Also since the good people at Kress made this article possible, if you are in South Jersey, stop by today and during the holidays to get a nice bottle of wine by good people. You know they are good, I married into their family 😉
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.
When Ryan Adams announced he was taking a break a few years ago I really wondered if he was going to play live again. Articles about Meniere’s disease and burn out made it seem like it could be a long time before a tour would be a reality. In the spring, Ryan announced select dates in Europe and I started putting away some money for a trip to California (Europe was too expensive, and I figured he might do a few dates near his home), he surprised many with a full blown tour. Long story short: I get to see him twice this year, as you can see in this review, I have no complaints.
[Opening Act: Jason Isbell]
Normally, I do a little research on opening acts, but I have been so busy with work that I completely forgot to do it. When Jason Isbell walked on stage and announced he was Muscle Shoals, Alabama I whispered to my wife “I wonder if he is in The Drive By Truckers” thanks to an piece I heard about them on NPR. He quickly confirmed my suspicions.
Isbell was sublime. I am so glad that I didn’t know much about him or his material because I had a chance to absorb his performance without any expectations. He is an outstanding guitar player and singer. Isbell has a natural way of bantering with the audience that comes from experience. Jason did a song that was based on a conversation with his dad that really sent a shiver up my spine. I can’t wait to get home and track down this guy’s back catalog because he is such a good songwriter.
[The Main Event: Ryan Adams]
Ryan Adams was excellent in every way last night. Since the venue held under 1,000 people and the show was billed as an acoustic performance, it was a very intimate. The one thing that stood out to me (after having gone to several Ryan Adams concerts) – is just how good his voice sounded. Ryan’s ability to convey emotion through his voice is often overlooked in favor of his prolific songwriting, but his voice might be the greatest weapon in his arsenal.
This was most definitely a thank you show to the fans. He played the perfect mix of “greatest hits”, new tunes, and fan favorites. Since he was solo, he tweaked several songs to make up for the lack of a band. The subtle changes were welcome and kept me listening for the changes. Ryan did a really nice solo at the end of “I see Monsters” that was new but fit perfectly. I am not going to rattle off every tune Adams played, but I am happy to have witnessed live performances of “Winding Wheel” and his piano version of “New York, New York” (they were awesome).
Ryan bantered with the crowd throughout the show. There was no tension. A few people in the crowd shouted out requests, but Ryan took it in stride and moved on with his set list. He broke out several improvised songs about people moving around going to the bathroom (it was funny, he kept asking them to come back, “Its not 2004!”). And the end of the main set, Adams soaked in the applause of the crowd. I have been to several Ryan Adams concerts in the past where he ran off the stage at the end of the show, it was nice to say thank you properly this time.
Ryan came back out and did a few tunes with Jason Isbell. He ended the show with an old Whiskeytown song “Jacksonville Skyline” – it was a fitting and satisfying ending to a memorable performance.. This show was a mutual love note between Ryan and the crowd and I am really glad I had a chance to witness it.
I can’t do a concert review without sharing crowd experiences. I thought I was going to break the curse last night and not have any issues with an audience member because this was a fan oriented show. Wrong. There were four girls in front of us that talked THE ENTIRE TIME. At first the main offender was trying to keep it low, so it was easy to ignore her, but as the night progressed they all got sloppy drunk. She had to sing every song. She was told several times to quiet down, but as they got drunker she just laughed. Did I want to push her down the steps at the end of the night? I can’t say (yes). Oh well – at least she knew the words…
Ryan posted this clip from the show on his facebook page
Howdy true be-loggers! I decided to lump all of San Fran into one blog because we did a lot of touristy things and nothing crazy happened, so this will be “by the books” for those that follow and for Allison and I to remember…
We drove into the city, dumped off the rental car, walked around the city, ate lunch at a super-tourist trap seafood place right under the bay bridge. Our hotel room was finally ready (our room had the best view of the bay) and we checked in and rested a little while. I read about a walking tour of the city that was conducted by a lady in a “vampire character” (LINK: SF Vampire Tour). It got a lot of good reviews and I wrote down the number before we left, so I called the lady and booked the tour. We walked to the Nob Hill area – which from our hotel was ALL UP HILL. We ate dinner at the Nob Hill Cafe (LINK: Nobhillcafe.com) which was really good and then we went on our tour. I should note that the temperature got super cold and Allison and I had to find a place to buy a sweatshirt, which we did at the Fairmont gift shop. Next time I got to San Francisco – I am staying at the Fairmont – it is the classiest hotel ever.
