Girls Weekend – Napa and San Francisco

This past weekend I went to Napa and San Fran for a girls’ weekend. This was in celebration of my upcoming nuptials, which haven’t been planned yet, but will be soon, we promise! Due to my other friends being pregnant, getting divorced, going to a wedding, buying a house, going to a Memorial Day BBQ, there were only 3 of us going. Guess that is the curse (or benefit, depending on who you talk to) of getting married later in life. Too much going on. Here are the stories and recommendations:

The Plan:

My dear friend J is an event planner – for a while by occupation, now just for fun. Below is her actual email after weeks of planning:

“Really looking forward to our trip. You will find the Friday agenda below, lots of wineries in a limo on Friday. Friday night we will most likely want casual dinner and drinks. Saturday left open for more wine tasting within walking distance or via train and spa or shopping if we so choose. On Saturday we will probably head over to San Fran around 3:00pm or so and then have dinner at Farallon at 8:30 http://www.farallonrestaurant.com/ and of course I will have some nightlife lined up as well.”

Followed by our Friday agenda:

    • SFO Airport pick up at 11:00am (6 person limo with champagne for 8 hours)
    • Bistro Don Giovanni for lunch 12:15 to 1:15pm
    • Mondavi 2:00-3:00pm
    • Beringer 3:00-4:00pm
    • Sterling 4:00-5:00pm
    • Hill 5:30 -6:30pm

Then the most telling part of the email, I called it a “warning”:

“Rest up we will have a fantastic time.”

Awesome. I told my other friend, S, that J doesn’t sleep very much and to be prepared for a whirlwind. I went to Vegas with J (on a work trip, I have to add) and I couldn’t get her to go back to the room at 3AM w/o pouting. She is a ton of fun and I knew she wouldn’t disappoint.

Day #1:

8AM flight, got there by noon CA time; once we arrived, it was on! The limo driver, Vijay, was right there with a sign with J’s name on it – perfect, didn’t even have to turn our heads. This was absolutely the way to go for both the transport from SF airport to Napa and around Napa to the wineries that day. Not only is J a terrific event planner, she is cost-conscious (but not annoyingly so), so I know she did a lot of research on the value. She said to take a Town Car from airport to Napa it was over $200. We got the entire limo for the day for $690, all in. Champagne chilling when we got in; nothing beats that. Company was California Wine Tours – they did an excellent job! (800) 294-6386; www.californiawinetours.com

Next up – lunch and WINE! We ate at Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa, www.bistrodongiovanni.com.  We ate outside and viewed the beautiful landscape. This place is the “epitome” of Napa, per our trusted local source. It is right in the middle of a gorgeous vineyard. Very reasonably priced for a 3.5 out of 4 stars. We sat outside overlooking the vineyard. I had this tremendous duck pasta dish and we all drank great Italian wine.  Perfect place – a wonderful start to the trip!

Back to our new buddy, Vijay.  Riding in the limo was fun and so easy – we didn’t have to lift a finger, which was a good thing, considering the large amounts of wine to be ingested. Onto stop #2 – a wine tasting!

Our schedule got swapped around a bit due to slight flight delay so we had to consolidate. We went to the Hill Family Estate in Yountville for a wine tasting (see “Best Memory” below) and then to Beringer.  http://www.beringer.com/ 

At Beringer, we got a tour of the wine caves and had the VIP tasting back at the family house. I am borrowing the following from a local work colleague of J’s since he had great recommendations and didn’t steer us wrong:

Some favorites are Beringer, Chateau St. Jean & Mondavi. When you wine taste location is important because they are spread out and you could spend all day driving if you try to see wineries in different counties on the same day.  One mistake people make is to try to hit too many wineries in one day. It is best to pick 2-4 (depending on proximity) and take your time, enjoy the wines, stop for lunch in the middle, etc. You can even do some shopping in between. Great downtown areas in St. Helena & Yountville in Napa County, as well as Healdsburg & Sonoma in Sonoma Valley.

