Guest post by dlehotsky
Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.
First, I will say that Northern California is absolutely, stunningly beautiful! I’m not much of a driver and don’t like to do a lot of driving, especially while on vacation, but I did not mind all the driving we did this time around since it was so pretty everywhere we went. Don’t be afraid of driving a couple hours to get to an attraction. The scenery is breathtaking.
Second, Northern California & Southern California are VERY different. North California is definitely a lot more chill and not so crazy. They almost have a mid-western vibe about them which was just lovely.
Day 1: Stanford & San Jose
Flew into San Francisco airport and rented a car through Enterprise. Enterprise was very quick, painless, and so easy to rent a car from. We were on our way in no time and they let us choose what car we wanted.
Drove down to Stanford University to walk around campus and see the free outdoor Roudin exhibit.
We ended up having lunch on campus with the smart kids! I sure hope some of that knowledge rubbed off on us!
Drove over over to San Jose to the Winchester Mystery House and took the Grand Tour of the entire estate. This was one of the coolest things that we saw on our trip. I would highly recommend this tour. For those who don’t know, Mrs. Winchester, the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, went to a psychic who told her that she would be haunted by the spirits of all those killed by a Winchester rifle unless she started building a house and never stopped building. So that’s what she did. There are doors that lead to no where, staircases that lead to nowhere, and twists and turns all throughout the house to confuse the spirits.
Drove up to Vacaville where we stayed at the Fairfield Inn. Staying in Vacaville worked out quite well. We were only 15-20 minutes from Napa Valley and it was much cheaper than actually staying in Napa. It wasn’t the nicest hotel but it also wasn’t the worst. It served its purpose.
Day 2: San Francisco
Woke up pretty early and drove over to Sausalito where we walked around for a while and took the ferry over to San Francisco. I would highly recommend taking the ferry, not only because you don’t have to drive into San Fran, but also because it takes you right past Alcatraz Island and you can get a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Ferry dropped us off at Pier 1 and we proceeded to just walk. We walked through the financial district, walked around Chinatown, and then took a cable car up to Lombard Street. I highly recommend taking a cable car. It was a lot of fun to watch the driver. They are very different.
Walked down Lombard street (the curviest street in the world) and over to Ghirardelli Square. We ate at this little diner and then proceeded to buy lot’s of chocolate. When you walk into every little chocolate shop, you get a free piece of candy!
Walked down and along Fisherman’s Wharf and came across the Boudin Sourdough Bread Factory. Take a tour of the Sourdough Bread factory!!!!! It was only $3, it’s a self guided tour, you get to see how they make the bread and see them in action, and you get free samples. It smelled so good in there!
Walked around Pier 39, saw the sea lions, then took the Ferry back to Sausalito and drove back to the hotel.
Day 3: Napa Valley & Sonoma County
Started out going to the Black Stallion Winery in Napa Valley. It was very pretty and very nice, but very expensive. We were with friends who belonged to the winery so luckily we didn’t have to pay for the $40 tasting.
Because of the Napa Valley Marathon, a lot of the roads had been closed so we drove around and into Sonoma County. The scenery that we drove past was stunning.
Stopped at the Cline Cellars Winery. They have a good array of wines to taste and its FREE! There are not many wineries in the region that have free tasting. We also took a tour of the grounds from a 93 year old man who was quite entertaining.
Proceeded to drive around and stopped at different wineries, not to drink wine, but to take pictures of the landscape. It really was that beautiful. The last winery we stopped at, which I would highly recommend, was the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Yes, Jacuzzi, the same people who make the hot tubs. They not only have a good selection of wine to taste, but they also have an olive oil and vinegar tasting!
Had dinner at some Italian restaurant in downtown Sonoma. After dinner we walked down the street for some ice cream.
Day 4: Muir Woods & the Jelly Belly Factory
Got up early in the morning to drive to Muir Woods to go hiking and to see the Redwood Trees. If you are going to go to Muir Woods, you will need to get there early in order to find parking. Thankfully we did not have a problem. The drive there is also quite fun as you will go through some of the most winding streets I’ve ever driven on. Be prepared with maps because THERE IS NO CELL SERVICE CLOSE TO OR WITHIN MUIR WOODS.
We could have spent all day hiking in the woods. The redwoods are so massive and huge, yet so graceful and beautiful. The paths are well maintained and there are all kinds of different paths that you can take, based on length, time, and altitude.
Drove back over to the Jelly Belly Factory and took a FREE tour! It is a self guided tour but it was fun to see how Jelly Bellys are made. You even get a free sample when you are done with the tour. They also have a sample bar as well so you can try any of the random flavors that you don’t normally see on the shelves.
Proceeded to a local wine shop to do one more Olive Oil tasting and drove to another hotel in Napa Valley where we stayed just one night.
Even though our trip seemed far too short, and we managed to fit in a lot of sites and activities, we never felt rushed. The people were very friendly and willing to help. I would highly recommend Northern California, even if you are not a drinker. The scenery is completely worth it!
Traveled in March 2017