NOTE FOR LISA AUSTIN – They filmed the grand stairwell scene in Gone with the Wind here…
The tour was cool and we learned a little bit about San Fran History and about the buildings. We learned alot about some of the wackos that have emerged from San Fran as well. Only in California.
Sunday was our first full day in the city and we did the cultural thing. We want to the Museum of Asian Arts and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). The Asian Arts was awesome, MOMA was a huge bore. We then upped the tourist ante by going to Coit Tower. Coit has the best view of the city and to go up the tower you of course need to pay, which is kind of a rip-off since it is a 5 minute thing to do, alas the life of a tourist. We got back to the hotel and researched some places to go for dinner and decided to go to the Thirsty Bear (Link: Thirstybear.com). I really liked this place, good food, good beer, good service. They had a modern Spanish thing going on complete with Spanish dancers and guitar players, but it wasn’t too flashy and we got a seat in the back so we could talk. A good night
Pictures from San Fran Days 1 and 2
Monday we bit the bullet and did “The Rock”. We went to Alcatraz and I will admit it was pretty cool. There really isn’t much to say that the pictures won’t show you. Although I will say that I didn’t realize that Alcatraz was only used a federal prison for 29 years and JFK was the guy to shut the doors down before he became president. The general rap was the building was falling apart and it was an ecological nightmare, so the doors were closed. The lady from the vampire tour said it was haunted as all hell, so take that for what you will.
Pictures from “The Rock”
Allison and I then went to North Beach (which is the little Italy section). We had a nice lunch at a place called Calzones. We walked around looking for gift to take home but everything look touristy so we bolted. I made reservations to a place called The Cliffhouse for dinner (Link: CliffHouse). It had the best view I have ever had for dinner. The food was good, but it wasn’t outstanding and you definitely pay for the view, but it was worth it.
We were at a bit of a loss for what to do on Tuesday. We didn’t want to go to the Golden Gate. We had seen it from the Alcatraz tour and I just didn’t care to walk over a bridge. Allison and I were hell bent on finding some nice things to bring home as gifts and I will make this short – we failed miserably. Defeated, we went to the best “Mexican Restaurant” in the city. It was called Mexico DF ( Mexico DF). Food was good but very small portions but the drinks were very strong.
We were aimless all day and looking forward to going home. We walked around alot, got nothing accomplished. For dinner, I had read about a place that had an indoor pirate ship (it was at the Fairmont too!) so we went to the Tonga Room (sorry, no website). This place was awesome. We just did happy hour in there and they had a little dinner buffet that we snacked on. I can’t say too much – you guys will have to see it for yourself. We then went to a place called the Four Ovens which was across the street that Allison read about. Food was good, but the service was SLOOOOW. We then went back to the hotel and went to bed early.
We woke up, ate breakfast, went to the airport, listened to a baby scream for several hours on the plane, and I got home a few hours ago and started writing this blog 🙂
This one is going to be short and sweet boys and girls. Allison and I left for California at 4 AM EST yesterday. No issues with the flights, everything was on time. We had a little layover in Chicago and I was sad I didn’t have time to see the Great White City. We arrived in San Francisco at 11:21 AM. We had to stand in a long line to get the rental car (a Chevy Bolt? I will say the little bugger has some zip to it). We got to Napa Valley by 2:30 PM (the airport really killed alot of time). The famed Cali traffic didn’t rear its ugly head.
We checked into the hotel, tried to find a snack – seems like Napa Valley shuts down in the afternoon Europe style. We eventually found a little Italian place to grab a sandwich. We got back to the hotel, walked around a little bit, took a little nap, went to dinner at the hotel (very salty), and then went to bed.
Sorry the first day was boring, I didn’t take any pictures. Now its 7:30 AM and I got time and energy to annoy some people…