If you’ve been following the Mustang USA narrative, you’ll know that I wrapped up the Route 66 drive with my Dad and now a whole new Puppyknuckles crew has assembled in San Francisco.  My brother and I drove up from Irvine, my girlfriend flew in from New York, and my cousin who lives in San Francisco made sure we would have a night we would never remember.

We woke up the next morning dehydrated, with headaches, and in a strange and dingy Airbnb apartment.  As opposed to the largely scripted Route 66 experience, there suddenly were no guidebooks instructing us where to go or what was going to happen next.  It was exciting.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3735Well, after a long night, we definitely know what’s going to happen FIRST.  A huge breakfast.  These eggs and brisket hash did wonders for my mood.  I don’t even remember where we ate, but it was great.  You don’t need my advice though, it’s San Francisco.  You can’t swing a dead cat without knocking over a mimosa on somebody’s table having brunch.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3754From the top of Lombard Street you can get a good look at the Coit Tower in Telegraph Hill.  San Francisco is an amazing town to drive in.  The hills are crazy.  I admit I did get nervous once.  I was sitting at the steepest goddamn red light – you couldn’t even see what was over the horizon – and of course, a car behind pulls up really close.  Thank god for the 5.0 and its torque.  After that, I practiced my handbrake hill starts.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3739The famous Lombard street:  8 hairpin turns and at least 8,045 tourists.  We drove down it, of course.  We’re tourists.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3747The houses on Lombard were stunning.  Couldn’t help but wonder what kind of insane price tags are on places like these.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3762My brother had to get back to Irvine and his two little babies, so he hopped in an Uber and went to the airport.  Margo and I made our way over the Golden Gate bridge and started our leg of the journey together.  For the next week, we plan to do some wine tastings in Napa and Sonoma, visit some northern California towns, see the majestic redwoods, and then cut through Oregon to end up in northern Idaho, where my parents live.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3782Really, another food picture?  Yes.  Hell yes.  Guinness in a frosted mason jar with clam chowder outdoors on a pier is a moment of utter perfection that I must remember forever and ever.  The place is called Fish, just outside Marin City on the 101.  Go past the tourist trap of Sausalito and you’ll be rewarded.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3794Here’s Margo on the beach.  We realized that we hadn’t actually touched the Pacific Ocean yet.  It was a nice day, but the water was pretty darn cold.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3813Our original plan for this day was to go to a kick ass cabin resort in Yosemite, but at the last minute that was scrubbed because of severe fires in the park.  It was a bummer, but smoke, phone lines knocked out and 3 hour detours with limited park access was not a good way to start off the week.  So, at Margo’s brother’s recommendation, we went to Point Reyes instead, which is a couple hours north of San Francisco on the amazing Pacific Coast Highway.  Our hotel overlooked Tomales Bay and this cool shipwreck.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3821We chose this restaurant called Saltwater for dinner because it was the closest place and we couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and enjoy the bay breeze and the fireplace in the room.  But we got lucky, this restaurant was fantastic.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3827Saltwater had a simple prix fix menu: you could either have fish, or fish.  Luckily we were both totally down with that.  Hope you’re enjoying this food porn of the cod.  We did rusty cars and shit on Route 66, now it’s time for some refinement, ya know.  There wasn’t much to do in Tomales Bay after dark so Margo and I were happy to spend it at this restaurant that felt more populated by locals than travelers.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3865The next morning, we headed for the Point Reyes National Seashore.  Leave your beach umbrella and cooler at home.  After a quarter mile hike through the hills I was positive I would be attacked and partially eaten by a bobcat before we actually got to the water.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3870It’s a beautiful, but cold and windy seashore.  Lots of seagulls.  Lots of seaweed.  I thought it would be a nice place for a good cry.

puppyknuckles-california-9-The roads getting to the seashore were twisty and fun, though.  I was stunned how foggy and gray it can be in this part of California, especially before noon.  Having done our sightseeing for the day, we checked the time and realized we had to bust ass to make the appointment for a wine tasting Margo had set up in Napa.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3928And with that I found myself staring at my first vineyard.  I had never done anything like this before so I just nodded and said “wow” a lot.  This is Corison winery, owned by Cathy Corison.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3943Cathy Corison was able to buy this whole shebang for just the price of the land in the ’80s.  Turns out some of these vines are over 50 years old, which making them among the oldest in the Napa valley.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3941This is what a truly old vine looks like.  Practically like a small tree.  This was the first time I’d heard somebody use the word “gnarly” and not sound like Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3935A really gnarly old vine will not produce nearly as many grapes as the younger vines do, but the quality of the grapes they do get from these huge old beasts is unparalleled.  We got to eat a couple.  They were good.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3952The tasting that we got was brief, but hey I drank some free wine!  That we mostly spit into a bucket.

puppyknuckles-california-9-4023Had to stop for a photo op before leaving Corison and Napa valley.  Next, we will head directly over a mountain to the Sonoma valley where we will spend the night.  What a lucky surprise that the blast over the mountain was my favorite type of road: old, twisty 55 mph highways full of 25 mph corners.  Margo likes riding shotgun for this kind of thing as much as I like driving it, and with little to no traffic in sight, we let it rip.

