Category Archives: Beer

Sequoia National Forest and Kernville

Memorial Day Weekend we headed up to the Sequoias. We stopped in Bakersfield for an early lunch at Camino Real which was pretty good and even offered a good selection of vegetarian options, which surprised me for being in Bakersfield. Back on the road, we drove up through Porterville and then East on Highway 190 into the Sequoia National Forest. We were headed for the Quaking Aspen Campground where I had reserved a campsite for one night.

Once camp was set up we still had some daylight left so we drove down to the Trail of 100 Giants. Parking seemed to be limited when we got there but after waiting a little while we were able to take a spot from a group that was leaving and paid the $5 day use fee. Although I’ve been to the Sequoias before, these large trees never cease to amaze me with their gigantic mass.

On our way back to the campsite we stopped at the Ponderosa Lodge for some extra supplies but also decided to have a few beers out on the patio since it was so nice out. Back at camp we prepared dinner and started our fire.

Dinner Time

We played a fun game of Cards Against Humanity until it was pretty cold and late. It got colder than I had anticipated that night in camp and I was somewhat uncomfortable all night and didn’t get much sleep. In the morning we made breakfast and packed up. We were going to drive to the trailhead for the Needles Lookout but while passing by the Ponderosa Lodge again we saw that the chili cook-off was in full swing so had to stop and check it out.

We hung out at the Poderosa Lodge for a while listening to the live music and people watching (probably longer than we should have). We finally hit the road again and headed out to find the trailhead to the Needles Lookout, which was actually very close to Ponderosa. I turned off onto a dirt road which had a sign and an arrow that said “Needles Lookout” so I figured that was the way to go. When trying to drive up the road to the trailhead the road became less and less passable. There were large erosion ruts in the dirt and the road was becoming very narrow as we got further up. There were a lot of cars that just parked off on the sliver of land next to the road but there was really no place for us to park. Eventually, we had to back our way down and turn around on the narrow dirt road and we left. Since that trailhead proved too difficult to get to I figured we’d try something easier and headed for the Dome Rock trailhead. This was much more accessible and the trail to the top of Dome Rock was super short.

On top of Dome Rock we were able to get expansive views of the forest below and distant mountains. It was such a surreal view it almost felt like looking at a large panoramic painting.

When we descended Dome Rock it was about time for lunch so we made some sandwiches before heading out to our next destination.

I wanted to make it to our next camping spot with some daylight left so we headed for a place called Big Meadow, which is where I wanted to stay. We drove south on the Great Western Divide Highway until we hit M-50 at Parker Pass, then made a left towards Johnsondale.  We made a quick stop in Johnsondale at the R-Ranch for some last minute snacks. The R-Ranch was situated in a nice area with a lake nearby but kinda had weird compound vibe to it. We had to check in with a guy in a toll booth before driving up to their general store. We parked and got out and walked up the steps to the store, but before entering I caught sight of one of the locals hanging out near the porch.

After patronizing R-Ranch we made our way down Sherman Pass Road until we got to Forest Route 22s12 which would take us to Big Meadow. But before getting to Big Meadow we came across a sign for Horse Meadow Campground, which is an established campground versus the dispersed camping we were heading for. We decided to check it out in hopes we could have a fire there since there was a fire ban in all other surrounding areas. Once we found a spot and parked we were approached by an old Santa Claus looking man who turned out to be the camp host. He told us the temperatures here were dropping to the low 30s at night and asked if we had a bucket and shovel, because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be allowed to have a fire. Well we had a bucket but didn’t have a shovel.  It almost seemed like the guy was trying to get us to leave as he chuckled about the weather. But even if we could have a fire we weren’t really equipped to sleep out in weather that cold, so we decided to head down the mountain where it would be warmer and see what kind of dispersed camping we could find near the Kern River.

On our way down the M-99 next to the Kern we saw a few promising spots where other people were camping. We made a pit stop at McNally’s for a bathroom break and then headed back up to one of the spots we saw earlier. We found a good location near the river where no one else was camping. There was already a fire ring set up and even a bench someone crafted out of rocks.  I think the area was called Roads End; it was just north of McNally’s and the Fairview Campground on the west side of the road.

