Napa Valley and Sonoma County

Published: June 4th 2009
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Although we had discussed going to Northern California's wine country for several years, it wasn't until an unbelievable airfare deal was advertised on Southwest Airlines that we finally decided plan a trip. Somehow, we were lucky enough to snag two $80 round trip tickets into Oakland. Yes, you read that correctly; this outrageously inexpensive ticket included all associated fees and taxes, so it would have been foolish not to have taken advantage of it.

After deciding to spend four days in the area, we then had the difficult task of choosing which area/city to stay in. Between Napa Valley and Sonoma County, there were literally hundreds of options, most of which were quite expensive and more than we wanted to spend. In the end, we settled on a Best Western in Rohnert Park since we got a great rate ($85 per night) and the fact that it was located halfway between the wine region and the coast, where we planned to spend one day.

Our direct Southwest Airlines flight from Seattle arrived in Oakland right on time at 22:35 on Thursday, May 16th. We then proceeded to the airport car rental shuttle bus, which took us straight to the car rental offices. Prior to our trip, I had arranged a car rental through Fox Rent A Car for only $130. As it was quite late by that point (23:00) the car rental company no longer had any more "economy" cars available, so we were upgraded to a Jeep, which was a great surprise! In hindsight, we later realize that the free upgrade was not really "free" as the cost of gas probably ended up being double what it would have been had we had a smaller vehicle.

From the car rental company, it took nearly an hour to reach the hotel. I was fast asleep when Mike pulled into the parking lot of the hotel and it took quite a bit of effort on my part to get out of the car. When we walked into our hotel room, we were both pleasantly surprised. The room appeared to have been recently remolded, was large and even had a full-sized couch, and included very nice details, such as cherry wood furniture and granite counter tops in the bathroom. It was definitely the nicest Best Western I've ever stayed at! Since it was so late, we headed straight to bed to get some sleep.

Day 1 (Friday, May 15th, 2009)

After having gotten in quite late the night before, we somehow managed to wake ourselves up around 8:30. After getting ready, we headed down into the lobby of the hotel as a free continental breakfast was included with the price of our room. Much to our surprise, the breakfast included a large array of items including waffles, fruit, cereal, different sweet breads, and bagels, just to name a few. We hadn’t expected such a generous breakfast as the room rate was relatively inexpensive, so we were very pleased!

After quickly eating, we headed out and drove to Sonoma, which took about 30 minutes. It was a gorgeous day out with absolutely no clouds in the sky. I immensely enjoyed the passing scenery, which ranged from vast rolling fields to random cows to the ubiquitous vineyards. Everywhere we looked we saw beauty, so it was very tempting not to pull over and take photos.

We eventually reached charming Sonoma, whose streets were filled with turn of the century homes, small boutiques, and quirky little cafes. In the center of it all was Sonoma Plaza, which was a large park filled with many tall trees and the beautiful city hall situated in the middle. We parked the car for free next to the plaza and walked towards the farmer’s market, which was located a few blocks north of the plaza. We enjoyed our short walk to the market as the warm sun felt wonderfully welcoming on our backs.

Unfortunately, when we reached the market, we were quite disappointed. For some reason, we had both expected a large farmer’s market with several rows of stalls, but instead, we were greeted with one row of no more than a dozen stalls. For a city of its size and fame, we had assumed it would have been much larger. We walked down the row, stopping to look at a few of the stalls, but quickly left as there wasn’t much to see.

Before heading back to the car, I thought it would be fun to walk around the shops lining the plaza. Much to Mike’s disdain, we stopped in at a few of the stores and poked around for a bit. We also stopped by a dog bakery, where we purchased some edible fresh-baked treats for Sam and Sadie.

From Sonoma, we drove out of the city to Benziger Family Winery. Benziger is located in Glen Ellen on 85 sprawling acres in a bowl with 360 degree sun exposure. The winery is famous for being the first winery in the area that was certified Biodynamic, which is the highest form of organic farming. In this type of farming, no artificial fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides are used, weed control is completed by cultivation and other mechanical methods, pest control is done through soil management, and the fertility of the crops are promoted by using compost and manure, both of which are self-generated from the farm. Of the farm's 85 acres, 45 acres are planted in grapes and the other 40 acres are gardens, insectories, olive groves, wetlands, ponds, riparian areas and forest border areas; it was quite evident that the winery took their Biodynamic certification very seriously.

