Sarah Amador

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Memorable Theatre at 6th Street Playhouse

Posted by Sarah Amador on February 16, 2016 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

(To read this on my 101 Things To Do Travel Blog, visit


By Sarah Amador


The night was dark, and the theater was full of the smell of gunfire. There were hold-ups and shoot-outs; spilled blood, breadlines and desperate times; an outlaw couple crooning and canoodling just about everywhere (in the car, in the bathtub, in a meadow); and a musical score combining rockabilly, blues and gospel music.


See Bonnie and Clyde, the Musical, at 6th Street Playhouse

No, I wasn’t back in West Texas in the 1930s; I was with my son at 6th Street Playhouse watching the musical Bonnie & Clyde. This production reveals the playhouse’s mission to works both new and old, as this musical is practically brand new, premiering in La Jolla, California, in 2009 and going on to Broadway for a short time. Bonnie & Clyde also continues the season’s “Coming Home” theme, a celebration of stories uniquely American.


I’ve been to 6th Street many times, and as always, the actors sang, danced and acted their hearts out this night too. There’s a reason that 6th Street Playhouse was voted “Best Local Live Theatre Company” of 2014 by the Press Democrat readership, “Best Theatre Troupe” of 2012, 2013, and 2014 by the North Bay Bohemian, and “Theatre of the Year” of 2011 and 2012 by San Franciscan voters. If you go, be prepared to be entertained.


Before curtain rose on the second act, I looked around and thought about the other times I had sat there. Tonight my son was next to me, but the last time we were here together, he was still in high school and we were watching hilarious scenes like “That Face” and “Along Came Bialy” from The Producers. Another time it was my mother and husband sitting next to me, about to watch my son in 6th Street’s youth ensemble production of The Producers. I remember my son playing the insulting boss Mr. Marks, stamping about the accounting firm as his employees sang sadly at their gloomy desks. During a performance of Singing in the Rain, I had sat in this theater with my husband and watched rain—real water—fall on the actors. I have this memory of my son tap dancing in the rain in perfect time with the rest of the umbrella-clad cast on stage—it was amazing!


My son’s passion for acting was strengthened and guided through two summer productions with 6th Street’s School of Drama. One of the great things about the Playhouse’s School of Drama is that the young actors use the same sets and theater as the professional production. This makes the performances really authentic for the young actors. The School of Drama is part of the playhouse’s mission to offer a nurturing and challenging atmosphere where actors (young and old) have an opportunity to learn, grow, and express themselves through the craft of theatre.

This last weekend, 6th Street Playhouse celebrated their ten year anniversary with a Back to the Future one-night performance that highlighted past shows and gave glimpses to upcoming ones. 6th Street Playhouse was formed in 2004 from a partnership of Sonoma County’s oldest theater group (the Santa Rosa Players) and Actors Theatre. Together these actors renovated the 107-year-old Del Monte cannery into the current playhouse. They did an incredible job, earning the Sonoma County Historical Society Award for Preservation of a Historical Building for the renovation. In 2005, the playhouse opened with the production of Mame.


photo courtesy 6th Street Playhouse

6th Street has also won the City of Santa Rosa Award for Cultural Enrichment. Additionally, our local writers are supported through the Playhouse’s annual Redwood Writers play contest and Wine Country Play Festival. Winning playwrights receive full production of their plays and two tickets to the New Voices on the Vine: A Wine Country Play Festival.


However, this award-winning theater is in need of our patronage. This season, they have had to cancel four productions in the Studio Theatre due to lack of funds.


The playhouse’s 2014-2015 season continues with The Graduate, Crazy for You (A Gershwin Musical), New Voices on the Vine, and Buddy, the Buddy Holly Story. The Spring Youth Production of Shrek the Musical JR will perform on April 17 and 18th, and in August, our young actors will perform the Wizard of Oz.


So, fellow Sonoma County enthusiasts, already tired of wine tasting, gourmet eating, kayaking, and hiking? Want a fun night out with family or that special someone? Wish to make memories to last a lifetime? Support the actors of our community, be part of the GO LOCAL Sonoma County effort, and go see a play!


For tickets or more information, visit or contact the playhouse at (707) 523-4185. 6th Street Playhouse is located northwest of Railroad Square at 52 W. 6th Street, Santa Rosa.

Old Faithful Geyser of California

Posted by Sarah Amador on February 16, 2016 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)

(To read this on my 101 Things To Do Travel Blog, visit


By Sarah Amador


Where can you go in the world and find yourself surrounded by award-winning wineries, in the middle of a dormant volcano, and at a ringside seat to a geyser that shoots 100 feet into the air? If you haven’t guessed yet, it’s the Old Faithful Geyser of Calistoga.


