Monday, September 25, 2017

California August 2017

Our Journey to California started out on a First Class Trip to San Francisco compliments of my brother in law, Andy, for my 40th birthday present. Such a great experience and we enjoyed all the refreshments and food during our flight. We arrived in San Francisco around noon and thank goodness Don is a Platinum cardholder because the rental lines were insane but we flew right through to the Emerald Isle and jumed in our SUV and were off to our Hotel. We stayed at the Fisherman's Wharf Hyatt Centric (despite the boycotting) the hotel was in the perfect location and we were able to walk everywhere, bike or take an uber. The disturbing 59$ a night valet was waived for us since we complained about the loud boycotting at 6 am.
 Our first stop was lunch at the Fog Harbor on Pier 39.
I ordered the Cioppino seafood dish and Don had a hamburger and calamari. With unforgettable views of the Harbor and seafood that melts in your mouth we couldn't have picked a better place to have our first meal in San Franciso. The wait staff was incredible and  the ambiance was fantastic too. 

We started off at the bar with great drinks and a very friendly bar tender. He made Don a perfect moscow mule and I had a delicious martini. 
After lunch we stopped on the pier to catch some pictures and see the seals on the harbor. They were all over the docks. We shopped a little and  bought sweatshirts and a windbreaker for our trip to Alcatraz since the weather was much colder then we had expected. Although we were prepared for San Francisco to be chilly, we weren't prepared for our nighttime cruise out to Alcatraz with the wind that statred to pick up. We got in line for our crusie around 5 pm and headed out on the rough waters of the San Francisco Bay over to the prison. The ride was beautiful as we could see so much of the city and had a great sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge. 
Alcatraz Cruises

These are the cells that the prisoners lived in on Alcatraz. Each cell in B & C block was 5x9 feet. Cells had a small sink with cold running water, a small sleeping cot and a toilet. Inmates during the early years were not allowed to talk to each other except during meals and recreation periods. Over the period of Alcatraz's time there were 8 people murdered by inmates. Five men committed suicide, and 15 men died from illnesses. 

36 prisoners were involved in various attempts to escape Alcatraz. Two inmates actually successfuly made it off the island but were captured. Seven inmates were shot and killed trying to escape. Two inmates drowned and 5 inmates have been unaccounted for and presumably they drowned. 
Alcatraz closed because of rising costs and deteriorating facilities. It was the most expensive prison of any state or federal institution. 

Blazzing Saddles Bike Rental: Day 2

We  rented  bikes from Blazzing Saddles Bike Rental and headed out on our 7 hour tour of the city.We left the Hyatt Centric and headed over to the Financial District for Coffee before exploring the many sections of San Francisco.  Our first stop was Blue Bottle Coffee. As it does everyday, a line trails outside the door at Blue Bottle Coffee shop in Mint Plaza. Coffee is served from glass containers that look somewhat like they came from a science lab. I happily sipped from an amazing latte and enjoyed my poached eggs and avocado breakfast. We sat and enjoyed people watching and planned out where we would be journeying next on our bikes. 

Blue Bottle Coffe Shop, seriously the best coffee we have ever had. Finding this gem was a fun event too. As we were on our bikes and riding over during rush hour traffic, but it was totally worth it. 

Blue Bottle Cafe Latte with a heart on top, delish!

Our hybrid bikes that took us all over town and through all the streets of San Francisco. 

I had to take this picture to send to my sister, Jessica, as the Blue Bottle coffee shop is on the corner of Jessie street. After coffee, we loaded the GPS to take us to Lombard Street. We passed through China Town, which wasn't anything much different than what we have seen before living outside of Philadelphia. We passed Filbert Street and the Cable Cars, The Painted Ladies house, which I was riding to fast to stop and take a picture. We went through the rainbow bridge which was pretty cool. What was so nice about biking around and about was that there was always a bike lane so we never had to worry about fighting for the road. 

