There’s a large part of me that still considers California to be home. I only lived there six years, have no family there, very few of my friends still remain, yet I’m very attached to the place. Being the guy who kept his head down in high school then enduring a crushingly disappointing collegiate experience, California was the place where I became the person I am today. Perhaps I didn’t grow up there, but it’s where I became an adult.
It’s also where I met my wonderful wife, and eventually married her. Our 10th anniversary is in September and we’ve long planned to return around that time, but we decided to bump up the trip. The timing was better.
I have a weird attachment to the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, so I felt obligated to walk through there. Also, one of the world’s best sunsets. One of the things you forget living in the east is that you can’t watch the sunset into the ocean, watch fire meet water on the edge of the world. This was my first must-do of our trip, after meeting an old friend for lunch in Hollywood and doing some touristy stuff. I highly recommend the Shangri-La hotel on Ocean Ave. You won’t see it in any of the shots below, but it’s 100 feet behind where I’m perched for the sunset.
I’ve seen Sideways at least 20 times. I’ve driven up and down the length of the state a half dozen times. And yet, somehow, I never spent any time in the Santa Ynez Valley or Paso Robles wine areas. So of course, we stayed at the Windmill Inn (now renamed Sideways Inn, which is a little on the nose for my taste, but renovated nicely), then rode through Solvang, Los Olivos and stopped at the Andrew Murray and Foxen Wineries. Foxen was fantastic – some of the best pinot in the valley.
We then splurged a bit and shacked up at the Just Inn for just a night. That’s a bed and breakfast located on the Justin Winery, about 15 miles west of Paso Robles. Let me tell you – that 15 miles puts you into some of the most beautiful country in the world (see some pics below). It’s also one of the most impressive wine operations anywhere that I’ve seen.
BIG SUR AND MONTEREY
I love me some Big Sur. It was definetely disappointing that Route 1 was closed in multiple places due to the mudslides from the unprecedented rain storm, but the wife and I were able to drive up to Monterey and down about 25 miles. The drive along US 1, Point Lobos – these are some of the best places in the world. We wrapped things up with a night at Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa, one of the most special hotels anywhere (see the location in the final picture), perched right along Cannery Row, and also just happens to be where the wife and I got hitched in 2007.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
It was like coming home again, except with the weird feeling that our home was 3,000 miles away. We quickly hopped through some of our old haunts in San Jose, then up to Half Moon Bay, a little tucked away corner of the world. From there, up to San Francisco’s Baker Beach for the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
NORTH OF SAN FRANCISCO
We continued up Route 1 well into Sonoma, then turned inwards towards the Russian River Valley, which is not absolutely one of my new favorite spots in the world. The river, the greenery, the trees and of course the WINE! For those visiting, Gary Farrell has one of the best tasting experiences around, and their full line of pinots are just spectacular. Healdsburg is a terrific little town too. Unfortunately, we lost our luck with the weather, so didn’t take a lot of pictures as we headed across to Napa. Our last wine tasting came at Chateau Montelena to drink their world-changing Chardonnay (as chronicled in the beautiful film Bottle Shock).
So maybe I spent some time checking out Zillow while we were driving around………