Memorial Day Weekend

San Francisco Trip In Review: Road Trip To Mendocino!

During the second day of Derek and my weekend stay in San Rafael, the four of us decided to take a road trip to the coastal town of Mendocino. Derek’s brother had recommended it highly, since he knows it is exactly the kind of thing we like to explore:  a town chock-full of artist galleries and quaint shops that is adjacent to a gorgeous state park.

Although the town of Mendocino has under one-thousand residents, it is heavily supported by day-trippers from SF, the nearby Alexander Valley wine industry, rural-roaming artists and hippies, and a military base several miles up the road. To get to the town, we had to drive many hours through wine country and a Redwood Forest – both of which bared incredible views. At certain points the roads became so windy as we maneuvered up/around the hills that we all felt a big of vertigo hit our systems!

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Winding hills through Mendocino County during our drive to the town

Standing in the Redwood Forest on the way to Mendocino

Standing in the Redwood Forest on the way to Mendocino

Once we arrived in Mendocino around 2pm, the town was packed with fellow travelers who were in town for the Mendocino film festival. Unfortunately it took much longer for us to get there than we had calculated, so we missed the lunch seatings at the restaurant we were planning to try (Cafe Beaujolais). However, we ended up at a friendly joint in the downtown area called the Goodlife Café and Bakery.

Split pea soup

Split pea soup

Mocha and chocolate chip cookie

Mocha and chocolate chip cookie

Bread pudding

Bread pudding

After grabbing a quick bite, we bee-lined over to the Ford House Museum building before it closed at 4pm in order to learn about the town’s history and scope out the artwork of one of Derek’s brother’s clients.

Ford House (image source: mendoparks.org)

Ford House (image source: mendoparks.org)

The building itself was constructed in 1854 for a local family, and now houses a historical museum featuring old photographs as well as models of the town in the nineteenth century. I loved wandering through the downstairs living rooms while learning about the logging industry that founded the town.

Once we made our way through the museum, the four of us ventured out into the Headlands state park to explore. I’m a huge fan of hiking, and we spent the rest of the trip exploring the sea-eroded rocks, grassy cliffs, and sandy beach.

Our group exploring the coast

Our group exploring the coast

Me taking a look at the rocky coast along the Headlands

Me taking a look at the rocky coast along the Headlands

View of the old Presbyterian Church from the Headlands

View of the old Presbyterian Church from the Headlands

An awesome tree I found

An awesome tree I found

Gorgeous wildflowers along the bluffs

Gorgeous wildflowers along the bluffs

View of the rocks jetting out into the Pacific

View of the rocks jetting out into the Pacific

Me and Derek enjoying our hike along the Headlands

Me and Derek enjoying our hike along the Headlands

Trail marker along the bluffs

Trail marker along the bluffs

Stunning view of the Mendocino coast

Stunning view of the Mendocino coast and vintage buildings

Walking over the rock tunnels

Walking over the rock tunnels

Matt and Liz exploring the rocks during low tide

Matt and Liz exploring the rocks during low tide

Graffiti on an old shipping dock

Graffiti on an old shipping dock

Me and Derek enjoying the sandy beach during a low tide

Me and Derek enjoying the sandy beach during a low tide

When it came time to head back to San Rafael (around 6:30pm so we could be pass the windy roads before dusk), I had an urge not to go. The coastline had bewitched me, and I felt like I could spend weeks exploring the trails along the water where the lush foliage and bright flowers grew effortlessly out of stony cliffs. I had never seen rocks and bluffs like the ones in Mendocino – and they inspired me.

Mark my words:  someday I will go back!

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San Francisco Trip In Review: Day Trip to Sonoma County Wineries

On the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend my boyfriend and I were staying at his brother’s apartment in San Rafael (along with our other friend Liz), and the four of us decided to venture up the road to the Healdsburg area for the day. Since Derek’s brother was not drinking that day, we lucked out with a built in designated driver/chauffer (thanks Matt!).

After doing a lot of online research, I booked us a FREE 10am winery tour at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards along Dry Creek Road. Several women had written on TripAdvisor that it was their favorite vineyard in the area, so I definitely didn’t want to pass it up!

Our group at Ferrari Carano - me, Derek, Matt, and Liz!

Our group at Ferrari-Carano – me, Derek, Matt, and Liz!

The experience did not disappoint.

The main house at the vineyard was built to resemble a Tuscan villa, and the vineyard itself had stunning landscaping and fountains that reminded me of the orderly and beautifully-planned designs you would find in a typical Italian style garden. We could not help but take photos at the grounds – especially since we were there so early that we beat the crowds!

