Steve and I recently returned from a long-awaited trip to California. We spent 9 days exploring, eating, and drinking our way through San Francisco, Napa, and Sonoma. After 5 months spent planning the trip, I’ve got some serious post vacation blues. Or perhaps they’re just back to the daily grind blues. Either way, I want to recap our trip here so I don’t forget the details!
Our trip started rather dramatically when we failed to take into account how busy the airport would be the weekend before a holiday (4thof July). By the time we checked our bags and got through the security line, we had mere minutes to get to the gate before boarding closed. Picture us sprinting down the terminal, carry on bags flapping around us. Steve got to the gate first, and by the time I caught up and got my boarding pass scanned, they went over the intercom to say boarding for our flight closed in 20 seconds. Oh my. I’m not interested in cutting it that close again – talk about stressful. Thankfully, the actual flight was much less eventful.
Once in San Fran, we checked into our hotel, Hotel Beresford. It’s no frills but in a good location and met our needs. We scouted out lunch before hitting some of San Francisco’s highlights. But first, I’d like to note that the hills in this city are downright humbling. Somehow we ended up walking at least 8 miles everyday but managed to take routes avoiding the steepest of the hills. Except for this one below, of course.
Lombard Street was probably the steepest hill we saw (and walked up, ouch). It’s famous for a small stretch of road that includes 8 hair pin turns in quick succession. We missed a picture from the bottom (it was pretty much a tourist nightmare down there with dozens and dozens of people blocking every inch of sidewalk for a photo opp), but we got some shots from the top.
Here’s the full view from Coit Tower via Wikipedia
Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower also provided some nice views and photo opportunities of some of the cities most iconic landmarks.
Unfortunately, this is as close as we got to Alcatraz. Despite warnings from seasoned San Francisco vacationers to get tickets early, when I went to buy them the week before we left, I found the attraction sold out through the end of July. Bummer. I just told myself that I wasn’t interested in touring an old prison anyway (even though I totally was).
We also got our first peek at the Golden Gate Bridge from this vantage point. It required some squinting and zooming in on the camera, but here she is.
From there, we took a quick trip through Fisherman’s Wharf to see what it was all about and spend some time with the sea lions at Pier 39.
The next day we met up with one of Steve’s friends and his fiance who live in South San Francisco. After brunch at JoAnn’s Cafe, we went to Pacifica, CA and hiked a trail along the beach and up a small cliff overlooking the ocean. Even on an overcast, foggy day like this, the views were amazing. This was a highlight of the trip for sure.
We all went into the city next and enjoyed drinks at International Cafe. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking down Haight Street (where I thoroughly enjoyed the punny shop names. Haight Laundry may have been my fav) and enjoyed an early dinner at Parada 22 before crashing at the hotel for the evening.
Thankfully, we got a good night’s rest, because the next day we were busy. We went back to Fisherman’s Wharf bright and early to rent bikes to bike over the Golden Gate Bridge. We enjoyed the view below the bridge before we started our journey out.
Unfortunately, the actual trip over the bridge was much less enjoyable. In the mornings, bikes and pedestrians share one small sidewalk, and pedestrians weren’t always so great at staying on one side. And though the bikes were equipped with little bells, they were no match for a tourist on foot looking for the best photo location. Lesson of the day: ride the bike over the bridge in the afternoons when bikes are directed to one side of the bridge, pedestrians to the other.
Once we made it to other side, we took a deep breath and were quickly rewarded as we made our way into scenic Sausalito. In Sausalito, the fog had lifted and the 70 degree weather was much warmer than in San Francisco. Before setting out to find lunch, we enjoyed the views into the
city fog from the harbor.
We took a nice walk through the town and lunched at Fred’s Place. We went back to the harbor to enjoy the views again, this time with ice cream. Next we set out to find the small redwood forest in Mill Valley and rest our legs for a few.
Then we biked to Tiburon. The views along the way were pretty spectacular, but the ride was a bit longer than I expected. In the end, we estimated that we rode 20-25 miles that day. In Tiburon we did one of our favorite things – scouted out a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed margaritas and chips with guacamole. We scored a seat outside that overlooked the water into San Francisco.
Thankfully for my legs, we took the ferry back to the city. The boat went right by the bridge which was a treat.
On our final day in the city, we set out to find the Painted Ladies. Kind of underwhelming, but worth a visit.
We realized we were pretty close to the Golden Gate Park, so we made our way over there. We walked the three-mile length of the park, and enjoyed the lake views as well as the buffalo!
At the other side of he park, we rested over lunch at the Beach Chalet overlooking the ocean. The views were well worth the trek we took to get there.
