The Norcal Nomad

Traveling in Northern California

Floating Homes Formerly Known as Houseboats

Written By: Deborah Linnekin - Jul• 05•14

There is a certain romance associated with life on a houseboat, now called floating homes. Until the 1970s many of these residences, especially those near Sausalito, were free floating and home to a diversity of people: elegant or artistic, and occasionally dangerous creating a good cross section of humanity.

Life changed in the 80’s and floating homes required moorings and rent. They also acquired sewer lines, a refreshing change for those upwind of these free floating residences.

San Francisco Bay is home to a large community of floating homes in Sausalito and there are regular tours of the area that is open to visitors without an official tour as well. The renowned Forbes Island was built in Sausalito by Forbes Kiddoo and was purported to host some wild parties its early days. Now, it is moored in San Francisco near pier 39 where you can dine aboard the floating island watching fish swim past the below deck portholes. For a video tour of the island: http://www.oursausalito.com/forbes-island.html .

Another fairly famous floating home is named the Taj Mahal and, you guessed it, it’s a miniature version of the famous one in India. It can be seen in Sausalito near Bridgeway and Johnson streets in Sausalito or on the floating home tour.

If you’re in the market for your own floating home, be prepared to pay for the location as well as the house. While there may not be land associated with the purchase you do need a place to dock. The houses in Sausalito start around $1 million. There was just one listing less than that and it appeared to be quite rustic.

The Floating home tour is scheduled for September 20, 2014 from 11am-4pm; costs $40.00 per ticket and it’s advised that you purchase a ticket in advance to make sure you’ll be accommodated.

I think it’s time to go to lunch in San Francisco. How about you? See you at Forbes Island!

Forbes Island, Floating Restaurant at Pier 39

Happy Fourth of July!

Written By: Deborah Linnekin - Jul• 04•14

With the fire danger heightened due to severe water shortages it is more important than ever to comply with the ban on fireworks in Contra Costa County. When I was young, it was still legal to have almost all types of fireworks at home, and it was fun to gather in the yard and watch my father try to create a memorable display for the family. WE ran around with sparkers and set off “snakes” while mom stood by with the hose poised and ready for action.

However, the dangers of this type of celebration have become more evident over the years. Burn units fill up after the fourth of July and just after New Years as well with well-intentioned celebrants that lost control of their explosives. One friend of ours was creating his own fireworks and blew off most of his hand. We hear these types of events every year and still my neighbors feel it’s necessary and safe to have their own celebration in the streets.

This year there are pleas online for people to stop the illegal detonation of fireworks out of respect for Veterans suffering from PTSD and to keep our pets from having anxiety attacks. Despite these requests people still feel it’s their right to celebrate however they please. Last night the celebration had already begun as the firecrackers went off across the street from my house.

My response has been to deep water my yard and hose down my roof. I’m staying home to try to stop any fires from starting in the tinder of my dying plants. My dog will appreciate the company, although her hearing is going and she doesn’t seem to mind the little explosions anymore. She used to cower in the shower, trying to find some safe shelter from the noise.

At times like these I see that our laws don’t deter some people intent on maintaining their traditions. Perhaps it’s creates personal satisfaction, or maybe they still don’t believe that “it” can happen to them. Either way, it is dangerous to try to harness the power of explosives in the confines of a dry, drought plagued suburb or city. Be safe this year and find a sponsored event near your home. They have some amazing fireworks prepared for you.

Have a Happy Fourth of July and remember: It can happen to you or those you love, so practice safety on this holiday and enjoy the rest of the year!

To find an event near you in California:

State list of events by City: http://www.americantowns.com/ca/features/4th-of-july-2014-fireworks-parades

Local Cities in Contra Costa County: http://www.americantowns.com/ca/contracosta-county/news/july-4th-fireworks-schedule-festivities-and-parades-in-contra-costa-county-ca-329870

San Anselmo Filled With Music, Art and Wine

Written By: Deborah Linnekin - Jun• 24•14

San Anselmo’s annual Art and Wine Festival filled the street on June 21 and 22nd with merchants and merriment. The quaint section of town between Woodland and Magnolia Ave. became home to 150 artists and musicians who shared their music and vision with those who chose to venture out.

