Road Trip Diary: A Family Weekend in Napa and Sonoma, CA

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This is the fourth consecutive summer I’ve done a family road trip since launching PapiBlogger in May of 2010 but even before that Angela and I did big road trips with our kids through Texas (2008)  and Costa Rica (2009) and as a couple we’ve driven through Cuba, France and Rwanda.  In other words, this road trip thing is a big deal for us and it goes deep.
If you’ve followed our previous traveling adventures, you know that we don’t usually hold back from going all out and you’ve also seen how are family has grown.  Here’s a couple of things that we’re changing and dealing with this year in comparison to previous PapiBlogger summer trips:
We’ll be doing a much slower pace than before.   In 2010, when we did the four corners of the U.S. road trip, we averaged 261 driving miles PER DAY over the course of 46 DAYS!  That’s more than 12,000 miles and yes, amazing as it was to do things like helicopter over the Grand Canyon and watch the whales near Boston, it was also absurdly exhausting.  You can’t fully enjoy life at warp speed like that so in 2013, we’re approaching our approximately 1,300 mile vacation with a “less is more” approach.
It’ll be more visual social media story than before.  From a social media point of view, we’ll blog less with words and more with images so expect a torrent of Instagram stuff.  Both my wife Angela of Latina Mom Bloggers (@TexinMiami) and I will be creating a series of daily Instragram Diaries accompanied with tweets and Facebook posts that will keep our top moments in full view of you, our dear readers.  Occasionally we’ll even do an Instagram or Vine video so be on the look out for those as well.  The main obstacles to doing this will obviously be Internet connectivity although we’re armed with every contraption to make connecting to the Web mostly possible.
Our family’s evolution will present newer challenges.  This will be the first major road trip for Naomi (1) and the vehicle that previously had to sustain five is going to have to support six, including two on car seats.
Beyond all this, we already noticed in our pre-trip debrief with the kids that my 13-year-old son Jonathan is going to constantly challenge our authority so how this drama in the making plays out will be interesting.  Elena for her part is now 9 so she’s definitely in the age bracket where she will be able to remember and enjoy more of what she’s experiencing.  Brian is just four and while we know she’ll probably not remember much about this trip at least we know she’s finally “experiencing” it.  Baby Naomi just turned 1 so for her it’s all about very basic stuff like eating, drinking, starring in family photos, pooping, playing with her siblings and sleeping whenever she wants to.  For Angela and I this road trip is about escaping from our hard driving work lives to spending quality time with each other and the children.  At the end of the day, we’re about building a stronger family through these precious vacations that we had the fortune to have fully sponsored by State Farm and Chevy.

Friday, July 5 – Day 1 By the time we landed in San Francisco to pick our 2013 PapiMobile, a 2014 Chevy Traverse, we were caught in late afternoon traffic so only had time to go to the famous Ghirardelli Square for an interview with an EFE reporter who was interviewing us for a story about our road trips.  Even though Ghirardelli is known for it’s delicious chocolates, we did pitstop at the Ghirardelli ice cream store  for one of the best ice cream eating experiences our family has had in a long time. Saturday, July 6 – Day 2 After a grueling travel day Friday the kids were feeling worn out so we made Saturday all about recuperation.  Our morning started with a very pleasant family first.  Naomi said her word in Spanish “llaves” (keys), which she repeated after I asked her to give me the keys to the Traverse.

Saturday’s highlight for the kids was a mini road trip through Napa to a pretty castle called Castello di Amorosa.  If you’ve NEVER been to Disney World or Europe (where castles are a dime a dozen) then maybe the castle’s worth the $50 we spent for admission and a wine tasting for two but otherwise, save your money.  Castello di Amorosa is first and foremost a vineyard so if you are going to pay for admission come for that experience or otherwise visit it free by the outside where you can snap as many family photos of it as you want amidst its surrounding vineyards.

The biggest highlight of this day for my wife and I was having our kids stay at the hotel with a baby sitter while the two of us took off for a rare date night mud bath at a place in Napa called the Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa & Resort.  Never done a mud bath?  Here’s all you need to know: it’s very hot, you lay floating on it, it smells and it takes a lot of effort to clean it off.  Oh yeah, ironically mud has some sort of cleansing and relaxing effect on your body but mostly I think it makes you look dirty cool for a great weird photo.  Our night cap was dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Brannan’s. Sunday, July 7 – Day 3 Ok, so I should admit that in comparison to our previous road trips it’s taking us a very long time to get to the really cool, over-the-top travel stuff  that we’ve been known for but alas this is the Napa and Sonoma Valley, folks.  With the exception of a famous geyser that we will be visiting here and another surprise adventure I can’t mention yet there, this part of northern California is mostly a nice place to sip some wine, replenish and relax.

When boredom was creeping into our trip we resorted to good ole travel tricks like tossing the kids into the hotel pool, taking them to a place that has rides and going to a movie, all of which we did today.

The highlight of our entire trip so far was quite possibly today’s visit to Sonoma’s Train Town, a 10-acre amusement park that’s known for having authentic scale models of famous steam trains and other rides.  Train Town has a ferris wheel, a roller coaster, gliding swings, a carousel and a petting zoo.  It’s exactly 1/5 the size of Disneyland and feel like a retro, no frills amusement park that takes me back to my youth. I don’t know if it’s because of my family’s history with trains (one of my grandfathers was an engineer) but I really enjoyed sitting behind the train conductor as he fired up the miniature train’s steam engine for the slowing moving, 20-minute train ride.

In the evening we ended our day at the movie theater for “Despicable Me 2”, a film I strongly recommend.  This is the first movie Naomi has ever sat through fully.  A few weeks ago we tried watching Monsters University with her in South Beach and she screamed so much my wife had to bolt with her.  This time I sat with Naomi and it seemed she genuinely engaged with the Minions.   Elena theorizes that Naomi stayed because she related to the gibberish talk of the Minions and I think she’s right.

Road Trip Tip of the Day (Sponsored by State Farm)
This is priceless advice for all of you family photographers or wives who like mine constantly opt out of pictures because her clothes, hair or make up don’t look quite right.  Get in the pictures as often as you can!  If you’re the family photographer (as I am) you are often just happy snapping the memories away and that’s good but the problem is that you never appear in those memories!  That’s not good and that has happened to me countless times.  Similarly, if you’re like many moms, you’re self awareness about being sweaty or slightly off guard in photos should not keep you from being part of photos.   At the end of the day what your family will treasure most is having photos (posed and unposed) where ALL of you appear so don’t forget this!  On this road trip we’re making an extra effort to be in more of the photos.
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