Once back at the hotel, I took a well deserved nap before we headed out to dinner. We decided on the Nob Hill Grill, where I enjoyed perhaps the best burger I’ve ever tasted. Even the side salad was one of the best I’ve ever had. If we ever find ourselves back in San Fran, this would be one of my first stops.
The next morning we were up early to check out of the hotel and get to the car rental so we could get started on the next leg of the trip – California Wine Country! On our way out-of-town we stopped at Muir Woods which was probably Steve’s favorite part of the trip. The redwood forest was unreal. We took a short 2-3 mile hike through the park, and I couldn’t get over how surreal it was to be walking through a forest with trees up to 1,200 years old.
From Muir Woods we took the curvy route up Highway 1 and over to Napa. This is hardly the most direct route, but Steve wanted to enjoy the scenery. Thankfully, I fell asleep and avoided the nausea that comes with the turns and curves of mountainside routes.
In Napa we stayed at the Napa Old World Inn bed and breakfast which was AMAZING. We were within walking distance to downtown Napa, and took full advantage of the close proximity once we were checked in and settled. For dinner we dined at Bounty Hunter, which is an upscale restaurant that pairs BBQ with wine. The concept, food and atmosphere were all fantastic.
On our first full day in Napa, we took the Innkeepers winery recommendations and hit up Castello di Amorosa, Velo Vino, and Arger Martucci. For lunch we stopped at the famous Gott’s Roadside which lived up to the hype.
Castello di Amorosa is a castle with perfect views of the Napa Valley Countryside. We enjoyed the outdoor areas in 70 degree weather while our friends and family at home were suffering through record high temps.
Velo Vino was another standout of the trip. While they don’t have their own vineyard and source only a few fruits from Napa Valley (both of which seem to be a real point of pride for other wineries), the kitsch factor drew us in. Velo Vino is owned by the husband and wife team behind Clif energy bars which were originally designed by the owners as fuel on their long bike rides. Steve happens to be an avid cyclist and fan, so this was a must stop on our trip. While we both loved the wines we tasted, Steve’s favorite part was probably the Tour de France playing on the big screen. Poor guy, every year we seem to be out of town the first week of the Tour. He was thankfully able to get his fill before we left. Also – they have the same pendant lights as we do in our kitchen! Worthy of the stealthy photograph I took? Probably not, but I did it anyway.
After a quick stop at Dean and Deluca for a snack so I could, um, sober up a bit, we were on our way to Arger Martucci. This wasn’t our favorite winery, but the views made it a really lovely place to sit and talk while we enjoyed the afternoon. We finished the day with another lovely dinner at Uva Trattoria.
The next morning we headed west to Sonoma County. We started our Sonoma wine tour at Imagery which was voted Sonoma’s 2012 Best Winery. From there we went to Arrowood which is located right behind Imagery. The knowledgable and kind staff along with the amazing views over Sonoma made this our favorite winery.
For lunch we went to In-N-Out burger – the first visit for both of us. Steve had been wanting to go all week, so we made it happen. The Verdict: eh. Nothing amazing. We each got a burger and fries, but we hear there’s all kinds of stuff you can order that aren’t on the menu?? After lunch, our last winery stop of the day was VJB Winery.
Next we checked into our hotel in Santa Rosa. The real reason for our trip out West was to celebrate the marriage of our sweet friends who opted for a destination wedding in Sonoma. Even better, a few of our friends spread across the country also made the trip! The night before the wedding, we all met up for dinner in Santa Rosa at Flavor – with the exception of the bride and groom, who were of course busy with the wedding rehearsal. But we got to catch up with them as well afterward at a drinks reception at the hotel. Reuniting with friends I hadn’t seen for months and months in Sonoma made this evening absolutely perfect.
The next day, we met up at St. Francis winery for a tasting before the wedding. The wine was good and the views were even better. The back was set up for another wedding that evening. I thought the set up was beautiful, but it was nothing compared to the wedding we attended that afternoon at BR Cohn Winery.
The ceremony took place in the middle of the vineyard in front of an old oak tree.
And we enjoyed cocktails in front of the vineyard
And the reception was held in an olive tree grove which I sadly don’t have a picture of. It was really a perfect wedding and the perfect end to our vacation.
The next day we were up early and on our way to San Francisco for the flight back to Atlanta. We managed to get there with plenty of time to spare this time (phew), and even managed to safely get back the 11 bottles of wine we purchased in wine country.
The long-awaited vacation certainly lived up to our expectations! Now we just need to figure out where to go next!