Luckily, we arrived about five minutes prior to the 12:00 tram ride tour, which cost $15 per person. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and took us all over the property including the vineyards, bottling area, caves, and finally the tasting room and gift shop. The tour was extremely interesting and very informative, as it explained not only the history of the winery, but also of the wine making process including the differences in growing and creating red and white wine. At the end of our tour, we were led into the tasting room where we were allowed to sample four wines. We tried a reserve chardonnay (which was very smooth), an estate wine called Oonapais (deep red that was too strong for my taste, but Mike appreciated it), a delicious muscat canelli, and I tried a red zinfandel while Mike had a port. Benziger was a great winery to choose as our first in the region as it was a large company with a small family-run and non-intimidating atmosphere.

From Benziger, we headed towards Napa Valley, deciding on a restaurant called BarBerQs for lunch. I had learned of the restaurant from Zagat and since Mike absolutely loves BBQ, I thought it would be a fun choice. As we walked into the small restaurant that specializes in Memphis style barbecue, we were surprised to see the very modern and sleek décor, which was not what we had expected to find in a barbecue restaurant. We opted to eat inside versus outside on the patio as it was a little too warm out for our comfort (around 85 degrees). Mike ordered the Painted Hills Beef Brisket Sandwich with coleslaw while I chose the Smoked Chicken Sandwich and substituted the coleslaw for potato salad. While the service was a little slow, the excellent food more than made up for the wait. Mike’s brisket was topped with the most amazing crispy fried onions, of which I stole a few to add to my sandwich. While I am not normally a fan of barbecue, I like the Memphis style as it is cooked in a dry rub spice instead of gooey and thick barbecue sauce. My sandwich was delicious and flavorful, and Mike stated his beef was quite tasty especially after adding extra barbecue sauce on top.

From the restaurant, we headed across the street to Target as we needed to purchase a few items. My sunglasses had just broken a few days before our trip, so I grabbed a new pair along with a cute hat (to prevent sunburn on my scalp), while Mike found a baseball cap and sunscreen spray.

After finishing at Target, we drove to Domaine Carneros, which was located just outside of Napa. The sun was absolutely scorching hot at this point, so we quickly headed up the stairs to the tasting area, but not before taking a few photos of the exterior, where a nice couple offered to take our photo! The gorgeous building was modeled after the Château de la Marquetterie, an 18th century mansion located in Epernay, France. This winery produces dry sparkling wines. Originally, we were each going to purchase our own sparkling wine sampler, which cost $15 and included three 2 once samples of different sparkling wines. However, after the server began pouring the first set, I decided to cancel my order as there was no way I would be able to finish my own samples without passing out! Alcohol has a tendency to make me extremely tired quickly (even in the smallest quantities) so I choose to play it as safe as possible. As we sat and drank the wine, we enjoyed the beautiful views of the surrounding vineyards.

From Domaine Carneros, we headed back to Sonoma, in order to reach St. Francis Winery. Along the way, we stopped in Sonoma again for a just a bit so that I could visit a home decorative shop we had seen a few hours before. After spending just a few minutes in the store, we left and continued the drive. As we sat in traffic, it donned on me that it was nearly 17:00 and that there might be a possibility that the winery could close before we arrived. I decided to call the winery, and low and behold, it did in fact close at 17:00. As a result, we decided to turn around and head back to the hotel. We were both quite tired anyways and I had a headache, so we figured we would come back on one of the following days.

