How We Spent Our Summer Vacation

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Much to Susan’s dismay, our vacation record is still intact. We have been married for almost six and a half years, and we have still not taken a trip that was more than one night that didn’t have some type of racing tie-in. You might say our honeymoon had no tie-in, but we were married at IMS on qualifying weekend and delayed our honeymoon for over a week so that we could attend the 2012 Indianapolis 500. For our honeymoon, we left the Tuesday after Memorial Day and went to Indian Rocks Beach for a week. But where did we go on the one rainy day? St. Petersburg and checked out the street course layout.

Since then, our vacation time has been spent going to races or something to do with IndyCar. Such was the case this past weekend. If you are looking for hard-hitting racing commentary, you might want to come back on Monday. This is pretty much a semi-short diary of our trip. My apologies up front on the amount of family photos, but this is the digital equivalent of watching someone’s home movies.

We flew from Nashville to San Francisco last Friday morning, with a quick layover in Las Vegas. I’ve never been much of a gambler, but when you see slot machines the moment you step off the plane – I had to try my luck. My usual luck on such things held out, as I quickly lost the five dollars I had budgeted to the layover.

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Since it took so long to get our rental car in San Francisco, we ended driving straight to the track. After the Friday practice, we drove to Petaluma, which is about fifteen miles northwest of the track. We stayed at Hotel Petaluma, which was a quaint old hotel. It is almost one-hundred years old,  but has been recently refurbished and is a good combination of traditional and modern. It still has traditional wooden window panes. This was the view as we we woke up at dawn on Saturday morning.

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I’ll never get used to all of the brown grass, but the trade off is the perfect weather. The cool temps and low humidity was a welcomed change compared to what we returned to in Nashville. When we left our hotel Wednesday morning for the airport, the temperature was a pleasant 46°. Yesterday’s high in Nashville was 96°. It was hard to adjust to a fifty-degree difference in temperature.

We ate at local spots each meal. Friday night’s dinner was at The Shuckery, which is a trendy seafood restaurant. It was not cheap, but it was good. Saturday night, we ate at a traditional Italian place called Volpi’s, which had been there since 1925 and run by the same family. It was not quite as good, but it was also not quite as pricey either. The meal was good and the atmosphere would have also been good, but it seemed like it was the gathering place for young kids just before embarking on a night of carousing. Their behavior detracted from our dining experience. That’s a nice way of saying that there were young punks that needed to get off my lawn.

But our weekend days were spent at the track. I’ve already discussed my opinions and shared many pictures from there. If you want my opinions, go back and read them – but I do really like the track now. Here are a few more photos from race weekend, mostly taken by Susan – including her required pre-race selfie.

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Sunday night after the race, we made the obligatory trip to In-N-Out Burger. Some people love the California chain, but I still don’t get it. It’s OK, but I’ve had just as good of burgers at Wendy’s. I think the fact it is mostly available only on the west coast makes it more appealing. It’s sort of like Coors Beer n the seventies. People would drive to Texas in big trucks, just to buy cases of Coors to bring back and sell. Now that Coors is readily available, most people won’t walk across the street to drink it.

The best thing about our visit to In-N-Out? When we walked in, Dale Coyne was standing in line. He spotted my Road America jacket and asked if we went to the race. We ended up talking with him for a good while. While he may seem a bit quiet on television, he is a very nice guy to bump into in public.

Monday was when our vacation really started. We drove to the coast (Bodega Bay, where The Birds was filmed) and headed north.

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It was a cool and foggy day, but what we could see was spectacular. The rocky coast is not something we southerners see on our trips to Florida. I’m not sure it would be how I would like to spend every trip to the beach, but it was a very nice change.

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We ate lunch in a local roadside diner, then headed to Armstrong Redwoods Nature Reserve to go see some redwoods. Oddly enough, we ran into a fellow IndyCar blogger there – Shay Hazen of Live Full Throttle. While these may not be as massive as those in Sequoyah National Park, they were impressive nonetheless. The largest tree there is the General Armstrong Tree. It is 308 feet high, 14.6 feet in diameter and is approximately 1400 years old.

