A Trip to the Left Coast for Wine

Golden Gate Bridge

Google Maps of the wineries

At last years Christmas party for Nancy’s company they had a raffle giving away three nights at any Marriott with airfare by Delta to anywhere in the continental United States.  It took us a while to figure out where we wanted to go, but we decided on San Francisco by night and Sonoma County by day for a long weekend.  My Dad and Pat joined us for the weekend and it worked out because it was my Dad’s birthday on Friday.

When we finally arrived in SF we meet up with my Dad and Pat right outside our gate, with no luggage to pick up we immediately worked on getting transportation to the hotel.  We had two options: 1) a taxi directly there and 2) public transit.  I for one was excited about taking BART and then the cable car to the Fisherman’s Wharf.  I had heard that BART was quick and clean and who doesn’t want to take the cable car, it’s one of the things San Francisco is famous for.  The train ride certainly was quick and allowed for some great views of the surrounding hills side.  We got off at Powell Street, right in the heart of Union Square.  If you like shopping this is the place to go.  I was surprised by the number of people walking around and the general hustle and bustle of the area.  The weather was perfect, the sky blue, temps low and a nice breeze coming off the water.  We quickly got our bearings and decided on lunch before starting the second leg.

at Gundlach Bundschu

For lunch we stopped off at John’s Grill, a famous landmark in the area.  The restaurant is famous for its steaks and fresh seafood and is the setting for the Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.  The restaurant has been around since 1908 and has the decor to match its age.  The floors are hardwood with oak paneling on all the walls.  Most of the walls on the first floor are covered with pictures of famous patrons, none which we recognize.  If it was just Nancy and I you could say it was our age, but even my Dad and Pat didn’t recognize anyone.  We had finally arrived and celebrated the best way we knew how, some Anchor Steam on tap from the bar to go along with great seafood.  I had the muscles in a white wine sauce and they where fantastic.

After filling our bellies we walked a few blocks to catch the cable car down to the historic Fisherman’s Wharf.  I would say that taking luggage on the small ass cable car might not have been the best idea, but it made for an interesting ride.  The cars are packed to the gills with people hanging all over the place.  Going up and down the steep streets made hanging on difficult, I kept trying not to fall into the people around me.  It took forever it seemed to reach the end of the line for a distance that really is not that far.  We checked in to the hotel and managed to get rooms right next to each other on the fifth floor.  After a few hours of rest we headed out to to celebrate my Dad’s birthday at the Franciscan Crab Restaurant right along the waters edge.  The food was pretty good, nothing to write home about.  What the restaurant really excelled at was the view.  With giant twenty food windows there is not a bad seat in the house.  In fact the tables are tiered so everyone has a great view.  We sat right next to the window over looking the water and Alcatraz.  I had the surf and turf, the crab was OK but the steak was incredible, very tender and juicy.

Irish Coffee from the Buena Vista
Irish Coffee from the BV Copyright Summer Park

Being the party animals we are we headed out for after dinner drinks.  My Dad heard about The Buena Vista which introduced Irish Coffee to America so we headed down a few blocks to taste their original receipt from 1952.  When we arrived the place was packed, we lucked out and got a table near the door and quickly ordered a round of Irish Coffees from the extremely friendly waitress.  In no time we had four pipping hot drinks in front of us, cheered once again to the old mans birthday and started drinking.  They are surprisingly good and warmed the body and soul as they went down.  We marveled at the days events, quickly realized the drinks went down to easy we had to ordered another round.  By the time we finished it was after midnight and time to head back to the hotel.  The following day we where headed to wine country and needed to get our serious drinking faces on.  Friday was only pregame.

The following morning Nancy and I woke up surprisingly earlier after a long night of drinking.  The hot tottie Nancy had at The Buena Vista seemed to help her cold as she was feeling better with a little more pep in her step that morning.  My Dad recommended it to help cure her cold.  His father would drink them whenever he felt a cold coming on, got to love those family traditions.  We all meet for breakfast at 8:30 and I got the rental car right on time at 9.  It was a short one hour drive out to Sonoma County and we hit the ground running with our wine tasting experience.  My Dad and Pat have been here before so we had a guide, but we decided to hit a few new places.  Neither Nancy nor I cared where we went, even if the wine was bad there would always be another place just down the road to sample.


Wineries July 17th 2010
Larson Family Winery – Sonoma, CA
Homewood Winery – Sonoma, CA
Gundlach Bundschu – Sonoma, CA
Bartholomew Park – Sonoma, CA
Kunde – Kenwood, CA

All told on Saturday we managed to get to five different wineries all over the county.  For lunch we headed to Sonoma City to pickup some food before the next winery.  There is a large square in the city center that has a ton of great places to eat and shop.  We parked and walked around for a while before we found a great little place that sold “wine food”, Sonoma Cheese Factory.  Lots of cheese, cold cuts, weird sides, breads, everything you could think of for a wine picnic.  With food in hand we headed to Bartholomew Park for another round of sampling and to get a bottle for lunch.  None of us though the wine was that spectacular but the view from the picnic area was good and we had a great lunch.  After that it was off again to another winery.  Eventually we dropped the folks off at church so they could speak to God while Nancy and I headed to a local watering hole for some beer.  The wine was great, but I wanted a change of pace.  Shortly after that we started the long drive back to San Francisco.