The next morning we stopped by McNally’s again in hopes of getting breakfast but apparently they are not open for breakfast. We continued down to Kernville where we ate the Cracked Egg Cafe (I didn’t think it was anything special, but then again I’m a vegetarian). In the center of town at Circle Park there was a craft fair going on so we checked that out for a bit. But before it was time to depart Kernville, I had one more stop to make, and that was the Kern River Brewing Company.

I first tried their Sequoia Red, which was alright, but then decided I should just order a flight so I can try all of the beers since we had a limited time here. The beer that surprised me the most was their Just Outstanding IPA. I am not an IPA fan by any measure, but this beer was, well, just outstanding. It didn’t hit you in the face with crazy hoppiness, but still had great flavor, was well balanced, crisp, and smooth going down. I feel like real hopheads would actually denounce it as an IPA, but for me it was great.

While sitting out on the outside deck enjoying the beer and scenery, the bartender came out and asked if I wanted to try their 7th Anniversary Imperial Coffee Stout, well that was a no brainer. She brought it out to me in a flight glass free of charge and it was hands down the winner of the day. I really wish I could’ve spent some more time there and tried some of their food since the place seemed to be a great establishment. Next time I’m in Kernville it is on my list for sure.

More pictures from this trip can be found here, and a short video here. Map below.


View Sequoia Trip in a larger map

Visiting Luckenbach Texas

We left our campsite at Pedernales State Park at about 10am and had about an hour to drive to our next stop, which was Luckenbach, Texas. On our way we ended up coming across the quaint little town of Johnson City so we decided to make a pit stop. We grabbed some coffee at the Black Spur Coffee Shop and chatted a bit with the friendly owner who ended up being a California transplant.

Johnson City

We got back on the road and headed west through the beautiful Texas Hill Country.  On our way we passed many wineries and vineyards (I never knew they were so abundant in Texas).  Heading west on Highway 290 we finally came across the small, easily passable sign that read “Luckenbach Road.”  Well, we actually did pass it so we had to make a u-turn on Highway 290 and then we headed down the little two-laned road which finally led us into Luckenbach.

Luckenbach Road

For those who don’t know, Luckenbach is a small town in Texas which primarily consists of just a gift shop, a bar, and a dance hall.  There is also an outdoor stage for live music as well as various sitting areas.  What really put Luckenbach on the map was when Jerry Jeff Walker recorded an album there called “Viva Terlingua,” and later when Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson recorded a song simply called “Luckenbach, Texas.”  The town sports a rustic ghost town feel where people gather to play music, listen to music, and drink beer.

Luckenbach

Of course all of this sounded amazing to me so while we drove into this small little town in the dirt road under the old towering trees I felt like I was entering a dream.  We could see cowboys handling a longhorn, people were walking around with beers, the chickens were roaming around and the roosters were crowing.  We rolled in only a little past noon and there was already a handful of people there; probably an equal mix of bikers, locals, and tourists. We meandered into the gift shop and looked around and found one of the local cats sleeping in a bucket of souvenir shirts.

Luckenbach Cat

It didn’t take long to check out the area, so I finally grabbed a beer at the bar and took a seat outside to enjoy the surrounding.

Luckenbach Outdoor Stage

Not long after sitting down a man walked out with a guitar, sat down outside the bar, and started playing some old country songs.  Some songs were originals but most were covers which I enjoyed, especially while hanging out in Luckenback with a cold one in my hand. Since the songs were good I decided to record one and ended up catching this rendition of “Coyotes” which was made popular by Don Edwards (not sure who the guy in the video is):

After having my fill of beer, music, and a little cowboy poetry, we were about to leave when I realized you could get a picture on the longhorn we had seen when were first driving in. Of course this was happening.

Longhorn in Luckenbach

I must say I was saddened to have to leave the little town, but it was Friday, and we wanted to get back into Austin and check into our hotel, get dinner, and experience the nightlife there. If you ask me though, I’d bet a night in Luckenback would beat a night out in downtown Austin any time.

