When I left off, we were just wrapping up our stay in San Francisco and heading for Muir Woods on our way to Wine Country. Muir Woods, located just outside of San Francisco, is a preserve for old-growth redwood trees ranging from 500 to 1,200+ years in age and growing up to 250 feet tall. Huge!
There are paved trails winding throughout the forest, which are particularly nice for non-hikers like myself. Not far into the park, we stopped near a group of people who were whispering and taking pictures of this:
A sweet, little baby fawn! All curled up under the plants! We overheard these people had notified the rangers and were told the deer may have been there for a couple of days without it’s mother. Sad! I’m not sure of the little deer’s fate…did the mother come back? Or was the little deer taken to an animal rescue shelter? Either way, I’ve convinced myself it was a happy ending.
Alright, back to the ginormous trees. Jamie and I were surprised to learn redwoods grow from relatively small seeds, about an inch long or so. These seeds look like cute, miniature pinecones — and there were tons of them scattered along the edges of the trails. No, we didn’t take any with us…what?
I thought these caves at the base of some of the redwoods were pretty cool, mainly because I imagine David the Gnome might live there. These caves were formed by some forest fire from way back in the day. The crazy thing is, despite the fire cave, the tree is still living.
We were initially freaked out by what we thought were “tumors” growing halfway up some of the tree trunks. In the words of Arnold, it’s not a tumor — rather it’s a burl, aka a mass of dormant buds, and it’s actually a pretty sweet survival system. Come hell (fire) or high water (flood), the burl will sprout off shoots that will later become mature trees. Clever ol’ tree.
Once we were satisfied with our walk through Muir Woods, we began the drive to Sonoma, our Wine Country destination. We stopped in Sonoma’s historic town plaza for lunch at the Sunflower Caffe. Wow oh wow, this meal was good. I got a bacon, avocado, and goat cheese sandwich on ciabatta (a mind-blowing combo, really) along with a mango smoothie. Jamie had a yummy, deconstructed version of lox + bagel with capers and the whole bit. To top it off, they had great milkshakes, too. Go there if you can!
After browsing the various shops in Sonoma, we made our way to the Benzinger Winery for a tour and wine tasting. This winery was a bit unique compared to others in the area because the grapes are produced using Biodynamics, “the highest level of organic farming.” Oh yeah, we’re getting fancy now.
The tour portion, which was about an hour long, took us on a tram ride through the scenic vineyards and into the underground caverns where they store huge barrels of wine during the fermentation process. Things ended in the tasting room where we got to try some of the wines they make on site. That’s where Jamie and I got to snicker about a couple who thought they were the coolest by showcasing their wine tasting skillz. FYI, Benzinger isn’t really the type of winery where snobbery is necessary…and that’s why we liked it.
Next up was checking into the hotel — Beltane Ranch, to be exact. I knew I’d be a fan because there were ponies in the fields along the driveway leading up to the ranch house. By ponies I mean a couple of big, beautiful Clydesdales. There are other animals around too because Beltane is a real-live working ranch and a pretty old one at that — they’ve been around since 1892.
The ranch was very quaint and picturesque with a lovely garden out front. The main house contained several guest rooms with attached baths, both upstairs and down, as well as a common area with a kitchen and dining/living room. There was also a cute cottage out back. Another cute thing: the staff make fresh-baked cookies in the evening for guests to enjoy.
After we settled in for a bit, we took a short drive to dinner at The Fig Cafe, another good restaurant to note! I ordered the ginormous, juicy grilled porkchop which came with caramelized onion-potato gratin, brussel sprouts, and bacon. Jamie went with the fish dish special (he’s a sucker for specials, especially of the fish variety). Though we can’t remember the type of fish, we do remember that is was very tasty indeed.
We spent one night at Beltane (comfiest bed of the trip!) and had a delicious home-cooked breakfast before peacing out. The farm-fresh eggs, sausage, fruit, homemade biscuits and blood orange preserves were incredible, and the nice man who cooked it all assured us everything was LOCAL. And it could have been because it was my first hot coffee of the trip, but I swear whatever they were brewing was the shiznitty-bit-bit. Translation: reeeal good.
Following a failed attempt to access the Jack London State Historic Park (FYI, they’re closed on certain weekdays), we ventured further into Wine Country through Napa to Yountville. Why Yountville? Bottega, that’s why! You may know Chef Michael Chiarello of Food Network fame — he has his own show and came in fourth place, I think, on The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs. Well, Chef Chiarello also owns a winery in Yountville as well as a critically-acclaimed restaurant called Bottega. So yeah, I’m totally going to talk about food again, if that’s okay with you.
Here are a few things we ordered: Monterey calamari, caramelized brussel sprouts salad, butternut squash caramelle (that’s a stuffed pasta, like ravioli), and red wheat tagliarini bolognese (basically a fancy pasta with meat sauce). In short, all was magnificent. My squash caramelle was light and slightly sweet; there were a few strips of cooked pear in there and when I had a bite of the pasta and pear together…magic happened, people. I had no problem clearing my plate here.
Before saying so long to Wine Country, we hit up the Oxbow Public Market in Napa. This market is mainly a collection of eateries and seeing as we just had our big meal for the day, we picked up a few cupcakes for the road at Kara’s Cupcakes. I didn’t hesitate to select their s’mores flavor while Jamie predictably chose something chocolate-on-chocolate. I forget Jim and Meredith’s selections, but I think the consensus was (surprise, surprise) they were delish. So far no disappointments food-wise in California!
The rest of this rainy day was spent on the road heading to Marina where we stayed the night before continuing on to Los Osos to meet up with Jamie’s aunts. I think it’s important to note that as we drove through the Palo Alto area, Jamie and I were compelled to crank the volume on the Droid and sing along to Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” a la Pirates of Silicon Valley. Why yes, we are that cool.
Hang tight for the continuation of our California vaca recap in a later post!