Napa Trip this Christmas

I haven’t visited Napa for years despite being in the Bay Area.  Napa not only has experienced serious flooding but also roaring fire in recent years – it has not been easy. But Napa is still Napa; it attracts all sorts of tourists to visit. Just this year, it has been named by USA Today amongst the most expensive tourist destinations in the U.S.

A search for the various vineyards tasting fee showed that many require a tasting fee of at least $30 (without tours, not counted towards purchase) while it is not uncommon to see a $70 tasting fee with a tour.  Certainly, the place is even more commercialized than what I remember.

Therefore I decided to look for ways to enjoy Napa on a 2-day trip that did not set us back too much.

Here are our itineraries:

Day 1:

  • Drive from the Bay Area to Napa for an early lunch at Heritage Eats which offers really fresh locally-sourced ethnic (Asian, Middle Eastern, Mexican) wrap or bowl.  So delicious and convenient.
  • Head to Calistoga’s famous Castello di Amorosa (Tuscany-style castle) for the sceneries and wine tasting, paired with chocolates. Their La Fantasia (Rose style) is their most popular wine and is very pleasant. A private tour is recommended because the history of the place is very interesting and 2/3 of the estate is underground. Tour is around 2 hours.  In fact, Calistoga and its hot springs and mud bath, as well as the Sterling Vineyards, are worthwhile places to visit if one has more time.
  • On the way back to Napa, stop by Yao Family Wines to learn about this celebrity’s wines, which have received critical acclaims ever since their first release in 2011. The lady there was friendly and could allow you to sip their wines (e.g. Cab) for a little bit for free!
  • Then, head to The Hess Collection Winery especially for their modern art museum which is open to the public.  Tips: do go during the daytime as you will be driving through narrow mountainous roads. Their garden, visitor center, and art museum are very nice. Worth a visit.
  • Dine at Kitchen Door at the Oxbow Public Market – a unique experience dining in the middle of a public market – good food and reasonable prices!
  • Buy some groceries at the nearby Safeway for next morning’s breakfast.
  • Stay at the beautiful one bedroom suite at Vino Bello Resort via my timeshare. This resort is part of the Meritage Group and rests at the southern end of Napa in a very peaceful area, about 10 minutes from Napa downtown. The good thing is that The Meritage has built a new resort called Vista Collina opposite to Vino Bello. The new resort contains The Village which has 9 wine tasting rooms, and you can easily get 2 for 1 tasting coupons.

Day 2:

  • After cooking own breakfast, take a morning stroll to the Fivetown Grocery at The Village and zip tea or coffee and pick up any favourite eateries.
  • Then head to the Howell Mountain at the Carneros Region to taste red wines and champagne. The 2 stops can be Cade Winery, which has one of the best Napa wines and great views and right opposite to Cade, the magnificent Domaine Carneros, which has recently opened its restaurant. Brunching at the restaurant is a great way to taste its wines and delicious food and enjoy the fantastic views of the rolling vineyards.

So here are the 1.5 days of itinerary without breaking the bank.  On the way back to San Francisco, we took Highway 101 and stopped by Sausalito for a cup of hot tea and tea cake and take in the beautiful San Francisco skyline.  Then head to San Francisco’s Cafe Bastille at the Belden Place for a lovely French dinner. A pleasant way to complete a short but wonderful get-away.

Castello di Amorosa at Calistoga
The dining hall at Castello di Amorosa
Rolling vineyards at Cade Winery
Beautiful Domaine Carneros
Yao Family Wines tasting room
Modern art at The Hess Collection
Barrels at Hess Collection
Sausalito pier
Golden Gate Bridge

Thankful for this Trip

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for many things in life – my family’s health and smile, my friends, my supportive community, my interesting job, and decent health and good spirit, to highlight a few.

Most recently, I am very thankful for going on a birthplace (my Dad’s) revisit trip with my Dad in southern China.   My Dad was born in a village near Chaozhou City (潮洲市) in the 1930’s and due to the Chinese civil war and his illness, he caught one of the last flights out of China to Hong Kong where he subsequently got treatment  and settled down. After 70 years of being away from his birthplace, and thanks to the opening of the High Speed Railway station in HK, he decided that he wanted to visit his birthplace in Chaozhou.   I happened to visit HK and so I raised my hands to join him.  So off the two of us went on a 2-day exploration trip.

Chaozhou, Shantou, and Jieyang comprise the Chaoshan region, and Chaozhou is in the easternmost of the Guangdong province.  It is a historic and highly cultural city with its distinctive dialect, which is part of Southern Min, cuisine, music/opera, handicraft including wood carving and pottery, and tea culture, the Gongfu tea, or the “skilled” tea, that is bitter and strong.

There is an old saying:

If you haven’t come to Chaozhou, you haven’t really come to Guangdong.

Chaozhou is not a noisy or very commercialized city, and the Chaozhou culture permeates throughout the daily life of the local people.  There are countless tea shops; each shop owner has a tea set at the store for her to zip tea while waiting for customers, and people generally are friendly, relaxed, and serve their customers with care and patience.

People walk, bike, and scoot everywhere, and they are in pretty good shape.

We visited the famous Zhongshan Park and walked along the harbour front in Shantou and stayed at the West Lake in Chaozhou, which is 15 minutes from the city centre by foot.  Chaozhou is mountainous and so we took a hike in the mountain next to the West Lake one morning and discovered hidden paths, lots of interesting stone formation, a children’s fairground, and plenty of pavilions for resting and one that leads to the high point to view the entire city of Chaozhou.

The High Speed Railway system in China is very impressive – not just it connects every major city including HK, but operates on time, is clean, and is pleasant to ride. It feels like riding on a plane except popular routes operate every 10- 15 minutes.  The HK-Chaoshan direct train took 3 hours and was comfortable and not packed.  For visitors, the High Speed Rail is a must-use transport system that takes you to where you want to go relatively hassle-free.