One of the vendors was Baltic Amber. The owner is Polish and brings his stones in from his homeland. They are a stunning array of colors that I never knew amber could be! Of course there are some really interesting inclusions, like bugs, in some of the stones and some are intricately carved into cameos or pieced mosaic style to create a more interesting design. There were silver settings in many styles from modern to deco to suit every taste. Some were very dainty while others were show stoppers. He even had stings of amber for babies to assist with teething.

Baltic Amber Booth

Baltic Amber Booth

American Holistic Products was showing their health enhancing Buckwheat pillows, too. They had a free demo of the product that helped people to feel the way the pillows would soothe their aches and pains. One family had one for each family member already and purchased additional pillows for their RV.

American Holistic Products

American Holistic Products

The man with the hats must have sold one to everyone that waked past: the weather was warm and sunny! One customer kept returning to buy more hats they were so unique.

The Hat Man in San Anselmo

The Hat Man in San Anselmo

“Adoribles” was there, too. They’ve been at the fair for three years in the same spot. Dori creates beautiful art pieces using a special decoupage and crackle technique that gives vintage charm to her images. She is located directly in front of Hilda’s on San Anselmo Ave. and the scent from their kitchen is mouthwatering. George Lucas has reportedly found this a delightful spot for lunch on occasion as well.

Down the street there is another spot named Marin Coffee Roaster that sells delicious sandwiches. I confess the BLT was highly recommended as being the most heavenly BLT ever, causing the young man describing it to salivate. It lived up to his description, so I’ll pass along that glowing recommendation. If you find yourself in town, be sure to sample it.

Coffee is king in this little town, there seem to be coffee shops everywhere and everyone had their favorite. I only tried a Marin Coffee, but the Bagel shop also served a great brew according to the vendors nearby. Their bagels were delicious too. I did get a chance to try those: freshly baked!

It was a great time to be in San Anselmo, I’m looking forward to returning when there are fewer folks enjoying the town so that I can see the stores and wander the sidewalks when the town has returned to normal.

Enjoy the Stroll!

“Welcome to Pixieland where little kids have big fun!”

Written By: Deborah Linnekin - Jun• 20•14

Pixieland Amusement Park in Concord is Now OPEN

Imagine an amusement park just for the little ones. This wonderful place exists for the kindergarten crowd and perhaps a bit younger. They feature rides that will excite a little one without all the tears of fear from a larger ride. It’s a wonderful introduction to amusement parks.

Antique Carousel

Antique Carousel

The train (The Pixieland Express) travels through a tunnel and out of the park to take trek about a ¼ of a mile around the pond that usually has some feathered friends floating about.  You do need to be 42” tall to ride solo, however, adults are welcomed aboard as well. All Aboard!

Tea Cup Ride

Tea Cup Ride

 

The other rides are similarly tame with the cars of Windy Grove and Tea cups that whirl slowly to create just enough excitement. It’s difficult to select a favorite ride, but the Antique carousel is beautiful and timeless.

The dragon roller coaster is big enough to look tremendously exciting if your only 48” tall (4ft.) If your little ones are shorter sometimes they can ride with a taller friend or sibling, other times (under 42”) they’re going to need an adult. By the way, adults are charged tickets for the rides as well, so factor that in to your ticket count.

Pixiehouse 059

 

 

 

 

 

 

pixiecar 087

They’re conveniently located at 2740 E. Olivera Rd. just off of Willow Pass Road. It’s Farm Bureau Road on the other side of Willow Pass, so it’s easy to find the right street. Parking and Admission are free. There is food available at The Kids Café and they even have Starbucks Frappuccino for the adults!  Most of the food is definitely kid fare with Mac and cheese, PB&J and the obligatory chicken nuggets on the menu. (The menu is longer than this; all kid food except the Starbucks!)

They offer birthday parties, field trips and special events, so feel free to give them a call to get the particulars at (925) 676-9612.

