Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit - SMART train at the San Rafael station

Why is it so difficult getting from San Francisco to Santa Rosa and Sonoma County?

Cover: Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit – SMART train at the San Rafael station
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


San Francisco at sunset
San Francisco at sunset. Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Four years ago we decided we wanted to live near San Francisco. More accurately – we wanted to live in San Francisco but, to avoid the ridiculously high cost of living in the City by the Bay, we drew a circle around San Francisco taking in all cities located within 60 miles, and examined which cities seemed to have a somewhat reasonable cost of living (it’s California, so that is a relative term) with decent amenities.

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We chose Santa Rosa, a mid-sized city, with two Whole Foods, quite a few restaurants, and a location in the center of Sonoma’s wine region. We envisioned daily life amongst the vines and frequent day trips into San Francisco for lunch and shopping.

Then, we encountered life with the 101. For those not acquainted with California’s north–south highway route, in northern California the 101 connects San Francisco to the North Bay area and frequently achieves near standstill conditions. We only went into the city a handful of times and, after eight months in the North Bay area, we decided to move to Lake Tahoe to be closer to the mountains.  In the end, we still spent about as much time in San Francisco as we did when we were living in Santa Rosa.

San Francisco
San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Even now with our nomad lifestyle, we still get back to the west coast multiple times per year and one thing that continues to amaze us is how few good/easy options exist for getting between San Francisco and Sonoma County. According to the San Francisco Tourism Board, over 25 million people visit San Francisco each year. I’m betting quite a few of them drink wine and would like to visit the beautiful wine region of Sonoma – so why is it so difficult to get there?

View of San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
View of San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The one-day wine tour

Drinking wine in Sonoma
Drinking wine in Sonoma, Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

If you are in San Francisco and want to just do a one day Sonoma or Napa day wine tour, there are a variety of private coach tours for about $120-$150 per person available that leave San Francisco in the morning and return in the evening. However, if you are seeking a true wine country experience, spending a day or two (or more) while casually sampling wines and enjoying the slower pace of Sonoma County, a one-day tour just won’t do.

Sonoma County, California
Sonoma County, California Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Getting from San Francisco to Sonoma County by car

There are many cities where renting a car is as big a hassle as it is an expense. By the time you rent a car, navigate where you need to go, find parking, pay for parking, pay for in and outs, and pay for gas – that’s quite a bit of irritation and money that could have been used for taking Ubers or Lyfts – and nobody has to drive. For those opting for the rental car experience, once you leave San Francisco, you get to hop on the 101 and head north for a not so leisurely experience getting to Santa Rosa. While having a car in wine country is convenient, it also requires designating a driver, which if there are only two of you, takes a bit of the fun out of wine tasting.

Getting from San Francisco to Santa Rosa by Uber or Lyft – Cost: About $100 for 2

Lyft San Francisco to Santa Rosa
Lyft San Francisco to Santa Rosa

In the U.S., ride sharing, namely Uber and Lyft, is our typical mode of transportation. We’ve only had a few bad experiences (filthy car, bizarre driver, and, one of my favorites, the driver got lost and wouldn’t believe the app knew how to get there and just yelled back at the phone as we drove in the wrong direction). But, those are by far the exception – we take numerous ride shares every week of the year and most are great.

Uber San Francisco to Santa Rosa

That said, a long distance ride share can be expensive. A comparison of both Uber and Lyft fees revealed the ride to Santa Rosa would be about $100 + tip. Doable, but a bit pricey – so we continued exploring options.

Grapes on the vine, Sonoma County
Grapes on the vine, Sonoma County Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Airporter: San Francisco to Santa Rosa – Cost: $86 for 2

When we lived in Santa Rosa and we’d fly out of SFO or Oakland, we’d use the Airporter to get to and from the airport. The Airporter picks up/drops off at the Park & Ride near the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa or at the Santa Rosa airport. A one-way adult fare to/from either SFO or the Oakland airports and Sonoma County is $34 per person. The buses are comfortable and it’s a good option if going straight to/from Santa Rosa to/from either airport.

But, what if you want to spend a few days in San Francisco then head up to Sonoma for a few more days? The Airporter doesn’t run between downtown San Francisco and Santa Rosa, so you need to get back out to SFO or OAK from San Francisco to catch one. BART fare from downtown San Francisco to SFO is $8.95 per person or a Lyft or Uber runs about $35-$50 to the airport. So for two people, the trip to Santa Rosa from downtown San Francisco using the BART – Airporter route would run about $86.