Visit the newly renovated Old Faithful Geyser of California. Photo by Philip Amador-Rusnak

Geysers are rare, as there are only about 1,000 in the world. Half of them can be found in Yellowstone National Park and many are located in New Zealand’s Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. And one of them is right here in Calistoga!


During Thanksgiving vacation, my husband and I visited the geyser. We left the foggy redwood groves to emerge in the northern tip of Napa Valley, a setting that I have always thought rivals northern Italy for beauty. The mountains fanned around us in a swirl of amber and golds. When we arrived at Old Faithful, the geyser was already showing signs of erupting. The steam was spraying out about 15 feet into the air.


A boy began jumping and shouting, “Dad, it’s coming! I hear it Dad!”

The kid’s excitement was contagious, so I stepped closer. He was right. Bubbles were forming at the geyser mound, popping like bubbles in a jacuzzi. Then there was a gurgling and the smell of sulfur. I was already a safe distance away, but now I backed up more. A minute later, Old Faithful expelled a stream of 122-140°F hot water 30 feet into the air! A rainbow formed near the side of it and arced out across the pond.


During the rainy season, the geyser erupts more often. It’s been rainy, so we saw it shoot up four times during our visit. We stayed for about an hour and half, and the geyser never stopped for long. The highest eruption reached about 50 feet.


Normally, the geyser will erupt every thirty minutes. It is because of this faithful regular eruption that this Calistoga geyser has earned the distinction of “old faithful.” Only two other geysers in the world have been given this title.


My husband and I wandered the property, reading signs which informed us that we were standing in the center of a once active volcano. This volcano has been dormant for more than 3 million years, ever since it it exploded during the Pliocene Period. When you’re in the heart of wine country, you don’t expect to see lava rocks, but we did. We also saw an ash flow, the same kind we saw when we visiting the Petrified Forest. In fact, it’s partly due to the minerals brought forth from this volcanic activity that makes the wine in this area so good.


It was mind-boggling to imagine what was happening under my feet. Two miles under us lay a giant cavern. At that very moment, the cavern was filling with water from an underground river, water that had been flowing over hot rocks heated by magma until it reached 350°F. When the cavern fills with hot water, the water boils and expands, creating tremendous pressure. That’s when steam and water finds a way through the fissures and fractures just like steam finds its way and pushes up through the spout of a kettle.


We found a private cabana with a view of the geyser and sat down to a picnic. Over fruit and chocolate we pondered the watery phenomenon that kept erupting in front of us, while savoring the view of Mount Saint Helena and the expanse of fall colors across the mountains. The Adironack chairs were comfortable and we basked in the warmth of the sun.


After we were full and warm, it was time for more exploring. We passed a therapy pool once used by visitors to benefit from the water’s healing properties. Next we followed signs to the museum. Even though the museum was being renovated, there was still plenty to learn. We discovered more about the earth we stood on and how Mount Saint Helena got its name. We saw the seismographs that proved the Calistoga geyser’s ability to predict earthquakes. Many studies have been conducted regarding this connection, perhaps the most prestigious by the Carnegie Institute of Washington and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). In fact, according to the Old Faithful Geyser of Calistoga’s manager, the geyser predicted the 6.0 earthquake in Napa this last summer. The day before the earthquake, the geyser started behaving strangely, only erupting every two hours. Old Faithful Geyser of Calistoga called USGS to report it that day. During the next few days, the geyser continued its strange behavior, sometimes erupting every 20 minutes, and sometimes not for an hour.


A trip to Old Faithful also offers guests an experience at the petting zoo. We crossed the new courtyard with a central fountain to feed famous Tennessee Fainting Goats (thankfully, they did not faint), marvel at how four-horned sheep manage to eat, and held staring contests with the llamas. For the first time, I fed a baby goat and felt her tongue on the palm of my hand! Too cute for words.

Visiting hours at Old Faithful are from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, seven days a week, no appointment necessary. (Spring and summer hours are longer.) Picnics are encouraged and there are plenty of comfortable spots to unwind. If you’ve collected a bottle of wine along the way, the staff says, “bring it on in.” A visit to the geyser is a great treat for families or romantic dates. In the summer, live music is offered in the evenings and the geyser is lit up by spotlights.


Cost is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors (55+), $8 for children (4-12). Children ages 3 and under are free. You will find Old Faithful at 1299 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga. For more information, visit or call (707) 942-6463.

Experience the Magic of Bioluminescent Plankton

Posted by Sarah Amador on February 16, 2016 at 6:55 PM Comments comments (0)

(To read this on my 101 Things To Do Travel Blog, visit

They Glow!

