A Great Small Town by a Great Big City: Danville, CA (Part 2)

Our stay in Danville, California (a wonderful small town just outside of San Francisco), was a trip highlight for me. I had so much to say about it that I broke it into Two blog posts.

See part 1 about the lovely town of Danville itself (you’re missing out if you don’t know about Danville yet!) and the beautiful property we stayed on there. See this second half for the best ever Chanson family photos in Napa and San Francisco, as well as details of a friend visit and a bonus “Breanna’s life reflection” at the end.

 

THE NAPA TOUR…
Ever since we moved to California, I’ve wanted to see Napa. More for the beautiful scenery and unique experiences than for the wine even! It just felt like the Californian thing to do. Never in my visions though did I imagine taking an almost-two-year-old with me to these well bred wineries with their giant stacks of delicate wine glasses and dangerously high lookout spots.  But there I found myself, googling “toddler in Napa”.

We chose to do some of the more kitchy things in Napa in hopes they would entertain Celia more than just watching her parents drink wine, while yelling at her to not touch that $800 block of cheese.

So for our first stop, we chose a castle! We thought it would be lame and made out of foam painted to look like brick. But we found out it’s actually a legit Tuscan-built castle that was moved over to California!

It was beautiful and Celia loved the grass (again with the grass… poor little city girl!), the flowers, the moat, and the farm animals out front! She also spent plenty of time exploring the special nooks and cranny’s that only the magic of a castle can do justice.

When we approached for our wine tasting, someone stopped us to let us know they had a special room for people with kids, where we could taste in peace while our daughter colored and sampled grape juice to her heart’s content!

Which worked out perfectly for all of us! Especially since the kids area looked like an awesome dragon dungeon!

We couldn’t have been happier with our visit to Castello di Amorosa and highly recommend it to anyone crazy enough to bring a toddler to Napa.

Next we headed over to Sterling Vineyards where we rode the arial tram leading to the winery. Celia did NOT enjoy the tram at the start. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen these looks of fear on her face before!

But she soon relaxed and we enjoyed our view of the lovely lake, tree tops, and hundreds of sheep below us.

The chill vibe at Sterling and the progressive wine tasting stations with plenty of walking (or running if you’re Celia) space, solidified that it was the great toddler in Napa place we’d heard it was.

Both the employees and the patrons alike seemed to actually enjoy having Celia there! As did I! She did her happy- toddler-bobblehead-run around in her tiny little sun dress and gold sandals, while carrying her water cup and cheers-ing us at our tasting stations.

She even made herself a new friend with the only other toddler in the building! Which resulted in us befriending her parents and gaining an offer for a place to park our RV when we stop in NYC!

It was late enough in the day that things were closing and we were ready to begrudgingly head home after just two stops on our entire “Napa experience”. However, our new friends had said that the Francis Ford Coppola Winery was open late and worth the long drive to get there. This was another one I’d come across as highly recommended for toddlers, since it’s complete with a swimming pool….

… teepee….

… open space tasting veranda….

…. and a movie memorabilia museum….

… and it did NOT disappoint!

Though our camera battery did, so we had to rely solely on iphone photos for this beautiful portion of our day!

It may have been the moment, the wonderful time of day, or the movie magic, but this was my favorite stop we made. The drive there was lovely, and the fact that we were there near closing time made it feel like we had the place to ourselves in some ways. Celia free roamed around the Godfather mock-up pavilion, as we soaked in the moment, thankful that we’re able to bring our daughter to places we enjoy sometimes rather than being forced to live soley in playground land now that we have offspring.

Of course, it was the end of a long day so there were some of these moments too…

But overall, it was lovely. Our little trooper sucked it up and managed to charm waiters and diners alike as we had an enjoyable meal in the vineyard view restaurant.

It may be a cheesy to visit the kinds of places in Napa that cause people to say it’s gotten way too commercialized, but since we were “those people” who brought our kid to wine tastings, it was perfect. No one shamed us about bringing our child along, and we could’ve spent several more days doing this in kid friendly spots like these! Plus it gave us an excuse to go the places we secretly wanted to go to anyways, since we actually are the lame tourists who want the Napa “experience”, even more than the world class wine it has to offer.

