Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

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Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby supersharpie » Sat Jan 12, 2013 4:15 am

My wife and I will be flying to San Francisco out of Philly on 5/1 and returning on 5/10. We plan to spend the first four nights in Sonoma and/or Napa and the last five nights in San Francisco. We just booked non-stop flights on Virgin America for $312 each which we were pretty thrilled about. When we were looking to make a similar trip five years ago tickets were $800 each!

At this point we are planning on visiting a number of wineries and are thinking about taking 1 or 2 chauffeured group tours so that we can drink without having to worry about driving. Has anyone had a great experience with a particular touring company and/or private driver? Should we split our time between Napa and Sonoma or just spend all four nights in one region? We are thinking of making Healdsburg our HQ during the wine country portion of the trip.

We plan to attend a Phillies/Giants game when in San Francisco and do some touristy things like Alcatraz. However, we would love some tips on "locals' favorites" as well!

Also, we plan to spend most of one of San Fran days out of the city driving south along the coast down to Monterey and perhaps a little beyond so if you have any personal "can't misses" in that area we would love your input.

As far as accommodations we are thinking of staying at either the Coventry or Columbus Motor Lodge in San Fran since they offer free parking and the rates are reasonable. In wine country we are hoping a good Groupon or Livingsocial deal pops up but are also open to renting a place from Homeaway. Again, any recs?

Dining while vacationing is always a bit of adventure because my wife has Celiac Disease and needs to eat Gluten Free. We understand that there are a lot of great restaurants in both areas that can accommodate her although I fear she may not be able to try any Chinese in Chinatown or Mexican in the Mission which is a bit of a bummer. What are your favorite places to dine?

Thanks for any insight you can provide, we do have fun planning out these vacations!
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby DualIncomeNoDebt » Sat Jan 12, 2013 4:36 am

If you really, really like wine, four days in Napa/Sonoma will be fun. If not, I'd cut wine country to three days and spend another day in San Fran. Pro tip: the French Laundry is not worth the $450 per person price tag for dinner. Hit Bouchon Bistro in Yountville instead. You and your wallet can thank me later. Also, in both Napa and Sonoma, I think you should stick to the four-star and higher-end places to eat, because some of the lower-end fare is pretty mediocre for the price, aka tourist traps. San Fran, food is definitely better.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby dickenjb » Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:13 am

I disagree about the French Laundry it is fabulous. Kind of a moot point though since it is nearly impossible to get a table.

Bouchon is OK but I prefer Bistro Jeanty. They make a mean cassoulet.

Mustards Grill a personal fave - get the Mongolian Pork Chop. Ad Hoc, another Thomas Keller place is fun.

Fang's chinese in SOMA is to die for, ask the owner to select dishes for you.

You do not need a car in SFO. Take the BART downtown and rent a car at the end of your SFO stay and drop it at SFO as you leave Napa/Sonoma.

PS I am from Philly and my wife and I just got back from doing pretty much what you are doing last month. I don't drink but she liked J winery in Sonoma (she is not a big red fan but prefers Chards from the Russian River valley).

If you like to hike, drive up north of Calistoga and take the trail to the top of Mt St Helena. You pass the shaft to the old abandoned Silverado mine where Robert Louis Stevenson squatted with his bride for their honeymoon. There is an interesting monument to RLS on the trail dating back to the 30's. Great views even if you don't make it all the way to the summit.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby centrifuge41 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:58 am

If you're going down to Monterrey, drive a bit farther. Drive around the 17 mile drive on the peninsula, and head down CA route 1 for another dozen or so miles past Carmel. Incredible cliffs-and-ocean scenery down there.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby XtremeSki2001 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 9:05 am

We enjoyed Napa/Sonoma, but we also enjoyed the beer in the Santa Rosa/surrounding area (e.g., Lagunitas Brewing and Russian River Brewing). If you like beer, it's worth a visit.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby bengal22 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 9:31 am

centrifuge41 wrote:If you're going down to Monterrey, drive a bit farther. Drive around the 17 mile drive on the peninsula, and head down CA route 1 for another dozen or so miles past Carmel. Incredible cliffs-and-ocean scenery down there.


Definitely yes. San Francisco is a great city but the drive around Monterrey and Big Sur are like no other. We also went to a play in the SF theatre district which was fun and within walking distance of our hotel.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby john94549 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 9:48 am

Seems like you have your priorities straight.

Car: True, with San Francisco's excellent public transit, you could do without. But then, you'd be relegated to taking Muni downtown (not impossible, but can be an adventure, if you get my drift). And not having a car means you'd have to rent one on a daily basis for any side trips (again, not impossible, but inconvenient). I suspect many visitors default to one of the many fine downtown hotels, boutique and otherwise. Better values can be found away from downtown; parking in one of the many downtown surface lots (check Howard Street) or parking garages can be had for much less than the difference in lodging cost. Public transit maps, schedules and tourist packages are available on-line.

