Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

We debated about stopping at one final winery in the morning before leaving for Big Basin, but since the drive was so long (2-1/2 hours), we opted not to. Instead, we had a final omelet breakfast, spent an hour packing our “souvenirs” (yes, an hour, which you will see why at the end!), and then were on our way.

Why Big Basin? I did quite a bit of research on the redwood forests nearby; and while I really did want to go further inland to see the true giants, we didn’t have the time. Big Basin was my compromise to seeing more of the trees without taking too much time out of the trip.

The drive to Big Basin was a heart pounding affair along raised highways and heavy traffic back around San Francisco, followed up by the windiest, hilliest, most nauseating mountain road I have ever been on.

Was it worth it?

Well, the trees were bigger than Muir Woods. They were a touch less picturesque (though that could also be from the time of day), but they were obviously older and in more of a traditional wooded park.

They were also much wider than Muir. I have always wanted to hug one of these trees.

We did the Redwood Loop Walk, an educational short walk by the main park entrance.

With no further plans for our final day, we decided to head into Santa Cruz so I could see and walk in the Pacific Ocean. Luckily, like our journey to Muir Woods, the way out was less nauseating than the way in.

We stopped at Parish Publick House for lunch (thanks to another successful Yelp search), where I had the best Shepherds Pie I have ever had outside of Ireland (and maybe including). Brian had the Irish Dip, a special sandwich like a French dip with an Irish cheese and Jameson dipping sauce.

They had an extensive beer list, and Brian was excited to try Deschutes Hop Henge and Black Butte, both of which he enjoyed. For myself, I enjoyed the casual atmosphere, pool playing in the back, and the simple wildflowers placed in Lagunitas mason jar glasses on the tables. The rustic flooring was charming.

Santa Cruz was beautiful on the nearly cloudless day. We walked down the pier though and the wind made it pretty chilly. The pier is long, and midway through, there is a staircase down a level, and there are sea lions, basking in the sunlight! I had to take a video as another sea lion swam up and greeted the others.

At the very end of the pier, I looked out at the ocean and then straight down, and I saw this:

More sea lions, lying across a single plank of wood all along the end.

We walked back and walked along the sand up to the amusement park along the boardwalk.

(Proof I was really there)

We didn’t ride any rides, though it was a crowded and happy amusement park; I did get some ice cream though.

The sun was starting to go down, so we drove up to the lighthouse for a final sightsee before making our way to the airport and home.

I was pleasantly surprised to capture some surfers, hopping over the fencing for us tourists, ignoring or maybe just taking to heart the warnings about being cautious, as this place has seen many surfer’s deaths.

Then it was time to turn our backs to Santa Cruz and toward the airport.We did one final stop when we got gas. We didn’t get out of the car, but I had fun seeing the google maps “placemarker” and their street sign.

We were taking the red eye out of San Francisco, so we had plenty of time to eat dinner and have another Buena Vista Irish Coffee before our flight.

We arrived home early Tuesday morning, and I worked from home that day, unfortunately. Meanwhile, Brian unpacked our souvenirs.

All of that made it home successfully on the airplane, no breakage. 6 mason jars, 6 wine glasses, and if I’m counting correctly that is 7 bottles of beer and 9 bottles of wine (one of which had been opened and re-corked without spilling).

Brian was the master of that packing, and the key was packing a suitcase within a suitcase on the way there, surrounded by bubble wrap. Glasses were carried on, alcohol was checked in. The handheld weight meter that Brian’s parents loaned us was a help too. We hit the exact limit on both checked bags.

Mastermind, I tell you.

And there you have it, the end of our 5 day long trip that felt more like 7 or 8 and somehow left us feeling rejuvenated despite the exhausting walking and travel. Thanks, California, it was fun!


P.S. If you were wondering in all this how many times we called to check on Jameson, the answer is really just once. And we were told he was singing “ee ii ee ii oh”, seeing family at a bridal shower, and keeping his grandparents busy. If it wouldn’t get me in trouble, I would say that I didn’t miss him much at all, simply because I was confident that he was having a blast without us.

Though I also know that the last Monday and Tuesday at daycare, he asked for mommy and daddy a lot throughout that day. So maybe he missed us too.

