3 Nights, 3 Different Hotels

Vacation. The time to relax, to go on grand adventures, and to wash all your worries away. Traveling can be fun, or to some like myself a little stressful, but what really seems to make or break a trip is one detail. Where you are staying. How many times have you stayed at a hotel and left feeling like you needed a vacation from your vacation? Or that you couldn’t wait to sleep in your own bed again? Or maybe you left feeling like you never wanted to leave and could live in that simple hotel room? Trust me, I have felt a good mixture of both and I am sure my love for traveling will continue to bring me that mixture again and again.

Hotel stays are honestly an important part of my traveling experience because I am someone who travels alone so often. It is a home base even if it is only for one night, and it acts as somewhere stable during that time. I love when hotels allow me to relax, but also give me a space to get some work done on the go! I also take cleanliness into consideration. I am a bit of a germaphobe, so if I find hairs all over my sheets or a used condom on the dresser (yes, this has happened!)…I freak the heck out! Remember, you are paying for a room that should be cleaned at least up to health standards, so it is okay to politely say that something is wrong (especially if it is that extreme!) Another added benefit is when they have a complementary breakfast option so I can grab some fruit, eggs, or oatmeal before running to my next destination (also a really great way to save money!)

When I went on my most recent trip, a large graduate school exploration down the Southern Californian coast, I stayed at 3 very different hotels. I was lucky enough to stay in nicer hotels due to my work bonuses, but what I was most curious about was how they would truly differ based off of what they offer to their guests. Now, I am sure everyone’s experiences and preferences are different, because let’s face it, we are human. However, I made my own list and rating score based off of what is important to me, especially as a female traveling alone.

  1. Location: Where is this hotel in regards to my trip? Is it out-of-the-way or along the way? Are there restaurants nearby? Is it in a safe area?
  2. Parking: Is parking available? Is it free for guests? Is it safe?
  3. Customer Service: Are staff greeting me as well as answering any of my questions? Am I easily able to speak to a staff member if I need assistance?
  4. Room: How comfortable is this room? Is it clean? Is it private? Do I feel safe?
  5. Price: Was it worth the price? Where there added benefits?

I drove from my wonderful home in Los Gatos, CA to multiple stops in places like Santa Barbara, Woodland Hills, Fullerton, and back up to Ventura. I visited a few graduate school options, loved a handful of my dearest friends, and spent some much-needed time with myself. I stayed at 3 different hotels (and two nights with my girl Christina in her dorm) but what I found so interesting was how incredibly different each hotel experience was. I am excited to share with you my discoveries, reviews, and things that I learned while doing this road trip solo!

The Cliff House Inn – Ventura, CA.

IMG_6671I am not going to lie, this hotel was one I have had my eye on for a long time. I always drove past it when heading back up to my hometown from my college (CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo), but I never knew too much about it. After looking online, I saw that this hotel was within my budget for my trip, as well as in the area I would be looking at 2 schools, so I decided to go for it! I booked this room for Monday, April 2nd, and I could not wait to experience this beautiful place.

My trip started at 7am because I would be meeting with my first grad school at 1pm in Santa Barbara. It was a long drive, longer than usual, but still beautiful and how I always remember it. However, I was exhausted after my 2 hour meeting, so I could not wait to get to The Cliff House Inn. It is about 15 minutes south of Santa Barbara, which was fine with me. It’s a gorgeous drive next to the ocean so honestly it was calming and set the mood for the experience I was going to have.
I arrived at the hotel around 3:30pm and I easily found parking in front. It was right next to the entrance, and later I discovered I would be able to see my car from the window in my room, which was a huge plus. I was greeted when I walked into the lobby by a friendly woman and she helped me check-in. She told me how to get to my room and told me I could ask her anything if needed. This is always reassuring for me, because I often have questions about the area I am in, if their hotel accommodates dietary needs, and if I ever felt uncomfortable, I would want to be assured someone was there for me. I can confirm this statement: The staff at The Cliff House Inn are some of the best I have ever met. I never felt like I was less important than any guests and they truly accommodated all of my needs. If you want to stay in a hotel where staff truly treat you with kindness and respect, this is the place to go.