Side-Trips: My wife and I live in Lafayette, about 23 miles east of SF, and we do the "weekend getaways" all the time. Our favorites are the Sonoma wine country area (Healdsburg, as you suspect, is the "place to be", although adequate tourist motels can be found in Santa Rosa, a short drive south) and Carmel. In Carmel, you'll find a couple of reasonably-priced motels on the http://www.choicehotels.com website (snoop around with their search function). Give Carmel two days. Drive down Highway 1 (the Coast) all the way to Big Sur State Park (if the road is open, always check with CalTrans). Loop back, stopping for lunch, and spend the afternoon meandering around Carmel. Day two, do the 17-mile drive at Pebble Beach and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you're not into fish, take Carmel Valley Road through the mountains over to Soledad (Route G-16) and visit Pinnacles National Park (just up-graded from National Monument). While in SF, take the Golden Gate Ferry to Sausalito for brunch (if weather permits, Scoma's has three outside tables overlooking the Bay). Take a jacket; even on a warm day, the Bay gets chilly.

Wine Country: Sonomans bristle when folks refer to the Napa Valley as "wine country" (although it is, too). Much, much, better self-drive tours radiate out from Healdsburg (the Sonoma wine country). If you control the imbibing, DIY. If you have the time, the Sonoma coast is breath-taking. Another fun thing to do is the Skunk Train from Willits (just north of Ukiah) up through ancient redwoods and back. If you do Napa Valley, loop up 101 to Ukiah, then take route 20 east past Lake Mendocino to Clear Lake. Follow route 29 south to the Napa Valley.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby stan1 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 10:31 am

I'd spend 2 nights at a bed and breakfast near Point Reyes National Seashore enroute between Wine Country and SF.
http://www.nps.gov/pore/index.htm

I love Point Reyes as it is rustic, sometimes wind-blown, sometimes foggy, and beautiful. The variable weather tells the story of the landscape and its stark beauty. It is an hour from San Francisco, but you feel like you are in a completely different place. It's like Monterey and Carmel would have been if there was no development or cities, and many fewer people.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby ramsfan » Sat Jan 12, 2013 10:44 am

Good advice above. I agree with 1-2 days in Napa/Sonoma unless you are all in on wine. My wife and I are not and one day was sufficient for us, but could enjoy a little more time there,it is very nice of course.

Same with San Fran - I am not a huge fan, 2 days or so and we were done. Sausalito is cool.

We, however, LOVED the Monterrey, Carmel, Big Sur area - one of our favorite parts of the US.

The advice below is spot on!

Side-Trips: My wife and I live in Lafayette, about 23 miles east of SF, and we do the "weekend getaways" all the time. Our favorites are the Sonoma wine country area (Healdsburg, as you suspect, is the "place to be", although adequate tourist motels can be found in Santa Rosa, a short drive south) and Carmel. In Carmel, you'll find a couple of reasonably-priced motels on the http://www.choicehotels.com website (snoop around with their search function). Give Carmel two days. Drive down Highway 1 (the Coast) all the way to Big Sur State Park (if the road is open, always check with CalTrans). Loop back, stopping for lunch, and spend the afternoon meandering around Carmel. Day two, do the 17-mile drive at Pebble Beach and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you're not into fish, take Carmel Valley Road through the mountains over to Soledad (Route G-16) and visit Pinnacles National Park (just up-graded from National Monument). While in SF, take the Golden Gate Ferry to Sausalito for brunch (if weather permits, Scoma's has three outside tables overlooking the Bay). Take a jacket; even on a warm day, the Bay gets chilly.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby hicabob » Sat Jan 12, 2013 11:38 am

Stick to the corn tortillas in the Mexican places and rice in the Chinese (no dumplings - bummer!) and your wife can pig out gluten free.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby zzcooper123 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 12:03 pm

V. Sattui winery in Napa is great, don't miss the tour of the castle with the wine tasting afterward. We stayed at a Bed&Breakfast called the Ink House. The Calistoga geyser is very touristy but much fun. Didn't like the Sterling winery and gondola ride, too expensive. Mustard Seed restaurant in St Helena is great. Oakville Grocery is fun.