If we had a full day, I would have wanted to hit 4, but considering the timing, 2 was plenty. We checked into the hotel, which was nice and in a perfect location, a 5 min walk from downtown Napa.  http://www.napa-riverterraceinn.com/

Before dinner, we took a much-needed “Nap-a” after drinking all day in Napa. We ate at Angèle, a French restaurant. The least favorite place of the trip, unfortunately, but that says a lot about the trip. Apparently everything shuts down at 10PM in Napa but we didn’t know that, so when we arrived at 9:30 we were told that the kitchen closed at 10.  That sounded just fine to us and we just ordered everything right away.  They seemed mildly annoyed about our timing so the service was a bit strange.  In addition, the place was packed so it wasn’t like we were the only ones there.  Food was only average and it wasn’t cheap, but we had read several good reviews so maybe it was a bad night.  A positive was that they had an interesting wine list that offered one of my all-time favorite wines, “The Prisoner”, for $65, which is a deal. Typically it is $35 or $40 in a store and $90 in a restaurant, so I was happy.

No nightlife in Napa (thankfully) so we walked back to the room and went to sleep – what a day!

Day #2:

We had a fabulous brunch in Napa – we walked over to the Oxbow market, about a 5 min walk,  near the downtown area we ate at the night before – www.oxbowpublicmarket.com/ 

The market was awesome and had several choices. We ate brunch at the Kitchen Door – delicious!  I highly recommend the Kobe Burger, but the food all looked very good. For my first glass of wine for the day, the waiter recommended a nice Coppola red blend to go with the burger and it didn’t disappoint.

And of course more wine before our ferry to San Fran. We sat down in the market at a cute wine bar called Ca’ Momi.  We tried all of the reds and really liked the Cab & Merlot blend. They are a small boutique winery and you can order wine online at their website. http://www.camomiwines.com/

Made it back to the hotel for the cab to take the ferry to San Francisco.  We took the ferry from Vallejo http://www.baylinkferry.com/ (about a 20 min cab ride -$45). We used Black Tie Taxi Company- it was actually a Town Car so it was very nice. http://www.blacktietaxi.com/  I recommend the ferry for transport to SF, it was only $13 each and took about 45 mins or so.  Scenic as well; we went under the Golden Gate bridge (happy 75th birthday!).

We arrived in one piece at the next leg of our journey, San Francisco!  Traveling tip – if your iPad map tells you that a walk is 1.2 miles and that sounds OK to you, remember that it is much tougher with luggage.

We stayed at Hotel Nikko in Union Square. Very nice room and location. Reasonably priced for a big city, especially for a holiday weekend. We upgraded to the club floor for $40 which actually paid for itself by the free happy hour and breakfast.

Dinner that night at Farallon was very upscale and amazing if you like seafood. http://www.farallonrestaurant.com/.  Obviously it was very fresh and of course we had more good wine!  A friend that could not come on the trip bought us a bottle of Pinot Noir from Oregon.  It was quite good and very nice of her to do that.

We then tried to go to a club in the immediate area but it was not our scene.  Clubs in Chicago actually contain people over the age of 25 but not SF apparently.  It was way too crowded for being so early by club standards (about 11:30PM).  We stayed for 15 mins and went back to the room.  Oh well, we had lots to do on our last day!

Day #3:

Shopping!!

Shopping  in another city than Chicago is always rewarding since the sales tax is usually much less. So I thought about my shopping in San Fran as buying things on sale, which made it OK!  In addition, there are usually more small sizes in cities like NYC & LA. San Fran was similar. Is this because there are more small people or less? I don’t know and I do not care, since I got a pair of size 35.5 Prada coral espadrille wedges that I had been eyeing for 40% off (and 5% less tax- oh yeah!).  Didn’t receive them yet but I will post a pic in a future shopping post.

We had a lot of fun in SF in a short time.  We were only there for 22 hours and went shopping, ate 3 meals and walked around a ton.  Look at those hills!  Talk about working on your glutes!

Next time we will plan more time to do other touristy stuff like Fisherman’s Wharf, riding a trolley car (I took a pic at least!) and hitting China Town.  We had all done those things on previous trips so we elected to stay in our immediate area and just enjoy our short stay.

So that’s it – we all made it home just fine and the dogs mauled me when I opened the gate. They apparently were waiting patiently until they heard the key open the door.  I missed my family!!

Best Memory:

Loved Napa and getting the VIP wine tours and tastings. If I had to pick one specific memory it was the excellent host we had at Hill Family Estate winery, Ryan Hill.  www.hillfamilyestate.com

I highly recommend going there to taste the spectacular wine and you will enjoy the company as well. If I could have gotten a picture of my friends’ faces when Ryan walked in the room, that would have been absolutely priceless.  (Go to the pictures on their website if you can’t figure out why!).

