I always say that when I am not at work I usually feel like I am on vacation. That is the BEST part about living in San Diego. We spend the majority of our actual vacation days traveling to Michigan to visit family, but we often make quick weekend trips to Idyllwild, Santa Barbara, or somewhere else in California.
A few weekends ago, I had to go to Northern California for work so we decided to go to San Francisco for the second time and to visit Napa for the first time. It was a quick three-day trip, but we managed to do a lot in the time that we had.
San Francisco is a huge, somewhat overwhelming city. There is a lot to see and do, so it is best to plan a little before heading there. About four years ago when we went my goals were to visit City Lights Bookstore (Howl!), Muir Woods, and the tourist trap restaurant The Stinking Rose. This time we wanted to experience new things.
What we did:
- Alcatraz. My friend made fun of me because we booked our tickets to Alcatraz about a month before our trip. We wanted to make sure we got tickets because the last time we went they were sold out. Good thing we pre-ordered them – they were sold out for the next two days! Alcatraz is a creepy, chilly ghost island surrounded by incredible beauty. It’s awesome. The best parts are the ferry ride to the island and the audio tour narrated by ex-wardens and prisoners. It was a little crowded, so I recommend going in the middle of the week rather than on the weekend if you are able to. Wear warm clothes!
- Biked the Golden Gate Bridge. We rented bikes at the Embarcadero and rode along the bay, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and to the city of Sausalito. At the bike rental they said it was easy, but there were some hills (because they are inescapable in San Francisco), and parts of it were a little challenging for me (Sean will laugh when he reads this because it was not hard for him whatsoever). My favorite bridge will always be the Mackinaw Bridge, but the views on the Golden Gate are beautiful and they constantly change as the fog rolls in and out. Super fun experience that I highly recommend – even though my legs and bum were sore the next day. You can walk across the bridge if riding bikes is not your thing. Also, you can take a ferry back from Sausalitio rather than riding the bike back.
- Farmers Market. On Saturday at the Ferry Building there is a huge, gigantic Farmer’s Market with fresh produce, bread, and so much more. Go there hungry and try a bit of everything. I already talked about the Hodo Soy in a previous post, but I was also excited about Sukhi’s Indian mixes. I bought three at the market and have already made two delicious, easy curry dinners at home. I am stocking up on her products from now on. The air was crisp and the fog lifted slow. A great way to spend the early morning in San Francisco.
What we ate:
- Tropisueno. We stumbled on this place in the Financial District. It was packed, so we knew we should stop in. It was happy hour and we had to scrunch into a spot at the bar, but it was worth it. The margaritas and chips, salsa, and guacamole were so good and super cheap. Best deal we encountered on our trip and a total happy accident.
- Millenium. So…this is the meal we were really looking forward to and it was the meal we were most disappointed in. Maybe our expectations were too high (a gourmet, vegan restaurant!!) or maybe we were still thinking about the yummy guac from our happy hour? We split the Crusted King Mushroom Trumpets, another appetizer that I can’t remember, and the Potato Tiki Cake. It was all good, but not great. Sean kept repeating over and over that the food I cook is much better. We also had poor service, so that probably contributed to our impression of it.
- Gracias Madre. I debated going here because I have heard so many good things about it, but I was hesitant after our experience at Millenium. When we were in Sausalito we had a glass of wine and talked to another couple at the bar (who were also native Michiganders) and they recommended that we try Gracias Madre. So we went. And loved it. It is a vegan, organic Mexican restaurant and it is so good. I got the special of the day: butternut squash flautas, pickled vegetables and beans. It is not a typical Mexican restaurant, but it is delicious and healthy and inspiring. They don’t take reservations.
- Boudin Bakery. We stopped for the traditional San Fran sourdough bread bowl before our bike ride. Sean got tomato soup and I had butternut squash soup. You can’t go wrong with a meal that is mostly bread!
Random tips for traveling in San Francisco: Take public transportation – parking is ridiculously expensive and hard to find. There are a lot of homeless people in San Francisco – bring dollar bills if you are a bleeding heart. Wear walking shoes – we walked over 10 miles in one day. We stayed at the Westin St. Francis in Union Square – it was fine, but Union Square is my least favorite part of San Francisco.
After 1 1/2 days in San Francisco we rented a car and drove 45 minutes to Napa. The grapes had just been harvested and the warm, red colors of autumn were everywhere.
Where we slept and RELAXED:
- Hotel Yountville. We splurged on this hotel. Totally worth it. The hotel upgraded us for free and we had a fireplace, high ceilings, porch, and soaking tub. Everything about the hotel was relaxing. They supplied free bicycles and we rode around Yountville and stopped into a lot of tasting rooms. The pool and jacuzzi area were luxurious and we had them all to ourselves- even though the hotel was sold out.
Wineries we visited:
- Domaine Chandon.
- Domaine Canteros.
- Hope and Grace.
- Robert Mondavi.
- Cornerstone Cellars.
I think there was one or two more. To tell you the truth I can’t tell you much about them. We had fun, we drank, and we enjoyed doing nothing except sipping on wine for the day.
Where we ate:
- Redd Wood. The best meal of our trip. We ate a lovely meal outside with a simple pizza and a brussel sprout salad. It was romantic and a perfect Napa experience. We missed Ruby, but the couple sitting next to us let us play with their dog, Cooper, so we felt a little better.
We biked past the French Laundry…maybe next time we go we’ll pay $270 for the vegetable tasting menu. I doubt it though.
I love quick escapes, but coming back to our home is ALWAYS the best part of a vacation.