Camping at Pedernales Falls State Park

After flying into Austin-Bergstrom and picking up our trusty rental car we made our way into the city for lunch at Mr. Natural which is a vegetarian store and restaurant on E. Cesar Chavez Street.  We ordered a couple of their sandwiches which were good, but it seemed that most people were there for the lunch buffet.  We finished lunch and made our way more into downtown Austin to stop at REI for some camping fuel and Whole Foods for some dinner and breakfast items.

Austin

I also had to check out the walk-in beer fridge where you could build your own 6-pack, so I created my very own “local roundup” of Texas brews. Among them were a Shiner Black Lager, Shiner Farmhouse Ale, Austin Amber, Independence Pale Ale, Alamo Golden Ale, and Real Ale Brewhouse Brown.

Local Texas Beer Roundup

Whole Foods was even kind enough to supply some free ice to keep them cold!  With supplies all loaded up we headed out to Pedernales Falls State Park, which was about a 45 minute drive out of the city.

Pedernales Falls

The drive through the green Texas countryside was beautiful despite the weather being totally overcast. When we arrived at the ranger station to check in they let us pick out our own camp spot, rather than just assigning us one, which I thought was nice.  With a recommendation from one of the rangers, we chose camp #36 which was near one of the trails that led down to the river.

Pedernales Falls Site 36

Before setting up camp we decided to drive down to where the falls were and check out that area.  From the parking area there is a short hike to an outlook over Pedernales Falls and the river.

Pedernales Falls Pano

Pedernales Falls

The river seemed to be a little low, but it was still a very scenic area. We explored down in the rocks and near the water for a while and then headed back to camp.

Pedernales

Pedernales River

Back at our campsite, we got everything set up and then decided to go down the trail that was right next to us before it got too late.  At the time, we weren’t even really sure where the trail led to but it seemed worth checking out since I had overheard some other campers talking about something they saw down there. 

Trail

We followed it down to a part of the river which was further downstream from the falls we had just visited.  The trail followed the river downstream for a little bit and then came to an area called “Trammel Crossing” where it was shallow enough to wade across to the other side, however we did not feel in the mood for wading so we headed back to camp.  On our way back we came across a family of deer that were out for their evening snacks in the foliage and I realized that this was what I had heard the other campers talking about.

Deer

Back at camp we made our dinner which consisted of the soup and biscuits we had bought at Whole Foods earlier.  Not very extravagant, but it was a quick and simple meal to prepare and eat.

Soup

Somehow we were able to stay up somewhat late despite running on only 3 hours of sleep from the night before, but this made it easy for us to fall asleep. In the morning we awoke to the sound of raindrops on our tent, but luckily it was not a heavy rain, and it let up eventually so we were able to get out, make breakfast, dry the tent out, and pack up.  Then we were off to Luckenbach!

More pictures from this trip can be found here.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans – Part 3

I ended being the first one up Monday morning, and it didn’t look like anyone else had intentions of getting up anytime soon so I figured I might as well get up and go see some sights. It was kind of nice waking up and going out on my own to explore around town. Even though it was around 10 or 11 in the morning there were already crowds of people in the streets watching parades on Canal Street and collecting beads on Bourbon Street.

I made my way down Bourbon Street which was still crowded during the day but not nearly as bad as it was durning the night.

The first place I wanted to check out was called Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop which is supposedly the oldest continually running bar in the United States and was once owned by the pirate Jean Lafitte.

I stopped by the bar but didn’t go inside since it was still early and I had other things I wanted to see. I got off Bourbon Street and started walking through the surrounding neighborhood which was quite nice.

I liked walking around checking out the architecture and getting away from the crowds. I made my way towards the Tremé area and eventually found myself in Louis Armstrong Park.

I didn’t intentionally mean to visit the park but it was a nice area with not that many people around so I hung around there for a little bit.

I finally made my way over to Saint Louis Cemetery Number One which I really wanted to check out since it’s like the oldest cemetery in New Orleans.

The cemetery had a few tour groups wandering the grounds; I tried to stay away from the tour groups and just show myself around. It felt more eerie walking around through the maze of above-ground tombs by myself anyway.

