Six Things to Know About Planning a Trip to Yosemite

To counteract all of the eating I did in San Francisco (evidence here and here), I planned a little excursion into nature while on my recent trip to California. The short drive from the Bay Area to Yosemite is relatively easy, and you can make the trip in about 3-3.5 hours.

If you’re thinking of planning your first trip to the park, you might be feeling a little bit overwhelmed. Yosemite is HUGE, covering 1,169 square miles with 214 miles of paved roads, 20 miles of bike paths and 800 miles of trails. Based on my experience, I’ve put together a few tips for first time visitors.

What to know about visiting Yosemite

1. Start your planning early

The Yosemite Valley Floor (what most people think of when they hear the word Yosemite) is about a 30-minute drive from the park’s entrance. I learned the hard way, that staying just 40 miles from the park means an hour and a half drive to and from all the outdoor activities that you’ll want to be doing.

There are limited accommodations within the park, so booking about a year in advance is ideal, especially if you aren’t looking to rough it by making a campsite reservation. Also if you are a hardcore hiker, you’ll want to enter the preseason lottery for Half Dome permits during the month of March.

2. Keep a close eye on weather conditions

When it’s cold, it’s cold and when it’s hot, it’s hot. If your planning on visiting during a cooler month, keep an eye on whether or not certain roads are open — November through May or June, access to some parts of the park are limited due to snow. In the summertime, temperatures on the Valley Floor can reach into the nineties making it extremely important to pack plenty of water for both short and long hikes. Oh, and even though I visited in July, I brought along a sweatshirt and jacket as temperatures at night can dip down into the forties depending on where you are in the park.

3. Choose hikes or activities that match your fitness level

I researched for weeks the different hikes that Yosemite has to offer and I found that there really are hikes for every fitness level.

The Lower Yosemite Falls

Lower Yosemite Falls

This short “hike” covers just 1-mile, making it great for families with small children. The highlight of this flat, paved “hike” is standing near the base of the huge waterfall — the Lower Falls are the final part of North America’s largest waterfall. For the more experienced hikers, you can opt to do the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail for a more strenuous experience and see the Falls from an entirely different vantage point.

Taft Point

Yosemite - Taft Point

If you don’t like heights, this short hike probably isn’t for you. This is another easy, short hike but is not paved like the Lower Falls. The Taft Point trailhead is about a 30-minute drive from the Valley Floor. I recommend making a pit stop at Tunnel View along the way (pictured below).

Tunnel view Yosemite

At just over two miles round trip, this hike might seem more difficult than expected because of the high altitude — 7,700 feet. The view from the top is absolutely breathtaking, just please don’t get too close to the edge. This is the perfect spot to watch the sunset and enjoy an evening picnic, if you can stomach walking back to your car in the dark.

Cathedral Lakes

Cathedral Lakes Yosemite

This hike was definitely the hardest one of my trip — I did not attempt Half Dome and I’m convinced I would’ve died of exhaustion if I had tried. The Cathedral Lakes hike stretches about seven to eight miles round trip and the trailhead is about an hour and a half drive from Yosemite’s main entrance, on the Eastern side of the park. The elevation starts at 8,500 feet and man could I feel it, everything just takes more effort when you’re up that high.

4. Use the shuttle system

After a long hike, the last thing you’re going to want to do is walk a few miles back to your car or to find lunch/dinner. Thankfully, there is a free shuttle system that can help you get where you need to go. Most of the stops service the Valley Floor but there are other shuttles that will take you to more remote parts of the park, which can be perfect for those who don’t feel comfortable driving on the windy mountain roads (these longer shuttles typically do have a cost).

5. Treat yourself with pizza and beer

Surprise! Did you think you were getting through a Let’s Share a Dish blog post without a mention of food? There are plenty of food options within the park, so don’t worry about needing to leave to find somewhere to eat. One of my favorite meals during my entire California trip was the pizza and beer I had at Half Dome Village Pizza Deck in Curry Village.

Yosemite pizza

Now, this wasn’t the best pizza I’ve ever had, and it certainly wasn’t the cheapest but when you’re exhausted from hiking all over Yosemite, it feels like the best meal you’ve ever had. Supposedly there are incredible views of Glacier Point at the Pizza Deck, but honestly, I was too distracted by my pizza to notice.

6. DO NOT go off the trail

Okay, this probably seems like a duh but I just want to reiterate the fact that you should ALWAYS stay on the trail — unless a bear is chasing you then, do what you gotta do.