It’s a kid zone, so don’t go without them! Happy Riding!

Time to Visit to the Martinez Regional Shoreline

Written By: Deborah Linnekin - Jun• 06•14

The Martinez Regional Shoreline, located at the north end of Martinez gives residents and visitors a chance to play and relax in a variety of ways. I have always found it relaxing to walk the trails of the western end of the park where the marsh is interlaced with easy walking trails that have benches dotted along the side.

Martinez Shoreline

Martinez Shoreline

 

My favorite parking spot is at the end of Berrelsea on the right where there is a bridge back to the train station and easy access to the trails leading near the water. This is a peaceful space where nature is the focus.

It’s a picturesque location, so finding a photographer out along the trail is not unusual. One day there was a photographer capturing a cheerleader at the water’s edge. Another day there was a woman peering into the creek and shooting something in the water. There are arched bridges and a great view of the Benicia – Martinez Bridge as well as a boat that is capsized and deteriorating in the ebb and flow of the tide.

Further east there is a much larger parking area and a grassy picnic spot where the ducks and geese entertain visitors. Views of the marina are better from this side of the park and there are also bocce ball courts, soccer fields and baseball diamonds, which are named for Martinez native Joe Dimaggio, who played for the New York Yankees during his baseball career.

Ducks

Ducks

Fishing is also allowed here, with a license you can obtain from the bait shop at the marina if you are 16 or older. The bait shop is, not surprisingly located in the marina area. Take Ferry Street across the train tracks to reach the east end of the park and the marina.

A bench in the eastern section of the park

A bench in the eastern section of the park

By the way, there is no fee for dogs but they are not allowed in all areas of the park. Please keep them leashed (6 ft. maximum) and cleanup after them if you decide to bring them along for the day.
Rest and relax this summer with a breezy day at the waterfront. Bring a camera and a picnic and maybe I’ll see you there.

Memorial Day 2014

Written By: Deborah Linnekin - May• 26•14

Today it seemed appropriate to visit a memorial site somewhere near my home. While my neighbors are barbequing and attending the “Kid Fest’ downtown, I’m going to quietly go visit some of the monuments that we’ve left for the next generation tp express my gratitude to the fallen heroes that ensure my freedom.

Concord Vietnam Memorial

Concord Vietnam Memorial

 

First stop is closest to home: the Vietnam War Memorial in Newhall Park. It’s on top of a hill on the west side of the park and there are no signs to direct you to it, just a grove of trees surrounding a raised flag at the top of a hill. It’s beautiful, peaceful place with views of the surrounding valley and Mt.Diablo. The flag flutters with the breeze and the monument itself is tucked away in one corner in the shade of the oak grove. Its simple inscription bears witness to the lives lost defending our rights.

The Flag

The Flag

Next, I traveled down highway 24 to Lafayette. By far the most well-known and controversial of the memorial sites in Contra Costa County, this beautiful and very visible hillside is covered in Crosses, Stars of David and Islamic Crescents; one for each fallen American soldier in the Iraq War. . Louise Clark and Jeffrey Heaton began erecting them with the sign announcing the latest number of casualties beginning in 2006.

Today's Casualty Count

Today’s Casualty Count

Lafayette War Memorial

Lafayette War Memorial

There is an entire family taking photos near one of the crosses, other crosses are decorated and have names inscribed on them. There are people wandering among the white crosses, crescents and stars taking photos as a news van pulls up to record the activity and create a story. More people will get to visit this site virtually tonight! What a blessing.

Monument Blvd., in Pleasant Hill, used to be home to the Soldier’s Monument which seems to have been moved to allow the new downtown to develop unencumbered by its presence. It stands in front of the new Hyatt House on Contra Costa Boulevard. At least it is still visible and listed as a monument. Many other sites are not listed and therefore difficult to locate.

