From Napa to San Francisco: A Motorcycle Escape to the Blues
When you live in a small town sometimes you just need to escape to the big city. Lucky for me San Francisco is just a short ride from my home in the beautiful Napa Valley. When I heard that one of my favorite bands was playing at Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco, I headed out for the 53 mile ride to enjoy a night on the town without hesitation.
Riding in the area is always beautiful, but in the afternoons you can really get lost in it. The setting sun lights up the Carneros vineyards sweeping over the hills in what the locals call “Golden Vineyards.” South of Napa I head West on 121, riding through the Carneros Valley, which spans both Napa and Sonoma, as well as the Valley of the Moon and Sonoma Raceway (Sears Point/Infineon) in Sonoma.
Before I leave, I always check the raceway schedule to avoid any traffic from major events like NASCAR, NHRA, IRL and, of course, AMA and AFM motorcycle races. If all's clear I cruise Highway 37 along the northern edge of the San Pablo Bay, which is the main connector with Highway 101 in Novato. (On race days when traffic is heavy, I avoid the western edge of the bay at all costs and take Highway 80 across the Carquinez/Vallejo Bridge and then the Bay Bridge into San Francisco.)
Riding into Novato, the 100 year old NW Pacific's swinging train bridge at Black Point is always a reminder that I am leaving my small town for the hustle and bustle of the big city.
I Stop for Kamikaze Sushi Bar and Cuisine
On 101 it's a battle with the locals for position during the 20 miles into San Francisco. I often break up the trip by stopping in San Rafael at Kamikaze Sushi Bar and Cuisine on 3rd Street. Gene Su, the Owner and Chef, provides reasonably priced sushi with locals in mind, and they have some exquisite choices for those with a sushi passion. I always try to make happy hour between 5 and 6pm, order an Orion Beer, one of the last true imported beers from Okinawa, Japan. Plus the crab and salmon hand rolls, as well as the barbecued oysters, are only two dollars apiece.
From San Rafael I cruise in the carpool lane -- motorcycles are permitted in "diamond" lanes in California. Some people don’t realize that the southbound lane is only active during the posted times, so it’s often clear even when traffic is heavy.
Once I exit the Waldo Tunnel on the hill above Sausalito (nicknamed the "rainbow tunnel" because of the rainbow painted on its southern portal) I get the first good view of the City By the Bay, and what a view, but this is also the time to be 100% focused on what you, and more importantly, those around you are doing. The view of the bay, the smell of the ocean, the boats passing by, and the beauty of the bridge makes crossing a very fun, albeit distracting ride. And many other drivers are just as distracted as you.
The Golden Gate Bridge Toll
If you have a Fastrak automatic toll tag, ride through without stopping in the Fastrak lanes at left. If you don’t have one, like myself, you will stick to the right and pay your six dollars. The toll-takers have change, and they also have maps, free for the asking.
An Easier Path to Get Downtown
Biscuits and Blues is in the heart of Downtown San Francisco, a block West of Union Square. If you have a GPS, it will lead you down the waterfront and confuse you with one-way streets. A more direct path is to take the first exit after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to 19th Avenue/Highway 1 (also called Park Presidio), and then head east on Geary for 3.5 miles to get downtown. Because 19th Avenue has no left turns, you'll need to turn right on the street immediately past Geary, then turn immediately right, and right again on Geary.
There is motorcycle-only parking on Mason between Geary and O’Farrell a block south of Biscuits and Blues, in front of Lori’s Diner, a local hotspot and home to an excellent milkshake. Bring quarters to feed the meter if you arrive before 6pm.
The parking garage at O’Farrell does not allow motorcycles, due to liability, so the parking out front of Lori’s is the best. There is no parking outside the club because it's a bus stop, but you can take your helmet and gear in with you, and the bouncer will be more than happy to place it behind the desk in the coat check.
Biscuits and Blues
Biscuits and Blues is a Louisiana style basement blues and supper club that has been around for over a decade. Their menu is a dramatic take on Southern cooking with a California twist. I always recommend the fried chicken, yam fries, and of course, the biscuits, finished off with their amazing blackberry peach cobbler. Their drink menu is just as Southern, with spectacular lemonade and, my personal favorite, the Bluesmopolitan. I suggest having just one, as they do pack a punch.
Steve Lucky and the Rhumba Bums with Miss Carmen Getit is a favorite local band of mine and they did not disappoint. For a $20 cover, I was given over three hours of blues and jazz. Steve Lucky is a riot to watch on the piano and his skill is quickly presented with the first dose of Boogie Woogie that he dishes out. Carmen is close behind him with her sultry singing and rocking guitar that is unmatched in today’s local music scene. The two together have a great repertoire and are supported by a spectacular band. Watching a band have fun playing their set is a joy, and these folks really enjoy themselves.
It won’t be long before you find yourself tapping your foot, holding your significant other and rocking back and forth to the music. Biscuits and Blues is a small club, so the dance floor is kind of tight, however there are always those who get up, shuffle tables, and cut a rug, so don’t be afraid of joining in.
After the Show
After the show, you might not feel like riding back immediately, which is okay, because late night San Francisco is a paradise for night owls. Check out Pinecrest Diner if you are still hungry or just need a cup of coffee, Ruby Skye if you aren’t done dancing and want to up the tempo. Union Square is almost always full of locals hanging out and enjoying the seasonal displays. Chinatown and North Beach are also within walking distance and have their own unique flavor. But tonight I'm happy to hop on the bike for the long ride home after the Rhumba Bum's set, with a headful of great music to bop to.
Kamikaze Sushi: Located in the Montecito Shopping center in the heart of San Rafael, (take the central San Rafael exit and a left on 2nd St, it will be on your right). 223 Third St: 415-457-6776
Pinecrest Diner: Located on the corner of Mason/Geary on the South West corner of the street. 415-885-6407
Lori’s Diner: Located at 336 Mason between Geary and O’Farrell. 415-392-8646
Ruby Skye: Located at 420 Mason St, closest cross-street is Geary. 415-693-0777
Other Useful Links
Sonoma Raceway: Located on highway 121 at 29355 Arnold Dr, Sonoma. 800-870-7223