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Seeking advice for my 40th California Trip: San Francisco, Napa, Monterey

I have always wanted to go to California. My wife and I are finally going this May to "celebrate" my 40th birthday. I am looking for advice on where to eat, making reservations, sights, things to do, travel routes, and anything else people might think will be helpful.

We will be arriving on a Saturday in SF and staying for 2 nights at The Clift. We are then headed to Sonoma and Napa. We are staying at the Bardessono in Yountville for 3 nights, then Inn at Spanish Bay in Monterey (?) for 2 nights.

I've got to admit that I am overwhelmed with the choices so I am reaching out for help.

Some things about what I like:

I like a mixture in the level of sophistication of where we eat. I will be doing everything I can to get a reservation at French Laundry (any suggestions there would be much appreciated). And plan to eat some other high end meals. However, I also like to experience the other end of the spectrum. I like to experience the quintessential eating, drinking, sights of the place I am visiting, but I do not want to get swept up into some kind of touristy frenzy. I like to experience the young/up and coming chefs or places to go. If at all possible I will be trying to drive along the coast en route to Monterey from Napa.

Thanks in advance for your help.

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  1. Napa has a vast array of choices and there are a couple of good well known places in Yountville that have been covered in numerous other posts.

    One thought on your wish to drive down the coast, if you are going to be doing that during the week (and during the day) you might get away with it, but going from Napa to Monterey directly on the fastest freeway route is still a good 2 plus hour drive. The coastal route would be signifigantly longer (as you would have to go from Napa to the coast which would be an hour or so via Sonoma) and then down south.

      1. That's such an insanely broad question it's hard to answer intelligently.

        Okay, for up and coming, high-end, not touristy, I say try to schedule dinner at Commis in Oakland. Nothing but raves, Michelin star, but it's newish and in Oakland, so not on the tourist map yet.

        The Wine Country is touristy -- no escaping it. I suggest you do some searches, read some reports from both locals and other visitors, narrow down your choices or come up with some more specific questions.

        Actually, since you have lots of time, I suggest you do that in general. Page back through this board, look at other topics started by other visitors, and in particular, look for any reports back. You might look for the long threads started by your fellow-Canadian grayelf, which include both detailed queries and detailed reports back.

        The more specific you can be in framing your questions, the more we'll be able to tailor a response that's not a generic "these restaurants are good" type response.

        1. Greetings, first time poster.

          So you're looking for a couple of recommendations in SF and a couple in wine country, covering a "broad range of sophistication", are "quintessential", "young chefs".

          That's pretty broad, and it's a question that's asked every few weeks.


          You'll find people who get responses ask more specific questions, specify where they're coming from, and are clearer than "a broad range" which doesn't specify how low, or how high.

          Also see if you can change the title - I thought this was your 40th trip to california!

          1. For the French Laundry, what worked for us is opentable.com and at the exact 30 or 60 days that are required, I had my selection ready and filled out a couple minutes before midnight..we went to lunch and there was only 2 slots available and we got one of them.
            We went to Redd in Napa which was excellent and to Taylor's Refresher in St. Helena for their ahi burger.
            We enjoy Boulevard in SF and Tadich Grill.
            Big Sur, we loved Sierra Mar at the stunning Post Ranch Inn for lunch.
            PassionFish in Pacific Grove/Monterey for a great dinner and loved their half bottle selection without the markup.
            Great posters that will help you out on the SF board.

            Like others have stated there are a myriad of choices but these are what we enjoyed.
            Enjoy California..it's a gorgeous state!


            1. The French Laundry still has some tables available on opentable.com for Jan. 27th. Maybe the bad economy is making the place easier to get into.

              1. Hi Halifax,

                Mustards Grill has been around a long, long time but it's still fresh to me. It's not fake. Maybe my favorite Napa destination.

                Maybe consider driving east over the mountains to Sonoma so you can pick up Highway 1 for a memorable drive south. Start in the morning and allow time for a detour to Pt. Reyes Station where you can grab a seriously good breakfast before slogging all the way to Monterey. Pine Cone Diner works for me. Spend some time there, make some friends, have too much fun filling up on some good eats. Bring cash. Cowgirl Creamery is across the street. Top off the tank before leaving.

                Your drive south on Highway 1 will be entertaining, you'll be well fed and in a good mood before hitting Monterey.

                Happy Birthday!

                8 Replies
                1. re: steve h.

                  Yountville to Monterey via the Oakville Grade, Point Reyes, and Highway 1 would be over six hours.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I didn't say it would be short. It will, however, be memorable. The slog is well worth the effort. I've done it several times. One of the great attractions of Northern California is the coast highway. Truly a national treasure. Deb and I plan on driving south to Monterey in August so I can see lots of cars I can't afford at the Pebble Beach Concours.

                    Outside of fiscal responsibility, you guys have it all. I'm a big fan.

                    edit to add: Sounds like you've made the drive yourself. Entertaining, no?

                    1. re: steve h.

                      I've driven all those roads, but I wouldn't do that in one day.

                  2. re: steve h.

                    If you're on vacation and want a lovely, leisurely drive, then driving south on Hwy 1 is well worth doing. Whether it's "entertaining" or "hair-raising" will depend on how you feel about narrow winding roads along steep cliffs (driving southbound you're on the "outside" of the road). But there are only a couple of stretches that are potentially white-knuckle (near Stinson Beach and the famous Devil's Slide area south of San Francisco).

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Hi Ruth,
                      In the morning there is fog. Twisties and fog along the coast is mighty interesting to me. Maybe the best drive in the U.S. Well worth the modest effort.
                      Sounds like you've enjoyed it, too.

                      1. re: steve h.

                        I learned to drive on narrow winding roads, and I do consider them entertaining. Not everyone feels that way, though, thus the advisory.

                        OP is going to be here in May -- not too foggy then and a gorgeous time to drive the coast. I like the idea of Sutro's at the Cliff House. There's also a new Peruvian place -- La Costanera -- in Montara. I don't think there have been any reports, but the owner has two well-regarded Peruvian restaurants in the city and the setting is spectacular.

                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                        The entire section of Rte 1 through Marin is double-yellow, no passing. Which is why for relaxation and amusement, the road is best done mid-day week-day. If you're OK with double-yellow passing on a road like Rte 1, you're already in the advanced class and need no advice.

                        In San Mateo and Santa Cruz, there's a few passing zones.

                        There are few eats along the way in Marin. There's the Sand Dollar in Stinson Beach, there's that funny cafe in Bolinas, there's the Pelican Inn (not actually on rte 1, I think). You're probably best off hitting the newly-tasty Cliff House instead of somewhere in Marin, after that you're down to Pescadero.

                    2. In the same general direction as SF to Monterey (via Hwy 17 and Santa Cruz) is Manresa in Los Gatos. I thought it was more exciting then The French Laundry...less formal, more California. 2 Michelin stars.

                      Also near Monterey you might hit some taco trucks in Salinas (home of John Steinbeck). Do a search but here's a quick guide: http://www.chow.com/stories/10609

                      If you don't make it to Salinas but go down the coast, you might stop in Pescadero for either Ciopinno (crab is in season) at Duarte's or tacos at Mercado & Taqueria De Amigos (half a block away from Duarte's at the corner in the gas station).

                      Manresa Restaurant
                      320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

                      Duarte's Tavern
                      202 Stage Rd, Pescadero, CA 94060

                      1. Thanks so far.

                        It looks like I am "that guy" . Sorry that my opening was full of contradictions and that I did not scour the board for previous recommendations and advice. I'll do that and try to be more specific. Bottom line is that I would like to have an authentic experience without getting swept up into something touristy and tacky. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with going to somewhere tried and true as long as it has not been ruined over the years. Put it this way, I'd rather eat a solid burger in a honky tonk or remortgage my house to eat quelques deserts at Pierre Gagnaire then spend one minute in Chefs de France in Disney World.