Experience the magic of bioluminescent plankton

By Sarah Amador

Is seeing a wonder of the world on your bucket list? If so, head to the Russian River Estuary in Jenner to experience the magic of bioluminescent plankton for yourself. Few places in the world host such high concentrations of this beauty. The Russian River Estuary is one of these! It’s best to kayak in the water at night under the new moon. Like Merlin stirring a magic potion, you can swirl your paddle in the water to create a sparkling glow reminiscent of the Milky Way.

See bioluminescent plankton with WaterTreks


Once a year, in late summer, a phenomenon occurs on the coast when the bioluminescent dinoflagellate plankton bloom. On nights when the full moon is not shining, you can see them at the beach in the waves and in puddles you make with your feet. The bioluminescent plankton also flow into the estuary from the ocean. When you move through them or “wake them up,” the plankton give off bursts of light that look like glow sticks or sparkle like stars. They also attach to reeds and wildlife. Imagine basking in your own personal fireworks show, as hundreds of glowing fish dart under your kayak! Some adventurers may even spot the “ghost seal” lifting its head out of the waters.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience this magic many summers in a row. Last weekend, I went out with friends to play in the greenish glow. I’m happy to report that this year is twice as good as I’ve ever seen it! My friend reported it was one of the most amazing experiences she’s ever had—and I agree with her. Experiencing the glowing plankton has been one of the top highlights of my life.

If you have a kayak, you can launch at the Jenner Visitor Center around 8 p.m. You can also reserve a glowing plankton night tour with WaterTreks EcoTours in Jenner ( or 707-865-2249). (The eco-friendly tours provided by this kayak outfitter are so spectacular that they have recently been featured by Horizon Airlines in their inflight magazine.) WaterTreks will supply you with outerwear and a dry bag.

Hopefully, the bloom will hold until October. But really, the best time is now, before the full moon arrives. When you go, be prepared to embrace the kid in you—it’s impossible not to exclaim and giggle at the amazing sight.

Have fun, fellow Sonoma and Napa County adventurers! And check that item off your bucket list, as “been there, done that!”

Heroes of our State Parks #3 ~ Bothe-Napa State Park

Posted by Sarah Amador on April 5, 2015 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (0)

(To read this on my 101 Things To Do Travel Blog, visit

by Sarah Amador


This is the third story in a series. For the first and second story links, click on the links provided at the end of this article.

Heroes: Keeping Your Parks Open — Bothe-Napa Valley State Park


Located in the heart of Napa Valley wine county, four miles south of Calistoga, Bothe-Napa Valley State Park offers it all—year-round camping, picnicking, swimming and hiking. This 1,900 acre park provides ten miles of trails that meander through coastal redwoods, Douglas fir and madrone. Some trails run alongside babbling creeks, through fern-lined canyons and offer vistas of Mount Saint Helena. At the Bale Grist Mill in the adjacent park, you can step back in time to California’s rural heritage.

Three years ago, California State Parks announced that 70 parks were slated to close by 2012, due to budget cuts. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park were on that list.

Volunteers from the Napa Valley State Parks Association (NVSPA) were worried about what might happen when the parks closed. Would the historic structures be vandalized? What if businesses wanted to privatize the park?

NVSPA Park Outreach Coordinator Jeanne Marioni was part of that volunteer group. “We wondered, could our small but mighty group do this?” Marioni said. “Could we run a 50 plus campsite campground? Could we operate a mill?”

“I’m a big dreamer,” Marioni admitted. “I said, ‘Go for it!’”

But to be good stewards, you have to know your limitations. They had very little staff. Only one state employee was assigned to the park, Ranger Sandy Jones.

What does it mean to be a hero? It is one who is noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose. Instead of giving up, the brave band of NVSPA volunteers sought and formed a partnership with Napa County Regional Parks and Open Space District. On April 1, 2012, the two organizations took on heroic endeavor of operating Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park.

“We all own this. We are a part of Bothe-Napa,” Moriani said. “That’s what motivates me. We have a responsibility to care for it. State parks represent the best of America, the best of democracy. We were the first country to preserve a place for everyone. That’s a profound, amazing concept, that we would save the best places for everyone.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, a conservation bill that placed 9.1 million acres of wild American lands into the National Wilderness Preservation System. With this act, the United States made world history by being the first country to define and designate wilderness areas through law.

“Our mission is aligned with the states’,” Moriani said. “To educate, interpret, preserve and protect—and break even!”

It’s amazing what these two organizations have accomplished in just two years. The parks are no longer in jeopardy of staying open. They are thriving.


