Monday, January 8, 2018


UpTake Travel Gem

It’s a long, long drive from our base in the San Gabriel Valley (just east of Pasadena) to our destination of Santa Rosa. Eight hours of driving, not including stops. The final reckoning is ten hours.

Watch the video of this trip!

Up to the final days, it was touch ‘n go as to whether we’d even go here. The final week of the year can have terrible weather up north. Our alternate destination was Tucson but checking the weather forecast, the temperatures were the same either way with just a slightly greater chance of rain up in the wine country.

Our choice was sweetened by tacos. Tim lobbied hard to go to Napa for one reason…the lunch stop in Bakersfield would be at Los Tacos de Huicho. Huicho’s is known in our family as having the best tacos on the face of the earth. Yeah, we’ve looked hard…both north and south of the border…and have still yet to find a better taco. We’re still looking, but the crown still firmly resides on this neon-green outpost of carne asada, tripas, and al pastor sitting on a grimy side street in a forlorn industrial neighborhood.

The al pastor is rotating on a vertical spit as the cook slices of chunks of moist, juicy meat. The tripas, crispy little bits of intestine, are fried up. Battered fish filets are dropped into the deep fryer for my wife’s fish tacos. When we get our order, we prep our food with chopped onions, cilantro, green or red salsa, and Huicho’s ungodly good creamy guacamole salsa. Deep fried jalapenos are sitting at the end of the salsa bar…take as many as you’d like. At 99 cents per taco, the best food on earth comes cheap.

Bladders drained, gas tank filled, it was back on historic highway 99 north to Santa Rosa. Our room is at another historic location, the Flamingo Resort built in 1957. It was built to be a mirror image of the Flamingo hotel in Las Vegas. This restored property has the look and feel of a late 50’s or early 60’s Vegas hotel. It wouldn’t look out of place to see Frank, Sammy, and Dean lounging around the Olympic size pool.

Our room is a large, 500 square foot, second floor unit in the newer executive wing out back. It features a king size bed, queen size sofa bed, a large bathroom with a roll-in shower, and a view over a small farm that has somehow escaped the city’s rampant development.

One of the themes of this trip is to test the abilities of Guy Fieri in picking places to eat.  Our family is a fan of his show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on the Food Network and my wife is always saying we should check his listings before we go on a trip.  Well, Fieri is from Santa Rosa so what better place to put him to the test.  We're going to have dinner at his restaurant, Johnny Garlic's, and test a diner, a drive-in, and a dive from the area he's had on the show to see if they are as good as they look on TV.  Either it will be, or I'm gonna be taking one for the team here. 

First up is a diner...

Hank's Creekside Cafe is just a short block from the hotel.  It's a tight fit, but we get the chair inside and order up our food.  Service is quick.  We get eggs benedict, french toast, pancakes with some bacon and eggs.  It is all very delicious.  The first couple of tables are wheelchair accessible but tight.  There is one parking spot in front of the door that's handicapped.

The next morning, after that delicious breakfast, we drive over the hill to Calistoga at the top of Napa Valley. A sign points the way to Chateau Montelena, one of many wineries in the area, that was featured in the movie “Bottle Shock” with Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman.

A big, vine covered stone building sits impressively on the hillside among a web of ramps leading into the winery, tasting room, and the small lake with its Japanese Gazebo used by picnickers. Drivers with a disabled parking placard or license place can park at the top of the hill, next to the tasting room.

Famous for its chardonnay that beat the French wines at a Paris tasting in 1976, the chateau capitalizes on that fame, charging a sky-high tasting fee of $20…refundable if you buy at least $100 worth of wine. No, those souvenir glasses, cookbooks, and the signed DVD of “Bottle Shock” don’t count. There is no rule against sharing, however, so we did the tasting and shared our five samples between the three of us. One relative bargain was a package featuring a copy of the movie, signed by winemaker Bo Barrett (portrayed by Chris Pine in the movie) and a bottle of their cabernet for $35.
Tim at the Chateau Montelena Lake, Notice the Chair Cam (watch the video)

We take some time to explore the grounds, which include a small lake with a pagoda gazebo on an island you can use for picnicking.

Stay tuned for part two, were we find a better tasting bar, a drive-in, and a dive.

Copyright 2010, Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

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