Four years ago we decided we wanted to live near San Francisco. More accurately – we wanted to live in San Francisco but, to avoid the ridiculously high cost of living in the City by the Bay, we drew a circle around San Francisco taking in all cities located within 60 miles, and examined which cities seemed to have a somewhat reasonable cost of living (it’s California, so that is a relative term) with decent amenities.
We chose Santa Rosa, a mid-sized city, with two Whole Foods, quite a few restaurants, and a location in the center of Sonoma’s wine region. We envisioned daily life amongst the vines and frequent day trips into San Francisco for lunch and shopping.
Then, we encountered life with the 101. For those not acquainted with California’s north–south highway route, in northern California the 101 connects San Francisco to the North Bay area and frequently achieves near standstill conditions. We only went into the city a handful of times and, after eight months in the North Bay area, we decided to move to Lake Tahoe to be closer to the mountains. In the end, we still spent about as much time in San Francisco as we did when we were living in Santa Rosa.
Even now with our nomad lifestyle, we still get back to the west coast multiple times per year and one thing that continues to amaze us is how few good/easy options exist for getting between San Francisco and Sonoma County. According to the San Francisco Tourism Board, over 25 million people visit San Francisco each year. I’m betting quite a few of them drink wine and would like to visit the beautiful wine region of Sonoma – so why is it so difficult to get there?
The one-day wine tour
If you are in San Francisco and want to just do a one day Sonoma or Napa day wine tour, there are a variety of private coach tours for about $120-$150 per person available that leave San Francisco in the morning and return in the evening. However, if you are seeking a true wine country experience, spending a day or two (or more) while casually sampling wines and enjoying the slower pace of Sonoma County, a one-day tour just won’t do.
Getting from San Francisco to Sonoma County by car
There are many cities where renting a car is as big a hassle as it is an expense. By the time you rent a car, navigate where you need to go, find parking, pay for parking, pay for in and outs, and pay for gas – that’s quite a bit of irritation and money that could have been used for taking Ubers or Lyfts – and nobody has to drive. For those opting for the rental car experience, once you leave San Francisco, you get to hop on the 101 and head north for a not so leisurely experience getting to Santa Rosa. While having a car in wine country is convenient, it also requires designating a driver, which if there are only two of you, takes a bit of the fun out of wine tasting.
Getting from San Francisco to Santa Rosa by Uber or Lyft – Cost: About $100 for 2
In the U.S., ride sharing, namely Uber and Lyft, is our typical mode of transportation. We’ve only had a few bad experiences (filthy car, bizarre driver, and, one of my favorites, the driver got lost and wouldn’t believe the app knew how to get there and just yelled back at the phone as we drove in the wrong direction). But, those are by far the exception – we take numerous ride shares every week of the year and most are great.
That said, a long distance ride share can be expensive. A comparison of both Uber and Lyft fees revealed the ride to Santa Rosa would be about $100 + tip. Doable, but a bit pricey – so we continued exploring options.
Airporter: San Francisco to Santa Rosa – Cost: $86 for 2
When we lived in Santa Rosa and we’d fly out of SFO or Oakland, we’d use the Airporter to get to and from the airport. The Airporter picks up/drops off at the Park & Ride near the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa or at the Santa Rosa airport. A one-way adult fare to/from either SFO or the Oakland airports and Sonoma County is $34 per person. The buses are comfortable and it’s a good option if going straight to/from Santa Rosa to/from either airport.
But, what if you want to spend a few days in San Francisco then head up to Sonoma for a few more days? The Airporter doesn’t run between downtown San Francisco and Santa Rosa, so you need to get back out to SFO or OAK from San Francisco to catch one. BART fare from downtown San Francisco to SFO is $8.95 per person or a Lyft or Uber runs about $35-$50 to the airport. So for two people, the trip to Santa Rosa from downtown San Francisco using the BART – Airporter route would run about $86.
Getting from San Francisco to Sonoma County by the SMART train – Cost: $75 for 2
The first phase of the SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train, a 43-mile / 69-kilometer rail service between Northern Santa Rosa and Downtown San Rafael, began operating in June 2017. Over the next few years, SMART is scheduled to expand service to Larkspur on the south end of the route in Marin County and to Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale on the northern end in wine country.
But, first, you have to get to San Rafael from San Francisco. Option1 is taking a bus from San Francisco to San Rafael – not expensive, but rather slow with many stops. Option 2 is to catch the Golden Gate ferry from the San Francisco Ferry building to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, then taking the route 31 shuttle to connect to the SMART train station. The ferry cost is $11.50 for each person. Option 3 is to take an Uber or Lyft to the SMART train station in San Rafael.
Considering we needed to get from our hotel on Nob Hill to the ferry terminal or bus station and each had a large roller bag, we would have needed a Uber or Lyft to get that far, so we decided on option 3 for simplicity. The Uber to the San Rafael SMART train station cost $45 + tip. We then caught the SMART train to Santa Rosa for $9.50 per person using the mobile app. The train is about an hour ride from San Rafael to Santa Rosa. The train was clean, with plenty storage areas for luggage and bikes. Some seats on the train have tables, others are airline style.
The train was packed – standing room only. While I tried to get a bit of work done on the ride, we had seatmates at our table and the train was very loud, so it was a bit challenging. I’m not sure if it is some sort of acoustic issue or we just had a car of extremely loud talkers, but we’ve ridden trains in 10 countries this year and I’ve yet to experience so much noise on a train. The kid behind me screamed most of the way and kicked my chair while his father stood in the aisle playing with a yo-yo. In the end, we got to Santa Rosa and it was fairly inexpensive, but not what I’d call a relaxing experience.
Lyft and Uber in wine country
Once we arrived at the Santa Rosa airport train platform, we called a Lyft. Our wait time was only 3 minutes and the fare to our hotel was $10 + tip. We were a bit worried that ride share may not be plentiful in Sonoma Country but we used Uber the entire time during our three-day stay and typically only waited 5-10 minutes for the car to arrive.
That is good – no, great news. If ever there was a place to not drive, it is in wine country. Uber provides the flexibility to craft your own tasting agenda – you pick the wineries, you chose the amount of time spent at each location, and everyone can sample the wines and safely return to their hotels without driving.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
We recently needed to be in Miami for a week and decided to stay in Brickell instead of out at the beach. We’ve never been a fan of the South Beach party scene and on our last visit, we stayed in quieter North Beach. However, we’d heard quite a bit about Brickell lately – it’s currently one of Miami’s hottest areas – so, we gave it a try.
Brickell is located just across the Miami River from downtown and north of Coral Gables and Coconut Grove. Known as the financial district, Brickell has a high number of banking institutions and is sometimes called the “Manhattan of the South.”
Brickell is also one of the densest areas in the United States and is home to a vast amount of high-rise condos, with numerous more under construction. The buildings offer amazing views of either downtown Miami, the Biscayne Bay, or both and typically have rooftop or elevated pools and common areas. We rented a condo in one of the towers with city views and lived like a local. There are also a few hotels in Brickell, including the JW Marriott and East at the newly opened, Brickell City Centre.
It was a particularly rainy week during our stay and each day we’d watch the clouds roll in from our Airbnb in one of the towers. To that note, it rained nearly every day, which is not that surprising in south Florida in the summer. What was surprising was that during our stay Brickell flooded. It had been raining most of the day and while walking home from Mary Brickell Village in the afternoon, the streets were flooding. Over the next few hours it grew worse, cars stalled in the high water, and traffic was at a standstill for hours.