Seven more yurt campsites have been added. The pool has been repaired, its hours expanded. (Bothe-Napa is one of only two California State Parks with a swimming pool.) This year, restoration of the historic cabins and pioneer cemetery will be completed. Instead of one miller, now there are seven. In 2012, they were honored with the Governor’s Historic Preservation Award for the Bale Grist Mill. They have also received a grant to archive the mill.

They have also expanded their education outreach. Through their Living History Programs, they present Old Mill Days in October, complete with reenactors wearing period correct clothing. Always wished to make your own butter or a corn husk doll? This event is for you. Costumes are available for children and musicians play old-time songs.

Every weekend, year-round, you can tour the mill (10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) and watch a miller use the original set of 1846 French Buhr millstones to grind grain. Organic Bale Grist Mill products like polenta and whole-wheat flours are available for purchase.

Now all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays, school groups can visit. The parks offer a Junior Ranger program, week-long Nature Camp, and a new Teen Camp. Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods is working with the parks to raise awareness of redwoods.

One of the most important facts is that NVSPA and Napa County Regional Parks and Open Space District have strengthened the parks’ partnerships with local groups and businesses. For example, they received a truck from the Board of Supervisors of Napa County.

“People are beginning to value the parks even more,” Marioni said. “It’s been important to me to get local people to believe the parks are an important part of their life.”

For information about the parks, visit or call (707) 942-4575.

See Heroes of our State Parks #1.

See Heroes of our State Parks #2.

Peggy Sue's Cruise 2014

Posted by Sarah Amador on April 5, 2015 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (0)

(To read this on my 101 Things To Do Travel Blog, visit

by Sarah Amador

Does the sight of rumble seats, tail fins and shimmering chrome make you go weak in the knees? Combine that with music from the 1940s, 50s and 60s along with heaps of food, and you’ve got a winning event. It’s called Peggy Sue’s All-American Cruise, and it’s happening again this weekend.

When Peggy and Rich Williams first started the car show in 2003, there were 350 cars. Now, twelve years later, there are one thousand! When it first began, it was two days long. Now it spans four days. To be part of the event, the car has to be manufactured in America before 1976.

“This all came about because of the old cars and old music that brings everybody together,” Peggy said of the show.

According to Peggy, families bring more and more family members until the event resembles a family reunion. Some participants meet old friends they haven’t seen for 20 years. For some, it’s love at first sight.

“I think what I love most are the stories,” Peggy said. “There’s always a story to every car.”

Peggy told me about one man who spent seven years building a car and coming to the show. He kept wishing to meet the love of his life. One year, he did. They started dating and fireworks began firing. Last year, they returned to the show as a couple. He pulled over at the exact same street corner where she first hopped into his 1923 “T” Bucket, and proposed to her.

Another couple, Robert Cream and Kristine Ferguson will be getting married this Saturday, on the anniversary of the Saturday they met four years ago at the car show.

Also this year, the Williams’ will help raise money for Sergeant Ryan Connolly’s family. Connolly was a graduate of Piner High School and attended Santa Rosa Junior College. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2008. His wife was 23 years old; his daughter was only 16 months old. He also left behind the car of his dreams, a 1970 Nova, that he was never able to build. It is the Williams’ wish to build that car in his memory, as well as raise money for his daughter.

The cruise kicks off on Thursday with dinner and music for those registered.

On Friday, the cars will be winding their way through the back roads of Santa Rosa. From 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., the public is invited to the “Chili and Pasta Cook-Off ~ Beer & Wine Tasting.” Held at A Place to Play Park in Santa Rosa, the event includes BBQ hot dogs and sausages, chili and pasta and of course, beer and wine tasting. (Tickets are $30.) The Hot Rod’s Band will keep you swaying to the groovy tunes. At this time, you can also vote for your favorite girl in the Pin-Up Girl Contest.

Saturday ushers in the morning with a pancake breakfast from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. (Tickets are $7.) Next in line is Show-n-Shine, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. This is where you’ll get to see the massive collection of gorgeous vehicles. Live entertainment is provided by the Poyntlyss Sistars Rockin’ Show Band. (Tickets are $10; children under 12 are free). Dancing is welcome, and may be contagious!

Saturday night is celebrated with the Pedal Car Cruise on 4th Street at 5:00 p.m. This is possibly the cutest event of the year, as little kids dressed in 1950s attire pedal their hot rods down the street. Afterwards, the adults take back the streets to cruise along 4th and 5th Streets. This is your chance to see hundreds of gorgeous, gleaming American vehicles in action.

On Sunday, the car show offers a swap meet from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. If you’re looking for extra car parts, you’ll want to check out this event. From 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., a Father’s Day Pancake Breakfast will be offered; proceeds support Saint Rose School. (Tickets are $7.) Live music is provided by Wonder Bread 5 at 10:00 a.m. (Tickets are $6; children under 12 are free.) The day rounds out with a hot dog eating contest and trophy ceremony.