We relaxed at the hotel for about an hour and I took a nap. We left again at 18:45 as we had 19:30 dinner reservations in Sonoma. Based on the excellent reviews it received from Zagat, we decided to eat at Café La Haye. We arrived just in time for our 19:30 reservations, although we had to wait about ten minutes until a table was available for us. The interior of the rustic restaurant was tiny, and probably only had about 15 tables or so, but appeared to be filled with many locals who were beaming about their food. Once seated, Mike stated he was going to order the Roasted Marinated Natural 'Angus' Hanger Steak with Twice Baked Potato-Bacon Pie. I was a little disappointed as I had also wanted to order the same dish (mainly for the twice baked potato-bacon pie). However, I did not want us both to have the same dish, so instead I ordered the Panko Crusted Chicken Paillard which came with warm arugula-grilled red onion salad, roasted fingerling potatoes, fava beans and salsa verde. As we waited for our food to arrive, we were given awesome service by extremely attentive waiters. Just as described, the food was incredibly delicious and flavorful. Mike was nice enough to switch his twice baked potato-bacon pie for my arugula salad, which was the best part of the meal! For dessert, we opted to split the Warm Almond Cake with Maple-Quince Caramel and Whipped Cream. The cake was insanely good; it had a crunchy top with a soft and moist but dense cake that was intensely flavored with almond and topped with real whipped cream; it literally melted in our mouths. For everything, our bill came to $44, which was more than we had wanted to spend, but a good deal for the quality of food. We left feeling full and satisfied after our first day in California’s wine country.

Day 2 (Saturday, May 16th, 2009)

We woke up late on the second day of our trip, but quickly headed down to the hotel's lobby to eat breakfast in a hurry.

Afterward, we drove to Healdsburg as we had reserved bikes at a company called Wine Country Bikes. I had read that one of the best ways to enjoy and see wine country was to ride through it’s quiet back roads. Even with the great debacle of the bike ride in San Francisco two years earlier, I thought that this would be a fun experience and crossed my fingers that our second time would be a much less stressful event than the first time around.

When we arrived at the store, it was already quite hot (at least 80 degrees) and it wasn’t even yet 10:00, so I knew it was going to be a scorcher that day. We were fitted with the appropriate sized bikes and helmets, and given a map with route ideas, and then headed out. Although the road next to the store was a quiet one, I was still quite nervous, especially given my last experience. I got the hang of it fairly quickly, but was still freaked out if cars rode past me. We decided to have Mike go behind me so that when he would hear the cars, he could warn me, and then help coax me along. The first ½ mile of the ride was slightly stressful as we were on a “busy” road with lots of cars. At one point, I felt myself freaking out and had to get off the bike and walk next to it instead in order to remain calm. Once past this point however, we turned right onto a very quiet back road with very little traffic. We rode down this street for about 2.5 miles, enjoying the mostly-level ride with the occasional uphill or downhill interruption. As we rode along, we were rewarded with cool breezes, chirping birds, and the most gorgeous scenery from several dozen vineyards. It was exactly the way I had envisioned wine country to look like, and I was so happy to be able to enjoy it in a leisurely and relaxing pace.

About one hour in, we turned around as we only wanted to ride for about two hours total. Coming back ended up taking less time than going out as I was much more comfortable on the bike and was able to ride at higher speeds. Even though it was at least 90 degrees out, had we had more time to allot to this activity, I definitely would have used it and probably would have continued on for at least another hour.

After dropping of our bikes, we cooled off for a bit inside the store as we were both ridiculously hot. Luckily, the store actually had a shower available for customers to use, so Mike took advantage of that to clean up.

We then got in the car and headed into the downtown area of Healdsburg as I wanted to stop in at a bakery called Downtown Bakery and Creamery as it had received great reviews from Zagat. We had to be quick inside, so we placed an order to go and bought a sour cherry pastry, chocolate éclair and a shortbread type cookie filled with chocolate ganache. We ate the delectable pastries in the car on the way to Storybook Mountain Vineyard, and they were all quite tasty and delicious.

