We had a taste of the popular California wine region on our first trip to San Francisco when my brother moved out there. Our day trip exploring Napa and Sonoma barely counts as scratching the surface of this wine region. We knew we needed to return so on our next trip out west, we took half the trip and focused on Napa before joining my brother to explore new areas of San Francisco.
After a very early flight, we rented a car and immediately started heading north to Napa. It was a beautiful drive despite the traffic and arrived to the valley in under two hours. It was still to early to check into our Airbnb (this listing is no longer available) so we went straight to exploration.
Food was our number one priority. While we would have loved to experience French Laundry (hopefully one day in the future!), Thomas Keller has a more affordable option in Yountville called Ad Hoc. While we also would have been fortunate to experience this dining location, it was not open for lunch. Luckily, there is an even more affordable option behind Ad Hoc known as Addendum. This is what dreams are made of.
Serving “boxed lunches to-go” as advertised is no where close to the experience you get dining here. Surrounded by picnic tables, a shed in the back has a daily menu ranging from fried chicken, pulled pork, and rotating sides. Just hours off the plane and we made it to heaven.
We ordered fried chicken, macaroni salad, and cornbread- Kevin also got an iced tea-lemonade drink. Sitting at a picnic table in the beautiful California sun eating the absolute best fried chicken we have ever had (to date – 2019 and still unmatched!).
If you are visiting this area, you must stop by Addendum and treat yourself to the best boxed lunch. Be mindful it is opened seasonally and there are limited hours, make sure to check before you make plans on visiting.
Fueled for our afternoon of wine tasting, we made our way to our first stop, Monticello Vineyard. The property is beautiful and we enjoyed wandering around the landscaping before we even made it into the tasting room. We tasted five wines and enjoyed learning the historical ties with Jefferson.
Just driving around here was unreal. It was hard to imagine seeing this scenery everyday!
The next tasting was at Clos du Val where we tasted four wines. Kevin really enjoyed the Petit Verdot. We loved the exterior of the tasting room- impressed how well the grounds are manicured.
We looped back to Yountville for a different style of tasting at the Beau Vigne Tasting Room before taking a tasting break.
Wanting to freshen up before dinner, we stopped back at our Airbnb. This turned into a nap that then turned into forgetting to set an alarm that then turned into oversleeping past our reservation! Awaking in a flurry, mild panic set in that we were not get fed tonight.
Despite sneaking in just under closing time, Carpe Diem Wine Bar was awesome enough to accommodate us for dinner. Upon sitting, we were definitely wishing we have more time to enjoy the offerings of this wine bar.
Glancing quickly at the menu, I ordered the roasted wild mushroom flatbread with cave-aged gruyere, white ruffle oil, fine herbs, garlic and arugula.
Kevin ordered the ostrich burger with triple cream brie, cherry Cabernet compote on a toasted brioche bun served with truffle fries.
Both our meals were delicious and we were so happy to have made it here- napping can be very dangerous! It was clear with the time change and very early flight, we hit the ground running all day and we paid for it.
Our vision of Napa before arriving was a vibrant nightlife full of wine bars and patrons indulging. When we left Carpe Diem, downtown Napa was surprisingly quite. Our car was one of the last parked so even though we had a sense of regenerated energy from napping to explore, seeing no other option we went back to sleep.
Excited for another day exploring this beautiful valley. We made our way back through downtown Napa for a well rated breakfast spot. Soscol Cafe is the definition of a hole in the wall serving simple but amazing diner food. From the moment we sat down, we knew we were in for a great meal. I order an egg platter and Kevin ordered an egg sandwich.
I can’t say what made these so special- perhaps good ole diner grease- but we were very happy to find Soscol Cafe. (UPDATE: I am sad to report that Soscol Cafe is closed)
Off to our wine stops for the day. We had a reserved tasting Duckhorn Vineyards for their first slot of the day. Driving through the property along the winding roads through vines, it was hard not to be wowed. And then we pulled up to the tasting room.
Seafoam blue paint, white trim and wrap around porch- straight out of a prairie- so elegant! We were seated at a table on the outside deck overlooking the vines.
The tasting included six wines including their famous Merlot and Cabernet. It was a very structured tasting environment that varied from our previous experiences. The wines were excellent as was the relaxing ambiance. We really enjoyed the tasting here!
In searching for the next vineyard, it was hard not to get a bit discouraged at the tasting costs. Pro tip! When visiting Napa and Sonoma Valley look at the tasting costs ahead of time when planning your trip. It is very easy for the cost to get out of hand. While many tastings can be found under $30, it was not uncommon to find tastings for $50 or more. This is an easy way to blow a trip budget, especially if not keeping track. There is certainly a balance of quality and cost as well as favorites and must try wines- do what works for your trip.
After spending time searching, we found the most affordable tasting in Napa… free! A bit skeptical but optimistic, we drove over to Heitz Cellar. A quiet tasting room met with a smile, our excitement grew. Heitz produced one of the Cabernet wines in the Judgement of Paris that helped put California on the global wine market in the 1970’s. How were some wineries charging $50 a tasting but here was free for highly acclaimed wine?
The tasting offered four wines to try. In between pours, we wandered out onto the deck that overlooked the many acres of vines.
