A memorable evening at Cordiano Winery in Escondido, Calif.

As we drove into the San Diego area from Arizona, I texted a friend living in Escondido we were arriving that evening. She suggested we meet for pizza and wine at the Cordiano Winery. She jokingly mentioned the wine was passable but the pizza is good. Well, I’d have to correct her on her remarks. After our dinner there, I thought the wine was good, and the pizza was excellent. 😀 But what made our visit to Cordiano Winery special was the total package experience.

Cordiano Winery sits nestled in the hills overlooking the San Pasqual Valley. Highland Valley Road takes you on a meandering journey up to the winery and surrounding vineyards. Cool June breezes at the top of the hill greeted us as we exited the car. We almost felt too chilly, but it was welcomed after a 119-degree week in Arizona.

As we entered the dining area, I imagined how one must feel at a family gathering at a vineyard in the coastal regions of Italy. There were large groups of families and friends, sipping their wine and laughing. Couples stood arm-in-arm gazing out to the West while the sun beginning its descent. Children were running between the tables, dodging both diners and servers. This dining area had the atmosphere of a rural family estate; the true ambiance of vineyard dining.


After the hostess showed us to our table, we were given menus to select a pizza and wine. We chose three different pizzas for our group, a veggie with tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms and roasted bell peppers; a supreme with sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, zucchini, mushrooms and peppers; and a Margherita pizza. Our wine choice was the Duetto, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. My husband volunteered to put in the order for our group up at the counter and he soon returned with the wine and glasses.

The Duetto wine was light and easy drinking; and our conversations kept us occupied while the sun continued its disappearing performance and we were served our pizzas. These pizzas were delicious. Their crusts were flavorful and well-seasoned without being overly done and the toppings were fresh and plentiful. And we tried keeping up the discussion while eating but our appetites and the tasty pies won the battle, and we soon found ourselves with short stints of silence between bites.

Without warning, we glanced around and found ourselves in the middle of empty tables. The staff had begun their closing routine, folding up umbrellas, tablecloths and napkins and we knew it was time to end the evening. Good food, good wine, great conversation between friends and family, but most of all — the delightful environment truly made this evening more than simply memorable. It was perfect. We’ll be back in Escondido soon and we’ll most assuredly make it a point to return to Cordiano Winery.

Pack up the pooch for pet-friendly Prescott

Molly is ready to spend the day in Prescott!

Molly is ready to spend the day in Prescott!

If you’re looking for cool ways to spend a summer Arizona weekend, consider spending a day, weekend or — even an entire week in pet-friendly Prescott. Just like we do, our furry best friends also deserve an cool getaway during the coming ‘dog days’ of summer. Here are some suggestions for Prescott:

Dog policies are well publicized at the Prescott Farmers Market

Dog policies are well publicized at the Prescott Farmers Market

Vendors from Rabbit's Run Farm sell their produce at Prescott Farmers Market

Vendors from Rabbit’s Run Farm sell their produce at Prescott Farmers Market

Grab a snack and a cold drink at Prescott Farmers Market

Grab a snack and a cold drink at Prescott Farmers Market

Start a Saturday morning by visiting the Prescott Farmers Market at Yavapai College. The market is held weekly from 7:30 a.m. to noon in the college parking lot, at 1100 East Sheldon Street. Find local produce vendors, crafty-types, ready-to-eat brunch and lunch items, artists and live music. We strolled the booths shopping for mesquite honey, artisan breads, homemade soaps and farm-fresh veggies while listening to laidback tunes such as a cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” We snacked on authentic Kenyan samosas — a delicious baked pastry, puffed and stuffed with one of several meats — beef, pork, chicken or chorizo.

We shared our samosas with our border collie, Molly who politely walked along the aisles of this ample farmers market. Know that the Prescott Farmers Market has a policy for dogs — mostly just common sense — but we acknowledge some dog owners need to be reminded: Keep your dog leashed, close to your side, away from the market vendors’ wares.

Crooked Sky Farms' booth at Prescott Farmers Market

Crooked Sky Farms’ booth at Prescott Farmers Market

If there’s a show, exhibit, fair or some other type of activity at Courthouse Plaza (and there usually is on summer weekends), you’ll want to check that out, so venture over to downtown Prescott. Because our visit fell on Memorial Day weekend, we were fortunate the 39th Annual Phippen Museum Western Art Show and Sale was in full swing at Courthouse Plaza. It seems most western art buffs must be dog lovers as well — numerous vendors, shoppers, both visitors and locals had brought their canine pets to the square.

