Eight great places for fantastic doughnuts in Chicago

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The Doughnut Vault

While not the original Chicago doughnut shop, the hole-in-the-wall Doughnut Vault, opened in 2011, is the place that really put these high-end sweet treats on the Chicago map. Using a combination of social media – especially Twitter – this shop on the River North corner of N. Franklin and W. Kinzie often has double-digit lines wrapping around the block. Their popularity led to a doughnut truck, and a second location on N. Canal near the Ogilvie Transportation Center. They have several flavors they offer daily – their amazing gingerbread stack, classic old-fashioned, and huge vanilla and chocolate, and a jelly-filled, for example – and then there is the doughnut of the day, with names like Birthday Cake, Roasted Almond Glazed, or Mexican Hot Chocolate. Doughnut Vault’s quirk helps lend to their popularity: they’re only open as long as they still have product on the shelves. On a busy morning, they might close as early as 11 AM; other days, they’re open until 3 PM.  To top things off, they sell $1 cups of coffee made from delicious local Metropolis Coffee.

Do-Rite Donuts & Coffee

Do-Rite has taken after The Doughnut Vault’s lead, and may close earlier than their posted hours if they run out of product. They have two downtown locations, 50 W. Randolph (Loop) and 233 E. Erie (Streeterville), but unlike the other doughnut shops on this list, they offer chicken sandwiches at their Streeterville location. Chicken and doughtnuts may not seem such an unusual combination when you remember the Southern comfort food of chicken and waffles. Do-Rite offers a handful of gluten-free varieties and a daily vegan choice in addition to their nine standard daily flavors.

donut_stansStan’s Donuts & Coffee

Stan’s Donuts actually originated in Westwood Village (Los Angeles) in 1963. Chicago baker Rich Labriola saw Stan Berman featured on a TV travel show, and ended up partnering with him to bring Stan’s to Chicago. Stan’s offers one of the largest daily varieities of doughnuts: seven standard flavors, plus a wide varieties of specialty flavors, bismarks, “dough boys”, long johns, danish, bars, bagels, “donut cakes”, and even ice cream sandwiches made from doughnuts and gelato.  Their display case is generally crammed full of colorful, wild doughnut creations. They now have locations at 1560 N. Damen (Wicker Park), 259 E. Erie (Streeterville), 26 E. Roosevelt (South Loop), 2800 N. Clark (East Lakeview), and soon to be opening at 3300 N. Broadway (Lakeview).

Glazed & Infused

If there was a contest for most outrageous doughnut in Chicago, the battle would no doubt come down between Stan’s and Glazed & Infused. They call their products the “flavorful re-invention of the iconic American doughnut – handcrafted and uniquely imagined”. Their maple bacon long john is a local favorite, but they offer everything from traditional old-fashioned to their heavily-loaded ‘sweet tooth’ and their indulgent blackberry cheesecake doughnuts. They now have five locations: 813 W. Fulton Market (West Loop), 201 E. Delaware Place (Streeterville), 222 N. LaSalle (Loop), 30 E. Hubbard (River North), and 939 W. Armitage (Lincoln Park).

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Firecakes Donuts

Firecakes is one of the more recent entries in the Chicago doughnut scene, but their delicious flavors are proving popular. They also follow the Doughnut Vault’s model of “open until sold out”, and like Stan’s, they offer a doughnut ice cream sandwich. While their doughnuts aren’t as huge as some of the other shops in town, their quality is high and the taste is excellent, sporting flavors like triple Valrhona chocolate and Hawaiian-style maple glazed pineapple & bacon. They have two locations: 68 W. Hubbard (River North) and 2453 N. Clark (Lincoln Park).

Dat Donut

Dat Donut‘s slogan is “Too good to dunk!” One of the oldest dedicated-to-doughnuts bakeries in Chicago, Dat Donut has been serving up their treats since 1994, and serves them 24/7 (except Sundays). Visit them at 8251 S. Cottage Grove (Chatham). They offer traditional flavors, as well as their famous “Big Dat”, cinnamon rolls, turnovers, fritters, donut balls, muffins, and some breakfast sandwiches served on croissants.