 

THE SAN FRANCISCO VISIT…
San Francisco will always hold a special place in our hearts because it was our honeymoon spot, the location of our most spontaneous trip together, and was where Scottie took me for a surprise babymoon/ten year anniversary celebration trip. We love that city. But the only time we’d ever been there with Celia was when I was pregnant with her on the afore mentioned babymoon. So we didn’t really know how to do San Francisco with a kid. We decided we’d just go with low expectations and wing it.

The only planning ahead we did was to find at least one spot that Celia would enjoy playing at. So we went to the Children’s Creativity Museum, which turned out the be the highlight of our day in the city!  It had some of the coolest kid activities I’ve ever seen!

I wished Celia was a little older so she could’ve enjoyed the animation lab where kids made their own animated videos using clay figures they built themselves! She did dabble in some of the big kid activities though like building topography maps with sand….

… and using the robot coding center where older kids created code telling robots to draw, complete a maze, or throw a ball. They had a person assigned especially to help younger kids like Celia, “build code” to play music on the robot! Seriously, where else but San Fransisco, would have a museum where toddlers learn to code?!

There was tons of stuff for kids Celia’s age to do like paper crafts….

…dress up…

… put on puppet shows….

….enjoy the reading room….

… and construct things with Lincoln logs and other building supplies.

One of the coolest activities she did was color a car that was scanned in and projected onto the moving city filled with other items kids had colored. 

But above all, our favorite feature there was the music video room. Where kids pick out costumes, a song, and a background before they put it all together in a karaoke style music video. So basically it’s a room filled with mini Elsas belting out “Let it Go” like it’s their life’s purpose.

Celia picked out matching sequin gold and black costumes for us (it fit her a little differently than me!), and sang, not just her very favorite song in the whole world, but one of her very favorite things about life period… The Happy Birthday Song. She whispered through three verses before grabbing the mike, pushing me aside, and busting out her loudest “happy to” at the very last second.

After the museum we aimed for any part of the city that had a parking spot for our huge truck on this busy holiday weekend. Luckily, we found ourselves parked by the very hipster Ferry Building Market Place at Pier 1, so we had plenty to see and do there.

Teaching Celia about the wide world of fungi… that I know nothing about.

It was a fun day, but it just made me want more time there than we’d planned for. No matter how many days we had in San Francisco, I think I’d always want more.

THE FRIENDS…

People ask me all the time about what I’m most excited for on this trip. Hands down, my answer is the people we’ll see along the way. Both the new and interesting people we love right away, like Mark and Diana (see Danville Part 1 about them), as well as old friends we miss a ton, like Mark’s daughter Julia and her husband Gabe. We’ve been friends with Gabe and Julia for about 10 years and there’s something so special about our relationship. Just an evening watching our kids play together in the backyard felt like a jolt of rejuvenation during this fast-paced season of life.

These are the kinds of reunions I was hoping to find on this trip and are what led me to say yes to Scottie’s crazy cross-country idea in the first place.

Celia LOVED being around cool, big girl Gracie! Lucky for her, sweet Gracie enjoyed it too!

We had the unexpected surprise of not only spending time with our old friends and meeting Julia’s dad and Step-mom, but also of meeting both of their entire families who were all in town from different places! I always love getting to know a little more about the history behind the people I love by meeting those who’ve influenced them along the way.  

Thank you Gabe and Julia, for giving us a reason to stay in such a great town that we grew to love, and for giving us the means to stay there by finding us a temporary home! We were so happy we got to spend so much time with you and we were grateful for every second of it! Love you guys!

GETTING REAL FOR A MINUTE…
When we were in Napa, Scottie noticed how many of the empty-nesters we encountered throughout the day, looked at us enviously. Like they were remembering the good old days with their own children at Celia’s age. One older gentleman approached us at dinner to compliment Scottie on what a good dad he is and how sweet Celia is. The emotion he was trying to contain as he said it, reminded us that this is it… this is our life, the only one we have. And we need to find ways to feel it, remember it, and love it; whether we’re having a wonderful dinner in Napa, or awake with a teething child in the middle of the night.