IMG_6677I entered my room and realized immediately how perfect this hotel was for me. A lot of my readers know that the beach is my favorite place in the world. I love the ocean, the sand, the sun, the sounds and smells…everything. I looked out my window and this, this was seriously my view?! I was in heaven! Apparently all their rooms overlook the ocean and yes, it is really this beautiful! Not to mention how cute the room was too. Not overly updated, but charming and clean. I looked around and noticed that all surfaces seemed wiped down, the bed smelled clean, and the shower had no questionable hairs or marks. I was excited and ready to spend a night in my paradise. I unpacked what I needed from my car, and got settled in.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_6734I decided to go on a walk, as I was told there was a nice beach nearby. This beach was stunning and I was completely alone as I walked along the shore. I had plans to leave and drive to a yoga studio, but instead I decided to do some yoga on the beach. Wow, what an absolutely wonderful experience this was. If you have never ventured outside of your yoga studio or backyard, I highly recommend it. I felt so incredibly at peace, and the sand added an extra balancing obstacle. I think it is really great when a hotel has places to explore nearby, and this beach hit the spot! I collected some gorgeous shells, and headed back to get ready for dinner.

IMG_6713I went back to my room and grabbed my notebook to write as I ate dinner. The restaurant is attached to The Cliff House Inn called The Shoals Restaurant and it was recommended to have a reservation, which I did not have. So, I went early and hoped for the best, especially because it was a Monday night. Luckily, the server said she could definitely seat me, and she actually sat me outside at her favorite table. The view was perfect. I watched the sunset as I indulged in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (Brander, 2016) and decided what to eat off the menu. I am sure that everything on the menu is delicious, but I wanted to keep it lighter and get my greens in (let’s face it friends, this isn’t a shock.) I ended up ordering the Organic Mixed Greens Salad, and this salad did not disappoint. I ate every single piece of it and it left me craving more, but IMG_6715
absolutely stuffed. The desserts sounded incredible (they even had a flourless cake aka Emilee friendly option) but I decided to stick to the salad and wine. The service was amazing and I was able to write some reflections about my grad school meeting and watch the sunset.

I slept wonderfully with the window open, and woke up to the sound of the waves crashing gently against the rocks. They had a great continental breakfast, and they even brought out gluten-free toast for me! I was so excited to spread some all natural peanut butter on that bread and eat it all up! Their fruit options were also great, and the coffee was strong and bold without being too bitter. It was a great start to my day before another long meeting. I would 110% recommend this hotel and restaurant. I had an amazing time and I hope that I can visit again sometime. If you need a getaway, consider booking a room at this hotel for around $190 a night. Again, I was blessed to have my work bonuses saved up, but this hotel is worth every dollar!

The Hilton Hotel – Woodland Hills, CA.

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 4.52.08 PMAfter a long meeting, a quick trip down memory lane, and a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway then through Topanga Canyon, I made it to my next hotel. I have never stayed at The Hilton, but I know that this location in particular is renovated and very modern. I was curious to see the difference between this hotel and the one from the night before. The location was ideal as I would be seeing some friends from the area, and it was next to the mall where my friends and I were going to grab dinner. There were a lot of restaurants nearby to choose from which was nice.

When I pulled up, I first parked in the loading zone. I entered the building and began the check-in process. This is where I felt uncomfortable. The staff left me feeling very insecure and treated me like I did not belong. I was staying in a more expensive room (the 10th floor; $200/night), and I later found out there were a lot of perks to go along with that, but I was never told this information. I also asked a couple of questions and the staff member acted like it was completely ridiculous for me to be asking her anything. It was not busy, but even if it was, I should be allowed to ask about where to park, how much it costs, and what charges would appear on my card. But, I let that brush off my shoulders because I wanted to enjoy my time in such a nice hotel.

Parking was absolutely awful. Not only was I having to park in a parking garage (as a solo female traveler, this is definitely not ideal), but it was also a decent walk away from the nearest hotel entrance (and I had to pay $20/night). I took my bags inside but realized I left my phone in the car, so I went back downstairs to get it. This is where my fears became real. I was alone and trying to get back on the elevator in the parking garage to go back to the hotel. 5 men were exiting as I was entering and started cat calling me and asking me where I was staying. Great. I luckily was able to smile and ignore it while the elevator doors closed. I reminded myself not to go to the parking garage in the dark. I hate this about the world we live in as it adds extra stress to a female’s life, but I am glad that I am aware and recognize that I need to do what I can to stay safe.

