the problem he’d been struggling with for years.

Yet, he still wasn’t satisfied. Although his XYZ method provided the visual and visceral moment of breathlessness he sought, he wanted to challenge the viewer to ask deeper questions about the nature of reality itself. “When I see a special place, I feel it in my chest,” he says, leaning forward to express the thought. “When that happens, I wax philosophical: ‘What am I seeing? How would a butterfly see this? What’s real anyway?’ Physics tells us that nothing is solid and seeing is a very subjective thing.” It would take a leap into the world of AI technology to unlock Daniel’s vision and allow him to create the ultimate immersive landscapes that had eluded him.

DeepDream—a computer vision program developed by Google engineers to explore how AI thinks—emerged as the missing piece in Daniel’s puzzle. “Initially, it was a viral phenomenon folks used to turn their family photos into psychedelic nightmares,” he says with a laugh, “but I saw it as an opportunity to take my photography to a place that would evoke a much stronger emotional response and really make you question what it was you were seeing.”

However, DeepDream wasn’t equipped to manage the immense size of Daniel’s XYZ images. He reached out to top Silicon Valley engineers, and Google’s Joseph Smarr and NVIDIA’s Chris Lamb successfully expanded DeepDream’s technological capabilities, super-scaling the software to suit Daniel’s purposes. Using a proprietary version of DeepDream, Daniel finally fulfilled his quest, calling his new works Dreamscapes: A Collaboration of Nature, Man, and Machine.

From the twilight spectacle of Central Park Nightfall that seems to look back at you from eye-like whorls tucked into tree branches and shining out of the pond to the sweeping expanse of Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, which upon closer inspection is shaped by geometric patterns etched in sand and sea, Daniel partners with DeepDream, directing it to access one or several of its many layers to ‘dream’ the image in the direction he wants to go, whether that’s impressionistic, animalistic, or something more surreal. “It’s like collaborating with a partner, because even though I know it’s not sentient, it’s constantly surprising me,” he says. “I can control the direction, but I can’t control the details.”

Given the way Daniel highly processes his images, it’s tempting to think of him as a technical photographer, but he feels more aligned with a different creative discipline. “Unintentionally, the arc of my development of this art paralleled the arc of landscape painting,” he says. “It started with representational landscapes like the Hudson River School painters in the 1800s, and with AI, it started to morph into this new impressionism.” In the manner of Monet’s enormous water lilies or Seurat’s pastorals in pointillism, Daniel’s creations require engagement. “Interaction is vital,” he notes. “If you don’t have the curiosity to get close, you’ll miss the entire thing.”

Daniel’s AI-augmented artworks and grand-format landscape images have been exhibited at international conferences, art fairs and gallery shows with public installations ranging from major tech offices (including Google-SF and Google-NYC) to hotels and medical centers. Private collectors are also discovering Dreamscapes (scalable from 40 x 40 inches to 8 x 16 feet) and Daniel accepts commissioned work as well.

Finally creating the kinds of images he’s always longed to share, Daniel continues to explore what’s possible. While sheltering in place over
the summer, he began experimenting with cubism, in the tradition of Cezanne and Picasso. He has also developed an interest in ‘crypto art,’ where artists can sell single- and multiple-edition digital art works.

As Daniel expands his artistic possibilities and establishes his place in the art world, he has come to a place of gratitude for what he’s been able to accomplish. “The whole motivation was to capture and convey the experience I was having,” he reflects, “and when I see that transfer happen, that’s everything. That’s why I started down this path. It took decades, but it’s satisfying to get to the point where it works.

Central Park Nightfall

Full Scene: This is the “dreamed” version of the entire panorama originally captured; the detailed hallucinations are barely visible at this scale.

Close-Up: At this zoom level, the first pass of dreaming is clearly visible; this shows one style of hallucination.

Extreme Close-Up: Even closer up, the second pass of dreaming in an entirely different style is revealed.

