Table of Contents: Napa Winchester Mystery House San Francisco Saving Money
Hopefully you rang in the new year in whatever way you wanted to ring it in. As for me, I traveled, again. It’s somewhat of a common theme, in between those new years eve nights where I literally do nothing aside from having a beer and/or glass of champagne while watching TV. On the more exciting occasions, I’ve celebrated NYE in Times Square, Washington DC, Cincinnati, and now San Francisco. It was a blast (no pun intended, considering the fireworks!), and I'll tell you all about it.
2012 is back there somewhere....
The first stop on this roadtrip, six hours north of home, was Napa Valley. The last (and only) time I had been there, I was 17. When you’re that age, wineries aren’t fun. Back then, I was offered a lovely tasting of water. It was a real bummer, watching my father and my brother live the life of connoisseurs, analyzing the wine bouquet and asking each other if they detected notes of lovely-sounding things like chocolate and berries.
As for this recent visit, the quick stop in Napa was necessarily a worthwhile experience. The area is always so hyped up, and I don't find it to be any more impressive than the central California/Santa Barbara-area wineries. Both areas are beautiful, and in both regions you’ll find a combo of hits and misses. Also, it’s worth noting that tastings in Napa are more expensive than the other wine regions I’ve visited. At some places, the pours are very conservative, and you might only get to taste three wines for $20. Some basic tastings in Napa can even run about $40 per person!
A coworker highly recommended grabbing lunch at Gott’s Roadside (formerly called Taylor’s Refresher), which is a small, three-store burger joint. One location is in Napa proper, another is in St. Helena (near Mondavi Winery), and the third is in San Francisco. We stopped at the St. Helena location and, despite the frigid temperature, there was a long line at the outdoor order window. It didn’t take too long to figure out why the place was hoppin’… It was delicious! My Wisconsin Sourdough burger and onion rings seemed really fresh, and excess grease was minimal. That’s not to say I didn’t feel sick to my stomach a while later, after gorging myself, but that’s my bad.
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WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE:
From there, the next notable destination was the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. The location was really surprising. Photos seem to give the feeling that it’s fairly isolated or perhaps situated at the forefront of a suburban neighborhood. That’s not really the case at all. Rather, the home is effectively surrounded by a business/mall complex, movie theaters, and a freeway. Except for the heavy mall traffic on a Saturday night, the location didn't affect the experience - it was just very different from the idea I had in mind.
Taking the first Grand Tour of the morning was probably a wise move. We were in a small group of about 10 people – and, for the optional, paid tour of the basement, there were four of us. The tour guide was expecting 12, so it was great to have that more-personal attention. The basement wasn’t too exciting, except for seeing how much the wood beams supporting the house wore down during the 1906 earthquake.
As for the main tour, I really enjoyed it. Imaging little ol’ Mrs. Winchester (it’s said she was 4′ 10″) wandering the corridors, forever trying to appease the spirits, was fascinating. The architecture is beautiful, and the monstrosity of the house is amazing, yet the mansion didn’t have much of a creepy vibe like I always expected. Maybe taking a daytime tour had something to do with it. And maybe my previous work on Ghost Hunters changed the way I approach these environments. Weird, unexplainable occurrences have happened – I can attest to that – but they are so few and far between that you can’t expect it.
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San Francisco was next on the agenda. During the run-up to the holiday break, a coworker had warned against driving in the city, due to parking being such a headache. Maybe it was a fluke due to the holidays, but it worked out okay.
The first night, we parked a few blocks south of the marina. It was right at 7 PM, and as I was about to put coins in the meter, the light on it stopped flashing and it shut off. So did all the other meters up the street. Free parking and perfect timing! Cha-ching! So, metered parking isn’t 24/7, which can help save you some cash.
Ending up in the same neighborhood the following day, I discovered some free, 4 hour max. parking near Ghirardelli Square. We parked there, spent a couple hours biking to and across the Golden Gate Bridge, moved the car to a different parking spot, and spent a couple hours at dinner. It worked out great.
As the day started to wind down and the New Years Eve festivities were starting to pick up, we headed east. We finally had to pay for garage parking, and walked to the Embarcadero. 200,000 revelers fill up that area every year for New Years Eve, so it was pretty wild. Plenty of people had apparently spent the hours leading up to midnight at the bar, so there was a lot of inebriated energy in the air.
With the giant crowd concentrated near the Ferry Building, we headed up the street and staked out a spot on Pier 3. It turned out to be perfect, as the firework display looked awesome with the Bay Bridge as the backdrop.
Overall, it was a great, quick roadtrip but a great way to end one year and kick off a new one. Have a great year, everyone. Cheers!
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San Francisco has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world. The experience doesn't have to send you to debtors' prison. Like in any big city, consider happy hour options. If you're going to drink alcohol, consider buying your preferred beverage from the corner store and having a nightcap at the hotel, rather than at a restaurant or bar.
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Among big cities, San Francisco is relatively safe. As of 2022, however, reports seem to suggest an uptick in property crime, especially crimes of opportunity like camera thefts and car break-ins. The situation is bad enough that our National Park Service has tips for safeguarding your valuables while you're parked in the San Francisco Bay area.
For life-threatening emergencies, 911 is the dispatch number for police, paramedic, and firefighting services across the USA.
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"Ringing in the New Year in San Francisco" - 2012/2013 Written by Justin Kilmer updated in 2022: additional photos, links, and safety tips #california #taylorsrefresher #city #sthelena #winetasting #bay #winchestermysteryhouse #haightashbury #newyearseve #skyline #napa #sanjose #nye #sf #bikepath #napavalley #goldengatebridge #embarcadero #hamburgerstand #celebration #travel #paintedladies #sanfranciscobikerental #ferrybuilding #roadtrip #visit #burgerjoint #freeparking #wine #gottsroadside #rowhouses #bike #biking #fireworks #sanfrancisco