Our trip to find Lombard street, miles and miles of one way streets and rerouting to avoid the steep hills. We finally found it and it was so much fun to say that we actually biked to Lombard Street. 
The view from on top of the hill at Lomabard Steet looking down at the city. This is the view from where we parked our bikes. 
We  parked our bikes about a block and a half away because the road was literally on a 45 degree climb. There was no way we were making the trek up those hills on our bikes.

Lombard Street starts at Winthrop Street and ends at the Embarcadero as a collector road.  It is known for the one way block on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets where 8 sharp turns are said to make the most crooked street in the world. The block has a 27% grade and origianlly began as a cobblestone street. Houses on Lombard street cost about $2, 925,000. The street was too steep for cars to drive down and the owners wanted to make it accessible for cars so the idea was proposed to make it a curved street. The street now consists of the 8 turns and 250 steps on each side. 
So quite a workout after riding our bikes that we only walked up to the second set of steps, took a few pictures and walked right back down. 

Next Adventure: Biking Across the Golden Gate Bridge
One of my favorite parts about San Francisco was biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was definitely on my list of something I wanted to do with my 40th birthday trip. Although, Don, who is not an avid biker even committed too,  I was so surprised that he was up for the challenge. It was such a fun day and we both did great on the bridge. It was very challenging because you are dealing with many different types of tourists who all think they own the bridge bike/walking lanes. 
We started heading towards the trail after we left Lombard Street and headed down Columbus Ave  towards Fishermans Wharf. 

The bike ride from Fisherman's Wharf to Sausalito was about 8 miles but with all of our stops and pictures it took us about 3 hours. We did stop mid way at the  base of the bridge to get some energy for the bike across the bridge. The weather was crazy, one minute you were freezing from the wind and breeze off the bay and then next minute you were sweating from the heat of the sun. We did discover why everyone says that "San Francisco is one of the coldest summers you will ever feel".  It was dubbed by Mark Twain on  the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. The  wind can be vicious and the summer temperatures can be very disappointing. 


This picture was taken from our table at Angelinos Restarant. Our view was amazing. 

We decided to go with an Italian lunch since we had been eating a lot of seafood. We parked our bikes at the Ferry entrance and met a guy who gave us some great tips. We ventured in and out of a few stores and just took in all the scenery of the little town. 

 The town of Sausilito is a city in Marin County, California, across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco. It's known for its Richardson Bay houseboat enclaves. We mostly enjoyed just hanging out in the city sipping our wine at the restaurant and people watching. The town has unbelievable scenery protected by "banana belt" weather. As soon as you get into the city, its like you are in a laid back Mediterranean atmosphere. We tried to take the ferry back to the hotel because it was getting late and the line was crazy so we just happened to get lucky and another couple split the cab ride back with us.
We went downtown after we got back from our adventures and returned our bikes and then headed down to the wharf to get the kids some souvenirs from Pier 39.
 A candy-lovers paradise with a panoramic view from the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz. Candy Baron features barrels and barrels of an incredible variety of candy including a whopping 66 varieties of salt water taffy and unique hard-to-find candy you’ll remember from your childhood. Think “Pop Rocks” and Pez for example! 

We also visited the Holiday Shoppe to get our Christmas ornament of San Franciso. A must in our traveling endeavors. 
After shopping we took an uber to our restaurant on Jackson Street and had a great time at Kokkari Estiatorio. The restaurant's philosophy drives their efforts to create a cuisine "fit for the Gods" with the hospitality of a proper Greek home. The restaurant is that of old world charm of a rustic Mediterranean country inn. I had the zucchini cakes and the grilled octopus and Don got the grilled dry aged rib eye with braised greens and Kokkari potatoes which was to die for. I could have ate those potatoes everyday. 

