Monday, June 07, 2010

California: April 24 - May 2

by Dave and Colleen

Since Kanka and Erin’s NY adventures have now come and gone, we figured we should eventually get on with writing this long-overdue review of our eight-day, four-ballpark tour of California.

We arrived in San Francisco around noon local time on Saturday, April 24, and immediately rented a car and headed for Sonoma Valley (next to Napa). Choosing two wineries at random from our guide book, we pretended to be wine snobs for the day. The first place, Viansia, was a beautiful Tuscan building on a hill with incredible views. The inside had a foodcourt complete with tastings, and two large wine bars for tasting flights of wine. At the second stop, Benziger, we took a tour of the grounds and learned about winemaking. Their Pinot Noir was excellent, so we picked up a bottle to drink later in the trip. Colleen’s Aunt Judy lives in a very nice three-bedroom condo in SF with a view (when it’s not too foggy) of the Golden Gate Bridge, and she was nice enough to let us stay with her for three nights. On our way to her place, we stopped at Muir Woods to look at really tall redwoods (yeah, I know, I got your really tall redwood right here) and had dinner in Sausalito, across the bay from SF.

Wine country

Muir Woods

Aunt Judy and her boyfriend Tom gave us a car tour through SF and dropped us off at AT&T Park, where we saw the Cardinals beat the Giants, 2-0. Pujols’ homer in the first was all the scoring needed in this one. This ballpark is really unique. We sat in the lower level down the right-field line, just next to the wall in front of the bay where many of Barry Bonds’ steroid-aided home runs landed; also next to us was the “K” board, a strikeout counter turned one-by-one by the fan sitting closest to that K (this amused Colleen to no end). The garlic fries they serve here were certainly a highlight; just outstanding. The thousands of seagulls that descended on the field as soon as the game was over were not a highlight, as you can imagine if you know Dave. Other things to note:
  • best between-inning entertainment: a video countdown of Pablo Sandoval’s top-5 choreographed teammate handshakes

  • best text-message shown on the big screen: "sign Jermaine Dye"

  • Colby Rasmus is really good

  • Dudes wear panda hats in honor of Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval

  • Dave saw a guy wearing a plain t-shirt that just read "Che Guevera t-shirt"

Outside the Giants' park

Klondike’s favorite shop

After the game, we decided to walk all the way back to the condo, which was just absurd, considering SF’s incredible hills. Oh well. But we saw a mushroom store called “Far West Fungi,” so obviously we thought of Klondike. Monday saw more hiking, as we went on an epic journey just west of the bridge, mapped out by Tom. This eventually led us to a great burger place (an oasis, if you will), but not before jumping back on the road and going back to get the car for the last bit of the journey. Monday night we went to Alcatraz, which was pretty sweet, except for forgetting the camera. Creepy as hell at night.

Hiking by the Golden Gate Bridge

Tuesday was drive-down-the-coast day. It was also our only lousy weather day of the whole trip, so we skipped the scenic coastal highway and just booked it down the freeways. Nothing else really happened, except for getting to the hotel in LA and not being able to watch the Red Wings beat the Coyotes in game 7, which did not amuse Colleen.

Wednesday morning, we took an excellent tour of the Warner Bros studios. It was really well done – 2 hours 15 minutes, on a long golf cart, through all their indoor and outdoor studio lots. Highlights:
  • a big room with classic movie cars, like the Shaguar, General Lee, and two Batmobiles, among others

  • they took us inside the set of "Chuck"

  • the "Central Perk" coffee shop from "Friends" was left up for the tour, and we got pictures sitting in it

  • the guide explained how the backlots can be transformed; there are different streets, some with shops, some with apartments, some with suburban houses, and they get changed all the time to suit the different shows and movies being filmed

On the set of "Friends"

After the tour, we walked through Hollywood to Graumann’s Chinese Theater and saw the Walk of Stars along the way. We then met my brother Michael in Anaheim for the Angels-Indians game. This was the only game we saw that the home team won – the Angels won 4-3 on a Howie Kendrick bunt base-hit in the bottom of the 9th. Our tickets were half-price, and we quickly realized why: they were down the right-field line, facing directly into the sun. Dahhhh. But the stadium redeemed itself through the use of the Rally Monkey. They showed videos of the Rally Monkey jumping up and down, wearing an Angels jersey. Hilarious! Never got old. Little kids (and Dave) went crazy every single time he was shown, because, let’s face it, monkeys are awesome! They also showed clips from movies and music videos with the Rally Monkey popping up in random spots.

Colleen with the “Hollywood” sign in the background

With Michael outside Angels Stadium

On Thursday, we made Dave’s much-anticipated pilgrimage to...drumroll please... the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library! It was awesome. Dave dubbed it "Republican Disneyland" – lots of old dudes wearing their Navy hats and old ladies with big fun hats representing my Party. They’re actually re-doing much of the museum portion, so it wasn’t so Reagan-centric, but they had a model of the Oval Office (surprisingly small) and an actual Air Force One (decommissioned in 2001) that we walked through. Very cool. There was also a small-scale White House as a doll house of sorts, updated continuously since the 1960s by a husband-and-wife team, that was pretty incredible, as well. We finished up by seeing Reagan’s gravesite. The Library sits on an incredible piece of land in Simi Valley, northwest of LA.

Dave with a statue of his hero, Ronald Reagan

Air Force One

We went to Dodger Stadium on Thursday night, where we saw the Dodgers lose to the Pirates, 2-0. It was incredibly cold and windy, so much so that we had to move seats. People were there with winter coats and blankets. Pro: Dave ate two foot-long Dodger Dogs (they were glorious). Con: it was USC Night at the stadium! We were given maroon-and-gold Dodger hats on the way in, and they played USC songs and showed video clips and such. No joke. Not so good! But the game ended in exciting fashion, as a dude ran on the field with 2 outs in the ninth and got taken down hard by security.

"USC Night" at Dodger Stadium. Great timing on our part.

After the game, we drove down to our hotel north of San Diego. Friday morning, Michael picked us up and took us around town. We went to the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple Gardens (or something like that), where people go to meditate. We had breakfast at a great outdoor place, one of the few in town that now allow Republicans like Dave to eat at (for real; there was a sign). Michael showed us the super-fancy YMCA he works at, where Olympian Shawn White comes to practice skateboarding. We saw Michael’s apartment, which is a block and a half from the ocean (Encinitas, about half an hour north of San Diego), and watched him surf for a bit. We had dinner at a great Mexican place in town, and then had a drink at a townie surf bar called Uncle Duke’s.

Dave at the restaurant that allows Republicans (note the carving in the sign)

Michael playing his ukulele

Saturday, Colleen and I stopped in La Jolla to see the seals hanging out on the beach (really cool) before spending the day going through downtown San Diego. What a beautiful place! We then saw the Padres lose to the Brewers, 9-7. PETCO Park was the upset winner for us as best ballpark – simply the nicest, coolest, and best stadium of the four we saw. It’s built right into downtown, including a park behind centerfield. There’s a little-kid play area in leftfield, where the kids play in a huge sandbox while their parents sit in bleachers and can watch the game (brilliant!) Other highlights:
  • it was Chris Young Jersey Night – unfortunately, he was on the DL

  • we bought a bag of peanuts from an old veteran two blocks from the stadium for less than half the price of stadium peanuts

  • at one point, we realized we were living Sal’s dream: drinking Bud Light while walking Ryan Braun (his favorite) play LF from about 50 feet away

We met Michael after the game for a drink, and then the next day we headed back home!

The seal beach in La Jolla

Inside PETCO Park

All in all, a great trip, and one that we’d definitely recommend!