An Afternoon in Napa Valley

We stopped in Napa Valley on our way to San Francisco from Yosemite National Park. The view from that drive reminded me one of Andrew Wyeth’s painting, “Christina’s World“. I think it was the colour of the landscape. Tell me if I’m stretching…

This is Christina’s World (image via Wikipedia):


and this is the view from that drive…

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It’s the colour right? And the rolling hills? But no house on top of the hill like in the painting.  Christina’s World, by the way, is part of the permanent collection at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. The MoMA has an amazing collection that’s not to be missed.

Napa Valley

I tend to take photos from the car and hope that they’ll turn out okay which some of them did. Aside from photos of vineyards, I thought this was an interesting photo. I see a face from the facade of the building – can you see it?


If you don’t know where to start, visit the Napa Valley Welcome Center located at 600 Main Street, Napa, CA 94559. They were very helpful. They also provided a map of all the wineries in the area.


Beringer Vineyards

So many wineries to choose from and we decided to visit Beringer Vineyards located at 2000 Main Street, St. Helena. Beringer, founded in 1875, is one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley. The estate was designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Rhine House is the main house, which dates back to the 19th century, is now a shop. It is worth a visit to see some of the architectural details like the stained glass windows.  Here’s an excerpt from the Beringer site: “Completed in 1884 by architect Albert Schroepfer, Frederick Beringer’s former residence is now the centerpiece of the expansive Beringer property. Exhibiting the fine, detailed craftsmanship of the period, the Rhine House has beautiful exterior stonework, stained-glass windows and interior wood paneling. When building his 17-room mansion, Frederick wanted to mimic the Beringer family’s impressive German home at Mainz-on-the-Rhine. Built at a cost of about $28,000 (with the 40 panels of stained glass accounting for $6,000) the Rhine House is a classic example of ornate Victorian architecture with its many gables, turrets and ornaments.”


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See that big tree stump in the garden? That tree was alive at the time of the signing of the Constitution, as stated on a plaque found beside it.

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We caught the half hour Introductory Tour which started through these double doors…


We were taken through the old winery and its wine-aging tunnels. It was very dark in those tunnels. “Rare among Napa Valley wineries, the aging tunnels of Beringer were dug into the hillside of Spring Mountain from the late 1870s to the early 1880s. Chinese immigrant workers completed the tedious and strenuous task of hand-chiseling the 1,200 linear feet of tunnel. The hillside rock acts as a natural insulator and keeps the temperature in the tunnels at an ideal 58-60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round with a humidity—perfect conditions for storing wine.” (via Beringer site)


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If you are looking for something to do for a day outside of San Francisco, I think Napa Valley is a terrific option. We found the weather to be very comfortable in Napa; warm but not uncomfortable, with little humidity. Not sure if it’s always like that but it was perfect on that day when we were there.

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Before the Golden Gate Bridge, there was Hyde Street Pier

Didn’t realize how much time had lapsed since my last post. I thought we could go back to California and finish off our tour of the piers in San Francisco.

If you keep walking towards the Hyde Street cable car stop, on the other side of the street from the cable car stop is Hyde Street Pier. Before the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge were erected, this is where you would catch the ferry boat to Sausalito.  Today, the pier is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park where you’ll find some historical ships. You can even see Alcatraz clearly from the end of the pier. It looks like it’s much closer as well.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park





The ferry boat on the right, behind the sign “Hyde St. Pier” is the Eureka built in 1890. It used to be the commuter ferry from San Francisco to Sausalito until 1941 when the ferries were cancelled. At the time, the Eureka could carry up to 2,300 passengers and 120 automobiles. I didn’t think it was that big but then I have a poor judgement of space. Some interesting facts about the Eureka from the NPS site:

  • Overall length 299.5 feet
  • Extreme Width 78 feet
  • Gross Tonnage 2420
  • Horsepower 1500
  • Passengers 2300
  • Automobiles 120
  • Eureka is a wooden-hulled, sidewheel paddle steamboat.
  • From the passenger deck up, she is nearly identical fore and aft.
  • Her “double-end” design made disembarking quicker and easier.
  • Eureka’s large “walking beam” steam engine remains intact.




This is Hercules, a steam tugboat built in 1907 and went out of service in 1962.


Hercules with Alcatraz in background to its right.



I really don’t know much about ships but the Balclutha, also known as Star of Alaska, Pacific Queen, or Sailing Ship Balclutha, caught my eye and wondered how many people it takes to maintain a ship like this in the water. It looks like a lot of work with all those rigging. Here are some facts on this ship from the NPS site:

  • Overall length 301 feet
  • Length of Deck 256.5 feet
  • Beam 38.6 feet
  • Depth 22.7 feet
  • Gross Tonnage 1689
  • Height of Mainmast 145 feet
  • Balclutha is a three-masted, steel-hulled, square-rigged ship built to carry a variety of cargo all over the world.
  • Launched in 1886 by the Charles Connell and Company shipyard near Glasgow, Scotland, the ship carried goods around Cape Horn (tip of South America) 17 times.
  • It took a crew of about 26 men to handle the ship at sea with her complex rigging and 25 sails.

