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Jun 21, 2007 10:19 AM

New poster in desperate need for help with itinerary in SF/Napa!

Newbie here! Just wanted to say first of all that I LOVE this board, and (when I have time, which is rare) thoroughly enjoy searching through it. As a little intro to myself... I'm 22 and just graduated from NYU, but I'm from the Chicagoland area (Highland Park, to be exact), and have evolved a newly discovered passion for cooking, food and the food industry--a wannabe foodie of sorts, I suppose... I love it for the same reason I love to travel-- seeing whats new out there (farmers markets, ethnic stores, restaurants, products, etc), the gastronomy/culture/history behind it all, trying and creating new flavors and ingredients and seeing what goes together, etc. I'm into that whole Slow Foods scene, but I'm sure I don't need to explain much seeing that this is, afterall Chowhound, and we are talking about SF here.. point being, I want to go into the food industry in some way, and am now exploring my options because they are so ridiculously overwhelming and vast...

Which brings me to the fact that I'm going to an open house with my parents to check out the associates degree program at the CIA at St. Helena, which is on Thursday, June 28th from around 9am-1pm-ish. I have been to SF Bay area and Napa once before for a week, but was with my boyfriend of the time, and so obviously did not have the same amount of money to spend as I do now. This is partially a culinary adventure for me, part birthday present, part exploration, and part trying to convince my parents to move here and see why I'm so obsessed with it. So we leave on Sunday 5 pm flight, and I really really need help here with some suggestions, food and otherwise. I love most foods, but have a particular affinity for the Cal cuisine, Contemp/New American, globally influenced foods and combining foods in ways you cannot create yourself, I LOVE seafood and raw bars, Japanese food, Mediterranean influenced food (my parents are Israeli so I love Med fare, and all things Med influenced...African, Morroccan, French, Vietnamese, you name it) Things I know I want to do/reservations I have already made (but subject to change upon suggestion) are:

1. Gary Danko's on Thursday, 8 pm... I adore exploring different cheeses, and have heard they have one of the best cheese plates, but have heard both positive and negative reviews.
2. Kaygetsu on Saturday, 7:30 pm. I really love the kaiseki concept, and have been dying to try it. I also love Japanese food and seafood, especially raw seafood, and I love the simplicity and elegance of something like this. I think I am also going to Koi Palace for dim sum (parents have never had dim sum) in Daly City for brunch.
3. Staying in St. Helena Wednesday night

Things I want to do:
1. In St.Helena, I obviously want to explore Napa Valley and go to at least once winery. How long do you all think I need there? We are arriving Wednesday night at the SF airport at about 6 pm.
2. Show my parents Chinatown, Japantown (those stores are an overwhelming delight), Muir Woods, North Beach, probably Fisherman's Wharf, which I have seen. I could definitely skip Haight/Asbury bc I stayed there and would rather devote time to other things. I also have never been to SoMa and around there, so I want to explore SoMa for sure, and anything else suggested.
3. Farmer's Market/ethnic markets/stores
4. Chez Panisse possibly?

1. Would we have time to still see Monteray or Carmel or surrounding areas at all? Should I just stick to SF?
2. Will we have enough time at Napa Valley? I only did Thursday reservation for Gary Danko's because it was the only spot available, if it's inconvenient and there are other suggestions let me know.
3. We love to walk (though we will have a car that we'll rent), and love doing little tastings of stuff on the way (for example, North Beach bakeries, etc). Best areas for good walking to see people, culture, shopping (book stores, clothes, anything else...)?
4. Where should we dine on Wed. night? Somewhere in San Fran when we get in or somewhere in Napa around St. Helena so we can go there and go to our accomodations after?
5. Definitely want to go to Muir Woods, but not make it an all day event... when should we stick Muir Woods in there? California is unbelievably beautiful and I want to make sure to incorporate some of that as well, but I suppose that's what Napa is there for too.
6. General info, advice, or help about an itinerary that incorprates these elements is much appreciated...

