A Weekend in San Marcos, CA

A couple weekends ago, I made a quick trip back to California for a friend’s wedding. I feel like future Tess may have to start being a little selective about the events that I fly home for since most of the people I grew up with still live in Orange County and I don’t foresee many of them going far from home when it comes to wedding locations, etc., but this was one wedding that I had no intention of missing.

It was a friend that had been in my kindergarten class, and we somehow managed to stay friends through elementary school, junior high and high school. It helped that our families were also very close: for as long as I can remember I’ve been making gingerbread houses with his grandparents every year before Christmas, and we grew up going on family vacations and spending various holidays together.

We didn’t go to the same colleges, and had seen much less of each other since graduating high school. So I was thrilled to get a Save the Date for his wedding after I heard that he proposed to his beautiful college sweetheart.

I flew into San Diego bright and early on the Friday before the wedding, and got to spend the day with my lovely Mom exploring Seaport Village and La Jolla before heading up to San Marcos in the afternoon. Nearly all of the people I knew attending this wedding were parents of the kids I grew up going to school with. Like my mom, they had stayed very close to the groom’s parents over the years. It was great to see so many people who had known me when I was younger and actually have the chance to hang with them as one of the adults for the first time.

My boyfriend flew in very late Friday night, so he my Mom and I spent Saturday morning walking around the little lake near our hotel and taking it easy. That afternoon, we drove about 10 minutes away to the wedding venue. It was a beautiful location: all outdoor, with an area for the ceremony under the trees and a separate space under a huge tent for the reception.

The whole evening was wonderful. Even a few weeks later I haven’t stopped thinking about the amount of love and joy that was palpable in everything that night. I also think that since this was one of the people that I’ve known the longest in life outside family, it put everything in perspective for me in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I feel so lucky to have been included in such a special day, and to see this boy I’ve known since we were 5 transformed into the husband of his new bride’s dreams was something that I don’t think I will ever forget.

On Sunday we left San Marcos and headed up the coast to Laguna Beach to hang with my Dad for the day. We stopped in San Clemente to grab breakfast and caffeine at Bear Coast Coffee, a place my boyfriend had always wanted to try, but never made it to when we lived in LA. (Review: the latte was excellent and we got one of  their mini apple pie/ scone situations fresh out of the oven and it was ahhhhmazing!)

Laguna was absolutely beautiful. The fog burned off right after we got there, so we spent the afternoon wandering through the shops and along the beach before having dinner al fresco at my Dad’ girlfriend’s house. The long weekend went by too fast (as they always do), but overall it was wonderful to see old friends and spend a little much needed time with my family.

The Bride & Groom!

Savannah, Georgia

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I boarded trains, planes and automobiles (more specifically, subways, trains, air trams, planes and creepy cab rides) for a long weekend and Easter vacation to Savannah.

Whenever we travel with Nathan’s family, I tend to take a backseat to the planning process. I’d rather not go into these trips with my own set of plans and expectations, since I am arguably the most easy going between the three “kids” (including Nathan & his brother), and therefore more inclined to be cool with whatever we do. Often, my role is to back up Nathan’s mom in whatever she wants to do or else she’ll be overruled by her sons (who would probably rather be using up their family’s data plan streaming a soccer/basketball/football game inside some generic, air conditioned location).

So I had done little to no research about Savannah (almost embarrassingly so) in order to negate the high expectations I unwittingly have for weekend trips like this. And it clearly worked, because here begins my loving Ode to Savannah.

We arrived late Thursday night and took a cab straight from the airport to our hotel. The one cab driver at the airport had his spiel down to a science: Step One, make sure passengers have never been there before. Since we hadn’t, Step Two began even before we had turned out of the airport: launch into a well rehearsed speech on various trivia information about Savannah. This was clearly his millionth time reciting these facts, and although some of them were clearly outdated/ flat out not true, I realized too late that I should have been recording these stats on my phone or at least taking notes. Amongst many other facts, we learned that Savannah is the most haunted city (still up for debate, as I was overruled by scaredy cats and not allowed to go on any of the numerous walking Ghost Tours offered daily after dark), the third most visited city in the country (obviously false, my fact checking findings didn’t even rank it in the top 20 on most lists), and home to the largest historic district (True! It’s literally a city “built on the bones of it’s own dead”…which corroborates both its history and its ghostly-ness.). The whole ride we were mumbling responses like “gee!” and “wow!” and “oh, really?” while crossing our fingers that this wasn’t some creepy prelude to our untimely murders, our bodies never to be found as they would be devoured by alligators, the remains swallowed by marshland… In the end we made it to the hotel and fell asleep shortly before our heads hit the pillows.