The Port Chicago Memorial is closed without reservations, so I was unable to visit there today, but I will find a time for that soon. It seems as though we erect monuments in order to assuage our conscience, it is inconvenient for us to honor and remember our fallen heroes

May you enjoy your celebrations and remembrances of the fallen and the returned. My father served in Long Beach, my uncle was in the Navy and both survived the war though they are gone now and I cherish their memories. My thanks to all who served our country.

Fresh Air, Fresh Produce and Fresh Flowers

Written By: Deborah Linnekin - Apr• 30•14

The Concord Farmers Market was a beautiful experience today. There were crowds of shoppers meandering along the sidewalks surrounding Todos Santos Park; people scattered across the lawns enjoying picnics and the sunshine that has returned again this week.

Farmer's Market

Farmer’s Market

The sweet scent of strawberries drifted through the air mingling with the aroma of fresh caramel corn that always fills the air on Tuesdays at the park. Orchids and cauliflower lined the stalls alongside the organic almonds, beets and baked goods.

Lasagne Cupcakes anyone?

Lasagne Cupcakes anyone?

Hummus Heaven

Hummus Heaven

Tullie’s Foods offered some new fare: mac and cheese cupcakes or lasagna cupcakes were available from their booth today. Hummus Heaven was drizzling pita chips with free samples. Further along there were fresh brown and white eggs from one vendor and asparagus covered the table of another. Cups of cherries, ready to enjoy, were priced at $6.00 a cup.
There was a booth for face painting and an artist doing caricatures on the corner of Salvio and Grant Streets where a young guitarist was performing original tunes.

Put your Best face forward

 Put your Best face forward 

But for me the highlight is lunch. I love the food that is served at the park, partly because it’s outside, I suppose, but primarily because it’s delicious and there’s such a variety. I return for Tamales frequently: the Tamale plate comes with rice, beans (covered with cheese) a chicken, beef or pork Tamale and a green salad for $5.00, or two Tamales for $7.00. There’s also Wood Fired Pizza, Gyros, Crepes and Zombies. That’s just one end of the food booths!

Lunch is served!

Lunch is served!

For a more personal experience, drop by any Tuesday. They’re open from 10am to 2 pm year round and there’s plenty of free parking. See you there!

A Suburban Retreat: The Ruth Bancroft Garden

Written By: Deborah Linnekin - Apr• 14•14

One of the places that I never visited, but had heard a lot about is the Ruth Bancroft Gardens in Walnut Creek. The garden is known for its succulents but also has many varieties of drought tolerant plants that are perfect for the arid California climate and of special interest this year as we face record drought conditions.

The front Gate to Bancroft Road

The front Gate to Bancroft Road

The garden was once part of a 400 acre walnut and pear orchard until Ruth’s husband, Philip Bancroft, Jr. gave her 3.5 acres for a new garden. The original garden planting was completed in 1972. Some of the original plants are still gracing the property. Towering yew trees are one prime example I noticed. I felt dwarfed beneath them.

As you enter the gates to the gardens there are a few paved parking spaces and a gravel area for some of the overflow. There is also an area with plants for sale and an office you need to visit before touring the gardens. (You can proceed directly to the plant purchase area without paying an entry fee.)

Inside the office you can pay your entrance fee and do a little shopping for hats, gardening books and garden ornaments before you get your tour book and a quick orientation to the garden. Then it’s off on a self-guided tour. We also received a page about the plants that were currently in bloom. This sheet is updated each month and is a great help in identifying the various plants and blossoms in the garden.

A view of the path

A view of the path

As you wind your way through the garden there is the feeling you have left suburbia behind and entered a garden provided by nature. The plants are mounded and layered to provide an interesting vista with shade provided where necessary. The gravel path winds welcomingly through a series of garden areas that offer different vistas and ideas for planting your own spaces.

The Pond at Ruth Bancroft's Garden

The Pond at Ruth Bancroft’s Garden

One of the prettiest spots was the pond with its water lilies and goldfish creating the feel of a desert oasis: it reminded me of ponds in Hawaii that are surrounded by palm trees rather than yuccas and Eucalyptus. The yuccas do look a bit like palm trees, though.