Wow, that was one of the longest posts I've ever written, I apologize. As you can see, I'm a bit overwhelming and want to ensure a great trip, but need help! I'm putting much faith in my fellow foodie's and relying on you guys :) Thanks soo much and looking forward to a response!

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    1. I am exhausted and dizzy, LOL.. wow you want to cover a lot. Congrats on your graduation!!! Well I love your spirit..

      I am not going to touch Monteray or Carmel I don't know the food down there enough to stir you in the right direction. There is so much here in the north bay and napa, I would include Sonoma if anything.

      As far as time in each place it depends on how much exploring you want to do?
      You could have a day in SF then next day drive up to Muir woods, take HWY 1 up and cut over at some point and head over to St. Helena- that is a beautiful drive and there are lots of treasures along the way and places to stop.. can be done in one day..but why? If you decide this would be of interest, I can list my favorites and you will get lot's of other great suggestions.

      Do some search on the wineries, there are day trips planned out for people that have asked the same question.. then we can narrow it down.

      you mentioned your love for raw fish, I would highly recommend going to Bar Crudo in SF- you might enjoy sitting at the counter/ bar watching them make beautiful raw dishes.

      Also, in Healdsburg for lunch go to Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar..I prefer Sonoma to Napa and the Westside Road that can lead you into Healdsburg has many fun smaller wineries, just a thought.
      plus if you are in Healdsburg on Tuesday they have a fun fun Farmers Market, lots of yummy foods too on Tuesday, see post-

      In SF- food wise
      china town/north beach
      Hayes Valley is a fun neighborhood for shopping with some good foodie places
      Mission- lot's of great food options combined with shopping
      I would skip Fisherman's Wharf..however go to the Ferry Plaza..the farmers market is on Sat. if you can't make the farmers market then go anyway when you can fit it in.

      East Bay-
      Berkeley for the afternoon maybe

      If you can tighten up your itinerary some I will add more.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Lori SF

        ShikaSfrn if you can write out your dates only, from when to when are you here and which times you have filled, don't have to say what place specifically just what area it would help logistic wise.. Your post is a bit hard to read.

        1. re: Lori SF

          Thanks! Yeah you're right, I'm all over the place... I think I'm abandoning the whole Monteray idea. I would much rather devote more time to SF/Napa/Sonoma.

          I'm coming in June 27th, Wednesday into SF Airport. It arrives at about 6 pm, and we will be renting a car.
          We will probably have lunch at Greystone CIA in St.Helena on the 28th since we are ending the campus tour around lunchtime. I have reservations on Thursday, June 28th at 8pm at Gary Danko's (overrated? I just want a great cheese plate...), and reservations at Kaygetsu at 7:30 on June 30th at Kaygetsu for the kaiseki. I want to do dim sum at Koi Palace per high recommendation from my friend, and it seems logical to do that Saturday afternoon on the 30th, since Daly City and Menlo Park are both South of San Fran. I leave on Sunday, July 1st on a 5 pm flight.

          I've heard of Bar Crudo- sounds really great. Ame also sounds great. As I said, I love the lightness and freshness of Cal cuisine, and enjoy more of smaller portions rather than 1 large dish... hope that cleared things up a bit, apologies for the ramblings, it happens when I'm overly excited, hah.

      2. First, welcome! Second, chowhound frowns on too much discussion of non-food topics (like numbers three and five), so although we may work in some info, we should keep the topic food-centric.

        Okay, on to the food questions.

        First, the obvious: anyone who is passionate about food should visit the Saturday morning farmers' market at the Ferry Building -- especially this time of year when the stone fruit and summer produce are really starting to come to a peak. Yes it's expensive and overrun by tourists, but it's still amazing.

        If you can get your parents to spring for Chez Panisse, do it. If you don't want to do the whole downstairs thing (or can't get a reservation), you should do the upstairs cafe for lunch or an early dinner and combine it with a walk around the "gourmet ghetto" (since you love cheese, don't miss the amazing Cheeseboard across the street, but note that the Cheeseboard is closed on Sundays).

        I'd extend the walk through North Beach through Chinatown -- I personally like the touristy parts on Grant St., but if you want to see where the real action is going down, walk down Stockton St., where the Chinese residents still shop. Lots of grazing to be done there!