Beavers Coffee & Donuts

This charmingly-named doughnut shop is located in the French Market at 131 N. Clinton (next to Ogilvie Transportation Center, West Loop) and Beavers is seen around town with their food truck. They offer a unique option in the doughnut market, selling “mini donuts” in four quantities (mini/4, small/9, medium/15, and large/35), which you can then personalize via a choice of four sugar toppings and a variety of signature topping flavors like s’mores, turtle, “rock star”, and “funky monkey”. Not enough fun for you? Then try their donut milkshake, which can be make to any signature topping flavor you like.

DB3 (Evanston)

One of the newest doughnut shops in the Chicago area just opened on the north side in Evanston – DB3. Unfortunately, they’re only open on weekend mornings – perhaps as they get better known, they’ll extend their hours. Located next to their sister business, Ten Mile House restaurants (http://www.tmhevanston.com/), this shop offers some great flavors.  1704 Central Street (Purple line L or Metra UP-N line to Central)

 

30 great reads that will inspire you to travel!

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This past month on my Twitter feed, I’ve been naming various travel books I have enjoyed reading. I’ve compiled them below, along with a few other titles I haven’t tweeted about.

ANTARCTICA

ASIA

  • William Dalrymple –In XanaduDalrmyple and his travel companions trace Marco Polo’s route overland from Jerusalem to Xanadu
  • Pico Iyer – Video Night in Kathmandu – Examining American culture’s impact on mid-1980’s Asia – the book that put one the best modern travel writers on the map.
  • Matthew Polly – American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China – Young kung-fu obsessed American journeys to the legendary Shaolin Temple to study martial arts
  • Mark Salzman – Iron & Silk – Young American martial artist explores life as an English teacher in post-Cultural Revolution China, and is mentored by China’s foremost martial arts master.
  • Paul Theroux – Riding the Iron Rooster – Theroux, one of the greatest travel writers of our time, spends a year exploring China via its extensive train network in the 1980s.

AUSTRALIA

  • Bill Bryson – In a Sunburned Country – In his funniest book to date, Bill Bryson explores the extremes and the fun about living in Australia.

EUROPE

NORTH AMERICA

SOUTH AMERICA

WORLDWIDE / MULTIPLE REGIONS

FICTION

  • Sir Terry Pratchett – The Color of Money – The Discworld is about to discover its first tourist, Twoflower, who hires the inept wizard, Rincewind, to be his guide around the city of Anhk-Morpork. The first book in his iconic Discworld series.

Ten of my favorite Chicago places

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We all dream of visiting exciting exotic locales. My current top 10 “dream list” locations (in no particular order) are: Antarctica, Galapagos, Iceland, Azores, Alaska, Croatia, Santorini/Greek Isles; New Zealand (South Island), Bhutan. There’s countries I’ve been before that I saw very little of, and would like to spend a more leisurely time visiting, such as Australia, Japan, Nepal.

But for some of you out there, you’re dreaming of visiting the States, and Chicago is on your list for whatever reason. Maybe you fell in love with it through the movies like I did. Perhaps you like one of our sports teams, or you are a huge fan of improv comedy, you’re a serious foodie, or you love great museums.

Chicago has something for everyone, that’s for sure. So here’s ten of my favorite places around town – again, in no particular order! – and I’ll break it down into five favorite restaurants, and five favorite sites worth seeing/experiencing.

RESTAURANTS

This was a tough list, because every time I thought of a restaurant, I’d think of five more that I could easily include. So I narrowed it down to some of the places I’ve been the most frequently over the past couple years. They’re all decently priced and give you great food for your money.

