I Left My Heart Outside San Francisco by Ron Kapon

At the age of eleven I made my first trip to San Francisco, meeting my aunt in Chicago and continuing by train ever westward. 60 years ago. I’ve been back at least 30 times since then, usually visiting Napa or Sonoma, occasionally driving south through Monterey. A few times it was driving down Highway 1 to Los Angeles. Each subsequent visit I would spend a few days in town in the Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf or Nob Hill areas.

All these years I never knew when I landed at San Francisco airport that I was in San Mateo County. When I was invited on a short press trip to that area I accepted and was very glad I did. The other area I visited on this trip was Vallejo. I used to joke that I passed through Vallejo every year on the way to Napa or Sonoma. This time I spent an entire day there.

Northern California had the heat wave of the century while I was there. It is normally 70 to 80 degrees in San Francisco, but I endured well over 90. The South Bay/San Mateo area is always a few degrees warmer; it was well over 90 and Vallejo hit 111 the day I was there. My jacket and long sleeve shirt never moved from the suitcase but I ran through my t-shirts very quickly. My bathing suit and shorts got lots of use.

San Mateo County has a population of 710,000 and is located on a 50-mile peninsula immediately south of San Francisco. It is bordered on the east by San Francisco Bay, on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the south by Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Arriving at SF Airport- remember it is in San Mateo County- we spent the first night at the Bay Landing Hotel in Burlingame. Dinner was at the Sofitel San Francisco Bay Hotel. This French owned chain sits directly opposite Oracle in Redwood City and hosts many of their conferences.
Early the next morning (I was still on Eastern Time and was in the fitness center at 5AM) we left for the Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education where they exhibit over 50 rescued animals native to California. The Filoli Center is recognized as one of the finest remaining country estates of the early 1900’s. The 654 acre property includes a 36,000 square-foot mansion furnished with 17th and 18th century antiques, as well as 16 acres of European-inspired gardens. Originally a private residence it was opened to the public in 1976. Lunch was at Quattro at the Four Seasons Silicon Valley Hotel in East Palo Alto. Then it was off to the Hiller Aviation Institute Museum where the director of exhibits is named North E. West (I have his business card). A trip through the museum starts with the Avitor, an “aeroplane” that flew before the Wright Brothers learned how to walk. There is also a full-scale exhibit of the American SST from the late 1960’s. I got to “pilot” the Hiller Hornet, the first affordable helicopter priced under $5,000.
We moved down and across the coast to Half Moon Bay and the Beach House Hotel. We had beautiful views out our windows of the Pacific Ocean and heard the many Sea Lions. We had dinner at Cetrella’s Bistro & Café which has received a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and conducts regular wine classes and wine dinners.

The next morning again found me the fitness center at 5AM. I try to keep my weigh gains on my trips to less than five pounds and riding a stationary bicycle for 20 minutes every day really helps. Instead of breakfast at the hotel we were treated to an English feast at Cameron’s Restaurant, Pub and Inn run by Cameron and Lisa Palmer. There are three rooms available above the pub and guests get to enjoy air hockey, karaoke and band nights along with 18 English, Irish and Scotch beers on tap plus 60 more in bottles. Cameron has collected over 2,000 beer cans from around the world and if you bring in a can he doesn’t have the next beer is on the house. After breakfast we drove down the coast stopping at Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Pescadoro Beach. We managed a few minutes in the town of Half Moon Bay walking along Main Street (what else). La Nebbia Winery offered us a wine tasting followed by lunch at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company Ocean Front Restaurant & Brew Pub where we watched their beer being brewed. An educational stop was at Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm followed by a tour of the historic 1853 Johnston House listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Kevin Palmer Cameron’s brother operates the Long Branch Saloon & Farms which has been developed as a venue for private and corporate events. As I was still full from lunch I stuck to fruit and salad. Our last night was spent back at the SF Airport at the Hyatt Regency, an 815 room property five minutes from the airport in Burlingame.
Next morning I picked up my rental car and it was off to Vallejo, about ¾ hour away. As previously mentioned I always passed through Vallejo on the way to Napa or Sonoma. This time I checked into the Courtyard by Marriott Napa Valley directly across the street from Six Flags Marine World. The temperature hovered around 105 as I drove the 15 minutes to Fairfield and my tour of the Jelly Belly Candy Company. For the free tour I was the only adult there without kids. We learned that 145 million Jelly Bellys are produced every DAY in 50 official flavors. The 50th is Jalapeno which is only sold separately and not in the bags or boxes of assorted flavors. Very Cherry is the most popular flavor and former President Reagan was the #1 jelly bean fan when he was governor of California; Licorice was his favorite. The temperature was over 110 as I walked across the street to Six Flags Marine World celebrating its 20th Anniversary in Vallejo. It is one of the only combination animal park, oceanarium and theme parks in the world. I skipped the rides but got to every animal show- birds, whale, dolphin, tigers and an elephant. I was pooped and after a light dinner it was early to bed.
By the 5th day I was acclimated to west coast time and slept until 7AM. Bill Dornik the tour director for Mare Island Historic Park picked me up and for the next two hours I learned all about the base closing in 1996 and how the once secret naval shipyard was the first military installation built on the west coast in 1854. It is now being redeveloped with private residences. I didn’t have time to try the high-speed catamaran that takes you to the Ferry Building (what else) or Fisherman’s Wharf. I still had not gotten to SF when I stopped in Larkspur to visit one of California’s top wine & food PR professionals- Patricia Schneider. She showed me around Marin County- Mill Valley, San Rafael, San Anselmo and Corte Madera. The temperature was still well over 110 and her condo pool was a relief.
The next day I finally made it to SF and checked into Kimpton’s Harbor Court Hotel located just three blocks from the Ferry Building. I had a busy day ahead as Patricia invited me to a launch party that she and her partner produced for Agua Luca, a new luxury Cachaca from Brazil at Lounge Bambudda. Hubert Keller, chef proprietor of San Francisco’s finest French restaurant Fleur de Lys was the guest DJ. The crème de la crème of SF food and beverage management attended this Brazilian poolside party. A quick dip in the YMCA pool and another visit to a fitness center (the Harbor Court used to be part of the next door Y) was followed by dinner overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf at A. Isabella’s that has been in the family since the early 1940’s.