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Our first winery for our first and final full day in Napa Valley was Schramsberg, known for their sparkling wines even up to the White House!

We had a scheduled tour which took us back into their caves and through the finishing process. I had no idea the amount of effort involved in wine-making, particularly sparkling wines.

Don’t worry, that’s natural moss growing up there, not any kind of spider web. Though it really was revolting.

The sparkling wine process is complicated, and I’m going to butcher it if I try to repeat as our fabulous tour guide did. The wine is in the caves to ferment, and the pressure in those bottles can reach incredible heights. If the bottles have a weakness, he said, the pressure will find it and burst the bottles. Which is why they have sections of the cave covered in canvas at the peak fermentation period, to protect us tourists.

In some spots, there were bottles missing from those types of mishaps, and they replace the bottle with cardboard or item of similar size.

To keep the sediment rotating in the bottles, there is a complicated and time consuming process called riddling. They have a machine now that does riddling mechanically, but some bottles are still rotated regularly by hand on racks like these:

And the mechanical riddler:

Likewise, while they use mostly mechanical labelers now, there are some bottle that still require labeling by hand. There are two women whose job this is, and they use this old equipment that’s been the same for ages:

Following our enlightening and educational tour, and with a new appreciation for sparkling wine, our small group sat down in a room together around a large table for our tasting.

Our guide demonstrated the best way to aerate sparkling wine or champagne, which is not to swirl it around but to roll it on the palm of your hand.

He poured our tastings quickly, but not to get us to move faster; instead, he said that we should taste the wines at different temperatures. Allowing the wine to warm up a bit would introduce new flavors. So we were encouraged to try each wine again and again as it stood on the table.

I also enjoyed the fact that the table was made of an old riddling rack covered in glass. It was very charming. We enjoyed lingering over our glasses before leaving.

Our next stop was to a bit more touristy but highly recommended winery (simply for its looks!): The Castello di Amorosa.

The Castle Winery parking lot was separated by grape vines, so I was excited to get up close and personal with some grapes for the first time this trip.

The castle itself was very authentic looking, though newer than any real castle would be! We did not take a tour here, but we were able to walk around the outside in inside courtyard without it. The view from the castle was also amazing.

In addition to wine tasting, they also offer grape oil tasting, and I was surprised to find that I could taste a difference in the different varieties of oil. The wine tasting was not spectacular, though we had just been spoiled at the attention and thought we received at Schramsberg.

The tasting room was open and bar like, but our bartender did not really speak to us about the wines we were drinking. While you can’t get their wine anywhere else, and we enjoyed their Merlot, Cab Sauv and sweet wine, we still left without any bottles. We were satisfied with the beautiful setting and were glad we came.

It was near time for lunch, so we decided, at Brian’s parents’ suggestion, to stop and buy a lunch to picnic with at the geyser in Castiloga (a region in Napa Valley).

We stopped at St Palisades Deli for sandwiches, and arrived at the geyser minutes before it went off.

We ate our sandwiches (which were fabulous, by the way), and then stopped at the goats. The Old Faithful Geyser of California has a collection of goats, including fainting goats.

We did our best to try and get the fainting goats to faint, but they weren’t surprised.

(This is not a fainting goat)

Our next stop was Sterling Vineyards, which is more well known. They have an air tram lift (similar to a ski lift) to their winery.

We were told that the scenery from the winery is beautiful, and that was true.

The tastings at Sterling are done in a gradual fashion, along your walk and “self-guided tour” around the winery. It was casual and well done, and I enjoyed walking around with our glass of wine.

Since we only paid for the base tastings, we were able to taste the basic wines. At the end though we enjoyed Malvasia Bianca, a sweet wine only available there. It was good palate quencher.

All in all, Sterling was worth the views, though we didn’t anticipate the time it would take to wait in line for the lift to and from the winery itself.

We following Sterling with a visit to Rombauer, which we had some difficulty finding because it was on the opposite side of the road from what we expected.

Rombauer was recommended to us the prior day by a couple who came to Napa Valley specifically to visit. We enjoyed it, and particularly their Zinfandel which she paired with a bittersweet chocolate (my favorite part, obviously).

The winery itself was quaint. It had a nice view and small gardens with sculptures, and it wasn’t very crowded though it was smaller.

