Number 49 - August 2015
Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's quarterly newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website,, to learn more about our private, custom tours.

Updates to Old Newsletters #1

The first of 48 issues of "Rick's Tips" was published in July 2003. All of the back issues are available on Blue Heron's website. Since the original publication of the newsletters, some of the information is no longer accurate as San Francisco has changed in many ways. Over the next few issues of "Rick's Tips" I will update some of the old articles so they continue to be accurate and helpful.

The Most Spectacular Urban Walk in America - Originally in Issue 2, August 2003

This is not an overstatement. I love this walk and am always surprised by how many San Franciscans either don't know about it or have never ventured out to take the 90-minute round-trip stroll. On a clear day, you get spectacular views of the Golden Gate, the Marin Headlands, Point Bonita, and the Pacific Ocean. On a foggy day, you'll be reminded of many old films noir.

I'm talking about the walk along Land's End - the point of land at the northwest corner of San Francisco where the Golden Gate meets the Pacific Ocean. To start your walk, park near the Palace of the Legion of Honor (34th Avenue and Camino del Mar in Lincoln Park). Walk down Camino del Mar toward Sea Cliff. You will see the trailhead for the Coastal Trail on your left just before you leave Lincoln Park and enter Sea Cliff. Then walk along the old railroad grade back toward the Cliff House. Forty-five minutes later you'll find yourself at the Lands End Visitors Center near Sutro baths, which opened in 2012. Here you can explore the historic exhibits, grab a snack or coffee at the cafe, or make use of the public restrooms. To return to the Legion of Honor, take the shorter high road along Camino del Mar. Walk along the road north from Geary Blvd., just behind the Lookout. The pavement ends at a parking lot and continues as a trail for 1/2 mile until the pavement begins again at the parking lot below the Legion of Honor.

On your outing, you can include a visit to the Legion of Honor, which houses the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums' collection of European art including a good number of works by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. While enjoying the art, have lunch in the museum's pleasant cafe. Golfers can enjoy a round at the Lincoln Park Golf Course, home to 18 scenic holes and the remains of a few paupers who did not make the journey to Colma in the early 20th century when the cemeteries were moved out of San Francisco.

You can also reflect a bit at the Holocaust Memorial, a very moving sculpture by George Segal adjacent to the Legion of Honor's parking lot.

A Perfect Day in Wine Country - Originally in Issue 3, October 2003

Late fall is a great time to visit wine country. The days are cloudless; the summer heat has subsided; and with the crush completed, there is a peaceful feeling in the air.

My vision of a perfect day includes an idyllic meander through uncrowded vineyards, stops at quaint wineries where one can taste good wines, and picnicking or dining al fresco on a beautiful sunny day with a gentle breeze keeping the temperature just right. Add a stroll around a small town square with visits to local shops and the day is complete.

For a one-day outing that meets these criteria, my favorite destination is northern Sonoma County and the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys. These three appellations (regions) lie about 1 1/2 hours north of San Francisco and are home to some of the best and less frequently visited wineries in California. The town of Healdsburg makes a great home base for these trips.

If you have a little more time and wish to travel a bit further afield, consider visiting the wineries in the Anderson Valley, Gold Country, or Paso Robles. In each of these places, you'll find great wine, excellent food, and few crowds. Interested in visiting? Blue Heron can plan a terrific trip for you.

What's Special about the Northern Sonoma Appellations?

The Dry Creek, Russian River, and Alexander Valleys - home to mostly family-owned vineyards and wineries - share two common characteristics: few crowds and little traffic. Be prepared for leisurely drives down small country lanes.

If you like Zinfandel (red, not pink), then you must visit the Dry Creek Valley. California sets the world standard for quality Zinfandel, a varietal whose origins can be traced back to 14th century Croatia.

The Russian River Valley, being closer to the Pacific Ocean, is a bit cooler. This makes it a perfect home for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the grapes that are the heart of France's great Burgundies.

The Alexander Valley has a little bit of everything, producing wonderful Chardonnays, Zinfandels, Cabernets, and Sauvignon Blancs.

The Wineries

Often I am asked to name the best winery in a region or the best wine made from a particular grape. My standard answer is, "The one you like." Drinking wine is a very personal experience. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most popular varietals in the State, but I have never been much of a fan of either. I prefer Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel. So I cannot tell you which winery has the best wine, but I will suggest a few for good tasting opportunities.

For nice places to picnic, try Mill Creek, Everett Ridge, Passalacqua, or Lambert Bridge in the Dry Creek Valley. All have good wine and beautiful picnic areas.

If you want to take a winery tour, you'll enjoy Alexander Valley Vineyards. The tour includes a visit to the winery's cave and tastes of its Zinfandels and other wines. Complimentary public tours are currently offered at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Private tours may be reserved for $10/person.

Like to pair wine with food? Make an appointment for a food and wine pairing in the Bubble Room at J Winery in the Russian River Valley. Kachina Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley does a Tuscan Lunch that pairs great food and wines.

Want to play bocce ball while you picnic, taste wine, and eat freshly baked bread? Preston Winery is the only winery I know of where the winemaker bakes bread and has a bocce court.

The Food

Of course, you'll need to eat while you are in wine country. Wine is, after all, meant to accompany fine food! To picnic at one of the wineries, you can pick up good sandwiches at the Jimtown Store in the Alexander Valley. Gourmet picnic fixings are also available from the Oakville Grocery on the town square in Healdsburg.

For al fresco dining, try Willi's Seafood, Bravas Bar de Tapas, Healdsburg Bar and Grill or Barndiva in Healdsburg

Have a sweet tooth? Visit the Downtown Bakery and Creamery on the square for great pastries, breads, and homemade ice cream.

Looking for dinner spots? The Farmhouse Inn in Forestville and Madrona Manor outside of Healdsburg have both received one star from the Michelin Guide.


No visit to northern Sonoma County would be complete without strolling around the charming town square in Healdsburg. Not only is it home to many fine places to eat and an abundance of tasting rooms, but also great local shops and galleries. Healdsburg is also home to many bed and breakfasts and hotels should you wish to stay overnight in the area.

Need any more encouragement? Next time you think of a day tasting wine, try touring through the Alexander, Russian River, and Dry Creek Valleys!

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See you on the road,

Rick Spear
Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel
275 Staples Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112
(866) 326-4237 (toll free)
(415) 337-1874 (local)
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TCP 16309-S

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