I finally got to the room and had the chance to appreciate its beauty. It was huge! It was the corner room, but honestly felt like a suite. It included a kind size bed, a huge bathroom, a whole desk space perfect for work, and a seating area. I was in love with the chic art and sleek feel. It was very clean, and I liked that I felt luxurious and well taken care of. I would’ve stayed in that room for 2 weeks honestly. My friends ended up coming to check it out and they were just as in awe as I was. The only worry we talked about was the fact that it was a corner room and directly next to stairwell exit. Again, over thinking safety, but I would be an easy target if anyone wanted to kidnap me or something crazy like that. However, I didn’t think too much about that. I was too in love with this room!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the morning, I realized there was not a free breakfast option which is always tough. So, I ate one of the bars I brought with me and took my time getting ready for the day. I loved the shower and the fact that they had the hairdryer in the room (I’ve found a lot of hotels you actually have to ask for them which I didn’t know). I was able to enjoy my last hour before check-out by just lounging in my room and getting caught up on some blogging work. When it was time to leave, I went to get my car first because I didn’t want to carry my luggage all the way to my car. I parked in the same place in front of the hotel as I had before, and the valet drivers were actually quite rude. They didn’t bother to ask if I needed help, but instead helped the men and women dressed in business suits…I am just not about that kind of favoritism. Especially when I paid the same amount, if not more, for my room. I should receive the same service. Checking out was quick and not recognizably pleasant, but just felt like a routine. I did not mind it though, because I was ready to leave the service behind. Overall, the room was by far the best part of my experience. I would recommend this hotel if you do not mind a little colder of staff, or walking to and from the parking garage.

Amanzi Hotel – Ventura, CA.

IMG_6954After staying in Fullerton for 2 magical nights, driving back up the coast through Marina Del Ray, Venice, and Malibu (my favorite secret beaches are there), I was back in the beautiful Ventura for just one more night of fun with my friends. Amanzi Hotel is located conveniently in Downtown Ventura, and I had a simple time parking for free and even easier time checking in. The staff was kind and actually asked me if I had any questions. I love good customer service (and I get customer service because I have been working in the business for years). I felt reassured of my safety and I was able to go straight to my room with ease.

I walked into the room and it was pretty clean. There was a chair that looked a little funky, but overall the appearance was great. I had a small, yet effective view of the ocean from my window which is a nice touch. The beds and the bathroom looked great, so I was excited about that! I was so excited that I actually took a nap for an hour and woke up feeling so refreshed. I took a nice, long shower and even soaked in the bath for a couple of minutes. I then got dressed in some comfortable clothes and took a walk downtown to a classic beach taco joint, Snapper Jack’s. It was great to be able to enjoy something familiar and unique to Ventura County. If you have never been downtown, it is a great place to explore!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I went back to my room and took my time getting ready to go out. My friends ended up coming over and pregamming before hitting up my favorite bar of all time. Tavern was my college bar, but I plan to always go, even when I’m 80. We had a great time and made some interesting memories (; It was great that my friends were able to come hangout with me without the hotel getting upset or telling me I couldn’t have guests come into my room. None of my friends stayed the night, which was nice because I was ready to sleep and not have to wake up until it was time to leave in the morning.

I woke up and headed straight to the continental breakfast. Not as great of a spread as The Cliff House Inn, but still delicious! It is hard to find breakfast foods that I can eat at something like this because there are always a lot of baked goods filled with gluten, and very few gluten-free options overall. I ended up grabbing some oatmeal and fruit. The check-out process was quick and easy. I was treated with respect and the staff seemed to genuinely care how my experience was. Even if he didn’t truly care, I appreciated him making me feel like he did. I loaded up my car, stopped by my favorite smoothie shop (Blender’s) and enjoyed a nice drive home! For $150/night, I would definitely recommend Amanzi Hotel to anyone looking for some Ventura flavor. The location, staff, and rooms are completely worth it!