 

People with grown children tell us all the time to cherish these moments because they go so fast. It’s so hard to fully comprehend how to do that, but I want to try. I hope it’s good enough to just soak it in and do my best to be present and grateful, because even those few things are so hard for me to do in the midst of it all. But it’s all I’ve got.

I think this quote from “This Is Us” (an incredible TV show you should be watching!), by a character who is asked what it feels like to be dying, perfectly sums up the way I want to live…

“What does it feel like to be dying?”

“It feels like all these beautiful pieces of life are flying around me
and I’m trying to catch them.

When my granddaughter falls asleep in my lap,
I try to catch the feeling of her breathing against me.
And when I make my son laugh,
I try to catch the sound of him laughing.

How it rolls up from his chest.

But the pieces are moving faster now, and I can’t catch them all.
I can feel them slipping through my fingertips.
And soon where there used to be my granddaughter breathing and my son laughing,
there will be nothing.

I know it feels like you have all the time in the world.
But you don’t.
So, stop playing it so cool.
Catch the moments of your life.
Catch them while you’re young and quick.
Because sooner than you know it, you’ll be old.
And slow.
And there’ll be no more of them to catch.”

So I think maybe it’s like that. Like I need to “catch the pieces flying around me while I’m young and quick”. But it means I need to be off my phone. I need to be out of distraction mode. I need to be in the moment. I need to be grateful. I need to get over myself and my self-pity. I need to focus on others around me and the big picture.

Even as I’m reading this, the thought of applying it sounds terrifying. Which is crazy, because it’s probably the best thing I could ever do for myself, my family, and my life. But change is scary. Improvement is scary. And giving up things I’ve come to rely on, both physical things like technology, and emotional coping mechanisms like pity parties, is scary and painful. Because once that layer of protection is removed, there’s bound to be other things underneath that have been covered up because they’re even worse than the covering.

So here we go. Into real life. To face it and to feel it. To stop coping and start experiencing. To remember, retain, and know I did my best with what I was given in the present.

 

Tyler Durden quote this is your life

 

P.S. If you STILL don’t know what the big deal about Danville, CA is, you’re missing out! Read Part 1 to hear about our experience there.

A Great Small Town by a Great Big City: Danville, CA (Part 1)

Next stop on our trip… paradise. Otherwise known as Danville. A small little town in the Bay Area, about an hour outside of San Francisco. It’s the kind of place I’ve heard referred to as “Mayberry” more than once. We loved our time there so much that we stayed an extra day… then two… then four.

(Side note: Our stay in Danville was such a highlight for me that I have two blog posts worth to say about it. See this Part 1 to learn about the special town of Danville itself and the beautiful spot we stayed there. Then venture to Part 2 for my fave ever Chanson family photos in Napa and San Francisco, as well as details of a friend visit, and bonus “Breanna’s life reflections” at the end.)

THE HOUSE…
The reason we had the luxury to stay in Danville longer than planned was because our thoughtful friend Julia, asked her dad and stepmom if we could park our carhouse in their driveway. Julia gets her generous spirit from her dad, which her stepmom also shares, so they said yes. And we soon found ourselves in the magical landscape that is Mark and Diana’s home.

This house was a haven to us. The driveway was private so we had our own peaceful retreat right in the middle of town. Everyday we woke with the “tough” decision of staying in our relaxing villa, or enjoying all the wonder in the area around it.

More often than not, we opted for the respite of the house.

There was grass in the front yard for Celia to play in, which is heaven to a Venice Beach born child where the grass is covered in either human or dog pee… and you never know which.

Then there was the backyard. And just… wow.

First of all, it was huge. It backed up to a creek with nothing but wild greenery, running water, and deer who walked right past us in the yard multiple times a day.

Amongst twelve different seating areas and a countless variety of lovely trees and birds, there was also tons to do! Like bocce ball, archery, horseshoes, a tree house, swing, and the grandchildren’s toys to enjoy.