When I asked the Williams if they have always loved old cars, Rich said, “I think you’re born with it. I’ve loved cars since I can remember them. I can remember the first time I saw a Studebaker. I was five or six. I can still remember how cool that car was.”

In high school, Rich took an auto mechanics class so he could work on his cars. He was 15 when he bought his first car, a four-door 39’ Chevy sedan. It was 1965. Every day, he would look at the car on his walk to work. He finally asked the owner if he could buy the sedan. The owner sold it to him for $50. It needed work, but it ran!

Peggy’s father had an old 1920 Chevy with a rumble seat and a 60s military jeep that he restored. Her first car was a 1935 Buick with mohair upholstery, painted a pea-soup green.

For more information, visit

Farm Trails Hosts Celebration

Posted by Sarah Amador on February 16, 2015 at 12:05 PM Comments comments (0)


(To read this on my 101 Things To Do Travel Blog, visit

By Sarah Amador

What is really in our food? Where does our food come from? Is it grown with eco-friendly practices? Today more and more consumers are asking these questions, especially in Sonoma County. Forty years ago, a group of local farmers thought these questions were so important they created the non-profit organization Farm Trails. Whether it’s cheese, butter, fruit, vegetables or meats, Farm Trails offers you a direct connection with the product and its maker.

It’s easy to forge your own trail. First, visit and click on the Live Map & Guide. From there, select your visits by region, criteria or farm name. (Maps are also available at local visitor centers or you can download one at

With more than 70 farms and businesses to choose from, it’s easy to build that connection to your food and have a lot of fun at the same time. Imagine cuddling with baby goats, walking through fields of lavender and savoring the creaminess of award-winning cheese.

For those interested in a specific product, select the “criteria” option. From this detailed list, you can quickly locate products such as dairy and eggs, fruits and vegetables, plants, live animals and flowers. You can also choose a “method” search option, and select from categories such as antibiotic or GMO free, biodynamic, organic, grass-fed or humanely raised.

The Feature search option is fun too. It instantly shows you the farms that offer animal-petting, beekeeping, cheese-making workshops or lavender harvesting.

Need another reason to explore Farm Trails? Think “cheese.” Sonoma and Marin counties are now proclaimed the Normandy region for artisan cheese-making in California. With 22,000 acres devoted to it, that makes sense. More than half of California’s 43 boutique cheese companies are located in Marin and Sonoma counties. Yum! One of the oldest cheese-makers is the Vella Cheese Company, famous for their aged dry Jack. This artisan company is located just two blocks from Sonoma’s historic town square.

If your heart thrills with the idea of hanging out with baby goats, then make sure to visit Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery in Sebastopol. (It’s all organic and Certified Humane!) Also on your list should be the historic Petaluma Creamery. This creamery celebrated its 100 year anniversary last year! All products of Spring Hill Jersey Cheese and Petaluma Creamery are available for tasting. Don’t forget to try their Lavender Pumpkin Ice Cream. Located near downtown Petaluma, the creamery is easy to visit.

Once you’ve charted your course, make sure to check for hours of operation. Many farms are open by appointment only.

This Saturday, May 31st, Farm Trails is hosting a BBQ, Brews and Barn Dance celebration from 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm. There will be a brews, cider and cheese reception, followed by a farm to table meal and silent auction. Live music is provided by the band Cahoots. Tickets are $80.

The Barlow Center: Treats, Art, Eat

Posted by Sarah Amador on February 15, 2015 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (0)

(To read this on my 101 Things To Do Travel Blog, visit

By Sarah Amador

Sebastopol has always been hip, but with the addition of The Barlow Culinary and Arts Center, it’s now got a whole new groove. Downtown is a lot bigger. Just next door to the Rialto Cinemas on McKinley Street, there’s a place to share fine food and enjoy art and wine. In fact, there are at least 38 exclusive experiences to choose from.

This is where you’ll meet food producers, wine makers, brewers, distillers and artists. The Barlow is the one of the first business communities in the nation to connect customers with products, the people who make them, and the production itself.

What’s more, The Barlow is dog-friendly and family-friendly. There are tree-lined streets, grassy areas, a bocce ball court and children’s play area. Last week, Jack Johnson was hanging out at one of the fire pits, strumming his guitar at Zazu Restaurant + Kitchen. Happily, there’s plenty of parking.