Ratings

The Cliff House Inn:

  1. Location: 5/5
  2. Parking: 5/5
  3. Customer Service: 5/5
  4. Room: 5/5
  5. Price: 5/5

Total: 25/25 – I would HIGHLY recommend a night in this paradise! Or a week if you’re lucky (;

The Hilton Hotel:

  1. Location: 5/5
  2. Parking: 2/5
  3. Customer Service: 2/5
  4. Room: 5/5
  5. Price: 4/5

Total: 18/25 – This hotel room was luxurious, but the parking and customer service were NOT worth the price. I would recommend this for business trips, and groups, but not for solo females. I was surprised by this experience.

Amanzi Hotel:

  1. Location: 5/5
  2. Parking: 5/5
  3. Customer Service: 5/5
  4. Room: 4/5
  5. Price: 5/5

Total: 24/25 – The room had a gross chair, but that is my only complaint! I think otherwise it was nice and cheaper than the others. The location is perfection and I would stay there again anytime!

Advertisements

Barrel Tasting in Sonoma, CA.

Introduction

About 2 months before I graduated college, I was told by multiple professors to get myself a job that allowed me to take time to travel and explore. They said, “Take what you learned and apply it to places around the globe.” Sadly, I have yet to go overseas and apply all the knowledge I gained in the course of 4 years, but I do travel. In fact, the week after I graduated I booked a last minute flight to Colorado for 5 days, and surprisingly it turned out to be one of the best trips I’ve ever experienced. I love going places and not having specific expectations. I need to do that more often.

I am blessed to have some strong female friends in my life. So, when my girl Alicia suggests we all come over and spend a weekend doing some pretty extreme wine tasting, how can I say no? A weekend with my girls, wine, and sleepovers? Count me in! So, Kara, Kaitlin and I agreed to drive up to Sonoma on Friday night and spend the rest of the weekend at Alicia’s house. We paid around $50 for a wristband that would get us into some of the top wineries in the county for the entire weekend. Not a bad deal considering it typically costs around $35 to wine taste at a single winery. We were also lucky because Alicia and her housemates graciously allowed us to stay the weekend for free. So, a cost break down of what was needed?

  • Tickets to the Barrel Tasting event (~$50)
  • Gas for traveling (carpooling works great too!)
  • Food (breakfast, bring your own snacks, and dinner)

Honestly, I probably spent under $200 the entire weekend. Yes, I did end up buying 3 bottles of wine at the wineries, but we also didn’t eat out during the day and instead brought ingredients to make sandwiches, and brought easy snacks. I highly recommend always bringing your own food. As someone who has a restricted diet, I try to bring as much of my own food as I can. Of course I generally splurge on dinner, but bringing my own gluten-free bread and snacks was a life saver considering most wineries do not have gluten-free nibbling options. Let’s face it, we were drinking wine all day, we needed to make sure we had something in our system to soak up the alcohol.

Friday (Day One)

Kaitlin picked me up from work around 6:15pm. We headed over to our favorite Greek restaurant, Opa!, to eat dinner before driving. This was a great choice because we ended up driving for about 2 and half hours before finally getting to Alicia’s house at 9:30pm. Kara drove on her own and was also there, so the fun began! We had a classic sleepover that night with a movie and some popcorn. We were all exhausted from work and school and life, so we fell asleep quickly.

Saturday (Day Two)

We woke up and instantly, and I mean instantly, all needed caffeine. We took a quick Starbucks run before getting ready. Let me tell you, we did a great job getting ready so quickly because we were all chatty and trying out new makeup. We also all tried on a variety of outfits and options that we had packed. We knew there would be many picture opportunities, so we wanted to feel as confident as we could!

After getting ready, it was time for some morning mimosas. If this doesn’t tell you how extreme our weekend was, I do not know what else will. We literally pregammed before going wine tasting for 5 hours. Anyways, I actually opened my first bottle of champagne ever! It was a plastic cork so it took me awhile, but when I got that baby off, it FLEW! This moment was pinnacle and I just had to share (;

More of Alicia’s friends and roommates joined us. We had a designated driver and after a couple mimosas (coffee for her), we were ready to go! We packed into the car and started the 20 minute drive to our first stop where we would be picking up our weekend wristbands and getting our wine tasting glass. We had food in the back ready for anytime we needed it, and we had some really great music blasting. The excitement was building!

