This was to be our first family trip with James, as well as our first trip in over a year. But thing did not go exactly as planned…
Alyce had a week off in early March. In planning, we knew we wanted to take James somewhere to test out flying/travelling with him prior to our planned Italy trip (in fall 2015). It is still pretty cool in lots of places in March, so that led us back to one of our favorite destinations because we were confident that we would have good weather. California. And the weather was great.
The plan was to fly into San Francisco and rent a car. Then drive to Carmel and spend three nights there. Then spend a night in San Francisco in route to Napa, where we would spend the final three nights. All hotels, flights, wine tastings, etc. were booked.
But that is when things went awry. A couple days before we were set to leave, James came down with an ear infection—and that came with a strong recommendation against flying. We weighed our options, which ranged from completely canceling the trip to Alyce staying behind and meeting me with James if he got better…to any other conceivable option.
Ultimately, we decided to go ahead and go alone for an abbreviated trip and leave James with his grandparents for a couple days. Alyce would travel the first three days then head back, and I’d spend one night in San Francisco since we had used an award night that we could not get back.
This ended up working out well. While I wish James would have been able to make the trip with us, the few days Alyce and I had alone were very relaxing.
On to the actual trip…As mentioned, the weather was fantastic. Sunshine and spring time temperatures. If anything, it was a little warm in the middle of the day. Renting a car worked out great – driving is pretty easy in California.
We were up and out the door early to catch our 7:00 a.m. flight. James had not even woken up yet, which was probably for the best. We were flying Delta to San Francisco through Salt Lake City – in paid first class. Why paid first class? We debated over booking three economy seats or two first class seats with a lap infant. The prices were similar (it was actually slightly cheaper for the two first class seats). Alyce ended up deciding that she would prefer the first class option, and I didn’t argue since she would most likely have James the majority of the flights.
But it ended up not mattering. Nonetheless, we were in first class for the day and had two very good flights with Delta. Despite Delta’s pretty poor loyalty program, it is still a popular airline amongst frequent flyers because of the actual flying experience…and I can see why. The flight attendants were friendly, service was great, and there were no issues.
After arriving at SFO, we went straight to the rental area and got our car. The plan was to drive along HWY 1 to Santa Cruz, stop and taste some wines, then continue on to the Hyatt Carmel Highlands Inn. San Francisco to Santa Cruz was about an hour and a half; the Hyatt was another hour or so past that. The coastal route along HWY 1 is slightly longer than the inland route. I’m glad we took it, but I won’t go out of my way to drive that stretch of Hwy 1 again. It is far more scenic south of Carmel/Monterey.
In Santa Cruz, we tasted at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards first. Just the wineries are located in downtown Santa Cruz and many of them have tasting rooms. Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards had a pretty extensive lineup of wines, all of which were reasonably priced. We purchased a couple for the road.
After that, we walked to the Equinox/Bartolo tasting room, which also pours Trout Gulf Vineyards wines. We also enjoyed the wines here and bought a couple more for the road. Both tasting rooms waived the small fee with purchase.
The last hour drive to the hotel seemed to drag on, but we finally made it. The hotel was very nice and had some great views. I booked our room using a Cash & Points reward with a suite upgrade. That got us a large, two level suite with a balcony facing the ocean. It was a very relaxing location. We were also lucky enough to get free breakfast despite the fact that I had just lost my diamond status. The breakfast here was one of our favorites out of all the Hyatt’s we’ve stayed at—for both the quality and setting of the breakfast.
After getting settled in, we went to the hotel lounge for drinks and a burger. The food was good—perhaps a little pricey—but you’re paying for the view/setting. And that night had a great sunset.
Following dinner we called it a night after a long day of travel.
We slept in…in a major way. I think I slept for 14 hours straight. It was needed. We had a leisurely morning and enjoyed our breakfast. Eating overlooking the ocean kind of reminded us of breakfast at Peter Island.
Our plans for the day were to drive an hour or so down Hwy 1 and then spend the late afternoon walking around Carmel.
The drive down Hwy 1 was definitely worthwhile. It had a lot of scenic spots to stop and reminded me of the Great Ocean Road in Australia—though way more crowded. We stopped at plenty of the lookouts along the Hwy and took some picture and enjoyed the dramatic scenery.
There was lots of grass and greenery along the drive – more than I was expecting.