While in the cemetery I was able to visit the supposed tomb of Voodoo Queen,  Marie Laveau which had all types of offerings set around it and the three ‘X’s marked all over it.

I think the three ‘X’s were supposed to symbolize wishes her spirit had granted to people but I’m pretty sure now it’s just a touristy thing to do.

 I left the cemetery after spending an ample amount of time there and eventually met up with my friend Arun who was now out and about. Once we met up we decided to cruise over to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop where I had passed by earlier, and this time I actually got a beer.

We met some friendly folks there and chatted, but we started getting hungry for lunch so we headed out. I had looked up a place called 13 which was on Frenchman Street that was supposed to have some vegetarian offerings for us, however when we got there we were informed that they had changed their menu during Mardi Gras to make it easier for their kitchen to get orders out. Luckily for us we saw a Mediterranean place across the street called Mona’s Cafe which wasn’t too busy and also had some pretty excellent food. After we finished eating the rest of our friends had met up with us on Frenchman Street but I was about ready for a nap so I headed back to the hotel for a while. While I was attempting to nap I kept hearing what I thought to be a horrible drummer in the streets below but it turned out to be fireworks that were happening over the Mississippi. I got a pretty awesome view of the show from our hotel window.

After my unsuccessful nap attempt I returned to Frenchman Street to meet up with my friends. They had occupied a spot at a bar called DBA which had a pretty good beer selection and also had live music which people were going nuts over.

We hung out at DBA for a while meeting interesting characters, talking, and drinking before we finally decided to call it a night. I definitely enjoyed hanging out on Frenchman Street that day, it was kind of a different atmosphere than Bourbon Street but still positively festive, as Mardi Gras should be.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans – Part 2

After our first night of partying on Bourbon Street we woke up around noon and had a look out our hotel window. This was the first time we had a glimpse of New Orleans during the daytime and we were pleased to see it was looking awesome outside.

We could see parades happening in the streets below and enjoyed watching the Steamboat Natchez make it’s rounds on the Mississippi.

Even though it was past noon it was time for us to get breakfast so we hit the street in an effort to find somewhere to eat. This was not the easiest thing to do. We battled the crowds and parade routes trying to find a decent place to get some grub. It was even harder finding good food during Mardi Gras being a vegetarian.

After a while of walking around aimlessly we settled for some carnival style food from a street vendor. I bought a $5 piece of pizza which tasted like cardboard; it wasn’t good at all but at least we weren’t so hungry anymore. Since we now had some food in our stomachs we decided it was now time to grab some beers. We headed over to a place called the American Sector which is part of the National World War II Museum, so before going to the restaurant we stopped inside the museum to take a quick look around.

The restaurant was actually across the street from the museum and was connected to a place called the Stage Door Canteen, which is also part of the museum. We took our seats at the bar, had a friendly exchange with the bartender, and ultimately ordered their “P-51” dark amber ale.

After some time at the bar we wandered out onto their patio which was totally unoccupied. The restaurant wasn’t all that crowded even with Mardi Gras going on and it felt nice to get away from the crowds for a while.  Since the place was so nice and mellow we ordered more beers, cocktails, and had some food; all of which was great.

Having spent about 4 hours at the American Sector we finally decided we should mosey on to somewhere else. There was another bar nearby called Circle Bar I wanted to check out so we headed over and it was probably only a few blocks away. Circle Bar is appropriately located right off Lee Circle where the General Lee Monument is located.

Unfortunately Circle Bar wasn’t as mellow as the American Sector, and happened to be on the forefront of the next upcoming parade, so there was a $5 cover to get. We didn’t really have any other plans until later so we decided to pay the cover and went inside and grabbed some beers. Circle Bar was a little on the small side but wasn’t too crowded and had a great jukebox.  After a little time there I left my friends to go back to the hotel to get in a quick (unsuccessful) nap before we went out at night. Around 9pm my buddy Josh woke me up and it was time to go. Earlier in the trip, just by luck, he procured us some free passes to a Captain Morgan’s Party on Bourbon Street that was to have an open bar and free food. I was skeptical at first but as we walked up to the place it looked legit.