About 30 minutes after leaving Healdsburg, we reached Storybook Mountain Vineyard, where we had pre-booked a 13:00 tour. The vineyard was perched dramatically into the hillside of the Mayacamas Range with vines covering nearly every square inch. This small family owned and operated winery is well known for their zinfandel. We arrived just as the others in our tour group did and we all waited together for the tour guide to appear. We were surprised to see an older man greet us, who explained that he was the tractor driver, janitor, bill payer, and many other occupations of the winery; obviously, he was the owner. During the one hour tour, he took us into the vineyards and later into the cellars where he explained in great detail the story of his winery and how he and his wife came to own it. He described the process of making wine and the complicated intricacies that are involved with making high quality wines at a smaller winery. It was incredible to listen to him speak as the passion he had for the wines and his vineyard were clearly evident; Mike even later commented that you could see the sparkle in his eye when he proudly described the complexities of flavors in his wines. While inside the impressive and atmospheric caves, we sampled a total of three wines; a zinfandel which was strong but had a smooth and clean taste, and another red and white, of which I can’t remember the names. We had assumed that we would be charged for the tour, but eventually realized that it was free. Many of the other people in the tour bought a bottle or two of wine, so we felt slightly bad when we didn’t, but we didn’t like it well enough to spend $30 or $40 on a bottle. Plus, the real reason why I chosen to come to Storybook was the rave reviews it received for it’s tour; after having experienced the tour myself with the actual winemaker, it was obvious why it was so popular.

Afterward, we drove about ten minutes down the road to The Old Faithful Geyser of California. I had read that this natural geyser was impressive, assuming one hadn’t visited Yellowstone National Park before. I thought it sounded interesting, and a welcome reprieve from wine tasting, so we decided to schedule it into our day. Once we walked into the guest shop and saw the entrance fee of $8 per person, we nearly choked, but went ahead and purchased the tickets anyways. Unfortunately, this proved to be a huge waste of our money as the geyser wasn’t at all impressive and definitely not worth the steep entrance fee. I honestly wasn’t quite sure why the fee was so expensive, as there wasn’t much to see aside from the geyser itself, which appeared to spout off about every five minutes. We did manage to find a few pens of farm animals, including some baby goats and llamas, which Mike enjoyed talking to. Bottom line; don’t go here unless you want to waste some money as it’s really not worth anyone’s time.

Next, we drove to Beringer Vineyards, where we planned to do some wine tasting. The vineyard offered tours throughout the day, but having completed two tours over the last 48 hours, we were more inclined to just taste the wine instead. In addition, the tour cost $20 per person, so we assumed it would be cheaper to split a tasting instead. Unfortunately, this was not the case as the tasting cost a whopping $25 per person! We were shocked, and turned right around! I don’t care how nice their wines might have been; $25 is way too much for just a sampling! In addition, the heat during our visit was so ridiculously intense that it made it difficult to even walk; needless to say, we quickly headed out onto our next stop. High prices aside, we did immensely enjoy the beautiful grounds of Beringer Vineyards, especially a gorgeous house called The Rhine House, which was recently renovated and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was absolutely stunning inside and I would have loved to tour all of the rooms, although I didn’t realize they offered a tour of the house until after our visit!

On the way to our next winery, we stopped in for a quick lunch at a well-known local fast food joint called Taylor’s Automatic Refresher. The restaurant looked very similar to a place that is well-known to those from Seattle; Dick’s Hamburgers. The place was packed so we decided to place an order to go and eat in our car. We ordered a bacon cheeseburger and french fries to split, which came to an astonishing $12! We were shocked at their expensive prices; even a simple milk shake cost a ridiculous $4. As we sat outside for nearly 15 minutes waiting for the food to arrive, we figured that the scorching heat had to have been at least 95 degrees; it felt as though we were swimming through the air as we simply walked from the car to the counter. The heat was sweltering and made doing anything outside completely uncomfortable. Fortunately, the food was good but we both felt it was too expensive for fast-food.

For our last winery stop of the day, we drove to Mumm Napa, which is a winery that produces sparkling wines in Rutherford. We arrived about 45 minutes prior to closing and were greeted with long lines of people inside. We soon realized that they were waiting in line for the tasting room, which was only partially staffed with attendants. After waiting in line for about ten minutes, we decided to leave as we didn’t have the patience to wait any longer; it had been a long and hot day. We did however end up buying a small bottle of Cuvée M sparkling wine for $6, which was quite tasty and sweet.

