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Touring Napa, Calistoga, to Carmel and Big Sur and San Fran

Have you visited Napa Valley? Picture perfect California sunshine, we highly recommend going during Napa's crush – or harvest – in late fall. It was so fun for me to finally see the grapes being picked, then picked thru by hand and processed by press into juice, then placed in steel or oak barrels imported from France. The air was pungent with the smell of freshly picked and squished grapes. I should add that Napa is lush, beautiful and serene - vastly different from the California coastline or the ski mountains of Lake Tahoe.

Sonoma wine tastingTaking a long weekend to tour Napa, we found two to three tastings a day was plenty, especially since we started at 11am.

Far Niente Winery was by far my favorite- a small exclusive winery in a magnificent setting in Oakville. The estate dates back to 1780’s during the gold rush –some of the clever early miners also started making wine. The only thing that could rival their Chardonnay was their private car collection which we had the opportunity to tour.

Nickel and Nickel Winery was next on our tour in St Helena with high end big body Cabs and the funniest tour guy Walt…who offered us all the gossip on the Rothschild and Mondavi families and other big name wine producers in the Napa Valley…

Another great winery was Chateau Boswell, with long dark dramatic caves underground…you could get lost in there – but you wouldn’t go thirsty. Castello da Amarosa was the best display of lavish California wealth – an Italianate castle that took 10 years to build by all Italian stone crafters perches on a hillside in St Helena…spectacular.

We loved the towns of Calistoga, St Helena, Rutherford and Oakville – didn’t spend much time in Napa proper. But the entire Silverado Trail is beautiful - lined with lush vineyards and farmlands and winery estates in stark contrast to the surrounding arid mountains …of course our weather was ideal too.

After a few days in Napa, we headed down to Monterey Peninsula…a place I had always wanted to visit. Sure enough we spotted seals sunning themselves on the rocks as soon as we began our coastal drive from Monterey toward Pebble Beach. We enjoyed the 17 mile drive in glorious sunshine in the morning. It was rewarding to finally sea Pebble Beach, Spy Glass and Spanish Bay golf courses. We sat on the deck of the Lodge at Pebble Beach overlooking the famous 18th hole…splendid.

Carmel by the Sea is absolutely charming…where Clint Eastwood served as mayor…no street lamps or house numbers, and the Carmel homes look like something out of Hansel & Gretel – the Carmelites have taken pride in their beachside community and it shows…very high end, and well healed.

We drove as far south as Big Sur, just a fantastic, sometimes freaky drive along the California 1. Our lunch spot was the famous Post Ranch Inn, named one of the top hideaway hotels, overlooking the coast from far above – the fog rolled in and we felt like we were floating above in a cloud…best crab cakes ever…btw. Then back to Marina where we stayed at Sanctuary Beach Resort – great view of sunset from our cottage one night, fog the next…so it goes.

San Francisco Top 10Our last day before our red-eye home we toured San Francisco – much of which we had just done with our kids looking at colleges a few years ago. We did the top 10 attractions of San Francisco - Lombard’s curvy flower covered street, the Coit Tower, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate, Fisherman’s Wharf, into Chinatown, to Union Square, then up to Cheesecake Factory on the top floor of Macy’s for a dinner with a view of the city before flying home to Maine.

A great trip…finally got to see what all the fuss is about at Napa and our timing was perfect with the harvesting. Four thumbs and two glasses up! Cheers.” 

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