Speaking of Mary Brickell Village, it is the heart of Brickell, with boutiques, restaurants, bars, and a Publix grocery store. While we tried out quite a few of the Brickell Village eateries, a couple of our favorites included Rosa Mexicano and Toscano Divino.
Toscana Divino is a lovely Italian restaurant with good service, delicious food, and creative cocktails. The Scorpione Fuoco is fabulous – a mix of vodka, basil, grapefruit juice, ginger, and jalapeño.
Another good option is Rosa Mexicano. Try the table side guacamole, margaritas, and the massive Chile Poblano Relleno – a roasted poblano chile filled with goat cheese, rice, sautéed mushrooms and grilled chayote. Tasty.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Move over peanuts and Cracker Jacks, food at MLB ballparks has definitely improved in recent years. Sure, peanuts are still readily available (and consumer), but these days going to a ballgame doesn’t have to mean abandoning food preferences or simply not eating at all.
We stopped by Seattle on our way to Miami from Vancouver and ventured to Safeco to watch the Redsox lose to the Mariners last night. Fortunately, the food was better than the outcome :).
We attended the game with our son, Ryan and his friend, Kate, so we split up and sampled several of the many drink and food options at Safeco Field. Here’s how it went…
Edgar’s Cantina and Edgar’s Tacos in The Pen
Safeco Field fans are welcomed to The Pen area of the stadium early during batting practice, so we started the evening a little early with margaritas at Edgar’s Cantina and Edgar’s Tacos in The Pen during batting practice.
Edgar’s is also home to the newest food offering at Safeco Field in 2017, Chapulines or toasted grasshoppers. We did not partake of any insects and, although the person at the next table ordered some, I thought it would be rude to ask her if I could take a photo.
Edgar’s is located next to the bullpen, providing an up close view of any activity during the game – as you can see captured during the 5th inning by Ryan and Kate.
As Greg and I are mostly vegetarians, eating only a bit of fish here and there, we chose to dine on food from The Natural which offers hummus, salads, fresh fruit, veggie trays, sandwiches, cheese trays and veggie dogs.
The dogs are reportedly Field Roast vegan dogs and were quite good. The fruit was fresh and the line was short at the Natural.
Hit it Here Café & Bar
Ryan and Kate made their way out to center field to the Hit it Here Café & Bar, which offers dining in a restaurant-style environment overlooking the field.
Selections include a variety of burgers, sandwiches, soups, salads, and pizza, as well as nachos, fish and chips, and hot dogs. Ryan and Kate enjoyed the prosciutto and arugula flatbread pizza and a bánh mì sandwich.
Thanks go Ryan and Kate for the assist with the article and pictures. See you soon at Fenway!
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
While there are many spots around the world that transform into winter wonderlands during the holidays, the Midwest is home to one of the United State’s most beloved annual holiday traditions – the Plaza lights in Kansas City.
Dating back to 1925 when a single strand of lights was hung at the nation’s first suburban shopping district, the Kansas City Plaza lights have grown into a magical display that is now known worldwide for its beauty and grandeur.
Beginning on Thanksgiving, when the lights are illuminated in a huge lighting ceremony complete with fireworks, the Plaza lights shine brightly through mid-January. Each night beginning around 4:30 the 15-block shopping district is filled with festive, twinkling lights. Stores stay open late during the season and the shops are decked out with dazzling window displays.
Visiting during the Plaza lights season is also one of our favorite times for a stop in Kansas City, having done so numerous times over the past decades. While planning our December calendar this year, we discovered some available time between Cabo and Cuba, and happily scheduled a Kansas City Plaza lights visit.
Having stayed at the Intercontinental since it was the Alameda Plaza in the 70s, it is always our hotel of choice when visiting Kansas City. Conveniently located across from the Plaza, the hotel has a great staff, large stately rooms and stunning views of the Plaza lights.
The clip clop of the horses pulling carriages, the sound of laughter as friends headed for drinks and dinners, the wide eyes of children as they marvel at the magic of it all, and, of course, the shoppers as they bustle from store to store – it’s as if a holiday card has come to life.
The Plaza is a beautiful setting for a beautiful season. Happy holidays!
Disclosure: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used. Some posts on this website may contain links to our partners’ websites and Chasing Light Media may be compensated by those partners.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
While visiting the Mille Lacs Lake area, we stopped by the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post to learn more about the history of the area and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, who are believed to have settled in region in the 1700s.
A combination of beautiful exhibits, interactive displays, learning stations and educational information, the museum provides a view into the history and lives of the Ojibwe people and, next door, the Trading Post sells handcrafted American Indian arts and crafts.
History of the museum
Built in 1996, the museum is one of 26 Minnesota Historical Society sites and museums and is located on the southwest shore of Mille Lacs Lake near Onamia, Minnesota.
The museum resides on the former property of Harry and Jeanette Ayers who began renting cabins on the grounds in the early 1920s. By the late 1930s, the Ayers were running a full resort business with cabins, boats, a trading post, gas station, and even a boat factory and maple syrup refinery.
Avid collectors of American Indian artifacts, art and memorabilia, the Ayers amassed a vast collection over their years of procuring items for the Trading Post. In 1959, they donated their collection, the buildings and the land to the Minnesota Historical Society.
The donated buildings and collections served as the museum until 1996, when the current building was built as result of a partnership between the Minnesota Historical Society and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Visiting the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Visitors to the museum are treated to a wide variety of displays and exhibits, including hands-on activities for children.
Exploring the spacious 22,810-square-foot museum, visitors learn the story of the Ojibwe people, from what their lives were like when they settled in the area to present day culture.
Many exhibits incorporate both the Ojibwe language and English in their descriptions and provide a glimpse into life on the reservation. We were fortunate to tour the museum with Travis Zimmerman, a descendant of the Ojibwe who is Site Manager of the museum.
Popular for school field trips, Travis pointed out that the museum provides a wide view of Indian history, accentuating the similarities, not the differences, in the tribes, customs, foods, music, and games.
The jewel of the museum, the Four Seasons Room contains beautifully designed dioramas with life-size figures that depict the life of Ojibwe people throughout the changing seasonal activities.
From depictions of harvesting wild rice in the autumn to making maple syrup to hunting and berry picking, the exhibits are exceptional.
While the dioramas date back to 1964 in the previous version of the museum, the life-sized mannequins were added in 1972.
Travis explained that casts of actual tribe members were used to create the figures. Imagine how amazing it must be for the children and grandchildren of those members when they visit the museum to see depictions of their parents and grandparents from decades before.
The Trading Post
The Trading Post is located next to the museum and offers a large selection of traditional and contemporary American Indian art and crafts from tribes across North America.
Home to an amazing assortment of artists’ works, the Trading Post’s items include beads, books, blankets, moccasins, birch bark products, paintings, sculptures, pottery, jewelry, dream catchers, and more.
In addition to the items for sale, an exhibit area can be found just inside the entrance with historical items from the Trading Post and those who have visited over nearly a century.
Know before you go
The museum and trading post are located at 43411 Oodena Dr., Onamia, MN 56359
I must confess – when we walked into Eddy’s Resort, it was nothing like what I expected. As we toured the state of Minnesota with Explore Minnesota and arrived at beautiful Lake Mille Lacs, I expected a hotel styled in rustic tones and decorated with fishing memorabilia. Instead, we were greeted by a roaring fire in a red-tiled fireplace, a lobby with boutique-hotel panache, and an eclectic mix of colors and designs.
