Monday, August 2, 2010

San Francisco: The City That Knows How!

After taking in all that Napa has to offer, we made one final stop at Big John's Market and headed to our final destination - San Francisco. We returned the car (goodbye red Prius, you've treated us well!) and decided to walk back to our friend Mike's place where we're staying. It didn't take long for us to remember that we were back in San Francisco - the fog was rolling in (or out?) and the temperature dropped down to the low 60's. There was a chill to the air walking back, but compared to the 90+ degree days we've been getting back in D.C., this was a welcome feeling.

Our first day in San Francisco, Mike and Rahul took us across the Golden Gate Bridge to visit one of their favorite spots - Mt. Tamalpais. We drove up the mountain and took a little hike to a great spot overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but rather than water, we just saw the clouds over the ocean.

It was like the view from a plane window.

When we headed up the mountain it was overcast, but we literally drove through the clouds.

"It looks like Heaven!"

We then spent a few hours hanging out at Stinson Beach - it was nice to be by the water again. Since then, we've been taking in all the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of San Francisco - walking miles everyday, and seeing as much of the city as we can. Today we spent the afternoon in one of our favorite San Francisco places - Dolores Park, right by Mission Dolores. The view of downtown is unbelievable.

Despite the fog and clouds covering the city, Dolores Park is always sunny.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Napa done right.

The vineyards of Napa, California

Thursday morning we awoke refreshed and ready to see what Napa Valley is all about. It didn't take long to realize it was wine. Lots and lots of wine.

Based on recommendations from Adam's mom, we started our day with the walking tour at the Sterling Winery. It's a beautiful Mediterranean-style building perched on a mountainside - the cable-car ride up provides some great views of the vineyards.

It's a self-guided tour through the winery, filled with interesting facts and explanations about the winemaking process, as well as the chance to sample five of their wines.

The Sterling Winery tasting patio.

After Sterling, we headed to the Silverado Trail - a stretch of road in Napa lined with 40 wineries! Our friend Bryan pointed us in the direction of a few places to try, so we followed his advice and started with ZD Winery (the "ZD" stands for "zero defects"). The wine was great - we bought a bottle of their Pinot Noir.

The ZD grapes are ripening slower this season - it's been a chilly one.

We then headed to our next stop, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, who (according to Wikipedia) made Napa Valley world famous in 1976 when it won the Judgment of Paris, a promotional wine competition among French and California wines.

The first in the "Emily Krause Wineglass Collection"

While enjoying the wine at Stag's Head, we met a guy named Jon who was tasting some of their more fancy wines. It turns out he was the wine maker from Silverado Winery right up the road, and he told us to stop by and taste his wines for free - an offer we couldn't refuse.

The view of the vineyards from the Silverado patio.

The view of the Silverado patio through a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

The view of Adam through a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon

At this point we needed something to eat, so after a quick stop for sandwiches at the Soda Canyon Store, we made our way to the last winery on our tour, Van Der Heyden. This turned out to be a great last stop for two reasons. One, they are open until 6, which is much later than most wineries in the area stay open. Two, we got to spend quality time with Mr. and Mrs. Van Der Heyden.

He sounded just like "Goldmember."

Andre Van Der Hayden is a Dutch immigrant who has been making wine at the same spot in Napa for over 30 years. He is a quirky but passionate man, and his wife is the same. Their wine tasting room is a shack next to their house, their storage facility is a tent in their front yard, and their dogs (Rosie, Syrah, and Zinny) roam all around. It's a family business here - from the grape-picking to the blending to the bottling, all of it is done by the Van Der Hayden family and their friends, and all of it is done by hand. It was a very fun, very different place than anywhere else we saw in Napa, and it was the perfect end to a perfect trip to Wine Country.

Next stop, San Francisco!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Bird's Eye View of Wine Country

A serious view of Napa, California

Between Sonoma County and Napa County, Northern California produces some of the greatest wines in the country. Tomorrow we're planning on seeing the wineries and vineyards in Napa, but today, we decided to see ALL of Napa.

We took the advice of our friend Bryan, a Northern Cali native, and drove through 15 miles of winding Napa roads (it took almost an hour!) to get to Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. We weren't sure which trail to take, so we went with the Table Rock Trail. We didn't know what to expect, but we decided to press on to see exactly what a "Table Rock" is. After a couple of miles of uphill hiking, we saw a huge rock formation situated on a cliff overlooking the entire Napa Valley.

We sat up on those rocks for hours taking it all in.

Trees around here are just enormous. We don't quite know why, but it's pretty awesome.

A view of the Napa Valley that most people don't get to see.

On the hike back down, we found the biggest pine cone either of us have ever seen.