Diary of a Dog: Lulu

On your mark, get set, go! Come on, don’t you want to race me? Please. Please. Please. I’m ready any time! My name is Lulu, and while I look a bit wolf-like, I’m actually some kind of terrier mix. No one really knows for sure because I was born during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. That was back in September 2017, and as you can imagine, it was a pretty crazy time. Lucky for me, I was flown to Washington, D.C. by an organization called Lucky Dog Rescue. Kamyar learned about me and decided I would be the perfect gift for his mother Frieda in Menlo Park. Surprise!! Of course, Frieda immediately fell in love with my tall, pointy ears, long eyebrows and coat of many colors—not to mention my loving, sweet personality. I’m most proud of my white boot-like paws, which lead up to my very long legs that love to run and run and run. I like to pretend that my house is a race track, and when I beat my best time, I throw my toys up toward the ceiling and catch them. My very favorite place is the park because that’s where I meet up with my friends. “Chase me!” I bark, and around and around we go, but they never catch me. Thalia, Frieda’s daughter, also visits a lot, and along with Kamyar, we are one happy family. I may have started off life somewhere else, but I’m definitely at home on the Peninsula. Okay, are you ready to race now? To make another dog lucky like me, visit luckydogrescue.org

Imperfection Perfection

My daughter Talia had the big idea for us to “get out of Dodge” and head somewhere, anywhere, just to see some different scenery for a few days. She decided that Tahoe would be a good place to go—a new view and feel, but still drivable. She spent time looking for just the right place, since it needed to hold the 13 of us: my wife and I, our three older children, their three spouses and their collective five children, all under the age of two. The only one not making it was my son Coby, the youngest of our crew, who lives in Israel and decided that the drive to Tahoe would be too long.

Talia searched and found a wonderful home on the 13th hole of Old Greenwood in Truckee. With six bedrooms, a hot tub, access to a lovely swimming pool and golf right in our backyard, it was really the perfect place.

So we set out one smoke-clogged day in three SUVs crammed with car seats, child paraphernalia and our own stuff. We drove into increasingly hostile air, but nothing could stop us from enjoying this time. I had not been away since December, probably the longest that I’d ever stayed in one bed in my entire life. When we arrived at our lovely destination, I felt a real joy at being away from the repetition that had become the norm.

We unloaded and gazed at our incredible view overlooking the lush, tree-lined golf course, excited that we were to play it the following day. All of us boys love golf, including my 22-month grandson who repeats the words “golf” and “ball” incessantly, never lets go of his blue plastic golf club and was immediately mesmerized by the passing golfers as they hit their approach shots to the 13th green.

We played golf, swam, visited the lake, went into town and really had a wonderful time. Though the air was not great, it was so refreshing to be somewhere else, to feel, for a brief reprieve, a certain normalcy. Each night, once all the children were fed and in bed (not necessarily sleeping), we set up dinners, some of which we cooked ourselves and some of which were takeout. We brought and bought a lot of food, more than I could have imagined we would eat, but we finished it all.

I’m fortunate that my children-in-law are substantive, caring young people who fit in perfectly with our family. We’ve taken many trips together, but this was the first with so many children— ages 22 months, 21 months, 10 months, 3 months and 1 month. All in diapers, needing naps and to be fed, the three youngest very demanding of their mothers for milk. There was constant bedlam—which I loved—since one or more of the kids was in some sort of calamitous situation at all times, crying, pooping, falling, hungry or tired. To me there is a perfect harmony to this chaos, a natural and beautiful rhythm that is the sound of life, bucolic and precious. I’ve always enjoyed the boisterous nature of a lot of children together; it’s a true symbol of joy and holiness.

Since there was only one of me—Saba, as I am known—I was on call all of the time, reading books, setting up equipment, calming down crying infants, playing, napping, walking and carrying them or helping in other ways. It was great, reminding me of the busy times when we had four children of our own under the age of seven.

Talia had the cute idea of getting matching t-shirts for the kids that said, “LOVE MY CREW,” and then it came time to take a photo of the five of them with their shirts on. We went down to the golf course and in between groups, we ran onto the grass for five frantic minutes, trying to capture the perfect picture before some errant golf ball landed on one of us. After many attempts at this, it was clear that  the perfect picture was not going to happen. It seemed an impossible task to get five children under the age of two to all look at the camera, stay still, not cry, stay upright and smile.

