So I’m FINALLY getting around to this. Especially since I would feel so empty and incomplete without at least detailing the final leg of my trip for all my Lit friends. ❤ This will also likely be my last blogpost…at least until my next trip where I’m sure I’ll be “encouraged” to document that one as well. So to kill two birds with one stone, I’m going to talk about two days in one post.
So on the Sunday while there was when we planned to hit up San Francisco. The first challenge was getting there. The hotel was in Fairfield since it was a nice, central location to Sacramento, Napa, Sonoma, and San Fran. But we were still about 47 miles away. Driving seemed to be out of the question since San Francisco has the worst hills, traffic, and parking rates ($8 an hour). The best option to get into town if you are staying outside of the city is to take the BART light rail. We parked the car at Richmond and took the train the rest of the way in. Now, I’m not used to taking public transit back at home. I normally only take the bus and light rail in Seattle about once a year to go see the Seafair hydroplanes, so I’m normally a fish out of water when I have to resort to public transit…especially in a different city. That said, the trip went well.
We took the BART line from the Richmond station to the Powell Street station. Once off the train, we immediately went to the Visitor Information Center to purchase one of the most helpful things for a day trip in San Fran. At $14 for a single day, a Visitor Day Pass will give you unlimited rides on the bus, metro, streetcars, and historic cable cars. Trust me, it’s worth it. Why? Because a single cable car ride will cost you about $6. This pass will give you the ability to hop on and off the cable car and make one of San Francisco’s most well known icons your primary mode of transportation. You don’t get more of a true San Francisco experience than that. Now one thing to keep in mind is that the start and end locations of the cable car routes are usually the busiest…especially in the morning. Our wait time was about an hour for our first ride. But after that, it will lighten up during the day. It is good though if you catch a near full cable car because it will give you an excuse to stand on the outside running boards and hang off the side.
The cable car line took us north all the way to Fishermans Wharf. Once you wade past all the “touristy” shops, you get to the boardwalk. I had no idea what to expect there, this outing was a “let’s go here and see what we find” experience. However, a sign that said “WWII submarine and Liberty Ship, this way” caught my attention. I turned the corner onto Pier 45, and saw two beautiful pieces of history docked right in front of me. The submarine was the USS Pampanito and the Liberty Ship was the SS Jeremiah O’Brien. Both are museums, but I did not go on the tour. But I was fine standing on the dock and admiring them while taking lots of pictures.
After stopping by these magnificent warships, it was a quick stroll down to Pier 39. This is probably the most visited places on the wharf and it has a little bit of everything. Some of the best restaurants on the waterfront are here; even some big ones such as Hard Rock and Bubba Gumps. There’s even an aquarium, a hall of mirrors, and a carousel.
As I said before, your food choices are plentiful. Everything from nice sit-down restaurants, to casual seafood dives. But if you’re looking for some great seafood on the go, you have to try Pier Market Seafood. Recently voted Best Seafood in San Francisco by a local TV station, while this place has a nice restaurant you do have to try the “crab stand” just outside. What is essentially a streetside food counter, the stand serves delicious small bites right out of the restaurant’s kitchen. And for a few bucks, you can get a wonderful shrimp cocktail.
Wait! Shrimp for only a few bucks? Doesn’t that smell a bit fishy? No actually, no fishy taste either. Fresh shrimp and absolutely delicious. As you continue up the pier, you will eventually get to the San Francisco carousel; a double decker merry-go-round. If you duck into one of the side alleys, you can look at all the beautiful boats on the marina. As I walked to the end of the pier, the morning fog had finally lifted and got extraordinary views of Alcatraz island and the Golden Gate Bridge. Now on the other side of the pier is another great attraction, the sea lion colony. Hundreds of sea lions lay out on floating platforms to soak up the sun and bark at each other. And boy are they LOUD. You can spend hours just watching them.
Next we took a street car, thanks to our visitors pass, down to the ferry building. Another historic building filled with all sorts of shops including meat shops, wine tasting bars and fresh produce. One place to check out for a quick bite is Boccalone Salumeria. Near the front entrance, this meat shop sell all sorts of salumi. A nice quick snack you can get here is called a salumi cone. Basically a paper cone stuffed with thin slices of meat. Of you’re like me hand have a habit of eating the lunch meat straight from the packaging, you will enjoy this.
Just outside of the Ferry Building and across the street is the farmers market. Like any farmers market, there is all sorts of produce and knick-knacks there. Across the courtyard, you will find the Vaillancourt Fountain. In the courtyard of the Embarcadero, this fountain has created quite a lot of controversy since its construction in 1971 with numerous proposals to tear it down. Essentially a jumble of square concrete pipes that pour water into a surrounding pool. One of the more interesting features is that you can walk through the fountain over a series of large stepping stones. I managed to take a few shots with my camera from inside the fountain, protecting it carefully the entire time, and having a lot of fun playing with the shutter speeds making the flow of the water come out differently in each picture.
