North America, Sonoma, United States

Sonoma Wine Country and Muir Woods Tour

August 21, 2010
Sonoma

On my second day in San Francisco, I woke up really early but super excited to take a day long excursion that would include a visit to Muir Woods National Monument, three wineries in Sonoma, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The tour is done by a company called Extranomical Tours. They offer  many different types of tours such as ones to Sonoma/Napa (aka wine country) , Monterey, Yosemite, Muir Woods, and Alcatraz. In addition to this, they also do San Francisco and Los Angeles city tours.  I specifically went on the Wine Country and Redwoods Tour.

I must admit that my first impression of the tour company was not very favorable.

It started off when I received a call  from Extranomical the day before, asking me if I would be willing to do the tour on the Sunday instead of the Saturday due to them being overbooked. I refused as I was leaving San Francisco very early the next morning. I not impressed they asked me to change my schedule, was alarmed at their lack of organization, and felt annoyed they were asking their customers to help solve their problem. I heard from others in my tour group that they had received similar calls from them too.

Luckily, I was still able to go on the tour as planned.

The tour bus driver (who would also be our guide) picked me up on-time at the hotel. I grabbed a seat and as we continued to pick others up, the  bus soon filled to capacity. It then came to a point where we had to pick up one more couple and there looked to only be one seat left.

Most of the tour group was comprised of couples and families, all of whom were able to sit together comfortably. There were two of us in the tour traveling alone – one man and myself.  As a result of us traveling alone, we were treated like second class people. The man was asked to move to the front of the bus to sit beside the tour bus driver and I was asked to vacate my window seat so the last couple boarding could sit together. My reward was a ‘seat’ in the back of the bus squished between a family of 4, with no where to stash my belongings, no way to snap photographs and view the spectacular scenery outside, and an extra bumpy ride as we climbed the narrow, steep, winding road to Muir Woods.

Needless to say, I was offended and angry. I had no problem giving up my seat to the couple so they could sit together, but didn’t feel that I should have had to sit in a sub-par seat when every single other person on the bus was more comfortable and had a view out the window.  I had paid the same price as everyone else! I felt that I was targeted because I was traveling alone.

As grumpy as I was, a couple of wonderful things happened – the tour guide was hilarious and kept the ride interesting and fun despite the conditions and other members of the group arranged for seat rotations so that myself and the other man didn’t have to sit in the sub-par seats. We shouldn’t have had to do that but it worked out well.

The drive to Muir Woods is beautiful but the place itself is stunning. I immediately fell in love with it’s beauty!  The park protects 550 acres of land, of which 240 acres are old growth Coast Redwood. The park is named after the renowned naturalist and preservationist John Muir. You can find out more information about Muir Woods National Monument on their web site and also on Wikipedia.

We had about an hour to spend walking through the park and experiencing the joy of the giant redwoods. View my photos below:

We soon departed for Sonoma and the main purpose of our tour – to get drunk drinking wine! 🙂

The first winery we visited was Cline Cellars. The grounds were pretty – we were given about 30 minutes to taste 3 different types of wine, tour the grounds and snap photos, as well as purchase some wine for ourselves.

It was then time for lunch.

The tour guide recommended a few places – so myself and a lovely couple from LA went to have lunch at a restaurant called The Sunflower Cafe.  I had a glass of wine along with one of the best sandwiches I have ever put in my mouth – their signature Smoked Duck Breast. As outlined on their web site:  “Sonoma Artisan smoked duck breast served warm in a sliced baguette with caramelized onions, melted gruyere, mayonnaise, Dijon & dressed greens.”  They do not allow requests for variations to how the sandwich is prepared. No need, as it was that good! 🙂

Next, we visited the Kunde Family Estate winery. The grounds were even prettier this time! Again, we were given about 45 minutes to taste, purchase, and explore the estate. We were also treated to a private tasting in their cave.

The last scheduled winery we visited was the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. We went through the same routine but were also able to sample some of their tasty olive oils!

It turned out that we were able to view an extra winery – the Viansa Winery and Vineyards. We did not sample wines there, but were able to view their lovely grounds.

You can view my photos from the Sonoma tour below:

We then headed back to San Francisco, with one last stop to view and snap photos of the ever iconic Golden Gate Bridge. It was cold, windy, and foggy but my heart leaped for joy when I saw the view. You can view the photos below:

The other thing I did not like about the tour was that the group was too large and people kept returning to the bus late. The driver would ask us to return in 45 minutes and people would show up after 60 minutes. The more drunk people became, the worse it got. The bus driver did his best, but we arrived back in San Francisco about 2 hours late.

Again, I have to say that the tour guide was great! The price of the tour was decent for what you get  too – $79 US if you book online.

However, I would not use this tour company again. I recommend investigating other options.

Despite some of the  issues, it did turn out to be a very lovely day. I was happy to travel to the park, enjoy the wineries, and see the bridge.  It makes me really want to go back to Sonoma some day, spend more time there, see Napa as well, and take time to enjoy more (and hopefully better) wineries. 🙂

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