Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Sep 29, 2009 10:58 AM

Visiting San Fran- and Napa/Sonoma in November

I have been a lurker for many years and have dined at wonderful Chow recommended restaurants all over--thanks!

My husband and I will be in San Francisco for 2 nights in November and then meet 3 other couples in Sonoma for wine tasting.

Here are my first considerations and would love to hear your suggestions.

San Francisco (Wed-Fri):
We are staying at the St Francis or The Ritz. We plan to go to the King Tut exhibit and Acme for dinner on our first night.
Dinner at The Dining Room on Thurs. We are celebrating our anniversary at TDR.
Breakfast on the way out of town at Zazie's or Fremont Diner if we get a late start. I would like to fit Canteen somewhere in these 2 days.

Sonoma - Fri-Sun.
My husband and I will get to Sonoma earlier than those flying in that day and hope to go to Rafanelli on Fri. They seemed uncertain about getting a group of 8 in on Saturday.
We are staying at The Lodge at Sonoma.
May try to go to Domaine Carneros after everyone checks in for tasting and cheese.
We have dinner reservations at El Dorado at 8:30.

Breakfast at Carneros Bistro at hotel.
We'd like to find a great place to buy a picnic lunch. Any suggestions? A friend mentioned Sonoma Cheese Factory or Sage Fine Food?
We're looking for a great picnic spot + good reds. Buena Vista Winery or Gundlach Bundchu?
We are planning 2 tastings in Sonoma. Then we'll head to Napa for tastings. We're hoping to get a tour at Hendry, tasting at Cakebread, Frog's Leap, and Hess, or Fleury. Any other suggestions?
We'll have a siesta after tastings--spa, nap, football--before our 9 o'clock dinner reservation at Bottega.

Brunch at Brix at 10.

I was able to devise this outline with all of your help from old posts, so thank you! All opinions/feedback is welcome.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Except Brix. Look elsewhere.
    Gundlach not such a good place for pinickin' IMO.
    Maybe peek at Robert Sinskey. nice views from up there.
    Apart from that, naaah.
    ya got it covered just fine, mate.

    MeatBoy says ya got it covered....kinda

    3 Replies
    1. re: BigMeatBoy

      Thanks, MeatBoy--will look up Sinskey.

      1. re: BigMeatBoy

        I've had a great time on the patio at Brix. Would definitely recommend it - amazing view/ambiance. If you go - be sure to specify a patio seating if the weather cooperates. November can be quite nice here - just depends . . .

        1. re: BigMeatBoy

          I would ask why you are dismissing Brix. Have you been to their brunch? Have you been there since the change of staff last year?

          While the Napa / Sonoma drive doesn't usually make me blink ... it's about 30/45 minutes ... that Saturday schedule is really ambitious ... Sonoma to Napa back to Sonoma for rest then back to Napa for dinner then back to Sonoma to sleep. You are eating up a minimum of two hours of your day traveling back and forth.

          I can understand why people might be reluctant to check in and out of hotels. You might consider staying iin Napa instead since that seems to be more of your trip focus.

          You might consider staying instead at the new Bardessono spa/hotel in Yountville. You would be able to walk home from Bottega and you will only be 5 minutes from Brix in the morning.

          Also, while Yountville is not exactly the party capital of the world, it does have places that stay open later than Sonoma. On your walk bak from Bottega, you could catch a nightcap at the bar at Bouchon and possibly rub elbows with locals.

          While I have a few nits with Bardessono in terms of dinner and exterior architecture, it has lovely landscaping, the interior is beautiful, the staff is great and I've read good things about the spa and rooms.

          Sonoma Cheese Factory is a tourist trap of the worse order. Down the street is Vella cheese which isn't a huge selection, but what is there is better. Sonoma market has good picnic supplies with a great deli section and bread from almost every major bakery in the area. Sage Fine Foods is good, but a little limited in selection.

          You could consider Fremont Diner as your stop between Sonoma and Napa tastings. There are outside picnic tables and they usually have a platter of local artisan meats. . Otherwise Oxbow Market in Napa would be a great choice with a nice cheese shop, bakery and Fatted Calf. I'd pick that in a second over Sage.

          If you decide to stay at the lodge in Sonoma for both days, you might consider picnic supplies from Raymond & Co Cheesmongers and Olive and Vine next door. Raymond is a tiny shop with beyond amazing cheese. I'd also prefer Olive and Vine over Sage.

          The reason I am not pushing Raymond more is that while it is not too many miles from your hotel, it takes you in the opposite direction of the rest of your itinery.

          Also, as romantic as a picnic in Wine Country sounds ... you are doing it in November. It may be cold. After having stepped into an ankle-deep puddle today after braving stiff winds ... rain is a real possibility. I say this as someone who moved to California from New England and spent a day in January on the beach because "It's California. It must be warm". Froze to death and never repeated that.

          With Fremont Diner and Oxbow there are indoor areas to eat should the weather turn. Any chance of talking you into lunch at Ubuntu instead of a picnic?

          Hope you are able to stay at the Ritz since you will be having dinner there. You should have a wonderful anniversary dinner.

        2. I went to Rafanelli this summer, and while the people who run and own it are very nice, I didn't love the wines. I would suggest other places along Dry Creek Road if you're going to be up in Healdsburg.

          On Saturday you are not going to have time for breakfast, buying a picnic lunch, two tastings in Sonoma, and then tastings in Napa (and eating your picnic lunch sometime along the way). And no way will you have a siesta or a break if you fit all that in and then have a 9pm dinner. I would do Napa tastings after your Sunday brunch, if you have time, or maybe one Napa tasting on the way to your hotel for a break (Frogs Leap isn't open on Sundays, so maybe there).