                        In the meantime, I'm going to look at my flight itinerary and see if traveling north back to SF on the coastal route may be an option on our way back to the airport from Monterey. I like the idea of taking the slow route south, but I do have to be realistic (may still do it - I just have to look at the options).

                        I have to admit that I am a bit lost on how to spend my valuable time in SF and where to eat/have a good time. We are there on a Saturday, Sunday, Monday nights. We will be leaving for Napa/Sonoma on Tuesday.

                        Oddly Napa seem a bit more manageable.

                        I haven't even started on Monterey.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Halifax

                          Spend some time on Saturday at the Ferry Building and their Farmer's market...which has lots of great food and some neat little shops...that should kill at least a few hours of your Saturday.

                          Check out some of the different neighborhoods - Marina, Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow can all be walked from the Marina Green (which has nice walking and a great view of the GGB) to Pacific Heights and there are plenty of scenery, people watching, restaurants and boutiques between Chestnut, Union and Filmore streets.

                          Spend some time in North Beach - Mama's is always fun for breakfast on a Sunday if you're willing to stomach the wait. The House and L'Osteria Del Forno are fun restaurants in my opinion.

                          Do dinner in the Mission one night (Delfina, Foreign Cinema, Range, Poc Chuc are all discussed on this site as good dinner destinations).

                          1. re: vis

                            He said Saturday night -- he may not be here for the Ferry Plaza Saturday market, which is in the morning, and anyway, it sounds like he might like the decidedly less chi-chi Alemany market better, or there's the Civic Center market on Sunday morning he might enjoy.

                            Otherwise, the recs for the Mission are good -- North Beach and the Marina may be a little more touristy/scene-y than the poster seems to be looking for.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Good point on the Saturday market Ruth...although I usually still bring folks here for a walk-through since it's a fun experience even with the crowds.

                              When people talk about touristy, i usually think about Fisherman's Wharf and Sausalito even though I get what you mean by the Marina/Pac Heights/North Beach being a scene. That said, they're usually still a hit when I have friends visiting from out of town - especially if it's their first time in San Francisco.

                          2. re: Halifax

                            My advise is to cut over from Napa to Petaluma on regular highway roads, get on 101 S to San Francicso, head out to the coast on 1 to a new Peruvian place, Costanerra, then take 1 south to Monterey. It'll turn a 3 hour trip into 4+, but driving out to the coast straight away from the Napa valley would make it into a 6+ hour trip with only another 20 minutes on the coast itself.

                            I haven't posted on it elsewhere because I've only been once, but Costanerra's food was good enough that it's definitely in competition with the few other Peruvian options in town, and the restaurant is literally at the edge of the ocean, with huge dramatic waves this time of year on a pretty stretch of coast. They aren't open for lunch, but if you got one of their earliest reservations you'd be there for sunset. You could bring picnic snacks from Oxbow Market in Napa and dog-leg up into the Marin Headlands before hitting the Golden Gate bridge for a nice lunch picnic with a stunning view of the ocean and San Francisco, to tide you over until an early dinner.

                          3. For SF, I am leaning towards the following suppers:



                            Gary Danko

                            How am I doing so far?

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Halifax

                              Very good! All excellent, but very different from each other.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Since you're staying at Bardessono, I would definitely eat in Yountville. Walkability is key and tons of great food options (all different). My two favorites in town:

                                Ad Hoc (Thomas Keller's family style) - one menu a day and it's great
                                Cantinetta Piero - great Italian (reasonably authentic, not the red sauce nightmare)

                                Other crowd pleasers - Redd - a little fancy, but great for lunch on the Patio (the pork buns and hamachi rock), Bouchon (Thomas' French bistro - great French but I like the crowd better at Ad hoc).

                                Dive spot - 1) Fremont Diner between napa and Sonoma. How can you go wrong on a place with a pulled pork sandwich called the "Whole Hog" and 2) Azteca Market in St. Helena - Mex grocery store with great tacos when you're sick of rich food.


                              2. re: Halifax


                                Is that where you are coming from? Sometimes your original location helps for recs. Someone from SOCAL would be steered away from Mexican. Texans and Chicagoans (?) should avoid NOCAL steakhouses and bbq. NY ... forgettabout deli or Italian (though that is getting less the case these days as long as you aren't looking for a red sauce type of joint).

                                Maybe this will be a help

                                Visitng SF. Eat like a local not a tourist.

                                Like others have said, it is hard to come up with a list with so many options. So, say I had someone at the office who was out of the area, I knew nothing about them and they wanted a schedule, here's what I'd say.

                                SF Saturday:

                                Breakfast: Ferry Plaza farmers market if you are here early enough. It winds down after noon and shuts down about 1 or 2.

                                Lunch: Tadich or Scoma's - old time SF that isn't horrible. Get the ciopinno or sand dabs. I'd prefer Tadich, but Scoma's would do.

                                Dinner: 1550 Hyde (good example of Cal-cuisine and a neighborhood joint right on the cable car line)

                                SF Sunday

                                Breakfast: Canteen
                                Lunch: Poc Chuc (explore Mission especially 24th St)
                                Dinner: Cocktail at Cliff House to soak in the view. Dinner at Aziza which is nearby

                                Napa Monday

                                Breakfast at Mama's before departing for Napa.

                                Go to Napa via the Golden Gate Bridge. Take the Sonoma exit . Have lunch at the Fremont Diner. Great food and located next to a vineyard

                                Dinner: Etoile at Domaine Chandon ... its a winery ... it is lovely ... the current chef is the son of the owners of the French Laundry prior to Thomas Keller and from my one brunch there ... an up and comer.

                                Napa Tuesday

                                Breakfast in bed at Bardesso

                                Lunch: It is difficult. I'm sure you have some Napa itenery and knowing that would help narrow things down

                                Dinner: Brix - go early for happy hour and get a fabulous cheese plate and then continue on to dinner. Lovely vineyard view, top-notch chef.

                                Napa Wednesday

                                Breakfast at the Boon Fly Cafe

                                Lunch: Oxbow Market ... sort of an upscale food court. Maybe pick up some picnic supplies

                                Dinner: Ubuntu

                                Thursday travelling to Monterrey (out of the parameters of this board)

                                Breakfast: PIck up some pastry from Sweetie PIes.

                                Take 80 down to the Bay Bridge but take the San Mateo bridge which hooks onto 92 and will take you to Half Moon Bay. ON the way you will pass over a resevoir which is righ on the San Andreas fault. Ponder that.

                                Lunch: Someplace in Half Moon Bay ... or if you have snacks, hold out until Pescadero and have lunch at Duartes ... get the artichoke/chili soup combo. Stop by Harley Cheese while in town and admire the little goats right outside the cheese shop. Continue down the coast highway to Santa Cruz. On the way stop by Swanton berries and pick up some wonderful strawberries in the old barn . It is an honor system. Put your money in the lock box and select berrries, shortcake or other baked goods.

                                Swanton is just a smidge over the area covered by the SF board so I'll leave you there to continue your journey on the California board for Monerray recs.

                                IMO, you get just as much view bang for the buck taking the coastal route from Half Moon Bay. Point Reyes is ... ok ... if you like cows ... and tortuous winding roads with not much else .... not much else other than Point Reyes. Given your limited time, IMO, this isn't the best choice.