Leaving San Francisco : Day 3
Muir Woods and Somoma

I took the photo above as a passenger in a car, the only safe way to capture this image.The rainbows are only painted on the northbound side (the approach from San Francisco) and the uphill ends of the tunnels are not decorated. The rainbows shine most brightly in mid afternoon (earlier in the winter),when the sun hits them directly and they seem to glow.
This tunnel was originally built at the same time as the Golden Gate Bridge, with just a single bore and two lanes each way. In 1953-54 a second bore was added and the highway widened to four lanes each way. It’s sometimes called “tunnel” and sometimes “tunnels” since it is a single structure but has two bores.
Walk among old growth coast redwoods, cooling their roots in the fresh water of Redwood Creek and lifting their crowns to reach the sun and fog. Federally protected as a National Monument since 1908, this primeval forest is both refuge and laboratory, revealing our relationship with the living landscape. What will you discover in Muir Woods?

Muir Woods National Monument is part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, north of San Francisco. It’s known for its towering old-growth redwood trees. Trails wind among the trees to Cathedral Grove and Bohemian Grove, and along Redwood Creek. The Ben Johnson and Dipsea trails climb a hillside for views of the treetops, the Pacific Ocean and Mount Tamalpais in adjacent Mount Tamalpais State Park.

 After spending about 3  hours hiking through Muir Woods, we headed towards Sonoma County. The drive was spectacular. We left Muir Woods and continued on our way up rt 101 to Santa Rosa and then took Highway 12 through the valley to Sonoma. A beautiful drive through wine country.

he girl & the fig features a wonderful antique bar with French aperitifs, unique and traditional cocktails, an award-winning Rhone-Alone winelist, a seasonal menu, cheese & charcuterie platters, and outdoor garden patio seating.The quaint Girl and the Fig restaurant first opened in 1997 in Glen Ellen but moved to the historic town square of Sonoma in 2000. A regular stop for people checking out wine country, the restaurant is known for its rustic French brasserie-style dishes and service.Country charm, like dining in a home with colorful artwork by a resident artist. There’s an outdoor space that is, of course, popular on sunny Sonoma days.A French brasserie with a lot of comfort dishes and a charcuterie program by its own house brand called Mano Formate, as well as a lot of cheese to order for a simple cheese and wine snack. There are huge salads and soups, and classic French options like quiche Lorraine and croques monsieur. I had the quiche with a wine tasting of Rose and Don had the Girl in the fig burger with an egg on top. Out of all the restaurants we dined in, we still say this was one of our all time favorites.  

Sonoma County Hall

Breathtaking views along the Highway to Healdsburg.
 Healdsburg, a town renowned for its eclectic offering of all the finest things in life… food, wine, friends and fun.  The charm and genuine down to earth personality of the town are inescapable—from the sounds of jazz and laughter at every town square event, to the enticing aromas of five star cuisine tempting you at every turn, to the country roads winding through rolling hills of world-acclaimed wine growing appellations, Healdsburg is the belle of the trendy wine country ball who prefers to be out in the vineyards sampling zinfandel on the vine.

Take a stroll around Healdsburg and discover the treasures and treats of small town individuality that make Healdsburg so special.  World class shopping, renowned art and sculpture, organic locally grown produce and artisanal breads, wines and cheeses, intimate bed and breakfasts, independent bookstores, treasure troves of antiquing and so much more.
Healdsburg is surrounded by several of Northern California's finest regional wine appellations, including Alexander Valley, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, and Russian River Valley. Centrally located to over 100 world class wineries and tasting rooms, Healdsburg is the ideal place to discover all the best that Sonoma County wine country has to offer.
Explore beyond the central downtown Plaza and you’ll find incredible hiking, biking, canoeing, camping, redwoods, rowboats and hot air balloons for aerial views of it all.