Rued Winery

IMG_5816

This was literally my first taste of Sonoma County wine. We checked in which took little to no time at all, and then we began tasting. Now, I have never “barrel tasted” before. What this means is we were tasting wine that was not fully developed yet, aka the wine still in the barrel. We also tasted bottled wine, but this just added something special to the entire tasting experience. We were tasting something that most do not get the chance to. Rued had great views, some amazing chocolate treats being sold (and sampled), and some great wines.

Top wine: 2016 Petite Syrah

Geyser Peak Winery

IMG_5843

Say hello to an absolutely wonderful place to take pictures! Yes, the wine was good as well, and they were selling a variety of tempting knickknacks and jewelry, but the lighting at this time of day was just stunning. The way the clouds had a peek of blue and made the grass look incredibly green…we had a full on photo shoot! These women clearly make me so incredibly happy!

Top wine: 2016 Walking Tree, Cabernet Sauvignon

Mill Creek Winery

IMG_0134

Yes, this is really what Mill Creek Winery looks like, and yes, it is in California. I felt like we were in a small, European town, but sure enough we had only traveled a little bit up the road. This winery brings up an important point, that most wineries are family owned and have been passed down from generation to generation. They told us the history of the winery and gave us delicious wine! A really great combination if you ask me, especially because I love knowing history of places.

Top wine: 2016 Roller’s Song, Cabernet Sauvignon

Armida Winery

IMG_0024At this point of the game, I had consumed more wine within an hour and a half than I ever had before, and I was starting to really feel it. However, I could not believe the view! This was one of my top 5 favorite wineries due to the view, food for sale, and the wine variety! We tasted about 10 different wines here, and they were a variety of red and white which was a nice change. I was also surprised how many barrels they had to taste from as well. I think part of it is that they are a bigger winery, which generally means they have more wine. There was also a food stand where they were selling chips, popcorn, drinks, and Alicia’s choice…hot dogs! This was a great reminder that we were going to need some food soon. So, we took some IMG_5818pictures of the absolutely stunning food and headed back to the car where we instantly started munching on the goodies that we had brought. Again, I highly recommend bringing your own food so that when you get hungry, you can just have your own mini tailgate in the winery parking lot.

Top wines: 2017 Chardonnay; 2017 Zinfandel; 2017 Estate Field Blend

Matrix Winery

IMG_5820

This was definitely one of our longest stops. We all needed more food, so we decided this was where we were going to make and eat our sandwiches. So, tailgate round 2? Oh yes. After snacking, we went in for more wine. At this point, I knew I needed a bit of a break, so I only tasted 2 wines. They were however, very delicious! Afterwards, Kaitlin and I took a walk and explored the vineyards a bit. The temperature was cool but perfect for a refreshing walk with some water (; We all needed some time to breathe at this winery, so we took our time and enjoyed it for all it was.

Top wines: 2017 Pinot Noir, 2017 Petite Syrah

Soda Rock Winery

We decided to drive to the opposite end of Heldsburg for the next few wineries. Soda IMG_5823 Rock is another one of my top 5. I absolutely loved how quirky and charming the winery itself was, not to mention how delicious their wine tasted! I wanted to buy a bottle, but it did not come out until 2019 (the downside of barrel tasting) and I don’t know where I will be for half of 2019. I will say that I also really enjoyed the winery workers. I enjoyed most of them at the previous wineries as well, but here, they made us feel like we were worth getting to know. Now, my favorite part is their rustic barn. It is so stunning and I think we were IMG_5842there at the most gorgeous time of day because the way the light when through the cracks and allowed us to take amazing pictures was just unbelievable. I could have spent hours just enjoying the inside of that barn.

Top wines: 2016 Twisted Rail, Cabernet Sauvignon; 2017 Runway, Malbec Reserve; 2017 Rockpile, Petite Syrah Grand Reserve; 2017 Los Amigos, Primitivo*

*This was the wine that will not be available until 2019…I am still heart broken about not coming home with a bottle.

Alexander Valley Vineyards

We were all really feeling that wine by the time we got to this winery. I was feeling it so IMG_5831much that I literally only took three sips of two wines before convincing myself to switch it up with some water. We were exhausted, but this winery was very comfortable and seemed to be family owned. They had a cute picnic area and even cuter gifts. The weird part about this winery were a couple of kids running around, but hey, they didn’t disturb us. Alicia and I found the door to the celler that was quirky and locked…but we still had a nice rest before the final winery stop.