Here’s my cautionary tale. Shortly into my hike, I met a girl named Maria who was also hiking the Cathedral Lakes trail. We hiked the nearly four miles to the Lower Lake and then I convinced Maria that we should check out what the Upper Lake has to offer too (according to my research the Upper Lake is much prettier).

The Upper Lake on the map was about a mile farther into the woods and after about four hours of hiking I was over it. Fifteen minutes into our adventure to find the Upper Lake we could see it through the clearing, but I could tell that to get to the actual lake we’d have to walk at least another mile to get there. So, of course I made the logical suggestion of cutting across the meadow and saving us some distance. BIG mistake.

Soon after we entered the flat, slightly marshy area we were attacked by hundreds of mosquitos and after fleeing, swatting and spraying an entire container of heavy duty bug spray they were still biting us. Eventually they moved on (after about 10 minutes of insanity) but we were left COVERED in bug bites. So please, learn from my stupidity and stay on the trail.

If you’ve visited Yosemite or another great National Park and have tips to share, let us know in the comments!

 Six tips for visiting Yosemite National Park


What’s Happenin’ Wednesday

This week’s edition of What’s Happenin’ Wednesday

  • It is HOT out there this week. You’re probably looking for ways to cool down, but as you’re enjoying any cold and icy treats, remember that brain freeze is a real thing — just take a look at this video from the Huffington Post.
  • Comfort’s new weekly lunch series, “Jason Alley loves…” kicks off today with Nashville chicken which you can get hot or not, served with slaw and potato wedges. That’s the only thing on the menu, but it promises to be good. It’s available today from 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. and there will be a new lunch special every Wednesday.
  • Richmond Magazine just released its list of the 20 best new restaurants in Richmond that opened between March 7, 2015 and April 15, 2016. Kelsey and I have enjoyed dining at quite a few spots they included, but I think we have a few more places we need to add to our “Where to Dish Next” list.
  • A recent episode of the Condé Nast Traveler podcast Travelouge covers where to book last minute summer travel. Pack your bags and go somewhere awesome.
  • Thrillist put together a round-up America’s 17 Best Pizzeria Brewpubs, and Afton, Virginia’s Blue Mountain Brewery made the cut. If you’ve never been, it’s a fun day trip from RVA and a great place to visit for some delicious food and great views.
  • Arancini, au jus, bruschetta. What do these food words have in common, you ask? They all made Today Food’s list of 43 food words we commonly mispronounce.
  • I don’t know about you, but I want to make a day trip to Tangier Island after learning more about this island on the Chesapeake Bay that was just recognized last week as the eighth official oyster region on The Virginia Oyster Trail.
  • I’m just going to leave this recipe for bourbon and bacon jam from Extra Crispy right here. If you make it, you’ll probably want to eat it right out of the jar. Just share some with me first, okay?

What to add to your calendar

  • I mentioned sunflower days at Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery in this list of 10 Things to Do This Summer in Richmond, and the time has come! You can pick sunflowers free of charge this weekend (7/29 – 7/31) during tasting room hours, Friday 5-9 p.m., Saturday & Sunday 12-8 p.m.
  • Trapezium Brewing Company in Petersburg is releasing their latest small batch beer, Lucky 11 Blueberry Wheat, this Thursday from 5 – 10 p.m. You can find all the details here.
  • Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. is hosting a housewarming party this Friday, July 29, from 7 – 10 p.m. to celebrate the completion of their 1903 Westwood Avenue roasting and education facility. If you go, you’ll find food, drinks and music — and of course, coffee.
  • August is around the corner (what?!), which means the Carytown Watermelon Festival is quickly approaching. The 33rd annual festival will be held on Sunday, August 14th and kicks off at 10 a.m. Speaking of watermelon, BuzzFeed has 13 delicious ways to drink more watermelon, with alcoholic and non alcoholic options alike.
  • Save the date for Sunday, August 28 when the Summer Central Virginia Food Truck Rodeo will return to the Chesterfield Towne Center!

Sausage, Egg and Cheese, Please

One of my favorite things about living in the Museum District is the close proximity to Black Hand Coffee Company, a locally owned and operated coffee roaster and café. You might assume this is because I’m an avid coffee drinker who can’t refuse a good coffee shop, but that’s not the case — I’ve actually never had a cup of coffee in my life. I know, I know – I get by on tea or a fountain coke if I need a little pick me up. And coffee ice cream is basically my favorite treat in the world. I don’t get it either! So what brings me to Black Hand, you ask? Their breakfast sandwiches are the best I’ve had anywhere in Richmond.

black hand coffee company menu

The menu at Black Hand is pretty simple. The sandwiches come on your choice of an English muffin or everything, asiago or wheat bagel and sandwich options include the standard but delicious sausage, bacon, egg and cheese, other add-ons include hummus, cream cheese, pesto or tomato.

