Thursday, 12 January 2017

California Holiday Highlights

This is my fourth (and final) post on our Christmas holiday in California. Read part one about flying with a toddler here, part two about our time in Tahoe here, and part three about our weekend in Santa Rosa here.

We spent the majority of our three weeks in California at my brother's place in Campbell, California. Campbell is located just outside of San Jose, about 45 minutes from San Francisco, in the heart of Silicon Valley. My brother moved here 10 years ago to take a job as a video game programmer, and is now working as a software engineer for a start-up company. His girlfriend Ashley works for Google. Yes, their jobs are way cooler than mine.

Here are some of the things we got up to and places we went to while we were here:

Eating, eating, and more eating. Mixed in with some drinking. I think we sampled the majority of Campbell's eateries during the time we were there. A highlight was Ashley and Mike's favourite restaurant, Orchard City Kitchen, owned by a former Michelin-star chef. OCK has a creative range of cocktails and a tapas style menu, so we were able to sample a lot of different dishes. We also loved Aqui's, a Mexican restaurant serving healthy, organic food at affordable prices. I think we ate here three times as the food was so good, on top of being quick, cheap, and Ella-friendly.

Barefoot Coffee. It's hard to find good coffee in America, especially when you are used to Melbourne's finest. The place is saturated with Starbucks (there were three within a ten minute walk of Mike's place). However walk a little bit further and you get to Barefoot Coffee. We visited this place almost daily - best coffee in Campbell - or maybe even all of California! But also slowest coffee in Campbell. We waited nearly 20 minutes once and Andy swore we would never go back. The next day we went to Starbucks, and while it only took three minutes to get our coffee, it tasted like shit (or more specifically, hot milk with a little bit of terrible coffee mixed in). So we sucked it up and went back to Barefoot the next day. When on holidays you can afford to choose quality over speed. I LOVED one of their speciality coffees: the Cacophony. A cappuccino with cocoa, cayenne pepper and cinnamon. So yum. I have already tried to recreate it now that we are back home, with very pleasing results!

Los Gatos Creek. The trail following the creek passes close to my brother's place, so we spent a good deal of time walking, jogging, and cycling along it. Yes, that's right, I said jogging! Andy and I went on a few runs and it felt good to get back into running after what seems like a long break, even if we only ran 4km each time. Slow and steady! Campbell Park, located off the trail, had a good size playground that we took Ella to a few times. It's where I snapped this pic, one of my favourites of the holiday of Ella and her Nannie:

Loving the merry-go-round with Nannie!

Going down the slide 

Redemption
: A shop on the main street in Campbell that sells only "socially conscious" California-made products. I wanted to buy pretty much everything in this shop. I settled on some moisturising oil from By Nieves. My brother gave me a sampler of their products last Christmas and I loved the "C" Perfect Skin product. Also, the owners are a married couple, and the guy is from Melbourne! (His wife is a local). Such a nice guy, I totally recommend supporting this shop.

Campo di Bocce (Los Gatos). We played Bocce Ball here one evening which was really fun. It reminded me of when we were all in Australia for Christmas 2014 and played lawn bowls. We played on (heated) outdoor courts lit up with fairy lights, which gave it a magical feeling. Ella loved watching and "helping" by throwing the balls around.



Happy Hallow (San Jose). This is like a mini-amusement park for little kids. Ella went on her first merry-go-round and also two rides on her own! She was a bit hesitant at first and I think confused when we buckled her in and then left her to watch from the sides. But once the ride started she was loving it. The only hard part was that each time a ride stopped she screamed as she wanted it to keep going. There is also a small zoo here so plenty to do for a full day with kids.

Enjoying her first amusement park ride
Loving her second ride
Children's Discovery Museum (San Jose). This was another amazing museum aimed at kids, similar (but different) to the one we went to in Santa Rosa. Why don't we have places like this in Melbourne?!! We wisely left the water play area until last, and predictably Ella loved it and probably could have stayed there for hours. Also, fun fact: The museum is located on Woz Way. Sounds like a stupid street name, until we realised it was named after Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple.

Driving a Fire Truck
Running through a giant tunnel made of tape

Fun times in the water activity centre


Santana Row (San Jose). Fancy shopping street. We stopped in to a Tesla display room which was kind of cool. I have never EVER wanted to spend a lot of money on a car, or even cared what kind of car we own. But I could make an exception in this case... It is after all, very environmentally friendly! There are high end designer stores on this street, mixed in with shops like H&M and Lululemon for us regular folk. There are some good eating options as well, we ate at Pluto's which had amazing roast sandwiches and fresh salads made to order. There were very healthy options for kids, Ella had roast turkey with peas and broccoli. (It may have come with a rice krispie treat that Andy and I may or may not have eaten in secret.) At the end of Santana Row is Westfield's Valley Fair, your regular American shopping mall.

Santana Row - the only shop I can afford, H&M!
Checking out her future car
Winchester Mystery House (San Jose). My parents took a tour here one afternoon. Andy and I declined as it was a bit pricey and not Ella-friendly. The house was built by Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Arms Company. After the death of her husband and daughter she felt her family was cursed, and went to a psychic for advice. The psychic told her that there were many spirits angry with her for all the deaths caused by Winchester rifles. In order to appease the spirits, she would have to build a house for all of the spirits. If construction of the house ever stopped, she would also die. So she took this advice and for the next 38 years she had builders working on the house 24 hours a day, 356 days a year. The result is a gigantic, complex house that is now open for tours.

Alcatraz (San Francisco). We only spent one day in San Fran, on our way to Santa Rosa. We booked tours for Alcatraz in advance as they tend to sell out - in fact we went at the end of December and there was a sign saying the next available tour was Jan 5. It was pretty eerie to walk around a former prison, but interesting to learn about the history of Alcatraz and the stories from the time it was a prison. The tour was self-guided, which I was initially disappointed about, however I thought it was really well done. The recording was of former guards and prisoners telling first-hand accounts of what it was like in Alcatraz, giving it an authenticity you wouldn't get from a regular tour guide. 

The Rock

Of course, the best part of the holiday was watching Ella get to know her Canadian (and American) family a lot better. She was very comfortable with everyone within a few days and even started saying "Mike" near the end of the trip. It was sad to say good-bye, as it always is, but a bit easier this time as we are all meeting in Bali for a holiday in April. Although it is hard living so far away from family, I am, as always, thankful that we all have the means to travel and were able to spend this quality time together.

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