Just got back from San Francisco 2 weeks ago. You probably would prefer more time there than 4 days in Napa. Alcatraz is a don't-miss. Tour the submarine. Have a big breakfast at Hollywood Cafe. We take a bus tour of the city which was great; our driver "Silvio" was hilarious. Saw Haight-Ashbury, the Presidio, walked the Golden Gate, China Town, Twin Peaks, San Francisco Park, Japanese Gardens. Muir Woods is worth a visit.
Get 3 day pass (Walgreens) for all buses, trolleys and cable cars. Take the Hyde line to Union square for the Cheesecake factory and check out Lombard street on the way back. Pier 39 for the seals.

Monterey is also very cool. Keep driving south into Big Sur to really see coastal scenery. Aquarium in Monterey is great, but overpriced. Saw sea otter banging an abalone on a rock.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby jedin » Sat Jan 12, 2013 12:44 pm

My girlfriend and I live in San Francisco and she has Celiac disease too. Although certain cuisines are better than others, we're always able to make it work and have an enjoyable dinner. In general, Mexican, Indian, and Thai restaurants are excellent. Here are some of our favorites:

Mexican: Tropisueno, http://www.tropisueno.com. I was just there earlier this week and the server was very aware of gluten sensitivity. Most of the items on the menu don't contain any gluten. Awesome food and drinks for a reasonable price.

Indian: Little Delhi, http://littledelhisf.com. A bit of a hole in the wall and on the border of a sketchy area, but the food is delicious.

Thai: Thai House Express, http://www.yelp.com/biz/thai-house-expr ... rancisco-2. If you're walking through the Mission/Castro (definitely recommend!), this is quick, convenient option. Ask them for no soy sauce in whatever you order.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby chaz » Sat Jan 12, 2013 12:50 pm

Visit the presidio.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby jeffyscott » Sat Jan 12, 2013 1:06 pm

You will likely save a lot of money by renting a car off-airport. I think it was less than 1/2 for off-airport back when we did this several years ago.

There are a lot of transportation options from the airport, we took a shared van right to our hotel and had a car reserved, starting the next morning, from a Hertz location a few blocks away. We paid about $180 for a week and, IIRC, an airport rental would have been over $400.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby Anon1234 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 1:18 pm

Just in case you're not a regular library goer...The travel guides are very good and more complete that what you will get here [although maybe not as personal]. They are free from your local library. Check out a few of them, and stuff one in your backpack. SF is full of tourists, no need to be ashamed of whipping it out as needed.
http://know.freelibrary.org/?q=san+fran ... ubmit.y=14
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby Raybo » Sat Jan 12, 2013 1:48 pm

I am a docent at Alcatraz and can give you a "behind the scenes" tour, if we can arrange a time to do it.

You will still have to buy your tickets there, but once on the island, I can give you a personal tour. The only place to get tickets is alcatrazcruises.com .

PM me if you are interested.

By the way, this offer goes for anyone else who might be interested.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby dbphd » Sat Jan 12, 2013 2:09 pm

The setting for SF is among the most beautiful of any city, so make sure you afford yourself the opportunity to enjoy it rather than just tourist things. The GG bridge and its setting are best viewed from a distance. Seafood, especially the local crabs, Chinese, and Italian are the traditional cuisine influences of the city. I'd think 2 days in the wine country sufficient. When you drive from SF to Monterey make sure you take 280 not 101. A lunch of crab cakes at Club 19 in the Lodge at PB is a favorite of mine, and the view is spectacular. I agree about the drive to Big Sur and walking Pfiefer (sp?) trail. Carmel has become very touristy, but the setting is still nice and a drive around its south coast a treat. Don't try to go on the cheap, and bring sweaters and coats. If done right, you're in for a treat.

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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby coalcracker » Sat Jan 12, 2013 2:15 pm

Such a beautiful part of the world, you will have a great time. We have been there 4 times in the past few years, and I have 2 suggestions for time outside the city.

1. Point Reyes - If you are a foodie at all (specifically raw oysters), I would recommend hitting up Tomales Bay Oyster company. It aptly sits on a pretty bay about an hour north of the city, and all it sells is FANTASTIC raw oyster from the bay nearby. My wife HATES raw oysters and when we finally got her to try one she said "mmm". They also have charcoal grills where you can grill oysters if you prefer. You sit ouside on picnic benches, and you can also BYOB, and bring other food. There is also a great blue cheese made by Point Reyes cheese company that you can pick up nearby.

2. Pfeiffer Beach - If you end up heading further south near the Big Sur area, I would pick a decent weather day to go watch the sunset here. It is a little bit hard to find because it's not well marked, but is probably the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. The "purple sand" results in very cool patterns on part of the beach, and there are offshore rock formations that add to the ambiance. Bring a blanket and watch the sun set with a bottle of wine. *I am in not way affiliated with the Pfeiffer beach tourism board.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby john94549 » Sat Jan 12, 2013 2:58 pm

Poster "dbphd" has an excellent suggestion for motoring south of SF. Use I-280/Route 17 to/from Santa Cruz for one leg of the trip. Route 17 connects with Highway 1 (the coast route). That would be more interesting than just using Highway 1 in both directions.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby btenny » Sat Jan 12, 2013 3:17 pm

I would not drive to Healdsburg for wining. It is too far north. Yes they have some great red wines up there but... I would stay south around Sonoma and Napa and Calistoga and St Helena and Yountville. This is more the California wine experience IMO.