Top wine: 2016 Alexander School, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Lancaster Estate

IMG_5833Last, but certainly not least, we visited the Lancaster Estate. Talk about gorgeous! We had to take some small, and a bit confusing, roads to get there, but it was so worth it in the end. The vineyards made Kara and I want to run through them, but the ground was uneven and we were IMG_5834full of wine so, that was not going to happen. It was the end of the day, so the way the sun was hitting the hills was beyond how a picture could justify it. We spent some time trying some wines, then decided to rest up a bit and drink some water. The workers were kind and took the time to talk to us about the wine even if we barely tasted it. This ended up being such a calming way to finish up our day of extreme wine tasting.

Top wine: 2016 Lancaster Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon

Nap and Dinner Time

We drove back to Alicia’s house and it was time to take some naps. We all tore off our nice clothes and instantly put on something comfortable, wiped off all our makeup, and knocked out for a good hour. When we woke up, the wine hangover was real (and I am totally keeping it real by saying so). We decided we needed some greasy food and good atmosphere to fuel our bodies before heading to bed. Alicia took us to a restaurant a few minutes down the road called The Jaded Toad. This restaurant was wonderfully casual, fully equipped with corn hole and good music, but sadly our service was all over the place. It took awhile for someone to greet us and then when we were seated our waiter was barely there. However, the burgers were amazing (even Kara’s mushroom!) and the fries were perfectly filling. Overall, it was a great and much needed meal. We headed back home, took showers, and went to sleep quickly.

Sunday (Day Three)

Waking up on Day Three was much harder than Day Two. Kara and Kaitlin did a Starbucks run and Alicia and I started to get ready. We all went way more casual and comfortable on Day Three because at that point we were all so tired and not fully ready for the day. However, that quickly changed with some espresso and then some mimosas (again, I am unsure what we were thinking, but it truly put us in the wine tasting mood).

Chalk Hill Winery

IMG_5857First stop was Chalk Hill Winery. This was in the Windsor area and wow, was it stunning. The sun was shining and we were all happy to be there with delicious wine and gorgeous views. I could not believe the sights! The staff at this winery were very chill and informative. I really enjoyed most of the wines I tasted, and would definitely go back on a nice sunny day and enjoy what this winery had to offer!

Top wines: 2016 Syrah; 2017 Sauvignon Gris

Roth Estate

Right across the street was Roth Estate Again, stunning views, beautiful weather, and IMG_7152even better wine! We had a blast exploring the different areas along with eating a delicious polenta cake of some sort (it was gluten-free and I almost cried about it). The staff were professional and did not short us on tasting. It felt like there was always more and more to taste, and to learn. We spoke to so many different employees and all of them seemed so happy and proud of the wine they were selling. That honestly makes a huge difference in the quality of the winery. Overall, this winery is one I’d love to come back to and taste even more of their wine.

Top wines: 2017 Pinot Noir; 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon

Merriam Vineyards

IMG_5893Merriam had some unique features. They actually had two very separate tasting rooms. This was also the first winery to have cheese and olive oil instead of just bread or bread sticks (again, another way to make my gluten-free body happy!) Their wine was absolutely delicious, but we ended up eating more cheese than wine, I am sure of it. The first tasting room had the actual barrel tasting and the second had wines that were available to buy that day. Of course, Kara and I noticed that they had their rosé on sale for only $10. We tried it and ended up actually liking it (which I was impressed by because I am super picky with rosé), so Kara bought a bottle…and I bought two…with no regrets.

Top wines: 2016 Malbec; 2016 Cabernet Franc; 2016 Bordeaux Blend; I bought their 2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir and have no regrets.

Christopher Creek Winery

I absolutely loved this winery and every single wine that I tasted. We were given a tour IMG_5895
guide who was absolutely wonderful to us. He was casual, yet professional, and informative without making me feel weird about asking questions. By the time we got to Christopher Creek, we had enjoyed a lot of wine. But their wines tasted so different that it was enjoyable even if we were already buzzed. They had a Port that Kara actually ended up buying and it was phenomenal. I regret not buying any of their wine, but it was a bit out of my budget.

Top wines: Literally all of their 2017 Pinot Noir variations. I would seriously recommend any and all of their wines.

