I Left My Heart in Northern California

I Left My Heart In ….

San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Half Moon Bay, San Carlos, and along the Sonoma coast.

View of Golden Gate Bridge beyond the rooftops of San Francisco seen from the base of Coit Tower

San Francisco

I guess I’ve actually left a little bit of my heart behind in a lot of places where I’ve lived and traveled. The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most significant. I visited there since I was a young girl in the 1960s and lived there for over 25 years before moving to Arizona. Of course, my heart is here in Scottsdale, too.

Highlights of San Francisco and the Sonoma Coast

Traveling for the first time since pre-pandemic times, Mr. TWS and I hit the road and headed to northern California a month ago, our first return trip since we sold our home in San Carlos and headed to the desert. It was exciting and rejuvenating to be behind the wheel as we made our way to the Bay Area for fun, food, wine, nature, and sentimental reasons.

Come along for this sampler of our short trip that highlights some of our favorite moments.

San Francisco

Oracle Park

Mr. TWS at Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants -- San Francisco, California

Oracle Park

A day at his favorite ballpark, Oracle Field, was a special Father’s Day treat for Mr. TWS — and for me, too. It was an amazing game with splash hit after splash hit and the Giants won. It was also a big deal for me to stay after the game to hear a recording of Tony Bennett singing I Left My Heart in San Francisco through the stadium speakers. When we went to games while we lived in the Bay area, we usually rushed out at the end of the game to catch the express train back home to San Carlos. This time, since we were staying in the city, we savored every note.

Wining, dining, walking, reminiscing

After such a great Giants win, a jubilant crowd headed out of the stadium, some stopping at the bars and restaurants along the way for celebratory drinks. Many places were packed, so we kept looking further along the Embarcadero where we were welcomed at a great spot, EPIC Steak, which had one table available outside. Friendly service, a secluded table, and tasty crab cakes made this an especially lovely experience. Afterwards, we continued to walk along the waterfront to the famous Ferry Building where we were just a little too late for the shops which had closed for the day.

Along the Embarcadero, San Francisco, California

Along the Embarcadero with the tower of the Ferry Building in the background

The next day after check out, we couldn’t resist a quick drive to one of San Francisco’s iconic landmarks, Coit Tower, and cruising up and down a few of the city’s famed dramatic steep streets — just as we’d done for decades as tourists and then as locals showing out-of-towners around.

Coit Tower, San Francisco

Coit Tower

I’ll never get tired of driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and taking in the views of San Francisco Bay, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and Alcatraz and the city skyline to the east. I’ve also enjoyed seeing the bridge from below many times in the past when we took friends and family for cruises on the bay.

Cathy Sweeney at Vista Point on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California

Vista Point on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge

Accommodation tip: While in San Francisco, we stayed at Le Meridien on Battery Street. It was a great location for us to Uber to and walk from Oracle Park, enjoy nearby restaurants, and to begin our drive out of the city heading north after checking out. Adding to the pleasant experience, we were upgraded to a Studio Suite with an awesome unobstructed view of Coit Tower and partial views of the Bay Bridge and Ferry Building. I loved looking at the city lights at night.

Sonoma wine country

On this trip, we didn’t have time to fully immerse ourselves in wine-tasting experiences in Sonoma County wine country. Also, this was the first weekend of full opening up of the state after COVID restrictions, so many wineries were still operating with restrictions and reservations only for tastings. Just driving through Sonoma wine country is a pleasure enough, but we’ve got a few highlights to share.

Vineyard scene at Viansa Winery in Sonoma, California

Vineyard view at Viansa Winery in Sonoma

Viansa Sonoma Winery

As we made our way to our two night destination in Healdsburg, we made sure to detour off of Highway 101 and stop at Viansa Winery in Sonoma. When we lived in the Bay Area, we sometimes came here to enjoy lunch on the estate’s hilltop when driving between my parent’s home in Santa Rosa and our home in San Carlos.

Family-owned Viansa produces Italian-style wines using traditional processes that date back to the family’s beginnings in Lucca (in Italy’s Tuscany region). The winery is proud to welcome visitors as amici di famiglia (friends of the family). We have felt that warmth each time we’ve visited. We had simple, but delicious sandwiches accompanied by a bottle of Viansa’s Sauvignon Blanc while at an outside table overlooking the gorgeous Sonoma Valley.