You will be tired after your flight from the east coast and want to crash after flying. Rent a car and drive to Sonoma and see the city and some of the wine farm country during your drive. Then stop in Sonoma or Napa the first night. I like Sonoma as it is smaller and more walking friendly than Napa so I would stay in Sonoma in town at this local motel near the town center. Ask for a ground floor room opening on the patio. This patio also has a heated pool and great hot tub and the rooms are all nice. It may be more expensive for weekends but weekdays are moderate. It is not a fancy new hotel but nice IMO.

https://plus.google.com/102338920621004 ... l=us&hl=en

You can then walk to the town park and town square and choose from 6-8 restraurants right on the square. Not fancy places but good food. Same for breakfast, go out to the square for coffee and fancy stuff or to the Black Bear for country stuff. This square and town is how Napa/Sonoma became famous. Good food and good wine and fun times.

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_R ... ornia.html

Then the next AM I would start your wine tour at Sebastiani winery right in Sonoma and get the tour and full wine tasting. Make sure you see the carved wine barrels and the wine making facility and so forth. Don't hurry. Sebastiania has the one of the widest best selection of wines in the area IMO. They are great. See here. http://www.sebastiani.com/index.cfm?met ... e.showpage

Then take a car drive or limo and go north on route 12. Stop at any of a 100 wineries on your way up to Santa Rosa or Calistoga. Stay the night there in Santa Rosa or Calistoga. Then the next day drive down route 29 and stop at any of a 100 wineries on this road. Stay this night in Napa and eat at one of the fancy places in Napa. Your pick. Then the next day take the Silverado trail back up to St Helena. Hit the wineries on this road.

See here for the number of wineries in this area. Select carefully.

http://maps.google.com/maps?rls=com.mic ... =0CIcBELYD

Have fun
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PS. Limit the number of wine stops to about 3-5 per day. I know all that wine and no time. But after about 10-12 tastings in a day your pallet gets saturated and you cannot taste anything. Oh well. But you can drink and have fun....
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby btenny » Sat Jan 12, 2013 5:14 pm

Some of the wineries I like so you have a starting list. But if you have favorites and like their wine forget my choices.

Sebastiani- lots of good wine - right in Sonoma - old vineyard
Jacuzzi - good old country style wine and good olive oil and fun visit - south of Sonoma
Husch - way north near Russian river but fun small good wine stop - what wining was like in 1960
V Satui -- great picnic spot and good deli -- so so wine - good Madera port
V Satui castle -- Castello di Amorosa- - newly built real Italian castle from 1400s -- neat tour -- north of other winery
Beringer - nice grounds and big wine caves and great tour -- oldest winery in Napa -- good wine in the more reserve flights
Beaulieu Vineyard -- (BV for short) -- good wine - old vineyard
Buena Vista - good wine
Chateau St Jean - good wine
Stag's Leap -- Bottle shock standard - - good wines and good Cabernets -- knowledgable hosts

Chandon - good champagne - nice grounds - on Silverado trail
Domaine Carneros -- pretty place -- snooty staff -- expensive but good stuff

Some other interesting reading about how families evolve in the wine businesss -- http://www.donandsons.com/history/

Avoid - Sterling and Sterling gondola

Have fun
Bill
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby anonenigma » Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:02 pm

In North Beach, Mama's on Washington Square has always been delicious for breakfast and lunch. http://www.mamas-sf.com/

Also, in North Beach, Molinari's Delicatessan has really amazing sandwiches for takeout. http://www.molinarisalame.com/ Eat in Washington Square if the weather allows.

Enjoy!
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby cherijoh » Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:15 pm

hicabob wrote:Stick to the corn tortillas in the Mexican places and rice in the Chinese (no dumplings - bummer!) and your wife can pig out gluten free.


Unfortunately most soy sauce contains gluten - so I would be very careful of any Chinese restaurants.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby cherijoh » Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:21 pm

stan1 wrote:I'd spend 2 nights at a bed and breakfast near Point Reyes National Seashore enroute between Wine Country and SF.
http://www.nps.gov/pore/index.htm

I love Point Reyes as it is rustic, sometimes wind-blown, sometimes foggy, and beautiful. The variable weather tells the story of the landscape and its stark beauty. It is an hour from San Francisco, but you feel like you are in a completely different place. It's like Monterey and Carmel would have been if there was no development or cities, and many fewer people.


