Sunday, March 20, 2011

Yosemite in Winter

One lovely thing we managed to do this Winter was take our kids to Yosemite. We had never taken our  boys, which is practically criminal, living in the Bay Area! My husband also had been yearning to see Yosemite with snow.

We headed up during February school break for three nights. Our family stayed at Yosemite Lodge, on the valley floor. It was blissfully uncrowded, sunny and bright. The surrounding wonders were covered in snow and made for the most awe-inspiring views. My boys were really thrilled by the nature, especially my seventh grader. He spent a lot of time taking shots with his phone and making screen savers that looked like paintings!

The most fun for them was probably the chance to ski at Badger Pass. A lot of people don't realize it's part of the park and a wonderful ski area. When you stay at the valley floor you can get a bus ride up. It's supposed to take 45 minutes, but the luxury bus combined with El Capitan and Half Dome made for a really fun trip. The lodge itself is very cute and the mountain has 10 runs, which were great for my boys who are intermediates. My black diamond skier hubby even enjoyed it. One bummer was that I was unable to ski due to a torn calf muscle I popped just 2 days before going for a tennis volley.

After a hard day of skiing- kicking it at the Ahwahnee.
 I sucked it up and brought my books to the lodge. I have to say I didn't mind hanging out there. The first day I was able to sit out on their very large sun deck and see the boys came down their runs. Snow flurries filled our second day and I found a cozy seat to read my book, and watch through the windows. Lovely place and kind people. No, this is not Aspen or Squaw. If you are looking for a great spot to take your family, this is it! The funny thing is my boys both said they wanted to go back here over Tahoe. They have skied Bear Valley, Squaw and Homewood before. One thing I think they really liked about Badger was the uncrowded slopes. There were no boarders zig-zagging around them or speed demons. Their skiing confidence level was considerably raised after two days here. They pushed their boundaries a bit maybe because they felt safer. We didn't do ski school, but have heard great things about it. Badger also leads snow-shoeing treks and cross-country if you aren't into the downhill.

Boys !   At the visitor center.
Another fun Winter thing to do is just tooling around the village. They have a free valley floor shuttle that you can jump on to get between The Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge, Curry Village and the The Yosemite Visitor Center ( The Ansel Adam's Gallery is there). There's still a lot to see and do here at this time. One favorite was seeing Yosemite Falls hitting snow.  All the wonders -El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Bridal-Veil falls, are easy to admire from the valley without a lot of hiking. This I really appreciated since I had my bum leg to contend with. We made sure we hit the Ansel Adams Gallery too. I bought a matted print for $25 as a memento of the trip, while the husband and I dreamed of owning some of the originals in there! The boys loved the interactive visitor center. It's got some cool caves to climb through and the kids can learn about the wildlife and the original native people of the Yosemite Valley.

As far as lodging, well there are a few options.  The Yosemite Lodge, where we bunked is basic, but good for families. Make sure you ask for a lodge room, which is apparently, a bit bigger than the basics. With these you get a balcony -not fancy, but you may have a view of Half Dome! We stayed in the Hemlock wing, which was a good location, across from the main lobby, restaurants and bar. They have begun to upgrade slowly all 245 rooms to be LEED certified and green, which is terrific. So far, there are only 2 green units available, but you can find out more by clicking here. We were not lucky enough to get a green one. Be warned the walls are THIN! The first night was fine until some college kids came home next door around 12. After that I heard scratching on the window around 3 and opened the curtains to see a large raccoon staring right back at me! He was trying to get in I guess. After a few minute stare down he left ! The next two nights were blissfully quiet. Put it this way, you aren't here to hang in your room, so for sleeping it's fine. Better yet, as a girlfriend put it so well, "It's better than camping". I'll leave it at that. Next time I'm going to check out the Ahwahnee lodging. There is also Curry Village which we did not investigate, but appears to be even more rustic.
My youngest checking out one of Ahwahnee's fireplaces.

