Sacramento, San Francisco, and Napa – March 4-9, 2009

Our vacation continued with the flight to Sacramento on Wednesday morning, March 4th.  Lauren dropped us off at the airport in Phoenix where we had breakfast before heading through security.  We got out to the gate and found that our plane to Sacramento was the Southwest 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition plane.  The flight on the Boeing 737 “swimsuit model” to Sacramento was uneventful and we arrived right around noon. 

After collecting our bags and getting our rental car, we headed out towards downtown Sacramento.  Andrea’s friend Sarah wasn’t able to meet us for lunch, but recommended Ma Jong’s Asian Diner by the capitol.  After lunch, we walked through Capitol Park and then took a tour of the California State Capitol.  The tour was really interesting. We saw the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office and learned a lot about the history of the building.  After the tour, we headed back to the car and hopped on the freeway to San Francisco.

Upon our arrival in San Francisco, we encountered a couple of frustrations.  The first was that we ended up driving around our hotel twice because of all of the one way streets and the fact that you can’t make a left turn off of Market, leaving us guessing as to which way to go.  Then,when we arrived at the Holiday Inn - Civic Center, what had looked like a great deal at $54/night turned into a really average one when they disclosed that it was $33/day for parking, which wasn’t mentioned on their website or on any of the communications from or the hotel itself.  On top of that, the hotel staff was particularly unhelpful in suggesting restaurants in the area for dinner after we arrived, all of which led to a pretty sour start to our stay in San Francisco.  We ended up eating dinner at a little Middle Eastern restaurant, Gyro King, on the recommendation of a couple of the security guards from the theater across the street before calling it a night.

On the morning of the 5th, we got up and had breakfast at the hotel.  We could see San Francisco City Hall from our hotel room, so we walked the couple of blocks over there to check it out.  We ended up taking the tour, which was very informative.  The dome of San Francisco City Hall is the 5th tallest in the world and the tallest in the Americas, taller than the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.  They also told us how the dome had almost collapsed in the 1989 earthquake so the city had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to take the building apart piece by piece and retrofit it for earthquakes.  This is a tour I would highly recommend if you’re in the area.

After the City Hall tour, we jumped on the historic F-Line streetcar down to the Ferry Building.  The Ferry Building has been renovated into a modern market specializing in local foods and was a lot of fun to walk through.  We got some really good chocolate and a white balsamic vinegar, then we had lunch there.  I had a crab sandwich and Andrea had an eggplant parmesan sandwich, both of which were outstanding.

After lunch, we went and got back on the F-Line over to Pier 39 and wandered around there for a while, stopping to look at the famous sea lions before we went back to Pier 35 for our Alcatraz Night Tour.  The Alcatraz tour was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.  We got on the ferry at 4:30 and headed over to Alcatraz Island.  Once there, we went through the audio tour of the prison.  We ended up in the outside portion of the tour by the lighthouse right at sunset, so we watched the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge before heading back in to finish the tour.  The night tour also included a number of interesting items that aren’t on the regular daytime tour.  They had a program about the one escape attempt that might have been successful and how they did it, and they also did a demonstration of the cell block doors, opening and closing an entire block to give us a feel for the “slammer.”

After Alcatraz, we walked back down to Fisherman’s Wharf to look for dinner and quickly settled on Bistro Boudin at Boudin Sourdough.  The food there was wonderful.  I had their crab feast since it was Dungeness crab season, and Andrea had french onion soup in a sourdough bread bowl.  They also gave us a huge plate of excellent calamari for free because we had to wait over 30 minutes for a table at 8:30 at night.  This was far and away the best meal of the entire trip; so good that we went to Boudin in Sacramento later on the trip.  After dinner we hopped back on the F-Line and went back to the hotel for the night.

On Friday, March 6th, we got up, had breakfast and then walked over to the San Francisco Tourism Office at Market and Powell to get our one day Muni passes, then we went and got onto the bus to go to Alamo Square and the famous Painted Ladies (Full House anyone?).  After that, we went back down and got on the cable cars and took them over to Lombard Street to see the curvy street.  We then got back on the cable car and went down to the end of the line at Beach and Hyde.  We wandered through the visitor center of the San Francisco National Maritime Historical Park before we went and grabbed lunch at Pompei’s Grotto near Fisherman’s Wharf.

After lunch, we went and took a walking tour of the Hyde Street Pier and the ships of the San Francisco National Maritime Historical Park.  After the tour, we went up to Ghirardelli Square and had ice cream sundaes in the Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop.  We then went over and spent quite a bit of time in the Crown & Crumpet Tea Salon where they gave us a number of tea tastings trying to find a tea I would like, without much success.  We then walked back down through the Fisherman’s Wharf area and stopped into Musee Mecanique, which is a huge museum of coin operated games and amusements dating back to the early 1900’s.  I played a couple mechanical baseball games dating back to the 1920’s and we played a bunch of other stuff too.  The museum was a lot of fun. 

