Written July 16, 2021
Traveled May 27-June 1, 2021
On May 27, I only had a HALF day of work before I could hop on a plane and visit with Justin again! After our last trip’s exciting ending (with both of us spending more time in a restroom than we would’ve liked), we were ready for a redemption trip! Our second round in Northern California was filled of quality time, lodging, food, and (of course) wine! We had a total blast and embraced every moment.
Cheers to embracing where you are with quality people. Don’t want to read the whole thing?? Jump to the end for a quick 3-day itinerary suggestion if you’re headed to Northern Cali! I’d also love to hear what we missed because we will one day return to enjoy food and drinks yet again!
Northern California in May
All I can say is – thank goodness for redemption trips! The ending to our time together in February had us laughing, but also really wanting to have a second try. In May, we were able to have a little more time together (I arrived Thursday evening and left on Monday’s redeye) and enjoy more of Napa Valley! Once again, Justin did most of the planning and left room for surprises, rest, and spontaneity along the way. For our future travels, I know we’ll be doing more co-planning, but for now I am grateful he put so much time and energy into our trip!
Having more time together during this trip was a gift! I arrived in SFO at 9:30PM on JetBlue’s packed, direct flight (no more seating restrictions!), where Justin picked me up with the best gift: A BURRITO FROM EL FAROLITO!!! The burrito I could not eat on my travels in February was in my hands yet again and, this time, I got to enjoy the ENTIRE thing (no norovirus, yay!).
We planned our trip with intention to spend quality time together, allow for resting/relaxing, and share time with “extended” friends! We hung with Justin’s classmates during Friday night’s BBQ, enjoyed dinner in San Fran with his classmate and friend from Physical Therapy school, and I met the kind woman/adorable dog he was living with in Benicia (they were away in February). Quality time is my love language and it was expressed well in this trip!
The only area we didn’t have “quality time” was with our timing. We were a half hour late for pretty much all of our reservations. Call it “being in the moment” or poor planning (I blame myself for that, as running late is kinda my MO lol) – either way, we were still accepted everywhere and enjoyed being present (with a little dose of “oh shit we’re going to be late”).
One of my favorite things we snuck into this trip was a hike at Muir Woods National Monument amongst the redwood trees! Our six-mile hike along the Ben Johnson Trail / Dipsea Loop brought us through a dense redwood forest, to hilltop meadows, and views of the ocean. My Annual Pass for the National Parks worked here, so we didn’t have to pay for day use (which is $15/adult). BUT, you have to reserve a parking time because of high volume of visitors.
AirBnB is one of my favorite ways to find lodging, as there are usually great options with a more local, homey feel. For this trip, Justin and I opted to stay in his long-term AirBnB rental for all nights with the exception of ONE. Sometimes, comfort is a bit of priority!
While in Napa Valley area, we rented a “Room with a Brew” via AirBnB at The Calistoga Inn (located in Calistoga, CA). The inn was PERFECT for our needs that night. The room was comfortable and centrally located. To note, the bathrooms are shared spaces, but this didn’t affect us at all being that we were only there for a night! I think it would have been nice to have our own bathroom if we were staying longer.
BENICIA and VALLEJO has interesting, fun spots for quality food! We indulged in the breakfast and coffee scene here, with a splash of local brews:
- Mare Island Brewing Co.:
We went to the Ferry Taproom in Vallejo for after-work quick bites & brews on Friday.
- Good Day Cafe:
Quality, classic breakfast in Vallejo with a variety of omelet (<that word is hard to spell) options! The only bummer was the long wait.
- Moschetti Artisan Roasters:
For locally roasted coffee in Vallejo, this is a *must*! I picked up a bag of single-origin La Grande Reserve coffee roasted from Tanzania! (buy here – it was SO GOOD)
- States Coffee X Bread (or Farm & Flour):
In downtown Benicia, this is an awesome spot for fresh-baked bread and avocado toast!
- One House Bakery:
YOU MUST GET THE BREAKFAST SANDWICH! Buttery Croissant, fluffy eggs, Holy Cow Cheese. Benicia, you know how to do a breakfast sammy.
SAN FRANCISCO has a quality food scene! We only had an evening to explore the San Fran food scene together, but would recommend:
- Lunch at El Farolito:
For the biggest, most authentic, OG burritos. No frills, all yums.
- Dinner at Croqueta:
A hip spot on Pier 5 for Spanish tapas where you cannot go wrong with ordering anything on the menu. Our favorites were the Paella Mar y Montaña, Datiles (dates!), Salmón Ahumado, and the meat/cheese board.
- Dessert at Smitten Ice Cream:
Fresh-churned NITROGEN ice cream with “unprocessed, real, locally sourced ingredients,” this was a REAL treat! 10/10 recommend for all you ice cream enthusiasts.