I stayed at a B&B near Point Reyes specifically to see that area - when I left the B&B after breakfast it was fine but the closer I got to the shore the foggier it got! I had to drive back down south of SF for a conference I was attending and wanted to allow plenty of time to get through the city, so I couldn't wait around to see if the fog lifted later in the day. Bummer!
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby epilnk » Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:35 pm

A drive to Monterey is not "one of the SF days" - doing this as a round trip in a single day is too much driving and not enough enjoying. Besides, if you go a little further south you hit some spectacularly dramatic and gorgeous coastline. Spend a night at least.

I like the recommendation to spend your first night in Sonoma near the square - that sounds just right after a long flight. And Julia Pfeifer beach is worth the trip.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby supersharpie » Sun Jan 13, 2013 11:46 am

Based on some of the responses we are considering spending three nights in wine country to start, then two nights in Monterey, before finishing with four nights in San Francisco. Would those who have taken similar trips or who live in the area consider this spreading ourselves too thin? This new plan would allow us to focus solely on San Fran and it's immediate surroundings during our stay in the city which seems more ideal than our initial plan.

Further questions:

We both love steak. What are the best places in the areas we are targeting for a delicious steak dinner?

I am a bit of a beer snob and when in San Fran want to try out some great brews (like Pliny the Elder) that are rarely seen in the Philly area. Any recommendations for top notch beers that are easily accessible in California, preferably on tap?
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby john94549 » Sun Jan 13, 2013 12:11 pm

Supersharpie, the time you propose allocating to each venue sounds great! As they say, you want to spend enough time to enjoy the offerings without becoming bored.

As to food and drink (steak and beer to be precise), I yield to others. I would note that Harris Ranch beef is considered excellent. Unless you happen to be motoring down I-5 to LA and eat at Harris Ranch itself (as we always do), I suspect the next best thing is to find it on the menu.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby wilpat » Sun Jan 13, 2013 12:24 pm

Take coats!! SF is COLD!!!!!!
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby westcoastinvestor » Sun Jan 13, 2013 2:35 pm

If you want to stay in Napa, Calistoga is a nice town, if a bit pricey. The added benefit are the hot springs, heated pools, and mud baths. It is also close to hiking.

I would not plan on driving when in the city. It is a great city for walking, with many options from strenuous hills to flat walking along the Bay.

There are many breweries. A San Francisco original is Anchor Steam. The brewery offers tours. See:
http://www.anchorbrewing.com/brewery/tours In terms of Anchor Steam on tap, I prefer Tommy’s Joynt on Geary and Van Ness (great hofbrau) or the Pizza Place on Noriega in the Outer Sunset.

It might be worthwhile to see a few local neighborhoods like Cow Hollow (Union St. around FIlmore), Inner Richmond (Clement around 6th St.), Inner Sunset (9th and Irving), Mission District (especially the murals), and Hayes Valley (Hayes and Gough). Crissy Field is always great, as is walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Ocean Beach and Lands End are good for open space. It might be really foggy.

1 day is long day of driving to get to Monterrey if you want to take Hwy 1 all the way. Consider driving south along Hwy 1, see the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo, and have lunch or dinner at Duarte’s (great artichoke soup and local seafood) in Pescadero. The views are dramatic and scenic, although nothing compares to Big Sur.

For steak in the CIty, try Original Joes. http://originaljoessf.com/menus/dinner
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby rixer » Sun Jan 13, 2013 2:42 pm

When staying in San Francisco, be sure to go see "Beach Blanket Babylon which is playing in N. Beach."
It's the longest running play or musical revue in the US.
http://www.beachblanketbabylon.com/
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby baw703916 » Sun Jan 13, 2013 7:49 pm

wilpat wrote:Take coats!! SF is COLD!!!!!!


The summer fog may not have set in at the beginning of May. You can sometimes still get rain in May though (very end of the rainy season).
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby gordonopolis » Sun Jan 13, 2013 11:29 pm

I live in SF and recommend: Anchor Steam, Lagunitas, Speakeasy, 3 good local on tap beers found pretty much everywhere out here. Also really like Widmer beers out of Oregon and there's a handful of local breweries in Sonoma including Lagunitas worth touring since you'll be up there.

There is a difference between Napa and Sonoma. Both good but both individual. Napa is very large, corporate, can be snooty but you'll have heard of most of the wineries. Sonoma is what Napa was 50 years ago, rural, family owned, smaller feel and less snooty.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby JupiterJones » Mon Jan 14, 2013 12:05 am

westcoastinvestor wrote:If you want to stay in Napa, Calistoga is a nice town, if a bit pricey. The added benefit are the hot springs, heated pools, and mud baths. It is also close to hiking.


