California 2009

July 17th – July 27th, 2009.

Our fourth trip to San Francisco, my fifth to California.

Friday July 17th: A much needed vacation to recharge the batteries during what has been in many respects a very tough year, an Annus horribilis. We fly through Toronto and arrive in San Francisco in the early afternoon. The balance of the day is spent camera-free, taking it real easy around the wharf and Ghirardelli Square. Supper is at our favourite Italian restaurant, Pane e Vino on Union Street, a 10 minute walk from the Comfort Inn by the Bay (Lombard and Van Ness) – where we stayed on our 2007 trip.

Saturday July 18th: The morning is spent at the SF Zoo where the main attraction is the new baby gorilla. I have my 15 minutes of fame when a local television station films me for the evening news – photographing the animals, what else? We get to view the segment later that evening. In the afternoon we do Pier 39 – it is jammed packed with Europeans, many Germans it seems, and other tourists.

Supper is in Little Italy (North Beach) at the Michelangelo Ristorante & Caffe. We had dined very well there the last trip, waited on by the owner and his son. This time we are unfortunately rushed by an unfriendly waiter. Near the end of our meal, instead of asking us if we wanted dessert, he just says “is that it?” meaning “can you please leave now so we can use your table”. Well, we won’t be returning there I guess. Have to admit the Prosciutto and Melon was amazing.

Sunday July 19th: Another camera-free day. We walk through Chinatown where at one of the shops we are offered a genuine Murano vase for only $200, marked down from $6,400 – we pass on this opportunity of course, let’s leave it for another sucker. Then we continue past Union Square, and down Market Street to Nordstrom. Lunch is at Boudin’s in the Macy’s food court. The “Tender Roast Beef” sandwich is awesome, wonderfully fresh ingredients on sour dough bread, simple yet so satisfying.

Later it’s back to the wharf where there is free admission to all the historical ships. We visit the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha, the 1907 steam tug Hercules, and the 1890 steam ferryboat Eureka. The Eureka turns out to be very cool – loaded with antique cars and trucks – too bad I didn’t have my camera! We stop for ice cream waffle bowls at Ghirardelli Square and in the evening we dine again at Pane e Vino – grilled chicken with cheesecake to finish the day.

Monday July 20th: It’s the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing and we head out for wine country. It’s a relatively short distance between SF and Napa but the thermometer shoots up from about 65F (18C) in San Francisco to 78F (25C) in Napa. Just a little further north, near Calistoga, it actually hits 92F (33C) – quite a temperature change. In Calistoga we reserve a tour of the Castello di Amorosa, Castle and Winery, for tomorrow. We drive back about 10 minutes South and do a tour of the Beringer Winery. Supper is at the Vino Bello (Meritage Resort) – Siena Restaurant. We have brought two bottles of Beringer red wine back for consumption during our trip.

Tuesday July 21st: We visit the charming Castello di Amorosa winery which is apparently featured in the Adam Sandler movie Bedtime Stories. This is a must see attraction if you’re doing the Napa region. The castle winery does not sell any of its wine to retailers or restaurants. We pick up two bottles of Sangiovese wine to bring back to Montreal. Robert Redford, a Napa resident, would be introducing a concert at the castle later that evening. The next stop is Stirling Wines – a scenic tramway takes you way up high to the winery, but that’s about it – the tours were “self-guided”, very disappointing.

Wednesday July 22nd: We drive about 150 miles South from Napa to Marina on the Monterey Peninsula to stay on the ocean at the Sanctuary Beach Resort, 3295 Dunes Drive, Marina. An interesting place where you park your car and then use a golf cart to get to your cabin by the beach. We had reserved and paid a premium for an Ocean View room but the view, as it turned out, was obstructed by a large sand dune. It didn’t really matter because we were out most of the day and the weather was overcast. We spend the day at Cannery Row in Monterey and browse the shops on Ocean Avenue in Carmel by the Sea. Beautiful Carmel Beach is also on the agenda. Good day but the weather was overcast, dull, and cool.

Thursday July 23rd: A full day with the scenic 17 mile drive, the obligatory stop at Pebble Beach, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and a 10 mile drive through the Carmel Valley where surprisingly the sun was out and the temperature shot up about 10 degrees F. Supper is at Paradiso, Cannery Row – nothing fancy but the food was very good and we sat overlooking the Monterey Bay. Friday July 24th: Back to San Francisco with a stop at the beautiful Pigeon Point Lighthouse. It was our first time at Pigeon Point and it was definitely worth it. A bit later we stop at Pescadero Beach to admire the Pacific Ocean. The afternoon is spent in SF. We do the wharf, the painted ladies at Alamo Square, and also the famous intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets where the hippy movement of the 60s began. We are too tired to experiment and too tired to take the bus into North Beach (Little Italy) so supper is back at Pane e Vino.

Saturday July 25th: An easy going day with walks through Chinatown and lunch at Macy’s Boudin. We drive to Pacifica and watch the local fishermen – hundreds of them on the wharf. The poverty here is striking and in stark contrast with the more privileged areas of the Bay Area. Supper is at the retro looking Lori’s Diner (Ghiradelli Square). I have the Lori’s burger, and my better half has the fish and chips, which she said was good but way too greasy. We pick up chocolates to bring home, caramel, mint, and plain.

Sunday July 26th: The day of the SF Marathon we walk the Golden Gate from the North Vista to the South entrance and back again. At times we are in thick fog which adds to the ambience and overall experience. It takes about an hour for the round trip and I highly recommend it. We then have a quick bite in Sausalito which is packed with people, we end up eating in the car because parking is so hard to find. Next, a drive back to the Presidio and East Beach in SF where we watch the dogs swim and admire the Golden Gate from a different vista. Later in the afternoon we stroll Union Square where there is an art exhibition. The day ends with us returning our rental car and enjoying one final supper at the excellent Pane e Vino.

Monday July 27th: We return to Montreal through Toronto. At the SF Airport we go through a puffer machine for the very first time, a strange sensation to say the least. When a passenger steps inside the puff portal, the machine sends sharp bursts of air to dislodge particles from the body, hair and clothing, and analyzes them for microscopic traces of explosives. The flight is delayed over an hour and 20 minutes on the ground because the plane has a defective fire extinguisher. It had to be purchased from United Airlines and then it took at least half an hour just to fill out the paperwork – but we still make our connecting flight, in the nick of time. I was very tempted to tell Air Canada to let me off the stupid plane so I could go buy an extinguisher at Walmart. It would have saved us an hour.

And so another great vacation ends, 10 days was just right.