With the day nearly ending (or at least, the part where wineries are open), we decided to visit V. Sattui.

V. Sattui was the most crowded place we had been to yet, but it was beautiful. They offer a deli and a huge assortment of cheeses. So as not to ruin our dinner, we opted for a sausage stuffed mushroom, which tasted like pizza without the marinara and bread.

Because their tasting room was so crowded, we decided to get a bottle and eat outside.

Despite the crowds, we were still able to find room outdoors to sit down and eat. We got a bottle of their Zinfandel, which we enjoyed enough to try and bring home the rest of the open bottle on an airplane.

Our bellies satisfied, we left for downtown Napa to find a place for dinner.

Before dinner though, we did find a tasting room in Napa still open when we arrived. Waterstone at Oxbow

So close to closing time, there weren’t many people in the room. I loved their recycled glass counter tops in particular. One thing I noticed was that this tasting room offered an opportunity to buy by the glass, instead of just tastings and bottles. We hadn’t seen that anywhere else.

We shut that place down and left to cross the bridge back to downtown. I could see as we walked up and down the street lots of tasting rooms for yet another kind of experience if we had had the time.

In downtown Napa, there is a small micro-brewery (leave it to Brian to find those), so we decided on one more stop before dinner.

Downtown Joe’s offered a tasting of their entire lineup, which we had to try. I enjoyed their great raspberry ale.

It was finally time for dinner, and by this time it was prime eating hour, so we had to wait for about a half hour before being seated at the Bounty Hunter. We waited outside at a table, so it wasn’t any hardship on this beautiful evening.

It was dimly lit and dark outside at this point, so we don’t have any (good) photos, but they had simply amazing BBQ and offered 3 sauces.

We split a dish of pulled pork brisket and ribs, and the cole slaw was excellent. I am not a BBQ person, but to me, this was exceptional food.

So ended a wonderful day in Napa Valley, from tours to sightseeing to downtown, touristy spots to those less traveled.

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After Muir Woods, we drove to Russian River Brewery. Brian told me just this weekend that their Pliny the Elder might be his very favorite beer ever, so I’m sure it was a thrill for him to be able to try the entire line up they had available at their brewery and restaurant.

Many of their beers are not sold to anywhere outside the brewery, let alone outside California.

I did help Brian sample the beers too, so don’t be worried that he drank 18 full tastings all by his lonesome.

Also, we ate.

They are known for their pizzas, and this one entirely met that expectation. And as for the beers? I enjoyed many of them; particularly and surprisingly, the sour beers, which are fermented in old wine barrels that you could see through a window just past our booth.


We had one more brewery to hit before we finally began the wine leg of our vacation: Lagunitas. They are unexpectedly located in a corporate business park; and I was shocked as we walked back that there was a backyard, party-like atmosphere.

As they told us on their tour, they’re getting big enough that they are no longer a small micro brewery any longer.

Brian shared a story, which they repeated on tour, about one of their brand new tanks that was lost at sea and needed to be remade and resent from Europe.

My favorite part of Lagunitas was the beer glasses, which were large mason jars. We took 4 home, and I love them for regular drinks too. I would replace my entire glassware with these, that is how much I love them.

Everything seemed timed perfectly then for us to be on our way and arrive in time for one of only two scheduled winery visits.

This first winery was at my insistence. I was concerned, while looking online for places to visit, that we wouldn’t be surrounded by vineyards anywhere. I wanted to sit by vineyards, and it seemed like so many tasting rooms were in downtown areas.

(I needn’t have worried, since there were plenty of vineyards everywhere; though this one would still top in terms of scenery from most)

Cuvaison was intimate and small but not too small, even though it was by appointment only. As Brian’s parents warned us, if you go too small, then you may feel obligated to walk away with a case. This one wasn’t that small and we just walked away with two bottles.

We chose to sit outside surrounded by vineyards, despite the wind that day. With jacket, scarf, and wine, I was comfortable. Our sommelier was very knowledgeable, and we received 5 tastings of great wine.

It was a great place to start our winery tour in Napa Valley, and we were in no hurry to leave.

Next up was Peju Province, and I confess that my first impression was that this winery was pretentious; but wine continued to flow, was pretty good, and I adjusted my impression. I liked Peju.

