My next stop was San Francisco. It was always going to be a short trip (due to booking the cheapest possible flights I could find) but it turned out to be even shorter than planned. Thunderstorms there delayed my flight from Seattle several times, and in the end I arried at Tania’s house after 3am – and left less than 26 hours later! Happily, my friends helped me pack a lot into that short time.
Tania is a Chinese friend I met very soon after moving to Beijing in 2004 (she was one of the “heroes of my first year“). We have a lot of history, including time with each other’s families. The last time I saw her was shortly after her wedding in 2010; she has lived in San Francisco ever since, and now has two adorable little boys. Seeing her was always a priority when I was putting together my itinerary.
A mutual friend of ours, from my early years in Beijing, lives in the Napa Valley – so in the morning Tania and her husband and I drove out there. I was surprised at how much the countryside reminded me of parts of Australia – low rolling hills with limited vegetation, stands of eucalyptus trees, and tall pale grasses. Back in Australia I was amazed to hear my aunt had the same reaction when she visited! Napa is known for its winemaking; the first vineyard in the area was planted around in 1840s. The first commerical winery opened in 1859, at the same time a silver rush began in the area. By 1900 there were more than 140 wineries in the area; now there are more than 400. Our friend works at Inglenook, a historic winery owned by famous director Francis Ford Coppola and his wife, Eleanor Coppola. The vineyard and the historic winery were beautiful. I was also fascinated by a grafted citrus tree out the front,
Inglenook was first founded in 1879 by wealthy Finn Gustave Neibaum, who planted Cabernet cuttings from Bordeaux. Wine production was shut down during prohibition, but Niebaum’s widow reopened the winery after the repeal of prohibition. Francis Ford Coppola bought over 1,500 acres of the property, including the old Niebaum mansion, in 1975 (with the profits from The Godfather), and wine production began in 1978. The historic winery itself went through several hands (and names) before being sold to Coppola in 1995, putting the estate back together. There are now 200 acres of organic wine producing vineyards, and the historic Inglenook name has been bought back. We enjoyed a lovely tasting of five Inglenook estate wines (and bought some souvenirs) and also looked around the main building a little. They have begun to do some of the wine-making in the original space, above the room in which we did our wine tasting.
After a quick lunch nearby, we headed back to San Francisco. On the way we drove over the famous Golden Gate Bridge – the view was wonderful as we drove down onto the bridge toward the city, perched on its hills, in the mix of rain and late afternoon sun. San Francisco, I discovered, has an interesting history. It was founded by Spanish colonists in 1776, and expanded quickly during the California Gold Rush in 1849, shortly before California became part of the US. In 1906 three-quarters of the city was destroyed by an earthquake (and fire) but was quickly rebuilt; this was caused by the San Andreas fault, the same fault to cause the devastating 1989 earthquake I still remember from news footage at the time. My friends dropped me at Ghirardelli Square, site of the original headquarters of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. I met up with two awesome kids from my Beijing youth group (they are both students at UCLA, but were in town visiting family). We split a yummy sundae and talked a LOT – it was wonderful.
Next up was dinner in the Marina, one of several areas of San Francisco built on reclaimed land (created land beyond the natural shoreline). We ate at a fun place that does small servings designed for sharing. We tried a bunch of yummy things. Finally it was time to go home, via the long double-decker Bay Bridge. A few hours of sleep later and I was back on my way to the airport and the final stop of my US tour – San Diego.