We then began the long drive back to our hotel in Rohnert Park, first stopping at the nearby Costco, which was located just down the street from our hotel. Since Mike works for Costco, he has a habit of wanting to see Costco’s in other states (or countries!) while we are traveling. Surprisingly, this Costco actually had a garden center, which was awesome and made me quite jealous as it was probably about half the size of a garden center at a place like Lowes or Home Depot!

We eventually made our way back to hotel, where we relaxed for a bit and decided on a place for dinner. We ended up choosing an Italian place in the nearby town of Petaluma called Cucina Paradiso. Petaluma was located only about 15 minutes from Rohnert Park, but when we arrived, we were greeted with a massive street fair and absolutely no where to park. After nearly 15 minutes of driving in circles (as we couldn’t drive onto many of the streets in the central part of town because of the fair) we finally managed to find a free parking garage to park in. Although we arrived late for our 19:30 reservations, the restaurant was able to seat us immediately. For dinner, we ordered Bruschetta Al Pomodoro for an appetizer, I requested the Pappardelle Con Prosciutto Ed Asparagi (Homemade pasta with proscuitto di Parma, asparagus, and diced tomatoes, without the asparagus, of course!), and Mike had the Pollo Rotolato Arrosto (rolled and roasted chicken, stuffed with arugula and pancetta). The bruschetta was excellent and had a great flavor that wasn’t overwhelming on the tomato side (perfect for me!), my pasta was divine; it was light but extremely flavorful without the heavy cream sauce that my lactose intolerant body despises so much, and Mike’s chicken was delicious with a rich and flavorful sauce. For dessert, we ordered spumanti (Italian ice cream). Overall, it was an excellent dinner that was well worth the $40 we spent, even with the slow but attentive service!

We traveled back to hotel, later enjoying our champagne purchase from Mumm Napa.

Day 3 (Sunday, May 17th, 2009)

On our third full day of the trip, we opted not to eat the breakfast provided by the hotel as we were running late that morning and did not want to waste additional time. We finally headed out around 10:00 and drove southwest towards Point Reyes National Seashore. Instead of devoting another full day to wine country, we thought we would make better use of our time by spending a day at the nearby coast. Conveniently enough, the day we had set aside for the coast just happened to be the hottest day of our trip so it was quite as wise decision as the temperatures were predicted to be around 100 in wine country, and about 20 degrees cooler at the coast.

We finally arrived at Point Reyes National Seashore about an hour after leaving our hotel. Our first stop within the park was the Bear Valley Visitor Center where we picked up a brochure and map and also sat to watch a 15 minute informational video about the park, which gave us a better idea of what we wanted to see. After leaving, we drove to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which involved navigating our car through windy rolling hills that appeared to go on forever. As we neared closer to the lighthouse, the landscape changed from a heavily wooded area to vast pastoral fields that were dotted with hundreds of cattle.

When we finally reached
Ladybug at Point Reyes National SeashoreLadybug at Point Reyes National SeashoreLadybug at Point Reyes National Seashore

There were thousands of ladybugs everywhere that day!
the parking lot for the lighthouse, we saw that there was a short walk that was required to complete before actual reaching the lighthouse. Even with the cool ocean breeze, it was still quite warm out and made the walk all the more difficult. Along the walk I of course took many photographs of the beautiful ocean views and of the surrounding countryside, but also paid very close attention to the pretty wild flowers that seemed to grow all along the path. When I looked closely at these flowers, I noticed that they were covered with lots of tiny little lady bugs; when I say lots, I should specify thousands as they were literally everywhere.

When we finally saw our first glimpse of the lighthouse, we saw before us a massive staircase that led down to the buildings. While I knew that going down the stairs would not be a problem, coming back up would be a nightmare, especially with the blazing sun and heat. We made it down the stairs in no time at all, and spent several minutes admiring and appreciating the lighthouse itself and the vantage point from which we were at. We then proceeded to climb back up; or should I say that Mike proceeded to climb all the way back up without stopping, while I huffed and puffed my way up, having to take many breaks, as usual. We were so relieved to finally feel the cool air conditioning in our car that we sat for a moment to relax before we took off again.

