Driving back from JFK airport at 1am this morning, I became overwhelmed with a feeling that I imagine the ladies from Sex and the City felt every time they returned home to The Big Apple too. I love this place.
That said, I had an indescribably wonderful time checking out the west coast over the past few days, and a big part of me — the one that wants to explore and travel and run in different cities all day long — is really, genuinely sad to be back in this humid place I call home.
To say that I ate well, ran far, hiked long, drank indulgently and smiled big would be putting the way I feel about my San Francisco and Sonoma getaway far, far too lightly. Should you find yourself in the area at some point in the future, check out my brief yet jam-packed itinerary for a few ideas of what to do. (A note: Noah and I planned none of this in advance. We simply booked our plane tickets and hotels, and took it moment by moment once we got there. If you err on the go-with-it side of the Type A spectrum, then I highly suggest you consider this tactic too.)
New York to San Francisco, July 3
- Plan dinner in advance. I happen to hate airport food, so I packed myself a whole wheat and flax wrap with peanut butter and jelly to keep me happy come dinner time. It paired famously with the frozen margarita we shared at the airport.
- Don’t fly United, if given the option. We did because we had airline miles, making the flight west free; there were no personal TV’s, however, and we were forced to watch Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. It’s as exhilarating as it sounds.
- Fall asleep as quickly as possible, and don’t wake up until you’re about an hour away from your destination. Warning: This may piss off your travel partner.
- Arrive at Metro Hotel, a great and un-fancy yet perfectly clean hotel near Haight Ashbury, far from the downtown commotion and closer to where real Californians live. Also, they gave us 10% off our stay because of some angry hotel guests who kept everyone up; something any New York concierge might have simply told you to “deal with.” So that was really decent.
Day 1, July 4th
- Golden Gate Park Run: Golden Gate Park is really similar to Central Park, only more lush, less hilly, and about 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean at the start. Noah and I woke up nice and early, and ran through the Panhandle to the entrance, where we began exploring the park from one side to the other. It was an amazing way to see some awesome sights, like the Japanese Tea Garden, and a really gratifying way to get my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. (More details of the run to come in a separate blog soon.)
- Brunch at Zazie: The only thing more satisfying after a solid 9-mile run is a solid 9 course brunch. For that, we checked out — and waiting 45 minutes to be seated at — Zazie, a cute little brunch spot near Hotel Metro. When we finally sat, we ordered 2 awesome red, white and blue Prosecco drinks with marinated strawberries. It was the perfect way to toast to a great start to our vacation.
- Embarcadero: This wharf is a great spot to check out, but there’s not all that much to do. It’s super touristy; not my favorite. Still, grab a coffee (because apparently San Francisco is the coldest city ever) or iced chai (to cool off after your run) at Peet’s (their version of Starbucks) and sourdough bread from Acme.
- Victoria’s Secret Pitstop: At this point, I realized I was sweating despite the 50-degree temperatures. In other words, a backup bra was sorely needed, and I only brought the one I was wearing. If ever there were a reason to love your iPhone, this was it.
- Top of the Mark: A friend of Noah’s suggested we check out the fancy penthouse bar at the Intercontinental known as Top of the Mark. What a nice and random suggestion; the 360-degree views of the city were spectacular and made the champagne taste that much more special. We also shared a plate of marinated olives and spiced nuts as a prelude to dinner.
- Ploy II: A random Thai restaurant in Haight Ashbury that Noah and I ate dinner at on our first night. It’s funny, because we had lists upon lists of suggestions from friends of all these great foodie hot spots around the city; but when it came down to it, it was July 4th. They were all closed. Fortunately, Noah had been to the area before and knew of this 2nd floor gem, where we shared less-than-$20-a-bottle wine, fried tofu, spring rolls, charred veggies and pad thai. The laid back non-scene-y-ness of the meal was more than welcomed.
- July 4th Fireworks! Of course, we climbed another massive hill to view the fireworks in an area known as the Twin Peaks. The views were absolutely worth it, though the frigid air (people were literally in blankets; I was merely in a sweater) drove me back to the hotel only 15 minutes or so after the show began.
Day 2, July 5th
- Mt. Tamalpais. Noah and I had been struggling with how to spend our second day in San Francisco. Should we bike over the Golden Gate Bridge? Should we head to Muir Woods, one of his favorite places? Ultimately, we choose to climb Mt. Tamalpais, which is about an hour outside of the city but offers absolutely breathtaking views of what appears to be the edge of the world. If you plan on doing this, here are a view things to note.
- Bring a map. We were lucky enough to run into a park ranger who offered us one, but without it, the hike would have been extremely confusing. Plan this in advance and don’t rely on pure luck like we did.
