Early September is the time of the “crush” in cities and towns lying in Sonoma Wine Country and along the Russian River in California. That means it makes for a heavy tourist season at the vineyards.
Nevertheless, our visit at this time of year book-ended a family wedding which was held on Dawn Ranch, (a large ranch with multiple cabins, lodges and acreage used for special events, in the small town of Guerneville), which lies in between the very wealthy and upscale town of Healdsburg to the northeast and the equally developed city of Santa Rosa to the south.
The bays and waterways surrounding San Francisco were filled, as it usually is, with an armada of boats, sloops, tall ships and sailing crafts. But, the week we visited was special in that several billionaires, including American Larry Ellison and his yacht were competing in the number one regatta, America’s Cup in the city’s bay.
From any number of advantage points along the promenade which snakes around the Embarcadero we could view some of the yachts participating in one of the most prestigious sporting competitions in the world.
With San Francisco as a backdrop, Pier 80 as its base for the 2013 America’s Cup, the event was the most-watched cup race ever.
We spent a day checking out restaurants shops and feasting in the Ferry Building. Every once in awhile we would duck out of the enticing building to watch the water crafts as they sailed under the Bay Bridge in full-sunlight. The week we visited also saw the opening of the Bay Bridge’s new span, 24 years in the making since the 1989 Earthquake destroyed it.
After two days exploring the city it was time to cross another famous San Francisco bridge and head north.
Our first stop after crossing the breathtaking Golden Gate Bridge, which was packed with walkers and bikers on its enclosed path, was the unique and quaint village of Sausalito.
This bay-front town boasted of visitors who had arrived by car, bike or ferry from the Embarcadero or Fisherman’s Wharf in downtown San Francisco.
While this small town’s setting is exquisite, the amount of tourists was overwhelming. By far the best places to dine is The Hamburger Joint, a small hole in wall, which prepares enormous and tasty burgers right in the front window, while a long line of diners snake their way out-the-door. The burgers and fries can’t be beat, as attested to by visitors from all over the globe. And the price is right!
Our second choice to dine would be at the New Bait Shop Market and Deli which is located right off the 101 Sausalito/Marin City exit. This funky market produces great sandwiches and salads using local produce, fish and meats. The seasonal salads and summer specials were very reasonably priced for the ingredients used. The breads freshly baked.
Right outside the door to this market is Sausalito’s houseboat community which is not-only known for its eclectic style of over-the-water dwellings, but also for its unique lifestyle. Some exteriors are down-right charming, others are sleek and contemporary. But the small community of about 400 houseboats with its own homeowners’ associations and regulations boasts homes, while small in size, are valued in excess of millions of dollars and has been in existence more than 40 years.
In Guerneville we stayed across River Road from the Dawn Ranch at a charming and very friendly bed-and-breakfast inn called Fern Grove Cottages.
This facility while hosting guests in town for several different events was more than accommodating and comfortable.
We couldn’t help having a good time between our large family celebration, the area’s wonderful attractions, lots of good food and wine, Guerneville was an idyllic spot.
Besides what’s not to like if you’ are surrounded by magnificent scenery everywhere you turn.
Our cabin at Fern Grove had a fireplace, outdoor deck, kitchen and flat screen TV. Across from us was a heated salt-water pool and all around were the beautiful gardens filled with hundreds of flowers and plants.
For breakfast you could partake of a large buffet in the main cottage or take your breakfast on a tray back to your room, deck or even eat in the delightful gardens.
The cottages at Fern Grove range from a single room, to two bedrooms. And while the décor is upper Adirondacks, everything is clean and attractive and rates are excellent.
And the British-born owner Margaret Kennett and her great staff made finding your way around wine country super easy.
Visitors to Guerneville might spend their days canoeing, tubing or kayaking the Russian River, golfing nearby, doing the wine road or just sitting and absorbing the sights of massive Redwood trees which surround the area.
On the ranch wedding guests played volleyball, organized river floats, did yoga and pool lounging. Still others managed to get in some nearby golf outings.
Then there were others, like ourselves that just had to explore what the town had to offer.
Not to be missed is either a lunch or dinner (or both!) at the Boon Eat & Drink restaurant located right on the main street. The cuisine is fresh and inventive California, such as truffle French fries, and the wine list is, of course, extensive. The same owners also have another food emporium called the Big Bottom Market, which offers food to go. Both places feature Flying Goat Coffee brewed in an artisanal French press. Prices for lunch were reasonable, but seating at the restaurant space is at a premium.