Me and Derek on the grounds at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Me and Derek on the grounds at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Gardens at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Gardens at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Villa and tasting rooms at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Villa and tasting rooms at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Touring the gardens at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Touring the gardens at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Ferrari Carano vineyard estate

Grape vines at the Ferrari-Carano vineyard estate

Derek and I in one of the many barrel storage rooms

Derek and I in one of the many barrel storage rooms

As part of the tour we were given a one-hour tour of the wine-making facilities, vineyard grounds, and the two tasting rooms – all while hearing the history of the estate and an explanation of its nearly perfect organic-level status (a 4 out of a 5 level ranking system). Our tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, and I ended up taking the below video of her explanation of the grape growing process to help showcase the type of knowledge you learn on the tour.

After the tour ended, we decided to pay for the more expensive tasting fee, where we were able to try some of the top wines that Ferrari-Carano produces (including some that are ONLY available if you visit the vineyard). We ended up splurging on our two favorites to bring home:  the 2010 PreVail Back Forty ($85) and the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($41). Along with that, we registered for their semi-annual wine club shipment ($160/shipment), and were pleasantly surprised to receive the first batch within a week of our trip home!

Derek and me in the wine tasting room at Ferrari Carano

Derek and me in the downstairs wine tasting room at Ferrari Carano (so fun!)

After leaving Ferrari-Carano we went to the next vineyard down Dry Creek Road called Dutcher Crossing, which was originally begun by a family from Wisconsin. The views were almost as exquisite as those at Ferrari-Carano, and the woman in the tasting room provided fantastic customer service. I had read positive reviews on TripAdvisor while I was researching the region, and our group was very pleased with the stop choice.

Dutcher Crossing entrance

Dutcher Crossing entrance

In my opinion, the wine at Dutcher Crossing was unique, and I fell in love with their 2013 Stuhlmuller Chardonnay (not available online). I’m typically not a Chardonnay fan due to how tangy I often find that type of wine to be, but this one was crisp and refreshing like an apple. It was the only white wine that we purchased that day, and I cannot wait to enjoy it during a warm summer evening on our balcony at home.

The other wine that we loved from Dutcher Crossing was the Proprietor’s Reserve 2013 Zinfandel ($30), which had a delicious flavor. Although we ended up purchasing only two bottles at Dutcher Crossing, we came very close to signing up for their wine club as well (and also close to buying a few of the floral scented candles in their shop). I’m actually quite surprised that our tipsiness at that point didn’t get the better of us!

Me and Derek after our wine tasting at Dutcher Crossing

Me and Derek after our wine tasting at Dutcher Crossing

Gorgeous view of the vineyard grounds at Dutcher Crossing

Gorgeous view of the vineyard grounds at Dutcher Crossing

Before heading to the third and last winery of the day, our group decided to stop in the town of Healdsberg for a quick lunch. A French café called Costeaux had an incredible write-up in the my California guidebook, so we took a chance to see if we could get a table – and we were in luck! The restaurant had a sunny, open feeling and was decorated in a beautiful Provincial style, which created a cheerful atmosphere. Further, each of our plates arrived with artfully-presented food that tasted as good as it looked!

The wall decor at Costeaux in Healdsburg, CA

The wall decor at Costeaux in Healdsburg, CA

costeaux food

My omelette and tea at Costeaux

costeaux french toast

The french toast at Costeaux

After finishing lunch, our last winery visit of the day was Francis Ford Coppola, which is a brand we often see (and occasionally buy) in NYC. We had heard great things about the grounds, but were most intrigued by the museum within the building.

Francis Ford Coppola tasting room building near Healdsburg, CA

Francis Ford Coppola tasting room building near Healdsburg, CA

The vineyard is owned by the Coppola family (of Hollywood renown). As you wander around, you can see a variety of props and memorabilia from some of the movies they have directed, including the Godfather movies and Tucker. They even had some of their Oscars on display! It was fun to see a piece of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood during a trip to Northern California.

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After the third and final vineyard, we decided to make our way back to San Rafael for a calm evening before our planned roadtrip to Mendocino the next day. As we journeyed the hour back to the Marin County town, I realized how blessed we were to spend a day in the gorgeous valleys of Sonoma County wine country during sunny, mid 70-degree weather. Of all of the experiences that we had on our trip to San Francisco, our day in Sonoma was my favorite.

Me and Derek smiling while soaking up the Sonoma, California sunshine!

Me and Derek smiling while soaking up the Sonoma, California sunshine!