The party was being held at a place called The Bourbon Street Blues Company and with our passes we were able to go upstairs where we got balcony access.

I must say, once inside I was pretty impressed. The place wasn’t too crowded so it was easy to get drinks, and it was nice to hang out on the balcony to see what was going on down on the street.

After getting our fair share of free drinks and pizza I decided we should leave and see what else was happening. Josh wasn’t quite ready to leave so I left with my two friends Andy and Arun. We ended up wandering into some random bar to use the bathroom but also ended up getting drinks there. Andy got the jello shots. Two of them, because he’s awesome.

We eventually made our way back to our hotel room at some point and by the time we got back Josh had beat us there. For some reason he had locked himself in the bathroom and was taking a bubble bath; maybe he had to wash off the Mardi Gras. I eventually barged in because I had to pee, and then Arun, Andy, and I hit the town again for some more trouble.

From Pisa to Milan and on to Paris

Friday morning we left Pisa for Milan but decided to first stop in the town of La Spezia along the way. We grabbed some food at a grocery store where I also happened to find a Danish beer the size of my head. I had to get it of course.

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We walked down to the harbor area and sat by the ocean where we had a small picnic with our food.

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It wasn’t long before we had to catch the train that would take us to Milan where we were to take a sleeper train to Paris. We got to Milan far before we needed to catch our night train so we decided to check our bags at the train station and explore Milan a bit. Milan’s a big city and I was a little worried it was going to be as unpleasant as Naples, but it wasn’t. The streets were a lot nicer and clean. We even found a large park with ponds and fountains that was really nice. We walked around the city some more and finally stopped at a small cafe where we could grab some coffee and sit for a bit.

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The cafe ended up closing while we were there so we had to move on. We decided we’d just go back to the train station and get our bags out of storage and just wait for our train. Once aboard we got settled into our top bunks and I grabbed a couple beers from the train bar which was conveniently located next to our cabin. As I drank my beers in my bunk I over heard some Americans talking about how they were going to a Jimmy Buffet concert in Paris, I thought that was kinda funny. The train ride itself was alright minus the woman in our cabin who smelled like shit and decided it was a good idea to wake up at 7am and keep opening and closing the cabin door every two minutes, even though we weren’t supposed to get to Paris until 9am. Fuck you bitch, I’m glad the bunk ladder hit you in the head when you were getting your luggage out.

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Once into Paris we caught the metro down to our hotel in the Montparnasse area. We arrived at our hotel early and for the first time on our trip we where not able to get an early check-in. Lame. We were able to leave our bags in their luggage storage and then went to grab some breakfast.

After breakfast we were off to check out the Paris Catacombs which were nearby. There was a pretty good sized line to enter the catacombs when we got there and I’d say we spent a good hour waiting to get in. Once inside you descend about 130 steps down into an underground tunnel which was used for mining stone. You follow the underground tunnels for a while and eventually enter a passageway that is lined on both sides with stacks of human skeletal remains, which is a little shocking to see a first. The tunnel of bones goes on for a while until you finally make your accent back up to the surface.

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After we finished our tour of the Catacombs we bolted over to the train station so we could get a sleeper car reservations for Sunday night. Unfortunately for us the train was booked up. We had to get back to Madrid by Tuesday somehow and the only other way to do it was to take trains all day on Monday, which didn’t sound fun but we had to do it. We booked our trains for Monday and headed back to our hotel to check in and ask if we could book a second night since our Sunday night train plans fell through. Luckily, a second night at the hotel was not a problem.

