Napa Tourists Suck

Trip Start Jul 03, 2009
Trip End Aug 16, 2009

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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Morning in Crescent City is cold and cloudy, but last night's fog is gone and we take a brief, cold (50 degree) walk along the beach in front of our hotel before heading out of this strange town. Our goal is Napa, half a state away via Highway 101.

We almost immediately enter the Redwood National Park and its otherworldly vibe. Tendrils of mist hang in the air, and the road snakes amazingly close to the trunks of the largest living objects in the world. The whole forest has the feel of the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter minus the air of impending doom (and flying brooms, I suppose). We leave the 101 for a 30-mile stretch to take in the Avenue of the Giants, a patch of Old Highway 101 that’s even closer to the forest and passes through a ramshackle collection of towns of increasingly small populations and attractions like drive-through trees, a home made of a hollow log, and all the assorted silly trinkets whittled out of wood that you can shake a stick at (you can buy sticks for shaking, too).

We take a brief hike through one of the Redwood groves. The air was fresh, and the ground of the forest full of a lush carpet of ferns and ivy. Were it not for the ever-present threat of bears, mountain lions, poison oak, and, worst of all, loud-mouthed tourists, this would be the perfect place to lose oneself for hours wondering or reading a favorite book. All in all, the whole area has a feeling of grandeur that we haven’t felt anywhere else on the trip…with the notable exception of the Trees of Mystery, where Maribeth thought it wise to fondle a 40-foot tall Blue Ox statue.

As we drove further south and further inland, the day warmed and the air dried, and we entered the northern end of Napa valley. It’s odd to sense, rather than see, the presence of a major city (in this case, San Francisco) but after three weeks of driving through some of the most empty stretches of this country, the feeling is unmistakable and abrupt. The drivers around us became more aggressive, more focused, with both a sense of determination and impatience. The cars are shiny and high-end, and suddenly our dusty, bug-spattered Kia felt downright country bumpkin.

For anyone who’s ever travelled through Spain, Napa is a near dead ringer. This time of year, the grass is a hay-like yellow, and the trees dotting the hills scraggly. Our road narrowed as we encountered our first vineyards—vast, perfectly straight rows of green.

Napa is an odd place. We’re in St. Helena, a small city north of Napa proper, and it’s just a bit too precious for us. The landscape is stunning. The locals are beyond friendly. The food is out of this world. (Dinner was at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen—fresh and amazing.) In fact, the only thing that we don’t like about Napa thus far is our fellow travelers. They seem to fall into two equally obnoxious categories: loud, generally old Floridians (typified by two women on one of our wine tastings sporting OLG—Online Grandma’s—t-shirts) and stuffy, opinionated, wealthy retirees. From what we can gather, this latter group enjoys the following: not-so-discretely listening into the conversations of other diners because of the lack of conversation at their own table, complaining that menus that price goods at $X.95 are really just stealing an extra dollar, and angrily whispering about the shock—the utter shock—of how people act in shareholder proxy battles. Suffice it to say, it is not our crowd, and we are just a bit conspicuous. This is highlighted by my extra-awkward behavior—for example, sitting down at our table for breakfast and taking half the tablecloth, and coffee, with me this morning. Why can’t I get rid of these embarrassing moments at the HoJo in Rapid City, SD?

Enough complaining. At the end of the day, this place is beautiful, and we are full and happy.
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