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S: Adventures in California 2011

FC: Adventures in California 2011

1: July 2011 View east from our room in the Marriott Marquis

2: This year's trip to San Francisco was special, as it was our first vacation since Xander's birth. We flew into SFO and rented a car. This was a new experience since we usually take the BART rail. We drove through San Francisco and met Allan for lunch at the Mexican Kitchen -- a place Stacy would visit again.

3: Santa Rosa | Following lunch, we continued our drive through San Fran, over the Golden Gate bridge, and north on the Redwood Highway. The splurge for the GPS unit was well worth it.

4: The hotel has an antique charm and is situated on a square with small town eateries, bars, and shops. Our room had a great shower curtain that withstood several assaults. | Our hotel was in the historic railroad square section of Santa Rosa, Hotel La Rose.

6: Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves | Our first tasting tour was a favorite from our 2008 visit, Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves in Healdsburg. Stacy booked us an estate tour, which included barrel tastings in the wine cave and a ride in a Swiss Army transport to see the surrounding hills.

9: The guided tour was a great experience and included many tastings. Even after two visits, Bella is still a favorite.

10: Armstrong Redwoods State Park | After the day's wine tasting, we stopped for a hike in Sonoma's state park. The park boasts a virgin redwood grove that included a number of trees over 300 feet tall! The oldest, named for the lumber baron who spared the grove, is shown below.

11: Although Stacy was ever vigilant for bears and puma, the trails were calm with fresh air and cool shade.

13: Between tastings, we had a chance to drive on CA Route 1, along the Pacific Coast. Although it was very foggy, the air was crisp and the coastal flora was great.

14: Sonoma Valley | In addition to Bella Vineyards, we visited several wineries along the Sonoma Valley. We sampled some great wines and saw some beautiful estates. As a rule, the wine gets better with each stop.

15: One of our lunches was a picnic spread of crackers, prosciutto, and a smoky goat cheese--washed down with estate Pinot Noir. The winery had a scenic picnic ground with a pond and garden.

16: Sausalito | After our time in Sonoma, we stopped in Sausalito on our way back to San Fran. We stopped at a favorite restaurant called Fish. Fish offers some of the freshest seafood and has Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse on tap. You can eat outside and soak in the ambiance of the marina.

17: Stacy ate a dozen oysters on the half shell. We also had ceviche, fresh guacamole, and a trout dip with potato chips. All in all, enough food for four people.

18: The next leg of our journey began early Saturday with a road trip to Yosemite. We met up with Allan and Sarah and the adventure began. Our stops included a diner with three bears (left), a gross gas station bathroom, and rustic Mariposa for lunch.

19: We didn't get to try the Indian tacos but we did have lunch in a garden café that boasted a haunted bathroom. Later in the drive we hit bad traffic and Allan got introduced to Angry Birds.

20: Yosemite National Park | Although our Yosemite adventure was relatively short (1.5 days) it was certainly mighty. We camped in the valley in a rustic cabin. As Stacy noted, bears could still kill us, since the front was open with a canvas flap.

22: Our camp site had a view of half dome and falls. A few hundred yards away were beaches on the Merced stream where you could see people tubing and canoing.

24: On our way back from Glacier Point, we stopped to take pictures in a mountain meadow.

26: San Francisco

27: After the Yosemite adventure, we returned to San Francisco for the remainder of our trip. We love the culture and pace of the city. A new interesting project that the city has undertaken is removing 1-2 street parking spaces on select streets and making mini parks (lower left).

28: One of the new San Fran city stops was the Museum of Modern Art or SFMOMA. The featured collection was the Steins collection, including pieces by Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne. The standard collection also had some great works. | SFMOMA

30: The Ambassador | Tuesday found us at one of our favorite bars in San Fran, The Ambassador. Allan had introduced us two years ago to the great, $2 Tuesday happy hour. After several beers, some sliders, and wings, we met up with Sarah at a bar a few blocks away. The bar had a cozy rooftop terrace with heat lamps.

31: PIER 39 | We did some souvenir shopping on Pier 39 and saw the bay seals. There weren't as many as previous visits but they were still enthusiastic.

33: In addition to some walking downtown, we took the BART out to Berkeley and checked out the university campus. There were many hippies and we smelled weed at least twice. | Our final hours in San Fran were spent at the bar on top of the Marriott Marquis. We had a few drinks and talked about how much we want to return for more visits.

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