If you wish to wine taste, you can choose from Kosta Browne Winery, Marimar Estate Winery (both specialize in high end Pinot Noirs), Wind Gap Wines, MacPhail Family Wines and LaFollette Wines. If you like a good brew or distillation, choose from Woodfour Brewing Company, Warped Brewing Company or Spirit Distillery. (At this artisan micro distillery, you can watch their “grain to glass” methods for distilling gin and whiskey. It’s milled, mashed, fermented, distilled and bottled–all on-site.)

This week, I decided to explore the community for myself. I was guided by signs that announced, Treats, Art, Eat–so how could I go wrong? When I came upon a sculpture of a dog riding a bicycle (one of local artist Patrick Amiot’s junk art sculptures), I hung a left into Marimar Estate Vineyard & Winery’s tasting room. Like most of the businesses in The Barlow, they are dog-friendly. That’s good, because in Sonoma County, we’re devoted to our dogs and want to take them everywhere. If I had brought my dogs, the hostess would have given them each a treat. The wine is named after the winery’s English Springer Spaniels, Chico and Bonita. Before I had finished my first taste, I was already thinking happily of how I could now walk my dogs and wine taste at the same time!

Founder and proprietor Marimar Torres is a descendent from a famous wine-making family in Spain. The Torres family has been making wine since the 1700s. The grapes are organic and grown using a biodynamic method involving a bull’s horn and the full moon. The vineyards are located in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. Robert Parker wrote about their Albariño, saying it was, “the finest Albariño I have tasted from California.”

My favorites were the Pinot Noirs–three different limited-productions were offered on the tasting menu!

When asked to describe The Barlow, my wine hostess Sissy Alton, said, “It’s a destination. It offers a little bit of everything.”

She’s right. You could spend the whole afternoon or evening here. Not only can you wine taste, you can shop or watch artisans sculpt, and then enjoy a romantic dinner at award-winning, Michelin-recommended restaurant Zazu. For those early birds, begin with some yoga or Zumba at the dance studio move2Change. Or start with a Lavendar Latte at Taylor Maid Farms’ Coffee Bar & Roastery and enjoy the free WiFi. You can watch art created before your eyes at C14 Contemporary Arts, Spiral Fusion Glass Art, Wolfard Glassblowing, and Bronze Plus Art Foundry. If you have to pick up something for dinner, you can’t go wrong with natural foods store Community Market, the Village Bakery and Farmer’s Exchange of Earthly Delights.

The goal of The Barlow is to bring the artisans of Sonoma County “out of the woods” and to a place where everyone can see them. That’s happening.

For more information or to view the directory, visit or (707) 824-5600. The Barlow is located at 6770 McKinley Street, Sebastopol.

Petrified Forest Celebrates 100 Years (+/- 3 million yrs)!

Posted by Sarah Amador on February 15, 2015 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (0)



By Sarah Amador


‘“I was cleaning up the pasture for my beasts, when I found this”—kicking a great redwood seven feet in diameter, that lay there on its side, hollow heart, clinging lumps of bark, all changed into gray stone, with veins of quartz between what had been the layers of the wood.’

— Robert Louis Stevenson

    “The Silverado Squatters,” 1883


Have you ever seen a 3-million-year-old-tree that is really stone or walked through a redwood forest that sparkles? You’ve probably seen a waterfall, but have you ever seen a solid ashfall? (An ashfall is made up of volcanic material. This one is fused together, and created by tuff, rhyolite, iron, petrified wood chunks and obsidian.)


Robert Louis Stevenson had not seen a petrified tree (a tree that has been turned to stone) until he visited the Petrified Forest in Calistoga in 1880. The author of Treasure Island wrote about the unusual forest and his meeting with owner Petrified Charlie Evans in his travel memoir The Silverado Squatters.


You too can see these natural wonders of the world by visiting the Petrified Forest. It’s been 100 years since Ollie Bockée bought the Petrified Forest and helped develop it into a national tourist attraction. It is due to her efforts that the forest is preserved today. In honor of Ollie and all the people who have devoted their lives to the forest, a two-day anniversary celebration will be held this weekend.


On Saturday, May 17th, admission will be free. On Sunday, admission will be $5 for children, $9 for seniors (62 and older) and juniors (12-17), and $10 for adults. Children 6 years old and younger are admitted free. The celebration begins at 9:00 am and continues to 7:00 pm each day. There will be classical acoustic music, guided tours and food for purchase. From 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, docents will be stationed around the new trail.


On Saturday at noon, Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning will talk about his connection to the property and officiate the opening of a new public meadow trail that offers guests spectacular views of the giant ashfall and Mount Saint Helena. The trail is open for self-guided and docent-led tours throughout each day. Guests have the option of walking the 20 minute moderate trail or continuing to the half mile longer meadow trail. The new meadow trail is twice as long as the original public trail, extending the public paths by half a mile. Wildflowers such as Shooting Stars, Indian Paintbrush, poppies, lupine, buttercups, and phlox can be seen here.