Next, we drove back up the same road we had came in on, this time turning left off of the street towards Point Reyes Beach South. I was surprised to feel the large temperature difference from the beach compared to what we had felt at the lighthouse; it had to have been at least 15 degrees cooler thanks to the crashing ocean waves. We walked the long and narrow beach for a while, just simply enjoying the sound of the water as it hit the sand. We also partook in some people watching, especially those who had their dogs with them.

Afterward, we got back in the car and drove just a short distance to Drakes Beach, as I had read that the water here was much calmer than that of the previous beach. As soon as we arrived in the parking lot, it was immediately obvious that the beach was quite popular with locals as the parking lot was filled with hundreds of cars. We got out and walked the beach for a bit, but quickly turned around once we realized that we were walking upon sand that was charred from recent bon fires. Since I was wearing sandals, I was afraid that the dirty sand would turn my feet black so we opted to go back to the car and continue on our way instead.

Next, we headed out of Point Reyes National Seashore and began a very long and curvy drive north to the city of Bodega Bay. By the time we finally reached the city I was nearly car sick from all the hairpin twists and turns. We decided to find a place to eat so that I could get out of the car for a while. We picked a restaurant listed in one of the guidebooks and were fortunate enough to only have to drive just a small distance to reach it. The restaurant was called Sandpiper Restaurant and was described as being a local hangout that served simple but reliable food. As we sat down and read the menu, I was actually impressed by the variety of selection the restaurant had to offer, including many sandwiches, pasta, fish, and a multitude of other dishes. I ended up ordering the risotto with rock shrimp and pancetta while Mike requested the chicken sandwich with a sun dried tomato pesto spread. I still wasn’t feeling well at this point so I also requested a Sprite in hopes that it would make me feel better. Luckily, we were also given some bread so I made sure to eat plenty of that which helped in getting rid of the nauseous feeling. When my risotto arrived, it was obvious that it was not a true risotto made with chicken broth over the stove top; however, it was still quite tasty even with the massive amount of cream they had added to the dish. Mike stated that his burger was delicious and that he really enjoyed the flavor of the tomato pesto.

After finishing our meal we continued the drive north with the goal of reaching Goat Rock State Park. I had read and been told by one of the workers at the bike store in Healdsburg that this particular park was famous for its herd of sea lions that bathe out on the many nearby rocks. Although the park was dramatically gorgeous with it jagged cliffs and rocky seashore, we saw none of the those so called famous sea lions. We both were very disappointed and made the best of the situation by enjoying the views. As we were in the midst of doing this, I somehow managed to trip and fall upon the rocks I was standing on, causing a minor dent in my camera and an even bigger one to my pride. Initially, while the fall hurt quite a bit, I didn’t think I had hurt myself that seriously. However, after we got back into the car and began the long drive to the hotel, I realized that nearly the entire lower half of my body was in extreme pain and was throbbing. We didn’t have any band aid or medicine with us, so I had to make due with the antibacterial hand wipes and Kleenex in an attempt to clean my many wounds. The pain I felt on my legs was excruciating as I am sure that the rocks I fell upon were
Goat Rock State BeachGoat Rock State BeachGoat Rock State Beach

This is the spot where I fell and hurt myself
covered with salt, which only further aggravated the cuts.

During the drive back, Mike had to call the restaurant where we had made a reservation at in order to push back our reservation time as there was no way we were going to make it there by 19:30. Luckily, the restaurant had availability for a 20:00 reservation, so we confirmed ourselves for that time. As the drive progressed the pain in my legs became increasingly worse and I also began to notice that my hand and arm were also throbbing. We made it to the hotel and only had 15 minutes to get ready before our one hour drive to Yountville where the restaurant was located. Needless to say, in my state of pain, this was no easy task as I limped around the room.