Mauritson Family Winery

At Mauritson Family Winery in the Dry Creek Valley region of Sonoma wine country, we thoroughly enjoyed a tasting of a few of the exclusive estate wines created by winemaker Emma Kudritzki Hall. Founder Clay Mauritson’s family has been farming Dry Creek Valley for over 150 years. We enjoyed the wines here so much that we joined their club and brought home with us two bottles of the Rockpile 2018 Jack’s Cabin Zinfandel (only available to members). We wish we had bought more!

A satisfied wine tasting guest at Mauritson Winery in Dry Creek Valley, Healdsburg, California

Mauritson Winery

You may already know from previous wine posts that I appreciate the poetry of a winemaker’s tasting notes such as those of the Rockpile Jack’s Cabin Zinfandel:

The 2018 Jack’s Cabin Zinfandel is very classic in its aromatic offerings: crushed black cherry, milk chocolate shavings, sweet baking spices and nuances of dried old-fashion rose petal. The juicy entry reveals fresh red currants and black raspberries, black tea leaf and dusty soil. Full-bodied with a plush texture, it finishes with great focus and clarity.

For film buffs: Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Many years ago, Mr. TWS and I had an afternoon treat of appetizers and wine at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville. The views of Alexander Valley and Geyser Peak are wonderful and we once again went there for lunch on the patio overlooking the vineyards. Today, the winery doesn’t offer the quaint Sonoma County wine visit experience of many other local wineries, but it is a fun place to visit, particularly if you are a film buff or looking for a venue with a resort feel (particularly with bocce, pools, and daytime cabine rentals offered by the estate).

View over the patio restaurant from Coppola Winery, Geyserville, California

View over the patio of Rustic restaurant from Coppola Winery with Geyser Peak in the background

Coppola’s movie memorabilia collections throughout the estate are quite impressive.

Movie memorabilia at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, California

Movie memorabilia at Coppola Winery

Outdoor recreation

The Russian River Valley area has plenty of camping, water sport, and other recreational opportunities. With just two full days, our time was limited but we found a wonderful place for hiking and enjoying nature.

Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve

View from a trail at Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve, Healdsburg, California

View from a trail at Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve

Despite the significant amount of time over many years that we’ve spend in this area, we’d never heard of the Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve. What a great find whether you have time to explore multiple connecting trails or just have time to take a one hour hike (like we did). There are well-marked trails meandering through the woods up to vista points to enjoy Russian River Valley views and get in touch with the nature lover in you. The trailhead is just a few miles north of downtown Healdsburg.

Mr TWS walking on a trail in Healdsburg Ridge Open Preserve in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California

Mr. TWS walking in Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve

Dining in Healdsburg

Dry Creek Kitchen – This was a long-awaited return for us and we were not disappointed. The food, service, and romantic ambiance was as wonderful as our previous visit and there was an added bonus — famed chef and restaurant owner Charlie Palmer was cooking in the kitchen that night!

Duck breast at Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, California

Duck breast at Dry Creek Kitchen

Dish tip: I had the scrumptious duck breast shown in the photo above.

Valette – Serendipity brought us to this restaurant near Healdsburg Square on our first evening in town. Without dinner reservations, we were kindly turned away at a few places until we came to Valette. Although all tables were taken for the rest of the night, there were a few seats at the bar where the same menu is served and we were warmly welcomed. We loved the Sonoma County vibe and eagerly took our seats. From there, our experience was a delightful combination of friendly service, conversation with staff and other diners, and delicious dishes.

Day Boat Scallops en Croute at Valette in Healdsburg, California

Day Boat Scallops en Croute (left and top right) at Valette being split for us by the waiter.

Dish tip: As we had a late lunch at Viansa, we opted to share two appetizers instead of ordering full dinners and it was a perfect decision. Day Boat Scallops en Croute and a beautiful organic salad had been recommended by a fellow diner.

Chalkboard – For a fresh and fun tapas style meal, Chalkboard is a good choice. Our favorite selections were a beet salad (with arugula, walnuts, and a yogurt dressing) and a bucatini pasta dish. The menu changes daily, but always includes produce from the restaurant’s 4.5 acre garden at Chalk Hill Winery estate and from local farmers and ranchers.