Getting from San Francisco to Sonoma County by the SMART train – Cost: $75 for 2

SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train at the San Rafael station
SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train at the San Rafael station Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The first phase of the SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train, a 43-mile / 69-kilometer rail service between Northern Santa Rosa and Downtown San Rafael, began operating in June 2017. Over the next few years, SMART is scheduled to expand service to Larkspur on the south end of the route in Marin County and to Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale on the northern end in wine country.

But, first, you have to get to San Rafael from San Francisco. Option1 is taking a bus from San Francisco to San Rafael – not expensive, but rather slow with many stops. Option 2 is to catch the Golden Gate ferry from the San Francisco Ferry building to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, then taking the route 31 shuttle to connect to the SMART train station. The ferry cost is $11.50 for each person. Option 3 is to take an Uber or Lyft to the SMART train station in San Rafael.

Uber from San Francisco to San Rafael SMART station
Uber from San Francisco to San Rafael SMART station Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Considering we needed to get from our hotel on Nob Hill to the ferry terminal or bus station and each had a large roller bag, we would have needed a Uber or Lyft to get that far, so we decided on option 3 for simplicity. The Uber to the San Rafael SMART train station cost $45 + tip. We then caught the SMART train to Santa Rosa for $9.50 per person using the mobile app. The train is about an hour ride from San Rafael to Santa Rosa. The train was clean, with plenty storage areas for luggage and bikes. Some seats on the train have tables, others are airline style.

Riding on the Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) near Petaluma
Riding on the Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) near Petaluma Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The train was packed – standing room only. While I tried to get a bit of work done on the ride, we had seatmates at our table and the train was very loud, so it was a bit challenging. I’m not sure if it is some sort of acoustic issue or we just had a car of extremely loud talkers, but we’ve ridden trains in 10 countries this year and I’ve yet to experience so much noise on a train. The kid behind me screamed most of the way and kicked my chair while his father stood in the aisle playing with a yo-yo. In the end, we got to Santa Rosa and it was fairly inexpensive, but not what I’d call a relaxing experience.

Lyft and Uber in wine country

Drinking a Larsen Projekt grenache rosé in Santa Rosa
Drinking a Larsen Projekt grenache rosé in Santa Rosa Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Once we arrived at the Santa Rosa airport train platform, we called a Lyft. Our wait time was only 3 minutes and the fare to our hotel was $10 + tip. We were a bit worried that ride share may not be plentiful in Sonoma Country but we used Uber the entire time during our three-day stay and typically only waited 5-10 minutes for the car to arrive.

Sonoma County wine tasting
Sonoma County wine tasting Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

That is good  – no, great news. If ever there was a place to not drive, it is in wine country. Uber provides the flexibility to craft your own tasting agenda – you pick the wineries, you chose the amount of time spent at each location, and everyone can sample the wines and safely return to their hotels without driving.

Fountaingrove Round Barn, Santa Rosa
Fountaingrove Round Barn, Santa Rosa Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California

Santa Anita Park: A day at the races

Cover: Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


As I listened to the horses strolling past Clockers’ Corner on their way to their morning workout, my thoughts turned to the thousands of others that had also raced over the years at this beautiful place called Santa Anita Park.

Dating back to 1907, when Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin opened the first Santa Anita Park a few blocks away from the current location, the racetrack has since been the site of countless races with world-famous jockeys competing at the beautiful venue that has been the home of numerous champions including 2015 Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, and the horse the world fell in love with, Seabiscuit.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Santa Anita Park and Seabiscuit

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The stubborn, heroic horse immortalized in the 2003 film, Seabiscuit, was a remarkable Thoroughbred who inspired a country mired in the Depression at the time. Despite his small size and obstinate personality, Seabiscuit dazzled the country when it needed it most by winning the “race of the century” against the blue blood, east coast favorite, War Admiral. After suffering what appeared to be a career-ending injury, Seabiscuit came back to win the Santa Anita Handicap in 1940.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With the San Gabriel Mountains as a backdrop, Santa Anita Park is widely considered one of the most beautiful horse racing tracks in the world and served as the location for much of Seabiscuit the movie.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Which brought us to this early morning scene. In May, while shooting the final stages of the Tour of California in nearby Pasadena, we stayed down the street from Santa Anita Park and commented multiple times how we would like to come back and experience “The Great Race Place” for ourselves. A few months later, we were here and ready for…

A Day at Santa Anita Park

Clockers’ Corner

Clocker's Corner, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Clockers’ Corner, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

There’s no place better to begin a day at the races than Clockers’ Corner. Open each morning until 10am, trainers, jockeys, owners, journalists and race fans alike make their way to Clockers’ Corner for coffee and breakfast fare.

