Even though wine country is only about an hour away from San Francisco, it totally feels like a different world. Rolling hills, winding roads, and expansive, breathtaking views, the pace is much more relaxed.
It's the perfect spot to take a short weekend getaway.
Labor Day is an especially fun weekend to go for a number of reasons. First of all, there's a ton of stuff going on. It's one of the most popular (if not the most popular) weekend in wine country. There are wine festivals, special dinners, and all sorts of different wine tours.
Secondly, the weather is fantastic during that time. We did all sorts of outdoor activities, which was a great way to enjoy the gorgeous scenery firsthand.
Finally, you get to see (and maybe taste!) grapes growing on the vines. I've been to Napa Valley three times already, but always in the spring. I had never in my life seen those juicy grapes growing on the vine.
It was so cool.
And I was surprised how sweet the grapes tasted.
This trip mostly focuses on Sonoma Valley (where I'd never visited before), but has tiny bits of Napa Valley and also San Francisco.
Here's a preview of where we went, each location to be discussed in much fuller detail in future posts!
Bryan had already spent close to a week in San Francisco and Silicon Valley for work. In fact, it was originally his idea for us to spend our 12th (!) wedding anniversary in wine country, since he'd be out there already anyway.
Before we hit the road, we had to load up on coffee. What better place than Blue Bottle, one of San Francisco's most famous coffee shops (and one that always has a super long line). This time we enjoyed something unique and special - coffee made with siphon technology from Japan. My chemist friends - doesn't that look just like a round bottom flask and a Buchner funnel?
We headed out of San Francisco early in the morning in order to beat the traffic, since we had heard the Bay Bridge was closed that weekend.
The last time we were in Napa Valley Bryan said, "the scenery is so beautiful here, I'm totally going to rent a convertible the next time I come."
Thankfully the weather was pretty warm . . . most of the time.
I know this was a Sonoma Valley focused trip, but there was just one thing we had to try in Napa.
We took quite a long detour to hit Thomas Keller's famous fried chicken stand, which is only open during the summer months. It was never open when I came in April in years past, though Ad Hoc sans fried chicken was not exactly a bad consolation prize.
We then visited Pride Mountain Vineyard, a beautiful winery in both Sonoma and Napa Valley. You can literally stand with one foot in one county, and one foot in another. The stories they tell are fascinating, and their tour was fun. More importantly, of course, their wines are excellent.
For dinner, we dined at a popular local favorite in Sonoma Square serving things like pork belly over compressed watermelon and some kick-ass Parmesan truffle fries.
The next day, we drove way north (all the way to Healdsburg, still part of Sonoma County) to spend the afternoon at this lovely annual festival called Sonoma County Wine Weekend.
There was excellent representation from all over Sonoma County, including Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, and many, many more. Over two hundred wineries were present pouring wines. We tasted many fantastic wines as well as some great food.
San Francisco is known for having a bunch of micro climates: you can drive ten minutes and see completely different weather from one location to the next. It turns out that Sonoma is quite similar.
After leaving the wine festival, where I was perfectly comfortable in my sleeveless dress, we decided to check out the Sonoma coast. Within minutes, we went from sunny forests . . .
to seemingly hurricane-like conditions!
OK, I exaggerate slightly, but it was really cold! I had to put on my jacket and hood because Bryan insisted on keeping the convertible hood down.
We were so full from all the food we ate at the wine festival that afternoon, we had to skip dinner.
Yes I know, very sad.
The next morning we checked out an awesome local bakery in Sonoma Square, where we tried all sorts of fun stuff including their signature "Beehive Cake", which has been featured on Rachel Ray's $40 a Day.
The weather was fantastic, so we picked up bikes at a bike rental place right in Sonoma Square and headed out on a bike tour of local vineyards.
There are some really nice bike paths that lead to a number of wineries! We stopped at all of them and tasted wines at several.
It's a beautiful path, and there are even places where you can stop and have a semi-private picnic while overlooking rows and rows of grape vines. We enjoyed some lovely sandwiches while soaking in the gorgeous scenery.
After a quick olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting (where we couldn't help but buy several bottles of their top quality stuff), we headed out to the tasting room at Kamen Winery in Sonoma Square. We wanted to go there because we had tried one of their wines at the festival and loved it.
It turned out that the owner, Robert Kamen (Hollywood screenwriter of movies like The Karate Kid, Taken, and The Fifth Element), was actually pouring in the shop that night.
On a whim, he invited us on a personal tour of his vineyard.
. . . . during sunset.
No need for much words - it was stunning and simply breathtaking.
More details to come on that surreal yet amazing excursion, which includes an ATV tour and a few tastes from things growing in his garden and vineyard!
After an exhilarating tour, we headed back into Sonoma Square for dinner at The Girl & the Fig.
The food was excellent and we had a really nice and relaxing evening.
And then it was over.
The trip seemed way too short, but it was time to get back to reality.
Early, early on Monday morning - five hours before our flight - we left Sonoma Valley to head back to San Francisco so we could catch our plane back to Boston.
We marveled at God's creation from the plane.
It was most certainly an unforgettable 12th anniversary.
Disclaimer - this trip was organized by the Sonoma County Visitor's Bureau. Some of the activities and meals shown above were paid for by the owners of the establishments.
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