The photo’s imperfections played to the reality of our trip. With all involved and so many personalities and the pandemonium of the children, the reality of imperfection was its essence. And that, maybe, is what made it such a wonderful trip. Its imperfections were its beauty, its own particular perfection

Barron Park Donkeys

Adjacent to the playground and bike path in Palo Alto’s Cornelis Bol Park, two local celebrities graze in their pasture: Meet the Barron Park Donkeys. Their history dates back to the 1930s, when Dutch physicist Cornelis Bol left Holland to join Stanford University’s physics department. Bol and his wife Josina settled in the Barron Park neighborhood. Throughout his long-time career as a Stanford professor, Bol planted orchards and collected a small herd of donkeys for his six sons. He offered rides to the neighborhood children on the donkeys, who quickly became community mascots. Upon Cornelis Bol’s death in 1965, the residents of Barron Park rallied together to fulfill Bol’s dream of creating a neighborhood park with the donkey pasture and surrounding land. Bol Park eventually opened in 1974, including a permanent home for the donkeys. While several of the beloved donkeys have come and gone (with their names now memorialized in the park), Bol Park continues to give visitors a glimpse into the area’s bucolic past. Today, donkeys “Perry” and “Jenny” greet visitors at their corral gate. If Perry looks familiar, it’s because he has his own unique claim to fame. Dreamworks used him as a model for Shrek’s sidekick “Donkey.” Every Sunday from 10-11AM, the pair can be found strolling through the park with volunteer handlers. Children are encouraged to deliver fan art and “d-mail” to Perry and Jenny in the pasture mailbox. Donations and funds generated from the sale of donkey fertilizer support their continued care. Visit
barronparkdonkeys.org to learn more
.

The Death of a Ghost Town

A unique Peninsula town may slip away for good, and its obituary might read like this:

Drawbridge, California, a once thriving town built on wetlands, a Venice in the sloughs at the southernmost tip of the San Francisco Bay where its main street was the railroad track and sidewalks were a channel of wooden planks that rose above the tide to create a floating community, died after a long, lingering battle with relevance. It was 144 years old.

Drawbridge was birthed by train in 1876 to become a community on the Peninsula unlike any other, past or present. Its creator may now become its destroyer as a new proposal for expanding the railway would mean certain destruction.

Nearly a mile long and 80 acres in size, Drawbridge was built as a link through the mudflats and sloughs for the then-new South Pacific Coast Railroad. The train, forever its main and sole artery, shepherded in a community that rose and fell like the daily tides.

Photography: Courtesy of Cris Benton

First was the lonely bridge tender who had to hand-operate the two drawbridges for boat passage. Then came the duck hunters and weekenders. The town flourished as an Old West Mecca that peaked in the 1930s with close to 90 buildings, including a pair of hotels and many waterfowl hunting clubs. With neither government nor law enforcement, the wild town was rife with gambling and bootlegging throughout the first half of the century. But environmental conditions deteriorated, leading to an exodus and abandonment by its last full-time resident before the 1980s.

Drawbridge is now for the birds. Since 1974, it has been a protected habitat for bird restoration. Members of the avian community flock to its muddy and fertile shores where humans are now legally barred from crossing over the two train bridges that bookend the island. Drawbridges no more, the overpasses crossing Mud Slough and Coyote Creek have been replaced a couple of times; Mud Slough is still a swing bridge and Coyote Creek is a fixed trestle bridge.

Nicknamed “Saline City” for its position sequestered between salt ponds, Drawbridge offered an allure for the adventurous and eccentric that resonated for generations.

Today, when the sun disappears behind the Santa Cruz Mountains, a golden hue is cast upon the stiff pickleweed to create a still life picture of serenity. Beyond the calls of the wild geese or the crunch of succulents beneath your feet, the only remaining sound blows in with the wind.

