When we visit a beautiful place, it’s always hard to come home, no matter how good it does feel to be safely home. The long lines at the airport and the inconsiderate person who jams their seat back into your knees on the airplane is all worth it when given the opportunity to visit California.
We stayed in the Sonoma area for four days, followed by three days in San Francisco. This was my second trip to California, having been to San Diego about two years ago. I really enjoyed California on my first visit; this trip would also prove to be rewarding. However, I much prefer San Diego weather. I didn’t realize how chilly northern California was in late May to early June!
We landed in San Francisco and drove a rental car to a beautiful home rented through Airbnb. It turned out to be a really nice area with a spectacular view of the valley below. Although not technically in Sonoma or Napa, it was within reach after a drive equivalent to the distance across Houston—minus the chemical plants and smog of course.
I was looking forward to the next few days in which we would tour the area, and of course drink some wine! I didn’t bring my bike on this trip, but I did bring my gear so that a bike rental was possible.
Yountville is a quaint little town nestled between Napa and St. Helena where we enjoyed fine dining and delicious pastries at Bouchon Bakery. I can highly recommend the cream cheese blueberry jam pastry which I had already begun to devour as the picture here shows. North of Yountville, we toured several wineries, including Beringer and Inglenook. I personally love a red zinfandel, so it was quite pleasant to relax outside with a glass of wine on these beautiful vineyards.
It was hard to contain my excitement about the chance to ride in California again. I had mapped out a challenging route that included a lot of climbing. The ride was a blast, but some of the climbs were extremely hard and very steep, which caught me by surprise when I struggled to get over them. I rented the bike in Yountville and rode to our house in Novato. It ended up being 60 miles with about 4,800 feet of climbing. You can view my ride data here and watch a video of my ride below. The following picture gives you an idea of the elevation and gradient profile over the route, with the hardest and steepest sections at the beginning.
On Monday morning, we packed up and drove into San Francisco. This was quite an experience to see such steep hills in the middle of an urban environment. After settling into a new house, also rented through AirBnB, we headed out to explore the city. Of course I couldn’t miss the opportunity to get a panoramic picture of the Bay Bridge.
We walked 4 miles observing the diverse cultures throughout the city, though admittedly I was more excited to reach the bike shop! I finally reached my destination after what seemed like 20 miles of walking to rent another bike, this frame fitting me much better than the first. I planned to ride 100 miles down to La Honda the following day. While riding the bike to the house that evening, I found Filbert Street, one of the steepest in the city at 31.5% gradient.
This seemed like such a cool challenge to climb. I was pedaling in the smallest gear I had while standing up and leaning as far forward as I could, yet the front wheel was STILL lifting off of the ground as the bike rocked from side to side! It was a unique and scary experience. I couldn’t have stopped if I wanted to or else I would have crashed right there, and then likely slid to the bottom of the hill. You know it’s steep when the side walk has stairs in it!
Although it was great seeing San Francisco that first day, I knew the entire second day would be spent on the bike as the ride out to La Honda is quite a haul with a lot of climbing. It was definitely worth it though, with stunning scenery and challenging mountain climbs and descents. I rode 105 miles and climbed just over 9,000 feet. You can see the route and data here and the elevation profile below.
I tried to stop and take pictures and video often, but I also had to navigate with my phone. I felt good for the first half of the ride and over the mountains, but I was really struggling on the trek home. The wind kicked up adding insult to injury as I attempted to finish the ride. I was determined to do it, even though I haven’t actually gone 100 miles in quite a while…not to mention with all of that climbing too. At the end of the day, I was tired and my legs hurt bad, but it was totally the good kind of hurt.
Reflecting back, you could say that I missed out on some of the touristy things to do in San Francisco, but I’m having a hard time believing that I truly missed anything. I look forward to seeing more of the state in the future, but for now I can say that once again California has been good to us and provided a wonderful vacation experience.