NAPA and SONOMA COUNTY top choices:
- Breakfast at Calistoga Roastery (Calistoga, CA):
Great for a quick breakfast sammy, smoothie, and cup o’ joe!
- Brunch at Brix Restaurant & Gardens (Yountville, CA):
With a *daily* changing farm-to-table menu, this is a must for brunch. We shared the Poutine 2.0 for an appetizer (featuring hashbrowns, gravy, and cheese curds-RIGHT photo above), then shared Banana’s Foster French Toast (not to sweet, just right!) and the Spring Frittata (featuring asparagus, shiitake, spring onions, feta, baby green salad). We then wandered the beautiful gardens. It was a perfect view, sitting outside on the patio.
- Lunch at R+D Kitchen (Yountville, CA):
**THE BEST MEAL** of our trip and should NOT be missed if you’re in the area! Located north of Napa, the lunch menu has something for literally everyone. We opted for the Peruvian Meatballs and Shrimp & Macadamia Sushi Roll for an appetizer, followed by a #1 Ahi Tuna Burger for Justin and Thai Noodle Salad (which has mangoes- left photo above!!) for me. Each of us got a margarita, of course. Which was amazing. Seriously. The flavors here are UNREAL. Make sure to check their dining guidelines before going to respect the premises!
- Dinner at Solbar (Calistoga, CA):
For craft cocktails and a fresh, seasonal menu, this place had a simple, yet bold flavor profile. I opted for the Spa Day cocktail and halibut for dinner (center photo above).
I know what you’re thinking. All this talk about food, quality time, and places to stay is so nice… but what the heck are you doing in California without drinking wine?! Fear not, fellow traveler – Justin and I did NOT neglect indulgence in the wine scene of California!
In the light of COVID, reservations are required most everywhere (we found a surprise exception below!).
V. Sattui Winery: An Italian Vineyard for the Italian couple! Here, we did the Terrace Tasting with Cabernet upgrade (bonus reserve Cabernet!). It was a quiet place for a tasting and didn’t feel rushed at all. We got a bonus tasting of the Madeira, which is a Solera-style, wood-aged wine, fortified with brandy. We had to buy a bottle of the Madeira, which we can’t wait to share with loved ones at dinner parties on the East Coast! It’s the perfect wine to share after dinner. We also got our fav selfie here:
Castello di Amorosa: The most picturesque vineyard yet! We could have spent all day exploring the castle, which felt like we were transported to Italy. It is a sister vineyard to V. Sattui. We’d say the wine at V. Sattui was better, but the views at the castle were hard to beat:
Duckhorn Vineyard: This was a spontaneous visit for us! On our way back to Benicia, we decided to try stopping at this vineyard. Since we didn’t have a tasting reservation, we didn’t have an “official” tasting here, but the vineyard accommodated us as had us sit at the bar! We were completely “WOWed” by the Duckhorn 2016 Cabernet, Howell Mountain. It was by far the best wine we had of the trip! We enjoyed a spot in the shade while waiting for availability at the bar. What a treat:
The Ultimate, Quick Wine Country Itinerary
If I were to compress our TWO trips into ONE itinerary for 3-4 days, I’d do something like this:
Day One: Explore San Francisco
– Burrito from El Farolito *OR* Irish Coffee/Chowder from Buena Vista Café for lunch (perfect after travels)
– Drive on Lombard Street (the most crooked street!)
– Visit the Golden Gate Bridge (bonus = walk across)
– Hike in Muir Woods National Monument amongst redwood trees
– Return to San Francisco for dinner at Croquetta (Pier 5)
– Stay in San Fran!
Day Two: Napa Valley Vineyards (driving from south to north)
– Lunch at R+D Kitchen (~1.5 hour drive from SF)
– Tasting at V. Sattui Vineyard (which also has a lovely Italian marketplace for snacks!)
– Tasting at Castello di Amorosa Vineyard
– Dinner at Solbar in Calistoga
– Stay at Calistoga Inn
Day Three: Napa Valley Vineyards (driving from north to south)
– Brunch at Brix
– Tasting at Duckhorn Vineyards
– Tasting at Mumm Napa (the sunset is amazing!!)
– Dinner at Long Meadow Ranch’s Farmstead
– Stay in Napa (Hampton Inn & Suites Napa for 2-star OR Meritage Resort & Spa for 4-star lodging). View “The Blonde Abroad” list of Coolest Air BnB’s in Napa here!
Day Four: Journey home!
– Breakfast/brunch in downtown Sonoma at Sunflower Caffé or El Dorado Kitchen
– Quick tasting at Roche Winery’s Downtown Sonoma Tasting Room (because why not?!)
– Late afternoon/evening flight out of SFO!
Read Part 1 from February 2021:
Serendipity and a Quick Trip to Northern California