That is, until the thunderous horns from the evening Capitol Corridor commuter train emerge and the modern locomotive rips through the heart of town.

You can sneak a peek of Drawbridge by riding the Capitol Corridor, Altamont Commuter Express, Coast Starlight or passing freight trains. From there, you might catch the yellow and white graffiti image on a decrepit wooden house depicting the town’s unofficial mayor: Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Absent of human presence but enshrined in its history, prints of humanity remain in the roughly dozen structures still standing but slowly slipping into the slough. As part of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Drawbridge can be viewed on foot from a vista point at the Mallard Slough Trail Spur, a couple miles from the Refuge’s Environmental Education Center on the outskirts of Alviso.

Photography: Courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Traversing across the still-active bridge train tracks onto the protected island is illegal and unsafe. Trespassers on federally-managed land may be penalized with fines. However, perhaps in the spirit of Drawbridge’s lawless past, trespassers continue to skulk onto the island to have their look at this historic oddity.

The ghost town’s appeal ranges from urban explorers to history buffs. Dr. Cecilia (Ceal) Craig is president of the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society and co-wrote the book Sinking Underwater: A Ghost Town’s Amazing Legacy along with Anita Goldwasser in 2018. Ceal leads an occasional historical excursion out to the Drawbridge vista point. (These are now virtual tours with COVID-19 restrictions.) With each tour, interest in the town is resurrected.

“Most questions are about what it was like to live there,” she says. “People try to compare it to their own town—what would it have been like to live in simpler times with no toilets, no septic tanks and the tide coming in twice a day?”

Photography: Courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

In the beginning, it was much like how it is today. Quiet and calm. The train only stopped on Sundays in 1876 and the bridge tender occupied the sole building on the island. He’d charge duck hunters half a buck for a night’s stay in his home. Within a decade, local newspapers started to write about the secret hunters’ den and by 1890, construction of other buildings began.

The island was officially christened Drawbridge with a white sand paint sign hoisted at the bridge tender’s shanty as weekenders began to arrive in droves. The Sprung’s Hotel opened in 1900 to accommodate them. It’s speculated that the population reached its height during the 1920s with around 600 people congregating during the weekends.

Photography: Courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

But as Drawbridge expanded, so did the surrounding Bay Area. Salt companies began to build levees and drained the marshes. Water pollution from sprouting nearby cities started to spoil hunting and fishing while freshwater became difficult to secure. By mid-century, newspapers began classifying Drawbridge as a ghost town (even though a few residents remained), which attracted vandalism, looting and burning of the abandoned cabins.

In 1979, Charlie Luce, the final resident, pulled up stakes. Drawbridge—Population: 0.

Altamont Corridor Express, a commuter rail service connecting Stockton and San Jose, is proposing adaptations for the railway in the Alviso Wetlands to improve the Central Valley commute. They published their alternative studies report earlier this year wherein three of the four options call for building new sets of railroad tracks through present-day Drawbridge.

“The only way I can see that work is if they take down the buildings,” Ceal says, adding that the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Society has already submitted its formal comments on the proposal and that the project has yet to be approved.

However, the modern-day Drawbridge tender isn’t crying doomsday.

“As much as I love learning about it, I just can’t justify saving Drawbridge over having better commuting capabilities,” she reasons. “I would like to do one more deep study on it and take pictures to see what’s there before we close that chapter. As long as there is a way to put those new bridges in that doesn’t hurt the habitat or refuge as a whole, I can’t say, ‘Don’t do this to Drawbridge.’”

Ghost towns are testaments to our inevitable demise. However ephemeral, they celebrate the fact that we did indeed exist. They draw us into their fading light for a glimpse of yesterday and after we return to the present, we’re humbled by the tenuous nature of our own mortality.

f8 Don’t Wait

1 BLOG +  9 PHOTOGRAPHERS +  7 YEARS +  2,500 POSTS

It all started with a mysterious circle, awash in textures and shades of blue. The date was April 23, 2013, and with her post, Susan Honda Eady set the game afoot. The next day, it was David Hibbard’s turn. He studied Susan’s photo and responded with a rainbow-streaked plate, which then elicited a round blue abstraction from Maude Pervere, followed by Robert Kato’s haunting take on tumbleweed.