Phippen Museum benefits from the annual Memorial Day art show and sale

Phippen Museum benefits from the annual Memorial Day art show and sale

Oodles of poodles can be seen at summer Courthouse Plaza events

Oodles of poodles can be seen at summer Courthouse Plaza events

Some events at Courthouse Plaza in fact, are just for dogs. The first weekend of June was Woof Down Lunch, a fundraiser to benefit United Animal Friends. The annual event is a pet fair featuring training demonstrations, contests, handcrafted pet food, music and pet adoptions. It was held on June 1st, so we just missed this event but we’ll mark our calendars for next year. Coming up in the fall on October 6th is the 7th Annual Dogtoberfest and Adop-a-Thon, sponsored by The Prescott Dog and the City of Prescott.

After the show, you’ll undoubtedly want a bite to eat. And you won’t have to travel far to find a dog-friendly patio restaurant in downtown Prescott. We opted for the Firehouse Kitchen, just half a block and around the corner from Whiskey Row. We did not see any Dalmations at this two-level firehouse, but we did notice some well-behaved dogs with their owners. Know there are TWO dog patio (one on each level) to allow enough space for pooches to spread out. Our server brought us our lunch meals without hardly any wait, considering this very busy weekend. Chuck ordered a satisfying crab melt with tomato and avocado, covered with cheddar cheese and served on an English muffin. I selected a delicious barbecue brisket sandwich on Kaiser roll with sweet potato fries. Molly noshed on doggie treats from home. She was very impressed that our server brought out a dish of water. Being on second floor, Molly enjoyed watching the street traffic below while we dined. A perfect lunch!

Crab melt sandwich at Firehouse Kitchen

Crab melt sandwich at Firehouse Kitchen

After lunch, you and “Fido” may want to exercise off some calories at a local dog park. Willow Creek Park, located at 3181 Willow Creek Road, is a City of Prescott dog park. Take some time to let your dog run off steam without the leash before heading back to the Valley or checking into your hotel room.

If you need suggestions for pet-friendly overnight lodging, more dining options or things to do with your dog in Prescott, there are a number of websites with information. Here’s a partial list:

1. Prescott.com

2. Petswelcome.com

3. Bringfido.com

One we checked out before our trip is The Prescott Dog, a locally managed website. The information seems to be fairly comprehensive, current and accurate, but we make it practice to confirm pet policies of restaurants and hotels before we go. Two downtown pet-friendly Prescott hotels at which we previously have stayed are  Hassayampa Inn and SpringHill Suites Prescott.  If hotel lodging isn’t an option for you, consider of several nearby campgrounds in Prescott National Forest.

Take the opportunity to visit pet-friendly Prescott at least one weekend this summer. It’s the perfect way to escape the Valley’s hot ‘dog days.’ We already have planned our next weekend in Prescott.

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‘Quirky’ is normal at Sonoita winery

Vino the cat welcomes wine tasters to Arizona Hops and Vines

Vino the cat welcomes wine tasters to Arizona Hops and Vines

According to most dictionaries, “quirky” is an adjective meaning ‘full of quirks,’ which basically means: odd, peculiar or offbeat. I wanted to look it up again before I started writing, because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t using the word incorrectly. You see, many of my fellow bloggers seem to use this word quite frequently. They describe themselves as ‘quirky travelers’ or ‘quirky foodies.’ They visit quirky destinations, eat at quirky restaurants and stay overnight at quirky inns, bed-and-breakfasts or Airstream trailer parks. Recently Chuck and I stopped by a wonderful place to spend an afternoon tasting wine – at an southeastern Arizona winery that fits the definition of quirky – Arizona Hops and Vines in Sonoita.

But this winery is not only a location for wine lovers to sample and buy their reds and whites. It’s a family-run business, a popular local tourism destination and, if SB1301 makes it way through the Arizona legislative process, Arizona Hops and Vines, could also be called a brewery. Current state law prohibits brewing beer at a winery property. (Read more here.)

Here are a few other examples of this winery’s fun twists. It may be a bit offbeat, off the wall, off the cuff and even a little off the beaten track, but Arizona Hops and Vines is well worth the drive to Sonoita.

