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Irma and myself have made it an annual event to visit San Francisco and the Bay Area annually in conjunction with Search Marketing Expo and Search Engine Strategies conferences that are held in the San Jose area.

Typically we take 3-4 days after the conference and head up the 101 to San Francisco as well as Napa and/or Sonoma Counties. Most recently, we decided to do the “vacation” portion of our trip first and limited it to just two days.

San FranciscoThe reason why we decided to vacation prior to business was due to the fact I was scheduled to sing at my cousin’s wedding on Valentine’s Day. Seeing she had asked me well over a year in advance, there was just no way I was going to opt out due to my normal travel plans in conjunction with SMX West.

We also had to limit the trip to just two days because my youngest daughter’s birthday occurred just before the trip and seeing that we are her primary babysitters for her two young children (13 months and 2 months), we decided to sacrifice 1-2 days in the Bay Area so she could go out and celebrate her birthday with her best friend who has a birthday on the same day.

All the same, the limited time we had still worked out to be a great trip.

We decided to catch the earliest flight possible to San Francisco Airport so we could take advantage of the rest of the day to tour some wineries in Napa. Our flight was scheduled for about 8:45 am and we were due to land in S.F. by about 9:50 am (California is an hour behind us right now).

The flight was delayed by about 30 minutes so by the time we landed and had our rental car, it was about 11 am. This still gave us plenty of time to pick up Irma’s brother and friend and head to Napa.

Instead of trying to hit a bunch of wineries, we visited a total of four, three that are favorites and one that was brand new to us.

Viansa Winery

Overlooking the Sonoma valley, Viansa Winery is a picturesque wine country destination. Located in the world renowned Los Carneros region of Sonoma and Napa, Viansa produces over 15 fantastic varieties of wine, all available for wine tasting.

Viansa WineryViansa Winery sits gracefully on the crest of a hill, surrounded by acres of healthy vineyards, groves of olive trees and a unique 90-acre natural preserve that’s home to native California plants and wildlife. Embracing the Sonoma Valley land is a Mediterranean climate that nurtures Italian and California vines, and gives Viansa its distinct Tuscan environment.

The winery is incorporated into an Italian marketplace that offers an array of delectable food items as well as wine accessories. One feature we did miss from last year’s visit was the wood-fired pizzas which were most likely absent due to the fact that it had been raining. Instead we enjoyed one of their delicious sandwiches in which the bread was phenomenal.

We purchased two bottles from this winery – a 2004 Freisa, a very full-bodied wine with rich flavors of currants and blackberry and a 2006 Farneta Carneros Primitivo, a rich, yet soft and satisfying wine with a lingering fruity finish.

Roche Winery

Our next stop was the Roche Winery which is a very close neighbor of Viansa. The Roche family takes pride in their success of making some of the finest wines in Carneros. The ranch, which was once deemed as unsuitable for grapevines, is now perhaps the most valuable piece of property in the Southern Sonoma Region.

Last year as Irma and myself were sampling wines in their tasting room, I was sure that the couple next to us, in which we were having pleasant conversation with, was Rosie O’Donnell and Kelli Carpenter but later after seeing pictures of Kelli online, I realized we were mistaken. Luckily I did not embarrass myself by asking something like, “Hey, aren’t you Rosie O’Donnell” which I don’t think I’d ever do anyway if encountering a celebrity.

After sampling several of their quality wines, we decide to purchase two bottles – a 2007 Carneros Estate Chardonnay and a 2004 Carneros Estate Merlot . When visiting wineries in California, I always try to buy wines that are made from grapes grown right there on-site, which is typically indicated in the title “estate” or “estate-grown.”

Reynolds Family Persistence Red WineReynolds Family Winery

During last year’s visit, one of our favorite wineries was located on what is know as “The Silverado Trail,” home to some of Napa’s most prestigious wineries. Reynold’s Family Winery is probably one of the smaller wineries located in the region but one of the best in my opinion. It was last year that Steve Reynolds himself gave us a “behind the scenes” tour and represented himself as someone who is very passionate about wine-making.

We purchased four bottles from this winery – a 2005 Napa Valley Chardonnay, a 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2 bottles of 2004 Persistence Red Wine. I believe we acquired 2 bottles of the Persistence because we thought we’d drink one while in California. However, they both made it home with us.

Pine Ridge

Our final destination for the day was Pine Ridge, located a bit north of Reynolds Family on the Silverado Trail. We enjoyed our tasting very much, mostly due to the young but very knowledgeable hostess who served us. She was even so gracious, at my brother-in-laws’ coaxing, to allow us to taste one of their Cabernets that sells for over $100 a bottle.

We chose one bottle from this winery – a 2005 Carneros Merlot which was absolutely delicious.

Manora’s Thai Cusine

Dinner that evening took place at a wonderful Thai restaurant called Manora’s Thai Cuisine located on Folsom street. We started off with Por-Pia-Sod as an appetizer, followed by Gang Jurd for the soup.

For our entrees, the four of us shared Pad Thai, Gai-Kraprao, Salad-Nur-Sun and Gang-Gari-Gai. Every dish was pure enjoyment to the palette. This is one of my all-time favorite Thai restaurants both for authenticity and appeal to the appetite.

Day Two

Day two was questionable as to whether it would be productive due to the fact it had been raining quite frequently in the city. Fortunately, we awoke in our Kensington Hotel Royal Court King room to clear skies. That meant that we would venture out into the city as opposed to being shut up in the room.

Because I had missed visiting North Beach during our last visit, it was a primary goal to be able to visit this section of the city which features fantastic Italian restaurants. We decided this time to try one that was new to us. Mona Lisa was our choice and a great choice it was. In fact, I think of all my visits to San Francisco, Mona Lisa is my favorite North Beach eatery. Check out a review I wrote on Likes n’ Gripes.

After a hearty lunch, we need to “walk off” the calories. Chinatown is just south of North Beach and that is where we spent the majority of the rest of our daytime hours. The streets were refreshingly uncrowded, which is not typically of this very popular tourist destination. Maybe it was the economy or simply the fact that winters in San Francisco combined with the possibility of rain are very cold. Nevertheless we had a great time moving from shop to shop and even took away with us some nifty merchandise and a couple of fine teas.

The Macy’s at Union Square is very unique and worth a visit when in the city. The basement includes a selection of eateries and a marketplace where they sell fine wines, mostly from California. Having worked off some of the Italian food we had at lunch, Irma and myself decided to get a snack before dinner.

A wood fired pizza from the Wolfgang Puck restaurant did the trick. We also picked up a couple of bottles of wine for the room so we would not be tempted to tap in to the collection we had amassed the day prior.

After resting for awhile, my brother-in-law and his friend picked us up for dinner. They had wanted to treat us to one of San Francisco’s best Mexican food restaurants located in the Sunset district but unfortunately it was closed (typical of traditional Mexican restaurants to close on Mondays).

So we opted for a past favorite – the Cafe for All Seasons located on Portal Avenue. I had their Seafood Stew which consisted of a melody of whitefish, jumbo prawns and scallops. It was wonderful indeed.

After dinner we hung out with Irma’s brother and friend for awhile back at the hotel and then called it an evening around eleven as both of them had to work the next day.

That comprises our short but very fulfilling trip to San Francisco. The next day we would drive down to Santa Clara to attend the SMX West conference where I was to speak on two panels.

If interested, you may read a recap of that portion of our trip on the SearchRank blog, which I will link to from here once it is written. 😉


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