Minnesota Monthly Takes California

Todd about Town: Follow along with the Minnesota Monthly Travel Club’s first excursion, as members take a trip through San Francisco, Wine Country, and other California hot spots

Our travel and entertainment editor Todd P. Walker joined Minnesota Monthly Travel Club members on a trip through San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Lake Tahoe

The inaugural journey for the Minnesota Monthly Travel Club has begun. Together, I and members of the club are California-bound from October 11 to 18 and ready to explore the areas of San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Lake Tahoe. Follow along as I update my blog below!

Day #5: On Lake Tahoe, in Virginia City, and after a farewell meal…

The Minnesota Monthly Travel Club has traveled by plane, train, luxury coach, and boat. Today, we arrived at Lake Tahoe, the largest high-altitude lake in the country, that’s beat only by the Great Lakes in terms of volume. (Fun fact: There is enough water in this lake to provide 50 gallons a day to every person in the United States for five years.) We boarded the M.S. Dixie II paddle wheeler for a guided tour and experienced the Instagram-worthy views of Emerald Bay and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains.



After so much nature, it was time to head to the historic town of Virginia City, across the border in Nevada, at one time the wealthiest place in the world and home to author Mark Twain.

The Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada

Virginia City, Nevada

We had our farewell dinner at Riva Grill, back in South Lake Tahoe. It was our final chance to bid adieu to old and new friends, and to bring to a close the inaugural journey of the MNMO Travel Club.

At Riva Grill in South Lake Tahoe


Day #4: Chugging through the Sierra Nevada mountains to Lake Tahoe

Today, the Minnesota Monthly Travel Club boarded the Amtrak train headed for the Sierra Nevada mountains in route to Lake Tahoe. We had beautiful weather; the group spent most of the three-hour trek taking in the gorgeous mountain views. It was a very relaxed way to travel through the Sierras. We enjoyed snacks and beverages and visited with fellow travelers.

Travel and entertainment editor Todd P. Walker with the Minnesota Monthly Travel Club

The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range

We took a lunch stop in the charming mountain town of Truckee. The main street in this splendid, warm, welcoming village is lined with locally curated art galleries, makers-market clothing stores, and taverns. Many of us had to be lured off Truckee’s thoroughfare, baited by Lake Tahoe not more than an hour away.

The town of Truckee, California

At Lake Tahoe


Day #3: Everyone aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train

Snow in Minnesota and sunshine here in California. (Those are the breaks.) Today, Minnesota Monthly Travel Club members spent the morning over a delicious breakfast at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Sacramento, where we shared photos of snowfall from friends and family back home. (Not to rub it in, but temps here are in the mid-70s.) Following breakfast, we boarded the Napa Valley Wine Train to travel through Wine Country.

Napa Valley Wine Train

Inside the Napa Valley Wine Train

We enjoyed a fine-dining experience and wine tasting aboard impeccably restored Pullman rail cars from the 1900s. After a leisurely day traveling on the tracks among the vineyards, we visited Old Town Sacramento to experience life as it was during the 1800s Gold Rush era. Old Town has been restored and is now home to specialty shops, restaurants, and old-time saloons. (And the high here in Sacramento is supposed to reach 80 degrees…just saying!)


Day #2: Golden Gate Bridge, stopover in Sausalito, and delicious wines at Nicholson Ranch Winery

Leaving San Francisco at dawn, we approached the Golden Gate Bridge and braved the morning fog—truly a sight like no other. We boarded a luxury coach, left San Francisco, and spent some time at the illustrious bridge, taking pictures and reading about its history. (It’s one of the seven wonders of the modern world, after all.)

Golden Gate Bridge

Then it was time to reflect and decompress in one of my favorite coves in America: Sausalito. Directly off the Golden Gate Bridge, this city offers an abundance of unique specialty stores and wine-tasting rooms—plus ice cream.

In Sausalito

We couldn’t get our fill of wine just yet, because we had to move on to Sonoma County, where we visited the Nicholson Ranch Winery. Here, we were greeted by the owner, Deepak Gulrajani, and engaged in a wine-tasting class—a great (and informative) excuse to sample fine Nicholson Ranch wines.

Todd P. Walker with Deepak Gulrajani, owner of Nicholson Ranch Winery


Day #1: San Francisco tour, excursion by water, and a zen-filled experience at Muir Woods

During our two days in “the City by the Bay,” we just had to set aside time for sightseeing. How could you pass through San Francisco without checking out its iconic Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, Union Square, and Fisherman’s Wharf? Every detail of this “California Rail Discovery” tour (covering San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Lake Tahoe) has been taken care of, so Minnesota Monthly Travel Club members could relax, without worrying what’s next.

We headed out bright and early for an in-depth city tour, going past the stunning government buildings in the civic center area and through Golden Gate Park, Union Square, Pacific Heights, and the Fisherman’s Wharf. Aboard a San Francisco Bay Cruise, a narrated tour taught us the history of the city while we gazed back at the shore and the skyline. We also boated under the Golden Gate Bridge and circled the eerie island of Alcatraz.

Fountains at Golden Gate Park

After a break for lunch—you’ll want to get the fish and chips at Pier 39—we headed to Muir Woods to spend time with 500-year-old redwood trees. This is the perfect way to close a day on the go: a peaceful and magical experience standing among the tallest trees in the world.

In Muir Woods