words/photos: Aaron Plante
Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in the Q3_2022 issue of quattro Magazine. If you would like to subscribe to quattro Magazine, please join Audi Club here.
“Is he pitching a tent up here?” I asked as I brought the Q5 to a stop atop the Goat Rock Beach overlook of Sonoma’s Coast.
“I don’t think so…looks like he’s going to jump off the cliff,” my wife said pointing to the rapidly expanding ripstop nylon as the southernly wind pushed it open.
“What? Oh man, yeah he’s gonna jump!” I replied…
We Ubered to Audi Burlingame to pickup our awaiting Q5. I’ve been a Silvercar by Audi customer since they were an Austin-based startup around 2013. The original idea was to use VW Passats, but after considering the prospective clientele and consulting with Audi they shifted to A4s. They were always to be Silver…hence the name. In those early days they were. It wasn’t until Audi built a presence on the board and eventually incorporated them into Audi’s portfolio that all the original “rules” were broken. Not that it matters. It promoted more choices in terms of models and colors while keeping the strong fundamentals that make Silvercar great. In those early days, Silvercar sponsored a slew of local (Texas) and National ACNA events. Silvercar continues to be a great partner providing discounts for club members that almost always make the value greater than renting from anyone else.
Post Audi-acquisition all Silvercars are picked up at existing dealerships. They used to have near-airport concierge service that would pick you up at the airport, drive you to their distribution center, and hook you up with your Silvercar. Since Audi initiated the dealership method the convenience of procuring a Silvercar while traveling has reduced somewhat. I’ve been a loyal Silvercar user since 2013 and this is my soul gripe. Depending on where you are going, the extra expense and inconvenience of having to get yourself to a dealership may kill the value of being in an Audi. For me, it’s a steep ramp, and I’ll give up most anything to drive the four rings over anything else, but it’s something Silvercar and Audi should reconsider…at least provide concierge service for airport pickup/drop-off depending on dealership open hours could remove the only friction point of the experience.
All that said, Burlingame is about seven minutes from the airport, so after a quick Uber ride we were ready to received our Q5. Depending on availability you can also rent Q7s, A4s, and A5 cabrios. The Silvercar vehicle lineup, however, is about to change in a good way. At the time of publication, the new lineup wasn’t released, but they assure me a new Silvercar fleet is imminent, with the pandemic the primary reason for the delay. In fact, by the time you read this, it’ll probably be public knowledge (Editor’s note: Silvercar by Audi adds the Audi e-tron Sportback).
Receiving the Q5 was easier than my last Silvercar experience in Tampa in 2020. You no longer need the QR code, only to meet with your Silvercar Agent, do a 360 video review of the vehicle, and head on your way. Steven even provided a few recommendations for a late lunch/pre-dinner snack depending on our needs. As with all Silvercars, they come with navigation, wi-fi, and toll tags making it easy to navigate most anywhere. Any tolls procured during your trip are invoiced for you to pay later.
Despite the mild inconvenience of having to get ourselves to the dealership, once there the Silvercar team was very customer-service oriented and helpful. We loaded our luggage into the back of the all-to-familiar Q5 and punched in Fisherman’s Wharf into the Apple CarPlay. The fact that you could jump into a “rental” car without skipping a beat from the vehicle you left at airport parking isn’t trivial. The fact that it is an Audi makes it all even better.
Welcome to The [Bottle]Rock
We easily made our way to the heart of San Francisco and promptly found a bayfront restaurant to consume some Dungeness crabs which are always in season. After watching the temperamental sea lions sun on the marina docks of Fisherman’s Wharf, it was time to head to our Airbnb in Martinez which would serve as our homebase. A newly-renovated, well-furnished, one bedroom above a carriage house on property originally owned by the famous naturalist, John Muir’s father-in-law, John Strentzel. According to the owners, it was Muir’s first residence in Martinez where he helped maintain Strentzel’s fruit farm. Eventually he moved in town into the 14-room mansion that now serves as the John Muir National Historic Site. Having lived in Martinez for some time, his presence was felt all over the city.
Martinez, a small city in the East Bay region of the bay area is known for its historical center and waterfront. It should probably be more known for endless antique shops and heavily imbalanced police to citizen ratio. In our late morning stroll around town we saw more public servants than public to serve, which perhaps explained the quiet.
It didn’t much matter since we were there to attend what I will call the absolute best music festival I’ve ever attended: Napa’s BottleRock Festival. A post-pandemic, long overdue birthday extravaganza for my lovely wife. We hadn’t left the house without our kids in tow since September 2019…I’m sure you can relate.