Fun-filled events: Back in February to announce a new beer-wine blend of a libation called Drag Queen, Arizona Hops and Vines hosted, “The Drag Races.” In this fundraiser to support a expectant mothers’ shelter, any contestant could dress up in drag and race in high heels for a free glass and a tasting. Coming up on May 11 is the Annual Bachannal Festival, a celebration of wine, micro-brews, arts and crafts, food and music. This should be a perfect time to enjoy those expansive views from the hilltop winery’s patio. Take a look at its Facebook page for more information about upcoming functions and photos of past events.

Lola looks up beyond the barrel staves to wine-tasting visitors

Lola looks up beyond the barrel staves to wine-tasting visitors

Fascinating pets: Arizona Hops and Vines owners-sisters Megan and Shannon must love their animals almost as much as they love family, friends and their farm life. Animals are everywhere: goats, chickens, turtles. Chuck and I were properly introduced to pets Vino and Lola inside the tasting room. Both cat and dog also are respectively quirky. (Admittedly, cats are just quirky by nature.)

Cheetos pair well with any wine

Cheetos pair well with any wine

Novel palate cleansing methods: Cheetos are served from a large red tub on the tasting counter. I’m no expert so I can’t tell whether or not these cheesy puffs actually cleanse the palate, but they do taste pretty good in between sips of First Crush or The Fluffer.

Arizona Hops and Vines' full-bodied red: Imbibe.2

Arizona Hops and Vines’ full-bodied red: Imbibe.2

Imaginative wine names and labels: Take a look at some of the wine names, not to mention the unique blends of fruits, flavors. I’m not saying that Arizona Hops and Vines set the standard for quirky appellations, but it’s definitely following suit.

The Wishing Barrel and The Green Door are part of the winery's unique identity

The Wishing Barrel and The Green Door are part of the winery’s unique identity

Interesting traditions: Read more about Arizona Hops and Vines interesting yet quirky traditions on its website, including The Wishing Barrel, and Buffalo game. You can even join a brewers group called The Buffalo Club. There’s something for everyone in the family at Arizona Hops and Vines: a soda making room called, The Sober Shack,” a petting zoo for the younger set and outdoor games such as Tetherball, horseshoes and bocce ball for adults and teens.

Find more information about things to do at Arizona Hops and Vines on its website. Better yet, why not plan Arizona road trip to Sonoita on some Saturday or Sunday and find out for yourself? You may even find a wine that pleases!

 

Tasting area has all the comforts of a farmhouse sitting room

Tasting area has all the comforts of a farmhouse sitting room

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Leisurely lunch at The Cafe in Sonoita

Once in a while I get a huge desire for a big, juicy burger. Who doesn’t?  Again when I feel that craving I hope I’ll be near Sonoita, Arizona, so I can stop in The Café. Chuck and I recently enjoyed a leisurely Saturday lunch at this wonderful little country café, located just east of the intersection of State Routes 83 and 82, about 45 miles southeast of Tucson. While I can’t accurately testify about all the menu items, I can report my findings about the Blue Cheese Burger and “the day’s special” green chile cheeseburger. These were among the best I’ve had in a long time.

More reasons to dine at The Café in Sonoita:

On-the-way to wine country

Before an afternoon of wine-tasting at any one or more of the Sonoita and Elgin area wineries, you may want to have a bit of lunch. The Café is one of just a few eateries in Sonoita. The drive from I-10 south to Sonoita along highway 83 is part of an entire stretch of officially-designated scenic Arizona highway. You’ll see some of Arizona’s best farm and ranch lands.

Views from the patio at The Cafe

Views from the patio at The Cafe

Excellent mountain views

The restaurant itself doesn’t look like much from the outside, but who cares? You came here for a good meal, and you’ll be enjoying it either inside the rustic, oak and brick interior or you’ll be out on the patio gazing at the Santa Rita Mountains or the Canelo Hills while you dine. And those mountain views are excellent. On the warm, sunny Saturday we visited, the higher elevations were still under a layer of snow.

Molly enjoying the dog friendly patio at The Cafe

Molly enjoying the dog friendly patio at The Cafe

Dog-friendly outdoor seating

A separate entrance to the patio from the outside often will indicate a restaurant has a dog-friendly area. Since each restaurant has its own policy and each Arizona county government has its own health restrictions, I will first inquire before I bring Molly over to the patio gate.