To give guests an idea of what the forest used to look like, historic photos will be displayed throughout the property. An actor will portray Robert Louis Stevenson and share what he wrote about the petrified trees. Guests will also be able to view the old diner, which was open from 1951-1965. In the gift shop’s museum cabinet, guests will be able to view rare rocks and fossils.


As you walk the trail, make sure to look down at the pale yellow sandy ash. These are the remnants of the ash from the molten lava that erupted from the volcano and coursed down the valley over three million years ago! You’ll also probably notice the glittering redwood giants. The stardust sparkle isn’t dewdrops. It’s druzy, a large collection of minute crystals that form on the surface and in the gaps of the trees. At least 10% of the wood in the forest is druzy.

Since 1999, one of the petrified logs from the forest has been on display in the "Hall of Planet Earth" at New York's American Museum of Natural History. Each year, guests from around the world and students of all ages come to view this wonder of the world. In the fall and spring, several school groups visit the property each week. Last Tuesday, 173 students came to view the forest!


This forest is a must-see for any geologist—make this unique experience one of yours! When you’re there, go back in time and imagine the volcano eruption, how magnificent the blast had to have been in order to push 2,000-year-old trees to the side, and then the long 3.4 million year process that turned the trees to stone.


For more information, visit or call 707-942-6667. The Petrified Forest is located at 4100 Petrified Forest Road, Calistoga.


New Patrick Amiot Sculpture Coming to Sebastopol

Posted by Sarah Amador on February 15, 2015 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

(To read this on my 101 Things To Do Travel Blog, visit

By Sarah Amador

For a free and fun outing this weekend, head to Sebastopol to visit the junk sculptures of Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent. Made out of scrap or recyclable waste, these cartoon-like creations are sure to put a smile on your face. Rocket ships, monsters, mermaids, fishermen and pirates will spark your environmentally conscious imagination as you look closer to see what they’re made of.

It’s hard not to laugh when you realize a caterpillar’s feet are made out of forks or that the nose of a girl is really a wrench. Pots are repurposed as hats, clocks become eyes.

“People think it’s funny to see pots and pans put together,” Amiot said about their creations.

In a few months, something new and unusual will be squatting in the streets of Sebastopol—a 10 foot tall junk sculpture of an orange tabby cat saying, “Slow down!” Amiot was commissioned by the Sebastopol Police Department to create the cat. It’s trailable, so it can be moved to different locations. It will be lit up at night.

For Amiot, it’s all about recycling. He tries to recycle as much as he can.

“I started to be peeved that I couldn’t use materials that were there,” Amiot said.

He felt so strongly about this that he made the switch in 2011, letting go of the clay and bronze materials he worked with. From that point on, he only worked with reusable existing materials, such as steel and found objects, scrap and other recyclable waste.

“The most important part is that I felt most comfortable reusing materials,” Amiot said, “instead of using new materials. And I still feel that way.”

The husband and wife team describe themselves as urban folk artists, using bright bold colors and highly decorative design. Patrick sculpts; Brigitte paints. The artists use the beauty of their surroundings as inspiration—the colors, countryside and people of Sonoma County.

One of his latest projects was making a carousel out of recycled materials. Those riding on the carousel can choose to sit on a crab, a moon, a phone, a chicken, a bumblebee or a fish, to name just a few. Plus, the carousel is solar powered! Talk about reusing, reducing and reinventing! This carousel is currently being prepared to be moved to Markham, a city near Toronto.

Amiot says he finds his materials everywhere, sometimes from people that drop it, from scrappers or in the collections of Recycletown at Sonoma County’s landfill. (At Recycletown, you can see their caveman sculpture.)

It’s easy to view these sculptures. You can get a map by visiting and downloading the Sculpture Tour WebApp optimized for smartphones.

In Sebastopol, you’ve probably seen the ambulance sculpture at Palm Drive Hospital or the tiger mascot at Analy High School. On Main Street, a sculpture of a bicyclist reminds residents to choose eco-friendly modes of travel. Dotting Highway 12 is the Big Bad Wolf Train, the Jersey Cow and Maureen the Dog.

If you drive down Florence Avenue, you’ll see at least 20 sculptures, one in almost in every front yard. There’s Grateful Bird, Legend of Kootney Joe, Darlene the Waitress, Babe Ruth, Batman, a rat riding a hot rod, and a truck with a cow in the flatbed.