The Ahwahnee Hotel, is the historic stone and timber lodge. It's a fun place to just stop and gawk. They have a cute bar to grab a drink and you can get chili and other easy meals. There's a good store for overpriced keepsakes like Ahwahnee china and a sweet shop here too. We had our family Valentine's dinner in the the famous dining room with tuxedoed waiters. The food was good, but actually not as good as the restaurant at the Mountain Room at Yosemite Lodge. I was a bit worried about dressing appropriately here and brought nice sweaters for the boys. No worries about that though, as a few diners looked like they just dragged themselves out of their tents. The vibe may be a bit more high-brow here, but the clientele is from all walks of life. The Ahwahnee may nicer, but the Lodge is just a bit more fun and young.

Just outside our room at Yosemite Lodge.
Yosemite Lodge has a cafeteria and with the play n' stay package you get breakfast included there. The cafeteria is...well the name says it all. They do have excellent croissants if you can get one. You also can pick up snacks at the general store here to bring up to the mountain or on a hike. We bought cheese and a few other goodies and made a lunch out of it on the ski-days. They also have a bar that has a cool firepit and a casual menu. Next door at the Yosemite Lodge Mountain Room, you'll see a  gorgeous view of Yosemite Falls and the food is fantastic. The wine list was also top-notch along with the service. Don't miss their vegetarian lasagna. It's the best I've ever had. We grabbed bites in the bar with the kids another night and brought the game UNO to play after by the fire. There are lots of families playing games in here and enjoying a drink or snack. Kids are not allowed after 9, but usually by then they are wiped out from the full day of fresh air! They also have live music some nights and next door in the community room, rangers give nightly nature talks. More info about all the dining I described Yosemite can be found if you click the mountain room link above.

Oh and one more note, don't miss the Moscow Mules! If you don't already know, it's a yummy cocktail made famous by Oprah when she camped here last summer in her motor home. ( If you get a chance to catch the repeat it's darn funny. I especially liked when Oprah squeezes the limes for everyone's drinks with her teeth- you have to see it.)  The ingredients are a mix of ginger beer, lime and mint, oh and vodka. Anyhow, Yosemite has jumped on the mule bandwagon and is offering it all the restaurants. The best one is at Yosemite Lodge Bar!


Can you believe this was a phone pic? On the way up to Badger Pass.


Forgot to mention the crazy weather. We had sunny 65 degree days, and a day with a few snow flurries. The day we left to drive home they got 20 inches of snow that night! We just missed a huge storm. The weather in California can be so flaky like that! Can you say layers people! As Northern Californians, we're all about that, but for the people visiting from farther out- well bring those fleeces!! The nights were BRRRR! You'll go from shorts to ski-jackets in a matter of a few hours this time of year. We are planning another trip back, hopefully before Summer and some day I would like to visit in Fall again too.  The Fall is a wonderful time to bike here!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Not bathing suit ready yet..

My yummy Croque Monsieur and tea at Fleur de Cocoa.
Here in Bay Area, we've had a lot of beautiful days lately, so I don't mind the rainy ones. It was extremely blustery today and our little court felt like Windy Corner. Trees were bending all over and the big Sequoia in my front yard was dangerously close to sending a branch through our front window.

I love hunkering down on these days. There are cats that need cuddling up to, tea to be savored and reading to be done, all while I watch the storm from my cozy couch. I blew off the gym, but I know warm weather is coming and I'll be outside all the time soon.

A bright spot in this stormy day was that I got to enjoy lunch with the hubby. He's off before he starts a new job and we squeezed a quick jaunt to my favorite little lunch place. Fleur de Cocoa. If you ever get to Los Gatos, it's a small bit of France. They're famous for their chocolate, but I love the Croque Monsieurs and the French onion soup is divine. It brought me back to Paris and the small cafes you squeeze into to duck out of the rain.

As you can imagine, this was not a low-fat day. We started out with bagels, the lunch and now husband is happily making beignets for the men of the house. The three of them were thick as thieves munching away on the doughy goodness as they watched the mindless Wipe-Out on the tube. They were full of snacky happiness, but I had to exit the room. The smell of grease and the show was too much. Somehow, watching Wipe-out makes me feel like I'm wasting what time I have on this planet! Ah, to be a man... It's the little things that make 'em happy.