                                Do be awayre that leaving Napa you will be traveling in the morning commute direction back. Try not to leave excessively early. If you hit the Carquinez Brindge around 10 am, the rest should go smoothly ... that's not the Bay or San Mateo bridbe but another bridge about mid way between Napa and SF.

                                Of course all of this is moot. There's so many places. I've had dinner at Barndesso and it does some good things but other area places do it a smidge better. However, I fantisize about having breakfast in bed there. Outside, the spa is one of the ugliest places I've ever seen. I hate ... despise the architecture which to me looks like construction in progress ... but inside ... ah, that is different. The staff is pretty super as well. But other than breakfast, I wouldn't waste a meal there.

                                I'm not a Thomas Keller fan. I thought French Laundery was over-hyped and it is too precise for my tastes. Best service I've ever seen though. Bouchon seems like a waste of time. It is French. If you have a French cafe in your town, why bother? Also it is over run by tourists. However a little raw seafood and a glass of wine late at night at the at the bar might be bad. It is one of the few places open really late. Haven't been to Ad Hoc yet.

                                Duarte's is more of an institution ... a roadhouse institution. If you live in the Bay Area there's a chance you'll eventually end up a Duarte's. The best thing to stick to is the artichoke soup (or half and half), fresh catch of the day and ollieberry pie. You'll soak up a lot of local color.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  Maybe I'm was assuming too much, but I was assuming "Halifax" was from Canada.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    It would seem a good assumption although it Halifax is now apparently HRM. This sounds like the change experienced by the artist formerly known as Prince.

                                  2. re: rworange

                                    Wow! That's a whole raft of options I would be very excited about rw. Makes me want to take the trip myself:-)

                                2. We've done that trip many times. Just our preferences: In SF Gary Danko is great. The Ferry Market is a can't miss. In Yountville, Redd and Chiarello's place are well worth hitting. On the way from Yountville to Monterey we get up early and stop at The Ritz at Half Moon Bay for breakfast. Drive the rest of the way down the coast. On the Monterey peninsula, we love Casanova for lunch(killer gnochii), Spanish Bay at sunset for a glass of wine, something sweet, and really nice music. You're going to have a great time.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: ElizabethReed

                                    For the record - Chiarello's great if you want to see him. Not great for consistent food and service. Locals preference is far and above the Cantinetta Piero (new Italian in Yountville). Great food and environment and the chef is in the kitchen not out shaking hands.

                                  2. We're not locals but our experiences at Chiarello's have all been good.

                                    1. Great and thanks so much! Keep it coming. There is a ton of great information in all of your posts. I love the debates. All of the different opinions are fun to compare and consider.

                                      Yes, I am from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Pretty boring handle, but it was the only thing I thought I could remember. It is also a good assumption that I will be looking for food different than what I would get here (that won't be tough, we are hardly NYC). But that does not mean I will be avoiding seafood as I am sure it will be very different. I will probably not be ordering lobster - the fishermen here are selling them live off the backs of their pickup for $5/pound these days.

                                      Saturday - unfortunately it looks like I will not make it to the Ferry Building as our flight does not land until 3:25 PM. Boo. After we get our bags, car, and bearings, I don't think we will get downtown and checked in until about 4:30, and that may be optimistic. Tough call for what to do on our first night. I like the thought of doing a little stroll in Golden Gate Park, a cocktail at The Cliff House followed by supper at Aziza, but I think that could be too aggressive. We may be better off relaxing and strolling to 1550 Hyde Cafe.

                                      Sunday - I like the idea of Mama's or Dottie's for breakfast (seriously, are we going to be n line all day? We will likely be up early due to "jet lag"). The rest of the day I think we will visit a bunch of the neighborhoods mentioned. For dinner either Gary Danko or the Golden Gate Park - Cliff house drink - Aziza idea mentioned above.

                                      Monday - I think we are going to head to Alcatraz on the first boat . we'll then head from Napa directly when we get back. I like the sound of the Fremont Diner for lunch. The loose plan is to explore Sonoma after that. It looks like we will spend Monday night in Sonoma (instead SF, which was the original plan). I'd like to do some exploring and maybe a couple of wine tours/tastings that afternoon. We are then plannning to stay at the Kenwood Inn and Spa in Kenwood Monday night. My thinking is that we would eat light that night - maybe a pic nic. Any recommendations on where to get some nice cheese, meats and other snacks in the area would be welcome.

                                      Tuesday - I see us doing wine tours that day ending up at the Bardessono. We'll be lunching on the way I suppose. I can't see us leaving Yountville for dinner, given the options and walkability. My plan at this time is to eat at French Laundry - if we can get in. I have to say though that, I am mindful of those who felt it was somewhat over rated. I ate at Keller's Per Se in NYC this summer. It was fantastic, and I just felt the need to try the place where he made his name. However, since I have so little time, maybe I should try someone and somewhere else. Obviously, there are a lot of options, even in Yountville.

                                      Tuesday - Originally, I wasn't planning to eat dinner at the Bardessono. Then I spoke to the concierge who talked me into in room spa treatments followed by dinner. I have to admit though that I think I'd still prefer to go offsite, and note the comments of rworange. The breakfast in bed option sounds great. I think I'd still have in room massages, but take it off property for dinner. I will look at the recommendations above. Any others are welcome. Of course if people want to talk me out of bailing on a Bardessono dinner, I'm all ears.

                                      Wednesday - We'll either have a leisurely breakfast at the Bardessono or head out early. I will bear in mind the advice regarding traffic. That never even crossed my mind. Either way, I think we'll take the route recommended by rwoorange and drive to Half Moon Bay. If I can stave off hunger, I love the sound of Duarte's for lucnh which is further down the way.

                                      Thursday - Monterey - I'll go to the proper board for advice.

                                      Friday - Monterey - I'll go to the proper board for advice.

                                      Saturday- We'll be heading back to SF. We plan to go to the Giants game. They have not said if it will be an afternoon or evening game yet. With any luck it will be afternoon. I'm leaning towards the Huntington Hotel and Nob Hill Spa. That night we'd either go to Delfina or 1550 Hyde Cafe (if we did not go there in the early part of the trip).

                                      Sunday - airport - home - boo.

                                      So, where have I screwed up?

                                      PS: yes, I know, the first answer is leaving California.

                                      13 Replies
                                      1. re: Halifax

                                        Bardessono was a disaster in our two attempts.

                                        1. re: Halifax

                                          I've heard many times (but not sure if true this very moment) that Alcatraz boat tickets are often sold out when people appear at the dock. A safer bet would be to buy the tickets on line now.

                                          Re Duarte's in Pecadero: I would only get the soup and the ollalaberry (sp) pie.

                                          1. re: Halifax

                                            Concierge = slick, snake-oil selling salesman. You have to consider that it is in their self-interest to recommend their own hotel.

                                            I don't feel as strongly as ElizabethReed about Bardessono, but there are so many better restaurants in town. Also, there's the feel of Holiday Inn about the restaurant. Yes, the dining room looks out on this sort of pool-fountain area, but I still had the feel I was looking out at a hotel pool. They do have swell-looking bar area.

                                            Since you like Per Se, I'd give the FL reservation a try. I think in that case you will love it since it has a charming country feel. Also, the service is some of the best in the country.

                                            Golden Gate park is a pretty extensive area that starts to shut down later in the day. I think it is ambitious for the first night after a long flight. Go for 1550 Hyde. You can get there by cable car and then maybe afterward ride the cable cars to various neighborhoods for a little cable car tour of the city ... Fisherman's Wharf, Nob Hill.

