Places to Visit in the Bay Area

Pietra Santa Winery outside of San Juan Bautista

Pietra Santa Winery outside of San Juan Bautista

Several people have asked us where our favorite places are in the Bay Area and our suggestions of places to visit either for themselves or for ideas as to where to take visitors. Recently my daughter Lizzie and her husband Ric visited from England for a couple of weeks. We thought it would be a good idea to write about where they went while they were here to give some ideas to those people.

(Click the photos for larger versions)

They arrived at the tail end of an extremely wet period on a Friday night. The next day rain was forecast and in fact it poured with rain for most of the day. We could have gone into San Jose and paid a visit to The Tech Museum or taken them to the Monterey Bay Aquarium but we decided on a trip to San Juan Bautista. Our first stop there was at Vertigo Coffee at 81 Fourth Street in San Juan, where we all enjoyed a cup of their speciality hot chocolates. If you like hot chocolate you have to try their Marilyn Monroe with coconut or their Charlie Brown with peanut butter. Neither Tom nor I like peanut butter but Lizzie chose the Charlie Brown and we had to taste it just to see what it was like. To me it tasted more like a Snickers Bar, and therefore I liked it, though I will stick to the Marilyn Monroe in future.  Also they have started carrying Bistro Blends Balsamic vinegar which is the best balsamic we have ever tasted and can thoroughly recommend it.

We would have liked to take a walk around the shops in San Juan and the Mission but it was raining too hard. Lizzie and Ric have been here before and know a whole day can be spent here enjoying the sights. Instead we drove into the foothills to visit our favorite winery Pietra Santa. After tasting their selection we bought a couple of bottles of their Signature Chardonnay (my particular favorite), one bottle of Pinot Grigio and one of their Sangiovese.

The next day we took a trip to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The weather was better than the day before bit still a little chilly and overcast. We had breakfast at Bab’s Delta Diner in Suisun City before taking tour favorite route to the old Chinese town of Locke via the ferry to Ryer Island, the ferry to Grand Island and drive across Grand Island to Walnut Grove. In Locke we visited the restored boarding house, the Dai Loy Museum and the old schoolroom followed by a walk around the residential area. Of course, every visit to the area finishes up with a vanilla malt in Mel’s Mocha and Ice Cream in Walnut Grove.

Liz at Crissy Field during their bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito

Liz at Crissy Field during their bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito

On the Monday Lizzie and Ric travelled on the train to San Francisco where they stayed for three nights at the Villa Florence on Powell. They spent one day shopping in Union Square; one day cycling and one day walking. For the cycle adventure they rented bikes from Blazing Saddles and rode around the bay, through Crissy Field, over the Golden Gate Bridge, into Sausalito and back to the city by ferry. The walking tour took in Chinatown, Coit Tower, North Beach, the Marina, the Wave Organ near the  the Golden Gate Yacht Club, Fort Mason, Giradelli Square and the Hyde Street cable car back to Powell.

I picked them up, plus all their shopping bags, from the San Jose Caltrain Station on the Thursday evening. The following day I wasn’t working so the three of us took a trip to the coast. As they have never visited Franklin Point, it was the obvious place to head for. It was an interesting day. First of all the 10 foot high tree stump which marks the beginning of the trail to Franklin Point was gone. We found it lying on the ground and noticed the bottom was rotted through. Then we had to wade through 2 feet of water because part of the trail was flooded. It didn’t end there. We had to take a detour to get to the bench because the tide was too high; Lizzie found a necklace partially buried in the sand; I met up again with the guy Tom and I met on our last visit; when we tried walking back along the beach we got soaked when a wave came in much higher than we expected and finally we had a difficult climb to get back to the trail. It was a wonderful day though and we finished our visit by having lunch in Duartes Tavern in Pescadero.

Liz and Ric admiring the view from the top of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. That's the new Caifornia Academy of Sciences across the way.

Liz and Ric admiring the view from the top of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.

The next day was Saturday so the four of us drove to San Francisco to cover some of the sights that Lizzie and Ric didn’t get to see during the week including Golden Gate Park – where we visited the De Young – and Haight/Ashbury.

On the Sunday we drove up to Healdsburg in the Sonoma Valley. It was a beautiful day and what could be better than a trip to Healdsburg and  to visit a couple of wineries. Lizzie and Ric have never been to Healdsburg so we knew they were in for a treat. The drive up was magnificent and, being early on a Sunday morning, traffic was light. At 8:30 we were driving over the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco sparkled in the sunlight.

We stopped for breakfast at The Lighthouse Cafe in Sausalito where we had a short wait but it was pleasant standing outside in the sunshine and playing with a puppy which was tied to a lamp post a table became available. Our table was in the window so we enjoyed the view. Afterwards, on our way back to 101, we stopped to look at the houseboats juste to the north of Sausalito.

The drive up to Healdsburg, though pleasant, was not exciting. In Healdsburg it was nice to get out of the car and stretch our legs. I love strolling around the cute little town, with its shady tree lined square, irresistible boutiquey shops and inviting restaurants. Lizzie bought a bag, Tom bought a birthday card for his grandson and I pounced on an old sign for my son.

The vineyard outside of Johnson's Alexander Valley Wines. Kind of a funky laid back winery with lucious Zinfandels.

The vineyard outside of Johnson's Alexander Valley Wines. Kind of a funky laid back winery with lucious Zinfandels.

It was time to head for the wineries. First we drove to Alexander Valley and our favorite winery – Johnson’s Alexander Valley Wines at 8333 Highway 128. Johnson’s is a small, family run winery set some way back from the road. We were greeted by Comet, a yellow lab who led us to the tasting room. In his mouth he carried an extremely well chewed tennis ball which he dropped in front of us and looked up at Ric with imploring eyes. Ric responded by kicking the ball so Comet could chase after it. We were told Comet would happily play that game all day long. Leaving Ric to amuse the dog, we retired into the cool tasting room to sample the wines. There were only three to sample and they were all reds.  We ended buying two bottle of their late harvest Zinfandel before heading off to the next winery.  If you like your wineries high class and a bit over the top then Johnson’s isn’t the place for you. Some of the reviews in Yelp are pretty bad but we think those reviewers just don’t get it. This is a laid back winery down a dirt road through a vineyard with some great Zinfandels.  Our next stop was the Hop Kiln in Dry Creek Valley, another favorite or ours. Since our last visit they have redesigned the tasting room with more space for displaying their mustards, sauces, and dips which were produced locally. As there was no space at the counters to taste any wines, we sampled the other goods for sale and bought a jar of their Sweet Garlic Mustard. Later we drifted over to taste the wine when a gap appeared and came away with two bottles pf their Pinot Noir. To round off our visit, we walked to the lake and sat at one of the picnic benches where we contemplated the beautiful view and enjoyed the warmth of the sun before heading back home.

There were only a couple of days left of Lizzie and Ric’s vacation and they spent it getting around our neighborhood by walking and shopping. All to soon it was time to take them back to the airport for their flight home and it was sad waving them off. Next time they visit there will be a host of new places for them to discover.

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