Tour visits Muir Woods, wine region

SAN FRANCISCO — “Look everyone, cows!” said Paul Crug, a tour guide who works for City Sightseeing San Francisco.

No longer in view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square, this tour takes visitors outside city limits to experience the vastness of Muir Woods and the serenity of wine country.

“I’ve planned so well for you,” boasted Crug as a smile of pride came over his face.

Tour guide Paul Crug stands outside the City Sightseeing Office in downtown San Francisco (Photo by Lily Stofman).

With the first stop at a Golden Gate Bridge lookout point to take pictures of the famous bridge, the group then headed to Muir Woods.

On the way, Crug provided the group with the history of the city and great visitor information about each area. However, as we pulled up to the forest entrance, the van grew silent in awe of what was ahead.

“This is the only place I’ve ever been where you feel like you should whisper when you’re outside,” said Crug. “It’s like a church or a temple.”

These woods did in fact seem holy. The vast towering redwood trees withstood natural and human destruction for almost 3,000 years.

The author in front of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, a detour that was made during the tour for a photo opportunity (Photo by Cyrus Girson).

Named after John Muir, the naturalist, these trees were donated to the state by California Senator William Kent and his wife, Elizabeth Thacher Kent, in 1908 after the new logging technology threatened the forest. President Theodore Roosevelt then designated the coastal redwoods as federally protected area.

Muir was so appreciative of Kent’s efforts, he wrote a letter to him in which one part he said, “…God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, tempests and floods; but He cannot save them from fools—only Uncle Sam can do that.”

With trees towering so high, everyone in the forest had their heads tilted up as if they were locked in a permanent position.

The group explored the coastal redwood, walking the trails, and taking in the natural beauty for almost an hour and a half. Once back at the van, it was time to travel onward to Sonoma Valley.

Excited for the prospect of drinking themselves silly, the group prepared for an afternoon of wine tasting.

Cyrus Girson walks the main trail constructed for visitors of Muir Woods (Photo by Lily Stofman)

“Well, We’ve communed with nature, now lets go commune with grapes!” said a fellow tour taker.

Each individual tour guide decides which wineries to visit each day. On this tour, Crug chose to take his group to Homewood Winery, Viansa Winery & Italian Marketplace and, finally, Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards.

Homewood Winery was one of the favorites of the group, although each winery had something unique and special to offer.

Homewood Winery is a boutique winery that specializes in red wines, hence its slogan, “the redder the better.” It has a 3,000 case operation and no distributorship, so all its sales come from its tasting room and from shipping orders.

“We make 10 styles of wine per year, and when they are gone, they’re gone,” said David Homewood, owner of Homewood Winery. “With each pressing, I can guarantee you that it won’t taste the same.”

With no tasting fee incurred, this family-owned winery is the perfect start to a fabulous day of wine tasting. Although the landscaping of the winery itself is nothing special, the view of the rolling hills from the beautiful wood tasting hut is the perfect accompaniment to the wine.

After enjoying nine hearty pours of white, noir, red, and dessert wines, many opt to purchase bottles for their enjoyment at home. Because of airline restrictions, this winery, as well as most of the others, will ship bottles and exclude the very pricy 7.75 percent Sonoma Valley sales tax.

Cyrus Girson and the rest of the group enjoying the first wine tasting of the day at Homewood Winery (Photo by Lily Stofman).

However, in many states there are restrictions regarding the shipment of wine, and some wineries won’t ship to certain states such as Pennsylvania and Utah. At present, there’s an effort taking place in the House and Senate to eliminate the open shipping laws Florida residents have enjoyed for the past three years.

The wineries are aware of the current and changing laws and most take them very seriously, however some would definitely be willing to ship bottles in unmarked boxes. As the saying goes, “it never hurts to ask.”

After the mellowing buzz begins to settle in, the next stop on the tour is lunch in the town of Sonoma. Although, there are many options for restaurants, the tour recommends the Sonoma Cheese Factory.

Customers can sample at least 20 different types of cheeses as well as choose from an assortment of hot and cold made-to-order deli sandwiches and plenty of desserts, including Ghirardelli chocolate bars. Outside, on the patio, there is also a grill that serves BBQ food such as hamburgers, veggie burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches and more.

After devouring the food and having ample time to explore the town, the group spread out to wander through the streets of Sonoma. However, everyone somehow ended up at the same place to do the same thing; more wine tasting at the Charles Creek Vineyard Tasting Room & Gallery located on the plaza.

