Tuesday, January 20, 2009

San Francisco - Day 1 - Sonoma

Wednesday 10th of December
Our first full day in San Francisco. We still had our rental car and decided to make use of it until we had to return it on Thursday.

After guidance from Barry, we headed North to Sonoma, which is serious wine country. To get there, we headed over the Golden Gate bridge again, this time in daylight. A magnificent experience and driving over it you get a true appreciation of how big it actually is. From the bridge you get a good view of Alcatraz as well (nope, we never made it to Alcatraz...maybe next visit).

Approaching the Golden Gate Bridge

Going over the bridge...it's really quite big!

Alcatraz...try and get off that rock

I guess you could swim it...maybe

Once we got to the Sonoma area, we headed for the visitors centre and picked up a map showing wineries. Apparently there are 300-400 wineries in the region, with around a third of these doing tastings. We decided to head straight for the town of Sonoma and take a look around and then head out to try vino.

At the visitors centre, Sha seems to have shrunk

Sonoma country side vineyard

Sonoma town square

A lovely little town square with a little park

Sonoma is quite small population wise - there's about 10,000 people all up. It's a lovely place and very foodie/wine orientated.

We took a good look around the shops and it was here I found the slinky for Ness - the store was called Tiddle E. Winks. Actually, we liked it so much here that we ended up spending far too long in the shops and simply enjoyed walking around and getting the 'feel' of the town. This meant we didn't make it to any wineries nor did we manage to do a wine tasting in town. Oh well, what we did instead was worth it.

After checking out the shops, we went to a deli and picked up a whole lot of yummy treats. I have to say that the gourmet food that you can get in the States is amazing and it is a shame that so many Americans go for the junk food rather than the good stuff. I guess the higher price is one reason for this, but there is definitely excellent quality food about if you know where to look. For those Statesiders who eat both healthily
and well, I salute you!

We ended the day with a picnic in the Sonoma town square while watching dusk approach and washed down our meal with this most amazing bottle of pear cider. This pear cider was BRILLIANT. Since tasting it, we have tried a couple of other brands in the US and London, but nothing compares to that bottle (and alas I can't remember the brand).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Monterey to San Francisco

Before I forget, something else I didn't mention was that Monterey is home to a large sea lion population. The previous night when we were heading down to the pier, we heard loud 'arf arf arf' noises literally a dozen streets away from the ocean front - amazing how far sound can travel (either that or they are loud noisy buggers...probably both actually)

Tuesday the 9th of December.

We checked out of our motel and drove down to Cannery Row to see what it was all about.
Cannery Row was named due to containing many sardine canning factories, although these are no longer in operation (they closed in the mid 50's).

Cannery Row

Arguably one of the greatest American writers, John Steinbeck hailed from nearby Salinas and set two of his novels on Cannery Row (Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday). Simply walking along the row, you soak up the history and begin to see what inspired him.

John Steinbeck banner - he is obviously very well regarded in these parts!

I think it probably was a little rougher during the 30's and 40's though as Cannery now consists of arty type stores, cafes, gift shops and upmarket hotels. The gift shops here are a cut above the 'same old' stores we have seen previously on our journey (consequently a little more expensive too). It was here that we finally indulged ourselves in a caramel apple covered in walnuts - delicious! I also got the chocolate covered gummi bears here too (another yummy treat I sent back to the folks in NZ). We also got some American fudge which was okay but I prefer the 'hard stuff' Russian fudge rather than the soft 'cookie dough' type.

One of the highlights of this area was visiting a huge two story antique store inside one of the old canning warehouses called the
Cannery Row Antique Mall. It consisted of many, many different dealers but with one main place where you make purchases (a single checkout makes it a lot easier). There were so many goodies here; plates with pictures of classic cars (plates were made in the 80's), old toys (some still boxed), antique furniture, hand made teddy bears, ornaments, dolls, classic board games, videos, old post cards (from all over the world - even NZ) and some brilliant pictures from fruit crates ranging from the 30's to 70's. All in all, it was brilliant and we spent nearly two hours looking around. To anyone who is a retro fiend...Lizzy, Sarah and Sonia - you know you would love it here!

Cute house opposite the Cannery Row Antique Mall

From the antique store we moved back a few streets and I located a second hand bookstore where I picked up two of the Bernice Summerfield New Adventures...this only leaves me with five to go before I have the whole set. Hooray!

All of the streets near Cannery Row have names like Lighthouse Ave, Foam Street, Wave Street etc which really captures the essence of Monterey.

We left the Cannery Row area and were in two minds whether to check out Pacific Grove or head straight for San Francisco. We decided to check out PG (as it is known to the locals) as we had heard some amazing things about Monarch Butterflies and a little sanctuary they have there. Pacific Grove is also very close to somewhere called Pebble Beach. Seems they hold a golf tournament there or something.

We got to the butterfly sanctuary and at first glance it didn't look like much...but after a looking through a telescope trained on the leaves of some of the tall trees we saw a few
Monarch butterflies surrounded by leaves. It was then that I realised that the leaves were also butterflies and one of the docents (volunteer guide) said that they had counted over a 1000 of them the previous day. Apparently they can be up to 11,000 Monarch's in the sanctuary at one time. It was a worthwhile experience.

We saw wild deer in the sanctuary!