- Sausalito. If I had an endless bank account, I’d purchase a place here tomorrow. Stop off on the way out and the way home in this incredible town on the water. On the way out, we drove to Mollie Stone’s Market to grab snacks for our hike — whole wheat olive bread, cheese, salami (for Noah), a peach, trail mix, water, almond butter and — because we both wanted to try them — chia seeds. (I really didn’t feel a difference in energy after eating them. Maybe I did something wrong.)
- Fish. Like I said, we stopped in Sausalito again on our way back into the city for a great, post-hike lunch. I was a bit hesitant about a restaurant called Fish., especially on the water (any waterfront restaurant risks being a total tourist trap). Everything happened to be delicious though, from the grilled artichoke to the fish tacos to the clam chowder. I’m actually salivating a little thinking about it now.
- Impromptu Manicure. When we got back to the city, I felt dirty, exhausted, and in need of a little NYC TLC, and so I found the nearest nail salon and booked myself a quick manicure (along with a 30-minute massage to keep Noah happy while I pampered my digits).
- Anchor Oyster. If you like crabmeat, oysters and long waits where they serve you clam chowder (we were definitely not in New York anymore!), then definitely head over to Anchor Oyster Bar. Located in the heart of The Castro, the restaurant has a real small-town charm about it. Plus, it’s surrounded by inappropriately named stores. While the wait was long, as mentioned, they actually came out and served us small to-go bowls of clam chowder to keep us happy and warm. In the meantime, we picked up a bottle of red wine from around the corner and drank it in Dixie Cups on the street, real classy-like. Don’t judge. I was freezing.
Day 3, July 6th
- Yoga Loft. Not surprisingly, after a 9-mile run with hills and a 6-mile vertical hike, piriformis syndrome was back in full force come Friday morning. With Noah still asleep, I snuck downstairs to a yoga studio I had noticed next to the hotel and took what turned out to be basically a one-on-one class at 7:30am. To the teacher who was probably hoping that no one in their right mind would show up, I’m so, so genuinely sorry.
- Sebastopol. Not in too much of a rush to start consuming wine in massive amounts, we drove toward our hotel in the Sonoma Valley (Cloverdale, to be exact) and stopped off in a cute town known as Sebastopol along the way. Here, we just kind of wandered, eating lunch at a great — and totally delicious — restaurant, Hole in the Wall, where I ordered the beet salad and Noah got the greatest grilled cheese on earth. Seriously, it tasted like French onion soup.
- Mom’s Apple Pie. More of a hole in the wall than the restaurant where we ate lunch, Mom’s Apple Pie is listed as the go-to place for pie according to Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives. Truthfully, it was okay; the pie tasted like it could use a little sugar. Still, it was a nice place to stop in order to break up the drive, and I nevertheless managed to scarf down a whole slice of cherry pie for myself.
- Old Crocker Inn. Go here, go here, go here! While off the beaten path just slightly, Old Crocker Inn goes down in the books as one of the best places I’ve ever stayed. The inn’s host and hostess were kind and generous, the views were unbeatable, the bed was OMG-so-comfy, and the breakfasts were downright delicious. Old Crocker Inn is located in Cloverdale, which is a northern area of the Sonoma Valley. It’s about 20 minutes outside of Healdsburg, which is full of amazing vineyards. Also note that the inn equipped us with a “passport” of sorts, allowing us to do free wine tastings at many of the vineyards in the area.
- Dry Creek Vineyard. This was the first of the vineyards we visited. Dry Creek Vineyard didn’t have our favorite wine, but it was a nice place to start, and it wasn’t too far from the hotel — exactly what we were aiming for on our first day. We enjoyed their rose though and purchased a bottle, enjoying a nice glass outside in the garden and taking the rest with us for later that evening.
- Quivira.*** I want to star this vineyard all day long. While only our second vineyard of the trip, I knew this place was special from the moment we arrived. The views were spectacular, the decor was classy yet not overwrought, and the wine turned out to be our favorite overall. We even ordered 10 or so bottles to send back to New York.
- Baci. After the vineyards, Noah and I drove into Healdsburg, which is a less-uppity town in the Sonoma Valley known for their cute stores, great atmosphere, and ample wine tasting venues. At the recommendation of the staff at Quivira, Noah and I shared a glass of wine (which was more than enough after the first 2 tastings) and burrata at Baci, a trendy Italian restaurant in town.
- Zin. Tired, somewhat full, and a little drunk, we finished off the evening at Zin, a fancy-but-not-too-fancy restaurant with great food, nice wine, and a dark interior. My brother and his wife had suggested Zin as a nice venue without the price tag of some of the fancier spots in Healdsburg, which happened to be extremely accurate. We ordered a grilled calamari and chorizo appetizer, which I followed up with an artichoke and a salad. And a brownie sundae. No big.