Other suggestions for a visit (or stay) are the Michelin rated Applewood Bed & Breakfast and its restaurant. Prices here will match its rating.
The scenic stretch between Guerneville and Healdsburg known as the Wine Road is both inspiring and beautiful, especially with the sun shining. This road is located not far off Route 101, a main artery in the state.
The 101 can take you from San Francisco north over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County with its spectacular Muir Woods and the breathtaking Sausalito all the way up to the Wine Country where you access the River Road which winds through Guerneville.
The Wine Road is approximately 50 miles north of San Francisco.
California is known for its amazing growing climates which produce both wonderful grapes for its wine industry and palate-pleasing fruits and vegetables. The state’s best growers supply the state’s vineyards, inventive restaurant chefs and road-side sellers with produce.
For visitors to this area nothing beats a day of wine tasting at local vineyards. Many purchase a bottle or two of wine, along with some crackers and cheese. They top off these purchases with some apples from a roadside stand and find a place to picnic.
Showcasing the local growers and vendors outside of the wine road, are storefront tasting rooms in cities such as Guerneville, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Windsor.
The Banshee Winery had opened its first and only tasting room just a week before we visited in early September. One of the owners was building wine racks when we visited. Noah Dorrance was gracious enough to take time out from his construction duties to let us have a sip of new rose. Tastingroom@Bansheewines.com.
There are more than 370 wineries which offer a taste of new varietals, or give a tour of their facility.
Healdsburg sitting at the junction of three famous winegrowing regions, the Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander valleys seems to be the center of the state’s foremost wineries. The abundance of these tasting facilities have produced a group of people known as Sonomads, people who are happy to embrace the wanderlust of Sonoma Wine County. They are usually the same people who like to try out the new and renowned older restaurants in the area.
These visitors prefer to get outdoors hiking, paddling or cycling back roads. They often rejuvenate and relax at resorts with a spa.
They also plan trips around events such as the Sonoma County Wine Country Weekend (usually on Labor Day Weekend). Or the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, always held on the first weekend in October (707) 545-4203.
Or A Wine & Food Affair held on the first full weekend in November which pairs food and wine at 100 plus wineries. (800) 723-6336.
Sonoma County is accessible from Oakland and Sacramento airports along with San Francisco’s. You can also fly into the Charles M. Schulz- Sonoma County Airport (STS). www.Sonomacountyairport.org
So once you follow the Wine Road you can easily see how it could lead to a Wine Country Wedding.
And a celebratory tasting at the Korbel Champagne Cellars located right outside of Guerneville
Before heading home we headed south down the Route 101 through and past San Francisco and its airport to the city of Palo Alto.
Literally translated Palo Alto means tall tree. In fact, at Stanford University, which is located in Palo Alto, the school’s new “mascot and motto” is “Fear the Tree.”
There wasn’t any fear associated with our visit, just fun and enjoyment.
The Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley, located in East Palo Alto, has found a way to follow up on the saying, “The more the wine flows, the better the conversation gets.”
The hotel’s new Art & Wine program (like the best blended wines) hits all the right notes, according to Nicole Neal of the hotel staff.
“This program adds a fresh alternative to client meetings or special events, whether they are of a corporate or personal nature. It puts a sophisticated new spin on a wine tasting by placing it in a salon-like setting, where each wine is matched with a different painting by San Francisco artist Ann Rea.
Ms. Rea’s impressionist artwork features sun-saturated vineyards and landscapes reflecting the actual landscapes of wine country. These events feature Annie Rose Chung, the sommelier and general manager of the hotel’s restaurant, Quattro working alongside Ms. Rea to create a special celebration.
The hotel’s water features include a beautiful roof-top pool, surrounded with beautiful plantings, perfect for travelers looking to relax. For those who want to work off the food and wine the spa offers a place to sweat and partake of scrubs and massages.
This hotel combines the business of the tech corridor with urban resort features.
We arrived at the hotel as the magnificent sun was setting. A couple was getting ready to take their wedding vows in the hotel’s front courtyard right near a large waterway with its multiple fountains.
Later they would have their reception in the ballroom, celebrating with great California cuisine and wines.
Our wine road trip began and ended the same way with wine, water and celebration.
Four Seasons Hotel, Silicon Valley at East Palo Alto. 650-566-1200. www.fourseasons.com