California – The Bay Area

What I love about traveling is that there are seemingly endless places to explore in this world. Yes, it is part of the United States, but California feels like a different country. The culture is hipster and European meets upscale American. I swear these people must think of New Englanders as savages.

We started our journey in Napa Valley on our way from Yosemite. This place caused me an extreme amount of anxiety. Sure, it was pretty and there is great wine. In the 1980s every winery on the famous route 12 was free and super laid back, not anymore. You need reservations for tastings at these places and are only allowed to take a few sips after coughing up a ridiculous amount of money. We opted to split our tastings so we could go to more wineries. This would allow us 3 tiny sips of each wine we tried.

The first stop on our mini tour was Grgich Hills Estate. $25 wasn’t too bad for one tasting, plus our server was extremely kind. She told us a little about each wine before leaving us alone to decipher them. The wines were good, but nothing to write home about. At the end she let us taste the 2008 Cabernet. Delicious, but not worth the price tag. There isn’t a wine on this planet worth more than $100. They’re just rotted grapes, yes tasty, but it’s only fruit.

Our next destination was the most expensive, Alpha Omega. $50 for one person to sip on 4 wines. The snobbery made me want to vomit. The server asked me what I usually like to drink, you have no idea how tempting it was to say craft beer. It’s honestly the truth, but I held off and said Pinot Noir. The cheapest bottle was $75, and quite honestly tasted awful. This is a brilliant psychological scheme. When you spend a large amount on a product you want to convince yourself that it is the best so your purchase is justified. Most expensive rarely means it is the best. There was a $300 bottle we tasted which was by all means incredible, but I could certainly live without it.

After a quick stop at the much more laid back V. Sattui winery for a bottle for my mom (this is her favorite Napa vineyard) I convinced Anton that we should give Sonoma Valley a chance. We couldn’t have been happier with this decision. We started our Sonoma trip at Roche Winery in downtown Sonoma. The quality of the wine was insane, we tasted a wine straight from the barrel which was one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted. Following this an incredible dinner at LaSalette, a cozy, romantic Portuguese restaurant. The service, food, and atmosphere combined made it one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had. Definitely not cheap, but nothing is in this part of the country. Was it a good value? Absolutely. I probably drank the equivalent of 1.5 bottles of wine at this point, I was done.

That night we settled into our upscale airbnb in San Rafael. The view of surrounding Marin county was gorgeous. The towel rack in the bathroom was heated, sleeping in that apartment I felt like royalty. At only $115 per night it is a bargain. Most area hotels can’t provide this luxury for that price. The host even had snacks and wine in the fridge for us!

The next morning we ate an awesome breakfast at Rustic Bakery in Larksburg and went off to Sonoma again! I was excited to experience Cline Cellars. I’ve seen their Old Vine Zinfandel in stores numerous times, but never tried it. The moment I laid eyes on the modest little farmhouse tasting room I knew we were in for an amazing experience. Inside the cute store a small tasting bar with a friendly server who was truly passionate about the wines she served to us. $10 per person to taste five wines, very reasonable, and if we bought a bottle this fee would be waived. We were given a list of 30 wines. Where to start? No problem, our server totally disregarded the five tasting rule and we tried close to half the wines on the list before she was done with us. Cline’s bottles range from $14-$45 and are quite honestly some of the highest quality wines I’ve ever experienced. We did buy that $45 bottle of Heritage Zinfandel (among others) simply because neither of could imagine leaving California without it.

Across the street? Cline Cellars had their sister property, Jacuzzi Winery. This is the Italian version of their wines and everything was equally as fabulous. I would argue that this property was even more scenic! Of course, I didn’t leave without buying a bottle from them either. Love my Italian wines. If you are in Sonoma and don’t go to at least one of these wineries you are missing out. I wished we could continue up the road to experience more vineyards, but we had a date with San Francisco.

If you’re staying north of the city take the Larksburg ferry in. You’ll be in downtown San Francisco within 30 minutes and you get a great view! Parking is tough in downtown, plus the toll to get over the bridge is $8 each way. Why stress yourself out? You’re on vacation!

I loved the cute shops and restaurants in the ferry building. We walked further into the city to get to Chinatown for arguably the best Chinese food in the country. I have no argument, it was by far the best I’ve ever had. Former President Obama dined at the restaurant we visited, but it was extremely laid back and inexpensive. Very hard to come by in San Francisco.

This is where it gets a big personal, feel free to skip this paragraph 🙂 We wandered around the city for a couple hours before coming across a sample wedding dress shop. I was searching far and wide for my dream wedding dress and figured we could drop in to see since they didn’t take appointments here. My issue was that I wanted a very simple, but form fitting and elegant dress with a tiny trail (or none at all), and a super dramatic back. My total wedding dress budget (accessories, alterations…) is $1,200 which is nothing. Luckily simplicity does drive down the cost. An absolutely wonderful gentleman treated me like a princess. And you’re not going to believe it, they had the dress I was dreaming about since childhood. The one that I already had designed in my head. Because this was a sample sale I could walk out with it that day. In addition it was WAY below budget. So yes, I spent most of my one day in San Francisco buying a wedding dress. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this!

Dress in hand!

Fisherman’s Wharf did not impress me, and San Francisco as a whole I wasn’t a fan of. I much preferred Marin county. We went back there to Cucina Sa for dinner, a great recommendation from a local couple we chatted with.

The next morning after nearly losing my breakfast through the winding, twisting roads we arrived at Stinson Beach where I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Behind us was a little town dotted with redwood forest and fog, it was simply beautiful. Driving down the coastal route to San Francisco and the airport I forgot about my severe nausea as we continued down quite possibly the most beautiful road in America. Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path, it will reward you in the best way possible.