My go-to order is sausage, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel with pesto, but I’ve tried a number of different varieties and have enjoyed them all. The breakfast sandwiches are made fresh to order, so if you’re looking for a good instagrammable photo opportunity, Black Hand always delivers, a perfect combination of freshly toasted bagel and gooey melted cheese. Bonus: Black Hand Coffee Company uses bagels from Cupertino’s Bagels to make its breakfast sandwiches, and the boiled New York style bagels take the sandwiches to a whole new level.

Even though coffee isn’t my beverage of choice, I’d be doing Black Hand a disservice to not talk about their coffee selections since it seems to have a cult following around town. The green coffee beans that they use are imported from farms around the world and then roasted here in Richmond. Coffee fans can choose from a beverage menu that includes options like drip coffee, lattes or cold brew. Lucky for me, Black Hand does offer one of my favorite drinks, chai tea, which I almost always order iced and “dirty”, which means along with the chai concentrate and milk is a shot of espresso. I guess I can add that to the list of drinks I indulge in if I need a pick me up.

black hand coffee company dirty chai

In addition to a great menu, Black Hand is a good neighbor by giving back to the Richmond community in a number of different ways. They also collaborate with different local breweries like Triple Crossing Brewing Company, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and Strangeways Brewing.

What to know before your visit to Black Hand Coffee Company

black hand coffee company door

Black Hand Coffee Company is located at 3101 Patterson Avenue and is open daily from 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. It’s pretty busy during the morning hours, but don’t be dismayed if you go and there is a line to the door, it usually moves pretty quickly. Black Hands offers indoor and outdoor seating along with free wi-fi, so it’s a great place to spend an hour or two if you need a spot to work.

It’s worth noting that the coffee shop is super pet-friendly. They have a water bowl outside for dogs and they recently added a dog treat dispenser in front of their building where you use your spare change to get some treats for your pooch!

If you can’t make it to Black Hand’s Museum District location, don’t fear: in the past few years, Black Hand expanded into the wholesale market and they now sell their coffee online and also at additional retailers throughout the region. The most important thing to do if you visit? Get a bagel sandwich. Trust me on this one.

What’s your favorite place to grab a quick breakfast in RVA?


Everything I ate in San Francisco: Part 2

Last week I did what felt like a marathon post on all.of.the.things. I ate in San Francisco. This week I’m back with one more post covering a few more of my favorite places— I mean c’mon, did you think this girl would just forget to eat dessert on vacation?

So here we are again, if you missed part one and you’re looking for places to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in San Francisco, I suggest you go back and start reading here.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

I’m the kind of person who can easily down an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting so I was big on the “ice cream scene” in San Francisco. On my trip I visited two ice cream shops, one in the Fisherman’s Wharf and one in the Mission District, and both were worth the calories.

The Baked Bear

Located in the Fisherman’s Wharf, this place clearly draws a ton of tourists. I found The Baked Bear on Instagram, when I was doing research for my trip — the colorful photos of ice cream sandwiches immediately caught my eye. And when I saw the donut ice cream sandwich, I was sold. Served out of what looks like a small food truck, at The Baked Bear you can make your wildest ice cream dreams come true.

Step 1: Choose your top and bottom —cookie (there are more than 10 flavors), brownie or donut. If you’re feeling crazy you can mix and match. Step 2: Choose your ice cream. Step 3: Pick your toppings. If you’re boring you can go with a regular ol’ waffle cone if you so choose. 

I donut ever need to eat another dessert again. Donut ice cream sandwich with blue cake batter brownie fudge ice cream. ✨ – K

A photo posted by Let’s Share a Dish (@letsshareadish) on

I went with the donut and bear batter (blue cake batter with brownies & fudge) ice cream sandwich. And I was not convinced that it would live up to the hype, but surprisingly it did. The donut wasn’t overly sweet and the bear batter ice cream was creamy and delicious.