Thanks Ryan for the hospitality and signed bottle of Pinot Noir.  I told the girls that we will drink it when we finally set our wedding date!


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Intro: Me and My Family (and Other Tidbits)

This is my first post.  Like any “first”, this is certainly exciting. Not only am I satisfying a goal to start writing, I finished my work for the day and am able to write about something fun, me. To be fair, me and my family. We think we are fabulous, intelligent, funny, and just downright fun. I hope others do too. Or if not, maybe you are bored and/or irritated enough by my adorable picture that you keep reading.

So who am I anyway? I am happy, however much more so with my personal life than my professional life. I thought I would be further along in that arena, but more about that later. I turned 40 last September and am engaged to a wonderful man who I met when I was 35. I was bitter and cynical and sick of dating and luckily so was he. We both had prior dramatic relationships and sticky breakups and wanted none of that. Bottom line, I learned that your perfect mate is out there but you have to put yourself out there, your real self, not your “representative”. How would you describe yourself? How would others describe you? If that answer skews widely from reality, you will most likely be dating until the end of time. If you know what you really want you will find it. You just have to state the cold hard facts.

Real conversation excerpt:

“I absolutely do not want kids.” – Me

“I don’t either.” – J

“Perfect.” – Me

This was about 30 mins after we met. Completely sober might I add. We talked about politics, religion, sex, money, previous relationships and all the things you weren’t supposed to talk about until date #3. In my opinion, date #3 is way too late. You have already invested time, money and you probably like the person enough to get naked with them (it is date #3, after all). Then you find out they are a staunch Pro-Life Republican that is happy Romney is the GOP’s choice – what do you do then? Date #3 is too late – talk about the tough things first, trust me. If he is an asshole you will figure it out before the check arrives and save a lot of aggravation.

We bought a house in Sept 2009, during the worst stock and housing market crash since the depression. We each owned a place and didn’t want to combine into one small place, we wanted one bigger one. How hard could that be? We are smart people with a plan, right? Wow. After 2+ years of searching, countless offers and frustrated realtors, 6 contracts on 4 different houses, we finally found our dream house. A real house – no shared walls! Drama at every turn but I wouldn’t have done a thing differently. It all worked out with a lot of hard work and time spent. After that experience we didn’t know what to do with our time. So we filled it up!

With our SFH (like my real estate jargon?) purchased, we expanded our family. We now have 4 pets, it is a zoo at best; 2 pit bulls, 1 shepherd-husky and 1 cat. We have a lot of fun and they are very cute. Z, our new pittie, is about 5-6 months and was totally untrained. She was from the shelter, so of course that makes total sense, but I think we were hopeful she would be a little less rough around the edges. 4 weeks later, we are getting better, channeling our inner Cesar Milan on a daily basis and instilling discipline while keeping our sanity. Easier said than done. Our savior? Doggie daycare. S picks them up, wears them out, then brings them home. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

I know J loves me with all of his heart but I do have one flaw – spending money. Mainly shopping for luxury goods but I can spend a ton at Target too. Anything new I like, whether it is a new YSL bag or Jimmy Choo heels, or even new candles for our house or flowers for the garden, I love it all.  We recently agreed that I would be better about this and stick to a real “budget”.  We’ll see how that goes.  In any case, I know a lot about shopping and fashion and generally looking good so maybe some of that will help some of you.

Back to my other passion then I will leave you for the day – pet rescue. I work hard to educate and spread awareness that pet adoption is the way to go when you want a pet, not a breeder or a pet store. Despite all of that, we have close friends that recently bought a dog from a breeder. Seriously. If you follow me on Twitter (@tobeyk), you will see that I tweet about pets or politics primarily. If you follow me and do not know where I stand on those topics, you are dumber than a box of rocks.  Even a box of rocks would be able to clearly follow that I do not support dog breeding, especially pit bulls and other bully breeds. Then our friends BUY their dog. I still can’t believe it. It is really the 800lb gorilla in the room.  They sheepishly told J about it and I heard second-hand that they BOUGHT their dog. That actually looks like our dog. That was a stray.  Anyway, I can’t stay mad for long, I just have to continue to spread the word. #AdoptDon’tShop – you will be saving more than one life – you are making room for others to live and breathe another day in the shelter system by doing do. And you are also not perpetuating the cycle of breeding for money and profit, then dropping off the leftover puppies at the shelter, and so on. You get it, right? I know you do, you are smarter than a box of rocks.