The last thing I will mention is that shipping the four bottles of wine home that we purchased was not an easy task and should be planned in advance. Our first folly was that we originally tried to ship the wine on the Monday of Memorial Day – but soon learned that USPS and UPS were both closed on those days AND FedEx has a policy not to ship wine. As a result, we were forced to wake up at 7am on Tuesday before our flight to take the bottles to the UPS store in Union Square.

Our four wine bottle purchases prior to being boxed up in the UPS shipment

Our four wine bottle purchases prior to being boxed up in the UPS shipment

All in, we bought wine shipping packaging material for about $20 and the cost of shipping was about $45. We learned a lesson that when we buy wine in Italy later this year, we will buy a special suitcase in advance to check the wine so it travels with us on the plane. That said, while the cost to ship the bottles home was steep, the sentimental value of having souvenirs from Sonoma to enjoy at our leisure was worth the money for us. We now have four incredible bottles of wine aging in our wine fridge waiting to be enjoyed on a special occasion – or when we feel a ping of nostalgia about our trip!

Cheers to that!

San Francisco Trip In Review: Days #2 and #5 in Downtown SF

On the second and fifth days of our trip to San Francisco we continued to explore the city itself, inclusive of the residential neighborhoods. During this time the grittiness and artiness of the city began to reveal itself as we left the shiny tourist strongholds.

To be completely honest, being visitors from New York City where neighborhood gentrification has happened in rapid fire over the past twenty years, we were shocked by two things we saw in San Francisco:

  1. the lack of other human beings on the sidewalks walking from point A to point B.
  2. the number of homeless people living on the streets.

Additionally, the Uber car service app is quite common in San Francisco to get around town, and we used it frequently for two specific reasons: avoiding unsuspectingly tall hills and troubled neighborhoods. Uber is relatively affordable, too, especially if you are travelling with more than one person. The Uber Pool carpooling option was an attractive $7 per ride to get both Derek and me around the city. Although using the car service brought up our estimated transit costs for our trip, we typically arrived at our destination much faster than we would have if we had used the bus or the BART train.

Day 2 Overview:

We woke up in the morning in our hotel room and wandered outside to find breakfast – specifically wanting to seek out a local café rather than head to our typical go-to Starbucks. And we were in luck! We stumbled upon Bartlett Hall Café, where we ordered breakfast sandwiches and mochas to bring back to our hotel room’s patio.

Enjoying our breakfast sandwiches and mocha coffees from Bartlett Hall Cafe on our patio at the Hilton Union Square

Enjoying our breakfast sandwiches and mocha coffees from Bartlett Hall Cafe on our patio at the Hilton Union Square

Once we wrapped up breakfast, we took an Uber to the home where the 90’s show Full House took place, while simultaneously meeting up with Derek’s brother and our friend Liz. The “Full House house” had been painted a darker color since the show ended, and I most likely would not have recognized it had I been quickly driving past in a car.

The setting of my favorite childhood TV show - Full House

The setting of my favorite childhood TV show – Full House

Next we walked to Alamo Square, where we took photos in from of the Painted Ladies antique row houses (which were where the Tanner family picnicked in the opening credits of Full House). Although it was a cloudy day, the distant downtown skyscrapers hovering in the background made the photo iconic. Incredible.

Derek and me in Alamo Square in front of the Painted Ladies

Derek and me in Alamo Square in front of the Painted Ladies

After wondering around Alamo Square and taking in the view, we grabbed a late lunch at a local pub called Fly Bar. The individual pizzas we ordered were delicious, but unfortunately took a long time to arrive at our table. By the time the food arrived we were STARVING, so the pub fare helped restore our energy.

Walking to Fly Bar to grab lunch

Walking to Fly Bar to grab lunch

So many wires strung up for the trolley and bus public transit lines!

So many wires strung up for the trolley and bus public transit lines!

From the pub, we walked towards Golden Gate Park to meet Derek’s cousin David outside of the California Academy of Sciences building. The park is long, narrow, and lush, with winding roads that reminded me of Manhattan’s Central Park. Museums dot the landscape, and David took us up to a free observation deck at the de Young art museum that overlooks the entire city via a 360-degree panorama. Being up there brought back fond memories from the Gravity Bar at the top of the Guinness Factory in Dublin.

Statues in Golden Gate Park

Statues in Golden Gate Park

Sculptures outside the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park

Sculptures outside the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park

Sprekles Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park

Spreckles Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park

Hagiwara Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

Hagiwara Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

Views from the observation deck at the de Young art museum (continued)

Views from the observation deck at the de Young art museum

Views from the observation deck at the de Young art museum (continued)

Views from the observation deck at the de Young art museum (continued)

After our time in Golden Gate Park, David motioned us toward the nearby neighborhood of Sunset where he lives. We grabbed a pint at a neighborhood bar called Blackthorn, which had a pretty back patio seating area, several pool tables, and an open-mindedness towards dogs off their leashes. Overall, it felt like one big living room where I was sipping my cold cider next to locals only.

