Heading North: Marin County and Wine Country
Marin County and Wine Country are the places to visit! A special bonus…you have the opportunity to cross the Golden Gate Bridge so be sure to bring your camera.
For those without a car, you can access parts of Marin County by ferry and I would highly recommend doing this at least in one direction, if not both. You can also find tour buses, rental bikes or simply walk across the famous Golden Gate Bridge but bundle up as the temperatures may drop due to wind and fog. If taking the ferry, you can catch it to either Sausalito or Tiburon from the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The ferry ride gives you plenty of photo opportunities including passing by Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and a great view of the city of San Francisco. Here too, it can get quite chilly but the ferry has an indoors so not to worry!
Sausalito and Tiburon are two of the most picturesque towns in Marin County. Both situated on the water, it is nice to come here for a stroll around town and have lunch overlooking the Bay. It tends to get quite warm here, especially if sunny. As mentioned in my blog on San Francisco, it will be 10-15 degrees warmer here than in the city. Sausalito is the first city you will come to in Marin and tends to be more popular with tourists due to easier accessibility from the Golden Gate. Compared to Tiburon, Sausalito is slightly larger and offers a bit more in the way of shopping and restaurants. With that said, I absolutely love Tiburon because it is less commercial, more private and quiet.
Tiburon borders another residential area, Belvedere. Should you have a car, I would suggest taking a drive around Belvedere as the homes are stunning and overlook the Bay. If you took the ferry in, not to worry! Tiburon has a very cute town and some wonderful restaurants! One of the local favorites is Sam’s, so if you are in Tiburon, this is THE place to eat. The seafood is great but Sam’s is known for their burgers too and you will understand why once you lay your eyes on one. Take a load off by sitting outside on the patio overlooking the yachts in the marina with a distant view of the city of San Francisco, and ENJOY!
If you are watching your weight, don’t worry. I have the perfect workout for you after lunch. Swimming across the Bay back to the city may sound ideal but you may not make it back alive so not highly recommended. 🙂
Another workout option: Love the outdoors? You will like this! Jump into your car and head to Muir Woods and Mt. Tamalpais. NOTE: The drive to access these locations is not for those who are prone to motion sickness. This road is dedicated to the Beatles song “The Long and Winding Road”. However once you arrive, it is well worth it! Muir Woods is considered a “Tree Lover’s Monument”. It is a park that was developed to preserve redwood trees that have been in existence for centuries. It is a beautiful national park and if you love the outdoors, this is an idyllic location for a hike as there are a few different paths you can take. One of the paths will take numerous hours to accomplish but there is the opportunity to walk past the mighty Pacific Ocean to Muir Beach. If you are really lucky, you may be joined on your hike by spotted owls, deer and a multitude of birds.
Another great hiking location is the state park, Mt. Tamalpais (in the same area as Muir Woods). Also filled with redwood groves, Mt. Tam reaches a height of 2571 feet so you will really be able to stretch your legs…and your eyes as the view from this far up is incredible (especially if you are lucky enough to have a clear day!).
Once you are done with your workout, you might be ready to quench your thirst. Why not continue heading north and hit wine country? If you do decide to add in this element after your lunch and hike, I would suggest staying overnight as there is still quite a bit to see, do and drink!
Whether you want to focus on wine tasting, spas, restaurants, art galleries or shopping, wine country offers is all! Having visited Napa Valley (the term used to encompass all of wine country), I would have to say that my favorite areas include Healdsburg and St. Helena. With that said, Sonoma, Oakville, Rutherford and Yountville (home to world-renowned restaurant, French Laundry) are quite charming as well and each is unique. Although I do enjoy a nice wine now and again, my preferences lean more towards shopping and eating.
Healdsburg is essentially a piazza. The town, which consists of galleries, cute boutiques and fun restaurants, frames a village green where residents bring their dogs. Of course, you can find local wine shops offering wine tastings so don’t think you have trekked up here just to have fun! There is wine work to do in any of these towns. 🙂
Sonoma, which is part of California history, has a very similar look, also with a village green in its center.
“In 1823, Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma was established by Father Junipero Serra. It was the only California mission installed after Mexican independence from Spanish rule. Sonoma was first acknowledged by Mexico as a City in 1835.” http://www.sonomacity.org
Sonoma’s modern shops are intertwined with historic structures including Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, Blue Wing Inn, Sonoma Barracks and Toscano Hotel amongst others.
So, if you are history buff interested in the Wild West before it was cowboys (there were Indians of course), then you might enjoy Sonoma. While you are here however, you must try the cheese! Sonoma Jack cheese after all comes from where else but Sonoma! Oh right, and the wineries. You can’t forget those!
St. Helena is another small town which I always enjoy visiting because of its little boutiques. This town has a main street and not a square and as a result, is a bit smaller. It is situated right in the center of Napa Valley so location-wise it is great if you have been busy wine tasting so that you lose your senses and want to splurge at the boutiques.
However, if you are one of those serious wine connoisseurs and are really in wine country to sample and purchase wines, this is the region to be in. If you are looking for wineries and are prepared to go on a scavenger hunt, they dot the entire area. In fact, if you are not careful, you might just accidently walk into a vineyard without realizing it. My suggestion would be to map out what wineries you want to visit ahead of time as many have specific hours/days when they are open. There are certainly plenty of websites to do your research. One I might recommend is http://napavalley.com/ as it not only maps out great wineries to visit but also restaurants and lodging in addition to any events happening.
In the event you have had too much eating, drinking, hiking and shopping, Calistoga is the perfect place for you. Nothing could be better than ending your trip by visiting the spas and mineral baths of this town.
This is the quintessential R&R vacation. You may not want to leave and return to reality but when you do, you will be in perfect form for your send off!
Some suggested wineries to visit:
Chateau St. Jean
Hess Collection (with a great art collection!)
Sterling Vineyards (take tram up the hill for a fantastic view)
Niebaum-Coppola (worth the visit to see the beautiful winery and film collection)