Bi-rite creamery

Bi-rite creamery was a suggestion given to me by both Hunter at Stock Provisions and Erin at Little House Green Grocery. But one thing they did not warn me about was the line. Located in the Mission District next to Dolores Park, Bi-rite Creamery is typically packed with a line around the block. I went on a Saturday evening around 6 p.m. (you know, when most reasonable people are eating dinner) and still waited in line for a good 20-25 minutes. This small batch ice cream shop just celebrated it’s 10th birthday and is still going strong with some of the more popular flavors being salted caramel, roasted banana, honey lavender.

One way to make a bunch of people hate you is to ask for ten samples when it is your turn to order. So as much as I wanted to try everything, I settled on tasting just two flavors — salted caramel and the Ricanelas (cinnamon ice cream with snickerdoodle cookie pieces). And while the salted caramel flavor was so rich and decadent, cinnamon ice cream is my favorite, so I went with the Ricanelas.

P.S. If you find yourself near the Painted Ladies on your next trip to San Francisco, you can visit the Bi-Rite Market at Divisadero and Hayes Streets and grab a scoop with out having to worry about the crazy line at the original location.

Savory guilty pleasures


After anxiously waiting to eat here for the past 10 years, this was our first stop after landing in San Francisco, #vacationdiet. After traveling all day and not really having anything to eat except airplane pretzels, you could say we were hangry by the time we made it here. Our hunger pains were quickly cured with cheeseburgers and an order of Animal Style fries — crispy shoe string fries topped with cheese, spread (Thousand Island) and grilled onions.

Garlic Fries

For the Fourth of July my family attended a San Francisco Giants game, what can I say we’re true patriots. I’m partial to enjoying a classic hot dog at the ballpark but because Gilroy Garlic Fries are one of the area’s iconic foods, I was happy to make an exception. The thick and crispy fries are coated in garlic and herbs, and the smell almost permeates the park. Fact: they smell and taste amazing.

Sandwiches in Sausalito

We made a quick stop for lunch in Sausalito, which is just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, on our way to explore Muir Woods. The cute little town had a much different vibe than San Francisco —  the pace of life just seemed to slow down. I love a good sandwich and after eating my In-N-Out Burger a couple days earlier, I wanted to eat something that at least looked somewhat healthy. My parents and I found a cute sandwich shop, Sausalito Gourmet Delicatessen and I was thoroughly impressed when they sliced the cold cuts for our sandwiches to order.

I had the turkey, bacon and avocado sandwich on Dutch crunch bread, and now I firmly believe that all sandwiches should be served on Dutch crunch bread. My dad had the prosciutto de Parma and my mom had the turkey and havarti.

Overall San Francisco was a food lover’s paradise and I cannot wait to come back and visit more of the city’s amazing restaurants.


What’s Happenin’ Wednesday

Hey, guess what day it is?

  • Ever since I had the lemon ricotta pancakes at Plow in San Francisco, I’ve been craving pancakes. Thankfully, Epicurious put together this helpful guide to making fluffy diner pancakes. Spoiler alert: seltzer water is the secret ingredient.
  • Okay this is genius, can they please install these short story vending machines at the DMV, at City Hall or in doctors offices?
  • You’ve probably seen these crazy milkshakes on Instagram, but what’s really behind this viral recipe? It’s because of these milkshakes that Black Tap has amassed nearly 200,000 followers on Instagram. Lucky Peach is sharing how you can get make your own at home. Meg and I are visiting NYC in September, so if you’ve been let us know if they are actually worth the million calories. 
  • Is it weird that my idea of heaven is attending the Fancy Food Show? According to Eater’s Malcom Harris,“It’s like visiting 5.8 Costcos, but just the samples. Really good samples.” Need a sampling partner, I volunteer as tribute.
  • Set a reminder on your phone now, tonight the latest Carpool Karaoke with First Lady Michelle Obama airs! If you can’t contain your excitement you can watch a preview here.
  • It has been a scorcher out there the last couple of days, which means it is the perfect time to eat a meal that’s served cold. I’m not a huge gazpacho fan, so these spicy cold kimchi noodles are up next on my dinner rotation.
  • ICYMI: Bon Appetit recently shot a video here in Richmond where Gabe Kennedy, chef from ABC’s The Taste, visits Rappahanock, Stroops and Sub Rosa. And now I’m craving a pastry.