                                            I hope you'll seriously consider Canteen for Sunday morning. They don't do breakfast every day. You could head up to the Mission for lunch and then maybe over to GG Park, Cliff House, Azizza ... or Danko. Be aware that Azizza is more intimate and neighborhood than Danko. Danko isn't my favorite, but that is more of a local-perspective. I can buy a lot of what he serves at my local farmers market. For my spurgy-stuff I'd be more likely to favor Ron Siegel at The Dining Room at the Ritz where the flavors pop more for me and the cooking is a little more inventive, though pricier. Buty if you choose Danko I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

                                            Mama's is on the way to Alcatraz. Not sure when the first boat leaves, but Mama's opens at 8am and if you get to the door just before that, especially on a Monday, you should get in quickly. The foccacia shop accross the street opens very early so you could do a pit stop there should you need to get to the Wharf earlier ... and Boudin won't kill you if you feel the need to grap a pastry there ... it's just there is better.

                                            Vella Cheese in Sonoma is tiny, but you could get some nice local cheeses there, especially the Jack. I love this little shop, it is so neighborhood. Just up the street is a little farmstand, The Patch. I'm not sure what they would be selling in May ... maybe strawberries ... but it is a half-block away from Vella

                                            I'm thinking Halifax hasn't changed so much that it has a huge Mexican presence in town. Near your hotel is a little paleta shop that is one of the best I've ever been to. They have some nice Mexican ice creams as well and a generous tasting policy.

                                            I've never been, but Cafe Citti in Kenwood gets lots of positive mentions.

                                            It is too bad you won't be there for the monthly Basque Dinner, but Vineyards Inn in Kenwood is a low-key, off the radar, place. The owner is uber-committed to being green, growning his own organic wine, supplying his restaurant mainly from his own garden. Also, the prices are good. It's not many joints in the area that you can get a $6 glass of wine ... a good one at that and usually organic. There is a little fireplace in the bar and a greenhouse sort of dining room with real grapevines hanging overhead.

                                            You can find more restaurant info here with reports

                                            Another thing to consider might be Raymond & Company for cheese in Glen Ellen which is the town next to Kenwood. They are closed on Monday, but they will schedule a one hour tasting on days they are closed. You might read some of the reports about it.

                                            As to general picnic supplies, Sonoma Market has a great deli, baked goods from most of the major bakeries in the area and a good selection of wine. BTW, Sonoma Cheese Factory is little more than a tourist trap.

                                            Some other restaurants to consider in Sonoma ... Harvest Moon Cafe, Girl and the fig, Cafe Le Haye, La Salette, Estate, Mondo (casual burger joint), You might take a look at the websites and menus to see what appeals to you ... also who is open that day of the week.

                                            For Tuesday dinner since I way-prefer Brix to Bardesomo, I'll pust that again, especially if you can show up for happy hour. You are more likely to have locals hanging out at the bar and looking out on the vineyards is so pleasant

                                            Also keep an eye on the board. Two more restaurants are scheduled to open in a few months.

                                            Also, since you like Keller's style, you might consider his casual Ad Hoc ... but I still am pushing Brix.

                                            On your way to Half Moon Bay, you could make a pit stop for pastries in Berkeley. There's the Acme Bread/Cafe Fanny. The Cheeseoard across the street from Chez Panisse has great scones and the cheddar cheese rolls are some of my favorite baked goods all time. It may be too early for the cheese counter to be open, but you will still see the hundreds of cheeses they sell.

                                            There's lots of good restaurants near the ball park should you be interested.

                                            1. re: rworange

                                              Thanks very much. Based on all the advice, my plans are changing slightly, but are becoming clearer. Does that make sense?

                                              Saturday - I am inclined to do the cable car and some neighbourhood sight seeing, but will have a more casual dinner at 1550 Hyde. It looks like a great place to have a relaxed meal to start the visit after a long day of travel. Might have a late drink at the bar at the Clift to finish the night off, if we have any energy left.

                                              Sunday - You've convinced me. I'll go to Canteen for breakfast. The balance of the day will be spent walking various neighbourhoods. The afternoon will be spent in the Mission. I'll probably do something light for lunch a cafe on Balden (sp? I've forgotten the name of the street I think. I'll find it), tacos, or maybe sushi (I am a bit surprised at the feedback of people on the sushi in SF, I always thought it would be one of "the" places to get sushi).

                                              Sunday late afternoon and evening seems like a good time to go to Golden Gate Park, then get a cocktail at Cliff House and dinner at Aziza. This will be instead of Gary Danko or The Dining Room, which we will probably not get to as a result.

                                              Monday - I would like to catch the first boat to Alcatraz, which leaves at 9:00 (and yes I will be getting our tickets in advance). I would love to do Mama's before going. I understand it opens at 8:00. That seems pretty tight to me. Dottie's opens at 7:30 and is also close by, but I do not think directly en route to the boat. We will be up early due to jet lag. What do you think?

                                              Again after Alcatraz, we'll be heading right to Sonoma,stopping at the Fremont Diner for lunch. I will still strongly consider a pic nic style supper, and will check out the various links and places noted above for food purchases. However, I will also check out Vinyards Inn for supper. Ironically, it randomly came up in some other searches I did, and sounded really good. I believe it is in Kenwood, which would also make it very convenient.

                                              Tuesday and Wednesday - will be spent in Napa. I'll look to eat lunches outside of Yountville and suppers in Yountville. Based on the above, I will be taking a pass on the Bardessono for supper. My thinking is why take a chance when there are so many other options. Plus I'd like to get off property and see as much as I can I think I will do the breakfast in bed thing though, that sounds good.

                                              I'll have to dig in on the scene for both lunches and dinners . For now, I'm going to stick with the FL, but am not ruling out other high end options at this stage. I'll probably want to go a little more casual for our other supper in Yountville. This will all need investigation. How can a town that small have so many choices?

                                              Thursday and Friday - lunch at Duartes (or that tacos at Mercado and Taqueria De Amigos) as discussed above. Monterey, recs I will save for the other board.

                                              Saturday no.2 - I don't know what time the ball game is at yet. I was thinking of Delfina for supper that night if the timing worked. But should I be looking at eating down near the ball park. I'd welcome any advice on this.

                                              I will say that I I gave a lot of thought to getting to Manresa for supper on this Saturday night (or some other night), but the logistics were very difficult to work out, and I really want to get to a Giants game. It looks fantastic though.


                                              1. re: Halifax

                                                I'd go with Dottie's then. It is easy to catch a cable car from there and should give you some breathing room.

                                                I know less than nothing about sushi, but one thing to keep in mind is that the Bay Area has a large Asian population and sometimes Chinese and Japanese restaurants get held to overseas standards. I could be wrong but it might be like eating California cuisine in Halifax. It might be good, but it probably isn't what someone would get in San Francisco.

                                                I'd also keep an eye on the SF boards or check back in April. There's always the latest and greatest restaurant opening.

                                                1. re: rworange

                                                  Sushi in SF is probably more like eating California / New American cuisine in New York. You can eat very well at, say, Blue Hill, but chefs in San Francisco have more consistent access to world-class produce (especially this time of year) and have been at it longer.

                                                  Tataki is something I don't think you'll find elsewhere.

                                                  1. re: rworange

                                                    An hour is probably not enough time to eat at Mama's and get to the wharf. An hour and a half at Dottie's is pushing it, and I wouldn't take a cable car, which is slow, if I had a boat to catch. Is there some reason you don't want to get the next sailing at 9:30?

                                                  2. re: Halifax

                                                    Be at Dottie's a little before they open, eat, then take a cab to boat to Alcatraz. The cab ride will only be 10-15 minutes. (Walk one block to Taylor to catch one to go over the hills to the wharf.)