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From the redwoods, we headed southeast to Napa Valley, where the Andretti Winery is located. What a relaxing way to end our day of driving. It is set off the road and in the middle of their own vineyards. There were still plenty of grapes that had not been harvested. It’s not the biggest or the most commercial winery out there, but it is very nice, low-key and peaceful. The staff there was very friendly. Even though we stayed past 5:00, they didn’t seem to mind. If you are ever in the area, I recommend stopping in.

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From the winery, we drove back to Petaluma and decided to try a local pizza place called Red Boys Pizza. It was OK – nothing special, but not bad. Just ordinary.

Tuesday was our last full day in California. We drove down to San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge, which we ended up crossing a total of four times. We then drove through San Francisco and went south on Highway One. The plan was to go to at least Half Moon Bay, but we were short on time so we turned around in Pacifica.

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Why we were bumping up against time was because we had tickets to go to Alcatraz at 1:30. This was Susan’s idea, but it was a good one. We boarded the ferry that took us over to the island at 1:00…and yes, Susan wore her prison shirt.

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It was fascinating and kind of eerie going through the cell block of the famous prison where they housed the worst of the worst. Although it did not open as a Federal Prison until 1934, Alcatraz was a military prison. The main cell building was built in 1910, and I believe it. The conditions were less than ideal and the cells are even smaller in person than they look in the movies.

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After an afternoon on The Rock, we were hungry. We took the chilly ferry back to the mainland and then tried to ride a cable car. I say “try” because we stood in line at rush hour for forty-five minutes and saw three go by. But there was no room so we said forget it. But we did get a nice picture of one, anyway.

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From that stop, we walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf. We looked over several menus but finally decided on Alioto’s Italian Seafood. It was a good choice. In fact, it was such a good choice, we would make it a point to go back there if we are ever there again. It has been there since 1925 and is very old school. If you like trendy restaurants with small portions, this is not the place for you. But the food was phenomenal. We had Dungeness Crab, the kind you have to wear a bib for.

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Not only was the food good, so was the atmosphere. It was all topped off by the view from our table. Our table overlooked the bay and we got to watch the sun set over the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. This shot was taken after the sun had already set.

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It was hard to photograph, but it was even more spectacular with the sun in the sky. It was a perfect last night of a perfect trip. We returned home Wednesday night, tired but happy. All racing vacations should be this fun.

I’ll be back on Monday with more racing related content. If you made it down this far…thanks.

George Phillips

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7 Responses to “How We Spent Our Summer Vacation”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Sounds like a great trip and a great way to end the season. I happened to be in Vegas last weekend too, for the NASCAR race unfortunately. I tried to stick a dollar in the slot machines at the airport but they only took cards and I couldn’t be bothered to dig mine out of my wallet. Managed to be there four days and not spend a single dollar on gambling (still parted ways with plenty of dollars though, everything there is expensive).

    I also had my first taste of In-N-Out Burger and I loved it. Sure, you can get as good or better burgers elsewhere but it did have a unique flavor, kind of a combination of Wendy’s flavor with the crispy edges of Steak ‘N Shake. And yes, the fact that it’s not available here in the midwest added to the allure and enjoyment of it.

    Thanks for sharing the family vacay photos!

  2. It is obvious that Susan has a good sense of humor and is a very good photographer. She understands the nuances of framing a good picture before snapping the shutter. Thanks to both of you for putting this post together. It is very enjoyable. I will probably look at these photos many times. I love you Emma. (in a healthy way from afar)

    I would like to mention once again that Scott Dixons team has two women engineers; Kate Gundlach and Danielle Shephard.

    So while the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame and the agonizing wait for May begins, we have George’s blog to look forward to each week. Thank you George and Susan and God bless.

  3. sounds like a nice time. and now on to silly season, which seems to be starting off with a bang already.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Dale Coyne eats at restaurants other than Sonny’s BBQ?

  5. Thanks for sharing!! Great photos and it sounds like a great trip.

  6. I am so pleased you two were able to get to the rugged coast. I haven’t been there in ages. And I award you and A+ for eating at Alioto’s on the Wharf. It is a classic SF eatery. It looks like you had a great time and I am glad they let you off Alcatraz. 🙂 Just watched the last race again and I am already missing the series. It is a long way to March.

  7. Your trip to Alcatraz reminds me of my favorite postcard. It featured a photo of Alcatraz, much like the ones Susan took from the ferry, with the following words beneath: WISH YOU WERE HERE.

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