Wine & City Safari: San Francisco and Wine Country (written by Jen with help from Ian)

I've known and loved wine for a long time.  There is no definitive moment or sip of wine that started this affair.  At inception it was not old world, new world or in any way sophisticated.  It was, however, undoubtedly matured and refined by the City by the Bay--San Francisco.  I didn't know San Francisco until 2008, but I distinctly remember when my love affair with that city and its surroundings began (and it doesn't hurt that it showcases some of the best wine in the world). 

Steve, my brother, moved to San Francisco in 2007.  In the spring of 2008, I had the opportunity to go to San Francisco for work and to spend some time with Steve.  I remember arriving in San Francisco that first trip, getting off of the plane, not making it far from the airport, and thinking, "WTH - this is San Francisco?!  How did I not know about this magical place before?!"  I felt cheated.  

 One of the many views of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge playing with the clouds.  (2011)

One of the many views of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge playing with the clouds.  (2011)

My first thought was that San Francisco reminded me of Cape Town, South Africa--the drastic coast line, the rolling clouds, surrounded by land that produces the nectar of the gods.  While working, I didn't get to see much of the city, but what I had seen on my drive from the airport and the temperate weather had me sold.  Like having only a sip of a cab just poured in a decanter, I needed more.  So, I extended my trip by a day to spend time with Steve exploring the city.  We went on a run/walk through the city, a great way to enjoy the weather and to see the major sights, hitting the Marina District, the Presidio, Fisherman's Wharf, the Embarcadero, Crissy Field, Twin Peaks, and the Golden Gate Bridge.  The city was mesmerizing and thrilling, and I had only seen a small part of what it had to offer.

 Another one of the many views of the Golden Gate Bridge partially obscured by the fog (taken 2014).

Another one of the many views of the Golden Gate Bridge partially obscured by the fog (taken 2014).

I quickly came to agree with Rudyard Kipling:  "San Francisco has only one drawback, 'tis hard to leave."  I returned to San Francisco two more times in 2008.  The first in April with Ian.  I wanted him to experience the city like I had.  Steve and I took him on the same run/walk through the city, but this time, we also drove the coastline, saw the tall redwoods in Muir Woods, and spent a day drinking wine.  The second was in November for Thanksgiving.  This time, my mom and her husband, Ray, joined us, and we met Ashleigh, Steve's then girlfriend and now wife.  We loaded into a limo for a day of drinking wine, and, we rode bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge into the coastal town of Sausalito.  Here are some photos to scroll through of those early trips (hover over them for a description - and if you look closely you will some something close to BIE - biggest Ian ever):

Since 2008, Ian and I have been back to San Francisco and its wine country many times.  If I tried to detail them all here, this post would be much too long.  Instead, I'll start with our most recent trip in July 2015, and hit the highlights of other trips next time.  

This July we spent 3 nights in Napa and 2 nights in San Francisco.  In Napa, Ian and I stayed at the The Carneros Inn.  The Inn is compromised of individual cottages and is surrounded by wineries and farms, with bright orange bikes for its guests.  The food is good.  Really good.  Napa Valley abounds with excellent food--throw a dart at a map and you are likely to hit a Michelin star or a celebrity chef--but The Carneros Inn offers food of such quality at its two restaurants that you don't need to leave to get a fantastic culinary experience.  This is particularly true if you like fried chicken, which you can get for breakfast, lunch or dinner at the Boon Fly Cafe.  Who doesn't like fried chicken?  If you are putting on your airs and need something more high fluent than fried chicken, the FARM restaurant has it.  Some photos of the grounds to scroll through around the Inn (hover over them for a description):

Not only does The Carneros Inn draw you in with food, but there is plenty to do on and around the property.  There is a spa where I had a relaxing massage.  The gym is of a decent size (and when we were there our company included a former NFL quarterback who Ian tells me has almost a handful of Super Bowl rings), and there are two pools--one for everyone and one for adults only.  And, if you like to run, walk, or bike, it just takes two rights off of the property to put you on roads with vistas of the wineries and farms of Napa Valley.  Or, get on your orange bike and go wine tasting!  Some photos to scroll through of the pool and the surrounding area (hover over them for a description):

And, then there were two days of wine.  The first day we visited a winery where Ian and I are members--Flora Springs in Napa Valley, which means we like their wine so much we need it delivered to us on a regular basis.  For us, it's all about Flora's reds, which we drank much of during our visit.  Flora has a tasting room open to the public in St. Helena.  If you want to visit the winery for a tasting, which we did this time, you need to make an appointment, which is easily done via the internet.  The wine tastes good no matter where you have it, but when you go to the winery to taste it, you get a more intimate experience, including a tour of their barrel-filled hillside caves.  Some photos to scroll through of our visit to Flora:

On our second day of wine tasting, Steve and Ashleigh joined us and planned our day of wine--two wineries at which they are members in Sonoma.  The first was Lasseter Family Winery (he of Pixar fame).  We needed an appointment to visit, but this can be done easily on their website.  The tasting includes a tour of their "caves" and a very nice cheese pairing with the wine tasting.  And, most importantly, the wine is good.  

