Girlfriends in San Francisco

I spent spring break visiting my friend Jennifer. We travelled through San Francisco and Sonoma Valley while tasting great wines, food and having a blast.

No Whales?

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by VanessaK on August 25, 2011

One day on my trip to San Francisco, Jennifer and I decided to drive south along state highway 1. We wanted to drive to Monterey, California and go to the aquarium. Ever since I was a kid I have loved aquariums and the water whether it is a lake, sea or ocean. When we arrived at the town of Monterey we drove straight to the pier and Cannery Row. We had to go shopping and walk along the wooden piers. It is such a beautiful place.
I have visited many aquariums throughout the years. I guess I was expecting something so grand with sharks and whales but I thought the aquarium was somewhat of a disappointment. They had one of the largest collections of jellyfish and they had a semi-great collection of local fish. Instead of the large display of sharks and whales I expected, there were a sad few sharks and no seals or whales. You would think that something so close to the Pacific Ocean would have more of the local sea life. Since that 2006 visit to the aquarium I have learned they have added many new and exciting exhibits including the Open Sea which shows a large tank with fish, sharks, and rays all swimming together. I wish they would have had that exhibit when we were there.

The children were running around and seemed to be having fun, but most of the adults looked extremely bored. For the outrageous price of $28 for an adult, it was a waste of our money and time. Now that they have added new exhibits I would give it another chance.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
886 Cannery Row
Monterey, California, 93940
(831) 648-4888

Hold up a glass and cheer

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by VanessaK on August 25, 2011

A visit to northern California is not complete until you stop at a great winery. During a trip to visit my friend, Jennifer, in San Francisco we drove the 40 miles to Sonoma Valley to do a little wine tasting. Now I am not a wine snob by any means, but I do enjoy a glass or two of Champagne or sparkling wine once in a while. I had found the perfect place to see how Champagne is made and to try a glass, or two; Gloria-Ferrer Champagne Caves and Winery.

As we drove up the grape lined drive, we found ourselves in awe at the stunning Spanish architecture and lush green rolling ground and vineyards. We toured the winery and the caves where they store the champagne which was fun and educational. I learned more about champagne and sparkling wines than I ever thought possible. The winery is open daily with guided tours thought the day. Gloria Ferrer has produces some of the world's most honored wines, winning over 100 gold medals in the past decade.

After our tour we were taken to the tasting room. The lady behind the counter was neither helpful nor very nice. Since I am not a big wine drinker, I always ask for a suggestion but she would not give one so had to just choose one. I like the one I chose but thought it odd she was so distant and unfriendly. Each glass of champagne costs $5-10 and a 2oz taste of the wines ranged from $2-3 each. Once we ordered our wine we sat outside on the Vista Terrace which had a glorious view of the vineyards and of Sonoma Valley. If was still sunny but we could see the clouds coming in so we decided to continue on our way so as not to ruin our day with rain.
Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards
23555 Hwy Carneros Hwy 121
Sonoma, California, 95476
(707) 996-7256

A glimpse of Tuscany

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by VanessaK on August 25, 2011

On a sunny day in April while visiting my friend in San Francisco, Jennifer and I drove up to wine country. We had a few wineries on our list but we were open for anything that beckoned us to stop. As we were driving through the rolling hills of Sonoma Valley, an orchard of olive trees caught our eye. Then as we got closer we saw the most beautiful building we had yet seen. As we drove up the drive, you begin to really feel as if you are in Italy. The tall, skinny trees against the green lawn reminded me of a painting I had once seen of Tuscany. We had stopped at Viansa Winery and were pleased we had.

Viansa Winery is open daily for tours and will offer a glimpse of Old World Italy through its wine, food, vineyards and courtyard. The winery is a small, family run business with a wine cellar dating from the 1930's when the grandfather began this beautiful oasis. After you wonder around the grounds, you need to visit the visitor's center. There you will find the Italian Marketplace. It has a large assortment of gourmet food items and recipes that are available for tasting prior to purchase. The smoked mozzarella cheese spread is wonderful as is the fig infused balsamic vinegar. Spend some time browsing the tables of cheese, meats, crackers, jellies, and so much more. In the visitor's center you will also find the tasting area. For $5 you can taste 4 different wines from the "wall of wine" or for $10 you may choose to try 4 of the reserve wines. I am not a wine fanatic but the wines I tried were very good.

A special aspect of Viansa Winery is their food service. They offer pastas, sandwiches, soups and pizza. You can take your lunch and a glass of wine and sit on the open courtyard overlooking the Sonoma Valley. It was a quiet spot to just sit and chat while soaking up some beautiful California sun. We already had lunch plans so just sat and stared at the view for a while wishing we could stay there forever. Don't forget to rub the boar's nose for good luck while you are in the courtyard.

