Jan 21, 2012

I left my heart a little North of San Francisco


Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to go on vacation with my wife to San Francisco and Napa Valley and let me tell you, those are the first vacations I take in which I’m able to fully disconnect from the world at large… but it wasn’t because of San Francisco.

Ok here’s my two cents for whatever it’s worth… (probably less than two cents, but whatever), San Francisco is a fantastic place to visit and most everywhere you look is picture worthy. I swear it’s that pretty. Rolling hills, cable cars… hell, the whole city is interesting in its approach… but I don’t think I’d ever live there for three main reasons:

1. It didn’t feel like a practical city to get around in for my taste. I know it may sound like a dick thing to say, but at least for me, moving around in a city like NYC is pretty easy in comparison. The subway rarely let me down during my adventures there. In SF, the transportation feels like it takes a lot of getting used to and though you can eventually get the hang of it, it isn’t spot on flawless… a lot of it feels like you wing it depending on what options are available and contrary to most other places I’ve visited or lived in, the bus system was the most efficient mode of transportation for me. I’m sure I could find short cuts up the wazoo, but it’s not like you can walk anywhere since the relationship between gravity, my calves and 38 degree incline hills wasn’t always awesome. Again, I’m sure I could get used to it and that I could even get magnificently tight buns, but I don’t see myself saying “epic, let’s walk it”. It’s a city that demands to be studied to avoid congested routes, tourist traps and surprisingly for me, dick people. I was quite surprised at the dickishness of some people, but hey, more on that later.

2. The amount of homeless people in the city really left an impression on me. I was there 4 days and I’d dare to say I saw between 200 and 300 bums between SF and Sausalito. It was pretty shocking to me because it wasn’t that they were in areas that you’d say, yeah that place is frequented by homeless people… it’s that they were everywhere. Fisherman’s Wharf, the Financial District, Union Square, at the bottom of Coit Tower, in front of Sak’s and Fifth… you name it and there was company.

3. Reality kicked in. Truth be told, if you’re used to the shitty airports I frequent, when you arrive in the SF airport you go wtf is this Utopia? Seriously, there is NO other airport I’d rather spend a layover in than San Francisco’s… period. The thing is that the city didn’t live up to the hype. I was expecting super gay people and green crusaders on the rampage with a Captain Planet tattoo etched onto their arms… Maybe I went to the wrong places, but SF didn’t feel that green to me… actually, it didn’t feel that clean either. And gay people? I felt jipped because I had prepared myself to be bombarded with a tsunami of gayness only to find out that it was normal for what I’m used to. True, I saw some flamboyant gays, but I NEVER felt as if I was fresh meat or anything. I guess the main thing was that people weren’t a third of how laid back I’d imagined them being. People were in a rush, they drive awful, and though me and my wife were able to find some extremely friendly people along the way, it wasn’t the norm. Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe a person too many told me that I wouldn’t want to go back home or maybe it’s just that SF is a fantastic place to visit, but not necessarily one I’d want to live in.

Highlights in San Francisco included the food, the Japanese Tea Garden, the California Academy of Sciences, Alcatraz and Amoeba Music. The food was wonderful and I’ll write more about the places that blew me away later.

The Japanese Tea Garden was absolutely beautiful. We spent close to two hours there, drank some tea and really relaxed the way I wanted to do throughout the entire trip. It was peaceful, serene and super lovely.

The museum visit was impromptu and one of the highlights of the trip because it wasn’t planned and was very gratifying on so many levels. In 31 years, I’d never gone to a Planetarium and the show there was awesome. The Green Rooftop and the exhibits were also super highlights and the aquarium was extremely noteworthy. When we go back, we’ll go to the Aquarium on the Wharf, but at least this one was great. Side note: one of the friendliest people we met on the trip was actually a guy who worked at a gift shop in the aquarium area. You could tell he was cooped up and was super friendly when we visited the shop and were there for more than 30 seconds. Also, there was an older man with fascinating info just walking around, so if you’re there and you happen to see an old man in the aquarium handing out nuggets of information, feel free to ask him anything marine related. It was ridiculous how much he knew and for parents, he was great with kids. I mention those two people because they embodied what I expected from most people and really people who love their job; something pretty consistent with most people who worked at the museum.

Then there was Alcatraz and if you go, take the earliest tour possible and pay for the audio tour. It’s worth it on both counts, the audio tour has tons of information and the earlier you go, the less farty people you’ll encounter… not exaggerating, it seems we had a farty people magnet and the later it got, the more crowded it was. Lucky for us, the day we went, it was overcast but not foggy so it added to the experience, and Alcatraz was surprisingly light in atmosphere in most areas. Solitary and some cells were a bit creepy but for the most part, the air wasn’t as thick as I imagined it’d be. Maybe enough people have gone to dissipate the negative energies or something but it’s a cool tour.

Then there was Amoeba Music… a place which merits its own post.

Outside of San Fran there was Downtown Napa and Napa Valley. The definite highlights of the trip centered just north of Downtown Napa… why do I make this distinction? Because people think you arrive in Napa and that everything is rustic, countryside and wonderful… after the 5th car dealer and second Wal-Mart on the main strip, again, reality set in for me and my wife and we were forced to adjust expectations… which was awesome because everything else EXCEEDED expectations.