Seconded. When we visited Napa and Sonoma, Calistoga wound up being our favorite place to stay, and the place where we'd stay again when we go back.

Actually, Calistoga is probably the cheapest of the towns in Napa valley, isn't it? That seemed to be the case when we were there. (That's not saying that it's inexpensive... just less expensive than elsewhere in Napa.)

The mud baths are a must-do while there, I agree.

Get reservations for the tour at nearby Schramsberg while you're there.

JJ
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby DiscoBunny1979 » Mon Jan 14, 2013 1:13 am

supersharpie wrote:Based on some of the responses we are considering spending three nights in wine country to start, then two nights in Monterey, before finishing with four nights in San Francisco. Would those who have taken similar trips or who live in the area consider this spreading ourselves too thin? This new plan would allow us to focus solely on San Fran and it's immediate surroundings during our stay in the city which seems more ideal than our initial plan.


Well, from my point of view, which probably shows how old I'm getting, I'm exhausted just thinking about the trip. While the OP probably won't go by my suggestions, if I were going to fly all the way to San Francisco from across country, I probably would want one night to regroup by spending the night in San Francisco. Driving all the way from the San Francisco airport, which is south of San Francisco all the way to Sonoma after an entire day of flying (plus the time to get to the airport) will be tiring. My personal choice would be the Downtown Marriott because of the vallet parking (although expensive) and the room service available for breakfast. I'd then in the morning hit the road over the Golden Gate to Sonoma.

Will the OP be eating wheaties for breakfast? The drive to Sonoma/Napa is not a quick drive through the country. What I would do if not staying the night over in San Francisco, is I would get a connecting flight from San Francisco Airport into Santa Rosa. It use to be that if you bought a ticket with Santa Rosa as the 'end' flight that it really didn't cost as much as when you just bought the flight alone from SFO to Santa Rosa. I would then rent a car from Santa Rosa airport and drive over to Sonoma/Napa. I would return the rental car to Santa Rosa and take a flight back from Santa Rosa to San Francisco airport. I would then rent a car from SFO to drive down to Monterey. While you will not get the immediate view of the Golden Gate Bridge by having to drive over it to get to and from Sonoma, you'll save hours off of your trip both ways. Besides, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge on your few days in San Francisco after the Monterey visit. This plan would only work though IF Santa Rosa airport is not fogged in when you want to fly in or out of it AND if the rental cars are available at the airport at the late time of arrival you would have, rather than in Santa Rosa somewhere.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby gordonopolis » Mon Jan 14, 2013 2:16 am

DiscoBunny1979 wrote:
supersharpie wrote: The drive to Sonoma/Napa is not a quick drive through the country. What I would do if not staying the night over in San Francisco, is I would get a connecting flight from San Francisco Airport into Santa Rosa.


I work with people who commute from Sonoma to SF, it's a little over an hour from the San Francisco airport to Sonoma County and probably 90 minutes to Santa Rosa.

I wouldn't recommend flying for two reasons, you'll spend more time at the airport than you would driving and because Santa Rosa is still 40 minutes from Sonoma Square. Sonoma is a very big county.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby gatorman » Mon Jan 14, 2013 11:47 am

If you are going to make a day trip South to Big Sur, this is a nice place to stop for lunch:

http://www.nepenthebigsur.com/

great view of the ocean and coastline. The food is ok, nothing to write home about, but the setting makes up for any deficiencies.

A trip to N.California is not really complete unless one sees the redwoods. Here is a guide:

http://matadornetwork.com/trips/guide-t ... -on-earth/

Have fun ! Northern California is a great place.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby Flashes1 » Mon Jan 14, 2013 2:32 pm

What's the good hiking areas around Napa? Something easy to get to under 45 minutes.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby galectin » Mon Jan 14, 2013 2:36 pm

My plan for my next visit is to visit the Charles Shaw Winery, which would be a big favorite with many frugal Bogleheads. :D
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby ryuns » Mon Jan 14, 2013 2:44 pm

supersharpie wrote:
I am a bit of a beer snob and when in San Fran want to try out some great brews (like Pliny the Elder) that are rarely seen in the Philly area. Any recommendations for top notch beers that are easily accessible in California, preferably on tap?


If you have time, Russian River Brewing (home of the Pliny family) is the place to go. They have some great and unique beers in addition to Pliny. Ridiculously crowded though. Earlier in the day is okay (they open at 11). Their food is mediocre, but beers are amazing and at an incredible price compared to what you pay in the store.