Friday morning we met up with Nathan’s family in the lobby and got ready to see the city in daylight for the first time. Quick reminder: I went to school in Texas and developed a healthy love affair with The South (sweet tea, puffy white clouds, saying “y’all”, a generally slower pace to life, all that jazz). So when we stepped outside, it was like I was hit by a wall of familiarity and nostalgia (and yes, humidity) that I had not anticipated.

The temperatures were in low the 80s with a warm breeze, the sky was that pure shade of blue that you can only find in wide open spaces (a color you almost forget about when you live in a big city long enough), and giant cotton ball clouds were peaking over the buildings and trees in abundance. And oh, those trees! Like the intangible feeling of The South, certain trees can make me feel at home in places I’ve never once laid eyes on previously. There were as many types of trees lining each street as there were shades of green, and more often than not they were draped in a glorious Spanish moss that gave even the most mundane road a shrouded ambiance of alluring charm that you didn’t know was missing from your life until you wandered through Savannah on a glorious weekend in April.

Every direction we turned, I felt like a little kid seeing the ocean for the first time: filled with sheer wonderment that I had lived this long without this place in my life. And it just kept getting better. Nathan’s mom and I convinced the boys to hop on a trolley tour of the downtown, complete with an over-the-top tour guide dressed as a wannabe Scarlett O’Hara. As unnecessary as her lavish presentation was, I loved hearing about the history of the town and about the different monuments and historic landmarks at the center of each square that we passed. I’m very convinced that no matter how “touristy” bus tours and the like are, there is no better way to get an overview of a new place so you can best decide where to concentrate your time. Downtown Savannah is delightfully walkable, and we easily meandered in and out of shops and down to the waterfront for the rest of the afternoon.

On Saturday we decided to drive and see Hilton Head, about an hour out of the city. While I’d heard a lot about the beautiful golf course, I honestly wasn’t expecting much else. We had thrown in our bathing suits “just in case”, but this California native wasn’t about to het her hopes up. The drive through South Carolina was green and pleasantly uneventful, albeit with some slightly red-neck vibes. We parked at Coligny Beach and walked through a few shops, but it wasn’t until we hit the sand that it passed the Tess Beach Test. My only other southern beach experience was Destin, Florida, where I went for spring break during my senior year of college. While Destin was too cold for real swimming, we spent plenty of time at the beach and wading through the shallows. Hilton Head’s beach had the same fine, white sand of Florida, but with possibly the warmest ocean water I’ve ever felt. Coming from a Pacific Oceander™ I know that doesn’t say much, but still. We quickly changed into our suits and soaked up the sun for a couple blissful hours.

From there we headed back to Savannah and decided to drive out to Tybee Island while we were at it. While Tybee definitely didn’t have the resort feel of Hilton Head, we found everything to be surprisingly well maintained (nicely painted, clean, etc.) for an easy-going beach town prone to damaging storms. It was reminiscent of Florida beach cities as well, and would definitely make for a nice beach day from Savannah (only about a 30 minute drive).

I don’t usually include specific shops or restaurants because I feel that it’s all about the moment and the company, but there were a few places we went over the course of the weekend that I wanted to mention.

The Paris Market: I had somehow stumbled upon this shop’s Instagram account several months ago, before I even knew we would be visiting Savannah. It’s the perfect blend of Anthropologie-esque home goods & decor mixed with Your Favorite Stationary Store and a healthy dose of southern charm. Aka everything I love in life.

The Grey: We went here for a nice dinner on Friday night, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Living in LA & NYC has definitely skewed the way I value the price of a nice dinner. For a table of four, we got 5 shared plates (if you’re interested: 3 from the “Middles” section of the menu and 2 Sides), two glasses of wine and a “flight” of gin (three types of gin and a glass of tonic) and the bill was just over $100. We all agreed that every single dish was not only unique but delicious (sometimes a hard-to-find combination), and we wouldn’t have ordered any differently.

The Coffee Fox: Nathan is a notorious coffee snob, so this is one of the places he had found for us to try. Since I had already had coffee prior to this outing, I opted for their iced matcha latte instead. And I had forgotten how good matcha could taste. So yes, I’m recommending a coffee shop on nothing to do with their actual coffee.

IMG_0191The Collins Quarter: This comes with a disclaimer–we didn’t get the chance to eat here, but stopped in for a cocktail one evening and returned for a coffee on our last morning in town. Based on ambiance alone (and what I glimpsed on people’s plates), this is high on my list of places to have a meal next time we visit. Although I was underwhelmed with their coffee, they get bonus points for the cute walk-up take out window à la Butcher’s Daughter on Abbott Kinney in LA.

Vic’s on the River: We had Easter brunch here…would return for the biscuits alone.

Crazy Crab Jarvis Creek (Hilton Head): We stopped here for lunch on our way back to Savannah. Loved sitting outside and enjoying the marshy river view. While the drinking water tasted slightly chlorinated, the fish tacos were amazing. We also overheard that there were 9 cats that live around the restaurant, to me that only adds bonus points.