Clocker's Corner, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Clockers’ Corner, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As the sun rises and the mountains turn shades of pink and gold, horses gallop past during their morning workouts. Friendly waiters deliver pancakes and coffee, while conversations at nearby tables vary from discussions of how specific horses are looking to shared stories between friends.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

All aboard the Seabiscuit Tram

On weekends during racing season, Seabiscuit fans unite at Clockers’ Corner each morning for a free ride on the Seabiscuit tram for a short tour of the stables, paddock, and a chance to see Seabiscuit’s original stall and meet Fighting Furrari, who starred as Seabiscuit in the 2003 movie.

The Paddock

Paddock Gardens, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
The Paddock, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With a statue of Seabiscuit keeping watch over the activities, the paddock is a hub of pre-race activity as the Thoroughbreds and jockeys prepare for their races. A visit to the paddock provides an up-close view of the horses entering the saddling enclosure and then walking the ring before every race.

Let’s eat and drink

The Gallop Out, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
The Gallop Out, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Santa Anita Park has a wide array of food and drink options from quick and casual to upscale fine dining. Throughout the park, concessions are available with fast food, sodas, beer, and other quick fares. On the casual side, Pick Three offers diners the ability to create their own dish from a selection of noodles, sauces, and meats, while the Turf Course dishes up crisp salads and sushi and Grade One piles on the meat with their carvery sandwiches.

The Gallop Out, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
The Gallop Out, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On the Club House level, The Gallop Out is where sports bar meets the race track. With numerous TVs, great views of the first turn, and daily happy hour specials, The Gallop Out is a perfect spot to enjoy a beverage and a shady breeze, while keeping on top of the action on the track.

The acclaimed Turf Terrace and FrontRunner restaurants combine fine dining with spectacular views, creating an exceptional day of sophisticated racing. Reservation information, menus, and suggested attire can be found on the Santa Anita Park website.

Turf Terrace, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Turf Terrace, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

“And away they go…”

Horse racing is a beautiful combination of tradition, grace, speed, and strength.

Santa Anita Park bugler, Jay Cohen, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park bugler, Jay Cohen, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

From the moment of the bugler’s call to post and the horses and their escort ponies entering the race track from the paddock, anticipation begins to build throughout the park.

Triple Crown Winner, Victor Espinoza, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Triple Crown Winner, Victor Espinoza, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Anticipation turns to excitement, as the jockeys and horses head to the starting gate, then burst out on the other side. With his signature, “And away they go…”, Trevor Denman, Santa Anita’s track announcer since October 1983, sends the race on its way around the track.

A rainbow of silks hover over the pounding mud cloud, as the jockeys perch precariously above their horses, making their way toward the finish line at speeds of 40 mph. In the stands, a sea of yelling, clapping, and optimism erupts as the crowd eagerly awaits the finish line results.

It’s jubilation for some, disappoint for others, and a trip to the Winner’s Circle for the winning jockey and horse. Then, it’s time for the next race.

Going for the win

Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.”
– W. C. Fields

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

What would a day at the races be without a bit of wagering? We started off with a trip to the paddock to get a look at the ponies and, after spotting the one I was sure would win, we made our way to place our bet.

Magic Moon, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Magic Moon, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Yeah, that didn’t work so well, so for the next race, I resorted to my sure fire way to win – bet on a grey horse. Alrighty then… no luck there.

So, we headed over and paid a visit to the nice, helpful guys at the “How to Wager” tent. They technically don’t tell you which horse to bet on, more of how to place a bet if it’s new to you, but they were fun.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Hmmm. New plan. In the 6th, Bob Baffert had two horses running. One of the most winning trainers in horse racing and the trainer of American Pharoah – Baffert wouldn’t let us down.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

So much for that theory. Bummer. We were running out of races, so we headed down to the concessions area, got a beer, and went out to watch the 7th race and form a strategy. There was only one race left for the day and we hadn’t won yet – and that’s when it came to me. I knew the way to win the last race of the day!