Fresh off of a huge renovation, Eddy’s Resort has molded its rich history that dates back to 1960 into a fun, warm and inviting resort with a definite cool factor. Huge Jenga games loom on industrial-style tables in the lobby. The walls are covered with reclaimed wood salvaged from the original buildings on the property prior to the remodel. Contemporary metal chairs with bright red fabric are blended with plaid touches and stripes. And, those sitting in those comfortable seating arrangements are treated to amazing lakeside views.
The rooms & suites
The comfortable, stylish design is continued throughout the guest rooms and suites, with splashes of red co-mingling with plaids and industrial accents. Our suite was quite large with a couch, coffee table, flat screen television, desk, coffee pot, mini-fridge, and a microwave. The king-sized bed was outfitted with crisp, white linens, comfy pillows, and good-sized night stands. The bath was spacious, with a free-standing shower, tub, and a long granite vanity.
Rooms on the first floor have walk-out patios, while second and third-floor rooms have walk-out balconies. Our third-floor, lakeside room delivered breathtaking views of the lake.
Dining & beverages at the Launch Bar & Grill
We spent our evening at Eddy’s enjoying dinner and drinks at the Launch Bar & Grill, while watching the lake shimmering lake colors change as the sun as it disappeared for the day.
Starting with cocktails and a tasty Thai Chili Hummus that packed a little punch, we then moved on to awesome walleye sandwiches. The food was great, the service excellent, the atmosphere fun, and the views spectacular.
Things to do at and near the resort
While the hotel has a modern, urban look and feel, one step out the door and you are once again immersed in the natural beauty of the area. A great place for enjoying drinks and conversation, a large patio and fire pit are located just outside the restaurant and bar.
For those wanting to get in a bit of fishing or simply explore the lake by boat, Eddy’s offers launch trips and boat charters. Never fished before? No problem. For first timers, Eddy’s holds a fishing class on Saturdays that is free to hotel guests.
The hotel also has a fitness room on site, a free coffee bar in the lobby, and for some family fun time, a selection of games are available to check out.
For those looking to try their hand at some games of chance, the Grand Casino Mille Lacs is just down the road.
Location: 41334 Shakopee Lake Rd, Onamia, MN 56359
Design: Contemporary eclectic
Rooms: 64 rooms and suites, 1 parlor suite, 4 cabins
Additional services and amenities: restaurant, bar, launch services, fitness center, games
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and Eddy’s Resort for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
As we continued on our journey around Minnesota with Explore Minnesota, we discovered an outdoor paradise in central Minnesota, a beautiful region just a couple of hours north of Minneapolis-St. Paul: Brainerd Lakes! The region has luxury resorts, gorgeous golf courses, fine dining, spas, and an abundance of activities and fun things to do, from zip lining to yacht cruises to amusement parks. And, watching a spectacular Minnesota sunset is a truly amazing way to end the day in Brainerd Lakes.
The Brainerd Lakes area is located in the center of Minnesota and home to multiple cities and several countries. With over 500 lakes and rivers, including beautiful Gull Lake, it’s no wonder that the Brainerd Lakes region is so widely known as a premier vacation destination.
Things to do when exploring Brainerd Lakes
While the list of things to do in Brainerd Lakes is long, there are a few adventures that are “must do” activities and attractions when visiting the area.
Our cruise aboard Destiny Cruises’ luxury yacht was one of the highlights of our time spent exploring Minnesota.
A relaxing afternoon enjoying delicious food and beverages while gazing at the shimmering, blue waters of Gull Lake, it was the perfect way to explore Gull Lake and view the beautiful coastline. The Destiny Cruises crew is fun and provide excellent service, delivering an authentic Minnesota welcome aboard their beautiful boat. While we experienced a lunch cruise, Destiny Cruises also offers happy hour, dinner, brunch and sunset cruises, as well as private charters.
Once you’ve seen Brainerd Lakes from the water, you need to see it from the air.
Ziplining at Brainerd Zip Line Tour is exciting, fun and offers some of the most amazing views you’ll find in the Brainerd Lakes area. With 7 zip lines of varying lengths, a 65-foot suspension bridge, and an optional 50-foot free fall jump, Brainerd Zip Line Tour will have you soaring at top speeds over the trees at Mount Ski Gull, while taking in spectacular, panoramas of Agate Lake and Gull Lake.
Spend a day playing at a lake
Celebrate the natural beauty found in the state of 10,000 lakes with a day of water activities and family fun. Whatever your water sports preference may be – boating, paddleboarding, snorkeling, tubing, water skiing, fishing, canoeing or simply floating on a raft – the crystal clear waters of the Brainerd Lakes region is the place to play on the water.
Hit the links
Nationally recognized by leading golf publications as a top golfing destination, the Brainerd Lakes area is home to courses that are nestled amidst tall trees and set against a backdrop of stunning lakeside landscapes. Emerald greens and fairways, resorts with vast amenities, and a variety of courses playable by all skill levels attract golfers from across the nation to this section of central Minnesota.
Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake is home to four courses, including Minnesota’s oldest 18-hole resort golf course and the top-rated Classics course.
No visit to the Brainerd Lakes area is complete without a visit to see and talk to the legend himself, Paul Bunyan. Greeted by the giant Babe the Blue Ox in the parking lot, a visit to Paul Bunyan Land offers a full day of family fun with 40 amusement rides and attractions, Paul’s petting barn, The Pioneer Village, and of course, the famous 26 foot tall lumberjack with eyes that blink and a head that swivels, that greets you by name as you enter.
Where to stay at Brainerd Lakes
With accommodation options in the Brainerd Lakes area ranging from campgrounds to luxury resorts, there’s a perfect place to stay for every taste and budget. A fabulous choice for the utmost in relaxation and amenities is Madden’s on Gull Lake. From time on the fairway to luxuriating at the spa, to enjoying fine dining, Madden’s is the spot for enjoying all that Minnesota has to offer in peaceful, laid-back luxury.
Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota is approximately 200 miles north of Minneapolis-St Paul in central Minnesota.
Summer temperatures (June-August) in the Brainerd Lakes area range from 76°F to 80°F, with average lows between 52°F to 57°F. January is the coldest month of the year, with average daytime highs of 20°F and average lows of -4°F.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Explore Brainerd Lakes for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Ready for some high-flying fun in the Brainerd Lakes area? Head over to Brainerd Zip Line at Mount Ski Gull for a few hours of soaring over the treetops while enjoying spectacular views of Gull Lake!
We’d wanted to try ziplining for years, so when Explore Minnesota presented the opportunity to try out the newly built zip line course presented itself, we were all in – and it was a blast!
After signing waivers, we headed out to gear up. Gear is provided by Brainerd Zip Line Tour and includes harnesses, gloves, and a helmet.
After getting into our harnesses and helmets, we selected gloves, which are for braking along the line. Ready to go, we boarded a van and headed to the training course.
Each group has two guides – ours were Hollie and Amanda, who were professional and, it was obvious throughout our adventure, they had been well-trained to have our safety in mind.
Hollie and Amanda helped us gear up and taught us ziplining basics at a training course site. Once we were trained, they sent and caught us, as we moved from tower to tower along the zip line course.
They also were a lot of fun and shared facts about the area and the course throughout the experience.
For anyone that would have any anxiety before ziplining, the training course sets those fears to rest. Amanda and Hollie first explained the basics, like how to hold on and how to brake, and answered any of our questions. Amanda then demonstrated how to zip line.
Next up, we each gave it a try. Low to the ground, the training zip line gives everyone a chance to try out their new skills before encountering heights. Amanda and Hollie took time to make sure everyone was comfortable before moving on.