Healdsburg, California: The Camellia Inn

The Camellia Inn is simply charming and that charm is matched by owner operator Lucy and her staff. Don and I  went there to celebrate my 40th  birthday and stayed three nights. The location is ideal as you can drive out to visit wineries (there are dozens of choices within a 15 min drive) during the day, come back to the Inn after a couple then visit one of 30+ wineries on the Healdsburg square that you can walk to from the Inn. Then it's off to dinner on the square at any number of excellent restaurants. Since the Inn has parking this is all super easy. I also would have loved a morning and evening swim, so be sure to pack your bathing suit as the pool is secluded and lovely, but unfortunately the weather was unseasonably cold for august while we were there.  All in all this is an oasis of serenity and the perfect getaway. Surrounded by more than 50 varieties of its signature camellias, the inn, which is in the heart of the Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River Valley wine regions, blends a vintage environment with modern luxury amenities. Nine rooms and suites offer complete privacy, with a full breakfast each morning.

After we arrived and settled into our room we headed out to explore the town and stopped in a few bars to get a couple drinks and we met a lot of local town people that had great ideas for things to see and do in Healdsburg. Everyone of course was super nice and we even met the owner of Coapin Winery's father there and he told us all about his son's winery. Of course, there are only so many wineries you can visit in a short amount of time so it's definitely on our list for next time. 

Our first wine tasting on Sunday: Seghiso Family Vineyards

Very deep, flavorful zins that pair nicely with the salamis made there, as well! The salumi and cheese plate was perfect with our tasting. We ended up bringing the Family Salumi home with the zins. There's plenty of picnic benches in front to sit, drink, eat, enjoy.
Seghesio Vineyards, an historic Sonoma winery that transformed itself from a jug-wine factory into one of California’s elite Zinfandel specialists, is being sold by the Seghesio family to the Napa-based Crimson Wine Group, part of the financial conglomerate Leucadia National, sources close to the sale tell Wine Spectator. The sale price was not disclosed, but the purchase includes the Healdsburg winery, 300 acres of vineyards, the Seghesio brand and current wine inventory. Most of the family members involved with the winery will stay on board.

“It’s an incredible offer but it was still a difficult decision, a bittersweet decision,” said CEO Pete Seghesio. “Every Italian family gets into fights and we don’t want to be one of those families. The family is united on this. It has been an incredible ride but we want to go out on top.”
Seghesio is best known for five Zinfandels: Sonoma County Old Vine; its three single-vineyard wines Home Ranch, San Lorenzo and Cortina; and its regular Sonoma County bottling. The 2007 Sonoma County Zinfandel was number 10 in Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2008. Seghesio produces about 100,000 cases annually and also makes Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah and Italian varietals such as Sangiovese, Barbera and Pinot Grigio. Of the 92 wines Wine Spectator has reviewed in the past 15 vintages, 30 were rated 90 points or above.

After we left the winery, we got back to the inn just in time for the evening happy hour by the pool and talked with a lot of the guests that were staying there, most were repeat visitors year after year. We went downtown to check out some of the restaurants and we were going to eat at the Shed but when we got there we weren't sure what we wanted so we opted to walk around downtown and a spur of the moment decision by Don had us ending up at a local taco joint. It was just what we needed to fill our bellies without spending a fortune. We planned our next day while we ate and decided that we were going to take a drive out to Armstrong Woods because we were told that it was even better than Muir Woods and so we changed our itinerary  and decided that we would drive to the woods early and then go to our tasting at Benzinger Winery in the afternoon. We also made reservations for dinner at Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen, which was phenomenal. 

Armstrong Redwoods is located in a canyon two miles north of the Russian River and the town of Guerneville.

The Russian River is a popular summer resort area. The ultra-liberal town of Guerneville is the biggest in the area and is ideally located between the dreary fog and frigid sea breezes of the coast and the baking heat of the inland valleys. Surrounded by hills covered with second-growth redwoods, the river has several beaches good for swimming. Canoes can be rented and are a common sight on the river, while River Road offers a flat and scenic bicycling route.
Armstrong Redwoods' Visitor Center and main parking lot are actually located outside the entrance gate. Most visitors park here and walk an extra 10 minutes to save the $10 entrance fee. Inside the gate, the road splits: the right-hand road goes to a picnic area with lots of parking; to the left, a one-lane road with two-way traffic leads to the Armstrong Tree, where there are a few shady parking spots in a particularly serene and attractive part of the grove. Most people instinctively go right and so spots are often available by the Armstrong Tree even on summer weekends. The best scenery and largest redwoods in the park are actually along the single-lane road; the trails are less impressive.
The park is quite popular, in part because it's one of the closest redwood groves to San Francisco and in part because of the popularity of the Russian River area.