  1. 90 Miles Cuban Café – Cuba has become a hot topic on American lips these days, but those in the know have been enjoying Cuban fare for many years. 90 Miles has a taste of the Caribbean in the heart of Chicago; they have three locations serving up fresh, tasty, amazing food. My favorite is their Bistec De Palomilla sandwich, but you can’t go wrong with a simple Cubano here, either. In addition to great food, they also host events like live jazz on Wednesdays, pig roast buffets on Thursday, and Flamenco nights! Their most public transportation-accessible location is their Logan Square location – 2540 West Armitage, a couple blocks’ walk from the Western stop on the Blue line L.
  2. Q BBQ – Like 90 Miles, Q BBQ also currently has three locations, although two more are in the works. Given Chicago’s history with its stockyards and the city’s intense love of meat, it’s no surprise that the barbeque business is booming all over the city, from low-key to upscale. Pick one, two, or three meats, pick your sides, and enjoy BBQ Nirvana. Big eater? Go for the Papa Q Platter. Enjoy Q’s regional sauces and influences. Q’s Lakeview location at 714 W. Diversey Pkwy. is a short stroll from the Diversey stop on the Brown and Purple L lines.
  3. Piece Brewery & Pizzeria – If you ever want to get two Chicagoans into a heated discussion, just bring up the subject of best pizza in town. If you want deep dish, I’ll send you to Lou Malnatti’s or the original Gino’s East. But if you want great pizza and some brewpub suds to wash it down, then head over to Wicker Park’s Piece, and get one of their New Haven-style (thin crust) pizzas. Go on game night and enjoy an enthusiastic crowd cheering on their hometown teams – Piece loves the local teams, and has designed cute Piece logos for each of them. And if that’s not cool enough for you, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen is a co-owner, and yes, he’s occasionally found there. 1927 W. North Ave., Blue line L to Damen.
  4. Doughnut Vault – Yes, Chicago got hit with the cupcake craze and the doughnut craze. You can get heart-stopping pastries all across the city, but few induce the fan dedication of the Doughnut Vault. Their original location at 400 N. Franklin St. is barely big enough to hold a handful of people, but in the morning, the waiting line wraps around the corner of the block. (Don’t worry, the line moves fast.) They open at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. on the weekends, and they stay open “’til sold out” – which could be 11 a.m. or it could be 3:30 p.m. They update their stock constantly via Twitter, and you can preview the week’s rotating daily special selection on their Tumblr. Personally, I love the delicious simplicity of their “Gingerbread stack” – a threesome of cinnamon-and-sugar dusted doughnuts that taste pretty much perfect. The original location proved so popular that they added a food truck, and they opened a second location at 111 N. Canal St. (across from the Ogilvie Transportation Center) which is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and has a wider daily variety of doughnuts. Brown or Purple line L to Merchandise Mart.
  5. The Little Goat Diner –  Chicago-born chef Stephanie Izard competed on Bravo’s Top Chef, and she not only won but was named fan favorite. Not long after that success, she opened her popular upscale Girl & The Goat in 2010. Its more casual sister restaurant, The Little Goat Diner (820 W. Randolph St.), opened in 2012, and has proven just as popular ever since. Go daring for breakfast and try This Little Piggy Went to China; and I love the Pork Belly Pancake under their “sammiches”. (Any of their sandwiches rule.) Their bakery opens at 6 a.m. and you can enjoy breakfast starting at 7 a.m.; they’re open until 10 p.m. most days; midnight on Friday and Saturday. Green or Pink line L to Morgan Station.

 

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SIGHTS / EXPERIENCES AROUND TOWN

You already know about the obvious tourist destinations. But what else do you do after you’ve been up in the Willis or Hancock Towers, checked out your reflection in Cloud Gate (a.k.a. “The Bean”), wandered around art museums all day, and hit the tourist scene at Navy Pier? You go check out other experiences like a local, of course.