Vizlay Winery

IMG_7153Tucked away and overshadowed by Christopher Creek, Vizlay Winery opened their barn to us and it was again, some of the best wine I have ever tasted. They also had a variety of snacks (score!) so we ate a lot of different cheeses, and then got to tasting. While tasting, I said how much I truly enjoyed the Port at the previous winery. A woman tasting next to me said that their 2015 Zinfandel tastes just like a Port. Surely enough, it did. And just like that I was sold on the $28 bottle of delicious wine. I still have yet to enjoy it, but I am hoping soon an occasion will come up where I can share it’s beauty and relive the taste!

Top wines: 2016 Zinfandel; 2016 Petite Syrah; 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; I bought their 2015 Zinfandel and again, I have no regrets.

Harvest Moon Winery

IMG_5901We drove a little further for this one, and honestly I am so glad we did. Not only did we pass a goat farm on the way there (my very favorite animal!) but, it was a nice change of scenery. Of course, you could still see the hills but what was fun about this area was that it was flatter and more ranch style. This winery in particular was a really great place for events. There was a gorgeous private pool area and they had a lot less barrels to taste, and a lot more of their premium wines. The tasting room was nice and had a lot to look at and a lot of room to stand. The employees took their time and made sure that we tasted everything while they explained their processes and how they go from grape to glass. Kara and I really enjoyed their bottle of dessert wine that was sweet yet savory and not too overwhelming like the Ports started to be. I was very close to buying that bottle, and honestly I am so sad that I didn’t! $32 just felt like too much at that time.

Top wines: 2017 Sangiovese; 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon; The delicious wine I wanted was the 2017 Estate Late Harvest Zinfandel!

Hook and Ladder Winery

IMG_5902Ah, the very last stop. The exhaustion was so real, and the weather was suddenly hotter. But I was ready to conquer this final destination. Sorry I didn’t capture a better picture, but I was so over it by this time! I actually didn’t end up tasting too many of their barrel options (they had so many!) but more of their bottled wines. I liked what I tried in the barrels so Kara and I went inside to explore their bottles and see if we liked any enough to make another purchase. Sure enough, I did! This wine part of their “vintage” collection and was smooth to sip but left me wanting more and more! I was hooked (see what I did there (; ) on their wine. But, none the less, I was also exhausted and ready to chug a gallon of water and eat some food. See, today we weren’t as great about eating, and I was really feeling it. But, it was a great ending to the day and a cute winery to end the weekend at!

Top wines: 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; 2016 Zinfandel; 2017 Chardonnay; I bought the 2013 Zinfandel for only $15 and I cannot wait to drink it again!

Resting and Driving Home

Like I said before, I was exhausted…okay and I was drunk…but what do you expect after drinking as much wine as we did!? I ended up staying behind with Kara and Alicia because Kaitlin was ready to drive back, but I was too overwhelmed to sit in a car for a long period of time. So, Kara graciously agreed to drive us later that night. We ended up getting Taco Bell, and before you judge me, that is one of my top 3 favorite fast food chains and I refuse to ever say otherwise. It was also just what I needed at the end of this long day. We went back, took some naps, and had some serious girl time. But then, it was time to go home…at 9 PM (oops!) But, we got home safely, and I completely crashed the instant I got home.

Final Thoughts

IMG_5838Sonoma is unique and has  a lot to offer but for a lot cheaper prices. If you are a vino and live anywhere that you could get to the Bay Area without spending too pretty of a penny, there is another Barrel Tasting event in May. I highly recommend looking it up and considering a girls trip, you will not regret it. Prepare to drink wine, prepare to bring your own food, and prepare a list of places that you want to go! I am so grateful for these wonderful women and the new friends I made this weekend. I had such a great getaway and I cannot continue to go through life with their support and love. Until next time, cheers!

