san francisco – day 4

ah, yes, my final full day in san francisco arrived at last, and just like all my other mornings up to this point, it was an early one.  i’m talking we were out the door again at seven a.m. so that we could get breakfast.  our wine bus was picking us up at 8:15 a.m. sharp, so we went to get a little grub before boarding.  although i would have been perfectly content going back to cafe st. jorge (for a third time…), brian mixed it up and led us to cafe seventy8 right in bernal heights.  i kept the cafe au lait train going and paired it with a sesame seed bagel smothered in sun-dried tomato cream cheese.  oh boy, it was an excellent combination.  i typically go with plain cream cheese, but i think i need to start mixing it up with these flavors.  kinda fun!

we didn’t have a lot of time to waste, so brian called us an uber to take us to our pickup spot.  we hopped out of that sedan and hopped right on in to the incredible adventures bus with our trusty leader mitch.  i didn’t realize it until we began to drive through the city, but we were the first stop this day.  we had, i kid you not, eight more pickup points to visit before we would actually start the tour.  oh boy.  maybe i should’ve gotten decaf so that i could take a nap.  seriously, we were driving around in the city until almost 9:30 picking up other passengers.  i guess the bright side is that we really were on the tour all day?  no, that doesn’t even count.  oh well, now i know for next time, and i assure you, once you hear about what an amazing day we had, there will definitely be a next time.

as folks boarded stop after stop, we did the whole “where are you from, why are you in san francisco” bit.  we had a pretty diverse group that day:  a lady from joburg (also known as johannesburg for those of you not native to south africa, like me), several folks from texas, a crazy brazilian, a couple locals, and a brit.  it seems we weren’t the only ones interested in a mini vacation getaway.  brian and i quickly bonded with lanea and cali from dallas, and just from listening to their personal chit-chat, i could tell the day was going to be a fun one.

the first stop up on our incredibly adventurous day was the muir woods, a national park here in the states.  our very top-heavy tour bus wound down and down to the bottom of the woods for what seemed like forever.  i looked over at brian as we approached, and i could tell the motion sickness had set in.  poor boy!  had i not had a bite to eat earlier, i’m sure i would have been in the same boat.  thankfully i was distracted by the beautifully rolling hills and lush greenery that i didn’t notice my own illness too much.

we had a little over an hour to kill, so brian and i jumped out of the van to get to it.  it was very cool down on the forest floor, and i was thankful i had my flannel and vest keeping me warm.  the land for these woods was purchased way back in 1905 by local businessman william kent and his wife.  as nature lovers, they donated the land to the federal government in order to preserve and protect.  it was soon after in 1908 that president theodore roosevelt declared the area a national monument.

now, i may not really be the outdoorsy type.  okay, i’ll admit that i’m pretty much a city girl, but with the right mood, i quite like being outside, finding myself at one with nature.  getting to see these coast redwoods (not to be confused with the giant sequoias that you find at yosemite) up close and personal was a fun break from the busy life i almost always lead.  we got the chance to slow down and really soak in the environment, and in an effort to truly be in the moment, i only took my phone out once for a single picture.  the rest i shall remember fondly when i close my eyes and picture brian and i climbing the trails.

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it was getting close to eleven o’clock, so brian and i picked up the pace and sped back to the bus.  we had a vineyard on the itinerary next, and we didn’t want to be late!

mitch carried us thirsty passengers about 45 minutes into sonoma county to the larson family winery.  as we stepped onto the gravel, i took a look at the other guests and realized i was wildly under-dressed, as least in comparison.  there were a few bachelorette parties done to the nine’s in their maxi dresses and wedges along with the urban fashionistas trekking to wine country for a weekend getaway.  i peered down at my skinny jeans and black converse and thought, “well, at least the wine doesn’t know what i’m wearing!”

the larson family winery owes its roots to tom larson’s great grandfather michael millerick, the man responsible for purchasing the house and its 120 acres in 1899.  although he primarily raised dairy cattle, tom and his father bob got the wine flowing when they planted their first chardonnary vines in 1977.  their slogan “we drink what we can, and sell the rest!” is quite catching and precious and is endearing for a family-owned vineyard such as theirs.