Did you know that it took about 6 months to sail from Cardiff, Wales to San Francisco back in 1887. That’s a long time to be out on the water. (I wonder if it would still take that long today.) This ship has had quite the career from being a British Deepwaterman, Salmon Packet and a movie star! Yup, it was in the film Mutiny on the Bounty starring Clark Gable. Read up on the voyages of the Balclutha here. It’s fascinating and also glad that such a ship has been restored for the rest of us to appreciate.



(via National Park Service)


There are many more ships in the area. Go ahead and explore. If you’ve brought swimming trunks, feel free to jump in the water. I noticed an entrance into a small beach just behind the Park Store.

See what I mean? Alcatraz looks so close…


What else is around the area? There’s the Cannery, Ghirardelli Square and of course, the cable car stop!




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A Stroll Around Pier 39 in San Francisco

San Francisco is known for its piers so, just like other visitors to this beautiful city, that’s where we headed on a clear day in August of 2012. You’ll find shops and restaurants and even a merry-go-round or is it a carousel?! From Pier 39, you have stunning views of Coit Tower and Alcatraz. I used to remember seeing sea lions around the pier but I don’t remember seeing any when we were there. Notice what the people in the photo below are wearing (more on this later).


Here’s a view of the Coit Tower from Pier 39. Coit Tower is in the neighbourhood of Telegraph Hill. I was there many years ago but we didn’t go there on this visit. Notice the art deco style of the tower? It was completed in 1933. The Golden Gate Bridge was completed a few years later in 1937. You can go up to the observation deck for a fee for a view of the city.



Remember I mentioned that we visited in August of 2012 in the middle of summer and yet look at the photo below. Look at what the people are wearing – pants, jackets, sweatshirts or fleece. And for those that are wearing shorts and t-shirt, let me tell you, they end up running into one of the stores for a fleece jacket. My one piece of advice when visiting San Francisco is to always pack a light jacket or a fleece because you never know what kind of weather you’ll get. Even the residents had busted out their leather jackets. It’s always cooler by the water. We saw the temperature steadily decrease driving from Yosemite where it was the high 30’s or even low 40’s degrees Celsius to the mid-teens by the time we reached Sausalito and San Francisco. Another word of advice, if you’re driving to the pier, do not park at the parking garage across Pier 39. They charged $40 for all day parking two years ago. I can only imagine what they are charging now. There are more reasonable parking around the area. But we got stuck in the queue with no way to back out.


Here’s that two-tiered merry-go-round or is it a carousel? I’m not exactly sure but it’s quite pretty.


And there’s Alcatraz. If you want to visit Alcatraz, I would recommend to book your ticket at least 2 weeks in advance. They sell out very quickly.


Another must see is Fisherman’s Wharf and if you’re hungry, it’s the perfect place to stop for a bite. Choose from one of the many restaurants around. You may want to try the Dungeness crab and the clam chowder served in sourdough bread.




Here’s a photo of those Dungeness crab courtesy of Wikipedia:


Musée Mécanique 

The Musée Mécanique is one of the neatest places to visit. It’s located just behind the “Fishermans Wharf” sign and admission is free. You can walk around and see the antique music boxes and arcade machines. They even have arcade machines from your childhood – like the Pong video game! I’m not joking and you can actually play with all the machines. It’s quite awesome. So, don’t miss it!




Cable Cars

If riding the cable cars of San Francisco is on your list of things to do, well, pack a lot patience because the line-up and wait time is long. Catch them at Powell & Market streets. If you’d rather keep exploring, from here, you can head on to Hyde St. Pier which is located just at the bottom of this street, but that’s for another post.



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A Quick Walk through Balboa Park, San Diego

With only an afternoon to spend in San Diego, we had to choose what we wanted to see and I really wanted to visit Balboa Park. When I hear “park”, I think gardens. Balboa Park is much more than just gardens. Balboa Park is an urban park with museums, performing arts theatres, gardens, restaurants, an art village and the San Diego Zoo.  “Named for the Spanish maritime explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the park hosted the 1915–16 Panama–California Exposition and 1935–36 California Pacific International Exposition, both of which left architectural landmarks. The park and its historic Exposition buildings were declared a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Landmark District in 1977, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.” – Wikipedia. We only got to visit the grounds of Balboa Park, so I definitely have to go back and check out the exhibits.

