Last week we said a sad goodbye to Northern California. We're excited for our new adventures in SoCal (Tony accepted a position working for American Tea Room as the director of technology and distribution channels), however there is no doubt that there will plenty of things that we're going to miss about our humble home in Marin County. I wanted to be sure to capture a few things about NorCal living while it's fresh in my mind, so here is my assessment of what it was like living the (Northern) California dream.
- The outdoors. Since the weather is oh-so-perfect, getting out and hiking, biking, running and/or walking became part of our daily routine. We had hiking trails that we could walk to from our house and plenty more within a couple minutes drive. Even our mall, Target and grocery store had hiking paths around them. For me, this became my favorite part of living there. To be able to get out into nature, get fresh air and get exercise by simply walking out my front door anytime during the year was really special.
- The food. There's a lot of fresh produce in the area. The farmers markets are to die for and you can find one practically any day of the week. Obviously oysters are an easy find as well. I've really been enjoying grilled oysters with a bit of lemon, butter and garlic...mmm. You'll also find plenty of organic, natural grocery markets around. Think Whole Foods, but smaller. Also the cheese trail is pretty amazing.
- Wine country. Yes, it's as good as it sounds. Getting to wine country within 30 minutes by car was simply heavenly. We had the pleasure of enjoying several great wineries near us and each was unique and beautiful. Recently, we were invited to St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery for a tasting and food pairing. They were so generous and took time to give us a tour, explain what they do and of course share some of their delicious wine. We are big fans of their Savignon Blanc and Malbec. Other wineries, such as Nicholson Ranch (which makes a top notch Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), has divine views of the rolling Sonoma hills. And the Heidrun Meadery is our favorite place on earth at the moment. Oh yes. This place makes honey wine by using the traditional French Champagne method, meaning that its both sparkling and delicious. Each mead is made from a monoculture honey, giving it a distinct taste. Not only is the mead delicious, but the ambiance of the place is perfection. It's laid back, dainty and simple (which is a nice contrast from some of the higher end wineries).
- Access to things. Wine country, ocean, redwoods, city...it's all right there. Whatever you want, it's there. We were able to live outside the city, but could pop over there any time we needed a little action. Or if we wanted to get out into the country, or take a leisure walk to the ocean, that was available to us as well. And the wonderful part is that no matter where you go, the drive is beautiful. Marin County does a great job at keeping their roads cleaned up. You won't see many fast food chains, shopping malls or billboards around. It's refreshing to be able to drive somewhere and truly enjoy the scenery no matter where you are headed.
- The cost. Living there is not cheap. We were lucky to get an apartment that was reasonably priced, however it was much more than we were paying in Chicago. Buying a very small house would easily cost at minimum 700K. It's crazy. Also, food is expensive. Not a lot more, but enough to notice. However, I think the ability to buy fresh produce, local meats and cheeses year round made it worth it.
- Lack of diversity. We miss our Chicago home where we could walk outside and be in the midst of diversity. But in Marin, there is not much of that. The good news is, heading over the bridge to San Francisco or to Oakland submerged us right back into the diversity, culture and city vibes that we were used to.
- Drought. This is pretty serious. The drought is very extreme throughout California and it's something we are all very conscious of. Its a big deal and we all have to try to limit our water usage as much as possible.
- Earthquakes. I won't be seeing this anytime soon, but it is a reality of living in this neck of the woods. We had our wine and other breakable items stored securely just in case.
- Far away. For us, this has been the most difficult part. Most of our family lives on the East Coast so getting back home is no longer an easy, cheap or a quick thing to do. Of course skype and email has made it pretty easy to stay in touch without missing a beat. But over the long haul, it's going to be tough for us to be so far away. (Clearly everyone should just move out here).
- Too perfect? I sometimes had to pinch myself because living there was sometimes just a bit too good. Between the perfect weather, the beautiful scenery, amazing wine, top-notch schools and the friendly people...sometimes it was just too much. I liked it, don't get me wrong, but I also liked the grit and cheap, greasy tacos that living in Chicago gave us.
The bottom line is this place was pretty wonderful. But it came at a price. For us, it was a great place to be for the time being. We feel like we've learned a lot, experienced a lot, and met a lot of great people...so its a win for sure. There was also so much that we hadn't even explored yet. We could have done something every weekend if we wanted to and I don't think it would ever get old. I will say that living on the West coast brings out a whole different vibe than we were used to and we like it. We also love where we've been prior to this and feel confident that no matter where life takes us, we'll make the most of it, as long as we can take the sunshine and wine along with us!