After hearing about a unique wine that they sell called, La Bomba Chocolate Dessert Wine, everyone wanted to get a taste. It indulged everyone’s senses and was so heavenly that everyone on the tour bought at least two bottles.

When it was time to convene again everyone was ready for some more wineries, as their buzz was slowing fading. It was now time to visit Viansa Winery & Italian Marketplace. Crug realized the car had become quiet, as the socializing faded with the fading buzz, and drove the group over there, all the while trying to engage everyone in conversation.

When the group arrived, no one could believe they were still in California. This Tuscan-style winery and views just took your breath away and for a moment you felt as if you were in Italy.

The author on the patio of Viansa Winery over- looking the stunning scenery (Photo by Cyrus Girson).

At Viansa, the marriage of food and wine is of utmost importance. Not only can visitors enjoy an abundance of wines, but there are also many delicious foods to sample that compliment the wine. The marketplace offers samples of olive oils, breads, salsas, jams, and much more for their visitor’s pleasure.

With only 30 minutes to spend at this winery, the idea of staying inside at the bar and market, drinking and eating the time away was tempting. However, everyone knew it would be a great devastation if it came time to leave and no one got a chance to explore the property.

With the wine in hand, everyone made it outside on the patio to relax at the tables while enjoying the magnificent scenery that surrounded them during their last few minutes at Viansa.

Leaving this place was very disheartening, but the next winery, we were told by Crug, would be just as amazing or more.

On this tour, the group voted to visit Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards because it offered sparkling wine, or champagne as they would call it in France. Here, visitors order what they would like to try at the bar and then they find a table either inside or on the patio overlooking the vast and stunning Sonoma Valley landscape.

Visitors to Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards look over the sparkling wine list and make their selection (Photo by Lily Stofman).

Realizing that the day is almost over, we took in everything there was and reflected on the amazing experience that was had. With nothing bad to say about the perfect day, everyone sat back with their sparkling wine in hand while huge smiles came over their faces.  We savored this moment and wished that it could last forever.


If You Go:

  • The tour can be booked at a number of websites, however, the cheapest is through, as you can save $14 by booking it online with them.
    • You will need to confirm with at least 24 hours in advance of tour time.
    • Tours depart from 2800 Leavenworth St., #14 (between Jefferson and Beach streets), at Fisherman’s Wharf, unless a hotel-pickup within the City of San Francisco is arranged.
    • To confirm your tour, pickup or for information call 415-440-TOUR.
  • Muir Woods National Monument is open year-round from 8 a.m. to sunset. It is the busiest during the weekends and in the middle of the day. For  the most solitude, it is recommended that you visit during weekdays, morning hours and late afternoons.
    • It is 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge and can be reached by U.S. 101 and California Hwy 1.
    • There is an entry fee of $5 per person, which is not included in the tour fees.
    • Bicycles, picnics, dogs and camping are not allowed.
    • Wear comfortable walking shoes.
    • Trails can take anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours one-way.
  • Homewood Winery is located at 23120 Burndale Road. Its phone number is 707-996-6353. The tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment. There is no fee at this winery, just enjoy.
  • The Sonoma Cheese Factory is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., seven days a week. It is located at 2 Spain St. “on the plaza” in Sonoma, CA. Its phone number is 707-996-1931. Lunch is not included as part of the tour fee.
  • The Charles Creek Vineyard Tasting Room & Gallery is located at 483 First St. W. (on the plaza) in Sonoma, CA. Its phone number is 707-935-3848. There is a $5 tasting fee for five wines. If you buy a bottle, the tasting fee is waived.
  • Viansa Winery & Italian Marketplace is open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is located at 25200 Arnold Drive in Sonoma, CA. Its phone number is 800-995-4740. There is a $5 wine tasting fee per person for four glasses of wine.
  • Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards is located at 23555 Carneros Hwy in Sonoma, CA. Its phone number is 707-996-7256. It is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. seven days a week (except on days with private events). Wine service is available until 4:45 p.m. Sparkling wine is available by the glass from $4 to $10, and table wines are offered in two-ounce portions for $2 to $3.
Visitor Cyrus Girson looks upwards in awe of trees in the Muir Woods that are towering 300 feet above him (Photo by Lily Stofman).

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