“It’s like a game of telephone that you played as a little kid when you whisper something in someone’s ear and it keeps evolving,” explains Patricia “Patti” McClung, of the blog F8 Don’t Wait. However, in this case, no words are spoken—it’s images that drive the day-by-day visual conversation.

Nine photographers. Seven-plus years. 2,500 posts and counting.

Originally connected through photography instructor Brigitte Carnochan, the mostly Peninsula-based tight-knit group met regularly to share, discuss and critique their work. After nearly a decade of collaboration, Dorothy Gantenbein proposed the idea of a daily blog and volunteered to take on the technical set-up. Referencing a camera aperture term, F8 Don’t Wait was born—and has been dynamically growing ever since.

“It can be color or line or shape or texture or context,” Patti further explains, when asked how she selects an image responding to the one before. “Like a dinner party conversation, you can build and continue to develop the conversation, you can go off on a related tangent, you can pick one thing that reminds you of something else or you can change the topic altogether.”

Lengthy post-production is often involved, although quickly-snapped iPhone images also show up. “I don’t know that you can really break the rules,” notes Patti.

On a recent nine-frame zoom call reminiscent of Hollywood Squares or the intro to The Brady Bunch, F8ers discuss the thought process that takes place behind the lens. The blog started with a set rotation of who follows whom and mixes up the order every few years. “Everybody’s visual personality is really distinct,” shares Rachel Phillips.

Sometimes, they say, the evolving theme seems obvious—trees, paths, food or even a mood, like loneliness—but they also encounter real head scratchers.

“Katie’s images have a dreamy aspect to them—they are sometimes ghostlike, ethereal,” offers Maude. “Sometimes Katie sends me for a loop!” adds Susan. “I like experimenting,” Katie Parquet acknowledges.

“I have a whole bucket of ‘Bill made me do it!’ images,” injects Dorothy. William “Bill” Bishop quickly responds, “I treat every F8 contribution as serious art; it’s a big deal for me.” Maude can’t resist a playful jab: “And it feels that way if we’re behind you, Bill!”

The group calls out lifelong photographer Robert Kato as particularly challenging to follow. “He has this way of saying something quite profound,” observes Patti, “that just touches you and gets you thinking about your images and what you want to say.”

“Patti’s images remind me of a memory map,” Dorothy comments, in a nod back to Patti. “And I think of Rachel as a Victorian time traveler; there’s always an element from another era in her work.”

Rachel describes the “delicious panic” she feels when her turn is coming up. “It really expands your visual playground,” she says. “You get to riff on all these images that are so different from your own.”

Tallying up F8’s many benefits is an easy exercise for the group: tuning the eye and exercising creativity, sharing visual explorations in sympathetic company, digging into the archives to unearth forgotten images and capturing shots they wouldn’t have otherwise thought to take. But above all, they say, the blog has deepened the friendship of its members.

“To me, it’s really a miracle group,” Bill reflects, “because we are so diverse and we get along so well.” With everyone nodding in agreement, Dorothy caps it off: “We all admire and  enjoy each other’s work, and I think that holds us together.”

While F8’s intent is to visually communicate with each other, the photographers have also staged two Bay Area “physical world” exhibits that capture their blogging journey. Given that f8dontwait.com is currently closing in on 450,000 views, there’s clearly curiosity about what they’re saying. With that in mind, PUNCH invites you to meet the F8 team and eavesdrop on a few favorite conversations.

 

The Beat On Your Eats

Mints & Honey

San Carlos

A hidden oasis alongside El Camino Real in San Carlos, Mints & Honey is a gardenesque departure from the usual coffee shop vibe. Step through their patio and you’ll find yourself greeted by a display of turquoise chairs and a sea of succulents. The menu is equally whimsical; the Butterfly Coconut Mango is the color of a Pacific sunset (100% free of coloring and preservatives) made with mango puree and butterfly pea flower tea. The Rainbow Waffle comes topped with whipped cream and Fruity Pebbles while the Mango & Tajin Toast is a Pain au Levain that hits all the right notes with avocado, mango, tajin, basil and honey. Grab a seat next to the pastel-colored cacti and restrain yourself from snapping too many pictures. 1524 El Camino Real. Open daily from 8AM to 2PM.

