Northern California Dreaming

goldengateUpon arrival in San Francisco, California,  we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in our rental car, briefly stopping for a photo opportunity at a vista point overlooking the bay.  While snapping several pictures through the crowd, sailboats participating in the America’s cup were finishing up the day’s race.  An hour later, we arrived in Geyserville, the center of Sonoma County. Wine country.  Two bottles of chilled champagne and an amazing view greeted us.  From the balcony, vineyards and wheat colored hills traversed the landscape. A faint vinegar scent permeated the air, the smell of the harvest time I later realized.

We had dinner at the only restaurant in town, Catelli’s.  The food lived up to the standards of wine country;  fresh, organic, tasty vegetarian choices and five-star by every means.  We met the friendly owner and enjoyed plenty of good wine at the rustic, sociable bar.  The evening was complete with a stellar performance from the sky.  Stars such as Orion, the Three Sisters and the Big Dipper clearly noticeable among the thousands lighting up our evening.

Our first day of wine tasting we visited five wineries, a bit ambitious on our part.  Medlock Ames had the best Sauvignon blanc, served in a converted barn turned tasting room.  It’s quaint with an organic farm and picnic area.  White Oak was fun with a tipsy host giving us a spontaneous tour of the wine making process. Supported by eighty-five percent solar power, Clos de Bois is fairly large with a trendy gift shop.  Our visit to Trentadue was brief but they had excellent champagne. We just made Geyser Peak at closing time, the closest winery to our Inn, and we called it as day buying some wine and snacks to take home.  In-between the vineyard visits we lunched and shopped in Healdsburg, a vegetarian and boutique shop haven.  It was the perfect day followed by a night of dining and gambling at the nearby River Rock Casino.

vineyardsDuring my morning run I encountered grapevine lined dirt roads, smiling faces from cars passing by, chickens and goats. I breathed acrid vinegar, taking in the countryside while jogging to country music on my iPod.  After brunch, we hit some golf balls at a scenic drive range, visited a few boutiques and a microbrewery prior to resuming our wine tasting.  The Coppola estate was our final highlight of the self-guided wine tour of Sonoma. Complete with stairs from a scene from the Godfather, movie memorabilia, pool and gift shop.  I joined the family, by joining the wine club after a heavenly wine tasting.

“Welcome to the family,” the host smiled.

I grinned back with a warmth that I’d receive a wine package monthly.

The next day we hiked among the Redwood giants at Armstrong State Park.  An easy walk in the woods, until I did the forced march up to the ridge with an unhappy husband in tow.  I like elevation and the challenge, as he did not.

“I don’t give up elevation,” he’d complain.

“Enjoy the view,” I shot back.  “And don’t look up.”

Our next destination for two nights was a short forty minute drive to Bodega Bay, a small fishing community and tourist destination on the north coast of Sonoma.  A cozy wine and cheese tasting at the Bodega Bay Lodge lobby, welcomed us and other guests.  Our timing was once more spot-on.  After a blissful dinner at the lodge, we relaxed with a bottle of wine on the balcony, listening to the consistent faint sound of a fog horn and sea lions barking. A shooting star magically appeared, I silently made a wish.  At sunset the air turned arctic so we lit a fire in the fireplace with the bestowed Duraflame log. It was a refreshing change from Florida, yet again.

My morning run though the park resembled a Monet painting.  Ice plants, wild flowers, birds and deer filling every color of the spectrum in a subdued tone, seamlessly fitting the music I was playing on my iPod, classical Bach, a favorite from my teenage years.  Music and nature in harmony.  I spotted a buck and watched him forage the open fields, dancing to the sunrise.

bodega2We had lunch in the marina while searching for noisy sea lions and seals.  It was a beautiful drive along Pacific Coast Highway, exploring the coast and stopping for a drink or two along the way.  A massage at the lodge and another amazing meal completed our coastal visit.

San Francisco awaited us the following afternoon.  A charming drive south through villages along the coast led us back to Sausalito for lunch, to the same mexican cafe where we began our journey.  We drove to the center of San Francisco, Union Square, to the Handlery Hotel, our sleeping quarters for the next two nights.  The square, specifically Powell Street is the center of action in San Francisco including: vagrants, trolleys, pubs, clubs, restaurants and prime shopping.  The neighborhood Walgreens carried gourmet salads, a bakery, wines, souvenirs and two floors of everything anyone could need.

sf2The next day we did a self-guided bike tour of the city, the best way to observe and get a real feel for the local culture and environment. San Francisco, despite the hills, is truly a biking and green metropolis.  We started out riding through the hood, Market Street, a depressing homeless area I remembered from several visits in my youth.  We cruised away from the square into several neighborhoods full of beautiful historic homes, cafes, unique shops, and lush parks. We passed a soup kitchen, art murals, numerous views of the city and Golden Gate bridge.  It was flat for the most part with the exception of a few steep hills.  We had lunch at a local spot, then continued though Golden Gate Park, downhill past the Presidio and over the bridge as fog set-in, engulfing it as we crossed.  Arriving in Sausalito just in time for the ferry, we jumped aboard for the short crossing back to fisherman’s wharf.

In the evening we gorged on some light modern asian cuisine at E&O on Sutter Street.  For the second night we revisited an Irish piano bar, Lefty O’Duals, and we were welcomed by friends we had met the night before.  We drank, sang, and the piano player finally played my requested, Dancing Queen, by Abba as those surrounding the piano belted out lyrics in harmony.

sf 1I left the city smiling with unforgettable memories.

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