Lagunitas, as mentioned, is a lot of fun. It's in an unattractive industrial area, but the brewery itself is great, and the food's good. Tours are free and happen a few times a day--expect a lot of discussion about marijuana use, what happens when you dump yeast in a septic system, and, if you're lucky, a particularly surly tour guide will heckle the drunker tour group members.

If you're in downtown Healdsburg, Bear Republic is worth a trip. Probably not worth a special stop, but the beer's good and the downtown is really lovely.

San Francisco has a few breweries--Anchor is worth the trip for the history. 21st Amendment and Rogue are fine, but not worth an extra trip. For non-breweries with great beers, I'd recommend "La Trappe" and "City Beer Store".

Someone mentioned hiking at Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. Great hike, but long. If you're looking for something easier and shorter in the Napa area, Bothe-Napa State Park is lush and lovely. Skyline Wilderness is just outside of the Napa city proper--it's usually pretty empty and a nice escape. Between Napa and Sonoma Valleys, the State Parks of Sugarloaf Ridge and Annadel both offer pleasant hiking. At Sugarloaf, you can get up to a hill and catch a view. Annadel, just outside Santa Rosa, is a pleasant (assuming you're sticking to trails Mtn Bikers aren't allowed on!) oak woodland with a couple lakes scattered around.

Muir Woods is beautiful a common spot for tourists, being the closest spot to SF for redwoods. If you're already heading to Monterey from SF, you can stop somewhere along the way for a nice hike, depending on your route. Henry Cowell Redwoods, Big Basin, and Castle Rock are all quite lovely.
An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered. -- GK Chesterton
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby DiscoBunny1979 » Mon Jan 14, 2013 3:00 pm

gordonopolis wrote:
DiscoBunny1979 wrote:
supersharpie wrote: The drive to Sonoma/Napa is not a quick drive through the country. What I would do if not staying the night over in San Francisco, is I would get a connecting flight from San Francisco Airport into Santa Rosa.


I work with people who commute from Sonoma to SF, it's a little over an hour from the San Francisco airport to Sonoma County and probably 90 minutes to Santa Rosa.

I wouldn't recommend flying for two reasons, you'll spend more time at the airport than you would driving and because Santa Rosa is still 40 minutes from Sonoma Square. Sonoma is a very big county.

--------

I use to live in Santa Rosa AND commute to Palo Alto to work. I know the deal. The problem is the traffic. Unless you know the traffic pattern I would not drive through Marin during rush hour - which exactly when will the OP be arriving at SFO? That's what is important. The fact that some idiots (I do call myself one of those idiots since I've done it) have decided to make Sonoma their home and waste gas to get to work is their problem. The OP isn't involved in the day to day work habits of the bay area. Therefore, they should take the most traffic free conditions.....which would be either going through Marin in the morning - a reverse commute - by staying the night in SF, or flying over Marin during evening traffic. That's just my suggestion.

Usually commuter flights are quite convenient at SFO to Santa Rosa. I wouldn't mind waiting around a while in order to bypass traffic through Marin. Of course I'm biased with that as since I've done that flying commute before, it seems like a no brainer since my home was in Santa Rosa. But the fact of the matter is that driving from Petaluma to Santa Rosa is a short trip (and of course I'll correct myself to suggest here that one would have to know the traffic pattern of highway 101 between Petaluma and Santa Rosa during rush hour on weekdays). In my experience, flying is a shorter mental exercise because you don't have time behind the wheel. The OP might be able to rent a Car at the SR airport and return it to the SFO airport. Don't know about that, never tried it.

Since Sonoma is a very big county - they could end up visiting Glen Elen, or Kenwood or even higher north to Calistoga (staying a night higher up in wine country rather than using Napa as home base) and might decide to end up exiting their tour through Santa Rosa anyway instead of going back down to Sonoma or Napa (My reason for suggesting taking the plane out of SR down south). They will look at the 'map' if they have one and say, "Hey, let's go this way to highway 101". The warning of going from Calistoga or Kenwood back to 101 is that some of the country in the mountains - especially to and from Calistoga - is windy, can make one car sick, and takes what seems to be a long time. If you are on this road, which is a single lane road (at some points in the mountains) to Santa Rosa and behind an RV trailer, it will be extremely slow going without the ability to pass. How's that for being 'objective'? This trip requires planning in terms of what wineries they are visiting and their 'home base location'.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby supersharpie » Mon Jan 14, 2013 4:07 pm

We will be arriving aroung noon on 5/1 FWIW.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby Grasshopper » Mon Jan 14, 2013 5:45 pm

I would recomend a day at Point Reyes/ Inverness, a wonderful place to stay is Ten Inverness Way in Inverness.

http://www.teninvernessway.com

I think you would be happy in the southern wine country, in Yountville, Mustards Grill is the place to be seen and is affordable. Lunch is my favorite at the Domaine Chandon also in Yountville, is Étoile Restaurant a little more upscale.

