California Dreamin’ (Part One)

Whenever my blog turns quiet for a couple of weeks, it is usually a sign of me a) not being in the mood for writing (and busy doing other stuff) or b) enjoying a wonderful vacation somewhere outside of Chicago. In fact, hubby and I just recently returned from what I can declare one of our most ah-ma-zing trips ever (apart from our honeymoon). Everything was just perfect, and I believe one of the reasons why it turned out this way was the fact that we did not plan much ahead. 

How does a perfect vacation look like for you? What does it take for you to return home feeling all rejuvenated? You might be thinking of great company, a stunning location, beautiful weather, time away from your laptop or phone, delicious food, or simply a few uninterrupted days with your loved ones (just add to your list anything I might have omitted).  

Since we know the US East Coast quite well, we decided to spend a few weeks in California, which neither of us had ever travelled to before. Visits to California are typically jam-packed and those of you who have done it might nod. The area simply has so much to offer, that it would be a shame flying back home without having visited San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, Grand Canyon and the many gorgeous spots that are easy to miss as they lie somewhere in between.   

Despite the temptation to wanting to see it all, we chose to approach things a little differently. Instead of spending numerous hours in the car, repeatedly changing hotels and rushing by many of the attractions at record speed, we scaled down on what it is we wanted to explore. We hoped that this would allow us to appreciate the area even more and provide us with plenty of down time and relaxation. As a matter of fact, this was the best decision we could have taken.

Napa Valley

We took a pretty unusual start to our trip by flying to San Francisco, picking up our rental car and directly heading on to Napa Valley, one of the biggest wine regions in the country. We spent three nights and coincidentally ended up in a little town called Yountville, which turned out to be an incredible choice of location. Situated halfway between the bigger spots of Napa and Calistoga, Yountville felt like a secret escape where time just stood still. Hardly ever have we slept, ate and relaxed so well.

Most people visit Napa Valley for the many wineries and great tasting rooms, which are literally lined up one next to another like on a string of pearls. But the region is also a great destination for outdoorsy folks, who love hiking, biking, camping or golfing. We enjoyed great meals, hung out by the pool, rented e-bikes, visited a few wineries and took a couple scenic drives through the area.

After four days of complete wind-down, we headed further South, squeezing in a short stop in the towns of Napa and Sonoma on the way, and aiming for San Francisco as the next destination on our tour.

San Francisco

Wanting to escape the downtown hustle and bustle, which we are already familiar to from Chicago, we picked a cute little gem on a peninsula just across from San Francisco called Tiburon (Spanish for ‘shark’). Not only did we fall in love with the towns of Tiburon and Belvedere (the latter apparently being a hot spot for the rich and famous, as we later learned) the minute we parked our car.

We also found out that we had booked an overnight spot that offered a lovely sun deck with stunning views over San Francisco, breakfast served daily into our room, free wine/cheese/fruit/nuts/crackers ever day at 5pm and warm cookies every evening at 8pm. What more can you possibly ask for (except for maybe a serious diet by the time you get home)?   

Tiburon became our starting point for discovering San Francisco (it’s just a quick ferry ride away) and Silicon Valley (a few hours by car). I must admit though, and maybe that is not fair to say, yet San Francisco left us a tiny bit disappointed (sorry if I’m hurting anyone’s feelings). It just looked a little nicer from a distance than when we were there.

For sure, the harbor is like a big amusement park and the layout of the city with its uphill and downhill structure worth seeing (and certainly feeling if you attempt to walk as we did). We also discovered a bunch of scenic streets, beautifully painted houses and caught a glimpse of seemingly always in fog Golden Gate Bridge. However, overall, ‘Frisco’ did not touch our hearts as much as Chicago does 😉.

After four days we said goodbye to Tiburon (which we will certainly come back to one day), as it became time for us to continue further down South. We packed the car, picked up a bunch of snacks from a nearby grocery store and programmed our GPS for the next few destinations on our trip …

… which I will share more about in my next post.

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