Wine country has some old farm roads, roads that don't really need to be used to get to the wineries, except when you (Steve) fail to listen to your wife (Ashleigh), make a wrong turn and decide that Google knows best.   Ian has also found himself on these roads . . . .  These roads are steep, two way--yet inexplicably constructed with room for only one car--and the "curves" are more like ninety degree turns.  A fitting ride, reminiscent of the roads in the Chianti region in Italy, to our next winery, Petroni Vineyards, a winery styled after those in Tuscany.  To visit the winery, you need a reservation (and directions).  Tasting is conducted in the caves, which provides a comfortable setting for drinking wine.  Some photos to scroll through of our visits to Lasseter and Petroni (hover over them for a description):

After two days of wine tasting, we returned the city of San Francisco to celebrate the Fourth of July.  Before having the holiday's requisite cookout, we walked the Marina District, and had a damn good burger (warming up for the barbecue) for lunch at Unami Burger.  It was the type of burger that reminds me that I have no idea how to make a really good hamburger.  Some photos of our stroll through of the Marina District:

Drinking copious amounts of wine is hard work, among other things.  So, our plans for the July 4th holiday were low key--more wine and more meat cooked over a charcoal flame.  We also planned to see the fireworks from Steve and Ashleigh's home as they have impressive, far reaching views of the city, seen in the photos below, but in typical San Francisco fashion, the clouds rolled in, and we heard rather than saw the fireworks, which we were too busy to see anyway as we were (or at least I was) preoccupied with drinking wine . . . .

The next day we explored.  Despite our having visited San Francisco many times, Ashleigh had many suggestions for activities that Ian and I had not done before and did not include wine.  The weather was nice.  So, we decided on a short road trip to Tiburon (also accessible by a ferry) for lunch on the water at Sam's Cafe, a twelve-minute ferry ride to Angel Island, and a hike with a view.  Tiburon has an adorable downtown with fun shopping and restaurants that sit on the water with a view of Angel Island and San Francisco, and Sam's Cafe is an ideal place to catch this view.  On the weekends, Angel Island provides a wealth of possible activities, including hiking, camping, renting bikes, sitting by the water, listening to live music, and having a beer.  We opted for the hike up the island to get the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, which was playing with the clouds and fog.  

As we were hiking up Angel Island, Steve pointed out that Ashleigh had an interesting bag with her on the hike, which seemed to be a bit heavy, and when Steve investigated this mysterious bag, low and behold, she was playing the role of Dionysus!  Ashleigh had with her a bottle of dry rosé, Enjoué, from Lasseter for some post hike refreshment!  Some photos to scroll through of our excursion to Angel Island (hover over them for a description):

We ended the day with a block of Humboldt Fog Cheese, wine (why hold back now), watching the women bring home the World Cup, and amazing thin crust pizza at Gialina.

The next day was our last day, but we were able to get in a few last sites before boarding the plane.  First, we walked along the beach at Ocean Beach, which other than being an expansive beach  to walk along, provides some excellent people and dog watching.  We then lost Ashleigh to work, and Steve, Ian, and I made our way the Golden Gate Bridge on the Sausalito side for some great views and a bunch of touristy shots of ourselves.  When it was time for lunch, we chose pizza at Bar Bocce in Sausalito--a little slice of heaven.  You sit on the water with a beautiful view, eating good pizza, and then you can get in a quick game of Bocce (or just watch others try to figure out the rules).  Some photos to scroll through of that last day in San Francisco (hover over them for a description):

Anthony Bourdain, who has a way with words (and eats parts of animals that maybe shouldn't be eaten), said it right in talking about San Francisco:  "Anyone who doesn't have a great time in San Francisco is pretty much dead to me."  If you don't like at least a few of these things-- good wine, food, hiking, biking, running, driving, a multitude of different water activities, sightseeing, walking the beach, watching great sports teams, taking in varied vistas, hoodies--then we can't be friends, and you won't enjoy San Francisco.  The city and its surrounds are my ideal metropolitan playground.  And don't forget, Lake Tahoe is only a four-hour drive.  The City is also a photographer's dream,  with ever changing views, pastels, dips, rises and turns.  But, possibly, the most compelling thing about San Francisco is that it is absolutely acceptable to leave your home wearing nothing but spandex and cotton, i.e., a hoody and yoga pants (or whatever the comparable option is for men if you don't feel comfortable in spandex)--a comfortable uniform, but also one that leaves you ready for the next adventure, hike, run, paddle, and large pizza.