We somehow managed to quickly get ready and later reached Bouchon Bistro right before our 20:00 reservation, Bouchon is a French restaurant that has been set up to appear as a Parisian brasserie. The restaurant was created by Thomas Keller, the founder of the famed restaurant, French Laundry, which is located in the same town. Since Bouchon had received positive accolades from both Zagat and from a restaurant blog I frequent, I figured it was a great choice especially considering it served my favorite cuisine in the world. The interior of the restaurant was decorated with true Parisian flair, but in a subdued and unpretentious way. It was a restaurant that anyone could feel comfortable in, as the environment was extremely inviting and welcoming. Once seated, we decided to order French onion soup as our shared appetizer, the roast chicken for myself, the pork cheek for mike, and profiteroles for dessert. The soup itself was actually quite disappointing; it tasted as though the base of the stock had at some point been burned. It was not what we were used to French onion tasting like. Thankfully, however, our entrees were a much different story. My roast chicken was incredibly flavorful and had obviously been slow roasted for quite a long time. Mike stated that his pork dish was very good. Our dessert of profiteroles were somewhere in between on the taste scale. They were neither disappointing nor fantastic; they were just okay. All in all we spent approximately $100, tax and tip included, that night at Bouchon. While the food was decent overall, I would not say that it was worth the cost as we had eaten two other dinner meals during the trip that cost much less but tasted a lot better. We left Bouchon and began the long drive back to the hotel.

Day 4 (Monday, May 18th, 2009)

For our final day in wine country, we had reserved a spot for the 10:00 walking tour of Napa. However, we decided at the last minute to cancel the tour because we were absolutely exhausted and I was still in quite a bit of pain from the fall I had taken the day before. Also, neither of us wanted to spend $20 per person on a tour we weren't super interested in, so we thought it was best not to partake.

Instead, we drove to Yountville and went to Bouchon Bakery, which we had seen the night before while eating at Bouchon Bistro for dinner. After walking into the small bakery, we were inundated with dozens of different pastries to choose from. After heavily weighing our decisions, we purchased a croissant, a slice of coffee cake, and a lemon tart. The cake and tart were absolutely lovely and baked to perfection; the croissant on the other hand, was not at all impressive nor was it as flaky as it should have been.

After leaving the bakery, we continued to drive along, eventually reaching Domaine Chandon, a vineyard in Yountville that is known for sparkling wines, but also produces still reds and whites. Before entering the winery, we sat in the car for a bit, enjoying the pastries. As I was in the process of photographing the baked goods, I began to notice that my camera was having problems taking photos at certain angles. At the time, I just assumed my camera was being difficult and didn't think much of it.

As we entered the winery, I began to realize that something was seriously wrong with the camera as it stopped taking pictures period. When we sat down for the tasting, Mike took a closer look and saw that part of the lens had come ajar the day before when I fell on the rocks. Needless to say, I was very upset, especially considering that we had "lost" our expensive lens a few months prior (that's a whole other story!). After fiddling around with the camera for awhile, we finally realized that the only way to use it was to turn it onto the "manual mode". While I was somewhat relived we had discovered a temporary solution, I was not happy that the lens was damaged and knew that we would be in for a headache trying to get it fixed. As for the wine tasting at Domaine Chandon, we were able to use a two tastings for the price of one coupon as it was a weekday. The three different sparkling wines were okay but I was too concerned about my camera to really pay much attention to anything else. In terms of the exterior and interior of the building, the winery was very modern looking but had gorgeous grounds that we unfortunately didn't have time to wander around in.

Next, we drove to Sonoma as we had a 14:00 tour scheduled at Gundlach Bundschu Winery. As we drove towards the winery, we made a collective decision to cancel the tour as we didn't want to spend the money, especially when I wasn't interested in drinking anymore wine and already had a headache from the few sips I had taken at Domaine Chandon. We felt absolutely terrible for canceling on yet another tour, but at least we gave her a 30 minute warning.

Instead, we walked back through downtown Sonoma as I had wanted to visit the Sonoma State Historic Park. The park is comprised of six sites: the Mission San Francisco Solano, the Presidio of Sonoma or Sonoma Barracks, the Toscano Hotel, the Blue Wing Inn, and La Casa Grande and Lachryma Montissome, the homes of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo who was the Military Commander and Director of Colonization of the Northern Frontier. Most of the buildings were free to enter and even had volunteer guides staffed inside who provided great information on the history of the buildings.