                                                    Because of mentions on this board, in Pescadero I tried that taco place inside the gas station and it was not to my liking. Down the block there's a little grocery store that makes homemade bread -- I get the one with artichoke hearts in it. Sometimes, it's still warm from the oven. As I said before, the only thing I now get at Duarte's is the soup (I get the half artichoke, half green chile) and the pie. I think the rest is overpriced and the potatoes/veg on place not worth eating. If you like crab, it might be worth it to get the fresh cracked crab.

                                                    Walking distance from the ballpark (South Park and Second St.) is the South Park Cafe -- excellent, in season food. You can see a sample menu on line.

                                                    1. re: walker

                                                      Duarte's olallieberry filling is good but the pastry is not worth eating.

                                                    2. re: Halifax

                                                      I'm pretty sure Mama's is closed Mondays.

                                                    3. re: rworange

                                                      rw - I plan at eating at Canteen on Sunday morning. I note they don't take reservations for breakfast. It will be Mother's Day that day. Am I in for some kind of crazy wait? Does anyone have any advice about what time I should go and the time it will take to experience breakfast there?

                                                      I would like to stick to my plan of eating at Canteen that Sunday morning, but would like to avoid an unpleasant surprise.

                                                      1. re: Halifax

                                                        I don't think that Canteen would be your typical Mother's Day kind of place -- the booths don't seat more than 5 (and that's with someone in a chair at the end), and it's a very low key kind of place in most ways. The last time I went to Canteen for brunch (about two weeks ago), my wait was no more than 30 minutes for a booth, and that was getting there at 10:45ish.

                                                        1. re: Halifax

                                                          Places that don't take reservations are sometimes surprisingly quiet on holidays when other restaurants are packed.

                                                    4. One thing to note is Fremont Diner is on the road between Sonoma and Napa. I would probably go there the day you are moving from Sonoma to Napa. Separately, not sure I would do Sonoma and Napa both since they are somewhat similar. I would probably opt to skip Sonoma and just do Napa for three days (I hate packing/moving hotels, so that may just be my thing).

                                                      1. Looks like it will be Dottie's Monday morning.

                                                        Good solution on the 9:30 Alcatraz boat. That is the most obvious solution. I was looking to get the earliest boat we could so that we would be getting back for lunch and an early afternoon departure to Sonoma.

                                                        I see the Fremont Diner location, which by the way looks great. Should I: (1) starve until I get there for a late lunch; (2) eat somewhere at Fisherman's Wharf when we get back from Alcatraz,; (3) eat somewhere closer to to SF en route to Sonoma (for example Sausalito - although all I read leaves me with the impression that it may be the height of tacky tourism)?

                                                        One of my partners here has suggested Joe's Taco Lounge in Mill Valley. How is it? Would it make more sense to eat lunch there logistically?

                                                        I know it is a bit of a hassle to move accomodations from Sonoma to Napa. That wasn't my original plan, however, I had to make a change in my itinerary and the jump in price to book an additional night at the Bardessono outweighed the option of staying one night at the Kenwood Inn. I know it will be a bit of a nuisance to pack up, but I am going to look hard at the Vinyards for supper in Kenwood, which sounds different than the other places I will be going. The pic nic in Sonoma also appeals to me if we don't do the Vinyards Inn.

                                                        8 Replies
                                                        1. re: Halifax

                                                          Joe's Taco Lounge - seriously no ... two words ... tofu tostadas. Really Americanized. Fine like the Chipotle chain if you live nearby, but, IMO, a waste for a limited trip meal. Eat at a crummy Fisherman's Wharf restaurant rather than there.

                                                          At Fisherman's Wharf, one of the better bets is Scoma's. They have a $23 three-course prix-fixe lunch. They have great fish, unfortunately everything else is sort of mediocre, such as the sides. For dinner, it is too expensive for what it is, but I enjoy it for lunch.

                                                          Garky Danko has a long-promised casual place in Ghirardelli Square that has been in the works for quite a while ... scheduled for summer 2009 ... fall 2009 ... winter 2010 ... maybe by spring 2010 it will be open.

                                                          There are some good places in Sausalito.

                                                          Just over the bridge is Murray Circle / Farely Bar in a lovely converted Army Headquarters. There's sort of a view of the Golden Gate bridge and the water. It's a bit set back and you see the top of the bridge. It has a Michelan star, I believe, and the pastry chef is one of my favorites in the Bay Area. Not the easiest place to find though.

                                                          The Garage is casual French food. Right on the water.

                                                          Fish has excellent fish and is the West Coast fish shack. Order at the counter and sit out on the dock. The prices are high but really good food. Cash only

                                                          You could do a stop on your drive from Sonoma - Napa at Fremont Diner. It is such a cool place and you can always get something light. They do these fabulous fresh fruit popsicles and the fried pies or turnovers are great.

                                                            1. re: rworange

                                                              Since you mentioned you wanted to get an early start to Sonoma, instead of a sit-down meal at the Wharf, I recommend stopping in the Ferry Building for some take out/picnic stuff. Maybe eat it on the Marin headlands. Sausalito isn't tacky tourism. It's very tasteful tourism. :-)

                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                That;s a good idea. The Marin Headlands are lovely.

                                                                Funny comment, but other than downtown, I just don't think of Sausalito as really toursisty. The three restaurants I mentioned are local favorites. Also it is fun to see the houses clinging to the hillls ... except maybe in rainy weather like this where one has to beware of falling houses ... they should have one of those yellow warning signs like the ones for falling rocks. The little houseboats are cool as well.

                                                            2. re: Halifax

                                                              Sausalito is popular with tourists but not tacky like the Wharf and there are a number of good places to eat there.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                yep - the marina area is really beautiful in Sausalito - I've had a few really good meals at Le Garage (can be tough to find - take good directions)

                                                                Le Garage
                                                                85 Liberty Ship Way Ste 109, Sausalito, CA

                                                                1. re: vday


                                                                  Le Garage does look good.

                                                                  Le Garage
                                                                  85 Liberty Ship Way Ste 109, Sausalito, CA

                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston


                                                                  I now know how wrong I was in my previous characterization of Sausalito as tacky tourism ;). The quandry is whether to stop in there for a bite. I'm probably going to lunch at the Fremont Diner en route to Sonoma. If it's not too much hassle, should I be looking at a light breakfast in the marina area?

                                                                  Congrats and good luck on your new venture.

                                                                  Fremont Diner
                                                                  2660 Fremont Dr, Sonoma, CA

                                                              2. Happy Birthday in May!

                                                                Here are some ideas for you:

                                                                NAPA VALLEY

                                                                Downtown Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville all have shopping areas. St. Helena and Calistoga have a more authentic feel; Yountville is more touristy.

                                                                *Oxbow Market
                                                                This market with restaurants and food shops is a nice break from the wineries.

                                                                *Solage – the mineral pools and spa here are amazing!!

                                                                You are lucky that Yountville has amazing restaurants. You can walk from Bardessono out to any place in town.
                                                                *Bouchon – feels just like you’re in Paris.
                                                                Bistro Jeanty – feels like you’re in the French countryside.
                                                                *Redd – more modern . . . absolutely amazing food! love the lobster risotto!
                                                                I’ve also heard good things about Ad Hoc but haven’t been yet. Thomas Keller owns Bouchon, The French Laundry and Ad Hoc.

                                                                I wasn't crazy about Bottega but it gets good press.

                                                                Auberge du Soleil – you can go here for lunch and sit outside on the balcony. It has a beautiful view of the valley.


                                                                I prefer the Silverado trail . . . it’s much quieter and feels more authentic that Highway 29 (the main road through the valley). Highway 29 is better north of St. Helena.