The garden is dotted with benches and tables and chairs arranged to allow you a quiet moment or a chat with a friend. We spent a bit of time catching up on things while enjoying the garden breeze and the nearby blooms.  I was especially intrigued by the weeping tree that looks like a eucalyptus.

The back of the garden is marked by the Folly, a beautiful green structure reminiscent of earlier times, it reminds me of what I picture the Victorians would have built in their gardens, but I always picture it in white for some reason. Although there are other buildings on the property the Folly captured my heart.

The Folly

The Folly

One of the most surprising things I learned: that Ruth, now 105 years old, still lives in the house on the adjoining property! The garden has been open to the public since 1992, but her private garden is still private though viewable through the fence. One day I hope to have a chance to see her beautiful iris’s up close because they are a visual delight from the far side of the fence.

The garden is currently open Tuesday through Sunday 10Am – 4 PM. To reach them about events or special tours call (925) 944-9352. They are located at 1552 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek, CA. I hope you get a chance to see this remarkable garden; it is very beautiful, unusual and restful.

For more information you can visit them online at http://ruthbancroftgarden.org/

Or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ruthbancroftgarden

The Old Borges Ranch and Visitor Center in Walnut Creek

Written By: Deborah Linnekin - Mar• 25•14

Walnut Creek is a bustling suburb with shops and restaurants that rival the best in the surrounding area. If you drive past the town on Ygnacio Valley Road the scenery starts to look almost rural before entering the municipality of Concord. Just before you ascend the hills a turn on Castle Rock Road, toward Mt. Diablo State Park, will bring you to a world that is more rural than suburban and boasts horse ranches and riding stables alongside the narrow road that leads to the Old Borges Ranch.  You’ll have to watch carefully as you maneuver the curving road as the sign for ranch is not bold and pretentious, but an understated state sign that blends in well with the scenery.

Even after making the turn, the road does not become more navigable. Watch for approaching vehicles carefully as it really does become one lane in many places although  2 way traffic is common. There is a picnic area just before entering the ranch grounds on the right of the road, but there is also parking at the ranch.

March 2014 606      March 2014 615

This week there were visitors with toddlers inspecting the hen-house, however, there were very few animals in the other pens. There are hiking trails that start at the ranch and lots of families walking with dogs and older children were taking advantage of our beautiful spring weather to check out the open space surrounding the ranch house and buildings that comprised the centerpiece of the cattle ranch in its early days.

Old Borges Ranch Windmill

Old Borges Ranch Windmill

Old equipment lines the drive and a practice roping calf waits by the barn for young would be cowboys to test their skills. The only thing “new” about the feel of the ranch is the pavement that replaced the packed dirt of early ranching operations.

The house was originally built in 1899 by Frank and Mary Borges with their sons and daughters as the cornerstone of their working cattle ranch. They continued to operate the ranch for 5 generations before it was preserved by the State as the Old Borges Ranch and Visitor Center.  It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 and was lovingly restored and is still maintained by some family members, the City of Walnut Creek and The State of California.

Borges Ranch House

Borges Ranch House

 

Back Porch of the Borges Ranch House

Back Porch of the Borges Ranch House

It is a beautiful tribute to the history of the area and a peaceful sanctuary for family adventures. How often can you drive for 15 minutes from downtown and feel like you’re at the heart of cattle country? This is one place that’s possible. It has the feel of an old western town with its windmill, clapboard buildings, (non-working) outhouse and collection of farm implements. Take a few minutes from your busy schedule and immerse yourself in the past by heading out to the Old Borges Ranch and Visitor Center in Walnut Creek. Happy Trails to all of you!

Discovering Nepenthe at Last

Written By: Deborah Linnekin - Mar• 17•14

Dust off your sunglasses and drop that convertible top! It’s time to take the first road trip of spring. Highway 1 beckons natives and tourists alike on warm days. Its twists and turns winding through mountains and hinting at secluded sunbathing spots at the water’s edge. On this road it truly isn’t just the destination; it’s the journey. However, just so that you know when you’ve arrived, it’s a good idea to have a destination in mind before you start out. Today my destination is Nepenthe.