Balboa Park Visitors Center, House of Hospitality

To start your visit, make your way to the Visitors Centre at the House of Hospitality. They’ll explain what to see and do in the park. I was immediately impressed with the architecture of the House of Hospitality. If you have more than a day, you can buy a pass to access the numerous buildings and exhibits in the park.



The next couple of photos were the view from the courtyard of the House of Hospitality.



Spreckels Organ Pavilion

The Spreckles Organ Pavilion houses the “second largest outdoor organ in the world with 4,518 pipes comprising 73 ranks” per They have concerts every Sunday from 2:00 to 3:00 pm and Monday at 7:30 pm in the summer.



We parked behind the organ pavilion so it was actually the first structure that we saw. As you walk towards the Visitors Center, make sure you stop and admire the view of the Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego or you could buy a ticket and explore the garden more thoroughly.

San Diego Museum of Art

The San Diego Museum of Art is one of the first buildings you’ll notice from the Visitors Centre. The collection includes Spanish and Italian old masters, South Asian paintings, and 19th and 20th century American paintings and sculptures. Isn’t that quite the facade?! If you’re planning to visit, their hours of operation is as follows: Sunday: 12:00 to 5:00 PM | Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM | Friday: 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM | Wednesday: Closed


As you wander the grounds of Balboa Park, make sure you keep an eye out for the wonderful sculptures such as the two below. The second one is very kid friendly.



Casa del Prado

Casa del Prado is one of the reconstructed buildings from the 1915 Pan American Exposition. It is now home to the San Diego Junior Theater and the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet.



Casa del Prado Theatre

The Casa del Prado Theater, is adjacent to the Casa del Prado. The entrance is decorated in the Spanish Rococo style known as Churrigueresque ornamentation. The Casa del Prado is decorated in the same style.


San Diego History Center | Model Railroad Museum | Museum of Photographic Arts



Botanical Building

The Botanical Building was one of my favourites. It’s so perfectly situated with the lily pond in front. I took quite a few photos of those lilies.





San Diego National History Museum



Spanish Village Art Center

Loved browsing through the Spanish Village Art Center. These are artist studios and galleries. You might even see some artists at work! It’s located just behind the National History Museum.



The Old Globe

Feel like catching a show or maybe a Shakespeare play? Check out the Old Globe theatre. There are three stages to choose from and 15 productions per year.


The California Bell Tower | San Diego Museum of Man

Notice the weather vane on top of the tower in the shape of a ship?


El Cid Sculpture

This El Cid statue faces the San Diego Museum of Art. I didn’t know anything about El Cid. I had to Google it. Per the website, the El Cid sculpture was installed in Balboa Park in 1930 and was made by Anna Hyatt Huntington (not sure if she’s Huntington of the Huntington Library). But who is El Cid you say? ““El Cid Campeador” (the nickname is a Spanish/Arabic amalgam meaning “lord champion”) was actually named Rodrigo Diaz. He was named commander of the armed forces of the kingdom of Castile at the age of 22, and led them in campaigns against neighboring kingdoms in Spain, both Muslim and Christian. After political reverses and exile, he changed allegiances and served the Moorish state of Saragossa, then managed to conquer and himself rule the kingdom of Valencia.


And there you have it. A quick half day walk through Balboa Park. Next time we go back to southern California, this will be on top my list of places to visit.

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The Gardens at Huntington Library

The Huntington Library is one of my favourite spots in the Los Angeles area located in the San Marino. Not only do they have an impressive art collection (featuring some famous works such as Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, Mary Cassatt’s Breakfast in Bed, Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, and a terrific collection from the Arts and Crafts Movement), and you can’t help but admire the Huntington family’s impressive Beaux-Arts mansion which now houses the Art Gallery, but I particularly love their gardens. I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves and I think it’s fair to say that the Huntington Library is worth a visit next time you’re in the Los Angeles area. Give yourself a lot of time for the visit because the place is massive. We didn’t have time to see everything last time we were there.



The Chinese Gardens

Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, is stunning. The whole meaning behind the design escapes me but the pavilions, bridges, covered walkways and architectural designs against the back drop of the natural elements evoke such nice harmony and balance. I could have spent all day in this garden. For a virtual tour of the Chinese Gardens, click here. But if you’re looking for more in depth information and meaning behind this garden, click here for the link to Huntington’s site.






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The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden was completed in 1912 but has been recently renovated. I think they had just finished the renovations when we went in August 2012. Another stunning garden with a historic Japanese house, a teahouse, a moon bridge, koi-filled ponds, rock garden, and a bonsai garden. This garden is so serene and peaceful. I could have sat for awhile by that pond under the moon bridge watching those koi fish or under this wisteria covered walkway.













The Rose Garden

What can I say? If you love roses, then you have to check out the Rose Garden. The roses were so beautiful. Dad would have loved this garden.


