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California's Winelands

0830 check in at Heathrow for our Virgin flight to San Francisco. Group of 10 on our trip so time to make friends. Flight left on time and we settled in for the 10 hour journey.

On arrival in San Francisco we had to board a monorail to the car hire collection depot. After collecting our 15 seater we then had a 45 minute drive to Oakland for our 2 night stay at the Oakland Marriott City Centre. After dropping our luggage in our rooms and a brief freshen up we were taken to a Japenese resturant for a lovely meal followed by a concert.

The next morning we were taken to a local farmers market and started off with a walking tour. We had some food tasting and then walked to 4 different areas to sample Indian food, doughnuts, soup, sandwiches and mac ‘n’ cheese as the Americans call it. We finished with a wine tasting session in Oakland. That evening we had an excellent meal at a waterfront resturant.

The following monring we were up bright and early and used BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) to travel the 20 mins into San Francisco. We picked up the cable car to travel to Fisherman’s Wharf to board boat for a bay cruise. There was time at the end for brief shopping before getting back on the BART to Oakland to load up to depart for Santa Rosa. We arrived early in the afternoon at Kendal Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens for a food and wine pairing experience. Six glasses of wine and food courses later, we were feeling no psain but jet lag was fast catching us up. Late afternoon check in at the Doubletree by Hilton Sonoma Wine Country Hotel near Santa Rosa followed by an evening visit to a local shopping mall.

The next day our planned visit for a jeep safari was cancelled due to poor weather (heavy rain) A re-arrangement took us to the Buena Vista Winery at Sonoma – the oldest commercial winery in California established 1857. We had a very interesting guided tour followed by more wine tasting – I’m getting good at this now!

Still raining heavily as we left for Santa Cruz and a one night stay at Hilton Santa Cruz Scotts Valley. Sunset wine tasting at The Wharf in Santa Cruz was somewhat delayed as we got lost en route (blame the sat nav). Then dinner at Crow’s Nest Restaurant at Santa Cruz harbour.

The following day and its raining again! We departed for a guided tour at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Waterproofs and brollies at the ready, we braved the heavy rain for a shortened (due to the weather) but very informative tour of the giant redwood trees. Back at the visitors centre we saw a short film and had a lovely chat with a 94 year old volunteer who was the first Eagle Scout in America. It was still raining as we left for the long drive to Santa Barbara. We arrived early evening and check in at Harbor View Inn. We drop off our bags and walk to Santa Barbara Public Market for dinner. We were told we were attending a cookery demonstration on how to make ‘tamales’ which also turned out to be dinner. We then had an hour of shopping at Paseo Nuevo Mall. Back to hotel at 9.30pm expecting to have a drink in the bar only to be told it closed at 9pm. After experiencing a lot of Californian wine this is not what I expected but I guess, properly a good idea. We finally woke up to sunshine today(hooray!). After a decent breakfast in our hotel, we left for a Santa Barbara Trolley Tour which took in the Santa Barbara Mission. At the end of the tour we walked to the harbour to depart on a catamaran trip around the bay. Food and drink were provided and the weather was warm and sunny. We left Santa Barbara mid afternoon for another long drive to Huntingdon beach, 30 miles south of LA which we hit at the beginning of the rush hour and traffic was awful. The sat nav took us through some seedy parts of LA and we arrived in the dark again at Hyatt Huntingdon Beach. We had just enough time to drop our bags and we were told to meet with Waterfront Adventures on the beach who were arranging bonfire and hotdogs..

The next day we had a great breakfast at the Hyatt followed by a short site visit. A lovely hotel but found it difficult to find our way around. We then transferred to Shorebreak Hotel in Huntingdon which was more centrally located. A bike ride had been booked for us. We were fully kitted out – the bikes could be used as normal but also had an electric battery if you wanted to be lazy. We managed to negotiate the three roads to the promenade and joined the beach path used by dog walkers, joggers and cyclists. This path runs for several miles and is well used. We ended up having a great time and had time for an icecream break. After dropping the bike’s back we had a great lunch at Duke’s Restaurant overlooking the beach. Late afternoon we drove about half an hour to the South Coast Plaza shopping mall which had many designer outlets. Back to Huntingdon Beach for dinner at Fred’s Mexican Cafe. I can recommend the strawberry margaritas.

The following morning we were scheduled to have a paddle boarding lesson, however I did opt out of this in favour of a free afternoon shopping. Later on we checked in for our early evening flight, unfortunately the terminal was being refurbished at the time so no bars or resturants were open, but you could start to see that the airport will eventually be a state of the art airport when completed.