Tag Archives: San Francisco

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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Honeymoon: San Francisco

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…

Saturday

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

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

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.

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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 🙂

Thanks for reading!

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Honeymoon: Days 3 and 4

Sorry I haven’t posted for a few days, the urge to write wasn’t with me and as I read the previous days blogs, I was like… eh. I like to stylize my writing a bit more, but my heart is not in it because everyone in California has been so nice and lets face it, I am usually a mean bastard when I blog. But for the sake of my own memories, let me get this stuff written down as quickly as possible.

On Thursday, Allison’s dad had made reservations to the Sterling Vineyard. I wasn’t too exited about that as we had a bottle for dinner the night before and I didn’t like it. Before we went to the vineyard, Allison suggested we stop at a state park that was on the way, and I was all for it it. We got there and started on a trail… we did about an hour of walking before I realized we were totally unprepared for a hike – no water, not the right shoes or clothes (in case we ran into poison ivy or lots of mosquitoes) and most importantly, we didn’t have a map and the trails were not that clear. So we turned back and headed to Sterling a little early. The grounds at Sterling were not as manicured as the other vineyards, but the natural beauty surrounding us made up for it. The cool thing about Sterling is that you get to take a gondola to the main vineyard and that is awesome and you get to see a great view. We did the tour and I will say that the wine was the best of the three vineyards we visited. I don’t like white, but the stuff they gave us was OUTSTANDING. We hit the gift shop, got a few bottles and went on our way. We stopped at a few cool houses that looked like castles and then went back to the hotel.

For dinner we ate at a place called Cuvee near our hotel. So far the best dinner since we got there. Allison had braised beef in a red wine sauce and I had pork shoulder in a sauce. (I am just writing that down so I can read this next year and try to remember what it tastes like).

We then went to bed and rested for day 4….

Pictures of Day 3:

Yesterday, Allison and I didn’t have any appointments so we decided to go to Muir Woods and Sausalito. We had a great ride over and when we got to Muir Woods I decided we should do a 5 mile loop with a great view of San Francisco. This loop was 3.5 miles uphill and then 1.5 down. For a guy that does an hour of cardio a day and lifts weights, this was HARD. Poor Allison was cursing me the entire time but she kept up. Once we got to the top and we saw the Pacific ocean we were like, lets get the hell out of here. The way down in some ways was worse, very hard to keep your footing, but when it was done… I was glad we did it.

After our little adventure we were hungry, so we headed into Sausalito for lunch. Pretty town, totally a tourist trap. We found a resteraunt right on the bay. Of course it was seafood (I don’t eat seafood), but I managed to get a ceasar salad. One funny part was when a european couple sitting behind us stiffed the waitress on a tip and she came out and totally called them out on it. It made us laugh. Nice meal on the water and an overall great day.

The ride home took hours because of traffic which sucked. We ordered in last night from the hotel and watched a terrible movie. Went to sleep early because today we leave for San Francisco.

Talk to you guys soon!

Day 4 Pictures:

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Honeymoon: Day 2

I would consider this the first official day of the Honeymoon. I woke up and wrote the first days blog while Allison slept (like she is doing now) and then went down to the little gym to get what was left of the wedding booze out of my system. When I got back she was showered and ready to go. I got ready and went down to the main lobby for a quick breakfast. We ate and ran.

We got to the car and headed for Highway 29 to Oakville which is really where the vineyards are. We arrived at the Mondavi Vineyard early, but the people were very nice and accommodating. Allison’s dad got us a reserve wine tasting (the best press from the best section of the vineyard) but we decided to take the tour first so we could work our way up to the best wine.

Our tour guide Melvin was awesome (I have lots of video which I will YouTube when I get home). He told us all the things to look for in the grapes, the pressing process, how they add the yeast, etc. I had lots of flashbacks to pressing wine in Uncle Freddy’s backyard and the smells of fermenting wine reminded me of Nate passed out on a dining room table. The wines we tasted were all very good. We had a few whites and some reds. I should have written the names down, but I didn’t – I will say that the whites were very good (even though I don’t like white wine). The grounds at Mondavi were fantastic so we hung around til 12:30 drinking.

At this point I had a nice buzz and Allison and I thought it might be a good idea to get lunch. Melvin the tour-guide suggested a place called Mustards down the road. Off we went. Mustards looked like a typical established east coast deli but with new wave California decorations instead of pictures of dead comedians and jazz musicians. We ordered drinks while waiting for a table, Allison got some pommigranite drink and I got a cucumber and vodka infused drink (Tony – they put cilantro in it and I laughed). Allison got a spinach ravioli with goat cheese for lunch and I got rabbit sausage. It was all very good and we headed out to the Opus One Vineyard to close out our tours.

Opus One’s main building was nothing short of spectacular. It had a terrace on the third floor where you can see the entire vineyard/operation, the rooms were stunning, even the basement was awesome. Our tour was a little faster and the guide wasn’t as cool as Melvin. The wine itself was dark and roasty-flavored with hints of chocoloate. Mondavi gave us more to taste at their tour which was nice to get a sense of comparison.

We headed back to the hotel, and chilled for a few hours and then went to dinner. We went to a place called Downtown Joe’s in downtown Napa. Like any typical downtown area, there was no parking, so I had to circle around until I found something. The food was typical bar food. Wings, burgers, pizza and it wasn’t anything to get excited about, we ate a pretty light dinner and then headed back to the hotel.

That was pretty much the long and short of Day 2. Day three we have a tour of the Sterling Vineyard and I am curious to see how that goes. More to come….

– Joey
Here is a picture slide show…

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Honeymoon: Day 1

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…

More to come!

– Joey

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