What to add to your calendar

  • Tomorrow, Veil Brewing Company is hosting its Third Thursday event. Stroops, Continental Divide and Salty’s Ice Cream will be serving food and The Veil will be releasing a new Mexican Lager.
  • Need late lunch or dinner plans on Saturday? More than 30 food trucks will be on hand at The Diamond Food Truck Bash. I suggest checking out Mean Bird and then finding the Gelati Celesti truck for dessert.
  • If you’ve missed the Kolaches at South of the James the last few weekends, soon you’ll have more chances to get your fix. On Sunday August 7th, Craft Kolache will be doing a pop-up at Veil from noon to 3 p.m. I suggest going early, before they sell out!
  • On Saturday, July 30th, the HeART Soul and Brew Fest will be held at Hardywood, in an effort to bring together the community and promote a message of inclusion. Beer will be flowing and you’ll have your pick of soul food options.
  • Beer and fresh vegetables go together, right? Isley is hosting the Scott’s Addition Farmers Market this Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. So grab a Plain Jane and stock up on fruits, vegetables and other great items all in one place.

Idle Hands Bread Company: A Bakery for Everyone

Jay Metzler is the owner and baker behind the all sourdough bakery Idle Hands Bread Company, which recently moved from a 230 square foot space in Scott’s Addition to a much more expansive space in the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood.

The menu at the French-inspired bakery consists of freshly baked bread, pastries and even pizza dough (only available on Fridays and Saturdays). Idle Hand’s signature bread, Epps bread, is named after a friend of Metzler’s who helped him get the formula for the bread where it need to be. The Epps bread is a standard country blonde and can be used for everything from sandwiches to crostini to garlic bread. His pastry offerings include both simple flavors and more quirky ones, showcased in options like the lemon curd croissant. Metzler affectionately refers to the bakery as being a bit rough a around the edges — a bakery for everyone, he says.

Why the move? The former Idle Hands location in Scott’s Addition was limiting because of its size, Metzler couldn’t push production where it needed to be. When the summer months came around, the space was also limiting in its lack of good air conditioning. Metzler’s bread was over proofing, his butter was melting and he could no longer control his baking process.

In Jackson Ward, he has room to expand – both in quantity and product selection. Metzler is excited to use the additional square footage for experimentation, something he simply didn’t have room for before. He plans to introduce baguettes in a few months and has already been offering pastry specials in addition to the regular menu on an almost daily basis. When I recently visited the bakery, the special of the day was a cannoli filled croissant. Let’s just say it took a lot of willpower to not take them all home with me.

idle hands bread company boulangerie

idle hands bread company sign

The Man Behind the Bread: Jay Metzler

Metzler had never been a “professional food person” before opening Idle Hands. While he enjoyed cooking at home, his background was in record stores and craft beer.

When talking about the difference between baking and cooking, Metzler said, “In cooking you can be creative — add and subtract different things — you don’t need a recipe. In baking, there are absolute structures you have to follow. That’s what I didn’t like about it at first. But then I found where I could sort of blur those lines with sourdough and natural yeast and that’s when I fell in love it. I just dove in.”

He is self-taught and has had no classes or instruction whatsoever. It took a few years of practicing at home and at a local coffee shop he owned in Bon Air before he felt like he could do what he is doing now — though, he says what he is doing now has always been the end goal.

Metzler has never been to France — it’s a dream of his to go — but a bakery there that he came across while doing research online, Boulangerie Poilane, served as a source of inspiration for Idle Hands Bread Company. In time, he would like to add someone to his team who can make confections, something that he thinks will bring him even closer to his goal of becoming a “real” French-inspired bakery.

Everything at Idle Hands is done by hand. The bakery’s use of all natural yeast leads to products that are flavorful, healthier — and for Metzler, also more temperamental, something he acknowledged with a smile.

If you visit Idle Hands Bread Company

idle hands bread company bread

idle hands bread company danish

Idle Hands Bread Company, is open at 312 Brook Road, Wednesday – Friday from 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

For first time visitors, Metzler recommends that customers try one of a few different tried and true items – like the Epps bread, mixed berry cream cheese Danish or the blueberry buttermilk biscuit, which is my favorite item from the bakery.

You can also find Idle Hands products at the following locations around town:

  • Pastries: Saison Market
  • Epps bread: Yellow Umbrella Provisions, Union Market, Stock Provisions – Richmond, Outpost Richmond, Once Upon a Vine South, Little House Green Grocery and Belmont Butchery
  • Pizza dough: In the freezer sections of Stock Provisions – Richmond, Little House Green Grocery and Outpost Richmond

I’m already looking forward to picking up a fresh loaf of bread or some homemade pizza dough on my next visit to Idle Hands!