Yep – we bet on them all.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Yay – Dragon Flower! You came through for us!

Alonso Quinonez, Dragon Flower, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Alonso Quinonez, Dragon Flower, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Santa Anita Park: Know before you go

Wear comfortable shoes. Santa Anita Park is a big place and to experience it all, you will do some walking. So, leave the stilettos in the closet and grab a pair of flats. Your feet will thank you for it at the end of the day.

Get up early and go to Clockers’ Corner. The night before you may be wondering if it’s worth setting the alarm. It is – go for it.

Plan your day in advance. Decide ahead of time if you want to go a bit upscale with your dining options and if so, make reservations and check the dress code.

Bring cash. While the restaurants and concessions take credit cards, you need cash to place wagers.

Don’t forget the sunscreen. It’s warm and sunny in beautiful Southern California, so remember to apply sunscreen throughout the day.

If you are planning on hanging out in the infield or apron, coolers, containers, bags, and folding chairs are okay to bring.  But, leave alcoholic beverages, glass containers, balls, balloons, bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, frisbees, flags, kites, tables and animals other than licensed service animals at home – they are not allowed in the park.


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Santa Anita Park for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used. Some posts on this website may contain links to our partners’ websites and Chasing Light Media may be compensated by those partners.

Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Mendocino and the Redwoods

Mendocino County and the Redwoods

Mendocino County and the Redwoods
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Mendocino County is one of the most beautiful areas of Northern California. Located about 3 hours north of San Francisco, Mendocino County is filled with wineries, quaint inns, the seaside village of Mendocino, and of course, the amazing redwoods.

Navarro River Redwoods State Park
Navarro River Redwoods State Park Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Getting there

Mendocino County map

Head north up the 101 toward Santa Rosa and Sonoma. At Cloverdale, take 128 west toward the coast.

Highway 128 is a winding road that runs through Mendocino County’s wine regions, which produce some excellent wines. Yorkville Cellars is about 17 miles west of Cloverdale and further into the Anderson Valley region are numerous wineries including Husch, Roederer Estate, and Goldeneye.

Heading further west lies the Navarro River Redwoods State Park. The 11 mile drive through the tall redwoods provides ample opportunities for a short hike, picnic or simply to photograph the redwoods and forest habitat. Emerging from the redwood forest, 128 meets Highway 1 and heads north toward Mendocino and Ft Bragg.

Navarro River Redwoods State Park
Navarro River Redwoods State Park Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Mendocino

Mendocino
Mendocino Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A charming village by the sea, Mendocino is a great place to explore shops and galleries, enjoy a bike ride or hike, or simply relax.

Mendocino
MendocinoPhoto: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A variety of inns line the coast near Mendocino offering picturesque views of the rugged shoreline and a chance to unwind in an incredibly beautiful setting. We stayed at the very tranquil Stanford Inn by the Sea, which has lush gardens, a fabulous ocean view, and a fully-vegan restaurant. One of the most dog-friendly properties we’ve experienced, dogs are welcome everywhere on the property.  The rooms are rustic, the views are amazing and the breakfast, which is included, is a fabulous start to the day.

Mendocino County
Mendocino County Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

More Redwoods & the Drive Thru Tree

Redwoods, Mendocino County, California
Redwoods, Mendocino County, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

No trip to Mendocino County is complete without a visit to the see the famous Chandelier Tree, also known as the Drive Thru Tree.

Drive Thru Tree Park in Mendocino County
Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

Heading further north on Highway 1, then winding inland through 20 miles of redwoods, the Drive-Thru Tree Park is located near Leggett. The Drive-Thru Tree Park states the Chandelier Tree is a Coastal Redwood or Sequoia semperviren and the hole in the tree was cut in 1936 or 1937. The tree is reported to be 2000 years old, approximately 315 feet high and 21 feet in diameter.

Drive thru tree park, Mendocino County
Drive-thru tree, Mendocino CountyPhoto: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

If you’re in the mood for more big redwood viewing, head further north up the 101 toward Eureka. Along the route, you’ll find the Tree House and multiple groves as you head toward Humboldt County, or head south on the 101 toward Ukiah.

Mendocino
Mendocino Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclosure & disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Mendocino
Mendocino Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Mendocino County and the Redwoods
Mendocino County and the Redwoods Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media