After Musee Mecanique, we wandered around Pier 39 a bit, getting our picture frame for the trip before heading back over to the cable cars.  We took the cable car back to Chinatown and had dinner at Gold Mountain in Chinatown.  It was an excellent dinner, although it was way too much food for both of us.  After dinner, we jumped back on the cable car, where I got to ride on the outside step all the way back down to Market and Powell.  We then jumped on the subway back over to Civic Center and our hotel before calling it a night.

On Saturday morning, March 7, we got up and checked out of our hotel.  On our way out of San Francisco, we stopped by the Painted Ladies again because the light was much better and then continued back over to the bay, where we drove through the Crissy Field area, stopping to get out, walk around and take some pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge.  We then jumped back in the car and drove north across the Golden Gate Bridge and headed on our way to Sonoma and Napa.

Our first stop in southern Sonoma was the Jacuzzi Family Winery (yes, it’s the same family as the hot tubs!).  They were a lot of fun, but we decided that more of the wineries that we wanted to visit were in Napa, so we left Sonoma and headed over to the Napa Valley.  Once in Napa, our first stop was at the Benzinger Family Winery.  The guy doing the tasting there was a lot of fun and gave us some good recomendations for lunch.  After Benzinger, we went and had lunch at the Bluegrass Cafe in the Jack London Village.  We then continued on to Imagery Estate Winery, where we had a free tasting from Benzinger.  Although owned and operated by Benzinger, Imagery wasn’t nearly as good. 

We then continued north to check out a couple of my mom’s suggestions, Robert Mondavi and Cakebread Cellars.  We didn’t end up doing a tasting at Mondavi because they wanted $25 per person for the tour and tasting, which we thought was completely insane.  We went across the street to Cakebread Cellars instead.  When they asked if we had an appointment, even though there were only a couple of cars in the lot, we were thinking “Who do you think you are?”  But this was due to a Napa county ordinance that required tasting by appointment only if your tasting room hadn’t been in that location prior to 1993, so they had an appointment for us in 10 minutes.  I’m definitely glad we stayed because they had some of the best wines on the trip.

After Cakebread, we hurried back to Sacramento for Sarah and Liz’s open house party.  We hung out at the party for a couple of hours, catching up with a number of Andrea’s friends from DU before heading back to the hotel and calling it a night.

On Sunday morning, March 8, we got up and headed back to Napa on Sarah and Liz’s recommendation.  Our first stop was another of my mom’s recommendations, Sterling Vineyards.  This one was another stop that was definitely worth the time.  The Greek monastery style winery was at the top of a ridge and you had to take an aerial tram to get up to it.  From the top, the view was stunning.  They also had some of the best wines on the trip. 

After Sterling, we went across the valley to a castle that we had seen from Sterling.  It turned out to be Castello di Amorosa.  Castello di Amorosa is an amazing 121,000 sq. ft. Italian renaissance castle built over 14 years from 1993-2007.  The castle would be completely at home anywhere that we visited in Italy and was a truly amazing piece of architecture.  Their wines were Italian style wines using Napa grapes, and their Gioia, a sangiovese rose, was truly outstanding.

After leaving Castello di Amorosa, our next stop was at Trinchero Family Estates.  This was one of our favorite places to taste because they weren’t busy at all and we were able to chat with the girl working at the tasting counter.  We then moved on and made a quick stop at Beringer Vineyards, home of the famous White Zinfandel, before having a quick lunch at Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in Saint Helena and then driving back to Sacramento for the wedding.

That night was Sarah and Liz’s wedding at the Arden Hills Country Club.  It was a very nice ceremony.  We had no idea what to expect since it was the first time we had been to a wedding with two brides and no grooms, but it was a ceremony that was virtually indistinguishable from any other wedding that I had ever been to.  It was a really good time and we got to catch up with all of Andrea’s friends from DU.

On Monday, March 9th, our last day in California, we got up and checked out of our hotel and then walked a block over to the historic California Governor’s Mansion.  We took the tour there, learning about the house and the last couple of governor’s to have lived there.  We also got to walk through the top floor that is still being renovated, which is not something most tour groups get to do. 

After the Governor’s Mansion, we walked down to the California State Railroad Museum.  The Railroad Museum is located near the terminus of the original Central Pacific Railroad and is definitely worth the stop.  It is probably the best railroad museum that I’ve ever seen.  They have both the first and last steam locomotives ever to run on the Central Pacific as well as the oldest operating steam locomotive in the world.  They also had one of the two “Golden Spikes” created for the joining of the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific at Promontory Point.

After leaving the Railroad Museum, we walked back to our car then drove over to the Boudin SF cafe for lunch and then drove out to the Sacramento airport for our flight back to Denver.  The flight home was about an hour late, but was uneventful, ending a wonderful trip.