          If you're eating at The Dining Room for your anniversary, stay there too; that would be a lovely night. Wednesday night, though, Acme wouldn't be my recommendation; it's fine, just not that exciting. If you're interested in Canteen, that would be a good night to try it.

          1. 1. If you miss Rafanelli, go to Zichichi or Bella. Both on West Dry Creek Road and both have great wine (Zichichi has great views, Bella has caves too). Dry Creek is about an hour from Sonoma...Consider Kenwood's VJB (Italian varietals) and Chateau St.Jean if time is limited. I know you are going to edk for dinner on Friday, but for your next trip, try Estate down the street. Can't say enough good about this one.
            2. No No to Cheese factory for picnic. Go to northwest side of square to Sunflower Caffe. It's next to El Dorado Wonderful picnic sandwiches, salads and cheese trays. Eat in their historical garden and just added wine bar...just beautiful. You may not want to leave.
            3. Napa Tastings...Frank Family just south of Calistoga...sparkling to white to reds. If you are on the Silverado Trial, don't miss Stag's Leap Wine Cellers. Still very very good.

            Enjoy and relax...It's Wine Country! Btw...I love Bottega!

            1 Reply
            1. re: goldenret

              Brix is great for brunch dont be mislead.Good food,atmosphere, inside or out.

            2. "Sonoma - Fri-Sun."

              Are you driving back to Sonoma after your Bottega dinner (a bit of a drive) or staying in Napa Valley?

              9 Replies
              1. re: ceekskat

                Thanks everyone. Taking a lot of notes.

                We are hoping to call a car to drive us back to Sonoma. I tried to convince the party to stay in Napa that night, but they don't seem to think it'll be a problem??

                1. re: partyof5

                  Hmm, well, if someone is prepared to drive back to Sonoma that night, it's fine, but calling a car doesn't happen that much in Napa. Wait, I'm confused: you're staying in Sonoma, going to Napa for tastings, having a nap/break time before dinner in Yountville, and then going back to Sonoma? Where is your mid day break going to be? If your plan is to go back to Sonoma before going back to Napa, please change it, that will not be a fun day, and you won't get to see or do most of what you want to do. And how were you planning to get to Yountville from Sonoma if you want to hire a car to get you home from Bottega? And if you're planning to brunch at Brix on Sunday morning, it makes no sense to stay in Sonoma that night (or, it makes no sense to have brunch at Brix if you're staying in Sonoma). Either plan to stay in Napa that Saturday night, or try to rearrange your schedule.

                  1. re: JasmineG

                    Partyof5, sorry, but your wine country schedule doesn't make geographic sense.

                    You're zigging back and forth between Napa and Sonoma and vastly underestimating driving times and distances.

                    The areas you name are farther apart than you realize. Cars, cabs, are not readily available. Whatever you do, please choose a spot and stay in it for at least a day if not the entire weekend. Healdsburg has great wine and is dripping with charm. Napa Valley has a plethora of offerings. The city of Sonoma is, by te way, limited in comparison.

                    A party of 8 will need reservations everywhere you go, even wineries. Navigating with a group that size is difficult and requires much thoughtful planning. Research the best Sonoma and Napa wines on the Wine Boards, as well as the wineries on this board, and please read more about the restos in each place. Once you have a focus, then please write more about where that is, and we can recommend wineries and restaurants in that spot.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      You are correct...we were all over the map because we didn't really understand the distance and geography so we changed out plans...

                      I went to AAA and got a map and now understand how and why it wasn't possible. ;)

                      We are now staying at the Westin in Napa. We do not have dinner ressies for Friday night yet.
                      Hendry tour on Sat at 10AM and Bottega Sat night at 9 for dinner.
                      Moved our Brix brunch time to 11 on Sunday.

                      We couldn't get into Cakebread on Saturday so are starting over in terms of booking ressies for tastings on Sat. sigh.

                      Thanks for all your suggestions. It helped us decide to stay in Napa.

                      7377 St. Helena Highway, Napa, CA 94558

                      6525 Washington Street Suite A9, Yountville, CA 94599

                      1. re: partyof5

                        Thanks for updating us, and I'm glad that we helped you focus your plans. Where are you thinking for your other tastings and meals?

                        1. re: JasmineG

                          So we have Hendry at 10.
                          Thinking lunch at Rutherford Grill after Hendry.
                          Frog's Leap at 2:30.

                          Are there wineries near Frog's Leap for tastings worth considering?

                          Rutherford Grill
                          1180 Rutherford Rd, Napa, CA 94558

                          1. re: partyof5

                            Based on a chow rec, we recently visited Elizabeth Spencer Wines right opposite Rutherford Grill & really enjoyed it. We asked for an all red tasting which wasn't a problem. Bought a merlot & howell mountain cab. No appointments necessary.


                            Rutherford Grill
                            1180 Rutherford Rd, Napa, CA 94558

                            1. re: ceekskat

                              was visiting napa and were suggested elizabeth spencer wines as well (by the grgich people) and it is a true gem. the only have about 12 barrels or less of each wine and do 12 grapes. i also picked up the merlot. they only really have a tasting room but it's a stunning little space. they really maximized their plot. if i hadn't bought so much already i would have gotten more.

                              it might be too far south, but robert sinskey had a beautiful looking winery and we only had the opportunity to try a wine at chez panisse. it really made me regret not making it there.

                            2. re: partyof5

                              Slide around the corner and have some sparkling wine at Mumm Napa Valley following Frog's Leap.

                              BTW, four wineries a day is plenty until you're a pro and spitting.

                              Mumm Napa Valley
                              8445 Silverado Trail, Rutherford, CA