  1. Lillstreet Art Center – Lillstreet has been making art with the community for 40 years. If you’re local or if you have plenty of time to enjoy the city, you might want to consider one of Lillstreet’s many mulit-week art classes in disciplines like ceramics, jewelcrafting, textiles, and more. Have a little less time? Lillstreet offers some one-off classes and new full day “creative retreats”. You can support local artists by checking out their galleries and gift shop; or make a difference by having a meal or picking up a pie at their on-site café, First Slice. 4401 N. Ravenswood Ave.; Brown line to Montrose. 
  2. United Center – The “UC’s” predecessor, the Chicago Stadium, was known as “the Madhouse on Madison”, a moniker that was originally carried over to the United Center. Chicago is a very serious sports city – and the UC is home to two well-decorated, much-beloved sports teams: the Chicago Bulls (NBA) and the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL). The Bulls were dominant in the 1990s for basketball during the Michael Jordan era; the Blackhawks have led the hockey world with three Stanley Cup titles in the past six seasons (2010, 2013, and 2015, above). With a seating capacity of nearly 21,000, the United Center is the second-largest arena in both the NBA and NHL; but standing room capacity regularly pushes their ticket sales to first. In addition to sports, the UC also hosts dozens of concerts, Disney on Ice, the circus, and other events throughout the year. CTA bus #19 UC Express or #20 Madison from the Loop to the United Center.
  3. The Chicago Lakefront / Lincoln Park – Chicagoans often joke that we get 4-5 months of summer and the rest is all winter, but that’s not entirely accurate. At any rate, the lakefront is never quiet; it’s the city’s backyard and its lungs – a gift to the citizens of Chicago by its master planner, Daniel H. Burnham, who insisted that “The Lakefront by right belongs to the people. Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated to the exclusion of the people.” Today, 25 of Chicago’s 29 miles of lakefront remain public parklands, studded with various athletic facilities (including a public golf course), 18.5 miles of trails, marinas, beaches, museums, picnic facilities, and more. In the summer, the city’s denizens fill the parks, and the lakefront path can be very busy between Belmont Harbor in the north down to the Museum Campus. On the east side of the Loop, you can enjoy Millennium Park, the new Maggie Daley Park (great for kids of all ages!), enjoy one of many music festivals held in Grant Park, or stroll by the harbor and Buckingham Fountain (pictured at top). At the Museum Campus, you can take enjoy the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and Shedd Aquarium. Take in wildlife – or a concert – at Northerly Island; enjoy a Chicago Bears (NFL) football game or other major event at Soldier Field. Wander around the shops, restaurants, theater, rides, fireworks, and city views at Navy Pier. Visit the Lincoln Zoo; enjoy the Green City Market or the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Rent a Divvy bike and go for a ride – your choices for entertainment on the waterfront are endless!
  4. The Improv Scene – Chicago is called “the Second City”, but they’re second-to-none when it comes to being the birthplace of the improv comedy scene. The granddaddy of them all, Second City, has produced many of the country’s leading comedians for fifty years, and you can still take classes there – or take in many shows throughout the week. But it doesn’t stop there: check out the Improv, IO Chicago, or Zanies; take in the Chicago Improv Festival; or take the stage yourself at open mike nights at smaller comedy clubs like The Playground Theater. Pick up the free weekly The Chicago Reader to find out what’s happening around town.
  5. The Theater SceneBroadway in Chicago brings top musicals and shows to Chicago, as well as providing a fertile testing ground for new musicals. (Spamalot, among others, did test runs here before their Broadway debuts.) Experience world-class Shakespeare and other productions at the intimate Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. See well-known actors perform live in one of Steppenwolf’s powerful productions. Take in quality shows at smaller neighborhood theaters like the Raven and the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Like the improv scene, check out The Chicago Reader for the most current listings.

And one last wild card among my recommendations: Metropolis Coffee. You’ll need caffeine to keep you vibrant for all this fun! If you can’t make it up to their coffeehouse at 1039 W. Granville Ave. (Red line L to Granville), you’ll find their coffee on tap at various locations throughout the city, and you can buy their amazing coffee by the pound at Whole Foods.

Great travel quotes

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“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” – Mark Twain

“Let us step step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.” – J.K. Rowling

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” -Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

“You know, sometimes food is like time travel. You inhale an aroma, take a bite of something and suddenly, bam! you’re back at the moment you first tasted it!” – Star Trek: Voyager

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

“Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.” – Owen Wilson in “Midnight in Paris”

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

“Adventure is worthwhile.” – Aesop

“The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” – Anna Quindlen

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli

“A journey is best measured in friends, not miles.” – Tim Cahill

“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.” – Amelia Earhart

“I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. You live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless, it goes on forever, inwardly. The fact that you’re alive is amazing. So you don’t get to be bored.” – Louis C.K.

