2011 California Vacation

I went on a trip to the California wine country and I found America. I wasn’t looking for her by any means. I wasn’t interested in finding picturesque landscapes that would make pretty post cards, but I found them and in a very American way: in a car and just driving.

As soon as we landed in San Fransisco International, we scrambled to get the rental car and we just went. My wife and I drove almost 100 miles away from the city and then took the whole route back on the iconic Route 1 coastal highway. There are miles of unmolested landscape and ocean. Mountains, fields, and for huge stretches, no people… it was fantastic. We stopped and stretched our legs, checked out some scenic stops and then we kept moving on. We had some authentic Mexican food at little road stop and then we continued to Napa for the night (and got snagged in a few hours of iconic American traffic).

The next morning we headed off to Sonoma for a private tour of MacMurray Ranch. This ranch was owned by Fred MacMurray, star of “My Three Sons”. The scope of this place blew my mind. It is 1100 acres of fields and mountains. The Gallo family purchased the property in the late 1990s after MacMurray died and converted it into a vineyard. Fred’s family is still involved with the property which is a nice touch.

The idea of holding that much property is astounding to me (not in a critical way). Past generations seemed to understand that you can’t over manage the land. Fred MacMurray left hundreds of acres alone (Gallo actually has a policy about that as well which is very cool). After we toured the ranch, we were taken down the road to see one of Gallo’s other non-public vineyards that was massive. I am going to do an actual write up about these places for Drinking Made Easy, but for the sake of this post, just walk away with the idea of land as far as the eye can see with mountains, trees, and in some cases grapes. I think I understand the imperial-land-grabbing-blood-lust of our forefathers.

The primary reason we went to California was to see Ryan Adams. I covered that already (read here). The show was great and the venue was small and intimate. It was a perfect night.

The next day we headed to San Francisco. We spent most of the day walking around the city without an objective. We went to China Town and Little Italy. We ate a nice dinner recommended to us by one of the local bakery owners (Michelangelo’s if you need to know). By the time we finished it was dark, so we took a cab back to the hotel and called it a night.

Tuesday morning we found ourselves on Golden Gate Bridge. We walked across as far as we could but didn’t get to the end because it was closed. We spent some time in the Golden Gate Park, walking up and down hills before it was time for lunch. We wanted to do Dim Sum. We went to an authentic dim sum place. Too authentic. I was excited when we walked in and saw only Asian people – I knew this place was the real deal. But then I noticed no menu and servers walking around with carts. Nobody really spoke English and I didn’t know what I was ordering. I managed to get my hands on some beef soup during the 30 minutes we were in there (one bowl), before we decided to split (paying was also interesting, I don’t think I was supposed to get up and pay myself – oh well). We ended up back in Little Italy which was not the plan at all, but we had a nice lunch at the Stinking Rose and we were served by Count Dracula, who was very nice (no I will not explain any further).

We walked around the city some more to burn off lunch and then went back to the hotel to clean up. I booked dinner reservations at “The House of Prime Rib” and decided that I needed to get in an extra run to burn off what I knew we going to be a calorie fest in the evening. I managed to get the gym completely empty and it overlooked the city in a small panoramic room. It was dusk and I was able to overlook the city which is a nice way to spend time on a treadmill.

Dinner was completely insane. This place served only one thing: Prime Rib. Salad, two sides. That’s it. It was perfect. Going back to my ghosts of America, this place was a call back to another time. Martinis and red meat. Baked potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Classic.

In the morning, we found a nice little place (Honey, Honey) to get a simple breakfast and got ready for our flights home. Of course the flights were delayed and we ended up in Vegas, but that is all part of travel in the modern age. It is hard to get mad when you look down and see hundreds of miles of untouched landscapes and realize that there is still room to grow.

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