That night we found a vegan restaurant to eat at called Tien Huang which we were pretty stoked about since we hadn’t eaten at a proper vegetarian restaurant since Prague. The food was superb. After dinner we hitched the Metro up to the Montmartre area to check out a bar called Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus I had Googled earlier that day. We thought we might be getting there too early since it was only 8pm but when we walked up the place was already jammin’ with a live band and people already poured out front in the street drinking. I was surprised. We decided to walk and grab some coffee and come back later to see if the crowd would thin out a bit. We got coffee at a Starbucks which was directly across the street from the Moulin Rouge where we got a table outside and people watched. After our caffeine fix we headed back to Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus to see how it was. When we got back the crowd was a little smaller and there was a DJ playing 7″ rock ‘n’ roll records. I went inside and ordered a whiskey and coke but only got a whiskey with ice, oh well. The DJ spinning that night was supposedly the oldest rock DJ in Paris and he looked it, but he was not messing around. He had an arsenal of props he used to try and stir up the crowd: moroccos, a whistle, and a dinner bell which he ran around with and banged with a spoon. But his antics didn’t stop there, oh no, at some points after he threw on a record he’d then immediately light off a large firecracker in the bar. Let me also say he looked like a bad fat Elvis impersonator. Pretty entertaining but it started to cook like an oven in that joint so I finished my whiskey and we made our way out.

Salzburg and Oktoberfest

Friday morning we checked out of our hotel in Prague and headed for the train station. This was the beginning of our day long journey to Salzburg.

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First we had to catch a train to the southern Czech city of České Budějovice where we had to then catch a train to the Austrian city of Linz. From Linz we caught our train to Salzburg. Once arriving in Salzburg all we needed to do was get to the bed & breakfast we had booked. Easy huh? Yeah, no. We knew we had to catch a bus up into the hills outside the city, but weren’t sure which direction the bus needed to be headed. We decided to just jump on the next bus that came along and see where it headed. Upon doing this we shortly got an unintentional tour of downtown Salzburg. Yes, we were headed in the wrong direction. We hopped off the bus and waited for the next one heading in the opposite direction. This turned out to be the right one and we finally got dropped off where we wanted.

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Then we had a short hike up a large hill to where we finally found our lodging, which was equipped with the latest decor (from the 90’s).

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The next morning we woke up early to get a fast train into Munich. The train ride was nice and we got complimentary juice and chocolates. Coming into Munich for the first day of Oktoberfest was not as crazy as I thought it’d be. The Munich train station was definitely buzzing with people pouring in for the festival but it wasn’t overbearing.

We were planning on meeting our friend John at his hotel, which was not far from the train station, but on our way there we ran into the first parade of Oktoberfest which inhibited us from getting there. The parade was neat to watch but it started getting very warm out in Munich. We decided to step back from the parade so we could get out of the sun and just wait for it to end. As we retreated from the parade crowd we just so happened to run into John. He was on his way to his hotel and got caught up by the parade as well. When the parade finished we accompanied John to his hotel where he dropped his luggage off and then it was on to the festival!

I think the best way to describe Oktoberfest is as a large carnival, complete with thrill rides, shows, fun houses and food, but also with huge beer tents all around with the majority of the attendees dressed up for the occasion.

The three of us walked into the first beer tent we saw and got in no problem, however finding a place to sit was another story. The place was packed and it looked like the only way to get a spot was to wait for someone to leave, and of course everyone who didn’t have a seat was doing this. Rather than wait around like vultures for the next available seat, we decided to keep moving. We grabbed some quick food and went in search of beer. It was surprising how difficult it was to get a beer at Oktoberfest. We found a small restaurant which we were finally able to squeeze into where we ordered three beers. It was cooking like an oven in the little restaurant booth so once we finished our beers we paid and got out. I kept seeing people walking around with bottles of beer but it turns out they just purchased those at a market before they came to the festival (smart). We thought that was a good idea and decided to walk to a market but on our walk we came across a beer garden right on the outskirts of the festival. We decided to try our luck there. It looked nice and shady with lots of tables and not as crowded. After waiting in a short line we were all enjoying large steins of German beer in a nice spot in the shade.

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It wasn’t long before the friendly gay men from Chicago, the hammered soccer (or drinking) team from Tuscany, and us three Californians were all hanging out and cheersing large steins with one another. I’m not going to lie, that little beer garden was Oktoberfest’s saving grace for me.

The time finally came to where we had to make our way back to Salzburg for the night and John walked us to the train station. I had one more beer on the train for good measure while Sayaka slept most of the ride back to Salzburg.

Getting back to the bed and breakfast was a lot easier this time because we realized we could just take a commuter train to a stop that drops us off closer than the bus did. This was nice after a long day of beer drinking.