The yard was especially rejuvenating for Celia because it was a place away from all the “don’t go over there’s” and “don’t touch that’s”, which plagued her on the many adult portions of this stop, like when we went wine tasting in Napa or hipster boutique shopping in San Francisco (read about both in part 2). Here she had the space to run, play, and independently experience her own version of exploring and learning about the world. 

Then there was my favorite part about the backyard…. a piano/library cottage! Yes! A tiny little house dedicated only to music and reading. What a dream come true! At least for me, who now has a new life goal to aspire to (that includes first learning to play the piano)!

Mark and Diana were only in town for a couple of the days we were at their home, and one was their anniversary, which they chose to spend with us! As soon as we met them, we immediately regretted our “perfect” situation of having the place all to ourselves, and realized we would much rather have had more time with Mark and Diana than privacy! As their eclectic, and non-Swedish furniture home portrayed, they were uniquely interesting and intelligent people with more fascinating thoughts and life experiences than most of us will ever have. They were deep thinkers, heavy readers, and extraordinary-life livers. The kind of people who’s anniversary I’d like to crash every year!

We were so thankful that once again, we were warmly welcomed into a place that felt like home during a time when home is such a difficult thing for us to grasp, and when we need it so badly. Thank you, Mark and Diana. For giving respite to these weary travelers, and for showing us what it looks like to travel often, while still doing home really well.

 

THE TOWN…
If I were to dream up the ideal small town, it would have charming small town hot spots, as well as key amenities I don’t want to do without; familiar faces and places I love, but close enough to new people and areas to keep life interesting; plenty of individual space for all, but still walkable so I can enjoy the year round perfect weather and beautiful landscape. OK, so maybe I didn’t make this place up. It’s Danville.

We spent our days in Danville walking down a tree-lined path behind the suburban neighborhoods, to the local downtown area. A space that’s complete with it’s sweet small town bookstores and restaurants, right next to the favorites you want like Starbucks and Trader Joes.

Celia’s first chocolate milk… she’s a fan.

Danville is close enough to San Francisco that even their local places are of higher quality than in small towns where there’s no competition and you just get what you get. We LOVED our lunch at Gotta Eatta Pita and our stop at the Yogurt Shack for Celia’s first ever frozen yogurt experience did NOT disappoint!

Along our walks people smiled, stopped to talk, and even checked on me when I was waiting for Scottie to pick me up at the store. Even the big kids were nice to little Celia at their famously beautiful parks with clean slides that we were reasonably confident didn’t contain syphillis like I worried the ones back in Venice did.

We even got to experience a true-small town community event! The kind I dream about being a part of when watching Gilmore Girls or Hart of Dixie! It was the Danville 4th of July parade.

Which was not just any parade, or any holiday. In Danville it’s like THE parade and in some ways, THE holiday! 

Everywhere we went, we heard locals bumping into friends or regulars in the store asking one another if they were going to the parade. The only acceptable answer to that question, being a resounding “yes”! This was dually noted when we walked around the downtown area and realized that the entire town of Danville was staked out in sidewalk chalk and lawn chairs the day before. 

The actual parade itself was just like I always imagined a small town parade would be, filled with various businesses, clubs, and organizations that made up the local community. Hugs, hellos, and squirt gun blasts were exchanged freely as friends and family members passed by throwing prized swag to onlookers!

The biggest shock to us came when the parade ended… and people actually picked up trash on the ground! In fifteen minutes, the street was cleaner than it had been before the parade. That may be one of the most amazing sights we see on this entire cross country road trip. 

We met all kinds of people at the parade, including a lady who walked all the way home with us. Strangers just don’t stay strangers in Danville!

Later that evening, we left Danville and headed over to another nearby town for fireworks. It was a totally different small town vibe, but still complete with the community spirit that the 4th of July seems to rally.

The fun we had at the fireworks was a great grand finale for the memorable 4th of July the Danville parade started for us. 

It’s easy to say that Danville is the kind of place I could stay in forever… if only it weren’t for those famous Bay Area prices and our inability to pay them.

Don’t forget to stop by Part 2 for other details about this trip highlight. Including the promised favorite family pics in Napa and San Francisco, details from our friend visit, and some of my thoughts on life as we know it.