Training completed, we walked a short distance to the zip lines. Arriving at the course, we climbed up a five-story flight of stairs to the first tower. The reward for the climb – aside from getting to begin your zip line adventure – are the views. From the tower, you can see for miles across Agate Lake and Gull Lake.
Let’s go ziplining!
The Brainerd Zip Line Tour course consists of 7 lines of varying lengths, a 65-foot suspension bridge, and an optional 50-foot free fall jump. Everyone is clipped in during the experience – even while waiting on the towers. Getting things started, Hollie went first to be on the receiving end tower at the end of the line. From there, she guided us as we approached on when to begin braking and was there to catch us and assist with our landing.
Now it was our turn. Amanda secured us, communicated with Hollie on the other side via radio, and when we were clear – away we went! As with repelling when rock climbing, the first step off is the most difficult and then, it is just a blast.
So, what’s it like zipping along above the trees? Check it out…
Navigating the suspension bridge
In addition to the seven zip lines, the Brainerd Zip Line Tour includes a trek across a 65-foot long suspension bridge. Even though it sounds easy, the boards get further apart near the uphill finish, making it a bit challenging – although I did manage to pose for a photo opp…
A 50-foot free fall finale
As our zip line adventure drew to a close, there was just one more thing to do – the optional 50 foot free fall jump!
After arriving at the last tower, there are two ways down. Walk down the stairs or opt for a 50-foot free fall finale. Of course, we jumped. Not a bungee jump, it’s a controlled free fall and a great way to end a fabulous zip line adventure!
Know before you go
Dress for the adventure. Unless lightning or high winds are present, zip line tours are conducted regardless of weather conditions, including rain and snow. Given you will be zipping through the air above the tree line, dress appropriately. Additionally, closed toe and heel shoes and shirts are required. Long pants are recommended because the safety harness straps can irritate your skin. Hair should be tied back.
Mosquito repellent. Even though you don’t think about mosquitos when soaring above the trees, in the training area there were mosquitos, so put on some repellant before going to the mountain.
Age and weight restrictions. Brainerd Zip Line Tour participants must be between 70 and 250 pounds and 10 years old or older.
Photography. While we were allowed to bring our cameras during the experience for this article, guests are not allowed to bring cameras with the exception of a GoPro (which we also used) with a helmet mount, which Brainerd Zip Lines provides. If you do not have a GoPro, Brainerd Zip Lines rents units for $20.
Time. Arrive at least 30 minutes before your reserved time and allow 2 to 2/12 hours for your zip line adventure.
Wait until after your adventure for a beer.
Reservations are recommended. Find out more and reserve your spot for a Brainerd Zip Line Tour on their website.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Brainerd Zip Line Tour for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
As the crowd swayed to the soulful sounds of sax-man, Boney James, and sipped award-winning Rodney Strong wines, the 26th season of Rodney Strong Concerts kicked off in Sonoma County on June 18. A wine country summer ritual for many, including us, the concerts are well-known and well-loved for presenting top artists in an intimate setting amidst the vines. If you’ve never attended a Rodney Strong concert, or if it’s been a while since you visited, here’s why they deserve a place on your summer schedule.
Four-time Grammy nominated Boney James has an amazing stage presence and delivered a fabulous show in the early evening Sonoma summer sunshine.
Performing from his latest release, Futuresoul, along with some longtime crowd favorites, Boney continues to bring a fresh sound to his R&B and jazz style.
Backed by a phenomenal band, the clear evening sky was filled with sultry sounds and an energy that had the entire crowd participating in the experience.
Perhaps it’s the venue, perhaps it’s relaxed wine country atmosphere, but artists appear to enjoy the Rodney Strong Concerts experience almost as much as the crowd.
Having seen B.B. King, George Benson, Mindy Abair, Michael McDonald and more at the concerts of the years, each evening has always been an unforgettable experience.
After 26 years of hosting concerts, Rodney Strong has the process down. The events are professionally produced, with great sound quality and concert-goers’ needs considered and wants delivered. Local jazz radio station, KJZY sponsors the event and on-air personalities, such as Scott Mitchell, are on hand to MC the concert, enjoy the music and have been seen capturing a few shots themselves before and during the concerts.
One of our favorite concert venues anywhere, the Rodney Strong Concerts are hosted in a casual, intimate setting surrounded by vineyards. If that sounds ideal – it is and makes for a perfect summer evening!
Concert goers have the option of bringing low chairs or blankets for general admission or purchasing VIP tickets, which provide reserved seating in the front on white folding chairs provided by the winery. Regardless of which option you choose, the location is small and once the music starts, it’s all about the experience. We’ve had VIP seats up front and it was great. We’ve sat on the ground under a big shade tree and it was perfect. We’ve stood at the back for an entire evening, chatting with new friends, sipping wine, watching the crowd and grooving to the sounds – also, a fabulous evening.
Great music is only made better when a glass of amazing wine is in hand.
We usually start a summer evening with a crisp white, so we began the evening with a Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc. We fell in love with the Davis Bynum wines early this year when we were on the Rodney Strong Master Blender experience and, since then, that’s what’s in my glass many an evening.
Moving on to red, the line up was deserving of a sampling of more than one. We started with the Alexander Valley and ended the night with a bit of Symmetry.
While the winery is closed during the concert, the Rodney Strong tasting room is open daily and offers a complimentary tour of the vineyards and winery, subject to availability.
The tours are a perfect way to learn about the winery’s history and catch a behind-the-scenes view of how the wines are made, so be sure to either visit the winery earlier in the day before the concert or the following day after brunch.
The July – September Rodney Strong Concerts 2016 lineup
The legendary Smokey Robinson is next to appear in the 2016 concert series on July 23.
On August 13, Dave Koz and David Sanborn will perform together and on August 21, Huey Lewis and The News take the stage.
The B-52s close out the season on September 17.
Making the most of your Rodney Concert
Doors open an hour before showtime, however, the gates may open earlier. General admission attendees may start lining up hours before the doors open.
What not to bring
We’ll start with things not to bring to the concert since the list is shorter. No glass, video camera or alcohol can be brought into the venue. High back chairs and umbrellas are also not allowed.
What to bring
Concerts are held regardless of the weather, hot, cold, rain or shine. It can be warm, okay hot, in the late afternoon sun, so wear/bring sunscreen, comfortable clothing, and a hat. Toward the end of the show, it can cool off, so bringing a light jacket or sweater is always s a good plan. Bring a rain jacket if rain is in the forecast.
For those in the general admission area, chair legs cannot be taller than 12 inches and the overall chair should not exceed a maximum height of 32 inches. Otherwise, bring a blanket to sit on.
Water is provided free during the concert, so bring a plastic cup or water bottle (no glass) to fill. Coolers, ice, food and non-alcoholic beverages can be brought into the concert area. Beverages, including wine, can be purchased on site and local food vendors are on hand. Rodney Strong’s beverage sales locations accept cash or credit cards. The food vendors typically only accept cash.
Rodney Strong Vineyards is located at 11455 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Rodney Strong Vineyards for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Do you remember the I ♥ New York marketing campaign? It was all the rage with the t-shirts and billboards back in the late 70s and early 80s. I’ll confess, I’ve never loved New York and all told, neither of us has ever really even liked it much. There’s just something about New York that never clicked for us. It’s not the size – we love Chicago, Paris, Rome, and other large cities. It’s not the tourists and crowds. We’ve done Venice in the summer and still managed to love it. And, it’s not for a lack of visits – we’ve been to the Big Apple many times over the years.
