Sonoma and San Francisco
I love wine. I love good scenery, and I love San Francisco. There aren’t too many other places in the country that are as beautiful as the Bay area and wine country.
We were in California for a wedding. We stayed at a surprisingly nice Best Western in Novato, about 25 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Novato turned out to be a good base for exploring the area.
The first morning, Emily and I used Yelp to find Rustic Bakery in downtown Novato. We found out later that it is a small chain, but it didn’t matter. They make their own pastries on site and even have an open window to the kitchen through which we could see about ten women hard at work slicing and kneading the dough by hand. At the counter, we couldn’t decide what to get as we stared at the piles of fresh bear claws, cinnamon rolls, and apple croissants. The menu was a little pricey but knowing the sophisticated logistical and culinary operation that went into making the food, I could understand why they charged a little more than your average breakfast place.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Afterwards, we wanted to get some exercise, so we drove out to Point Reyes National Seashore, but severely underestimated the time it would take to visit the park. By the time we got to the park visitor center, we had already decided that driving further down to the ocean and the lighthouse was going to take too long. We managed to salvage the morning by hiking up Mount Wittenburg trail and breaking a little sweat and taking in some good mountain air.
Later that morning, we visited the Sonoma Valley–Los Carneros to be exact–driving through beautiful countryside and up and down hills parched brown by the drought. We passed dozens of vineyards and cow pastures before the landscape flattened near the city of Sonoma. As we entered the city, we drove down Broadway towards City Hall and did a quick tour of the downtown area and its colonial-Spanish era central plaza.
In the afternoon we visited Patz and Hall winery in Sonoma for a tasting. Italian cypress trees lined the long driveway leading to the main tasting room. A young wine expert gave us generous pourings of chardonnay and pinot noir as he explained the history of the vineyard and the wines produced there. We were surprised to find out that most of the wine they serve on the premises is not sourced from grapes grown at the vineyard. Like many other wineries in Napa and Sonoma, the grapes are brought in from elsewhere. No matter–the wine was really good and the house and grounds were beautiful.
We went to Napa on Saturday morning, but got to the city too early for wine tasting and most of the stores were still closed. We did get to walk through Oxbow Public Market though. If you go and only have time to visit one stall, check out Napa Distillery‘s. Their huge collection of esoteric bitters and syrups was impressive, as did the handlebar mustache of the guy working there.
Wedding at Cline Cellars
The second winery we visited was Cline Cellars, also in the Carneros region of Sonoma. What brought us there was not a tasting but the wedding I mentioned above. The bride and groom couldn’t have picked a better spot for the ceremony. It took place on a lawn next to two small ponds, in the shade of tall trees with the Sonoma hills visible in the background.
Still on East Coast time, I found myself awake early Sunday morning staring at my Iphone screen in the dark. Rather than lying there for two hours, I decided to make the best of it and drive up to Sonoma to catch the sunrise.
Afterwards, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the world.
Our first stop was Golden Gate Park, where we we saw the the Japanese Tea Garden, Shakespeare Garden, and the exteriors of the De Young Museum and California Museum of Arts and Sciences. With no time enter the museums, we moved along.
We then drove to Alamo Square, site of a row of Victorian houses called the Painted Ladies. The houses appeared in the opening credits of Full House and are one of the most photographed sites in San Francisco.
It was time to meet our friend for lunch in the Marina District, which involved a ride north on Divisadero Street, a good example of a steep San Francisco street leading all the way down to the bay. Emily and I were a little worried that our poor Ford Focus would not be able to handle the steep inclines and declines, but good old American automotive engineering kept us safe in the end.
We got to Chestnut Street a little early and were dying of hunger so we got a few tacos at Bonita Taqueria and Rotisserie and ate in the brightly painted alleyway. Afterwards we met up with Wayne at a vegan place a few doors down called Seed and Salt, where I had a quinoa and chickpea-based wrap made not of tortilla but of tightly wrapped collard greens (pricey at $13).
Pier 39 was our next stop. Is it a tourist trap? Yes, but it’s still fun to see the sea lions lounging on the rafts below the pier. And the view of Alcatraz and the bay on a nice day is stunning. We burned some time dodging the other tourists and eating $4.50 churros, getting a good walk in to burn off all the food we’d eaten during the weekend.
We all hopped in the Ford again and headed for the Castro district, the core of San Francisco’s gay community. We found a parking spot right by the Castro Theater and grabbed a beer with another friend at Twin Peaks Tavern, one of the city’s oldest gay bars and a landmark in its own right. Founded in the early 70s, it’s known as the city’s gay Cheers, and was the first gay bar in the city to remove the covering on its windows and “come out of the closet” in the Harvey Milk era.
We took advantage of the less-crowded Sunday night time slot to get dinner on the back patio of the normally packed Starbelly, a new American restaurant on 16th around the corner from the Castro Theater. We shared a few plates, including the sausage and egg and cilantro pizza ($15), mushroom, jalapeño and basil pizza ($14), and spaghetti with mushrooms and basil ($14).
Our departure time nearing, we sadly parted ways with our two friends and got on the 101 towards the airport. I looked into the rearview mirror at the skyline of San Francisco, its glass buildings reflecting the setting orange sun. We were sad to go, but will be back soon.