September 2, 2015 – September 7, 2015
I’ve always thought of California as a fantastic place for other people. As one of the shorter and paler people on this planet, California has never seemed like the appropriate place for me. I’m more interested in the après–ski scene than the prospect of roasting in the sun all day until I’m dehydrated and one step closer to the skin cancer I’ll inevitably develop. However, for various reasons I’ve visited California several times over the years, and seem to enjoy it more and more each time I do. The reason for my recent visit was to attend a cousin’s wedding, which took place in a jaw-droppingly beautiful part of the state.
I’d previously visited San Francisco, San Diego, the Channel Islands and a few parts of Southern California, but I’d never heard of Paso Robles or Bradley, the wedding site. I spoke to multiple people from California who’d never heard of Bradley, either, but I did find someone who knew of Paso Robles as the home of Firestone Walker Brewing Company. My cousin had chosen a venue called Ranchos Dos Amantes in Bradley, a small town not far from Paso Robles, for its rustic charm, its newness, and its openness to allowing for outside vendors unassociated with the site itself. Predictably, the venue was stellar. The remote nature of the property made it feel more like a place to stay and get comfortable than a place to stop by and then leave. Unlike an event space in a city, where you’re ushered in and out at very specific times, the country setting made it easier to focus on the experience as opposed to the time of day.
Although we spent most of the trip in Bradley, my boyfriend and I first flew into San Francisco International Airport and took the BART to Walnut Creek to check in and help my family with wedding prep. My mom and grandmother had flown in from MA and were already in San Francisco, and it was nice to spend a day or so catching up with everyone before heading out to the venue to ready the place for the big day. My mom had volunteered to help my cousin with decorative aspects of the wedding and favors, and did a remarkable job with this task. In the days that preceded the wedding I primarily provided creative support to my more actively involved mother. The day after we arrived, my boyfriend, grandmother and I took a detour to the Monterey Bay Aquarium on our way to Bradley, an adventure well worth the drive. Such an amazing, authentic place, not to mention an incredible town! (More details in the Day to Day section) The wedding itself was more exquisite than I even imagined it would be, and it was nice to lay low and soak in the time with family the celebration provided. Our trip wasn’t without its kinks, but surprisingly very few involved the wedding.
My boyfriend and I sandwiched the wedding between a detour to Monterey Bay and a little trip on our last day to San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, but overall I did much less activity planning for this trip than I normally would. Having waitressed weddings in the past (and knowing the unpredictable nature of family vacations in particular), I was aware that I couldn’t determine in advance what exactly to do with everyday of the trip. This challenged me to go with the flow and relax – an important exercise for me. It turned out that I was able to help in small ways by hanging wedding favors, polishing silverware and running an errand or two, but I definitely got some quality leisure time to enjoy Lake Nacimiento, go for a few short hikes, and enjoy a cocktail… or two. It is worth noting that the weather couldn’t have been better. Bradley was a cool seventy degrees compared to a ninety degree start to September in NYC.
Due to a great attitude on my cousin’s part and a diligent support team, the wedding prep, ceremony, and party that followed were all eerily seamless. I would characterize the wedding as rustic chic; planned carefully, without feeling controlled. Once the wedding logistics were in order and the party began, family bonding ensued, the bride and groom’s friends were fabulous, and the speeches at dinner were like something out of a movie. I may have spent a good amount of time over the years touting my New England pride at the expense of warmer weathered areas, but in many ways the mountains in California are like New Hampshire with desert-like qualities. This was my first visit to California in which I left wondering when I’d be back, and I attribute that to the remarkable landscape of the place and my hospitable relatives who, once all together in San Francisco, now scatter the state.