So. If you’re married to a great woman, and she hits a milestone birthday, where do you go to celebrate it? Well, if you’re smart (I am), then the answer is “Anywhere she wants”. That’s how we ended up in the wine country north of San Francisco.
Now, we spend our summer one-week vacation with my in-laws in Sandbridge, VA, just south of Virginia Beach. While I love spending time with my in-laws, I am no great beach fan. So when my wife decided we would change things up this year and head west instead of going to the beach, I was all for it. Readers will recall that I am a big fan of northern California (San Francisco Going South and San Francisco Going North), so there may be a bit of overlap in these posts. None-the-less, I think you will enjoy our week-long day trips throughout the wine country.
What every family needs is the sister-in-law that organizes everything. This is my wife’s sister Patti. Patti researches and books our family vacations and the next time she fails will be the first. This time, however, my brother-in-law Mark split the duties with Patti as he found us the house, and she organized some of the family excursions. So it was a team effort. Patti and Mark decided that we should stay in the Russian River valley about 60 miles north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. Everybody has heard of Napa Valley as the home of California wine, but let me tell you, the wines of Sonoma and the Russian River are every bit as good. So Mark picked a place in Guerneville which is right on the river about 20 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. That’s where we will start our week.
To get to Guerneville, you get on US-101 at San Francisco airport, and go north across the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Then straight up through Marin and Sonoma Counties following the Russian River valley west toward the ocean.
Going north, east, south and west of Guerneville, grapes are everywhere. So wine played a big part in our week. In this first post, I will try to give you a flavor of Guerneville and the surrounding areas. Subsequent posts will include a winery tour that we did, a great loop along the Pacific, A food tour of the nearby town of Healdsburg, and finally day trips to Sonora and Yosemite Valley. But first the charms of Guernesville.
Our place was right on the river, about 3 miles from town. Town consisted of a number of bars and a Safeway, so in true beach house tradition, we spent the first day buying way too much food and booze. Now it helped that the Pittsburgh Penguins were in the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so we had good reason to drink a lot.
The town of Guerneville ain’t much. There is a bridge across the river (the only one for about 10 miles), and a few bars and a few restaurants. A decent pizza place. But you know that the place is not the center of culinary universe when TripAdvisor rates the taco truck that parks in the Safeway parking lot as the third best place to eat. Turns out, the TripAdvisor crowd was right. The tacos were excellent!
But Guerneville isn’t all rustic lodging and haute cuisine. Located a scant 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it is at an elevation ideal for the coastal redwoods. One of the best places I’ve seen for walking in the redwoods is Armstrong woods which is just 3 miles out of town. It’s on a par with Henry Cowell State Park in Santa Cruz, and that’s high praise indeed. A state park, you can park and walk flat trails through some of the best old-growth redwood groves anywhere. We made it a point to go here in the mornings to jog.
Finally, the main attraction. The wineries. We went to quite a few. We spent a whole day, in fact, touring wineries in a little bus, which is definitely the way to go.
And grapes were everywhere
So, we spent a week in a wonderful place for my wonderful wife’s 50th birthday. I am more appreciative of wine than I was previously (zero), and will share with you some of the fun things we did during our week in the coming posts.
So I would advise you if you have a Patti and Mark in your family, or even if you don’t, to come here and spend a week. Max wants to return for Denise’s 60th when he’ll be 21 and able to come with us to the wineries.