Sonoma Coast — Jenner to Bodega Bay

Sonoma coast -- Portuguese Beach, Sonoma County, California

Portuguese Beach, Sonoma coast

From the first time I got a glimpse of the Sonoma coast and the Pacific Ocean, I’ve been in love with this rugged part of Northern California’s coastline. I’ve been on California Highway One countless times between Jenner and Bodega Bay and was happy to return for a leisurely drive. Each way to and from Healdsburg, we drove through the peaceful wooded Russian River towns of Occidental, Guerneville, and Rio Nido,

Cathy Sweeney on the Sonoma coast of Northern California

Sonoma coast

Traveling south from gorgeous Jenner where the Pacific Ocean meets the Russian River, we took in dramatic views. We had lunch at the The Tides Restaurant at Bodega Bay. Famous as a setting in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, it is very popular with tourists but a good place to have a meal on your coastal journey. The schoolhouse made famous by the movie, a short distance away, is now a private residence. Bodega Bay was always a must see place for our out of town visitors. Bodega Bay Schoolhouse on Bodega Lane, Bodega Bay, California

Schoolhouse seen in the “The Birds” in Bodega Bay

San Mateo coast — Half Moon Bay

We lived just about 15 minutes from Half Moon Bay on the San Mateo coast south of South San Francisco (when weekend and holiday traffic wasn’t a problem) and loved going there for breakfast or lunch and walking along the beaches. Although the weather was overcast and cool (not unusual here, of course), there were many families picnicking and playing in the surf. It was a joy to breathe in the sea air for the first time since our move to the southwest.

Mr TWS on the beach in Half Moon Bay, California

Half Moon Bay

A favorite place for a meal with a view was Miramar Beach Restaurant and we made a point to go there for lunch (although a very late one) on the way to San Francisco.

Miramar Beach Restaurant in Half Moon Bay, California along the San Mateo County coast

Miramar Beach Restaurant in Half Moon Bay

While in San Mateo County, we also took a sentimental drive by our old place in the San Carlos Hills. We loved our gorgeous views there of San Francisco, the bay, and Silicon Valley.

A sentimental moment in Santa Rosa

Our short time in Santa Rosa was a sentimental one. We drove around town past familiar places, including my parent’s former house and special venues, thinking about good family times — times that for me go back to 1964 and for Mr. TWS to 1989 when I first brought him here to meet my family.

St Rose of Lima Church in Santa Rosa, California

St. Rose of Lima Church, Santa Rosa

A special stop was at St. Rose of Lima Church where our family went to Mass during our trips from Chicago in the mid-late 1960s and early 1970s. I wanted to step inside for a few minutes to remember those in the family that have passed, some of them who were way too young when they died. The doors were locked, but I called the church office and was wonderfully surprised that the woman I spoke to was happy to ask the priest if we could go inside for a few minutes. The priest gave his approval and she shortly arrived with a key and a big welcome hug. She left Mr. TWS and me alone for a while in the silence with our thoughts.

I’m sure this will not be our last visit to Northern California. It’s too close to my heart to be forgotten.

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7 thoughts on “I Left My Heart in Northern California

  1. Debbra Dunning Brouillette

    Cathy, what a wonderful trip through San Francisco, Sonoma and up to your former home territory in Santa Rosa! I enjoyed reading about it! I haven’t been to northern California and the wine country there for decades but hope to return. There is so much to see, do, and of course taste! Cheers!

  2. Jeff & Crystal

    Northern California is a region that we have yet to explore. Seeing all of these amazing scenes makes us yearn for a week of traveling from town to town. Looks like it needs to move up the travel priority list.

  3. Suzanne Fluhr

    Now that others are traveling again, I admit to some FOMO. I’m vaccinated, but also immunocompromised, so I’m still supposed to lay low, especially for indoor experiences like the restaurants and winery tastings you visited. The photo of Mr. TWS on the “trail” in the Healdsburg Preserve looks pretty well maintained. Do you think it could be handled with a durable rolling walker?

  4. michele

    How wonderful you were allowed into the church to pay quiet tribute to your ancestors and family in Santa Rosa. I haven’t been to the area for years but still remember crossing the Golden Gate Bridge – it was truly a striking experience on a sunny day. The Francis Ford Coppola Winery would be on my list as I’ve sample their wines at the jungle resort they operate in Guatemala – a must stop near Tikal.

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