Today we start what is very roughly a figure of 8, so the three of us visitors can see as much as possible when daughter No 2 has limited leave. We are starting with a northerly loop before dumping her and continuing south next week.
First, daughter No 2, who is training for a marathon, must go for a run. Initially, I agreed to accompany her by bike, but when we wake up, it’s raining heavily and my enthusiasm has waned. So she starts without me and I join for final few kilometres, which incorporates cycling/running to Stanford to pick up snow chains, which I must carry home by bike in a rucksack. Snow chains are very heavy. At first, it’s a struggle to start moving. Then, when I have to brake, I lurch forward and nearly topple over the handlebars. We reach the apartment with both me and the bike in one piece which, frankly, is not unsurprising.
After a breakfast of air fried croissants and caramel sauce, we set off on loop 1 – first stop, the Golden Gate Bridge viewpoint. I think I would have to live in San Francisco for a very long time before I could drive across the Bridge without stopping at the viewpoint to admire the view and for the obligatory bridge photo op.
We continue to Cornerstone Gardens, on the outskirts of Sonoma. This interesting little place, which is free to visit, consists of ten gallery gardens and five culinary gardens. You can stroll around and enjoy the juxtaposition of art and nature, all with the backdrop of the beautiful Sonoma Valley and its vineyards. There are also shops, a restaurant and wine tasting rooms here, which we didn’t get a chance to visit as there was so much more we wanted to fit into our day.
Next, we drive on to Sonoma itself for a wander round the plaza and lunch. It’s an interesting little town set around a central park, lined with historical buildings. We could have enjoyed much longer here, but have quite a packed itinerary. So we walk a circuit of the park, and stop at a bakery for sandwiches before continuing to our next stop.
We drive to our overnight destination; Fairfield. Here, we visit Sonoma Harvest which produces wine and olive oil. There’s actually only two types of wine; one red and one rose, so we purchase a couple of glasses to drink while we do what is described as an olive oil tasting. In fact, she produces 5 different olive oils (all manufactured on site) and 5 balsamic vinegars for us to dip a little tub of croutons into. The oils are good but the vinegars are amazing. Once we have finished, we can’t resist buying what is going to be some very well travelled sriracha and mango balsamic vinegar.
Next on the itinerary is the Jelly Belly factory for a tour. The tour costs $5 and we did wonder, as none of us are particular jelly bean fans, if it is worth it. Nevertheless, we purchase tickets and don the compulsory jelly bean hats and set forth on our self- guided tour.
Apart from observing the manufacturing process, which is actually quite fascinating, there are also interactive candy related games to play. There is a smelling section where you have to guess the flavours, a huge game of candy crush and a football style game. The kids have a go and attempt and manage to top the leaderboard, which they are surprisingly excited about!
My favourite is the art; there are portraits placed along the route, and at the end is an art gallery, which contains some classics, such as the Mona Lisa and the Girl with the Pearl Earring made from jelly beans. We actually really enjoyed our tour, it was probably our favourite experience of today’s very varied itinerary.
We drive to tonight’s accommodation; the classy roadside motel – Fairfield Surestay. It’s situated right next to the freeway and next door to the Texas Steakhouse. The rooms are a little tired and everything smells of exhaust fumes and cooked meat.. After checking in, the kids go shopping while their decrepit old mother rests. I receive a call from reception to ask if the room is OK? I say ‘Yes, thank you’. They seem genuinely surprised. The kids return with a selection of locally produced wine and some snacks for our own budget style Sonoma wine tasting experience.
After a couple of bottles of very nice wine, we head for the Texas Roadhouse for an all American dining experience. Add to the fact that we’re fairly merry and the staff love our ‘cute accents’, we (I) can’t resist telling our waitress it’s daughter No 2’s birthday.
As a vegetarian, a steakhouse isn’t the obvious choice. There are no vegetarian mains, so daughter No 2 and I order three starters between us. We ask that they are served at the same time as the others’ main course. This confuses the kitchen staff completely. Our starters arrive immediately. We are starving after a long day’s travel (and plenty of wine). We tuck in, despite the fact that the ‘vegetarian’ cheesy fries come with a generous topping of bacon. When the main courses are served, our three selected starters appear once again. Despite sending some of the accidental extras back, there is a lot of food and we end up totally stuffed and clutching a very full doggy bag. Cold cheesy fries for breakfast all round!
Before we depart, daughter No 2 gets to ‘celebrate’ her birthday Texas steakhouse style; a saddle is brought to the table and she must sit on it and shout yee haw, while swinging a napkin round her head, with the entire restaurant watching. This ritual humiliation earns her a free bowl of ice cream, which she is too full to eat. It is put into the freezer in our room to add to tomorrow’s gourmet breakfast extravaganza.