The only place we made a point of stopping was Pfeiffer Beach. It was difficult to find; there wasn’t much of a sign indicating the road to turn off at. But we got there eventually. We also paid the $10 to bring our car into the park as opposed to walking in. I highly recommend this because it would have been a long boring walk otherwise, and that is coming from someone who is a big fan of walking in general.
The beach was pretty crowded, though not overly so. The beach was more of a scenic beach than a white sand beach like we have on the gulf coast. It also had some large rock formations. Overall, it was a very enjoyable stop. I’m glad we didn’t just skip it after the difficulties finding the turnoff.
After a brief stop back at the hotel, we drove to downtown Carmel. Carmel is a neat little town with lots of stores, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms. Alyce was ready to move…at least until we saw the prices of real estate in one of the windows.
We wandered around for a little while until making our first stop at the Silvestri tasting room. The owner (Alan Silvestri) is a famous composer who has done the music for many movies—Forest Gump, Back to the Future, and Father of the Bride are a couple I remember off the top of my head. The wines were good, and we again bought a few more to take with us.
Next we made our way to De Tierra to taste some more wine. There were several good wines here, though there were also some that I enjoyed less. We bought some wine here as well. Both of the tasting rooms waived the fees with purchase here as well.
Our last stops of the night were Salumeria Luca and The Cheese Shop to pick up some meats and cheeses to bring back to the hotel for dinner. Salumeria Luca had some good selections, but the cheese shop was fantastic. They must have given us samples of 15 different very delicious cheeses. We ended up buying some of 6 or 7 of them. I’d definitely recommend stopping there if you’re a fan of cheese.
We ate our meats and cheeses in the hotel room for dinner that night and called it an early night.
Already our last full day together. This was definitely a quick trip. We again enjoyed our complimentary breakfast and then made our way to the Point Lobos Reserve. We walked along several paths in the park and definitely enjoyed it.
That afternoon, we did some more wine tasting. This time in Carmel Valley. Based on recommendation we had picked up over the previous couple days, we were going to try Boekenoogen and Parsonage wineries.
We went to Boekenoogen first and thought they poured several good wines. We both really enjoyed Parsonage’s lineup as well. The wines at each were reasonably priced. Both places also waived the fee with purchase, and we of course bought some wine to take home.
Back at the hotel, we enjoyed our bottle of Equinox sparkling wine we had bought a couple days earlier. Dinner plans for the night were at the Pacific’s Edge, the hotel’s main restaurant. The setting was great and the food was very good. Our only criticism is that it was pretty pricey for what it is, but I guess you’re paying for the whole experience. Either way, we enjoyed it.
Already time to check out. We had our last breakfast and then packed up. I had hoped to schedule a tour and tasting at Ridge Monte Bello, but the timing just didn’t work out. So with a little time to kill, we walked around downtown Carmel one last time. We bought some chocolates to bring back home and spent some time in the Dr. Seuss gallery.
On the way back we drove the route (I-280), which with all its hills was every bit as scenic as the coastal route in that stretch. At the airport, we returned out rental car and I dropped Alyce off. Shew flew home on the non-stop United flight back to New Orleans, so I had little concern about her having flight issues on the way home.
I took the BART train to downtown San Francisco and checked in at the Grand Hyatt. I had a standard room, which was fine enough. The club lounge did have a great view and a pretty good selection for a domestic lounge.
After dropping my stuff off, I left the hotel and went for a long walk and took some pictures. Afterwards, I had some wine in the lounge then went back out for a nighttime walk.
The trip back was pretty uneventful. I flew Delta through LAX. The only thing of note was that I changed my flight to Los Angeles to an earlier flight to avoid any connection issues (which proved to be a good idea). The only downside to that was that I spent one less hour in the SFO Amex Centurion lounge, which was really nice but crowded.
We both really enjoy California. The scenery is great, the weather is fantastic, and they seemingly make wine everywhere you look. Even though we missed out on going to Napa this trip, we still had a great time. Carmel and the stretch to the south of it almost make you feel like you are in another country.
We’re still disappointed that James didn’t make the trip with us. Our room at the Hyatt was set up just right to have baby with us with the multiple levels, and James would have been happy strolling around Carmel. But it wasn’t meant to be, and it worked out just fine. We slept a ton, and our breakfasts were nice and relaxing. It was also good for Alyce and I to have some time to ourselves. Those three nights are still the only three nights that James has spent away from Alyce. We’ll have to plan another trip for just us in the not too distant future. And I’m sure that James will have several more chance to travel to California with us.