        If your parents insist on Fisherman's Wharf, do read some of the postings here -- particularly rworange's -- which will help you sift out the decent food.

        I think that you should skip Monterey/Carmel. They're lovely places to visit, but in the amount of time you have, I think it's too much to pack in -- I'd go for quality, not quantity. There are so many wonderful food destinations in the Wine Country, that I recommend if you have extra time you spend it there. There are quite a few excellent restaurants in St. Helena, and I'd recommend eating there, rather than eating in the City and driving up after dinner -- you'll be much more relaxed and enjoy your meal (and your wine!). Terra and Martini House are two of the more recommended places in St. Helena. Redd has been getting mixed-to-poor reports recently. Ad Hoc is a great place to go if you like the concept: one set menu of comfort food a la Thomas Keller.

        Have fun and don't forget to report back and tell us what you did and didn't like!

        4 Replies
        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Great suggestions, thanks!

          I really do want to do more of Sonoma and Napa, but since we have Thursday reservations, I'm not sure how/when to go back and do it. And similarly with the Farmer's Market, I really do want to visit the one at the Ferry building, but if I'm going to Koi Palace on Saturday, my friend said I should get there at around 10 or I will have to wait for at least an hour. Does it seem like I could go to Koi Palace another time? I'm just not familiar on distances of places from SF... I definitely want to do Chez Panizze, is it logical to do that on Friday night since reservations on Saturday are at Kaygetsu?

          I've been to Redd, and it was unbelievable when we were there, though one of the dishes was a definite miss. I think I'll stick to either Terra Or Martini House (leaning towards Martini House)...

          1. re: ShikaSfrn

            The farmers' market opens early, at 8 a.m. If you wanted to get up early and do that you could probably still make Koi Palace (one trick at Koi is that you can call ahead and get a number, to cut down the wait). Given the choice, I'd go to the farmers' market, though -- its unique, and you'll kick yourself later that you didn't go. There's lots of great prepared food there as well that would make breakfast (or lunch). Koi Palace serves dim sum every day, if you can work it in somewhere else on your schedule.

            If all you want from GD is a cheese plate, then I'd skip it. Go to the Cheeseboard and put together your own cheese tasting for a fraction of the price. Actually, I think you just have cheese at the bar at GD -- you might want to check that out. Maybe replace it with Bar Crudo, which sounds like much more your thing.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I agree with Ruth on Koi, you can go there anytime..Hit the FP on Sat. you can have some great eats- Frog Hollow pastries are killer be sure to pick up some of their perserves to take back with you, the peach is really good on pork or toast, etc. Start at Blue Bottle Coffee stand for great cup of coffee..and or get something from Primavera for breakfast.. just have fun roaming around..You must see Boulette's Larder inside the building really good panrty items and prepared foods and the space is very cool like you are in someone's kitchen.

              I cannot speak for Gary Danko's I have not been and just not Ruth said the Cheeseboard or you can get great cheese in the Ferry Plaza or up in Napa and Sonoma to do your own thing.

              I guess you are going up to St. Helena Wed. night? Maybe have dinner in SF then drive up? I would stay in napa/sonoma thurs.-friday..get up early sat. and head to the city, hit FP farmer's market, then spend the rest of the day in SF,maybe a part in Berkeley have dinner over there or back in the city. Sunday go somewhere great for brunch or breakfast, hang out some in the city and go to Koi on the way to the airport? then at the airport probably around 3PM?

          2. re: Ruth Lafler

            I agree that doing Monterey and Carmel would probably be just too much given the rest of your itinerary...however, if you do go down that way, check out the Salinas taco trucks (see the posts on the California board) that have been causing quite an interesting dialogue in the news lately.

            Chez Panisse is also closed Sunday.

            I would also agree with Ruth's suggestion of skipping Gary Danko, especially if you are going for the cheese, and since it seems to mess up the itinerary.