As a VIP bracelet holder, you can’t beat artist access and creature comforts. I’ve not been to a festival yet that compares to the exclusivity and convenience. With three full days of musical performances, celebrity cooking demonstrations, and food and wine offerings there was plenty to keep you busy. VIP status offered upfront access for all stages, a VIP Village with a smaller second stage for more intimate performances, real bathroom facilities, and dedicated entry lines. Headliners like Metallica, Twenty One Pilots, and Pink were enough to draw a crowd. But there were so many other great performances on the big and small stages from the likes of Spoon, Greta Van Fleet, Black Crows, grandson, Silversun Pickups, Eliza and the Delusionals, Vance Joy, and of course Rainbow Kitten Surprise that exceeded expectations. But the absolute highlight was high-fiving Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate of the Howard Stern Show after he paid a visit to fans in front of the cooking stage (another VIP perk).
In terms of the drive, Martinez to Napa was a relatively banal affair. Consistent traffic on highway and state roads made for easy driving and the Q5 was built for these commutes. We were able to briefly take advantage of the SUV’s clearance when parking in the makeshift uneven grass lots, but otherwise the commute was standard. Afterall, we were there for the show. The joyriding would come later.
Grapes of Path
With the festival behind us we set our sights on touring wine country. Despite being in Napa the whole weekend, we had only driven through. Our goal of roaming the Napa Valley vineyards was quickly squashed like a newly harvested grape. In the 20 or so years since we’d last visited, nearly all vineyards now required reservations. No bother, we switched gears heading to Sonoma figuring we could catch some in-town tasting rooms and cover a few over a lazy afternoon.
It’s roughly 14 miles between the two cities, depending on your route, and takes around 23 minutes to drive the snaking Highway 12 to Sonoma. We parked along the Sonoma Plaza, the historic main square, and wandered into Fulcrum Wines who lured us in with the promise of an award-winning Pinot Noir. Fulcrum had four Pinots to sample including the winning 2019 Brosseau Vineyard proving an unexpected delight due to the high limestone of the terroir.
After over 400 miles of bay area driving, we pulled off to gas up to another unexpected surprise. California’s gas prices have always had a reputation, but with the recent price hike it had reached a whole new level. The price in San Rafael was $6.57 for regular 87 octane and went up from there. On our travels we saw prices over $7 per gallon. Coming from Texas, it was a bit of a shock. Luckily the turbo four cylinder was efficient.
After a lazy afternoon sipping wine, we headed to our next Airbnb in San Anselmo, a city in Marin County. San Anselmo is the home of the first mountain bike and its inventor, Gary Fisher. It has also been the home of George Lucas since 1970. Our private studio villa was tucked away in a small valley surrounded by trees and high fences offering an equal mix of open greenery and privacy. It was adjacent to Lucas’s Park Way compound, so for the next few days we were literal neighbors to Star War’s creator.
The city’s downtown also features Imagination Park, a small park Lucas donated to a local charity before it, in turn, donated it to the town. San Anselmo is the kind of quaint but lively town you think of when you think of Northern California. Intentionally vintage, like many towns here, there is a subtle yet palpable indifference to modernization. Sure, wi-fi is abundant as are Teslas, but the town itself feels decades away. It’s a charm that brings an air of eclectic whimsey conspicuously manifested in the statues of Yoda and Indiana Jones within Imagination Park.
Despite the tranquility of our lodging, there were sites to see, people to visit, and tourist traps to trip. Having learned our lesson with the vineyards, we reserved a slot to explore the Muir Woods (yes, you need a reservation to explore the National Park too). Named after the same man whose property we stayed in Martinez, the Muir Woods was “the best tree-lover’s monument” Muir could have conceived. Getting there is almost as fun as hiking through the Redwood Creek Trails. The narrow switchbacks and blind corners full of towering redwoods and greenery on the way up were effortlessly navigated by the Silvercar Q5, though it did nothing to calm the nerves of my co-pilot.
Nearly 200 million years old, these coast redwoods are living memorials of the ancient forests that once occupied much of the Northern Hemisphere. Capable of heights up to 379 feet, and 22 foot diameters, these redwoods can live 2,000 years. The tallest in Muir Woods is over 258 feet, about as tall as the 22-story Flat Iron Building in NYC. After a three-mile hike through this ancient and breathtaking forest, we headed back down Muir Woods Road and the Panoramic Highway down to Sausalito for lunch at the marina.