The Conservatory

This is the Conservatory which we didn’t get a chance to see because we ran out of time. According to Huntington’s site: “Living plants fill a 16,000 square-foot greenhouse that comprises three different habitats (a lowland tropical rain forest, a cloud forest, and a carnivorous plant bog) and a plant lab devoted to experiment stations focusing on the parts of plants.”


The gardens I’ve mentioned here is just a part of what makes up Huntington’s Botanical Garden. You’re just going to have to go there to see them all! Click here for more info on the gardens below:

  • Australian Garden
  • Camellia Garden
  • Children’s Garden
  • Chinese Garden
  • Conservatory
  • Desert Garden
  • Herb Garden
  • Japanese Garden
  • Jungle Garden
  • Lily Ponds
  • Palm Garden
  • Rose Garden
  • Shakespeare Garden
  • Subtropical Garden
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Golden Gate Bridge

It has been awhile since I’ve written anything. Instead of writing, I’ve been immersed in reading! A few of the memorable books I read last year that I would recommend are Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, The Dinner by Herman Koch, And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Those range from laugh-out-loud funny to ones that make you think for a long time after you finish the book. Lately, I’ve been in the land of Westeros reading A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin, the third installation in the Song of Fire and Ice Series (so far, the best book in the series). Since this is a travel blog, you may want to try one of these books as one of your travel reads. Maybe for a little beach reading which is where I will be in less than a week. But I digress, let’s back track and head west, to one of my favourite cities in California – San Francisco. I have been to San Francisco a few times. I am trying to remember if I’ve actually seen the Golden Gate Bridge on a bright sunny day. I may have but the last couple of times we’ve been, it has been foggy. Our last trip was in August of 2012. It was also the last trip we took with Dad. He passed away a few months after that. So, let’s take a look at that famous suspension bridge that links San Francisco to Marin County.


So why is it called the Golden Gate Bridge? It’s certainly not golden in colour. Well here’s your answer courtesy of the Golden Gate site: “The Bridge’s official hue is not gold but International Orange. The Bridge is actually named for the Golden Gate Strait, the narrow entrance between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. The strait was named by explorer and U.S. Army officer John C. Frémont, who marveled at its beauty in 1846—two years before the discovery of gold in California. In his memoirs, he wrote that he named it Chrysopolae (Golden Gate) because of its similarity to the harbor of Byzantium (modern-day Istanbul), dubbed Chrysoceras (Golden Horn).”


Make sure you check out the historical information located around the southeast visitor area such as those below. But here are some quick facts courtesy of Wikipedia:

  • Total Length: 2,737 m or 8,981 ft
  • Longest span: 1,280 m or 4,200 ft
  • Height: 227 m or 746 ft
  • Construction: January 5, 1933 to April 19, 1937
  • Opened: May 27, 1937


If you move around this sign, it changes.




If you plan to walk on the bridge, here’s the view that you may see.


The bridge up close; that’s hubby posing with Dad. Notice the Art Deco elements of the south tower.


Dad looking at the construction plaque located on the south face of the south tower. More Art Deco elements on the plaque.


Before you leave, don’t forget to grab a souvenir or two! For more photos of the southeast visitor area, click here.  


If you want to do a bit more exploring, here’s a helpful sign we saw located across from the Bridge Round House. At the bottom of this sign, there are suggested activities if you have one to two hours or three to four hours. I would also recommend crossing the bridge and exploring Sausalito.


The one bit of advice I would like to leave you with is this – remember to bring a light sweater or jacket. You never know what the weather is going to be like even in the middle of summer.

A couple more views of the bridge. But click here for shots of the bridge without the fog.



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California’s Pacific Coast Highway

While we’re on the topic of road trips, another road trip I would like to recommend is the drive on California’s Pacific Coast Highway, coincidentally also featured in National Geographic’s Drives of a Lifetime Series. We started this drive from San Francisco, passed by Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur, Nepenthe, would have loved to have stopped at Hearst Castle along the way, ending in Los Angeles. We did this drive during the first week in August of last year hoping for some good weather, but it was not the case. It was foggy, cold and damp. But, when you’re travelling, you have to learn to go with the flow and make the best of what Mother Nature will give you. We still had some fantastic views but would love to do this again on a clear day.





Bixby Creek Bridge, Big Sur (via Wikimedia Commons)

Bixby Creek Bridge, Big Sur (via Wikimedia Commons)


We stopped for lunch at Nepenthe Restaurant at Big Sur. There’s supposed to be a great view from here. But, we couldn’t see a darn thing.


See what I mean? This was the view – just a big wall of gray fog.


Wait – I think I see something through the fog! Haha!


Looking south showing the McWay Rocks island group, about 16 miles south of Big Sur

Looking south showing the McWay Rocks island group, about 16 miles south of Big Sur
(via Wikimedia Commons)





And then the sun came out!





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