Green chile burger was the special of the day

Green chile burger was the special of the day

 

Blue Cheese Burger

Blue Cheese Burger

Mouthwatering menu

The Café’s lunch list clearly shows that this restaurant is a few steps ahead of other Arizona rural cafés. The menu excites the taste buds with one of these selections: a Black and Bleu Salad with steak, blue cheese with greens and cucumbers, a Hot Bacon Vinn Salad with tomato, apple bacon and walnuts or a grilled cheese sandwich with cheddar, Swiss, provolone cheese and homemade pesto. The burgers we were served were really tasty — fresh, hot beef patty with melted cheeses, sesame bun, veggies and condiments on the side with crisp fries… need I go on?

Get there early to get a table -- this place fills up fast for Saturday lunch

Get there early to get a table — this place fills up fast for Saturday lunch

Locals eat here

Most of us already know: it’s obvious to distinguish tourists from locals when you step into a restaurant. When you see a solid representation of locals, you can be confident of consistency in food quality, customer service and value. Chuck and I can’t wait to return.

Top-notch service from Kirsten at The Cafe

Top-notch service from Kirsten at The Cafe

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Almost like home for the holiday: Hotel Christmas trees

Beautiful Christmas tree in the Westin Kierland Villas lobby

Beautiful Christmas tree in the Westin Kierland Villas lobby

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Tree at Barcelo Ixtapa hotel

Tree at Barcelo Ixtapa hotel

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When I saw the Christmas tree in the lobby of the Westin Kierland Villas this past weekend, I was reminded of images of trees from holiday stays at various resorts and hotels over the years. Many of these hotel lobby trees were elaborate, sparkling masterpieces of decoration. Others were homespun and simple — inclined to make one think of home. Some had local, cultural charms and appeal, to inspire a memory of your destination.

One memorable tree stood in the Eagle’s Nest Lounge at the Prescott Resort and Conference Center when we stayed there at Christmas time from 1998-2004. This spectacular tree rose at least two floors and it almost could be spotted from Gurley Street driving back from Courthouse Square. When there weren’t any company parties booked in the lounge, guests could sit and listen to holiday favorites played on the grand piano, relax and warm up in front of the stone fireplace and sip hot beverages laced with mint, chocolate and Baileys Irish Cream.

Another resort Christmas tree that comes to mind was the tall ‘tannenbaum” at the entrance to the atrium of the Barcelo Ixtapa, Mexico. The tree was a beacon to every room level and it echoed tidings and joy throughout the resort. January 6 (Epiphany) is observed in Mexico as Three Kings Day — as it is also celebrated in other parts of the world. While we were there, we feasted on Rosca de Reyes, the bread ring of the Three Kings. At the Barcelo, the huge ring of sweet pastry made a circumference around the entire Christmas tree.

Westin Ka'anapali Christmas tree

Westin Ka’anapali Christmas tree

On a recent Maui December vacation, the Christmas tree at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas seemed almost out of place among all the tropical plants, birds, sunshine and bikini-clad tourists. Still, it was very pleasant to recall how we would sit on the sunny terrace for breakfast, admiring the Christmas tree while dining on fresh pineapple, watching the toucans and flamingos and listening to the faint chime of Bing’s or Buffett’s version of “Mele Kalikimaka.”

But nothing anywhere among my hotel Christmas tree memories can compare to the story this week I watched on a NBC network news broadcast about a family spending their Christmas at a Holiday Inn in Hazlet, New Jersey, whose home had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. They had no home, no spectacular Christmas tree and certainly no possibility of any Christmastime vacation. For them, there would be no lounging at a Maui hotel swimming pool, sipping cups of warm Irish cream in a cozy Prescott Arizona lobby or jetting off to an Ixtapa, Mexico beach resort. Instead they would nestle in a simple, but warm Holiday Inn two-bed room in undoubtedly cramped quarters. Rather than making resolutions they will be laying out hope for a better year in a stack of FEMA applications, insurance paperwork and housing relocation plans. And these are the fortunate. Consider the many displaced by Hurricane Sandy who don’t even have a Holiday Inn to return to each day.

Many of us who travel regularly can imagine that small round table near the front window of almost every typical motel room. That’s the place we take for granted: where we sprawl travel brochures, business papers or our laptop. It’s the place we unload the Chinese take-out or the Starbucks coffee. But for that one family on the news report affected by Hurricane Sandy, this would be the prime spot for their foot-high Christmas tree, with homemade decorations and makeshift lights. If there’s any image or memory of a hotel holiday tree best depicting Christmas — I’d say that would be it.

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Three Kings Bread: Rosca de Reyes at the Barcelo Ixtpapa, Mexico

Three Kings Bread: Rosca de Reyes at the Barcelo Ixtpapa, Mexico