So, what were we missing? I’ll admit, the issue bothered me a bit. So, we decided we needed to give the Big Apple another chance and booked three nights for a long weekend to explore the city with new eyes and, who knows, maybe we’d learn to love New York…
In search of something to make us love New York
We landed at La Guardia on a Friday afternoon about 4:00pm. Admittedly, an hour-long cab ride to Lower Manhattan was probably not the best way to begin our weekend, but schedules are what they are, and traffic is what it is.
Where we stayed
I found a great deal at The Andaz Wall Street – and we really liked the hotel and location. The hotel is modern, low-key and located a couple of blocks from the New York Stock Exchange. The Financial District is quiet on the weekend, with none of the chaos of Midtown – which we strongly preferred. The rooms have a loft feel, with high ceilings, wood floors, and a window seat overlooking the street below.
Travel tip: If visiting New York City on the weekend, check rates on hotels in Lower Manhattan. While hotels may be filled during the week with Financial District business travelers, weekend rates can be over $100 per night less than Midtown hotels of comparable quality.
Once in the city and checked in, it was time to set out and fall in love with (well, at least in like with) New York. I’d made a long list of places to visit, attractions to check out and things to do – thirty in all. What better way to open one’s mind than with a martini and a great meal? That’s where we started…
A “Things to do list” that will make you fall in love with New York
1. Dinner and drinks at Harry’s Café and Steak
About a block away from the Andaz, we stopped in at Harry’s Café and Steak, formerly Harry’s at Hanover Square, which you may remember being mentioned in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities or Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. A long time favorite watering hole of traders, the bar is lively, the dining room is a classic steakhouse, and the food is divine. We started the evening with a couple of lemon drop martinis, followed by an amazing Tuna Au Poivre. Loved Harry’s and the upscale, yet casual feel of the restaurant.
2. An evening visit to the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street
After dinner, we casually wandered over to the New York Stock Exchange. Located at 11 Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange is the world’s largest stock exchange with a market capitalization of listed companies exceeding 19 trillion dollars. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978, the New York Stock Exchange is no longer open to the public, but is a popular spot for financially focused visitors to stop by and is kind of pretty lit up at night.
After our visit, we found our way to the bar at the hotel and chatted with the bartenders over a glass of wine before turning in for the day. We were starting to warm up to this new version of New York. Was it love yet? No.. but we were off to a good start.
A rainy day museum hopping
The forecast called for rain on Saturday and sun on Sunday, so we decided to start our first full day in New York at the museums. Grabbing a Starbucks and a cab, we headed up to the Central Park area to begin our day’s adventures.
3. A stop by Central Park, even in the rain
Designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted in the middle of the 19th century, Central Park is an 843-acre oasis in the middle of the city filled with trails, green space, lakes, and attractions and was the first man-made park in the United States. Even on a dreary Saturday morning, the iconic park was bustling and full of life as people of all ages and walks of life gathered to enjoy some time outdoors.
On the west side of the park sits one of our favorite museums, the American Museum of Natural History, and where we would start on our museum jaunt.
Travel tip: New York CityPASS can save you money and time on the top attractions in the city.
New York CityPASS attractions include the Empire State Building Experience, American Museum of Natural History, choice of either Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim Museum, choice of Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, and choice of Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum or 9/11 Memorial Museum.
4. A morning at the American Museum of Natural History
With 45 exhibition halls and over 32 million specimens housed in over 2 million square feet, the American Museum of Natural History is the largest natural history museum in the world. Founded in 1869, the world-renowned museum has only increased in popularity in recent times with the release of the movie, A Night at the Museum. Star attractions at the museum include a 94-foot long blue whale replica, the Hall of African mammals, Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, the Hall of African Peoples, the Hall of Mexico and Central America, and the Giant Anopheles Mosquito.
After a couple of hours of exploring the museum, we headed next door to the New-York Historical Society Museum.
5. Zap! Bam! Pow! at the New-York Historical Society Museum
In all honesty, this was an unplanned visit, but when walking by, we spotted the Batmobile in the lobby. Yes, the real Batmobile from the 1960s TV show – well, apparently there were several, but yes, the REAL Batmobile.
Part of an exhibit at the New-York Historical Society Museum, Superheroes in Gotham, the car drew passersby ranging from toddlers to elders into the museum from the street, eagerly shelling out the $20 admission fee to be in the presence of the venerable Batmobile. Very cool – one more point in the “reasons to love New York” column.
Once past the lobby, visitors also have the opportunity to discover New York’s oldest museum, with more than 1.6 million works of art. Highlights include a large Hudson River School collection, all 435 of John James Audubon’s extant preparatory watercolors for Birds of America, and the museum hosts a variety of exhibits throughout the year.
6. So much to love at The Met
Crossing to the east side of Central Park, we next made our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, commonly referred to as The Met.
The largest art museum in the United States, the Met has amassed a permanent collection of over two million pieces of art since it opened in 1872. One could roam The Met for days and not view the entire museum with works of art spanning a 5,000-year period.
From the Temple of Dendur, to the Sphinx of Hatshepsut, to Arms and Armor, the Met has something for every interest. While visiting, take break with Diana, a bronze by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, in The Charles Engelhard Court in the American Wing or stop by the Great Hall Balcony Bar for a glass of wine and do some people watching.
7. A stop by the Guggenheim
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, generally referred to as The Guggenheim, features an impressive collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern and contemporary art. Located on the Upper East Side, The Guggenheim collection is housed in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, with a ramp gallery that winds its way from ground level to the top of the museum.
We hadn’t been to the Guggenheim in… well just say a long time. Huge fans of Frank Lloyd Wright, the building alone is worth the ticket price.
8. Going local with a visit to the Museum of the City of New York
Founded in 1923 by Henry Collins Brown, the Museum of the City of New York’s primary focus is on telling the history of New York and its residents. Over 1.5 million objects comprise the museum’s collection and include a wide variety of items such as costumes, home furnishings, toys, paintings, drawings, prints and photographs, each representing a small piece of the story of New York. The activist exhibit was very cool and the museum has great authenticity.
After a full day of uptown museums, we grabbed a light dinner then headed downtown for one last stop for the day, 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
9. Reflecting on the 9/11 terrorist attacks
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is located at site of the World Trade Center, where 2,983 people were killed in terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011. The 110,00 square foot 9/11 Memorial Museum contains more than 10,000 personal and historic objects related to the 9/11 events, including two steel tridents, which were part of the Twin Towers, in the Museums glass atrium.
Adjacent to the Museum, the Memorial consists of two enormous reflecting pools with waterfall cascades built in the footprint of the Twin Towers. Exceptionally beautiful, the Memorial is entitled Reflecting Absence and was designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker. More than 24 million people have visited the Memorial since it opened in September 2011, including visitors from all 50 U.S. states and 175 countries.
A humbling piece of New York history, the Memorial is not to be missed.
10. Exploring Lower Manhattan
The next morning, we decided to begin our day closer to our hotel and explore Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The center of business and home to the City of New York government, Lower Manhattan is where New Amsterdam, which is now known as New York, originated in 1624. We once again grabbed a chai latte and simply headed out strolling the blissfully nearly empty streets on a Sunday morning downtown.
Defined on three sides by bodies of water – the Hudson River on the west, the East River on the east, and New York Harbor on the South – Lower Manhattan includes the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Chinatown, the Freedom Tower, the Staten Island Ferry terminal, and Battery Park, where the Statue of Liberty Cruises depart.