“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” – Moorish proverb

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

“When I was a little girl I had an imaginary friend and when I grew up he came back. He’s called The Doctor. He comes from somewhere else. He’s got a box called the TARDIS that’s bigger on the inside and can travel anywhere in time and space. I ran away with him and we’ve been running ever since.” – Doctor Who

“My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.” – Steve McCurry

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru

“Do not stop thinking of life as an adventure. You have no security unless you can live bravely, excitingly, imaginatively; unless you can choose a challenge instead of competence.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Edward J. Stieglitz

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

“Wandering around our America has changed me more than I thought. I am not me any more. At least, I’m not the same me I was.” – Ernesto Guevara de la Serna in “Motorcycle Diaries”

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson

“A tourist is someone who travels across the ocean only to be photographed sitting next to their boat. I have no intention of being a tourist.” – Predestination

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury

“What would you do if you knew you only had one day, or one week, or one month to live. What life boat would you grab on to? What secret would you tell? What band would you see? What person would you declare your love to? What wish would you fulfil? What exotic locale would you fly to for coffee? What book would you write?” – from the movie “One Week”

“You don’t have to be rich to travel well.” – Eugene Fodor

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener

“If you focus on what you left behind you will never see what lies ahead!” – Ratatouille

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

California dreaming – the beginning

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Among the Dalai Lama’s 20 Instructions for Life, the following is a great favorite among those who love to travel:

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.”

Travelers love this quote because it seems a natural rallying cry to get in a plane or bus or car and journey someplace new, and I’m sure that’s part of what is meant. But the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Esphesus once said “δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης“, which can be interpreted as “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

So going someplace “you’ve never been before” can mean going someplace within your own local city. It means to take a new look at things, find a new viewpoint.

And oh yes, sometimes that means going very far away.

California for me is a place that I’ve been often – I even got to live there for one short, wonderful month for work – and yet even in revisiting familiar places there, I seem to always find someplace new to see.

My first trip to the Golden State was Memorial Day weekend back in the mid-1980s. It was the infancy of the budget travel era: travel agencies were still strong, and booking travel over the phone meant you still had to go to the airport and pick up a paper ticket. Sites like Travelocity were a decade away. Bargain-conscious travelers still kept a keen eye on the Sunday travel section, and the really smart ones signed up for the new frequent flyer programs that airlines were rolling out.

People Express Airlines was offering $198 round trip fares from coast to coast, and my father thought that was a pretty good price. So after school that Thursday, my brother and I got on a flight at Bradley International, and flew out to meet our father in San Francisco. My brother, at 6’2″, was tall enough that he couldn’t bring the seat-front tray down over his knees, because People’s Express was more like Cattle Car Express, and leg room was at best a vague daydream. We balanced both of our in-flight meals on my tray (remember when passengers got fed on any flight over 3 hours?) and arrived at SFO around 1 a.m.

We spent that first night – partial night, anyway – in a $19/night dive of a hotel not too far away from the airport. We jammed a chair under the doorknob (just in case), and in the morning, there was a guy nearly-naked in the parking lot (save for his skivvies) screaming about being robbed. Let’s just say that despite some of the more (ahem) “colorful” locations our family stayed over the years in my father’s never-ending quest for the best travel bargain, none of them were ever bad enough to get him to stop searching for amazing deals.

California is a big state, and if you told somebody you only had three or four days to spend there, they’d probably advise you to concentrate on one thing, and not worry about the rest of the state. But not our family, oh no. My father was a salesman for many years. But despite spending all his time on the road, he would usually do the same on vacations: drive a lot. I used to think that perhaps secretly, in his head, he was aiming for some kind of entry into the Guinness Book of World Records. Most vacation miles driven before the rest of the family goes bonkers.

We started Friday morning by driving down the coast via Santa Cruz to see the famous Seventeen-Mile-Drive. The weather was nice in the city, but got foggy further down the coast. On returning to the city, we went to a few of his favorite places in the city, like Cliff House and Fisherman’s Wharf. I enjoyed what I saw of the city thus far.

I fell in love with San Francisco that first evening. Oh, sure, I’d enjoyed seeing the waterfront, Lombard Street, and so forth; they’re tourist destinations for a reason. But that night, we headed up to Chinatown, for dinner at the iconic Empress of China (which, sadly, permanently closed this past winter).

At the time, the Empress was different than any Chinese restaurant I’d ever been to. It was upscale, and it was elegant; it sought to present authentic Chinese food, not just Americanized chop suey. We had a table close to one of the windows, and I’ll admit I spent most of my time looking out the window at the Transamerica Pyramid, which looked close enough to touch, and enjoying the panoramic views of the sunset across the city and the bay. I know I ate soup that night, but can’t remember too much else of what I had, because I was so in love with that show outside the windows.