Photography: Courtesy of Backyard Brew

Backyard Brew

Palo Alto

Backyard Brew, Palo Alto’s hidden gem in plain sight, is an all-outdoor coffee shop along California Avenue designed for late summer discovery. Dozens of bright, colorful umbrellas provide shade, but don’t let the simple charm of Backyard Brew fool you—they can also make a mean cup of Joe. Their street-style Arabic coffee is filled with refreshing hints of cardamom and the menu features beans globally sourced from the likes of Brazil, Colombia and Kenya. For non-coffee drinkers, the London Fog tea is exceptional with its creamy and not-too-sweet cup flavor reminiscent of the milk tea found in boba shops—sans tapioca pearls. 444 California Avenue. Open daily from 8AM to 2PM.

Photography: Courtesy of Silas Valentino

Saint Frank Coffee

Menlo Park

Save your grande and venti size chart for the gang of coffee chains—at Saint Frank, your freshly roasted cup comes in a single size packing zest and aroma. Named after its San Francisco roots, this micro producer is tucked behind the Menlo Park train station where the easy-to-grab outdoor counter service, with a shaded patio, makes it a breezy escape from the confines of an indoor café. A small selection of pastries—such as an oven-fresh peach Danish —add substance but it’s the internationally-sourced beans from Guatemala, Kenya and Bolivia that cast the lure. 1018 Alma Street. Open daily from 7AM to 5PM.

The Local Backhaus

It’s 4AM when the lights come on at Backhaus.

The bakers arrive, taking bread and pastries that have proved overnight and arranging them carefully in the oven. At 6AM, the front-of-house staff arrive, prepping the espresso machine and stocking the “bread wall” on display behind the register. At 7:30AM, customers rush in, hoping to snag rustic country loaves, pistachio raspberry croissants or apricot and oat streusel scones before they sell out.

Following a time-honored German tradition, co-owners Anne and Robert Moser repeat this ritual daily in downtown San Mateo.

The couple met in Germany, Anne’s home country, in 2006. Robert, a California native, was studying abroad at the time. In Germany, their friendship quickly blossomed into romance and when Robert returned to California, Anne followed, studying in Monterey for two years to receive her master’s degree in translation.

After a brief return to Germany, Anne immigrated to the U.S. in 2013 and the pair got married the following year. In California, Anne found herself missing the bakeries back home, which play a central role in every German household. The inspiration behind the name Backhaus, German for bakehouse, also originates from a desire to create community through bread.

“It’s not so much what the bakery is but what it means for the community,” says Anne. “Bakehouses used to be a separate building in a village or a town that just had an oven in it. That was a place where people in the community got together and they would hang out while their bread was baking.”

Anne’s bread baking journey started with a cookbook: Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. With no bakeries or grocery stores nearby, she decided to bake her first loaf. “The two of us and my brother-in-law actually ended up just devouring the loaf fresh out of the oven with butter and it was so good,” recalls Anne.

Following the success of her first loaf, Anne dove headfirst into her newfound passion for baking—to the point that she was overwhelming neighbors and friends with her crusty creations. She attempted channeling her zeal into a blog, “A Bag of Flour,” but realized that she really wanted to take her hobby to the next level. “I had talked with friends about how nice it would be to own a café or something like that, but I had never worked in that industry, so I felt like that ship had sailed,” says Anne.

This mindset changed when she discovered an online interview with Josey Baker, a home baker who transformed his passion into a café, The Mill, in San Francisco. “I watched it and my heart started pounding,” she remembers. “If he could do that, maybe there’s a chance that I could do that.”

With feedback from her friends, Anne turned her bread obsession into a bread subscription service with a cottage food license. Robert, who also worked from home at the time, delivered bread to their customers’ doorsteps.