                                                                Silverado Trail
                                                                Duckhorn - requires a reservation you can make online via opentable.com. Sit down tasting. Has a nice wraparound porch outside.
                                                                *Chimney Rock - wonderful Cabernet Sauvignons
                                                                *William Harrison - really low key, wines you won’t be able to find in stores. The guy behind the counter is pretty funny. Great Cabernet Francs/Sauvignons
                                                                *Mumm – Champagne. It has a nice view of the valley with sit down tastings.
                                                                Robert Sinskey – great Pinot Noirs served with a food pairing.
                                                                Cliff Lede - great Cabernets and a nice Sauvignon Blanc.

                                                                Highway 29
                                                                Cakebread – I think they require reservations now. They have a lovely Chardonnay
                                                                Twomey – this is at the northern end of 29. Really nice Pinot Noirs.

                                                                Don't miss the Pinot Noirs at Hope & Grace. The tasting room isn't anything special at all (it's in an office building) but their wine is so good.

                                                                In San Francisco:

                                                                THINGS TO DO

                                                                *Ferry Building
                                                                The Ferry Building was recently renovated and holds food-focused shops and restaurants. Pretty much every place here serves good food.
                                                                The Slanted Door is renowned for its Vietnamese food.
                                                                Taylor’s Automatic Refresher has great burgers.
                                                                They have a farmer’s market here on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer and Saturdays year-round. This is a good place to spend a Saturday morning. You can also catch a ferry from here to Tiburon or Sausalito for the day.

                                                                Shopping Areas
                                                                San Francisco is formed from a number of little neighborhoods. Some favorite shopping areas are as follows. All have great boutiques and restaurants.
                                                                *Pacific Heights. Fillmore St. between Post and Jackson.
                                                                *Cow Hollow. Union St. between Steiner and Octavia.
                                                                Russian Hill. Polk St. between Union and Broadway, also up to California.
                                                                Marina. Chestnut St. between Fillmore and Divisadero.
                                                                Hayes Valley. Hayes St. between Franklin and Laguna.
                                                                Noe Valley. 24th St. between Church and Diamond.
                                                                If you’re craving a mall, the Westfield Center on Market between 4th and 5th St is good and has a fabulous food court. A movie theatre is here, as well.

                                                                *The Land’s End trail in Lincoln Park has an amazing view of the west side of the Golden Gate bridge and the bay. You can combine this with a trip to the Palace of the Legion of Honor.
                                                                *Crissy Field runs along the bay on the east side of the Golden Gate bridge. There are a couple cafes in the park if you get hungry and you can play on the beach if it’s warm enough.
                                                                *Golden Gate Park always makes for a nice afternoon. You can visit the Botanical Gardens, the Conservatory of Flowers (paid entrance), the Japanese Garden (paid entrance), Stow Lake (you can rent boats and surrey bikes here).
                                                                Dolores Park has a great view of downtown.

                                                                *DeYoung Museum is one of the Fine Arts museums and currently has the King Tut exhibit. The museum is located in Golden Gate Park. Be sure to go up in the tower for a great city view. The architecture is great and the outdoor café is a nice place to relax. Your admission also gets you free admission to the Palace of the Legion of Honor.
                                                                The Academy of Sciences is across the Music Concourse from the DeYoung and has an amazing Rainforest inside. There is also a Planetarium and Aquarium.
                                                                On Sundays in the summer, they have free concerts in the music concourse between the two museums. The food in the café in both museums is outstanding.
                                                                The MOMA downtown has modern art.

                                                                On the north side of San Francisco, you can visit Cavallo Point – built in an old army base, it houses a luxurious hotel, cooking school, spa, café and restaurant.

                                                                RESTAURANTS (* indicates one of my absolute favorites)

                                                                Gary Danko*
                                                                Ghiradelli Square area. North Point and Hyde.
                                                                Definitely a special occasion spot. The best of the best.

                                                                La Folie
                                                                Russian Hill. Polk between Union and Green.
                                                                A more romantic special occasion spot. To die for French food.

                                                                Jackson Square (Pacific and Montgomery)
                                                                Absolutely amazing food!

                                                                MORE CASUAL BUT STILL UPSCALE
                                                                Bar Crudo*
                                                                NOPA. Divisadero and Grove
                                                                Great little raw bar with fabulous, inventive crudo.

                                                                Market/Castro. Market and Valencia
                                                                Fun Peruvian food - go with a group

                                                                Chez Spencer*
                                                                Inner Mission. 14th and Folsom
                                                                French food. Go for the ambience but the food is great, too! Ask to sit on the heated patio.

                                                                Woodward's Garden
                                                                Inner Mission. Duboce and Mission
                                                                It's under the highway but so charming.

                                                                Mission. Valencia and 16th
                                                                More refined Peruvian food

                                                                Mission. Valencia and 21st or Lower Pac Heights. Fillmore and Post
                                                                South Indian food. Maybe I just like it cause it's a little different and a little fancier.

                                                                Blue Plate
                                                                Outer Mission. Mission and Valencia.
                                                                A totally unexpected spot for great American/French food. Sit in the back room or if it's nice, in the wonderful garden out back.

                                                                Chez Papa
                                                                Portrero Hill. 18th and Missouri
                                                                A sweet little French bistro.

                                                                Russian Hill. Hyde and Green
                                                                A cute, intimate spot right on the cable car line. Admittedly, I haven't been here in awhile but have been meaning to go back. I hope it's still good.

                                                                Marina. Steiner and Chesnut
                                                                Great French small plates.

                                                                Marina. Chestnut and Scott
                                                                This is my favorite upscale Mexican in the city. Maybe because during the summer they have a tomato tostada tower. But the other food is darn good, too.

                                                                The Tipsy Pig
                                                                Marina. Chestnut and Pierce.
                                                                This place has a fabulous brunch!

                                                                Indian Oven
                                                                Lower Haight. Fillmore and Haight
                                                                My favorite traditional Indian food

                                                                Hayes Valley. Hayes and Octavia
                                                                Don't expect traditional sushi here - but it's all super fresh and very simple.

                                                                Laurel Heights. Sacramento and Spruce
                                                                A little Italian spot hidden down a little alley. You can sit outside here if it's nice. European feel. Go across the street for drinks to the amazing space, Spruce. The decor is over the top but the food is just ok at Spruce - Sociale is better.

                                                                Financial District. Claude Ln and Bush
                                                                Upscale French food in a sexy environment. Great drinks.

                                                                Financial District. California and Sansome
                                                                Really great Italian food with lots of options.

                                                                Embarcadero. Steuart and Mission
                                                                Great, upscale Japanese.

                                                                Cafe Claude
                                                                Union Square. Claude Lane (Bush between Kearny and Grant)
                                                                Go for wine. It's a cute space serving French bistro food.

                                                                La Canasta
                                                                Cow Hollow. Buchanan between Union and Greenwich.
                                                                Doesn't even have a dining area but a great place for takeout Mexican.

                                                                Dragon Well*
                                                                Marina. Chestnut and Steiner
                                                                A cleaner, healthier version of Chinese food. I used to eat here a lot when I lived in the neighborhood.

                                                                La Taqueria*
                                                                Mission. Mission between 25th and 24th
                                                                Probably tied with La Canasta for my favorite tacos in the city.

                                                                Mission. Valencia and 17th
                                                                Good salads and Belgian fries.

                                                                Phat Philly
                                                                Mission. 24th and Valencia
                                                                My favorite cheesesteak in the city

                                                                Little Star Pizza*
                                                                Mission. Valencia and 15th or NOPA. Divisadero and Fulton
                                                                My favorite pizza in the city. You have to get the Classic Deep Dish!

