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Up and Down Northern California


I had a couple of round-trip North American flight tickets to use before the end of the month, as well as two free nights at the Fairmont San Jose, so it was natural that Alex and I paired the two and went off to Northern California for the Thanksgiving long weekend. I’d always wanted to share more of the West Coast with Alex, and since Laura and I went sight-seeing two years ago around San Francisco I’ve been waiting patiently for this opportunity.

We went in October hoping for lovely weather that would make our Toronto friends jealous – and everyone we met there vouched for our thinking – but sadly it was colder than imagined, and we were actually met with a crazy rain storm that was one of the biggest in the last few decades. We did manage to hit up quite a few places before the rain came down, and we definitely added lots of mileage to the rental car!

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We started off at the Ferry Building, which I had never been to. Between all the food choices there, we sampled some “salted pig parts” at Boccalone, got a cupcake and a chocolate lavender macaroon from Miette, and had a quick lunch at Lulu Petite. Miette had beautiful vintage milk glass cake pedestals in pink, white, and green…so pretty but quite pricey. Lulu Petite also offered a lot of sauces, jams, dressings, etc., all of which looked interesting and delicious.

We continued on along the Embacadero to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we stopped in Boudin to check out the store, before lining up in the freezing cold for an hour for the cable car. I know it’s such a touristy thing to do, but seriously, what’s a better way to get from Fisherman’s Wharf to Union Square? If there are better alternatives, please share!

Dinner that night was at the famous and revered Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Poor planning had us eating at 11:30pm EST on a day that we woke up at 4:00am, so it wasn’t the superb experience that I had hoped for. The food was absolutely delicious – simple, wholesome goodness. Nothing fancy, but flavours that really worked with each other without being overly dressed. The ambiance was nice too, I felt like I was sitting in a cozy family dining room. I’d definitely go back there, and this time maybe I’d plan better so we’d eat at a more reasonable time, and actually get a booking in the set menu restaurant instead of the a la carte cafe.


We spent one day in Monterey kayaking. The tour around the bay was great, and we were super close to seals, otters, and sea lions in their natural habitat, which was really neat. We were debating that day over the kayaking trip or a hiking trip in Big Sur, and since Monterey was about an hour closer to us, we went for the tour. I’d highly recommend one of these kayaking tours – it is so awesome to be able to see marine wildlife up close!

Oh yes, of course we had seafood when we could :)

We also spent an evening on Santana Row in San Jose. It was late, but we had a great time hanging out at V Bar in Hotel Valencia (best truffle fries!) and getting my fill of Pinkberry!


Then it was up the coast again to West Sonoma! I had read an article from Chow.com on the area and thought the wineries they featured in the article was interesting, and the itinerary sounded different than a typical California wine region tour. It was everything I’d expected – except with sunshine, it might’ve looked more like my imagination! We visited Iron Horse Vineyards and caught them just before they closed up shop for the day. It is an outdoor tasting room set up to overlook the rolling hills, and they’re famous for their sparkling wines – served at White House state dinners. As one of our fellow tasters said, it was worth it just for the view. Luckily, the sparkling wines were delicious too – dry and light, just like how I like ’em.

The winery we loved, though, was Merry Edwards. We wandered in, and the hostess was super friendly and got us started on our free tasting right away. I think all tastings there are free, regardless of walk-in or pre-arranged. Anyway, Merry Edwards is a label often seen at famous restaurants on the wine list, but unavailable at retail liquor outlets, so I was obviously curious. The experience was made 100x better by the knowledgeable hostess we had, who was patient and explained each wine with great detail, never snooty about wine education, and gracious and friendly to chat with. Their sauvignon blanc is currently their claim to fame (highest score ever received by a Californian winery in that category, by the Wine Spectator – I think), and of course it was sold out. The next release in April 2010, so I’m already eagerly marking my calendar :)


It was a fun trip, but the weather, along with other exciting events that took place, really dampened my mood to take pictures (haha, bad pun). As you can see, this photo above was the weather on our last day there, and I barely got out of the car as it poured throughout the day. We had a little stop-in at Stanford before dinner with my uncle’s family in Mountain View, and called it a day.

I’ll be marking down everything in the Travel section on San Fran as soon as I have a moment, and maybe also do the Nova Scotia one while I’m at it…a little behind, I know!

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • emvandee Saturday 24 October 2009, 22:19

    Oh, so lovely. San Francisco (and the Ferry Building!) is my favourite place on Earth and I miss it terribly. This post was just like a little visit – thank you for this!!

  • mango Monday 26 October 2009, 10:02

    Thanks! If you have any gems in SF, please let me know so I can mark it down for next time!

  • Gabrielle Wednesday 4 November 2009, 03:59

    Come to visit Southern California next time! Btw, I like the pics on your blog, did you take all of them?

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