February Trader Joe’s Wine Picks

Trader Joe’s is one of my favorite places to shop. Their snacks are cheap, they have great all-natural options, and a lot of their food is gluten-free. Another huge perk is their IMG_4791_Facetune_09-02-2018-15-34-03alcohol selection. From brews to barrels, there are options for every budget and every taste bud. In college, I drank a lot of Two Buck Chucks (aka Charles Shaw) and occasionally would splurge on a $3.99 option. Now that I have a better hold on life, I buy wines ranging anywhere from $3-$12, but I still buy them from Trader Joe’s. Not only do they switch it up monthly, but there are some great options from around the world and it still fits in my budget. I thought I would go ahead and share with you the wines on my wine rack for February and why I recommend any (or all) of the four.**

IMG_4797_Facetune_09-02-2018-15-36-06

First up, Sara Bee Moscato. This sweet white wine is a product of Italy and has been on my top list for a couple of years now. It is a regular at TJ’s, and it is perfect for a sunny day. This golden hewed wine is sweet with notes of pear and lychee, as well as floral with aromas of elderflower. There is a slight honey-citrus zing as an after note. This is a richer Moscato, but does not have a fake, sugary sweetness. Instead the sweetness comes from the fruity flavors embedded in the wine. I personally like Italian wines because the naturally sweet flavors are a constant theme. I like Moscatos, but they are not my favorite because of how overwhelming the flavors can be. However, I find this wine to be refreshing and a nice way to end a warm, sunny day. Costing only $5.99 for one bottle, the price is even sweeter than the wine.

IMG_4792_Facetune_09-02-2018-16-09-15.JPG

Next, Kidia Sauvignon Blanc. This wine pours at a nice yellow-green color and smells clean, but intense. With hints of white currant, green apple, fresh herbs, and lime, this wine is fruity, elegant, and bold. It is a stronger wine with an alcohol level of 13.0%, but not overly powering. I will say I am a little bias as Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite type of wine and Chilean wine is my absolute favorite. I find wine from Chile to be refreshing, clean, and a bit on the citrus flavored side (which I am found of in white wine.) Kidia has the flavors I crave constantly, and is strong enough to enjoy a single glass to relax with dinner. I like wines that I can pair with creamy cheeses and a nice salad, and Kidia goes great with an arugula salad topped with goat cheese and dried cranberries (hmm maybe a recipe?) This wine is one of the most I have read that this wine can be sold for up to $15 a bottle, but at TJ’s I found it for just $5.99.

Blue Fin Riesling. Another classic from my college days. Riesling is similar to Moscato inIMG_4796_Facetune_09-02-2018-15-44-46 the sense it is easier for me to drink, but can get to the point where it is way too sweet. Thankfully, this wine is medium in body and acidity, creating a nice balance with flavors of lemons, pears, tropical fruits, citrus, and a hint of mint. Although this wine smells very sweet when the cork comes out, it has a slight tartness that makes this Riesling lighter. It has a crisp aftertaste, and unlike most sweet wines, it didn’t leave my mouth with the taste of alcohol. I once used Blue Fin as a base for Sangria. I made mine peach based with some citrus flavors, and it turned out really nice. I served this with a spicy chicken dish and salad tossed in a lemon vinaigrette. I highly recommend this combination as it pairs very nicely and enhances the Riesling’s flavors. Although you could pay closer to $10 for better Riesling, Blue Fin is $4.49 at TJ’s and great for a cheap wine!

IMG_4795_Facetune_09-02-2018-15-51-27Finally, Mbali Chenin Blanc Viognier. I have very little experience with Chenin Blanc or Viognier (I’m not even sure I can pronounce those correctly..sorry dad), but what I do have experience with is South African wine. The interesting part about this wine is that South Africa produces Chenin Blanc in a dry style, and Viognier is a very full-bodied wine similar to Chardonnay. Mbali’s blend is 79% Chenin Blanc and 21% Viognier. Surprisingly, Mbali is a bright and light wine that is very easy to drink despite the slight buttery notes. Flavors of melon, peach, pear, apple, and kiwi add enough sweetness and body without too much acidity within the after taste. What I like the most about this wine is how different it is from a basic Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio that I would order when I wanted a fuller wine. I would compare this to Sauvignon Blanc but with notes of honey and possibly vanilla. I like that it has a mix of rich flavors but isn’t too complex or heavy. I would pair Mbali with lighter dishes and fresh herbs. Plus, it was only $4.99, so I think it’s a great way to introduce yourself to new types of wines and blends!

**Disclaimer: I am NOT a wine expert. My father is, but I do not have the extensive knowledge or refined palate like he does. I am a vino, and a college graduate, so I like to find cheap wines that won’t taste like fermented sadness. Feel free to disagree with my tastes, but remember all taste buds are different and deserve to be respected!