“It sounds very romantic to run a little bakery out of your house,” says Anne, acknowledging that the reality was much more challenging. With only one oven and no mixers in their rental house, Anne could make eight to ten loaves in a day, while still working as a freelance translator. At night, she slept on the couch and had a timer going off every 20 minutes, so she could take each loaf out and put in the next one.

“It happened quite a few times that I was so tired that I wouldn’t hear my timer go off and I would burn a loaf,” admits Anne. “I would wake up too late and pull the charcoal brick out of the oven.”

After five months of running Backhaus out of their home, Anne decided to move their operation to KitchenTown, a commissary kitchen in San Mateo where businesses pay by the hour to use the space.

“It’s a huge step to go from basically no equipment in your home to having an actual bakery,” she says. Anne started going to KitchenTown from 8PM to 4AM, first by herself, and then with Robert. “It was also really nice to be surrounded by other makers; it felt like we were all on this journey together of growing our companies to the point that we could afford our own space.”

With the help of KitchenTown, Anne and Robert brought Backhaus to the Burlingame Farmers Market in October 2016, and then the San Mateo Farmers Market in January 2017. The pair would often work through the night and then sell at the market in the morning. After almost three years at KitchenTown, Anne and Robert decided to open a brick and mortar, with help from their loyal customers through Kickstarter.

As of June 2019, Backhaus sits proudly in downtown San Mateo, serving bread, pastries and coffee to the community. “We never wanted to be a German bakery, but just a bakery with German influence,” says Anne. With a growing team of bakers from different backgrounds, she welcomes their creativity. “It’s still a little bit surreal, and we’re not taking it for granted how the community has embraced us,” says Anne. “I still pinch myself sometimes.”

In return, Backhaus is giving back to the community. “From the start, we’ve talked about supporting causes that we believe in,” says Anne. Backhaus regularly donates leftover bread and pastries to the Samaritan House in San Mateo and has also held fundraisers for the Australian wildfires and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund this year. Anne emphasizes that she is always open to using Backhaus as a platform to raise money for causes that her team feels passionately about.

The menu at Backhaus changes with the seasons, since the team sources local ingredients and makes everything from the jams to the fillings from scratch. Expect to find classics like baguettes, apple turnovers and almond croissants—but also keep an eye out for kouign amanns and maple pecan braids, which Anne cites as one of her favorites.

As for the future of Backhaus, Anne and Robert hope to open a second location when the future of the hospitality industry looks brighter. In the meantime, their experience with sleepless nights is about to serve them well, as they prepare to welcome a baby girl into the Backhaus family in late September.

Reflecting on the creation of Backhaus, Anne is incredibly grateful for the support she’s received from family, friends, customers and most importantly, Robert. For Robert, however, the decision to open a bakery was simple—Anne moved over from Germany for him, so it was only right that he help her bring a touch of her home to the Peninsula.

bake it

Pear & Dark Chocolate Scones

Ingredients

3½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

½ tsp kosher salt

2 tsp baking powder

1¾ sticks butter

1 cup buttermilk

1 medium pear

¼ cup dark chocolate
(60%-80%) chips

¼ cup heavy whipping cream

3-4 Tbl turbinado sugar

DIRECTIONS

• Preheat oven to 350F.

• Wash pear and remove core. Cut into ¼- to ½-inch cubes.

• Combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.

• Cut cold butter into ½-inch cubes.

• Option 1: Add dry ingredients and butter cubes to food processor and pulse until the largest butter chunks are the size of peas.

• Option 2: Add butter cubes to dry ingredients and use fingers to pinch butter cubes into thin butter flakes.

• Add pear cubes and chocolate to dry ingredients.

• Add buttermilk and gently mix by hand or with wooden spoon until dough is well moistened but crumbly.

• Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, gently press into a disc shape and cut into eight triangles.

• Transfer scones to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, brush with heavy whipping cream and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

• Bake at 350F for 24 minutes until edges are golden-brown and the centers feel firm but springy.