                                                                Tartine Bakery
                                                                Mission. Valencia and 18th
                                                                Divine pastries and sandwiches.

                                                                Velvet Cantina
                                                                Mission. 23rd between Valencia and Mission
                                                                Yummy queso in a fun environment. Good for groups.

                                                                Burma Superstar
                                                                Inner Richmond. Clement and 4th
                                                                A fun place with interesting food. Get the tea salad. Be prepared to wait in line. The ambiance isn't much.

                                                                Pizzetta 211*
                                                                Richmond. 23rd and California
                                                                Great, lovingly made thin crust pizza in an adorable tiny space

                                                                Memphis Minnie's BBQ
                                                                Lower Haight. Haight and Fillmore
                                                                Any kind of BBQ you want. Super casual but fun environment

                                                                Mixt Greens
                                                                Financial District. Commercial and Sansome
                                                                Absolutely delicious salads. Get the Cowboy.

                                                                For your drive to Monterey:
                                                                Depending on how long you want to take, you can travel down 1 or 101 or a combination of both. 101 is faster and there are roads you can take over to 1 to hit some of the towns I've noted below if you want to shave some time off your trip. If you are looking for a scenic drive, these are your best bet.

                                                                These are the towns from north to south on Route 1 (absolutely do not miss Big Sur even though it is south of Monterey!!!!):

                                                                HALF MOON BAY http://www.coastsidelive.com/
                                                                A little quaint town near the ocean. Very laid back, some lodging and restaurants here and in Princeton-by-the-sea just a bit north.
                                                                Cetrella is a good restaurant in the town. There are also some places on the ocean but you pay more for the view than the food (ie. Sam's Chowder House).

                                                                CAPITOLA http://www.capitola.com/
                                                                Another cute little town tucked away by the sea. I haven't spent much time here so can't really offer more details.

                                                                SANTA CRUZ http://www.santacruz.org/index.shtml
                                                                This has a very California feel to it . . . a cheesy boardwalk with rides and such, a good downtown walking area with shops and restaurants and a nice drive along the cliffs overlooking the ocean. A laid-back hippie/surfer feeling to the town.

                                                                MONTEREY http://www.montereyinfo.org/
                                                                Known for its aquarium which is worth visiting, but the Cannery Row area can be a bit touristy.
                                                                Nearby Pacific Grove offers some B&B lodging in a less touristy setting with some good restaurants and a nice walking path along the ocean. You can stay here and walk to the aquarium.

                                                                CARMEL http://www.carmelcalifornia.com/
                                                                There's actually Carmel Valley and Carmel-by-the-sea, divided by Highway 1.
                                                                Carmel Valley has more luxe lodging and some wineries (Bernardus lodge is nice, has a winery and a great restaurant called Marinus). http://www.bernardus.com/
                                                                Carmel-by-the-sea is a picture book little town with quaint cottages and a lot of art galleries and shops. This is a good place to spend an afternoon. Make sure you visit the beach, which is gorgeous and overlooks the Pebble Beach golf course.

                                                                BIG SUR http://bigsurcalifornia.org/
                                                                This is an absolutely stunning drive along a windy coast with cliffs to your left and a plunge to the ocean on the right.
                                                                You can visit the restaurant at the Post Ranch Inn, Sierra Mar, which is perched on a cliff and has the most amazing view and food. I swear you can see the earth start to curve from the windows here.

                                                                Have fun!!!

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: rogersjls

                                                                  sorry, I'm new to this posting thing and didn't realize you had it sorted out already! On your way up north, I'd say Murray Circle for a high end option or Fish for a more casual one. Fish if the weather is nice since you can eat outside.

                                                                  1. re: rogersjls

                                                                    Welcome to Chowhound, rogersjls

                                                                    It is definately not too late and you have lots of great advice. It reinforces some of the other posts and there are a few things that haven't been mentioned. such as Auberge du Soleil. While I really haven't eaten there, it is a great place to sit outside at sunset and have a glass of wine while also drinking in the view.

                                                                    One of the great things about Chowhound is that it cuts through the hype of the press. Bottega gets occasional good reports here, but the general consensus has been similar to yours.

                                                                    The only thing to know about Chowhound is to avoid posting about things not food-related such as museums and tourist attractons ... unless there's food there ... which you pretty much did, mentioning nearby cafes ... and to keep in the board geographic boundries which are listed at the top of the board.

                                                                    Looking forward to more of your posts.

                                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                                      marking this for later reference

                                                                2. I'm back. I have a bunch of reservations now. So I thought I would check to see if there is anything new that might cause people to recommend changing anything.

                                                                  Saturday: Arrive late afternoon. We will do some casual walking around Union Square and then head to supper at 1550 Hyde for 8:00 PM reservation;

                                                                  Sunday: Breakfast at Canteen. Morning plans are still somewhat up in the air. Lunch at La Taqueria and sight seeing in The Mission that afternoon. We will head to The Cliff House for a drink and then over to Aziza for 8:30 reservation;

                                                                  Monday: I think we'll skip the lineup at Dottie's and the Alcatraz tour and opt for a light breakfast and good coffee. Then do a hike at the Marin Headlands. We'll starve ourselves and stop at The Fremont. It will be a very slight detour, but it seems to make the most sense to do it at this stage of the trip since we plan to head north when moving to Napa.

                                                                  If it's not too much of a hassle we'll stop at Vella for some cheese and meat.

                                                                  We'd like to do a tasting after that en route to Kenwood - any suggestions?

                                                                  We'll hang at The Kenwood Inn in the afternoon and early evening until a casual supper at the Vinyards Inn (it's nice to not have to make reservations).

                                                                  Tuesday: Breakfast at the Kenwood Inn. Then we'll drive north with the ultimate destination of Yountville. Any recommendations for wine tastings in Sonoma in that direction?

                                                                  Have lunch reservation at the Auberge du Soleil for 12:15. If we keep this it will be a very light lunch.

                                                                  After lunch - we will do a wine tasting somewhere. Recommendations welcome.

                                                                  Supper at the French Laundry at 5:45. What a process it was to get that reservation.

                                                                  Wednesday: Wine tastings no specific plans yet. No plans for lunch yet either. Supper at REDD at 8:00.

                                                                  Thursday: We had to change our plans slightly, so we'll be taking the highway straight to Monterey. That means Duarte's is out for the way south. We might catch it on the way back.

                                                                  Friday: Monterey (discussed on the California board).

                                                                  Saturday - We plan to take the PCH back to SF. We might stop at Duarte's on that drive. More likely though is a quick tour and eats at The Ferry Building (depending on timing) before we head to the ball game. Saturday night - Delfina at 8:00.

                                                                  Sunday - home - boo.

                                                                  The holes in the plan right now: wineries in both Sonoma and Napa, and one lunch in Napa. Of course if there is anything new and exciting...

                                                                  Fire away.

                                                                  The French Laundry
                                                                  6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                                  Delfina Restaurant
                                                                  3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                  1550 Hyde
                                                                  1550 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                                                  La Taqueria
                                                                  2889 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

                                                                  18 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Halifax

                                                                    It's about that drive from the Kenwood inn to Yountville. I assume you are skipping the Trinity road short cut and going north to Santa Rosa to maximize your winery exposure.

                                                                    1. re: wolfe

                                                                      That's the plan. Is that a good idea?

                                                                      1. re: Halifax

                                                                        Sounds fine. There are quite a few "famous" wineries on the Sonoma Highway. Check Google and search here for CH opinions.