More and more people are making a difference for our planet as they practice the 3R’s (reduce, reuse and recycle). But have you heard about the 5 R’s? That’s reduce, reuse, recycle, rot (compost) and reinvent. The reinvent part is making art out of waste. For example, students at the school I teach at, Monte Rio Union, recently created a sculpture called “Bunny Rubble.” It’s made of marine debris collected from the Russian River Estuary and from the beaches of Sonoma Coast. The bunny is on a revolving display at the Jenner Visitor Center.

For more information about Amiot and Laurent, visit or call Big Times Art Studio at (707) 824-9388.

Students Take Santa Rosa Safari

Posted by Sarah Amador on February 14, 2015 at 10:45 AM Comments comments (0)

(To read this on my 101 Things To Do Travel Blog, visit

by Sarah Amador

By teaching conservation through education, we create awareness. If you leave here with only one realization ­­– that what we have on earth is perishable and we are what is making it perishable – that’s good enough for me.”

— Peter Lang, Safari West founder

Last week, the entire student body of Monte Rio Union School went on an African safari— without ever leaving Sonoma County. They went to Safari West, a 400 acre wildlife preserve for over 900 exotic mammals and birds, located off Mark West Springs Road. (It takes just 15 minutes to get there from downtown Santa Rosa!) The adventure was made possible for kindergarten through eighth grade students by the Safari West Foundation, an educational component of the company that teaches conservation through education.


The company is dedicated to raising awareness of exotic animals, promoting understanding through in-person contact, and to the propagation of endangered species. Each year, over 10,000 school children visit the preserve on field trips! Each year, 60,000 visitors experience the thrill of seeing the exotic animals in-person.

I have the privilege of teaching at Monte Rio Union School and went on the field trip as well. Around the grounds of Safari West, you could hear “oohing” and “ahing” as students pointed at giraffes, gazelles, zebras, oryx, antelopes, cape buffalo, wildebeests and cheetahs.

For many children, the experience will be an once-in-a-lifetime thrill. Many of our students have never seen these kinds of animals except on a TV screen. I asked them what their impressions were. Here’s what they said:

“We saw birds that looked like old people.”

“The porcupines looked vicious.”

“I got to see animals I have never seen before, like a monkey, rhino, flamingo, gazelle, antelope, porcupine, giant tortoise, and a cheetah. That was exciting!”

“I like the monkeys that have the funny long beard.”

“We got to see a bird that looked like it has a rainbow.”

“My favorite was the big cows with horns.”

“The keeper says if you stand on the ostrich egg, it won’t break!”

“The Long Horned Cows had a pig in their family. The long horned cow saw the little boar coming along. The little boar had lost its mother; it was sad. So the long horned cow took him in and raised it like it was one of their own.”

“It was really funny when a giraffe licked a lady’s hair in our group.”

I was lucky enough to see this! We were on the tram tour, passing the giraffes, when one came up and tried to kiss our guide, Corrine Bishop, on the cheek! (At least, that’s what it looked like it was trying to do!) Bishop moved away, and the giraffe licked her hair. Bishop is the Events Manager for Safari West. When she heard that the Monte Rio students were going to visit, she jumped at the chance to volunteer to guide our students during the tram tour.

Bishop was once herself a student at Monte Rio during her eighth grade year, from 1994-1995. It was the first year of the new Monte Rio School building.

“My memories were great,” Bishop said of the Monte Rio Union School. “The teachers genuinely cared for each and every one of the students, and they created an atmosphere that was conducive to learning at our own levels. I truly enjoyed the time I spent there.”

“My love of animals was strong from the get go,” Bishop added. “My parents raised me with all sorts of farm animals and taught me how important it was to protect and care for them. My love of Safari West started in high school at El Molino. My friend volunteered here many years before I ever thought about applying. He shared with me about how wonderful the owners were and all about how much they had taught him along the way.”

Bishop began as a volunteer in 2008, fell in love immediately and never left. She was hired in 2008, and is getting ready to celebrate her six years of employment in August.

Bishop’s craziest experience so far is falling head over heels in love with a Ruppel’s Griffon Vulture “Harvey.”

“When I first started here I was terrified of most large birds,” Bishop reported. “I began working in our bird kitchen department and slowly I began to feel comfortable working around them. Then “it” happened. I was feeding a very large vulture his diet, and it just hit me—he needs love and attention just like everyone else does. He just looks scary; people were more afraid of him than they needed to be. I was afraid of him and he was reaching out for someone to love him. He and I were best buds from that point on.”

It is Safari West’s belief that the more children know about animals, the more they appreciate them and want them to be around for the future.

Safari West was rated by AAA as a must experience location in California, second only to Disney Land! Sunset Magazine has listed it as one of the top 300 destinations in the western United States.

To book a tour or learn more about the animals of Africa, visit Safari West at or contact them at (707) 579-2551.