it was clear mitch had been here with other tour groups in the past, so he sweetly herded us into one of the more private tasting rooms.  we gathered around the bar and waited patiently as the glasses were laid our along with the tasting menus.  now, i have never visited a winery, so i wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  what i loved about the experience is that they tell you all the details you want to know about each wine you taste.  it’s a little unlike the breweries you visit here in the south, where you have to be a little more forward in asking about each beer’s profile.

our tastemaster john confidently guided us through the wines, happily pouring more if we wanted to revisit any one in particular.  the pinot grigio was positively received by the group while the stainless steel millerick road chardonnay wasn’t among our favorites.  now, the oak barrel aged chardonnay, which actually was off-menu, i loved.  it was fragrant and smooth, and john suggested pairing it with a good brie or perhaps something sweet.  it easily is a dessert wine, and we all know how bad my sweet tooth can be!

the 2012 pinot noir was also a winner in my book.  it was a musty, earthy, and dusty varietal but also still light-bodied.  perhaps serve it up with a salami sandwich or, better yet, just a whole slab of salami?  ah, so classy we are!  brian declared it was a “solid pinot” and gladly asked for another pour.

john described the 2012 millerick road zinfandel as “fruity and peppery,” but i personally thought it was a little flat, if that’s a way to describe wine…?  its recommended pairing is with a steak or red pasta sauce, so if you’re into zinfandels, there ya go!

the final sample was the three lab cab, a tribute to the winery’s three labrador retrievers bubba, pete, and busta.  the darkest of their reds, carolyn liked the earthy undertones to the cab.  the taste starts out like the zinfandel but finishes differently, almost on a lighter note.  it was one of her favorites!  and, even though she had a bit of a stigma against red wines coming into the day, cali from texas was a believer after her three red wine tasting.  guess you could say she’s easy, ha!

as i said, the oak barrel aged chardonnay was hands-down my favorite, so i just had to bring a bottle home with me!  john helped me find it, and brian and i tried to strike a pose.  i really don’t think we succeeded, but at least it will bring a few laughs.  it’s all for the people!

before we loaded up and shipped out to our next destination, i had to get a picture with our fearless leader mitch and our friendly wine man john.  they’re such good sports!

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john, me, mitch!

we had some down time for lunch before our next vineyard appointment, so mitch drove us to the sonoma town square, quite possibly the most quaint and picturesque thing i’ve seen in a while.  the town hall is surrounded by lush green grass and lined with shops and restaurants.  mitch made a loop of the area, pointing out some of his favorite spots and making suggestions.  it was when he pointed out the sonoma cheese factory on spain street that brian and i knew just what we would have to do.  we piled out of the bus and made a beeline for the factory.  brian had the genius idea to do a little antipasto smorgasbord, a word i now know how to spell because i wanted to use it here in this post.  nice!  anyway, i grabbed the wine and cutting board (a handy and crafty souvenir) while brian grabbed the meats and cheeses.  as we were making our way up and down the aisles, i heard someone comment on us “aw, how romantic!”  ha!  if they only knew we were cousins, but not just any cousins, progressive cousins.  for the inside story on that one, ask me about our family trip to new york city several years ago.

so, yes, we gathered our groceries and found a dry patch of grass for our impromptu picnic.  it truly could not have been a more perfect day.  the cool breeze wrapped around us as the sun shone down on our skin.  some folks from the wine crew joined us, and we spent the rest of our lunch hour getting to know one another between sips (i should probably say gulps if i’m being completely honest) of local wine.  i bet if i lived in san francisco that i’d be a frequent wine country visitor.

our second and final vineyard of the day was homewood winery, a very small one-man show here in sonoma.  the tasting here at homewood was a much more intimate setting, which i quite liked for our more rambunctious group, but i didn’t find the employees to be quite as warm and open as john and the other folks over at larson.  now, that’s not to say they were rude, but i didn’t feel like i was really getting to know them.  i wasn’t too distracted by it once the wine got a-pouring, so i guess i’ll cut them a little slack.  just this once, homewood!

okay, so overall i wasn’t as crazy about the wines here at homewood.  i did find, though, a 2011 barbera (a blend i didn’t even know existed) and was crazy about it.  with its sweet plum and black cherry flavor complemented by hints of cocoa, it’s probably no surprise i was in love with this wine.  i loved this one so much that he, too, had to come home with me.  whoopsies!  i guess i’ll worry about how to pack these glass bottles of wine in my luggage later…

the views of the rolling hills were just gorgeous from homewood winery.  i kept thinking how it looks just like a backdrop from a movie set or play or something.  the people who call sonoma home should count themselves lucky; getting to wake up to this kind of scenery every day is a privilege!

