Thursday, April 12, 2012

Road Trip Part 3 - The Golden Gate, San Francisco & The Rubicon

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

As we watched Big Sur fade in the rear view, we wandered aloud if we should have just stayed another three days and check out San Francisco and its environs on a later trip. Staying in a place like Big Sur really does change your perception of what travel is supposed to be. All Nomads are looking for that one place, that one town or hilltop or little house on the beach where we know we could stay forever and never need anything but the air, water and sustenance of that one place. Big Sur is that kind of place. It completely validates the whole idea of the art of doing nothing, only with great views. But, like all True Nomads, we decided to press on to see if  San Francisco, The Golden Gate and the famed Napa Valley could live up to the hype. The drive from Carmel up The Coastal Highway through the beach towns of Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay took us out of the rocky coastal landscape of Big Sur into a more gentle, pastoral one with numerous easy stops to enjoy the California coast.

With great expectations, we picked up California Highway One just outside of Half Moon Bay, for the one hour ride into San Francisco. Just south of San Francisco (and here is where you need a good map or Smart Phone) we picked up US-101 and made several small detours as we wound our way through the neighborhoods of The City By The Bay. And then, their it was. The Golden Gate!! I was utterly transfixed by this amazing work of architecture. The scale of this massive feat of engineering was almost beyond comprehension. And then I remembered all of those books I had read and all of those documentaries I had watched and understood why it is listed as a modern Wonder of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. While there are other bridges throughout the world that are longer and higher, none capture the poetry of steel spanning a great body of water quite like The Golden Gate. Spanning 4,200 feet, this fascinating structure was built in four years, opened in 1937 and cost $1.4 billion in today's dollars. And, just in case you are interested, the bridge is not gold but orange vermilion or "international red". According to one  Golden Gate Bridge Web Site, Consulting Architect Irving Morrow selected the distinctive orange color because - "it blends well with the span's natural setting as it is a warm color consistent with the warm colors of the land masses in the setting as distinct from the cool colors of the sky and sea. It also provides enhanced visibility for passing ships. If the U.S. Navy had its way, the Bridge might have been painted black and yellow stripes to assure even greater visibility for passing ships." It always takes an architect to make a thing go right!

And Where Will We Stay Tonight My Dear?

In keeping with our theme of zero planning for this adventure, we had, once again, failed to make a reservation, and the hour was growing late so we headed in the general direction of Fisherman's Wharf, only a few minutes drive from the southern access to the bridge, to hustle up a room. As luck would have it, we stumbled on a sweet little hotel in the middle of Fisherman's Wharf just off the main tourist tread way. This method of finding hotels on the fly was starting to become a habit. We lucked into The Tuscan Inn, a small, little boutique number with well appointed rooms, great staff and an afternoon wine and cheese tasting that made our stay complete. The front desk made various dining recommendations and they did not disappoint. If you are a foodie, you cannot go wrong in  San Francisco.  It's a lot like New Orleans - you really can't get a bad meal. After a great meal at a small restaurant on the wharf, we walked back to our little bit if Italy in the big city and had a restful night for the big events of the next day.

After a great breakfast in the hotel, we headed back to the Golden Gate. Like any architect, I wanted to experience this great vehicle and people mover up close and personal. As we pulled into the  parking lot at Fort Point Park located at the southern end of the bridge, I could sense my fellow Nomad - you remember Susie, the love of my life - getting nervous. My intrepid travel companion adores solid ground and has never expressed any interest in high places, no matter how elegantly designed they may be. After some cajoling, she agreed to make the trek across the great span. But, alas, it was not to be. She bailed about a hundred yards in. But she could say that she did, indeed, walk the Golden Gate. After watching her head back to the park, I continued on to the middle of the span of this marvelous piece of engineering art. The experience confirmed that great design renders our world a better place.  And to think the day had just started. After my walk in the clouds we jumped in the car and headed north on US 101 across the great bridge towards a natural wonder where man takes a back seat. After seeing one of the great man made artifacts on earth, we drove a quick thirty minutes to the beautiful Muir Woods National Monument

After our tranquil hike through the Muir Woods, we headed back to Fisherman's Wharf and caught the tour ferry to the infamous Alcatraz Island. The Rock no less. I did not see Sean Connery or Ed Harris or even Nicholas Cage. Oh wait, those guys were in the movie. What I did see was an excellent example of Creepy Architecture comprised of a massive group of very bad buildings designed to keep very bad guys locked up . How enlightening!  After about two hours of a guided tour, it was nice to head back to the hotel, check in with the afternoon taste test and prepare for another great meal on the town.

Coppola & The Rubicon

Day three - Destination Napa Valley. Specifically, The Niebaum-Coppola/Rubicon/Inglenook Winery - the place owned by Nicholas Cage's uncle - the iconic movie director Francis Ford Coppola. On the trip to Napa, we were treated to yet another example of the diversity of California. As we headed back across the Golden Gate for a day in America's renowned wine region, we  were treated to another California must see - Sausalito. Anchored at the northern end of the Golden Gate, Sausalito is a small waterfront houseboat community of about 7,500 residents. Like all waterfront communities, this residential flotilla runs the gamut of stylish and stylized houseboats from the McMansion to the Macabre. A trip to this truly unique place is a must for The Nomad visiting the bay area. But we had more important things to do, so our stay among the rich, alternative living set was short. Napa and The Rubicon were beckoning.

As we arrived on the finely etched gravel drive at the Niebaum-Coppola Winery, we felt transported into a world that could only exist in California, France or Italy. The Chateau, which was purchased as part of the 1250 acre estate by Coppola in 1975, has been impeccably restored. In addition to the main building, the winery has many other natural and man made features which make it the perfect place to enjoy the essence of a great wine making enterprise.  It's history, starting with the original founder Gustav Niebaum, a wealthy businessman who had a passion for wine making, through its current iteration as The Inglenook Winery is long and storied. It must be noted that the winery was named Niebaum-Coppola in 1975, renamed The Rubicon in 2003 and finally named Inglenook in 2011. But we were there for the wine and the food. And let's just say, it was all good. In addition to The Inglenook, we leisurely visited other wineries, both large and small, soaking up the culture of this unique place along the way. Realizing that our California sojourn was coming to a close, we reluctantly headed back to our hotel late to pack for an early drive back to LA the next morning.

And All Good Things Must Come To An End

It's inevitable. Post Trip Depression. It started the second we hit the I-80 East connector to I-5 South to LAX. Because of time, we had to take I-5, which cuts a swath north to south through the middle of California all the way to the Mexican Border. The highlight of this final road trip was the monster windmills that seem to go on forever as if we were entering some futuristic 1970's bad sci-fi movie. As we began the slow decent back into the real world of bad airlines and long waits, we took comfort in the knowledge that we had memories to last a life time.

Video of The Week - This week, I decided to link some trailers & scenes from the great little movie Bottle Shock about the story of the early days of California wine making featuring the now infamous, blind Paris wine tasting of 1976 that has come to be known as "Judgment of Paris". Starring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman and Chris Pine, it's a must see movie.

Travel Quote of The Week - The True Nomad's Credo - "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." - Ferris Bueller from the eternally classic comedy film Ferris Beuller's Day Off.   

I Really Do Hate Delta!


D.L. Stafford



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