From there, we hopped on the cable car going up California street and hopped off at Chinatown. The San Francisco Chinatown district is the largest outside of Asia. May of the shops sell Chinese wardrobe and furniture. You will also find a plethora of Chinese restaurants. Other places sell regular San Francisco merchandise with “made in China” printed on the bottom. You could spend a good portion of the day exploring all of them, but we decided just a quick stroll was best. After ducking into a few shops, we decided to head back to our Union Square starting point. We caught the cable car on Powell street and rode it all the way back, ate dinner, then took the BART back to our car.
The next day would be our last full day in California, so we spent it with a full day romp through Sonoma. The first stop was Sonoma Raceway. This 2.52 mile track is home for yearly races for NASCAR, IndyCar, and AMA Superbikes. This road course is snuggled up against the neighboring hillside which allows for some interesting elevation changes in the track. In the 2010 NASCAR race, driver Marcos Ambrose shut off his engine while in the lead to conserve fuel while under caution. The problem; he shut off the engine while going uphill after turn 1. When he couldn’t get his engine refired, NASCAR gave his position Jimmie Johnson who ended up winning the race.
There was no race going on the day we went, but instead was a “test session” day. There were some professional race teams testing their cars, other people bringing their personal cars to drive on the track. Unfortunately, they would not allow me to take the rental car out on the track. =( But it was still a lot of fun to watch these cars drive on the track. Got lots of pictures, and even a Jeff Gordon shirt on sale in the gift shop.
The next stop was Viansa Winery. Like Sterling, this winery sits on a hilltop overlooking the entire valley. The first thing you notice is the Tuscan architecture of the building. As you walk up, the hand rails of the path are sculpted to be grapevines. My favorite wine there was the 2012 Aleantico Rosé, a very sweet wine with hints of citrus and strawberries. See a pattern in my favorite kind of wines? =) The winery does have a nice deli with a patio that has one hell of a view. However, we had a different place in mind for lunch.
Lunch was at the Boon Fly Cafe, part of the Carneros resort. In a red barn, this cozy restaurant serves up some delicious and reasonably priced food. I had the free range turkey melt. Quite good, even if the cranberries make the taste a bit interesting. Afterwards, the next winery was Gundlatch Bundschu; the oldest family owned winery in California. The 2012 Gewürztraminer has a crisp, dry taste with a hint of orange blossom and fresh ginger. The 2011 Chardonnay is very creamy and goes very well with lighter foods. Like many wineries in the valleys, they store their barrels in caves. The underground caves do an excellent job and keeping a constant cool temperature and stable humidity.
The plan was to make J winery the final stop for the day. However, since we were so behind schedule, we knew we would not make it through the Sonoma traffic in time before they closed. So instead, we tried for another worlds class winery, Kendall-Jackson. Unfortunately, their main tasting room closed by the time we arrived. However, open or not, the main grounds are worth checking out for their beautiful gardens.
We would not leave disappointed though. We were told that they had just opened up a new restaurant called Partake by K-J in Healdsburg. A tasting lounge that specializes in food and wine parings. We had arrived before the crowds, which allowed for a more intimate experience. It was also a good sign when another couple walked out and said to us, “You’re going to have fun.” It wouldn’t be cheap either, but you don’t go on vacation to save money, right?
The first thing they do is bring you out a mystery wine. The wine is in a black glass, so you cannot guess if it’s a red or white just by looking at it. We were then asked to taste it and then guess what type of wine it was. I tasted it; it was not heavy like a red, but wasn’t sweet either. I believe I had gotten it right by guessing a Chardonnay (I don’t have my tasting notes in front of me as I write this). They also brought out bread which they told us was made from their grape skins crushed into flour. Not sure what to pick for tasting, we ordered the Chef’s Flight. It was sure one hell of an experience. Not only did it give you a wonderful understanding how food can change the flavor of the wine, but the food itself was top notch. I’m not one for oysters or clams, but the oyster plate they brought out was delicious. They also had the best lamb I had ever tasted. One thing that was really interesting was the tempura maitake mushrooms. The tempura batter was really dark, I could only assume because it was fried in their K-J brand olive oil, but it was delicious. If you are in the Sonoma valley region, this place it a must.
After walking around Healdsburg a bit, a small town filled with cute shops and trendy restaurants, we took the long drive back to the hotel. A perfect way to end a wonderful trip.