The winery also hosts a number of weddings and celebrations because of its natural beauty. There are great photos on their website or use the website to purchase your favorite wine or food.

Viansa Winery
25200 Arnold Drive
Sonoma County, California, 95476
(800) 995-4740

Run Forrest Run

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by VanessaK on August 25, 2011

I'm not sure why but we really wanted to visit Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in San Francisco. There are tons of seafood restaurants in that large city but we were excited to go here. Once we got there we had a blast. The restaurant bearing the movie jargon of Forrest Gump was such a fun place for dinner and a few drinks. We did not have a wait for a table at all when we opted to sit at the bar. We were seated on a high top table in the bar area which was fine with me since the entire restaurant is smoke-free. As we sat eating our dinner, laughing and talking, the movie Forrest Gump was showing above the bar. Apparently they show it nonstop, because once the movie was over, it started again. I thought this was a cute idea and it totally goes along with the decor of the restaurant which is seaworthy for any boat captain.

They have a neat way of letting the wait staff know you need assistance, you put up the "Stop Forrest Stop" license plate. It really does work, which is good since we rarely saw our waiter other than that. The place was full and loud but the atmosphere was fun and friendly. The menu was primarily seafood, but did have steak and chicken available. I had the I'm Stuffed shrimp—heavenly. Eight large shrimp was wrapped around (not stuffed with) a crab and shrimp mixture, then baked with Monterey jack cheese and served with rice and bread. Jennifer had the steak and stated it was one of the best she had found in California. The drink list was large and unique, and if you buy certain drinks you get a free glass with the Bubba Gump logo. I had to have one of those glasses, such a tourist thing to do I know. Both the food and drink menu have Forrest type names that are quite cute such as Dumb Luck Coconut Shrimp and After the Storm Bubba's Bucket of Boat Trash. Prices ranged from $8 to 18. Even though the price for our 1 appetizer, 2 entrees, 2 drinks came to about $50, I would go back anytime I was back in California. It was a fun place to be and the food was excellent.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Pier 39
San Francisco, California, 94133
(415) 781-4867

Tall and Majestic Redwoods

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by VanessaK on August 25, 2011

I have always heard my mom tell stories that her dad told her about his young adulthood in northern California. She said he would tell her of these tall, tall redwoods that were as big around as houses and were so tall you couldn't see the tops. I remember seeing a photo of my grandpa with a car parked in front of one of those huge trees and how small he looked next to the tree. Mom and I have always dreamed together of travelling and seeing the giant redwoods were always one of those places we wanted to visit. On my trip of San Francisco, my friend Jennifer and I decided to head out of the city and find a little quietness to settle the spirit. Neither of us are city girls and both need to sometimes recharge just to deal with a large number of people. This day turned out to be one of the best days of my trip. Muir Woods is a little piece of heaven just north of the city about 30 minutes or 12 miles. We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge leaving San Francisco and drove through the small artsy town of Sausalito. We drove through the town to the mountains and what seemed like forever but was only a short few miles. I would never have thought that you could see redwoods so close to San Francisco.

Muir Woods is a national park and is open year around from 8am to sunset and for the small admission price of $2-3 it is worth the trip.The park is large enough for hiking, but small enough that you don't feel exhausted at the end. It is a great place for kids, families or just the single person looking for some peace and quiet. The park was opened in 1908 for the conservation and protection of the redwoods. Today there are paths that are clean and well maintained passing by many types of ferns, trees, and wildflowers. There are also numerous less travelled trails leading to beautiful areas all over the mountain. You will see many species of birds and bats and other wildlife such as deer, chipmunks, and fish. Muir Woods in a rainforest so you may find fog on any given day but this is what gives the trees and ferns their water. Since it is a rainforest you will find temp ranging between 40-70 degrees, so pack a light jacket with a hood for the frequent rains.

For those who want to stay all day or just want a snack, there is a café what serves soups and sandwiches. There is a lovely gift shop where you can purchase anything from t-shirts to rocks and many crafts made from the fallen trees. Many of the items are organic or from sustainable products. I bought a book of postcards with photos of the tree, which has been a great keepsake.