What most people call plain ole Napa is really Napa Valley and if you want to relax, it is a super treat. We went to 5 vineyards, every experience was special in its own way and the relax-o-meter was going off the Richter. I loved the morning fog, the delicious breakfasts, the wonderful meals and the excellent wine but more than anything, I loved how it didn’t matter if I had a watch on or not. We had to keep our appointments to most vineyards and trust me, a paying tour in Napa is worth it. We went to one free tour in Sonoma and it blew. To get the shitty vineyard out of the way, google Jacuzzi Vineyards, browse briefly then come back to the next paragraph.

Jacuzzi’s wine is shit, the place is a big Disney Store and the vineyards out back were the shittiest ones we saw the entire trip. The tasting is free and that should be an indicator of what you’re going to get. We saw drunk people, to be expected, and we sampled some overpriced shit wine. The service in the wine side was God awful and I would have gladly pissed in a cup to offer them a better vintage. But wait a minute, why did I just write the wine side. Well this store complex is a two parter. On the left side there’s the shit wine, some culinary stuff and a funky atmosphere. If you go out back, you’ll be treated to faux everything. I’m telling you everything was fake, stone was fake, fountain was busted, vineyards were torn to shit and everything was just fake and commercialized to the point where I expected some guy dressed in a Super Mario outfit to jump out of a pipe and scream, “It’s a me!!! JACUZZI!!!” For some reason we swung by the Olive Press… the right side of the store… and people there were not only friendly and knowledgeable, but actually enjoyed being there. So if you want olive oil or vinegar, that’s a place to go, otherwise. AVOID!

Now that we got that shit stain of a vineyard out of the way, how about some positive experiences. Ok so if you want really good wine, go to Joseph Phelps. It was the best wine we had throughout the trip though the experience was a bit detached since it wasn’t a tour. But the estate is just gorgeous. Our tasting took like 90 minutes and it was just a peaceful beautiful morning hang out session where we had breakfast in a glass and some friendly advice from one of the local servers called Pilar. Trust me, you want good wine? Go to JP. One thing though, there are two tastings. There are two differences between both options. One is $30 and the other is that you get to try to extra wines. If you want to have a sample of wine that goes for over $200 a bottle, by all means try it, because the Baccus and the 2006 Insignia they had are ridiculously good (though I don’t think I’d ever buy a $200 wine). But seriously, you can live without those two wines and save $30. To sum things up, the place is pristine, looks like it came from a scene of What Dreams May Come and has some of the best wine in California.

Second up on the list, Cakebread Cellars. It’s pretty simple, if you like white wine, you should go to Cakebread. This informative tour tells you some interesting details about the winemaking process. They show you the facilities, let you in on how they get such damn fine Chardonnay and really show that they’re proud of where they work at. When we go back, we’ll definitely return for the food and wine pairing because the place has one of the best organic gardens in Napa and two house chefs specifically for these tastings since they don’t have a restaurant. The wine is great and if you happen to get Bob on your tour, send him my regards because he was one of the best guides we had during the entire trip and one of the more knowledgeable.

Third on the list is our second favorite spot on the trip: Schramsburg Vineyards. Why is it so special? Well because it focuses on sparkling wines and because the tour takes you into the cave system they use to store all their wines, sparkling or otherwise. The experience here was just awesome and the tasting was surprisingly delicious. Let’s put it this way, my wife isn’t that much into champagne and she loved it enough to buy a bottle. The cave system you get to see is an iota of the whole thing and it’s quite an interesting experience. It’s cold, musty, a bit gothic and you get some awesome information on the differences between the wine making and sparkling wine making processes.

Lastly… the highlight of the trip… Terra Valentine Vineyards… wayyyy up in Calistoga, Terra Valentine offers an offroad tour that left us breathless because I was able to see one of the most amazing views in my life. Our tasting was on the veranda of an estate house that is the closest thing I’ve ever come I contact with that I could call a dream house. Our guide was Coben and the tour was singlehandedly the highlight of our trip. The wine is very good (I recommend the Marriage, Amore and Wurthill reds). It was done as a food pairing with cheeses, almonds and chocolate. I got to taste grapes off the vine and taste and feel the difference between cabernet and merlot fruits and I can’t speak highly enough of the place. Some of the friendliest people during the entire trip and a place me and my wife are doing our best to tell the most amount of people possible for the quality tour and exceptional wines they offer. Simply put, if you’re going to pay for one tour, go to this one though get ready, the adventure to get to the winery is a hell of a trek and you’ll believe you’re lost before you get there. Get a GPS, and don’t miss out.

As for food… wow, if it weren’t for the hills in SF I would have gained like 8 pounds. But that’s another kilometric post. For now, I leave you with that tidbit of my experience to share a little of one of the definite highlights of 2011 and my life. Opinions, comments and questions are always welcome. So by all means, tell me I’m a douche for not falling in love with San Fran, or ask me how it went.

Regardless, be it with a great brew, some tasty wine or your spirit of choice,



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...