            One dim sum option is to go to Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Milbrae instead of Koi Palace: I think it can be almost as good, and it is certainly a great introduction to dim sum, and they take reservations, so you could plan to get there around 11 instead of at ten.

            or have dim sum as a break during your Chinatown walking tour. Do not make the mistake of assuming that you can't get good dim sum in Chinatown. Check out the postings for Gold Mountain, Kan's (ignore the barkers, it really is good), Louie's...

            Muir Woods can get verrryyyyy verrrryyy crowded, especially in summer and since you will be here on what is a holiday weekend for all intents and purposes (weekend before fourth of July). Get out there by ten am or you might not find parking. Personally, I would skip it. It isn't on the way back from Napa either, which it sounds like your latest thought.

            Your enthusiasm is great, but keep in mind that your parents aren't 22 anymore...I think you are trying to pack in a bit much. Concentrate on the Chow, or concentrate on the sights, but don't try to do it all.

            I also wholeheartedly agree that you should try Aziza; Cal-Moroccan and very unique.

          3. First Off ....Congrats on graduating from NYU! I am a fellow alum (Gallatin '98). I think it was the best place on earth to go to school! :)

            While you're in Napa/Sonoma there is a great winery on Silverado Trail called Luna. They specialize in Italian varietals like Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio. They are worth it just for the tasting alone, but I know that they also do a sit-down food and wine pairing. I don't know when they have one scheduled, but you can look them up and check to see if they are having one while you're in town.

            I second the trip to the Ferry Building Farmer's Market. I suggest you get there the earlier the better. Also, if you want to trade in Gary Danko for something else, I reccommend Boulevard. They have a spectacular menu. Reservations are hard, but not as hard if you go for lunch. If you want to try something different, there is a place in the Inner Richmond called Burma Superstar. They are affordable and DELICIOUS, one of my fave spots in the city.

            In Northbeach, there's a new place called Nua. I've never been, maybe someone else who's been there can report back.... But it looks really good.
            Have a great time. GO NYU!!!! :)

            1. WOW!

              Your enthusiasm is impressive and congratualtions!

              Wed. night- it depends where you are flying in to. If you are flying in to Oakland, do not head into the city but head straight for Napa. If into SFO, maybe have dinner in SF, you'll probably be really hungry.

              If dinner in St. Helena, you might consider Market. Super-casual, very well prepared, home-style cooking. If in SF... that is a tough one, I can't imagine after a plane ride you'll want to go out to a swanky restaurant at all... I'll try to think of something.

              Go to Karl Lawrence / Sequoia Grove after your Thursday thingy. Make an appointment for 1:30ish with Ric Henry. 707.963.2702. Tell him your story!

              In SF -- I like other restaurants better than Danko: The Dining Room at the Ritz, La Folie, and most of all, Fleur de Lys. But, Danko is certainly famous for its food and FdL and (to a lesser extent) La Folie are more traditional French restaurants, which it sounds like you are less interested in.

              Given your interestes, I would STRONGLY encourage you to check out Ame. Japanese fusion with lots of raw fish on the menu.

              I also strongly suggest Aziza based upon your parents -- the best Moroccan restaurant I've ever been to.

              Slanted Door is slightly controversial on this board, it isn't authentic. But nonetheless, it is my favorite Vietnamese restaurant that I've been to.

              You won't have time to hit Monterey or Carmel and do SF properly.

              8 Replies
              1. re: whiner

                Yeah, I'm definitely going to do the Saturday Farmer's market... I'm still debating whether to do dinner in SF or Napa. I guess my main question is what is there to do in Napa/Sonoma? I myself love the wineries, and the whole wine culture and how it pairs with food. But if it is only that, I want my parents to enjoy themselves as equally as I am, though they will want to experience that as well.

                I'm definitely willing to nix the GD idea and replace it with Ame or Bar Crudo. My parents love French food, and I do as well but enjoy it less traditionally (though La Folie does look excellent)--I'm not too into the heavy sauces, etc. I should also mention we don't eat pork, and I barely eat beef... I guess since Bar Crudo and Ame are similar (raw bars), I should pick one or the other, though I'm not sure I really want to, hah. I'm also doing the kaeseki on Sat. night, so there is definitely enough raw fish going on :) If there are any other closer suggestions for great kaeseki that would make this itinerary more convenient, I'm open to that as well.