After learning about some of Sonoma's history at the state park, we both commented that we were quite hungry and decided to find a place to eat as we figured it would be our last meal before boarding the plane later that day. We chose to eat lunch at The Girl and the Fig based on the high marks it had received from Zagat and many of the guidebooks. I ordered the Roasted Sonoma County Half Chicken while Mike requested the Top Sirloin Burger, which came with matchstick fries. In addition, I also ordered a side of potato galette as it sound quite good. The interior of the restaurant was very attractive with bright colors and French inspired decor. The food was awesome; Mike's burger was the best either one of us had ever eaten; his matchstick fries were super thin and crispy but full of great potato flavor. My roast chicken was good; the portion was huge (nice change from the smaller sized dishes from Bouchon the night before) and the flavor was good, although it was not the best roast chicken I've ever had. I was slightly disappointed that there wasn't much sauce from the chicken. The galette was quite tasty and had lots of finally minced onions incorporated into the potato mixture, which was very delicious.

After our filling and very satisfying meal, we drove past Sonoma in order to reach to St. Francis Winery. The winery was situated in a gorgeous and stunning location and had a beautiful Tuscan inspired building. Fortunately for us, there were very few people in the tasting room when we arrived, so it was a very comfortable experience. I opted not to buy my own tasting and instead sampled some of Mike's. Mike thought the wines were very good, including the reds and found out that a few of their wines were sold at Costco. After drinking the wine, we went outside and enjoyed the grounds for a bit before leaving.

From St. Francis Winery, we began the drive back to Oakland Airport, but first stopped at the Muir Woods National Monument. As we approached the Bay Area, the beautiful sun gave way to thick clouds, fog, and even a little rain. It was quite shocking to experience such an extreme change in weather in a relatively short period of time and area. From the main highway, we turned off onto a series of smaller roads, many of which were quite windy and made me feel car sick.

When we arrived at the entrance of the park, we were greeted with freezing cold temperatures. As it had been in the 90's back in wine country, we were both wearing shorts so it was quite chilly for us. For some reason, we were not required to pay the entrance fee, which was a nice surprise. Since we only had about 45 minutes, we opted to choose one of the easy trails near the visitor center. While the trees along the trails were large, it was nothing too impressive, especially since we hail from the great Pacific Northwest where large trees are the norm. I could see however how others might be very impressed with the sight of the trees. Towards the end of our short walk, the sun miraculously began to come out from behind the thick layer of fog.

We drove back to Oakland, arriving about one hour before our flight. The flight was completely full (unlike our flight down), so it was not as comfortable as I had hoped it would be. Our plane had to circle Seattle before landing, so it took 30 minutes longer than it should have to land, which was quite irritating at the time.

Overall, we both had a wonderful time on this extended weekend getaway. While I am not (and probably never will be) a huge wine person, Mike discovered on this trip that he actually has quite a large interest in wines, especially now that he knows much more about the entire wine-making process itself. He states that he can now much more fully appreciate the strong and bold flavors in wine, and has a much easier time detecting the different flavors. My personal favorite aspect of the trip was the incredible food that we were fortunate enough to eat. There were never any bad food moments, and I believe this can be attributed to the fact that I did a lot of research prior to leaving, selecting about a dozen restaurants that had received great reviews. I would go back to this region again in a heartbeat just for the food alone as it went far beyond all the expectations I had. In addition to the food, I also enjoyed all of the small towns that we visited, especially those in Sonoma County. I would have loved to have spent several hours wandering through the different stores, but there wasn't enough time on this trip for shopping interludes. Luckily for us, this area is less than a two hour flight away from Seattle, so it is definitely doable as a weekend destination, and I am sure we will return again in the coming years.

Additional photos below
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6th June 2009

Beautiful Photos
You take great photos! What kind of camera do you use? I really enjoy reading your blogs. The incredible photos and story makes me feel like I traveled with you.
15th August 2009

nicely blogged!
I enjoyed this entry very much. I like the point of view you described from the price range and the quality for that price. "Ditto" on the photo taking! Great pics!

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