mitch packed us all up back into the van, but we all weren’t ready to head back just yet.  it was an awesome setup because with such a small group, we unanimously were able to decide that we should stay just a little longer.  good thinking, guys!  mitch gladly traced our steps back to the square for about an hour of leisurely shopping or drinking or eating, whatever our minds could think to do.  most of the group went to check out the stores, but lanae and i were ready to keep the wine flowing.  we plopped ourselves down in the square and busted open another bottle of red.  i couldn’t for the life of me tell you what it was, but i know that it kept us feeling pretty great.  so great, in fact, that i spilled a whole glass on my jacket and didn’t even really care.  ah, classic!  good thing it was my rain jacket – i can just throw that thing in the washing machine when i get home.  this town really is some type of paradise, and if you’d told me i’d have to live the rest of my life there, i’d be glad to hire the movers and ship out west.

there was one last stop before mitch was to drop us all off in the city.  he drove us to the top of a hill/mountain in the golden gate national recreation area so that we could get what would be my favorite views and pictures of the entire trip.  looking back on the city was a stunning scene, and looking out to the ocean was equally as beautiful.  i wouldn’t trade the minutes up there for almost anything.

oh, and i just couldn’t help myself with this one.  how cute is our little group of misfits?

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once back into the city, we decided some eats were definitely in order.  i’d pretty much just had bread and cheese and salami all day, and i needed to consume something that would help soak up all that wine.  brian, lanae, cali, and i grabbed some food on the lower level of the twitter headquarter building.  it’s like a mini whole foods, and i cannot remember what it was called, but the salad and banana i had to eat hit the spot perfectly.  it was probably the healthiest meal of my visit, and it was also probably long overdue.  oh well, when in rome!

we grabbed an uber in the chilly windy night to some bar in some neighborhood (again, my memory escapes me) where the brit jamie met up with us for some more fun.  jamie, i came to find out, is actually a photographer, which probably explains the very professional equipment he had and the amazing photos he was probably taking all day.  he may be thousands of miles away back in jolly england, but you can check out his work right here!

after a round at this mystery bar, brian strategically suggested that we go to dolo corner next.  ah, yes, a marvelous idea!  i could quickly drop off the wine (that had, of course, become ridiculously heavy by this point) and then we could easily slink home after a few more beers with everyone.  we ended up meeting up with some of brian’s friends and then friends of those friends, forming an odd little crowd in the corner of the bar.  we played a few rounds of jenga but spent most of the night trying out our british accents (mine, apparently, was pretty impressive) and reminiscing on the memories we had made just hours earlier.

we shut down the bar in true final-night style and hugged our new friends goodbye.  it had been an incredibly long day, so brian and i were ready to just collapse.  i slept soundly that night as i dreamed of heavenly weather and delicious wine and all the things that a vacation should be.

i woke sunday morning to breakfast smells creeping in under the door, across the hardwood floors, and up to my stuffy nose.  i rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and shuffled into the kitchen to see a fresh pot of french pressed coffee on the table and my sweet cousin brian cooking up breakfast tacos over the stove top.  did i mention how lucky i am to have family like him?

we stuffed ourselves on tortillas stuffed with eggs and potatoes and topped with a local verde salsa.  i washed my two tacos down with a big glass of orange juice, totally okay with the fact that i probably wouldn’t have a glass of wine today.  yesterday was amazing, but i needed a bit of a break.  with the windows open and the record player on, brian and i laughed about all the funny things that had occurred on my visit and high-fived to the fact that we’d be doing it all again the weekend after in austin for our annual cousin trip (all the posts for that vacation to come soon).

i packed up my suitcase and then we hit the freeway.  this vacation was one that i didn’t want to leave and will certainly look back on fondly when i read these posts years from now.  so, yes, at last you have the exciting ending to my first true trip to san francisco.  although i probably stuck out like a sore thumb, i thank the locals for tolerating me for a few days.  this place is so picturesque that it almost seems like it cannot be real.  however, i went there, i got the pictures and the cheese board as proof, and guess what?  i’ll be back!  my very dear friend chris is marrying his beautiful fiancee jani in october, so i guarantee i’ll be making quite the vacation out of this city a second time.

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