Muir Woods
Muir Woods National Monument
Mill Valley, CA , 94941-2696
(415) 561-4700

The old made new again

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by VanessaK on August 25, 2011

I was so excited to be in San Francisco and with my best friend Jennifer. Whenever we are together we always have fun. One thing Jen and I like to do is to try out restaurants. Jennifer is also a nurse and had been living in SF for the past few months. She wanted me to see the Cliff House Restaurant and enjoy it as much as she had. When we first arrived I was in awe of the beauty of the rocks against the ocean. There is something about waves crashing against jagged rocks that have a sort of sadness to it. This restaurant was so wonderful. It sits majestically atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This restaurant building is the third Cliff House that has been in that location. The other two were destroyed by fire. The first was built in 1863 and was destroyed by fire on Christmas Day 1894. The second Cliff House restaurant was opened during the turn of the century in 1909 and was the epitome of Victorian culture and splendor. The restaurant had 8 stories with a tower, ballrooms, and dining rooms. It was used by the wealthy for dining and dancing. During the Victorian times, going to a "bath house" was used as a spa of sorts. Somewhere for the rich and famous to go and relax as well as go for the healing waters the baths were thought to have provided. The ruins of the "baths" still sit today. Throughout the restaurant you will find old photos of the two previous restaurants and the baths. The restaurant today boasts a modern decor with soft, sea colors such as white, aqua and tan. The tables are arranged in a tier fashion as to have an excellent view of the ocean no matter where you sit. The entire west wall of the eating areas is lined with windows just for that purpose.

Jennifer and I sat by the window overlooking the bay during out meal. Make your reservation early to ensure a window seat, you will not be disappointed. Watching the waves hit the rocks was peaceful. You may even see a whale or dolphins which they say are seen often. It was rainy the day we visited, so we were not blessed to catch a glimpse. The menu seemed to have focused on seafood, which would be normal since we were in San Francisco, but they do have steak, lamb and chicken. The appetizers were priced anywhere from $12-55. Yes I said $55 for an appetizer, there are two. One is a seafood platter serving prawns, crab and scallops and the other is smoked sturgeon. Needless to say we did not indulge in either of those. We were there for lunch, so we chose the chef's choice which was $25. This was a preselected menu including soup, entree, and dessert. The soup was an artichoke puree with fried artichokes and truffle oil. It was very creamy and delicious. Our entree was a tender steak grilled to medium with a red wine reduction sauce served with mixed greens and fingerling potatoes. The dessert was a decadent crème brûlée with a piece of almond brittle. It was a beautiful meal in a beautiful setting.

The service was first class with a waiter in eyes’ view at all times. Our glass was never empty and the plates were removed promptly. I love when you are well taken care of and they make you feel very special. We arrived for lunch early, around 11:30, so the service and food preparation was quick. I would highly recommend this restaurant for a romantic evening out or just for a nice meal. After your meal browse their gift shop where you will find souvenirs of San Francisco and many postcards and the like of the old Victorian Cliff House. You can also learn more about the special place at their website
Cliff House Restaurant
1090 Point Lobos Avenue
San Francisco, California, 94121
(415) 386-3330

Feeling the wind in your hair

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by VanessaK on August 25, 2011

One of the top spots in San Francisco is Pier 39 and the San Francisco Bay. One of the best ways to view the city and the Golden Gate Bridge is by water. So if you need to get out into the bay and on the water plan to take this boat tour. Blue & Gold tours is the major water touring company and is readily available right on Pier 39. After you buy your tickets and stand in the long lines, you are ushered on a large ferry boat to tour the bay. The views of the bay are outstanding. The boat has open air seating as well as seating inside but we found the open air was refreshing and we were able to get great photos. I can't tell you how awesome it was to float under the Golden Gate Bridge and look up at its magnificence and beauty. It really shows how massive the bridge really is. The day we were at the pier was a clear day so we could see across the bay into the towns that line the opposite shore.

The boat is fairly large, so you really don't feel the waves under you and you really don't notice it because you are too busy looking at all the beauty around you. That day was sunny with a light breeze so sailboats were everywhere. The tour is narrated by the voice of a salty sea captain which is nice because it tells you the history of the area and current events of San Francisco and the surrounding waters. We were taken around Angel Island and the island of Alcatraz, the famous old prison. I'll tell you that I think that anyone could have swam that bay if they were strong enough and had a good reason, say escaping from prison. It isn't really that wide and is only a few miles from the island to shore. The old buildings of Alcatraz are a sight to behold, and what a strange feeling you get when you pass, it's almost spooky.

The hour long trip was well worth the cost (about $20) and there are different prices for different tours. It was a perfect day for a boat ride and even more perfect was the sights we saw. I would recommend this tour to anyone wanting to see something different. If you look at their website, you will see they also offer power boat tours for those more adventurous and bus tour for those with no sea legs at all.

Blue & Gold Fleet
Pier 41 Marine Terminal
San Francisco, California, 94133
(415) 705-5555

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