The server was extremely knowledgeable and took time to answer our questions in expanding our wine skills. He was even generous enough to pour a vertical tasting of a single vineyard Cabernet! The bottles had be opened previously but it was still a great treat. This was definitely one of our favorite tastings of this trip!
At a co-worker’s recommendation, our final tasting was at Chimney Rock Winery for five wine sampling. The tasting room was quite busy- definitely the most crowded room we encountered. A popular producer along the Silverado Trail!
It was time to make our way to San Francisco to meet up with my brother and continue the second have of our trip. We stopped on our way for dinner at Il Posto Trattoria ordering a ceasar salad, pizza, and gnocchi.
Another full and exhausting day! We were so happy with our time exploring Napa.
Early bed means early morning rise as we ventured out into the city.
The first stop was at the Walt Disney Family Museum (thanks Connecting with Walt Podcast!). With no expectations going in, as Disney fans we were hoping for something special. We were blown away by the massive amount of material in this museum! A visit can easily consume all day analyzing every detail displayed.
We spent several hours admiring the loads of photos, documents, drawings, and clips that outline the life of Walt, the creation of Mickey Mouse, and the development of the parks. This museum is not just for Disney fans but anyone interested in art and animation, pop culture, theme parks, and the impact Walt Disney had on history.
When we walked out of the museum towards the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre we noticed a small plane spiraling to the ground. Immediately concerned and wonder why the other bystanders where not horrified, the plane turned out of the stall and the crowd responded with thunderous applause.
We walked down to the marina to discover the Fleet Week Air Show was in full swing. How lucky was that! We found a spot on the water with a view of the boats docked in the marina and the Golden Gate Bridge in the backdrop watching the various routines of the different planes, including Blue Angels.
Hunger began to creep in and we had Swan Oyster Depot on our mind as it was a Bourdain favorite in the area. To our disappointment, it was closed. Since we were still in a seafood mood, we found Bar Crudo for our oyster kick. We ordered a dozen oysters, seafood chowder, and fish tacos with a few glasses of wine- all were delicious and hit the spot.
Taking advantage of the beautiful day, we walked through Alamo Square Park, gushing over the picturesque scenes out of Full House, admiring those Painted Ladies.
Our evening snack spot was at a basement sushi bar, Takara Sushi. We were fortunate enough to only have a 20 minute wait for a spot at the bar where we ordered several rolls and sake- delicious!
For a proper birthday celebration, we headed to another Bourdain special at Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar and boy, was it a spectacle. Tonga Room is located inside the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel where you will find a host stand with a line forming to get in. Our wait was no more than 15 minutes before we were permitted entry and a transformation occurred sending us into a tropical getaway.
The middle of the huge room was a pool with a band floating in the middle. The bar area was the deck of a ship where a dance floor was situated overlooking the pool. Occasionally, a hurricane simulation sent lighting, thunder, high winds, and rain through the room. Oh, and delicious Polynesian inspired drinks- zombie skull anyone? We were beaming with happiness that we made time to visit this amazing spot! Thanks for another amazing find, Bourdain!
Unable to resist a city’s science museum, after breakfast we headed to Embarcadero for the Exploratorium. While it was crowded, the museum was dense with activities and material to enjoy.
Our main draw to attending was the Tactile Dome. Having never heard of a tactile dome, it is a room or in this case a multi-level maze in complete darkness causing heightened reliance on the other senses. We were all very excited to try it and as we were debriefed and sent in the exhibit, panic erupted. I hate total darkness so I am not sure why I what so excited to try this- my eyes scoured craving the dimmest light to help see. Relaxing my breathing, closing my eyes and establishing my “cool”, I noticed having my eyes closed made it much easier to process my environment. This fake out for my head turned the scary situation into a fun experience. Crawling on all fours, your hands became your eyes as each room was made of a different material. There were even more advanced tactile clues we were challenged with- there were several plates with words or numbers that we were tasked to figure out. It ended up being a really great experience.
We opted for an early dinner and made our way to Swan Oyster Depot. It was closed again! How does anyone eat here? Defeated, we grabbed an Uber to get us to another part of San Francisco. We asked our drive- if you can eat anywhere right now, where would you go? He smiled and told us about this Korean BBQ place. No us of have had Korean BBQ- we were all in!
Eternally thankful for our Uber driver for exposing us to our first all you can eat Korean BBQ experience at YakiniQ BBQ. We were in a legit spot- we were the only Caucasians and clearly lost trying to figure out how this dining style worked. The servers were excellent and made some recommendations as we indulged in marinated chicken, short rib, and octopus. It was like we discovered Christmas for the first time- we were all in love and enjoyed every minute. What an amazing way to have our first Korean BBQ experience and we have been fortunate to have many more together. YakiniQ certainly spoiled us!
To top the night, we grabbed nitrogen ice cream Chocolate Chair nearby to enjoy our last evening in one of our favorite cities. We had an early bed since our flight was first thing Monday morning, back to the east coast.
This is the city we continue to explore and there is always something new. We were able to check off so many “first” and “new” experiences. I don’t know what it is- the weather, the people, the atmosphere, the food, the hills- but we keep coming back. Thank you, San Francisco!