Wine Tasting #2: Benzinger Winery, Glen Ellen, Ca

The Benziger family began with the hugely successful Glen Ellen Winery, which pioneered “fighting varietals,” before launching their boutique Benziger brand, which they sold to The Wine Group in 2015. These five wines are the first I’ve tasted since the sale—although all five of them were made prior to it. We’ll have to see if the winery continues on a quality trajectory under the new ownership. The Cabernets are from the estate vineyard, in Glen Ellen, the heart of Sonoma Valley, on slopes of Sonoma Mountain. The Pinot Noirs hail from the estate de Coelo Vineyard, way out on the coast between Freestone and Bodega Bay. I first visited it years ago when it was being developed. My sneakers sank inches into the deep, seabed-derived Goldridge soil, as fine as moon dust. One of the best soils for Pinot Noir in the world, Goldridge drains readily, and lends the wine an expressive elegance.

Benziger is certified sustainable and uses biodynamic farming in their vineyards. Basically, biodynamic creates its own fully functioning ecosystem within the vineyard. They bring in specific flowers that attract the good bugs that fight off the bad bugs, thus eliminating the use of pesticides. They make their own fertilizer, use grazing animals to trim the soil cover crops, and etc. There's some really weird stuff that comes with biodynamic farming too, such as burying manure inside a cow horn. 

Benzinger was probably the most picturesque winery we visited of all the wineries. The tasting that we had before our tour was outstanding. We started with a glass of rose and then we tasted a few others by the glass. All of the wines we had were very good. The tour was great but the tasting at the end of the tour was very disappointing. The wines they featured were not any of their so called "flagship" wines. If I were you, I would skip the tour and just walk the grounds and do your own tasting. They had one of the best pinot noirs we have ever tasted and  the best Rose' I have ever had. 
Sonoma Coast is highly regarded for elegant Pinot NoirChardonnay, and, increasingly, cool-climate Syrah, with high acidity, moderate alcohol, firm tannin, and fruit that is rarely overripe. One of the most favorable sites within the region is the Petaluma Gap, where a break in the coastal mountain range allows Pacific winds and fog to funnel through and cool the vineyards.
One of the most difficult yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is commonly referred to by winemakers as the “heartbreak grape.” However, the greatest red wines of Burgundy prove that it is unquestionably worth the effort. More reflective than most varieties of the land on which it is grown, Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality, and demands care in the vineyard and lots of attention in the winery. It is an important component of Champagne and the only variety permitted in red Burgundy. 

In the Glass

Pinot Noir Is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and lively acidity. It ranges in body from very light to the heavier side of medium, typically landing somewhere in the middle—giving it extensive possibilities for food pairing. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount), it can develop hauntingly beautiful characteristics of fresh earth, autumn leaves, and truffles.

Perfect Pairings

Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon, ocean trout, and tuna. Its mild mannered tannins don’t fight with spicy food, and give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry—chicken, quail, and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, it can even match with heavier fare. Pinot Noir is also very vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.

We asked our Innkeeper to make a suggestion for our dinner and we decided on the DCK. It was very good although I think we would definitly try Willies Seafood next time. We were greated right away by the staff and they sent over complimentary drinks from our inn staff. The food was delicious but the service was a little on the slow side and the somelier was just okay.  

The mountain side view road from Sonoma to Napa was amazing. It took us less than an hour to go from the Camellia Inn to the Inglenook winery.