Located near the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito was the terminus for land and sea traffic and a significant shipbuilding epicenter in World War II. It has shifted quite a bit from industrial apex to a more affluent and artistic area. As such it is also a tourist hotspot. But from the outdoor picnic table of Fish.’s self-affirmed “laid-back bayside eatery,” we felt like locals having just brought in our 26-foot sailboat, grabbing a seaside snack. Hardly a snack, ours consisted of steamed PEI muscles, fish tacos adobada, and fresh-shucked oysters and scallops. If you haven’t ventured into raw scallops, I urge you to give them a try. They have a unique sweetness and texture that is lost during cooking.
Our bellies full, we meandered the main street along the bay window-shopping and sight-seeing. Alcatraz and San Francisco lingered in the background while fishing boats returned with their daily catch. It was another day of wonder and wander come to a calm end. But tomorrow, the Silvercar would get its paces as we headed to Jenner Outlook along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Littered with as many Van-lifers as pinnipeds, the Sonoma Coast was a beautiful winding drive on Highway 1. It was the Q5’s time to shine. Much like the drive to Muir Woods, Highway 1 north of San Francisco is full of opportunities to hunt apexes, do a little left foot braking, and downshifting. While the Q5 wasn’t as nimble as the Nardo Gray RS6 that just happened to be tailing us a good 50 minutes, it got the job done with diplomacy and vigor. Most every hairpin was a blind corner and half the time a bicyclist was there to give you an added challenge.
The idea was simple, get up to Jenner Lookout, known for its massive harbor seal population, and weave our way back to San Anselmo stopping at Bodega Bay and Point Reyes for more oysters before looping back home via Lagunitas-Forest Knolls to catch a last glimpse of redwoods before heading back to Texas.
For the trip up to Jenner we headed north on the 101 before hanging a left at Petaluma via Bodega Road to Valley Ford Road to connect up with Highway 1. This leg was very much a country drive, passing by rolling hills speckled with cattle, acres upon acres of farmland, and roadside produce markets. It was reminiscent of my many miles logged in central Pennsylvania.
Once we hit Bodega Bay, the Pacific Coastal Highway finally earned its name. The drive from Bodega Bay to Jenner would be the same on the way home, save the fact we’d be closer to the ocean. So we stuck to hunting good places to stop on the way back over any serious sightseeing.
Jenner Lookout Point did not disappoint. It was teeming with harbor seals, pelicans, cormorants, and other birds. With harbor seals giving birth between February and April, the beaches were full of new pups playing in the water, many only just weaned.
After we had our fill of frolicking seals, we slowly snaked our way down Highway 1 to Goat Rock Beach at the mouth of the Russian River. Named after a herd of goats that allegedly grazed atop the rock over a century ago, Goat Rock proved to be the perfect location to snap some photos. With its steep cliffs, rocky shoreline, and view of Arched Rock (used in the Goonies movie) it offered a little bit of everything. Several cars were already parked, tailgating with chairs facing the ocean watching the world go by. Above Goat Rock is the 800 foot cliff where that paraglider caught wind gliding back and forth west to east along the cliff’s edge. It was definitively not a tent. After hitting the airstream just right to expand the parachute, he walked it over to the rockface and pushed off, sitting in a hammock and pulling two lines to steer the chute. After a few minutes of gliding he landed on the opposite edge.
From Goat Rock we stopped in a few more scenic overlooks before heading back to Bodega Bay. The day was starting to get away from us, and we had to make a schedule change, opting out of two oyster tastings and focusing on the more kitsch Nick’s Cove a bit more south of Bodega Bay. More than a restaurant, Nick’s also has 12 different coastal cottages that you can rent for on-the-water views. But they’re known for their locally caught Tomales Bay BBQ’d oysters. It’s a must try, served on a bed of course salt instead of ice. We sat al fresco by the pier sipping wine, eating oysters when we saw a fisherman run to his rod screaming and watching as he fought to real something in.
“It’s big, whatever it is,” he said between pants.
It was a good five minutes before he reeled in a large stingray, which he unhooked and released. It was time for our release and we continued south on Highway 1 to Point Reyes. We drove through parts of the Point Reyes National Seashore before heading home through Samuel Taylor State Park to drive through the redwoods of the Lagunitas-Forest Knolls before returning to San Anselmo completing the loop.
The itinerary gave us three very distinct ecosystems in one drive: rolling farmland, coastal cliffs, and ancient forests.
But it was time to return our Silvercar. On the last day, after a quick stop at the Golden Gate Overlook, we headed back to Audi Burlingame to return our Q5 and catch a plane home. As it was during pickup, our return was easy. After a quick refuel, we dropped off the Silvercar where we picked it up, said thank you and goodbye to Steven, and made our way to the airport. Overall we had logged nearly 700 miles enjoying the San Francisco Bay and its beautiful surrounding, and doing it all in ease and style thanks to Silvercar.