California Dreamin'...

Ok! I finally have a few minutes to record all of the exciting things that Chris and I did while we were in California! It was one of the best trips I have ever been on and I want to remember every detail forever.

We landed in California and rented our car on Friday night, so when we awakened on Saturday morning we were ready to hit the ground running. We started our day by going on a FATNTASTIC 3 hour tour of San Francisco with a company called Mr. Toad's. It was a 6 person tour in an old-time car, and because it wasn't one of those big tour bus tours, our tour guide was able to take us up and down all of the hills and through all of the beautiful, very different neighborhoods. We got out in Chinatown and learned how to make fortune cookies and we also got out at the Golden Gate Bridge. We saw the Full House house and the Mrs. Doubtfire house, and we learned all about the history of the city as we drove around. We also could not have asked for more beautiful weather- it was 75 degrees and sunny the entire day!

After our tour was over, we set off to explore by foot. Piers line the water at the edge of the city, and each pier has a personality of its own. We walked through Fisherman's Wharf and saw the sealions sunbathing:). Then we grabbed a quick lunch and set off for Alcatraz. We took a ferry over to the island and then a 2 hour audio tour of the prison once we arrived. We learned a lot about the history of the prison and its former inmates. Big time criminals who misbehaved in other prisons, like Al Capone, were sent to Alcatraz, and I can see why. It must have been torture to be locked in a 6 by 4 ft. cell, look out the window and see the gorgeous blue water and the San Francisco skyline. A few men even escaped by digging a hole through their jail cell wall with spoons, and they have never been found. Some people think they died soon after diving into the water, and some think they made it all the way to South America on the raft they made out of rain jackets.

That night we stayed in San Rafael, about 30 minutes north of SF, so we'd be closer to Napa Valley the next day. We ate at an awesome Puerto Rican restaurant with picnic table seating. We literally sat at a long picnic table and had dinner/ talked with everyone sitting around us. One lady even tried to convince us to go to a nude hot springs in Sonoma.
It would be such a nice thing for you to experience together!

Mm hmm, yes! We'll try to fit it in our schedule...

On our second day I crossed off # 3 on my Life List- to explore Napa Valley! We started our day with a private tasting and tour of Artesa Winery. Artesa is built into the side of a mountain and the view from the entrance is absolutely breathtaking. Our tour guide Dan took us all over the property, taught us everything we had ever wanted to know about wine (which is a lot), and had even set up tastings for us along the way. We got to walk into the vineyards and see the caves where they store the barrels of wine. We drank wine there and talked to Dan for 3 hours. If he had offered us a bed I would have spent the night.

From there we went to a great Italian restaurant and had lunch outside in the sunshine, and then we drove to Quixote Winery! Quixote is a spanish style winery that looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland. It is lopsided and colorful and out of place, making it all the more interesting. We spent hours there exploring, talking, and of course, tasting WINE!

After that we drove to Sonoma Valley and walked around the town near our hotel. Then we went to dinner and devoured rolls and rolls of sushi!

First thing Monday morning we were scheduled to take a hot air balloon ride, but it was cancelled due to early morning fog. So instead we headed to the beautiful Benziger Winery. Benziger is a family owned winery and the only biodynamic one in the area. The vineyards are surrounded by lush gardens and organic vegetables, and they make their wines without the use of any pesticides.

We took a private tour of the property, complete with a tasting of their Estate wines in the underground cave, and even got to try a wine from its barrel! Here again we learned all about the wine making process, and why different wines come out tasting differently. Did you know that they "toast" (read: burn) the inside of the oak barrels to various degrees to add flavor depending on what kind of wine will ferment inside?

Next up was Imagery Winery, the sister winery of Benziger. Our friend "Bull" who worked there literally let us taste every wine they sell, and needless to say we were there for a few hours. This winery had some of Chris' favorites. We discovered a port wine we loved so much that we bought a bottle. When we had gotten our fill (if that's possible), we sat outside and had a picnic overlooking Sonoma Valley.

From there we made a quick stop at Gloria Ferrer Winery, which specializes in sparkling wine. I figured we had to taste a little bubbly while we were making the rounds, and so we shared a glass of it on their patio before hitting the road.

Then, just in case we hadn't squeezed enough into our trip, on our way back to the airport we drove to Muir Woods National Park so I could touch a Red Wood tree. As soon as we got there I walked up to the park ranger and said "Hi! We're from Virginia and we only have 3o minutes. Where can we find a Red Wood?" He literally laughed and made a motion with his arm as if to say 'uhh...look around!'

We ended up taking a mile walk through the forest, and hopped the fence quite a few times to touch the trees because I couldn't contain my delight. The trees were massive and beautiful and it was such a peaceful place to explore.

We left Muir Woods and went straight to the airport, dropped off our rental car and headed to our gate. We left California at 10:30 pm, arrived in Virginia at 6:30 am, showered, and believe it or not, went straight to work without sleeping!

It was a whirlwind, adventurous vacation FULL of new experiences, and I couldn't have asked for a better birthday present. It started off the big 2-7 with a lot of love and laughter. Thank you, CH!

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