If SF is your last stop turn your rental in you won't need it while you are there. Enjoy
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby jlj » Mon Jan 14, 2013 6:34 pm

As a wine lover, you may want to spend 2 days in the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, 2 hours east of San Francisco in the Sierra Foothills. Great wines. No tasting fees. Exceptional beauty. Stay at the Sutter Creek Inn. Wherever you go, enjoy our great state. and please leave a significant amount of that east-coast big money.
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby jeffyscott » Mon Jan 14, 2013 7:53 pm

Korbel Champagne tour was interesting and enjoyable when we did it several years ago. They were also generous with the free tastings.

I don't know if it would be on your route or meet you wife's dietary needs, but there was an oddly located, surprisingly good Indian restaurant right at Hwy 1 and the Russian River, called "Sizzling Tandoor". We had read of it in Frommer: http://dest.travelocity.com/DestGuides/ ... 647+18526+
press on, regardless - John C. Bogle
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby btenny » Mon Jan 14, 2013 10:08 pm

You need to do some detail planning for your trip to have the most fun with the limited time you have available. I would plan your trip partly around what Phillies/Giants game you want to see and what tickets you can get. We use Stub Hub for single game tickets to see the Giants regularly. But I checked the web site and the Giants tickets will not go on sale until later in January so you may want to talk to other sellers so you can firm up your plans earlier.

Then the second part of your planning should involve what you do your first day in San Francisco. Getting in at 1PM presents challenges. After you get your bags and a rental car and so forth I suspect it will be close to 3PM. Are you going to stay in SF the first night or go north to Sonoma or south to Monterey? No matter the direction you are going to be in rush hour traffic. If you drive straight north on the 101 you will hit SF commuter traffic going north to Marin and Sonoma. Plus you have to go on some SF city streets this way. Yes you can still get to Sonoma by say 6pm or so but it will take time. It is OK as you can see the Golden Gate bridge and sunset from many places as you drive north. I would stop for a drink and maybe dinner and enjoy the views and the beach rather than trying to fight traffic. Then get to Sonoma around 8-9PM.

Or you can stay in SF proper and do some sight seeing, Maybe go to Hoit Tower or walk around the financial district and see the sights and go to dinner there. Then you can stay a day or two more and see Alcatraz and the Persidio and China town and the Piers more the next day and then the baseball game the next evening. Then on the third or fourth day leave for other places like Muir Woods on the way to Sonoma.

Or you design some other plan.
Good luck and have fun.
Bill
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby Martindo » Tue Jan 15, 2013 7:53 pm

Hi Supersharpie,

I live in Santa Rosa. Sonoma and Sonoma coast are a less touristy than Napa Valley, I think. But people have already made a lot of good comments on the Bay Area.

ONE CORRECTION --- Nobody around here says "San Fran." People here say "The City."

Have fun!!
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby Jessica S » Wed Jan 16, 2013 6:02 pm

Martindo wrote:Hi Supersharpie,

I live in Santa Rosa. Sonoma and Sonoma coast are a less touristy than Napa Valley, I think. But people have already made a lot of good comments on the Bay Area.

ONE CORRECTION --- Nobody around here says "San Fran." People here say "The City."

Have fun!!


And whatever you do, DON'T call it "Frisco." The locals hate that : )
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby greenbldg » Wed Jan 16, 2013 6:34 pm

I was there for my first time a few months ago. We stayed in the city near Market Street. I wouldnt spend too much time there besides to hop on the cable car. I rented a car from http://www.getaround.com/ but the transportation is easy for most trips around the city. (I rented the Tesla and drove to Half Moon Bay) We took a great wine tasting bus tour to Sonoma and Napa that I would recommend. We also stopped by Muir Woods which is a must see. http://www.sanfranciscowinecountrytours ... -van-tour/ The guide was awesome. Next time I will spend more than 1 day in wine country. China town ... eh.. I will skip next time. Pigeons were flying around and hanging out in the fortune cookie shop. Fisherman's Wharf is worth a look. Check out the seals.. but its a touristy spot so dont spend too much time there.

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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby barry » Wed Jan 16, 2013 9:44 pm

walking back an forth on the bridge is always beautiful
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Re: Visiting California for the first time...need advice!

Postby epilnk » Thu Jan 17, 2013 3:00 am

barry wrote:walking back an forth on the bridge is always beautiful

walking back an forth on the bridge is often beautiful, especially on days clear enough to see beyond the guardrail. My brother's comment: "It's like walking through a cloud, only with traffic."
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