This was the moment when it really crystallized why I have 1. brought my Mustang 3,000 miles to the West Coast and 2. modified the crap out of that Mustang.  We start climbing the mountain and the Steeda intake is loud, gulping huge lungfuls of air with every throttle stomp.  The unrestricted BOSS side exit exhaust combined with the GT500 axlebacks sounds near-as-dammit like a Trans Am-era race car as we give it the beans exiting each corner.  It’s an honestly terrifying sound, and I love it.  This Mustang didn’t come with the optional Brembo brakes, so I upgraded later to the SVT kit, and installed stainless braided lines and brake ducts for track days.  They were more than up to the task of late braking into some sharp downhill corners on the other side of the mountain.  The staggered width 19″ Forgestar wheels help erase some understeer and are shod with Sumimoto summer tires that have plenty of grip even after multiple track days.  They’re good tires that send progressive audible feedback when pushed.  The MGW shifter that Margo helped me install one night over the winter was smooth and precise with every heel/toe downshift.  The Mustang never gets exercised like this in Brooklyn, and it was eating it up.

It was a pure driving moment, my girl at my side, and it couldn’t get much better.  We settled into traffic in the valley feeling happy, and made our way to a great little Airbnb apartment for the night in Sonoma.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3991The next day, we went to Copain winery for a tasting.  Another appointment only type deal; I think anyone can pay for these, but Margo was getting us “industry” tasting privileges.  I don’t know anything about wine, but I do know that I am very special.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3976This tasting was awesome.  The snacks weren’t pairings, just tasty little local meats, cheeses, nuts to eat as you like with the different wines.  We tasted things from light to dark, and the guy pouring the tasting was impressive in that he answered every question with a lot of detail but also made it understandable for a wine noob like me.  We were joined by two other couples and I do believe no one spat out one single drop of wine.

puppyknuckles-california-9-3994Copain has a huge property so we went hiking around in the vineyards.  A lot more vines than at Corison, but both are still considered small to medium wineries.  We spent some time hanging out, and then got on the road to head up to Mendocino, where we had a cabin waiting for us in the woods.

puppyknuckles-california-9--2The drive to Mendocino is great, and we can’t help but notice that the trees have gotten super tall.  In fact, one of the tallest, if not the tallest tree on earth is supposed to be near here somewhere.

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puppyknuckles-california-9-4065Home sweet home.  Margo and I have a place in Brooklyn that we rent out on Airbnb, so it’s really cool to be a guest in someone else’s world.   This cabin was tiny but well done.  It was near the owner’s house, so you didn’t feel like you were alone in the woods.  There were chickens and friendly cats.  There was a tiny television and a DVD of Rainman.

puppyknuckles-california-9--3The town of Mendocino was small and sleepy.  This weather was not helping to add any kind of festive mood to the place.  But it had tons of atmosphere.

puppyknuckles-california-9-4097 puppyknuckles-california-9-4134The craggiest, most primeval coastline yet at Mendocino Headlands State Park.

puppyknuckles-california-9-4150We watched the distant lighthouse blinking at us through the fog for a while.  There was almost no one else out there.  I guess I was picturing some kind of bustling California beach town in my mind before we got here.  I felt like I was getting a northern California education.

puppyknuckles-california-9-4118As it got dark, it was time to Yelp some dinner.  We were hoping for a well-reviewed local pub, as we were in the mood fo some good bar food, cold beers, wouldn’t mind some warm lighting, and maybe even some other people.  We were happy to find literally everyone in Mendocino packed into one English style pub.  Was a perfect way to shake off the gloom of the coastline and prepare for our night in the cabin.

I forgot that Rainman is basically a Route 66 family member road trip movie.  We watched it of course.  After having just done my own Route 66 drive with my Dad, I couldn’t help trying to decide if I was like the hot-headed, big-city prick of Tom Cruise or the mentally handicapped “Wapner in five minutes” Dustin Hoffman character.  Pretty sure it’s a little from column “A”, little from column “B”.

Coming up next: Margo and I keep heading up the Pacific Coast Highway until we get to some serious Redwoods.  Stay tuned.