California – Sonoma and San Francisco

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For our first vacation together, we decided to venture out west to visit wine country and the Golden Gate Bridge.  We flew into San Francisco, rented a car, and started our journey north to Sonoma.

Sonoma

We soon found that we weren’t going anywhere quickly.  We’d arrived during the afternoon rush hour, which was quickly turning our hour and a half trip into a much, much longer trip.  Despite the traffic, we stayed in good spirits – it was vacation after all.  We made our way along the 101 and ventured onto the Golden Gate Bridge.  The traffic started picking up and all of a sudden, out of nowhere – SMACK!  Luckily, our car and windshield weren’t phased, but the seagull that dive-bombed it didn’t fare as well.  We shrugged it off (what else could we do?) and continued our journey north.

Sonoma is beautiful – the wide open spaces, the grapes growing alongside the road… it just can’t be beat.  We chose Sonoma over Napa simply because I had a free hotel stay I needed to use, and since neither of us had been there before, it was a good of a reason as any.  We stayed a bit out of town at the Fairmont Mission Inn and Spa.  It was a bit above (ok, quite a bit above) the standards that either of us would normally choose, and the room was kind of strange (plush and luxurious to be sure, but the bathtub was in the middle of the room and the bathroom door was more slats and less door; it was just kind of awkward all around).  By the time we got to the hotel and checked in, we were too exhausted to venture back into town for dinner.  Luckily, the Inn thought of everything and had left us a bottle of wine and a plate full of cheese, fruit, and nuts, which ended up being our dinner.

The next day, we were picked up by the Platypus Tour Bus.  I’d highly recommend this wine tour to anyone visiting Sonoma.  The tours are small – just 8 of us – and the driver kept us entertained all day long.  We visited four wineries, each different than the last.  The first was an Italian winery and estate, complete with beautiful rolling hills and a picturesque villa.  The second winery was a small production winery; I think they only produce about 1,000 cases of wine each year.  They took a green approach to everything and the entire family had some part in their production.  The third was a larger, more corporate winery, but still offered delicious samples.  Lunch was provided for us on their back patio.  We ate, drank, swapped stories, and laughed with our tour-mates and driver until it was finally time to head to our fourth and final winery of the day.  The last one was a medium-sized winery, but the guide brought us out back to her garden where she shared with us how different wines can taste depending on what you’re eating.  We picked and sampled different herbs from her garden and tried to figure out which herbs best complemented the wines we were tasting.  It was interesting to learn about, but we were 6 hours into our wine tasting and were all a bit sloshed by that point.

We went back to the hotel for a quick nap, then met my aunt and uncle for dinner at the Plaza Bistro.  We were both exhausted and I doubt we were great company, but since we live on the other side of the country, we weren’t about to pass up a chance to spend time with them.  It was another early-to-bed night for us!

With our new wine-tasting expertise, we set off for Lancaster Estates, where a coworker of mine had set up a tour for us with her brother, the assistant winemaker.  He pulled out all of the stops, taking us out into the fields, down into the caves, and let us sample some of their finest wines.  It was truly an unforgettable experience.  We stopped in at a few more vineyards on our way back to Sonoma, but since we were driving, we couldn’t sample too much.  We ate dinner at the Red Grape in downtown Sonoma and then hit the grocery store.  The previous day, we’d bought a box to ship our wine selections back home and it still had several open slots that we weren’t going to let go to waste!

Sea Glass Beach and Highway 1 Scenic Drive

We’d heard about a beach that’s made entirely out of sea glass and decided that it’d be a fun stop while driving down Highway 1.  We drove through a forest with breathtaking redwoods and made our way to the sea glass beach near Ft. Bragg.  It wasn’t quite what we envisioned – most of the glass has been picked through and taken home by tourists.  People looked at us like we were crazy for NOT taking a shopping bag full of it with us.  The beach was still unlike anything we’d ever seen before and probably will never see again.

We made our way back to Sonoma via Highway 1, complete with windy roads and scenic viewpoints and finished off our day with a cheese and fruit platter and a bottle of wine (of course!).

San Francisco

We said good-bye to Sonoma and made our way south to San Francisco with a planned stop at Muir Woods. The park gets extremely busy later in the day, so we made sure to get their early enough to enjoy it without the crowds.  We were so early that it wasn’t open when we arrived, so we followed some signs and found a lookout point for the Golden Gate Bridge. While we were there, we got to see some of the preliminary races for the America’s Cup!  I grew up sailing and watching the America’s Cup with my dad, so I was beyond excited!

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Once we journeyed back to Muir Woods, we took an easy hike through some amazingly tall trees.  Pictures just don’t do it justice.

While it’s not on the way to San Francisco, we drove north a little bit to stop at Lagunitas for quite possibly the most entertaining brewery tour we’ve ever taken.  Seriously, if you’re going to be nearby, stop in for the experience.

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We finally made it to our hotel, the Hilton in Union Square (also booked using hotel points!).

The hotel wasn’t very central to tourist areas, so we walked uphill (both ways!) to get to the waterfront.  We wandered around downtown, ate lunch along the waterfront, enjoyed an ice cream sundae at Ghiradelli Square, walked by Lombard Street, visited the sea lions at Pier 39, and watched a sea gull steal an ice cream cone from an unsuspecting tourist.

Later that evening, we met my cousin at 21st Amendment, a brewery near AT&T Park, where we watched the Giants vs Pirates baseball game.

The next day, we took a cable car ride, walked around downtown more, watched the America’s Cup pre-races, and spent most of the day walking around Golden Gate Park.   We met two of my cousins, my aunt, and my uncle for dinner later that evening.  I think it was safe to say that we were exhausted!

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I think we saw quite a bit of San Fransisco in the two days we were there, although I know we missed a lot.  We would have liked to visit Alcatraz, and we probably could have squeezed it in during our last day, but all in all, we’re happy we were able to fit so many different things into one vacation.  On our way back to the airport, we made a few observations about our first vacation together:

  1. We travel pretty well together (whew!)
  2. I’m a terrible navigator without Google Maps.
  3. Watch out for suicidal sea gulls.  They mean business.

Now to start planning the next one!

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