With the incredible view, the warm sun, and the cool breeze, it was difficult to pull ourselves off the rocks to hike back down to the car, but we eventually did. We stopped at Big John's Market to pick up a delicious dinner along with a bottle of local (and we mean VERY local) wine.

We're relaxing in our room, and looking forward to tasting some more wine tomorrow!

Post-hike winery happiness!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Return to the Avenue of the Giants

Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

One of the defining characteristics of the Pacific Northwest are the giant redwoods. They are some of the oldest, tallest trees in the country, and truly have to be seen to be understood. After visiting them last year, we knew we needed to see them again. Our drive took us out towards the coast of southern Oregon, and we got to catch our first view of the Pacific Ocean.

We're back!

The redwoods that fall along the coast end up in the water and wash ashore as the words largest pieces of driftwood.

We drove through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park along the Avenue of the Giants, and pulled off to take a nice hike through a few miles of redwood forest.

We shall call it "Narnia."

After the hike, we headed to Wine Country! Napa Valley, here we come!

Crossing the South Fork Eel River, on the (somewhat sketchy) summer bridge!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Oregon's Finest

Crater Lake, Oregon

This morning started with a trip to Portland's own Kettleman's Bagels for breakfast with our friends Erin, Budman, and The Bridge. After a delicious meal, we bid a fond farewell to Portland and continued our journey south. As we headed into the mountains, we noticed the weather taking a turn for the worse, but thankfully the rain held off long enough for us to get up close and personal with Crater Lake.

Formed almost 8,000 years ago, Crater Lake is the rainwater-filled hole left after the collapse of Mount Mazama. We took the scenic drive around the rim, and being that close to the lake is a powerful experience. The water is a deep, pure blue, and with the rainclouds above us, looked absolutely amazing.

There are pull-off points all along the drive, each providing a very different view of the lake.

Because it was caused by a volcanic eruption, Crater Lake is surrounded by all sorts of volcanic rock, including fields of natural pumice.

Every view of the lake is like a new Bob Ross painting.

We could hear thunder in the distance, but we stayed dry!

Driving back down the mountain we took the Oregon Scenic Byway, which provided us with some beautiful views of the southern Oregon hillside, as well as an incredible sunset.

California or bust!

Portland (through rose-tinted sunglasses)

Hawthorne Street, Portland, Oregon

We arrived in Portland and headed straight to the Hawthorne district. We had heard what a hip neighborhood it was, and we were not disappointed. It was kind of like stepping back in time to a quaint 1950's neighborhood - cute little houses, kids and adults riding bikes all around and rose gardens on every corner.

Also, every other store seemed to be selling vintage something - vintage clothes, vintage records, vintage cameras, vintage furniture, even vintage beverages.
Mexican Coke: it's like regular Coke, except they use sugar instead of corn syrup. Also it's retornable.

Portland is home to over 40 microbreweries, so we stopped at Bread and Ink to sample a few. We then headed back to shower and get ready for dinner... and what a dinner it was. Portland is known for it's gourmet local and organic foods, and everything we've eaten here has been delicious. However, our meal last night at Night Light Lounge was very mediocre. Just kidding, it was absolutely phenomenal. Emily had the seared rare ahi tuna with avocado, cucumber, shaved onion, jicama slaw, nori rice fritters and ponzu sauce. Adam had the kimchi spice rubbed braised beef short ribs with a Korean veggie pancake and wilted sesame spinach salad (we also split a bottle of wine). Amazing food at an absurdly reasonable price! That's something you can't find in D.C.!

This morning we enjoyed breakfast and some local flair at Legare's on Clinton Street, then made our way Downtown to the Alphabet District to check into our hostel for the night. We strolled up to Washington Park - a huge public park divided into a number of beautiful gardens. Portland is nicknamed "The City of Roses," so our first stop was obviously the famous International Rose Test Garden, where we got to see hundreds of rows of the most colorful, beautiful, biggest roses you can imagine.

Always stop to smell the roses.

The blossoms were enormous!

Your friendly neighborhood rose photographer.

After the roses, we entered the Portland Japanese Garden. Built in the 1960's, it is the most authentic and beautiful Japanese garden outside of Japan, and consists of five seperate garden styles, including a koi pond, a sand and stone garden, and an authentic Japanese tea house.

The Lower Pond Garden

An authentic Japanese maple tree.

The Flat Garden, a raked-sand Zen garden.

Adam walking along the pathway to the pond

The pond.

The Garden leads up to an amazing view of Mount Hood overlooking downtown Portland.

We had a quick bite to eat for dinner, and we've retired to our room for some much needed rest and recuperation. We'll need all the energy we can get for Crater Lake tomorrow!