Day 4, July 7th
- Jimtown Store. Awesome, awesome, awesome vintage shop off the side of the road on our way to the first vineyard; we actually drove past it, turned around, and drove back. Jimtown is packed with old-school trinkets and candy, and very satisfying oatmeal raisin cookies that pair well with wine, in my opinion.
- Lancaster Estate. This was our first vineyard of the day on Saturday, and the only true wine tour and tasting we did. We kind of chose it that morning based on reviews alone, but I’m so glad we did. Lancaster Estate has a really regal yet familiar feel to the place. The wine is muy pricey, and yet the service was impeccable. Plus, we got to drive around the property and to do the tasting in these sweet underground caves, which had the perfect chill for the glasses of deep red wine they’re known for.
- Chalk Hill Estate. Chalk Hill‘s staple bottle is their chardonnay, already placing them low based on my very official rating system. The place was okay; the landscape was amazing, but the wine was not my favorite. Still, the service was nice.
- Wild Sage Deli. For lunch, I turned to Yelp. Noah and I wanted something simple, easy and cheap; we had plenty of wine drinking left to do, and figured we’d be sitting down for a longer dinner anyway. We ended up at Wild Sage Deli, which totally did the job. Good food, cheap sandwiches. Noah ordered some meat and blue cheese concoction, and I stuck to a variety of garden veggies on whole wheat.
- J Vineyards and Winery. After a morning of heavy reds and whites, we were very much craving a change, making J Vineyards and Winery a great and light midday option if only for their sparkling varieties. I loved the open, airy, and modern interior decor of this place and would definitely recommend it to others.
- Rodney Strong. I hate the name of this vineyard, but it was right next door to J, and it happened to appear on the list of free tastings, and so we figured, why not. While the reds were super heavy for a 90-something-degree afternoon, I really liked the staff here. Our wine specialist was friendly and knowledgeable, making our quick pit-stop pleasant and worth it.
- Foppiano. After all these really grand, palatial vineyards, Foppiano — our last and most random vineyard of the day — was a breath of fresh air. Small, family owned, and located in a small house-like facility rather than a sweeping underground cave or something like that, Foppiano’s wines were simple and tasty, the staff was pleasant enough, and they sold one of their reds by the jug.
- Williamson Tasting Room. If I could sum this true treasure of a tasting room up in two words, it’d be “go here!” Not only were Williamson‘s wines delicious, but we were graced with the owner and family’s presence along with spot-on cheese pairings that will literally change your life. The truffle salt is also amazing and, to top it all off, what we thought would be one of the pricier tastings of the day was — get this — completely and 100 percent on the house.
- Mateo’s. Food. At this point, we seriously needed food, and so we headed a few blocks into Healdsburg and plopped ourselves at the bar of Mateo’s, a latin kitchen with an uptown feel. Our plan was to grab an appetizer (olive oil guacamole and some fried taco bites) and a drink (non-alcoholic for Noah, a strawberry margarita that I couldn’t even close to finish for me), and to then find another restaurant in town. Mateo’s was nice, but it totally zonked us out.
- Cloverdale Railroad Station Bar and Grill. Unless you happen to be staying in Cloverdale, I doubt you’ll ever think about eating in this local venue. We just couldn’t imagine sitting at another upscale restaurant, drinking another upscale drink, eating another upscale meal. I know. Woe is us. All we really wanted, though, was to head back to a dive bar near our bed and breakfast and to hang out, and so that’s exactly what we did. They had a dance party at 10 that the staff couldn’t stop talking about, but needless to say, Noah and I did not stick around.
So there you have it. If you’re headed to the west coast anytime soon, I’ve just made your life a whole lot easier. If not, I may have made you hungry and slightly in need of a glass of wine or a vacation. Either way, we didn’t get back until 1:30am on Sunday night, and so I’m insanely exhausted and buried under tons of work that I’ve at least tried not to think about for the past 5 days.
Now that that’s on the table, I do hope you’ll stick with me this week as I get back into the swing of things and attempt to re-adjust to the time difference and real world. I hope you all had a wonderful July 4th week and weekend, and have an equally wonderful start to the week. More details of the trip — and my return to east coast running (September’s half marathon countdown starts now!) — to come.
As for the contest winner, Congratulations Lucky No. 2 — Rebecca — on winning 3 large pouches of Vega Energizing Smoothie mix! Please get in contact with me so I can arrange for your prize to be sent.
- Where is the all-time best place you’ve ever run while on vacation?