I may have mentioned in previous posts, but out of all the places I have lived thus far I haven’t ever found somewhere I could see myself settling down and living for a good chunk of my life. Many places check off multiple boxes on my list of requirements, but there was always one major category missing. Either a place did not have enough potential career opportunities close by, or it was lacking that perfect amount of suburban charm while not feeling too small-town. Savannah snuck up on me and blew my low expectations out of the water. It has that coveted Southern charm, plenty to offer as far as restaurants and things to do, is on the coast, and isn’t out of reach from major cities along the east coast and in the southern states. I’m not going to start packing my bags just yet, but Savannah has easily just jumped to the top of my list for places to live in the future.

Weekend Trip to New Haven

For the past year, Nathan has been going through the process of getting the title to his car transferred to his name in order to renew its registration. Since we moved to NY, he’s had a temporary permit, but that expired shortly after the new year, so the car has been in a sort of “time out” until we can legally drive it. Long story short, after Nathan’s second trip to the DMV last week, we replaced the old Texas license plates with some (hideous, but legal) NY ones!

To celebrate, we busted the car out of car jail (aka a lot off 54th street) and headed out of the city for the weekend.

For two suburban kids hightailing it out of the big city for the first time in months, we were downright giddy. We had loosely chosen New Haven as our destination because of it’s easy proximity from the City (around 2 hours drive), as well as the fact that Yale’s lacrosse team had its season opener scheduled midday on Saturday. I’m no die-hard lacrosse fan—that’s Nathan’s territory—but the thought of bundling up and sitting in some good old-fashioned bleachers in a quintessential New England setting sounded nostalgically fun to me. Not to mention, I had never been to Rory Gilmore’s alma mater and wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to glimpse some elusive Life and Death brigaders if given the chance.

Although sun was forecasted for the weekend, highs were in the 20s. No big deal, we thought, just throw in a couple extra sweaters and a blanket for good measure. Then I learned that the whole “wind chill” thing was no joke. It took a bearable 24 degrees in the sunshine to single digits with just one gust, instantly freezing any exposed skin (how are you supposed to keep your nose protected without a ski mask??). Despite this, we still made a point to visit the desolate Connecticut beach—I dipped my fingers into the Atlantic for the first time from this coast—before getting lunch at a diner on the water called Jimmies of Savin Rock (it’s exactly what you’re picturing). Nathan also found me a lighthouse (!), which we made it to just in time to catch the sunset. The awesome views narrowly outweighed the absolutely freezing wind that almost blew us over as we ran back to the car about 30 seconds after the sun had taken its final bow.

Frigid temps aside, Yale did not disappoint. The campus was the perfect embodiment of all of my romantic Ivy League imaginings with a dash of Hogwarts thrown in. That being said, Nathan and I both agreed that had we probably would not have enjoyed attending there for undergrad (pretending for a moment that either of us could have gotten in). Speaking for myself—though I doubt I’m alone here—I loved my college experience for more than the just academics. While I took courses seriously (my Dad once calculated how much money each individual class cost in attempt to guilt me into never skipping…it worked), I enjoyed college for much more than that. The undergrad-focused atmosphere in a true college town is something that can’t be replicated. I just didn’t get that vibe from Yale. I have no doubt the students there are super-smart (and probably better prepared for the Real World), but are they having any fun???

Apart from pondering the enjoyment of the kids on campus, we also spent a good amount just driving around the delightfully suburban neighborhoods of New Haven. Nathan and I have always enjoyed this pastime. It tends to open up an unencumbered dialogue about future homes: likes and dislikes about this screened in porch or that paint color, stand-out houses or streets, etc. It’s like it allows us to compile an image of everything we like in our minds: the perfect home in some yet-to-be-determined neighborhood. Somewhere close enough to a big-ish city with opportunities to continue growing in our professional fields, but removed enough that weekend trips to Target and carpools to soccer games on weekends are commonplace…

Speaking of Target, you can bet that our lazy Sunday drive back to the city meant stopping in three small towns along the way: first for a Target that was blissfully empty, where we filled our cart to the brim because we knew the trunk of the car was ready and willing to carry it back to our apartment (and our arms wouldn’t have to); second to a mall, because nothing makes Nathan happier than wandering and taking in the enticing commercial-ness of it all; and third to a Total Wines, where we bemoaned the cheapness of everything compared to the city, and stocked up on Chardonnays and whiskey.

While this might not sound like a particularly exciting trip to some, it was exactly what we had wanted. We spent the weekend quietly celebrating 3.5 years together, just driving around and doing things we probably took for granted in Texas and California. We came back to the city feeling refreshed, and a little more mentally prepared to blend back in with the masses, ready to be sardined onto the subway first thing Monday morning.