Heading north after 3 days activities at Lake Tahoe our next destination was San Francisco airport to collect the final member of our party and to swap our vehicle for two others. To the eldest daughter’s delight, one was a Soft Top Ford Mustang, which was a pleasure to travel in and much suited the ‘ladies’ in the party rather than the men – or so we argued, commended the vehicle and headed to Napa Valley/Sonoma County looking for Kenwood town.
Once at Kenwood and following the directions the first thing that we all noticed was the number of building sites, the number of mobile homes and tents on those sites – our first view of the devastation left by the fires in 2017. It was quite amazing how quickly the land had been cleared and the re-building commenced. The house we had rented was one of very few in that locality to survive. We heard of the efforts of the community to save the property’s – how people, when realising their own house was doomed immediately moved to assist elsewhere, truly the neighbours we would all wish for.
We stayed in a beautiful house on the outskirts of the town. The house was well equipped with games and activities for both indoor and outdoors. The swimming pool, hot tub and BBQ area were well used, as was the indoor Pool table. There were also seating areas along the creek which ran through the large garden. These were peaceful areas to sit although the creek itself was dry. Outdoor games were evident – especially the Baseball practice area although these had been damaged during the fires of 2017 and repair work was in progress during our stay. The house and grounds were a joy and we all agreed that we had not utilised the facilities due to the sightseeing we undertook – should we ever return I will table in some ‘stay at home days’ to have fun. https://www.homeaway.com/ There was a small group of deer that appeared to live in the garden, as well as a flock of turkeys that appeared every morning – both of which added to the ‘countryside’ feel of our surroundings.
As we hear from news bulletins, such fires are not uncommon, and we quickly became aware of the preventive measures taken by the residents. For example, each building has numerous external taps with hoses attached and each house is spaced well apart from the neighbours. Jason, the caretaker of our house, had used the hoses to soak the nearby trees as well as the house itself for many hours, although he gave the credit to the neighbours coming to assist and that the wind direction did not change.
The focus of this section of the holiday was, of course, wine tasting. I am not a connoisseur, nor an experienced drinker of wines so a lot of what I heard went over my head, although it was all interesting and good to see. I had not appreciated the passion of wine producers, nor the skills required to produce a high-end product. My real surprise was the Chardonnay. A wine I avoid in Britain – I think it has a ‘tinny’ taste with a bitter aftertaste. In Napa it is a smooth buttery liquid that lingers pleasantly on the tongue. It was explained to me that this is due to the soil and production methods. Just – if you are there, tasting wines, do try the Chardonnays. (Now that is a sentence I never thought I would write). The biggest shame is that these wines are not exported.
There are plenty of other activities in the area and we also managed a morning hike in the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Must admit I did not make it to the top although I did return back down to the car park on my own through Mountain Lion country!! It is said that you should do something everyday that scares you – think I had enough scariness to last the rest of the year.
Our final change of scenery was Sans Francisco, driving over the Golden Gate Bridge is a well documented spectacle and we were lucky with the weather, so we had a good view on the day we arrived. Unfortunately, after that it was always foggy so no photographs.
There is plenty to see in the city – using one of the ‘Hop on, Hop off’ tourist buses is a good way of getting about. Cycling is another although do you need a good set of legs to climb the hilly streets – I left the biking to the boys.
The waterfront (Fisherman’s Wharf & The Piers) is a must – if only for the ‘street food’ huts offering plenty of fish dishes.
Alcatraz is another tourist attraction not to be missed, although its gruesome history may put some people off visiting, the boat trip offers a different view of the Bay area and there is more to the island than just the prison. It was a surprise to discover that the families of the prison staff lived there too. The children travelling to the mainland each day for school. The island itself has a lengthy history of its various uses, a shame we only think of it as a prison. www.nps.gov/alcatraz
The Golden Gate Park deserved more than the 60 minutes we allocated – a day with a picnic would be better https://goldengatepark.com/
And, whilst we are mentioning food – we found the best ever Dim Sum restaurant in Chinatown (another place to visit – busy, busy but fun) We had hopped off the tourist bus as lunch time was approaching, I opened the Tourist book looking for guidance/recommendations and ‘City View’ was rated highly and nearby so thought we would try it. What a find – It was everything we had read, the best choice of tasty Dim Sum ever. The advice in our book was to arrive early to ensure a table and I would repeat that (we were there towards the end of the lunch period so there were a few tables although could have been risky if you are in larger groups). Also, useful to note it has short opening hours. http://cityviewdimsum.com/
Despite following the ‘tourist trail’ in San Francisco a lasting memory for me is the number of young beggars and ‘spaced out’ addicts in the streets of the Tenderloin and Waterfront areas. Perhaps legalising marijuana was not such a good idea.
Walking the streets around Union Square there are plenty of opportunities to call in at the small art galleries – my favourite was the gallery on Greary Street displaying the work of Dr Seuss http://www.dennisraefineart.com/artists/dr-seuss/. The curator was fun and informative – just like one of his characters.
I felt that there was a lot of the city that we didn’t see, perhaps it needs more than the 4 days I was there. I had not visited California before although had researched the areas we were visiting and formed an ‘uninformed opinion’ (as you do) from the websites and books I had read. Needless to say, having experienced it, my thoughts are different. Las Vegas surprised me and I would re-visit it again. San Francisco did not live up to my expectations. Perhaps because we were there on the Labour Day weekend and it was so crowded. Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley deserved more time than we had – and again I would re-visit, just stay longer.
The purpose of the holiday had been to gather the family together for major birthday celebrations – but mainly just to ‘gather the family together’ and that I think was a success.