Peju offered standing group tastings, which was different than our relaxed, individual attention at Cuvaison. Everyone was nice and having a great time; we met a couple there who suggested a few other wineries to visit, of which we went to one the following day.

My favorite wine there was their Fifty Fifty and their Provence. The Provence is a combination white and red wine, which reminds me of Catawba wines from Put-in-Bay, but not as sweet. We sampled 9 wines in a half hour.

We decided there was time to stop at one more tasting room before heading to check in to our hotel and get ready for dinner, so we went to a tasting room right off the road called Cosentino.

We opted to share one tasting between us, and there I enjoyed the Cigarzin (which we came home with) and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Throughout my wine tastings in Napa, I determined that Cabernet Sauvignon is my favorite style of wine right now. Almost every one I tried, I thought was exceptional.

A special offering to the group next to us who had been there a while was “The Poet,” and we requested to try it as well, for fun.

The wine was from 1985 (the year I was born, as Brian reminded me a few times). There was sediment at bottom, and it was almost gold-tinged around the rim, but it was actually not too bad. Aged wines this old don’t have good consistency, so some bottles are good, and some may as well be vinegar. This, however, was decent.

The tasting at Cosentino was casual, and I was happy to have enjoyed that day 3 totally different experiences, from an intimate setting, to a scheduled group, to casual at the bar.


We arrived then at our hotel, and I was very impressed. We stayed at the Napa Valley Embassy Suites, and it had a big center outdoor courtyard with a lovely swan and mother and baby ducklings! It was a like a resort. In the mornings, it even offered an omelet bar, included with our stay.

We had dinner reservations at Brix, and Brian was sweet to share that it was an anniversary celebration for us (3 years!). They also gave us a seat with a view out into their gardens.

Our chocolate creme brulee (which I didn’t even know was possible) was divine.

Thus ended our first night in Napa Valley, which had so far lived up to all my expectations and then some.

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We weren’t originally planning to visit Muir Woods because I had heard it was very touristy and crowded. However, Brian convinced me we could make it there early in the day and still hit Napa Valley by our appointment at 2, so we changed plans and decided to go.

I’m so glad we did!

But first, we had to cross the Golden Gate Bridge! I took these shots from our moving car, can you believe it?

We did pick up a rental car that morning, which wasn’t too exciting, but did it’s job well. It was a comfortable enough ride, though I was very unhappy with the cleanliness of the windshield. Most of my good shots were out the passenger side window; the windshield straight on was covered in soap spots, in and out, even after we rubbed it down with towels.

I felt like I should say something meaningful as we crossed and left San Francisco behind, like “straight on til morning”. The way ahead was beautiful; it was a perfect mist-free day with bright blue sky and fluffy white clouds. I was surprised at the hills — covered in some sort of brown hay interspersed with green trees.

The way was pretty intense as we got into the hills; the road twisted around more than Lombard Street, and I got mildly nauseous. It may have just been Brian’s driving though. (just kidding)

We arrived at Muir Woods shortly after 9 in the morning. We enjoyed the early morning light among the trees which were, in short (or tall, heh heh), amazing.

It was difficult to capture their size on my camera. I tried though! A lot.

Muir Woods is filled with old-growth coastal redwoods. These are different than the Giant Sequoias, which are known for their girth rather than their height! (Think of the trees that you can drive through; those are sequoias) However, they are of the same family. Coastal redwoods can grow up 365 feet tall.

I could understand why Muir Woods is so popular; the trail was easy for any age. There was a trail back around which was a little tougher and not appropriate for strollers, but there was a good path on the way in which you could return by.

I was happy that we had arrived so early so we could enjoy the woods without too many other people.

Well, but I’m always happy when there are enough people to ask one to take your photo together. Someone who could even use my camera!

The ground was carpeted in large clover, moss and ferns, and even though the sky was clearer than we had seen in days, there was a heavier humidity to the air in the woods. It seemed to retain a lot of moisture from overnight; every once in a while, the wind would blow droplets of water off the trees.

On our way out, we saw an owl perched in a tree, just watching us watch it.

And then we were on our way again! Twisting our way out of the hills and to our next stop, a brewery for lunch.

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After Alcatraz, we decided to walk along Fisherman’s Wharf; there were a lot of places to stop for food. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly food, plus the Aquarium (we didn’t visit). It was full of activity when we were there, and later we walked along it at night which was another perspective.