Here are a few memorable scenic spots:


Hiking – learning a few tips

My hiking with a friend last Friday to Mount Tamalpais (locally known as Mt. Tam), the highest point in the Marin County in the Bay Area, was a memorable one.

The hike was from the Pantoll Station to the East Peak (check here) via the Matt Davis Trail, the West Inn, and we came back via the Railroad Grade Fire Road – my Apple Watch registered 13 miles for the entire trip for 5.5 hours of hiking (1 hour was a detour as we went on a wrong track and back and we did not exactly reach the East Peak).

Many have commented on the views of the Bay, the redwood trees, the water bridges, the serpentine rocks, and how shady and gradual most of the trail is. We did not disappoint. The West Inn provides a much-needed resting point for bathroom breaks and water refill, plus we felt wonderful and serene looking at the views.


My friend, being a more experienced hiker, taught me several things about hiking.

1. Bring only what you need. I almost brought my jacket but it was probably over 75 degrees F up there and I also left my wallet at the car.

2. Need for a hiking stick and hat.  Never underestimate how far one has to walk. The stick will definitely help when one is walking up and down a gradient and to prevent slipping. The hat is an absolute must with the summer sun.

3. Hydrate! This is obvious and one needs to check on water refilling points during the route or else one has to bring at least 2 big bottles of water.

4. Food. Carbohydrate/fruit/dried fruit will give you that glucose kick you need. Nuts and peanut butter filled pretzels (traders joe) are very good.  Some people carry bread with them and eat them on the way. Beware of taking protein/chocolate bars as they could melt or become mushy along the way. Also, eat something before the long hike to prevent low sugar especially when one has to walk fast uphill after a detour.

5. Walk at a gradual pace to keep your stamina. Hiking is one of the best exercises for your health. It is considered a form of meditation and so walk at a nice, steady pace.

6. Map.  It is crucial especially the path is new to you. We thought that we would never get lost at Mt. Tam as it is pretty close to the urban area. We thought we were on the right path back but we actually went further east from the East Peak instead of heading back to the West. Glad we checked the map.

7. Cellphone. It is not only important for an emergency but also for lighting when it gets dark.

8. Ask for guidance. There are many experienced hikers along the way and so always ask for suggested routes to make your hike even better.

9.  Decide whether you want to hike alone.  This is not my preference as it is always so much more fun to connect with or catch up with a friend/family member via hiking. However, we did see many lone hikers.

When we left Marin, we received a gift – seeing the big blood (red) moon hanging low at the horizon as July 27th was the century’s longest lunar eclipse. We also brought back some beautiful serpentine rocks as a memoir for the hike!

A day in Sai Kung

For those who are not familiar with Hong Kong, you may think that Sai Kung sounds like some cities in Vietnam. In fact Sai Kung is the country side of Hong Kong and is located in the New Territories, the area that is attached to Mainland China.  Sai Kung is for the whole family – rural, delicious (great seafood and cafes), sporty (lots of water activities and cruising), fun, and relaxing.  

On the day of my Dad’s Big Birthday, we have planned a day in Sai Kung, breathing in the refreshing air and doing something different.  No wonder why HK people, with their daily life stretched to their max, love to hang out in Sai Kung with its beautiful pier, beaches, neighboring islands, and wonderful cuisines.

Let’s take a look at what we did:

Photo courtesy of Venue Hub, HK

Wow, a Polynesian-style bowling alley called Tikitiki Bowling Bar was our first stop. How fun to combine bowling with the entire family with brunch next to the alley! Because of the gates erected along the gutters, even a 6-year old can play bowling and score well!  We had so much laughter.


Then we strolled in the village market near the Sai Kung pier and had a great time discovering all sorts of local street food, fruits (durian), coffee places, and even great fashion!  I highly recommend this if you want to venture beyond the famous Stanley Market.


Along the water, you will take in quite a lot – the beautiful pier, lots of sampans (boats), a local museum, and of course lots of seafood restaurants (the famous Seafood Street.)


Zooming into the Sampans a bit, one can see they don’t just carry people as a great way for transportation or touring (one can check out island hopping in Sai Kung – many people will want your business at the pier), they also carry lots of seafood (dried especially) for sale!

What I enjoy HK the most is that while it is probably the most convenient place in the world for conducting businesses, is a city that almost never sleeps, has the most amazing places to eat and drink, its serenity is also just less than an hour away.  Check out Sai Kung next time!

Some of My Favourite Colours

With the summer months upon us, everything looks so vibrant and colourful under the sun and the beautiful weather.

Some of the colours that have sparked joy in my life are captured here:

Beauties in the San Francisco Farmers Market
Just right along the curb in front of my apartment building
San Francisco CIty Hall at night
Stained glass in the French restaurant Jeanne D’Arc in San Francisco
The magical Bellagio Hotel water fountain in Las Vegas

Great San Francisco Food Streets

As visitors are coming to town to San Francisco, there are a couple of streets here that offer a great variety of eateries without hurting your purses or wallets too much.

Enter the graffiti-filled Polk Street, which has a great variety of ethnic and international food ranging from Mexican cocktails, Moroccan food, Indian buffets, super cheat groceries, to fine diners including Michelin-starred La Folie and the romantic Italian Aquerello.

Next is Kearny Street, which links up the financial district and Chinatown to the Union Square.

Here choices include Greek eateries, Japanese curry and ramen, Thai food, International Food Court, American Classics, Cantonese flagship (R&G), and many popular boba tea places. There is an EscapeSF outfit now, which visitors should try. It is rated the top 2 most fun games in SF by Trip Advisors.