Sunday 9 March 2014

California: Day Six - Napa Valley, Sonoma, Petaluma and San Francisco

When Brian and I first started planning this trip, one of the top things on my list was visiting Napa Valley and Sonoma. Another thing I was hopeful about was seeing some sort of taping. Now I was thinking more along the lines of a TV sitcom, but one of Brian’s want-to-do’s was a TWiT (This Week in Tech) taping. So we decided to compromise and do his taping, as well as Napa/Sonoma. In order to maximize our day and fit everything in, we were up early and left Chico by 9:00am. We had a nice breakfast with his mom, made a quick stop at Starbucks and got on the road.

The drive from Chico to Napa took just under two hours, and it reminded me a lot of the Niagara Wine region. We stopped at the main Napa downtown area, and went into the visitor center. We got a few maps and directions to some suggested wineries. Napa Valley is HUGE – much bigger then I expected. We could have spent hours driving up into it, and it’s a place I definitely want to return to someday and explore further. In order to fit everything in, we decided to do one winery in Napa and one in Sonoma. This way we could take time and enjoy it rather then rushing through. The winery I was interested in was Robert Mondovi but it was in the opposite direction we were going, so we got on the road and decided to randomly stop at one.

Brian tried to use this to teach me to dance. It didn't work

We passed a few wineries but the Napa one we chose to stop at was Domaine Carneros. The impressive chateau-like exterior drew us in, and the fact they were recommended for their sparking wine was an added benefit! This winery is gorgeous – the building looks like a French chateau, and the grounds are amazing. The building is on a hill, and includes a number of stairs to get to the top so the views are spectacular.

Since Brian was driving, we chose to share a flight of three sparking wines. We considered adding some cheeses, but the prices for the food/snack options were a bit high. We were assigned our own wine steward who came out with the bottles and explained the details of each one. Brian only had a small sip of each so I was the main taster! The wines were a bit drier then I tend to prefer, but they were all good. There was one we considered buying, but when we weighed the price and process of getting it home we decided it wasn’t worth it. Still the whole experience of sitting outside sipping sparking wines in Napa was worth it!

Our next stop was Sonoma, where I had a specific winery in mind. A few years ago a season of “The Bachelor” revolved around a guy who owned a winery in Sonoma. Amanda and I really liked this Bachelor, so I had told her I would visit his winery and pick up a bottle for us. It was Envolve Winery and they had a small shop in Sonoma. Napa is laid out like the main wine route in Niagara, with wineries spread along it. The tasting rooms and wine shops are typically on the winery property. Sonoma has a few of these, but many of the wineries just have shops in the downtown area. Downtown Sonoma is a large square, with shops along all four sides and a large park in the middle. It is quite beautiful and a place I could have easily spent all day wandering around. 

Envolve was one of the wineries with a shop that was tucked in the back of a courtyard. Sadly, the Bachelor wasn’t on-site, but I was able to get Amanda a post card with him on it. Again we opted to share a wine-flight this time with 5 wines and again Brian just took small sips of each. To be completely honest, I didn’t like any of them. Some were bitter, and others left this bad aftertaste. The last wine I tried was a rose, and at the time I thought it was good. By this point I had only had fruit and granola for breakfast 3+ hours ago, and was on my 8th taste of wine. So I happily bought that bottle thinking it was fantastic wine. (A week later Amanda and I opened that bottle, and it was horrible. We could barely get through a glass of it. My lesson from this is to not make any judgments on wine purchases with an empty stomach!)

The bottle I got for Amanda and I was signed.

After leaving the winery we stopped at a local Sonoma restaurant for lunch. It was called “The Girl and the Fig” and was one of the top rated/recommended places in the area. What a disappointment! The food was either really greasy or tasteless. Everything was over-priced, and the quality was terrible. Brian and I both walked away feeling sick. The atmosphere was cute and the staff was friendly, but that’s the first time I have been let down by TripAdvisor.

Our next stop was Petaluma for the TWiT taping. We got there a bit late, but the receptionist let us in and took us to some empty seats. I’d never seen the program – or even heard of it – but it was pretty interesting. Basically it is an online show about various pieces of news in technology. It wasn’t exactly the type of taping I had imagined but it was pretty cool to see the studio set up, and how everything worked. 

I forgot my glasses so sunglasses it was - A link to the taping we were at.

At one point ketchup chips get brought up and the host asked if anyone had tried them, when Brian and I raised our hands the host asked if we were from Canada. Apparently ketchup chips are the Canadian stereotype equivalent to haggis! (This happens around the 1:17 mark). It was a cool experience, and the show was pretty interesting.

We got stickers!

We slipped out of the taping a bit early in order to make it to our next stop which was the Muir Woods. Brian remembered going here when we was younger and seeing the Redwoods, and had wanted to stop here. The steep, twisty, narrow roads to get there weren’t too fun – but nothing compared to the roads we would take a few days later. When we arrived at the main gate there was a fee of $14.00/person to get inside. It was after 5:30pm at this point, and we had plans to meet Brian’s aunt for dinner in San Francisco, so we opted not to go in. We just drove to one of the parking lots, and wandered a little bit into the woods. Then we made a few stops on the way back to admire and take pictures of the trees.

In order to cross back into San Francisco, we took the Golden Gate Bridge, but first we pulled off to the observation areas to get some photos. You always see the bridge in movies and TV, but seeing in for real is incredible. It’s a very impressive bridge and up against the scenery and city landscape it is just beautiful. Driving on it was such a fun tourist experience!

I had to take a selfie

Driving across the bridge
Our hotel for the next two nights was also booked using miles and was the Westin St. Francis, which was right in Union Square. What an amazing hotel! It reminded me of the Royal York as everything in the lobby and rooms was super fancy and just gorgeous. The room was a bit small, but it had a fantastic view and had great d├ęcor. The walls had crown moldings and a cool chandelier-type light fixture hung in the center of the room.  While the room was taken care of, all the extras like parking did add up – parking alone $54.00/night! We opted not to eat at any of the hotel restaurants, as the prices were also insane - $25.00 for two eggs and bacon?!?! The high-end location of Union Square definitely allowed them to charge more then what would normally be reasonable. But the hotel was amazing, and it was an awesome experience staying there. The location was also great as it was close to all the places we wanted to see and directly in front of a cable car stop.

Union Square - view from our hotel room
We just had time to drop off our bags before meeting up with his Aunt and her husband in the lobby. It was pure coincidence that all four of us ended up being in the city at the same time, but it worked out well. When his mom had mentioned her sister was in town when we were, Brian and I changed our schedule to include dinner with them. They met us at our hotel, and we walked a few blocks up to a restaurant they had read about. It was on the third floor of a building, and from the outside looked a bit sketchy but the food was excellent. Since his aunt lives in Louisiana we don’t get to see them often, so it was great spending time with her and her husband.

After saying goodnight to them Brian and I walked around Union Square for a bit before heading back to the hotel. San Francisco at night is similar to NYC – lots of bright lights, car horns, the dinging noise of public transportation and multiple street performers playing outside on the streets.  

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