My favorite part though was the Arcade Museum, Musee Mecanique, filled with coin-operated arcade and video games!

Brian and I got a few coins and played a couple games too. I played Ski Ball, which is my all time favorite game. I am only okay at it, but it is thrilling to hit the 50 slot! Brian played whack-a-mole, and with our last coin, we watched a French Execution.

The game play made us hungry, so we headed up to the famous food truck, The Codmother Fish and Chips.

We both got an order of fish tacos. Cabbage, a good sized piece of fish made fresh, and their signature sauce (I got mild, Brian got medium) in a basket. We shared some fries, and I was happy to see vinegar at the table because there is nothing like fresh fries with vinegar! It was excellent.

Following lunch, we walked up a few cable car stops then and hopped on, standing along the side.

We got off at Chinatown, which is the biggest Chinatown in any city in the US. I liked it even more than the one in NYC, but Brian said he preferred the “sketchiness” in NYC. It’s true, this Chinatown was not filled with knockoff brands or a whole lot of side alleys (or at least… it didn’t seem to be!).

We purchased a scarf for me there, because it was really chilly that day. With a jacket and scarf on, I was finally comfortable.

The day was really starting to clear up by this time, we even saw bright blue sky heading into downtown to catch the metro to our next stop, Buena Vista Park. The park was supposed to give us great views of the bridge, though I was more pleased with the views of the city proper.

To reach the park, we got off the metro, and then walked what felt like an entire mile, entirely, steeply uphill. At one point, there were steps in the sidewalk because it was so steep.

The views were nearly worth it.

Okay, afterwards we stopped for drinks, and then it was totally worth it.

We took a different way back down, onto Haight Street and the so-called “hippie” district. It may have been a little be eclectic, and I enjoyed the murals, but my favorite was this spot: Hobson’s Victorian Punch House.

That is three bowls of punch there, their house punches, made with rum and various fruit juices. It was really a rum bar, with over 100 types of rum available. My kind of place!

Brian had an Anchor Steam Ale (based in San Francisco, though we didn’t go) and Descheutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale.

And I had two of these.

But the day wasn’t over! Eventually we had to leave, and we made our way to Ghiradelli Square and the dock extending away from it, where I was happy to finally get some good photos of Golden Gate Bridge.

Oh yes, we did stop for some chocolate samples and a sundae as well.

What made the sundae was the crushed nuts, and the chocolate, I think. It was so good, we were barely hungry for dinner that night.

Speaking of, to get there, I was happy to walk off more of that sundae by walking down the windy, twisty Lombard Street.

I’m pretty sure it was mostly tourists driving down that street!

For dinner, we decided we wanted to sit outside at a small Italian restaurant, as it had finally warmed up enough to be comfortable. A lot of places had outdoor heating, though we eventually chose a place which did not (because we didn’t want to wait for a seat that had heating. If you can’t tell by all the places we made it to even after Alcatraz, all in ONE day, we walk fast and might be a touch impatient!).

We didn’t have reservations, but we checked Yelp for a good spot along Columbus Avenue, which had a lot of Italian restaurants along it. We selected Rose Pisolta and enjoyed a fabulous dinner; like the previous night’s tapas dinner, we were pleased with the portion sizes since we had consumed most of the day already.

I had an Italian Quarter Shrub cocktail (Abuelo 7 Year Rum, Fresh Orange Juice, Lemon Shrub, Agave Nectar). It was sweet, and not at all alcohol-tasting, reminding me of my favorite martini, a lemon drop)

For my meal, I enjoyed a Black Summer Truffle Ravioli with Yellow Corn Brodo.

Brian had the pasta with Lobster, Orange & Micro Basil. It had a very herbal scent and taste, but was very good. It was missing the substance though that my dish had, I think.

For our grand finale that evening, we walked along Fisherman’s Wharf again, and then went to Buena Vista Cafe, sat at the bar, and had a famous Irish Coffee.

Well, Brian had one two. I was completely full; I did try his though. The flavor is very intense.

It was a nice, relaxing end to our long and busy day! We were excited that we were able to do all of the items on our list for San Francisco, and I was excited to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge the next day and see the redwood forest!

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