West Coast Road Trip Part III: Santa Cruz to Napa to San Francisco


As soon as I first started planning our West Coast Road Trip adventure, I realized I could kill two birds with one stone off of my 30 Before 30 list. While the road trip itself was always something I'd wanted to do, going wine tasting in Napa was also on my list and this road trip presented the perfect opportunity. So after a night at The Dream Inn in Santa Cruz and an obligatory coffee stop, we headed north for a day of wine tasting. 

But first, we tackled another new experience for me: driving over the Golden Gate bridge. 

Driving over the Golden Gate to get to Napa isn't exactly the fastest route there, but it is the most special. It's hard not to be in awe of the magnitude and iconic experience of it all as you're on it... it really it a beautiful bridge. 

I blasted Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness's song "Maps For the Getaway" as we crossed it and tried to take as much of it in as I could in the short ride. Within minutes it was over and we were finally, truly Napa bound. First stop: the Napa sign on St. Helena Highway. 

There was a steady stream of fellow tourists pulling over to capture their pics as well, so we had no trouble finding a photographer. I'm just glad we found the sign itself! A few people have told me they had trouble finding it or somehow missed it on their trips before, so it was nice that we had no trouble spotting it. 

It also didn't hurt that our first winery, Robert Mondavi, was less than a half a mile up the road. 

I had very loose plans for which wineries we'd actually check out while we were there, but I knew we were starting with Mondavi, one of the oldest and most recognizable names in town. We pulled into the huge estate and headed inside for our first tasting of the day. 

The bartender wisely advised us that we should split one tasting since A. they were expensive ($30 per tasting for four pours) and B. we planned on making a day of tastings. So we took his advice, added on a cheese plate and headed outside to sip our wine in the gorgeous vineyard.

As we finished up our tasting, I googled nearby wineries to see what sounded interesting for our next stop. Cakebread Cellars, a winery that does tastings by reservations only, was just up and across the street, walking distance in fact. I called ahead and got us on a tasting tour within the hour, so we finished up at Mondavi and headed over. 

Cakebread is a beautiful vineyard and has relatively inexpensive tastings ($15/tasting for 6 pours and a tour), but unfortunately their specialities are Chardonnay and Merlot, neither of which are a particular favorite for me. Still, I enjoyed the short tour through their Ansel Adams collection and their gardens and I definitely enjoyed the free taste of their rosé that our guide offered to me at the end. 

With enough time to hit up one more winery before we headed back to San Francisco to meet one of Ryan's friends, we stopped at Miner Winery, recommended by the one and only Tristan Prettyman

Miner was about a ten minute drive away from Cakebread and definitely had the best tasting selection and wines that I'd had all day (this could have had something to do with the fact that I was on my third tasting). It was $25 for five pours that you got to choose. Ryan sat this one out since he was driving us back to SF and I worked my way through my choices, all of which were absolutely delicious.

What was interesting about Miner is that it was the only winery that we went to that doesn't grow its own grapes or have a vineyard: they source their grapes and make the wine there. All in all, it worked out nicely: we got to try a Napa classic, a Napa staple, and a new Napa winery all in one day. It was a nice survey. 

Soon it was time to brave rush hour traffic back to a suburb of San Francisco called Emeryville where we met Ryan's friend Justin for happy hour. Justin suggested a great little bar called Prizefighter that I highly recommend. Ryan and him caught up over a couple of beers and the sunset, then we headed to Ryan's aunt's house to spend the night. 

The next morning it was time for one last glimpse of the Golden Gate bridge. I wanted to get some pictures of it from a distance before making the long drive through the redwoods to our campsite for the night. 

We drove to a lookout point known as Battery Spencer Park in Marin County where we managed to get some great pictures of the bridge with the fog rolling in in the distance. While our time in San Francisco technically only consisted of spending some time with the Golden Gate, it was time well spent!

And with that, we headed up the 101 in search of tall trees.