11. Heading over to Battery Park
Situated on the southern tip of Manhattan, Battery Park is a 25-acre park that dates back to the 17th century. Home to Hope Garden, the East Coast Memorial and Castle Clinton, Battery Park is also the Manhattan boarding location for taking Statue Cruises to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
12. Paying a visit to Lady a Liberty
An iconic symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. A gift from France to the United States, the copper statue was designed by French sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and was dedicated on October 28, 1886. After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Statue of Liberty was closed for security reasons. In 2004, visits to Liberty Island resumed at the pedestal level and, in 2009 visits to the crown were once again allowed. The Statue of Liberty is a part of the National Parks Service.
13. Next stop, Ellis Island
The next stop on the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island cruise is Ellis Island. The building that originally served as the port of entry to the United States now is home to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Around 12 million immigrants passed through the Ellis Island processing center from the time it opened in 1892 until it closed in 1954. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared Ellis Island part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. The main building was reopened in 1990 as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and the Peopling of America Center® was added in 2015.
14. Take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry – it’s free, you have to love that
For a view of the Statue of Liberty from the harbor versus a visit on Liberty Island, the Staten Island Ferry is a good (and free) option. The Ferry departs from Whitehall Ferry Terminal next to Battery Park, takes about 25 minutes to reach Staten Island, and provides stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Brooklyn Bridge.
15. Visiting One World Trade Center
Even though we’d visited the National September 11 Memorial & Museum the night before, we wanted to go by One World Trade Center during the day. The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, One World Trade Center, also called the Freedom Tower, stands on the northwest corner of the World Trade Center grounds. Including its spire, the structure reaches a height of 1,776 feet (541 meters), referencing the year the United States Declaration of Independence was signed. One World Trade Center has an observation deck, but the line was loooooong and we knew we still had other two observation decks on the agenda. Next time.
16. A boat ride under the Brooklyn Bridge
Since 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge has spanned the East River connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn. One of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 but is still heavily used to this day. According to the New York Department of Transportation, more than 120,000 vehicles drive across the bridge daily and 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists cross via the pedestrian and bicycling promenade each day.
Torn between walking the bridge and riding under it on a harbor cruise, we opted for the latter. The views were simply amazing.
17. Going hipster and paying Brooklyn a call
The most populous of the five New York City boroughs, if Brooklyn were not a part of New York City, it would be the fourth largest city on the United States. With its tree-lined streets of row houses, unique shopping and charming eateries, Brooklyn has a European feel and diverse neighborhoods, ranging from quiet to hipster.
Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s version of Central Park, also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after their completion of Manhattan’s famous green space. With a zoo, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Audubon Center, the LeFrak Center, miles of hiking and biking trails and 585 acres of space, Prospect Park is a popular spot to get some fresh air and exercise in Brooklyn.
Heading back to Midtown
A cab ride back across the Manhattan bridge and we headed back up to Midtown – yes, on a Sunday afternoon. We knew it would be crowded with tourists, but it had to be on the list…
18. Midday in Midtown at Times Square
In the heart of Midtown, Times Square is where Broadway theaters, television studios, restaurants, hotels and tour companies converge in a sea of neon lights, giant billboards, traffic and tourists. The site of to the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop, Times Square is also home to Duffy Square and a giant red staircase, which provides panoramic views of the area. Below the staircase, TKTS Discount Booths can be found, where tickets to Broadway and Off Broadway musicals, plays, and dance productions can be purchased for 20% to 50% off regular prices.
It was crowded, but a quick stop passing through didn’t seem quite as insufferable as when staying there. I think of Times Square in similar terms of the Las Vegas Strip. It’s flashy, noisy and touristy and bears little likeness to the real United States, even most of the rest of NYC.
19. A late lunch at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar
Arriving in midtown mid-afternoon, we were starved. We’d just had the Guy Fieri’s in Vegas at the Rio (killer tacos) and decided to give it a try. We split the Sashimi tacos and a shrimp po-boy and it was really tasty. Cool place.
20. Taking a break at Bryant Park
Located next to the New York Public Library, Bryant Park is the home of numerous events and a great place to stop for a few minutes, find a bench and watch the city go by.
21. Checking out Rockefeller Center
If you want to pick up a Jimmy Fallon coffee mug, attempt to get on the Today Show with your sign, go shopping, grab a coffee, take a spin around the ice or take in sweeping views of New York City, Rockefeller Center is the place to be.
Completed in 1933, the art deco-styled skyscraper at 30 Rockefeller Plaza has been known throughout the years as the RCA Building, the GE Building, Rockefeller Plaza, 30 Rock and, as of July 2015, the Comcast Building. Home to the NBC television network, the building rises 70 stories and is 14th tallest in New York.
While you’re at Rockefeller Center, stop by and book your appointment for the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, which uses a timed entrance system. A visit to the Top of the Rock ticket counter enables purchasing of tickets or exchanging CityPASS vouchers for a timed-entry ticket based on the next availability. In other words, access to the top is scheduled at the time of ticket purchase for a time in the future and access is limited (although once at the top, you can stay as long as you wish).
22. Go big at Radio City Music Hall
Directly across from Rockefeller Center sits the largest indoor theatre in the world, Radio City Music Hall, which has hosted more than 300 million people to film premieres, stage shows, attractions and media events. With a city-block long marquee, the largest stage curtain in the world, a stage considered to the be the best equipped in the world, more than 25,000 lights, a massive custom-built organ, and special effects capabilities that include the ability to make fog and rain, Radio City Music Hall is truly a spectacular venue.
23. Take a spin around the ice (or at least watch the skaters)
It’s one of New York’s most famous attractions – The Rink at Rockefeller Center. With room for only 150 skaters per session, it’s best to reserve a spot ahead online to make sure you get that chance to lace up your skates and take a spin in one of the sessions throughout the day.
24. Observing the city at the Empire State Building
Since 1931, the Empire State Building has served as a landmark in Midtown Manhattan and one of the most famous skyscrapers in the world. Built in the art deco style, it stands 1,454 feet, and offers visitors spectacular views of the city. The Empire State Building has two observatories, one of the 86th floor and another on 102nd floor, and is one of the most popular attractions in New York City.
The CityPASS New York tickets actually provide entry two times during the same day – one during the daytime and a return visit later, which we took advantage of, visiting in the afternoon and again at twilight.
25. A stop by St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The seat of the archbishop of New York, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a majestic structure of neo-Gothic design with spires that reach to 330 feet. A site where many, both famous and not, have christened, married, worshipped and mourned, the beautiful cathedral can hold 3,000 people and occupies an entire city block between 50th and 51st, Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue.
26. Watch New York at night from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck
Visitors can take in views of New York from the top three floors of Rockefeller Plaza at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.
Offering a panoramic city view that includes the Empire State Building, the 67th and 69th floor of the Top of the Rock observation deck is enclosed with glass, which has small gaps between the glass panels where cameras can catch shots unobstructed. For the best views, head straight to the 70th floor, for wide-open viewing.
27. A late night dinner at ReSette
When we left the Top of the Rock about 10 pm, we were famished. I’d noticed an Italian eatery on 45th as we made our way earlier from the Empire State Building to the Top of the Rock, and suggested we check it out. As we walked along, we noticed everything was shuttered in the city that never sleeps, and dinner plans were looking bleak. Arriving at the restaurant, we discovered it indeed was still open and were welcomed warmly, even though there were only a couple of other diners (they close at 11pm on Sundays). A beautiful restaurant, the pasta was delicious and the service welcoming and attentive.
After dinner, we headed back downtown to rest up for our final day in the city.
28. Walk around downtown as Wall Street gets back to work
By the time we awoke on Monday morning, Lower Manhattan was already in full swing. We stopped in grab our morning chai teas, then wandered around the Financial District, as suit-clad, cell phone talking movers and shakers hustled along, on their way in pursuit of the American dream.