Just below Carmel, as you enter the Big Sur basin there is a restaurant that has been part of California history since its opening in 1949, yet it’s entrance is tucked into the landscape so discreetly that it is easy to miss. Nepenthe is more than a restaurant though and is a delightful destination for a day trip.

I first heard of Nepenthe from a friend who used to stop there for a meal at the end of his camping trips to Big Sur, before heading back home. It signaled the end of his trip, but was a highlight he described with such enthusiasm I just had to find this place; I invited him to come along share it with me for my first time.

There is a certain excitement in planning any trip that permeates events prior to departure: we had to make sure we had everything we might need: a camera (0r two), some bottles of water, sunscreen and hats were our essentials for the trip. We packed our few things into his Saturn convertible after lunch and headed south. Our plan was to reach Nepenthe for a sunset dinner on the terrace overlooking the Pacific Ocean so we leisurely completed our morning chores before heading off on our trip. Light traffic sped our trek to the ocean and we spotted our first breakers at Half Moon Bay and the air was suddenly cleaner and salty as it brushed past us. If we had left earlier we might have stopped to admire the lighthouse we spied, but rolled on past this time promising ourselves we would return soon as we snapped quick photos out the window as an aid to ailing memory.

Santa Cruz grew up around the highway, so on our way through town we stopped for gas and to clean the windshield: we had encountered quite a few bugs already! (Actually, it was the ones we squished that created the problem.) A little more sunscreen and we were on our way again, ready for more wind rushing through our hair.

The twists of road never fail to disappoint me with new views of the ocean cliffs or beaches that fly past to be replaced by wooded areas and farmland before reappearing as I catch my breath each time marveling at the beauty of the swells and the distant horizon.

Monterey and Carmel both whizzed past: we were close. The traffic slowed a little and suddenly we rounded a corner and we were there! I would have missed the driveway on my own, but Kenne pulled in deftly finding parking in a shady space near the walkway up to main dining room. No ocean view from the lot, but the walkway overshadowed by trees was cool and inviting after our long sunny drive. Quiet, like the depths of a forest, surrounded us so we whispered as we ascended the trail. Each turn on the walk unveiled a new view: here a birdbath, there a fountain, next an old English style phone booth, until you reach the top where a graceful wooden statue of an eagle dominates the entrance to an enormous patio.

The terrace is graced by an enormous fireplace and concrete tiers along the inner side covered with colorful pillows for lounging comfortably while enjoying a glass of wine and the panoramic view of the coastline. This view is worth the drive all by itself, but the terrace hums with history.  This is the site where folk singers and dancers of past decades shared their passion for the arts, where political figures lounged discreetly and Hollywood icons blended in nearly unnoticed by the bohemian locals that frequented the establishment. Somehow their presence is still hanging there for new visitors to drink in and enjoy.

Nepenthe Patio Firepit

Nepenthe Patio Firepit

The restaurant is on the far side of the terrace, the bar is to the right of the entrance convenient to both the dining room and the terrace. Our table, for which there was no wait at all, is on the far terrace overlooking the ocean with a few beautiful trees shading us as the sun descended for the night.

Nepenthe Patio

Nepenthe Patio

Red Wine and Ambrosia Burgers, yum! The wait was short but luxurious for the food, and the wine showed up very quickly: the service is top notch!  Still, there was no pressure to rush through our meal and we lingered over our wine while the sun melted into the horizon.

As we strolled around after dinner the fire was roaring in the terrace fire pit while other patrons found seats on the terrace we roamed toward the gift shop that was just closing as we arrived. It is bright and spacious, offering many locally created items as well as the book Nepenthe by Romney Steele, a granddaughter of the founders. Romney grew up on the iconic grounds in the family home that is still nestled above the restaurant although no longer inhabited by the family.

The beautiful day was fading and the fireplace blazed as we made our way back to our car and headed back home. The destination was divine! Be sure to visit when you’re in the area, or just go for the view and to steep in the Bohemian soul of this beautiful place.

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