Gundlach Bundschu

As we approached the bridge traffic got particularly horrible.  It certainly was no worse than Northern Virginia, but none of us wanted to sit in traffic if we didn’t have to.  Pat spotted the sign for Sausalito so we took the exit down to the water front.  Driving through this sea side town, which looks like it could be dropped into any country along the Mediterranean and it would fit right on.  We stopped at the No Name Bar for a quick happy hour drink and then did a little window shopping along the main avenue.  Near the end of our walk there was a small park, Yee Tock Chee Park, that overlooked the bay and SF (covered in fog that night).  Nancy and I were alone finally and just talked while looking across the bay.  While on this trip I planned to ask for her hand in marriage, I even got approval from her father.  Right here right now seemed like the perfect moment.  I told her how much I loved her and what she means to me, then got down on one knee, reach in my pocket and pulled out the right.  I think by the time I pulled the ring out she knew what was up.  Fortunately for me, she said yes.

We quickly found my Dad and Pat and told them the good news, they were excited for the both of us.  In such high spirits we celebrated with some beer and pizza at Caffe Trieste.  The whole time at dinner Nancy was text everyone she knew the good news and surprising, as late as it was on the East Coast, she got back a lot of responses.  Most of my family knew I was planning this and everyone else I called the next day.  When we got back to the hotel Nancy was fading fast so we went straight to bed.  It was actually Pat who couldn’t sleep and  was up for three hours that night.

Wineries July 18th 2010
Kendall Jackson – Santa Rosa, CA
De Loach Vineyards – Santa Rosa, CA
Hook & Ladder – Santa Rosa, CA
Foppiano Vineyards – Healdsburg, CA

Sunday morning and another trip out to Sonoma.  This time we decided to head further north to check out the Russian River Valley.  I forget which wine they are famous for, but this is certainly an up and coming area of the county for wine.  First we had to make one quick stop, what I was most excited about this entire trip, Muir Woods National Monument.  I couldn’t wait to see some of the tallest trees in the world.  I reminds me of the Grand Canyon, pictures just don’t do it justice.  We got a little lost arriving to the park so we arrived a little late.  It was certainly a good weekend to be outside and a lot of locals decided to take a hike in the woods.  Both parking lots were full so we had to park on the side road about a half mile from the park entrance.

trail in Muir Woods

Before you even get to the ranger station at the entrance you can see the tops of the trees jetting high into the sky.  Once you are inside the park there is a very easy, level, paved path a few miles around the park.  There are certainly many miles of trails through the park, one that leads down to a beach I heard a park ranger talking about.  Other lead deeper into the woods away from all the hustle and bustle.  The whole time in the forest it was peaceful and calm.  The morning fog was not completely burned off so the tree tops where still bathed in fog.  I couldn’t get over how tall the red woods were.  Taller than other living thing I have seen, many building and huge trunks to support their amazing height.  Some of the older trees had to be over ten feet in diameter.  We saw several cathedral stands which are groups of trees growing near each other, usually sprouting from the same tree.  Many trees had scares from recent forest fires but managed to persevere any way.  The trees actually need fire to help them propagate, the fire clears the forest floor of debris allowing the seeds to sprout.  They need ideal condition to grow but once they take hold they grow like a weed.  The forest was a magical visit and I can’t wait to get back there to do a more extensive hike.  I told Nancy next time she could just drop me off at the forest and I would be happy and content to spent all day hiking around the woods like a crazy hippie.

After to short a time, probably 1 1/2 hours, we got back into the car and headed north to the Russian River.  The late start meant we only hit four wineries on Sunday.  Hook and Ladder had a free tasting and all the wines we sampled where excellent.  The prices per bottle were very reasonable with nothing over $20.  My Dad and Pat wanted to mix a half case of wines but unfortunately they can’t ship to Virginia and no one wanted to take it on the airplane.  It is actually run by Cecil De Loach who sold his last winery to start this one.  It still bares his name, De Loach Vineyards where we stopped at but the wines were not that great.  We also stopped at Kendall-Jackson which is a HUGE distributor of wines.  We have all sampled their wines but had a free coupon for four reserve samples is hard to pass up.

Nancy and I in Sausalito, just before I proposed

As the day wore on we headed to Healdsburg to get some food and do a little walking around.  Their city square was nice but easily half the size of the City of Sonoma.  Here we ate at a great restaurant, Healdsburg Bar and Grill, were I got the pulled pork sandwich.  They had this great BBQ sauce to go with it and even put coal slaw like a true southern pulled pork sandwich.  The food was excellent and the atmosphere was great.  The restaurant was wide open with tvs everywhere, there was a nice patio outside that would have been great if it was not so hot.

After lunch we walked around the plaza for a while.  It was certainly much smaller than the City of Sonoma but I would say much more upscale.  Nancy and I walked into one gallery and over heard the sale associate say “If you order over $15,000 in furniture you get free shipping.”  We heard that and walked out, we certainly couldn’t afford anything there.  I found a men’s clothing store that had some nice shirts, but at $120 I could buy two or three at Banana Republic.  There is even a Charlie Palmer restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen, that I would love to eat at but probably like everything else is way out of my budget.  I certainly felt like I was rich for a few minutes.

Sunday night we took it pretty easy.  After a late lunch in Healdsburg we got a light dinner at Blue Mermaid Chowder House, a place we heard had award winning chowder.  We all got the chowder except Nancy and I must say it was rather good.  After two long days of wine tasting and Nancy still being sick, we headed back to the hotel early to catch up on sleep.  Monday would be spent traveling back to the East coast which is no fun coming from California.  Our flight left San Francisco a little late around 12:30 and we didn’t get into Dulles till 11pm that night.  By the time we got back to her apartment it was well after midnight, ugh.

This was a great trip out to San Francisco and I can see why people live there.  The city is full of sights and sounds that can keep anyone busy for a lifetime.  We spent only a weekend there and barely scratched the surface.  I could certainly go back for a week and stay within the city just exploring all the nooks and crannies it has to offer.  Plus the weather is just perfect.  It was the middle of July but the day time temperature never got above 75 and at night it was crisp with the breeze coming off the water.