Following our morning stroll, we packed up and left our bags with the hotel. There was only one more destination on the list, the Intrepid, and our plan was to visit to the museum then have a casual lunch before heading to the airport.
29. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Featuring the former U.S. aircraft carrier Intrepid, the space shuttle Enterprise, the submarine Growler, and the east coast’s most varied collection of aircraft, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a popular attraction visited by over one million people each year. After serving in World War II and the Vietnam War, the Intrepid was retired and moved to New York’s Pier 86 at 46th Street, with the museum opening in 1982.
30. Some New York casual time
Leaving the museum, we wandered over to Hell’s Kitchen, and found a little spot for some Thai. After lunch, we continued on a leisurely walk towards midtown.
As our time in New York drew to a close, we hailed a cab to pick up our bags and head to the airport. As we drove along, I rolled down the window to let in the spring breeze and watched the city pass by. The buildings glistened in the afternoon light against a bright blue sky; a dog walker attempted to control five playful pups; joggers ran along the sidewalks at a leisurely pace as New Yorkers went about their Monday on this spring day.
After a whirlwind visit sampling the best of the city, did we fall in love with New York? Without a doubt, New York has so much to offer – attractions, museums, theater, restaurants, shopping, and the list goes on and on. We like the diverse culture, the skyline, and the fast pace. So, in love? We’re probably not there yet, but we did gain a new appreciation for the city.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to CityPASS New York for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Driving up Laguna Road toward Martin Ray Winery, the first thing you’ll notice is a water tower soaring high above the vines against a perfect Sonoma sky. As you turn down the long drive, vibrant flowers and olive trees welcome you to the beautiful, historic winery just west of Santa Rosa.
While we’d tasted Martin Ray’s wines over the years, this was our first visit to the winery and we quickly realized we’d uncovered a gem. Serene and lavishly landscaped, the winery is one of those where you grab a glass, find a chair near the vines or a table next to the gardens, and casually enjoy the wine country experience.
We visited on a Saturday afternoon during Grill 116, a tasting event hosted by 12 wineries along Route 116 in West Sonoma County where attendees sampled their way through wines and grilled specialties along the route.
As visitors meandered about, enjoying the food, wines and a glorious Sonoma afternoon, we caught up with Andy Barker, Director of Consumer Sales & Hospitality, who gave us a tour and shared a bit of the winery’s history along the way – and quite a history it does have.
The oldest continually operating winery in Sonoma County
Oh, the stories the vineyards surrounding the winery could tell. Martin Ray is the oldest continuously operating winery in Sonoma County and one of the oldest in all of California.
Back in 1881, Twin Fir Winery set up a vineyard and winery on this spot in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. In 1902, an Italian immigrant, Rafael Martini, purchased the winery and, in the years following, Martini further developed the estate, building a stable and bunk house where Italian immigrants stayed during harvest. Today, the Martin Ray Tasting Room is housed in this very structure.
Tanks were crafted from old-growth redwood in 1904 and, soon thereafter, Martini turned the operations over to his sons. The Martinis produced wines that put the winery on the map. Enduring prohibition by producing sacramental wines, the winery survived and the Martinis resumed making wines for the public after it was repealed in 1933.
In 1950, Enrico Prati joined the Martini family, and the new Martini & Prati label produced wines at the location until the winery was sold to Courtney Benham in 2003.
Courtney Benham brings Martin Ray Wines to Sonoma County
One of the reasons I love visiting a winery is hearing the history of the vineyard, the winemakers and the winery while walking the grounds and tasting the wine. Somehow, from then on, when the wine fills your glass, the provenance, the terroir, and the winery visit converge in your glass along with the juice, bringing the wine country experience to you as you taste the wine, wherever you may be in the world.
By the time Courtney Benham acquired the Martini & Prati location in 2003, the winery had seen better days and was on the decline. Benham, who had acquired the rights to the Martin Ray brand in 1990, purchased the Martini & Prati vineyards and winery in 2003 and set about renovating the property, bringing it to modern standards, while still embracing its history and tradition.
Today, the winery is a great example of form and function coexisting. The beautiful barrel room serves as a stunning backdrop to parties and events but, when harvest rolls around, the tables are cleared out and the room is used as a production facility.
State of the art storage facilities are housed in buildings that once were home to over 1.5 million gallons of the old redwood storage tanks. Utilizing a variety of production equipment and fermentation methods, the Martin Ray winemakers have at their disposal the tools required to produce the award-winning, artisanal wines for which they are known and respected.
Leaving the barrel rooms and production facilities, we wandered over to the serene setting of the pavilion located under the water tower, which is available for corporate retreats and also used for winery events, such as wine under the stars evenings.
Speaking of wine, it was time to do some more tasting – next stop, the tasting room.
The Martin Ray tasting room
Welcomed by a knowledgeable and friendly staff, the low-key tasting room is just what you’d expect in such an inviting atmosphere.
Martin Ray Wines
We’d tasted the Russian River Valley Chardonnay & Rosé during our tour and we really liked both wines and decided to also try/take home a few of the limited release wines. For our chardonnay choice, we selected the 2014 Mill Station Vineyard-Dutton Ranch Chardonnay from Green Valley.
While I’m generally not a chardonnay fan, Greg is, so we try to find chardonnays that appeal to both our tastes. This one fit the bill, refreshing and not too oaky, with a richness and clean finish. As far as the rosé – we’d loved the 2015 Estate Grown Rosé. Bone dry, complex, crisp – just a perfect summer wine.
Next up, the 2013 Puccioni Vineyard Dry Creek Zinfandel. Robust with an earthy tone and nicely balanced. Liked it, and in the box it went.
Time to get serious, we moved on to the 2013 Martin Ray Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. A truly special wine, the Cab was full bodied, rich and simply divine. This one was a definite purchase and probably will make an appearance around the holidays.
Martin Ray has a small quantity of older vintages available in their library collection. Highly-praised by fans and pros alike, you can also find Martin Ray wines on many quality restaurant wine lists.
Certified Sommelier and general manager of Boulder, Colorado’s L’Atelier, Ryan Hull explains why he regularly features Martin Ray wines in the restaurant:
Martin Ray was legendary…one of the first to bring the French philosophies of wine making and vineyard management to California. The proof is in the pudding. This is apparent from the juice in the glass.
I was recently pouring the 2007 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon by the glass and nearly every customer opted for a second. Amazing vintage, incredible complexity and luscious fruit.”
– Ryan Hull, CS & GM, L’Atelier
Visiting Martin Ray
Getting there: Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery is located on the quieter side of the 101, about 10 miles west of downtown Santa Rosa. The address is 2191 Laguna Road, Santa Rosa, California 95401.
Hours: The tasting room is open daily from 10am to 5pm.
Book a tour or reserve a box lunch in advance. The winery welcomes visitors to pack a picnic and enjoy the beautiful gardens while having lunch or, call two days in advance to order a box lunch for your visit. A variety of tours and tastings are available and can be reserved on the Martin Ray website.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Martin Ray Vineyards and Winery for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Nestled amidst a lush forest and bordered by the sparkling waters of Gull Lake, Madden’s Resort is home to world-class golf, stunning sunsets, an excellent staff and a laid-back lifestyle with something for everyone. A true retreat in every sense of the word, Madden’s has an activity to fill every minute of the day or, for those seeking a more tranquil experience, serenity for a quiet, scenic escape.