I know it's not a Monarch...but it was a good photo

See all the orange things - they're Monarch butterflies!

Click on the photo to see it more clearly

Another pic, zoom in to see better

After the breath taking wonder of seeing hundreds if not thousands of Monarch's in flight, we decided to migrate ourselves north. Next stop San Fran!

It was a mostly uneventful journey, although we did spot a VW ute/pick-up of a type we hadn't ever seen before, so that was cool.

A VW ute/pick-up

Finally we arrived in SF and as we were a little early, thought we could fill in a bit of time by going over the Golden Gate bridge. It was night time and hard to take a decent photo but I did get one which I have tweaked to make it a bit easier to see.

Golden Gate bridge at night

After our drive across and back (dutifully paying the $5 toll on the way back) we headed for Barry's place which was just off Haight Ashbury and where we were staying for the next six nights. We first met Barry at Sarah & Dan's wedding in December 2007 and she's awesome! A lovely person and most gracious host. Sha and I are deeply indebted to her for putting us up and all her helpful tips as to what is worth doing and seeing in San Fran. Thanks Barry!

Tomorrow - we make it Northwards to Sonoma, Wine Country!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Morro Bay to Monterey

After leaving Morro Bay, we headed up the coastal route to Monterey. On the way we drove through some heavily wooded areas (loosing sight of the Pacific Ocean altogether).

Ocean and forest, a perfect combination

We stopped at the tourist entrance (gift shop/tourist centre) to Hearst Castle where we took a look around.

Hearst Castle - a distant view

We didn't actually take the Hearst Castle tour as it was a little late in the day. I wasn't aware that
William Randolph Hearst was the inspiration for Orson Welles' Citizen Kane but there you have it. Maybe I should watch the film one day as I understand it is very good (understatement of 2009 I hear you cry?) Hearst Castle is also where I purchased some salt water taffy to send back to the folks in NZ. Hope they enjoyed it (and it doesn't pull out too many fillings!)

After leaving the Hearst Castle gift shop, we kept heading north and stopped at this lovely spot for an ice cream.

A nice little stop

That IS a big anchor

Beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean

We finally arrived in Monterey, checked into our motel and headed out for dinner. As we made our way down to the pier we came across an ice skating rink in full swing.

Ice skating in Monterey

We also encountered a photography class trying to get the 'perfect shot'.

Photography students

Finally on the pier we saw this statue.

A fishy tale

It was a very difficult decision as where to eat. As Monterey is well known for brilliant seafood, we went for what is the most recommended restaurant on the pier -
Old Fisherman's Grotto. Check the link out! We were greeted at the door by the owner who offered us free clam chowder, suitably tempted we entered. Food wise, we had an amazing entrée of artichoke hearts and we shared our main meal of a crab and a brilliant glazed walnut salad with balsamic dressing. Both Sha and I were incredibly impressed with the food, the prices were very reasonable and the service was superb too. When we had finished our meal, Sha received a red rose and I the bill.

Me eager to begin the crab feast

Sha wearing her bib

A strange sign in the room...poor baby

After dinner we headed back to the motel and were looking forward to tomorrow's visit to Cannery Row to see what had inspired John Steinbeck all those years ago.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Morro Bay

8th of December...yes, I am behind with the blog by, uhhh, a little bit. I am doing my best to get it up to date because as you may know, we are actually in London at the moment.

Anyway, on with the show!

Morro Bay is a beautiful coastal fishing town and very peaceful. It's quite small and it was here we looked into posting gifts back to NZ. We trundled down to our first post office and discovered how much it costs and how to go about sending things back. We also discovered that there is a flat rate package which allows you to send whatever you want at a flat price (AS LONG AS IT FITS IN THE BOX). In the end we decided that we would send things from San Fran as it would likely be easier for us.

After the Post Office, we went down the main streets and checked out a few gift stores and a couple of thrift shops. We purchased a bottle opener from a thrift shop as we had a couple of bottles of wine with corks and everywhere we stayed seemed to lack an opener. Sha has now made this bottle opener an integral part of our travel kit!

After the (very small) 'main drag', we headed down to the
Embarcadero (waterfront wharf/pier) and checked out many of the gift shops and grabbed a bite for lunch. A point of interest on the waterfront is Morro Rock (known by locals simply as 'The Rock') which juts out from the bay. It is very impressive as the photos below show.

Our first view of 'The Rock'

A rather more picturesque view

Sha and a wooden dolphin

View down the

On our travels we encountered many gift shops of varying quality. The most common was easily replicated ad nauseum, selling the same old stuff, all made in China. Less common were the stores selling unique and local goods or at the very least, stuff made in the US. Our preference was to buy US made goods.

Lunch was clam chowder and a mix of fried seafood (once again, sounds bad but was fresh and tasty). The clam chowder was ace!

Anti drink driving poster at the restaurant we had lunch at

I wonder if a campaign like this would work in NZ?


Yes, Sha does have a piña colada! I went with the Red Tail Ale

The last place we checked out was The Shell Shop, which was an amazing shop full to the brim with shells of all sizes, shapes and price. While predominantly American shells, there were also quite a few from overseas. This shop is a haven for collectors and arts and craft type people.

After leaving Morro Bay, we headed
up the coast to Monterey.