Derek and his cousin David in a booth at Blackthorn in the Sunset neighborhood

Derek and his cousin David in a booth at Blackthorn in the Sunset neighborhood

After leaving Sunset, we grabbed our bags at our hotel and waved goodbye to the city for a few days while we headed up north to Sonoma County. More to come in a future blog post on our trip through vineyards and valleys as we road-tripped to the Dry Creek and Mendocino – but for now I will skip to our return to the city on day 5.

Day 5 Overview:

After the weekend road trips, we came back into the city of San Francisco on Memorial Day to check off the remaining sights on our sightseeing itinerary. Yet again we stayed at a hotel in Union Square – this time Hotel Fusion – but quickly hit the pavement.

After we met up with our friend Daniel-Linh, we looked at the map and decided that it would make the most sense to walk to the Mission District rather than take a bus due to the close proximity (as well as to avoid the body odor of the homeless man at the bus stop). However, we did not realize that the neighborhoods we were about to traverse would be practically deserted for the holiday weekend. We were fine. We were completely safe, even though we walked passed a fight on the sidewalk on Mission Street. Mostly, it just didn’t feel like home, so it was a healthy dose of departing our comfort zones.

Once we reached the Mission District area, I was so hungry from the walk that we yelped a nearby taqueria in hopes of finding some authentic Mexican food. And we were in luck! We found a place called Taqueria Los Coyotes that was exactly what the doctor ordered. Derek and I are very picky about the authenticity of our Mexican food, and this place filled the bill.

My delicious meal at the taqueria - one chicken taco, one shrimp taco, rice, beans, and guacamole

My delicious meal at the taqueria – one chicken taco, one shrimp taco, rice, beans, and guacamole

Me checking my phone at the taqueria - loved the Mexican tile on the walls!

Me checking my phone at the taqueria – loved the Mexican tile on the walls!

After lunch we walked to Mission Dolores to take some quick snapshots, and then to the nearby Mission Dolores Park. Unfortunately the park was under heavy construction, so we decided to meander through the Mission District as a consolation prize. Luckily, the area is filled with beautiful street art and murals, and we were able to capture photos of several that intrigued us.

Colorful homes in the Mission District

Colorful homes in the Mission District

Me on the Mission Dolores steps

Me on the Mission Dolores steps

Pretty mural on the side of a community building in the Mission District

Pretty mural on the side of a community building in the Mission District

Street art in the Mission District

Street art in the Mission District

Alley filled with street art off of Mission Street

Alley filled with street art off of Mission Street

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

After an afternoon of walking, we waved goodbye to Daniel-Linh and made our way back to our hotel to freshen up. For our last evening in San Francisco before our flight the next morning, we wanted to grab a drink with my childhood friend Rachel one last time.

So, we used the Yelp app to locate a top rated bar in the Tenderloin neighborhood near our hotel that had recently opened called Piano Fight. The venue hosted a free comedy show at 9pm, so we ordered a drink and watched several comedy sketches over the course of an hour. Spending time with my old friend laughing and drinking a local California wine was the perfect way to spend my last night in San Francisco.

Me and Rachel enjoying drinks and a late dinner at Piano Fight

Me and Rachel enjoying drinks and a late dinner at Piano Fight

My Important Traveler Takeaway:

Overall, Derek and I enjoyed learning about the residential neighborhoods of San Francisco as we were led around by our friends who live in the city. As a traveler, my experiences are the most meaningful when I see how other cities and countries have dealt with problems that they face, so I can learn about the effects of those choices.

With San Francisco, its foggy, temperate weather can be both a pro and a con for the city. Certain SF neighborhoods rarely see the sun and locals wear jackets and pants into the depths of summertime in order to accommodate the climate. Additionally, while America typically does not support the same gypsy culture that travelers encounter in Europe, many homeless Americans wind up in San Francisco. In order to survive, the homeless have created communities among themselves and support each other. Lastly, the dichotomy between the poor and the rich (and highly educated) in San Francisco is palpable as you walk the streets. The residents of San Francisco have adapted and found their own solutions to these problems, and appear to live in harmony together.

All in all, it’s admirable to see San Franciscans literally come together and boost themselves up out of the fog to help their city remain one of the most beloved and iconic places on the planet.