With four golf courses, delicious dining options, more water activities than you could fit into a week, beautiful accommodations, and a fabulous spa, it is understandable why so many have visited and returned to this wonderful resort over the last 87 years.
On our first visit to the highly acclaimed Midwest resort, we spent our time exploring all Madden’s has to offer, while also taking a bit of time to marvel in the peaceful beauty of central Minnesota.
Madden’s Resort has a wide variety of rooms and locations across the sprawling resort. Our room was in the recently remodeled Voyageur complex on the west side of the resort near the spa. If you love magnificent sunsets – there’s no place quite like it.
In 2015, the Brainerd Lakes area was hit by a massive storm that toppled thousands of trees in the region, with Madden’s taking the brunt of the storm, which destroyed much of the Voyageur building and several others on the property. Fresh off of the renovation, we were among the first to stay in the newly re-opened rooms.
Upon entering the room we were greeted with a welcome note and an assortment of locally made caramels that were spectacular!
The oversized room was immaculate and decorated in neutrals with slate blue accents. With a comfy chair, desk, flat-screen TV, a luxurious bath and a kitchenette, the room was both relaxing and well-equipped. The cozy bed covered with white, plush linens and pillows was incredibly comfortable. Glass doors led to the large private patio with a couple of chairs and fabulous Wilson Bay views.
The resort has 285 guest rooms with varying accommodation types and location options. In addition to Wilson Bay, where we stayed, there are golf villas near Madden Inn & Golf Club, Mission Bay accommodations that are close to the beach and water, and Madden’s offers all-inclusive stays at Madden’s Lodge on the Steamboat Bay side of the resort.
One of the first thoughts I had when we drove into Madden’s was what a spectacular job they’ve done in blending their landscaping and development with the natural environment. Built across 1000 acres, of which, over 600 acres remain undeveloped, the natural habitat is accentuated by colorful plants, fountains, and art. The natural and developed elements blend harmoniously to create an enhanced landscape that celebrates the natural beauty of Minnesota.
Part of embracing natural beauty is protecting it and Madden’s green initiatives for the resort are apparent throughout. Outdoor bars use reusable drinkware, the wine list features & identifies several organic or sustainable wines, guests are encouraged to reuse towels and recycle, the resort has water and energy efficiency practices in place throughout and there’s an on-property chef’s garden that supplies fresh vegetables and herbs for the restaurants.
Madden’s four golf courses
Shortly after checking in, we made our way to the Classic Golf Course, which is consistently recognized by golf publications as one of the best courses in the Midwest, as well as the world. Built in 1997, The Classic at Madden’s meanders over gentle hills and through towering trees, with pristine bent-grass tees, fairways and greens, and stunning views.
Early evening on a course is such a pleasant time of day. As the heat of the day fades and shadows dance across the fairways, a quieter pace permeates. As we made our way around Madden’s Classic course, my thoughts turned back to childhood evenings getting a few holes in with my Dad after he arrived home from work. The unhurried outings where he’d casually correct my stance and we’d take time to practice an approach to a challenging green came flooding back with a smile as we drove along on the cart.
In the distance, just across one of the Classic’s picturesque bridges spanning a pond with lily pads, a foursome shared a laugh as they headed toward their cart en route to the 17th hole.
While the park-like setting of the 6,101-yard Classic course is astonishingly beautiful, challenges await around every turn with water on 15 holes and over 50 bunkers on the par 72 course. And – the Classic Course is actually only one of four courses at Madden’s Resort.
The Pine Beach East course, Minnesota’s oldest 18-hole resort golf course, dates back to 1926 when it was built by James Dalgleish, attracting golfers from the area to the links on the shores of Gull Lake.
Located directly behind the Madden Lodge, Pine Beach East offers 5,944 yards of golf on well-manicured, generous fairways and gorgeous greens. A mix of a traditional layout and modern golfing challenges, Pine Beach East is also home to a rare par 6 hole – the 618-yard sixth hole.
On the southwest section of the resort, yet another first class golf experience is for the taking at the 18 hole Pine Beach West. Narrow fairways and fast greens put the challenge into this wooded 5,070 yard par 67 course.
For the family outing or a quick warm up, the Social 9 course offers eight par threes and one par four in a relaxing atmosphere.
The Spa at Madden’s
A world away from the hustle and bustle of the daily life, the Spa at Madden’s is the perfect place for rejuvenation and pampering. Overlooking peaceful Wilson Bay, the Spa offers a full menu of services including massages, pedicures, manicures, facials, waxing and wraps.
Grab a cup of tea, take a stroll by the lake behind the Spa and admire the J. Kreitz artwork, then indulge in a day of relaxation and watch the stress melt away.
Dining at Madden’s
While at Madden’s we had the opportunity to visit several of the restaurants. Casual & inviting, each restaurant offered fresh, modern dishes, and exceptional service.
The first evening we dined at the Classic Grill, which delivered all the way around – great food, excellent service and marvelous views. We started off the evening with a couple of martinis and then progressed to salads. The Madden’s house salad is amazing with mixed greens, craisins, walnuts, feta cheese, and honey mustard. Next up, I had the Walleye and Greg had the scallops and shrimp. As we often do, we each ate half, then swapped plates. Both entrées were delicious and the sear on the scallops was perfect, with a gorgeous caramelized crust on the outside and tender and sweet on the inside. The service was outstanding and the view was spectacular.
After sunset, we took a walk around the resort, stopping for a glass of wine at Parfecto Pizza, a fun, casual restaurant featuring pizzas, flatbreads, calzones, and salads with items available for takeout or room delivery.
Finishing our wine, we strolled back to our room to the sounds of frogs, surrounded by the beauty of the Minnesota night.
The next morning, we took an early walk around the resort with a stop by Madden Bros. Market for a chai latte and a heavenly donut.
Located in a village of shops across from Madden Inn, Madden Bros. Market is the resort’s version of a general store, with a coffee bar, gift shop, wine shop and practically anything else one may need or want on their vacation from s’more supplies to souvenirs.
Madden’s also has a variety of other restaurants, including The Restaurant at Madden Inn & Golf Club, the Dining Room at Madden Lodge, the 19th Hole & Pool Deck, The O’Madden Pub, and the Lobby Café.
There is no better way to experience the beauty of Gull Lake than from the water. Simply name your sport and Madden’s is there to make it happen. From kayaks, canoes, rowing skulls and paddle boats to water bikes, a banana boat, or stand up paddle boards, it’s on the agenda. If fun on the water includes fishing or a boat ride, fishing boats, a tritoon, pontoons and speedboats are also available at the resort.
Prefer a bit of poolside leisure or perhaps some sand between your toes? Madden’s Resort has three indoor pools, one outdoor pool, an outdoor hot, and three beaches.
Meetings, conferences, and weddings
While exploring, we happened upon several beautiful buildings for hosting events and meetings. With its copper covered tower, Madden’s Town Hall Conference Center is large enough to host 700 for meetings, conferences, and trade shows.
Next to the spa, the newly rebuilt Wilson Bay private venue space is a spectacular location for a wedding set against a backdrop of Gull Lake and room to host a reception and dance with a private bar, casual seating areas and fine dining.
5 things we loved about Madden’s
The staff at Madden’s was helpful and friendly and always quick to answer a question or lend a hand.
The golf courses are lush, not overcrowded and exceptionally well-maintained.
The resort is serene, beautiful and epitomizes approachable, lake-side luxury.
The food is outstanding.
There’s so much to do, with activities of every type, or one can simply take a stroll or quietly relax with a glass of wine and watch the sun set.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Madden’s on Gull Lake for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.