Aug & Sep 2018: California – Trip Report

Kyle on Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Photos are at:

While considering where to go for this year’s trip, we can up with a few potential ideas. Kyle originally announced he wanted to go to Seattle (one of the options). When we asked why, he said he wanted to see the Pacific Ocean. We asked why not San Francisco which was on the California coast. He hadn’t realized it was in CA and changed his mind when we said that it was. (We were leaning toward Seattle.) This was fine as Suzanne had never been and I had spent only a few days total there over the course of several work trips.

We ended up splitting our time between San Francisco (4 nights), Napa Valley (2 nights), and Monterey (3 nights). We flew out the Saturday a week and bit before Labor Day and back late on Labor Day. (This was fine as Kyle didn’t start school until Wednesday.) As much as I would have preferred to fly Delta (being a Platinum member), we couldn’t justify the extra cost and ended up flying Alaska which was quite nice. (The plane was actually an old Virgin America plane.) For planning we used a few standard books from the library and well as watching some YouTube videos.

San Francisco

Eureka Ferry at Hyde St. Pier in San Francisco

We arrived just about on time at 10:30AM (a plus of having an early, non-stop flight out). We decided to go ahead and try an AirBnB this time, finding a nice one bedroom apartment in the Upper Haight, just a block and half from Haight and Ashbury. This worked out really well and was about the same price as a standard hotel room. The location was good in some terms but a bit off the BART line. We really should have spent the effort to learn the bus system instead of relying on Lyft for the trip as this got a bit pricey. (Overall, San Francisco is expensive no matter what.)

During our time there, we had lunch at a great (though confusing) dim sum place in Chinatown (Dol Hol; Kyle even tried and liked the shrimp dumplings here), a great German meal at Suppenkuche, some wonderful sourdough at Boudin Bakery, and some good burgers at Gott’s Roadside in the Ferry Building.

For sights, we saw a lot including:

Kyle and I also spent a morning visiting Alcatraz while Suzanne wandered around Union Square and the Ferry Building.

Muir Woods, Napa Valley, and Pinnacles NP

Muir Woods

After finishing up in SF, we picked up a car and headed across the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped for a few hours at the magnificent Muir Woods National Monument before continuing up Sonoma Valley, stopping for a pint of Pliny the Elder at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. We stayed at the very nice Best Western Stevenson Manor in Calistoga, at the north end of Napa Valley.

We spent the next day visiting Napa Valley, including wine tastings at V. Sattui (where we ended up getting 6 bottles sent home) and Long Meadow Ranch (bought one bottle). We also hit Oxbow Public Market for lunch which was really nice. I was a bit concerned about staying at the north end of the valley, but it’s small enough that it’s not a problem and Calistoga was smaller, quieter spot to stay.

On Friday, we left Napa and headed down to Monterey. On the way, we took a detour to Pinnacles NP, which is the newest National Park (though it became a National Monument in 1908). We did a nice hike through a number of Talus caves which was cool.


Sea Nettle at Monterey Bay Aquarium

In Monterey, we spent three nights at the Best Western Victorian Inn. This was nice and in a great location, a 5-10 minute walk from Cannery Row. On Saturday, we started at spectacular Point Lobos State Park. (Be sure to arrive early. It was closed to cars by the time we left around 11am.) We also headed to Mission San Juan Bautista where they were having their monthly living history day. Sunday, we spent the day at the phenomenal Monterey Bay Aquarium. I had missed the opportunity to visit here when I was in the area in 1997 and regretted it ever since. It really is a spectacular aquarium and was a highlight of the entire trip. Kyle loved it as well. A real highlight in terms of eating was our meal at Vivolo’s Chowder House in neighboring Pacific Grove.

Returning home and thoughts

We had a latish flight on Labor Day so were able to stay in Monterey the night before. While this meant we didn’t get back home until quite late, it made the morning much easier.

Overall, the trip was really nice. I wasn’t too sure about staying in Haight-Ashbury, but the area was fine and I never felt unsafe. It would have been better to figure out the buses instead of relying on Lyft quite so much. I did have to drive from the rental car place (a hotel near Union Square) to our AirBnB but this was fine. Driving out of the city was easy as well (and it was cool to drive across the bridge). Other things worked out well. I was glad to stay right near Cannery Row and walking distance to downtown Monterey to not have to worry about parking, etc. I will say, California was expensive in terms of hotels and restaurants but we expected that. I will also say that Alaska was a nice airline to fly and I’d certainly fly them again.

The Reservoir at Pinnacles National Park