We headed a couple streets over to catch a cable car back to our hotel, and one of the historic cable cars came clanging down the hill towards us. Half a dozen happy, excited people dressed in black tie and brandishing champagne bottles were hanging off the side of the cable car, shouting joyfully at people on the street that they passed. I don’t know what their cause for celebration was, but that was the moment I knew I loved San Francisco: this bright, colorful, fun, magical, photogenic city.

(Related side story: In 2006, I was in San Francisco for the Browncoats Ball. I, in my magnificent gown of bronze and black, and my companion, in a full dress kilt, got on a cable car for the ride up Powell, and naturally, I couldn’t help but remember that night from 21 years before – and of course, I hoped that we were giving some tourist the same fun and happy memory that I had made on my first visit!)

On Saturday morning, we drove north out of the city, picked up breakfast in Sausalito, and had a brief stop at Muir Woods, where he told us, “I’ve seen it before. You guys have 15 minutes, I’ll be waiting here in the parking lot.” My brother and I didn’t rush, and got 25 minutes out of it.

Next, we visited a couple of his favorite wineries in Napa as we headed east during the late morning/early afternoon. I was fourteen at the time, but was often mistaken for 20 or 21. I’d been on my first trip to Europe just a month before, and guys at least three times my age had regularly hit on me, so it was no surprise that tasting room clerks regularly assumed I was of age. Back then, even though the National Minimum Drinking Age Act had become law barely a year before, being asked for ID was a rarity. Samples were more generous, too – usually full glasses – and few wineries had a tasting fee of $3, which often meant taking the glass with you as a momento. (For the record: no, I don’t recall tasting any of the wines on this trip. But I fell in love with wine country young!)

By late afternoon, we’d made it out to Lake Tahoe. He liked skiing the area; my brother and I associated it with Squaw Valley, former Winter Olympics site. It had been a long day of driving, and as we were heading down 395 into Bridgeport, the sun was just sinking behind the mountains. Golden sunlight lingered over the indigo shadows below, the twinkling lights of Bridgeport the first town of any size we’d seen in two hours.

It would be more than twenty years before I’d come this way again, and the darkness hid the beauty of the drive between Bridgeport and Mono Lake. More recently, I’ve been there twice in the past five years, and it’s a great route, especially when the mountains are rich with autumn colors.

Sunday was all about Yosemite. We drove up the gut-clutching road to Tioga Pass (I was seriously glad we wouldn’t be leaving the park by that same road), and found out we were really in luck – there’d been an extra-heavy snowfall that past winter, and this entrance to the park had just been opened a couple days earlier. We drove past cuts through the snowpack that looked like layers of a cake. The high meadows were brisk and we could see our breath in the shadows – a few thousand feet lower later, the valley floor was a different experience, warm and balmy. The iconic valley waterfalls were in prime shape, loaded by icy-cold snowmelt waters.

Yosemite is a treasure, the type of place that you hope everybody can experience at some point. But its beauty and popularity also means that as the years go on, it gets more crowded. The valley was busy then; but these days, traffic can be as clogged as city driving on summer weekends. We were out of the park and down in Sacramento by late afternoon. Our last sunset was enjoyed in the tiny hotel pool; our flight back to Connecticut left at 6 a.m. on Monday.

My father’s philosophy towards travel was to see as much as possible on trips because, as he put it, you never knew when you might pass that way again. If you didn’t, well, at least you could say you’d been there; if you did, you’d had a previous taste, and knew what you’d like to explore more. I’ve learned in my travels that this approach may not always be 100% perfect, but it certainly has colored my travel experiences over the years.

I’ve been back to California many times over the years: sometimes for work, and mostly for pleasure. No matter how often I visit, however, it never feels like the same place twice – even if I’m driving on familiar roads. There’s so much more of the world to see, I know, and I’ll get there eventually. Because even if you’re traveling to someplace new, you always will have a favorite place to visit.

Where to find me (other than here)

Find me on Twitter at @TheWanderBroad!

Find me on Instagram at TheWanderBroad.