                So now I have: dinner Wed (leaning towards in SF... maybe I could do Ame/Crudo then? I wouldn't mind a nice place but I think FdL would be a little too much), Thursday do Napa/Sonoma (Martini House?), drive Friday morning to SF and tour Mission/Castro/SoMa/North Beach and at night do Ame/Crudo, Saturday morning do the farmers market then do Chinatown/Japan/North Beach and drive to Kaygetsu at night. Lastly, brunch at Koi Palace on Sunday. Obviously I'm unfamiliar with the districts and the proximities, so I'm not sure how to combine those walking tours... I guess I would do Muir Woods on the drive to SF on Friday morning, but I'm not sure. Does this sound better? Suggestions?

                1. re: ShikaSfrn


                  Sounds good. I love Martini House. I didn't mean to give the impression that Ame is a raw bar. It is Japanese fusion that happens to incorporate many raw fish ingredients. Here is their sample dinner menu:


                  (the main page is just


                  There really isn't much t see in SoMa once you leave the touristy area around the Metreon.

                  Union Square is next to Chinatown is next to North Beach is next to Fisherman's Wharf. That is a great walking tour.

                  1. re: ShikaSfrn

                    Japan town is not walking distance from North Beach (while Chinatown is adjacent). Otherwise, that schedule looks great. Your parents will enjoy Napa -- who doesn't enjoy a drive in the country with great wine and food? In addition, some of the wineries are architecturally interesting and have other things to offer (the art collection at Hess, for example). If you drive back through Sonoma, the town square in Sonoma proper is very pretty and both foodie and nonfoodie attractions (like the Mission Sonoma, which is interesting if your parents aren't familiar with the history of the Spanish in California).

                    1. re: ShikaSfrn

                      If you have dinner in SF on Wednesday night you can stop in at the Ritz Carlton Bar for the Champagne Flight, this would be a fun way to kick off your's a lovely relaxing room and a have a bubbly flight.

                      only on Wednesday 6:30-9:30, $39.00 per person
                      600 Stockton and very close to Bar Crudo!

                      Just a thought

                      1. re: Lori SF

                        That sounds amazing, but I'm confused, the Ritz thing you're suggesting is in addition to dinner, correct? The Dining Room does look incredible, and that's the only info I can find, nothing about a Champagne flight... but your suggestion is veryyy tempting. Possibly the best restaurant I've ever been to in the U.S. was a French-Japanese one in NY, so the Ritz is appealing. Thanks for all the advice, you guys are amazing! And where exactly is Richmond? And I know I sound like I want to plan everything (sorry), it's one of my downfalls, but my theory is plan a few nice restaurants and then wing the day stuff and walk around a LOT to just relax, see things you just can't plan, and have a generally laid back cultured experience interspersed with some swank...

                        In terms of setting up an appointment with that guy-- does he do lunch and wine? If he could do later than 1:30 then we can do it after lunch... how many wineries is practical to do in a day?

                        1. re: ShikaSfrn

                          One must distinguish between Richmond, a city in the East Bay, and the Richmond, a district in western San Francisco. If mapping you must get that

                          1. re: ShikaSfrn

                            I was suggesting going to the Ritz Bar for pre dinner dinks. The Ritz bar does this champagne flight that is very fun. Then walk over to Bar Crudo which is very close or cab it to Ame ( I have not been there).

                            Here is a number for the Ritz Bar if you need the info.. 415-773-6198

                            The Richmond is a district or neighborhood if you will in SF, outer and inner richmond district. Here is a link to show you all the different neighborhoods..each one has it's own vibe and feel..kinda like Chicago
                            Not all the restaurants mentioned will be here, just to give you a guild and a feel.

                            1. re: ShikaSfrn


                              Ric will set up an appointment whenever. I mean, he needs to be available, but other than that...

                              Hopefully if you go Mike Trujillo will be around. He is the winemaker and one of the premier winemakers in the Napa Valley.