                                                                        1. re: wolfe

                                                                          Wolfe et al. - I took your advice and have been looking at wineries that are north of Kenwood. There are many to choose from, which come very highly recommended (for example, Merry Edwards). However, I am coming to the conclusion that trying to hit those and taking that route will result in A LOT of driving.

                                                                          I am now leaning towards experiencing more of the wineries right around Kenwood and Glen Ellen and then taking the Trinity Road shortcut to Yountville. Do you think that is a better way to enhance our wine tasting experience, or should I stick to my original plan?

                                                                          Are there any interesting wineries on the Trinity Road shortcut itself?

                                                                          Any recommendations are welcome.

                                                                          1. re: Halifax

                                                                            On Trinity Road I only find Lookout Ridge. Contact them about tastings.
                                                                            Mayacamas Vineyards is somewhere close as I visited them on one off my youthful exuberance sports car rides over the hump. Actually it's 4 1/2 miles south of the junction of Dry Creek Road and Mt. Veeder Road.
                                                                            Once back on Dry Creek and down the Oakville Grade you come out south of Mondavi and north of Far Niente. There are many Napa Valley wineries right off of 29. Google Oakville and search nearby for wineries and check them out.

                                                                            Far Niente
                                                                            1350 Acacia Drive, Oakville, CA

                                                                            1. re: wolfe

                                                                              Wolfe and vday,

                                                                              I'm now sold on the Trinity Road shortcut. That is exactly what I was hoping to hear - that it will be an interesting drive (in the right conditions), and that there will be an interesting wineries along the way. Based on what I have read so far, both Lookout Ridge and Mayacama look excellent. Has anyone on here actually been to either them? I'd love any feedback on their experiences.

                                                                              At this stage, I will plan to have a nice breakfast at The Kenwood and then make my way to Lookout Ridge and Macayama, which will undoubtedly lengthen the drive - but will make for a great off the beaten path adventure.

                                                                              I will shoot for a light lunch or sandwich at the Oakville Grocery. Then, hopefully, on to Shafer for a 2:00 PM tasting. I just sent in a request for that this morning. After Shafer, we'll make our way to Yountville, stopping on the way if we are inclined.

                                                                              How does the plan look to folks? Please do not hold back criticism.

                                                                              Oakville Grocery
                                                                              124 Matheson St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                                                                            2. re: Halifax

                                                                              I'll poke my nose in here . . . the main draw to the Trinity option would be that it is WAY off the beaten track - very narrow and winding road - great views and really let's you see the back country of Napa County. IMHO worth it if the weather is pretty that day. I believe I have read discussions of this topic on the boards. Probably not a good option if you run into a foggy or wet day . . . unfortunately, that route doesn't have much in the way of wineries til you get towards the end of the Oakville grade near Hwy 29.

                                                                        2. re: wolfe

                                                                          Wolfe - I've changed my plans, and have decided to avoid the Trinity road shortcut. This was driven largely by the decision to stay at Solage and give Solbar a try, but the awkward drive did play a role in my thinking.

                                                                        3. re: Halifax

                                                                          Vella only has cheese and 3-4 sausages. Sonoma market on the way to kenwood would have things meaty. They have a nice deli.

                                                                          Not far from Marin Headlands in Larspur there is Emporio Rulli for baked goods and light sandwiches.

                                                                          I think Vineyards Inn is the more unique experience, but I recently tried Cafe Citti also in Kenwood and liked it. Hope you make a stop at Michoacana for popsicles


                                                                          If you leave monterrey really early, i'd take Ferry Plaza over Duarte's any day.

                                                                          Emporio Rulli
                                                                          464 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur, CA

                                                                          Cafe Citti
                                                                          9047 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 95452

                                                                          Vineyards Inn
                                                                          8445 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 95452

                                                                          1. re: Halifax

                                                                            I'm going to suggest something noone else has and it will require you to get in a car (so disregard this if that is a problem). I would ditch the Redd reservation and head up to Solbar at the Solage resort. The weather will quite likely be nice in May (although it could rain) and you should sit out on the patio. Get the "Lucky Pig" and anything else that catches your fancy. Chef Brandon Sharp is really cooking some fantastic food (I've been a couple of times and have had a couple of catered events from Solbar and always leave satisfied).

                                                                            1. re: skwid

                                                                              I just had the "Lucky Pig" at Solbar last week - it was a fun meal. The dining room/bar area is open. Had good live music in the bar area which was enjoyable from the dining area since the room is not super large. However it can get a little loud. Very nice decor and great service. The meal was very good - individualized covered pot for the lucky pork shoulder which is to be shared by two. Lots of garnishes were brought to the table along with course. I agree the patio would be a great place for a meal when the weather warms up. The pool area is quite beautiful. The resort appears successful - high end and low key.

                                                                              1. re: skwid

                                                                                Solbar's food is great (agree on eating on the patio as I don't love the dining room). That being said, I think Redd and Solbar both have amazing food and amazing patios. If Yountville is more conveniently located for lunch based on other plans, then I would stick with Redd as Calistoga is an easy 30 minutes north.

                                                                                1. re: skwid

                                                                                  Thanks for the recommendation. I have looked into Solbar. It looks excellent. I am considering changing our plans to stay Solage instead of the Kenwood Inn and Spa on our first night in wine country. I would then eat at Solbar, instead of the Vinyards Inn in Kenwood. at the end of the day the price is about the same for either option. It seems that this plan may simpify things (although I recognize that staying at The Bardessono all three nights would be best, I can not access the original price I booked at and the new price is...). What do you think?

                                                                                  6526 Yount Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                                                  1. re: Halifax

                                                                                    I and everybody else I know who has stayed at Solage have been very happy with it. The rooms are great, private, the spa is excellent, and the food was surprisingly good. My main food exposure there was for a set menu for a group of 30 of us, but they did an excellent job with the food--much better than Redd or Calistoga Ranch did for our large group. Even the pitcher of margaritas at the pool was spot on, made with all fresh ingredients and the same flavor balance I would make for myself at home rather than excessively sweet or salty.

                                                                                2. re: Halifax

                                                                                  For your Tuesday in Yountville.

                                                                                  Cliff Lede Vineyards in Yountville. I've been to this winery a couple of times (it was across the street from the house of someone I knew), and it's very nice.

                                                                                  Cliff Lede Vineyards
                                                                                  1473 Yountville Cross Rd, Yountville, CA

                                                                                  1. re: jannypan

                                                                                    My favorites in Yountville are Maisonry (can try a bunch of vintners) and Hope & Grace (don't love the tasting room itself, but nice wines).

                                                                                3. So many great suggestions...I just have a few to add. You mentioned feeling you'd miss the Ferry bldg since you got in too late Saturday. While you will miss the farmer's market, there are many food centric shops that make the ferry bldg worth seeing, in particular on Monday morning when you're heading for Alcatraz. If that morning gets too stressed for time you can always have pastry and coffee at a number of places or breakfast at Boulette's Larder before Alcatraz.
                                                                                  Make sure you walk North Beach and if you do make it to Mama's cross the street to a nondescript but famous Liguria bakery for foccacia to snack on.
                                                                                  The drive down 1 to Santa Cruz (where 1 turns inland until Monterey) is beautiful and stopping at Pescadero's for Duarte's for Cioppino and pie that they are famous for is a great idea.
                                                                                  Just past Santa Cruz is the town of Capitola and since you mentioned desserts...you must stop at "Gayle's Bakery and Rostisseria" just off Bay/Porter exit and a couple of blocks toward the ocean. It is in my opinion a bakery unlike any in the Bay area. (if you want to see what the pastry case looks like google her book cover "village baker's wife" and that will give you an idea. nothing like it.
                                                                                  In Carmel, although somewhat touristy something I wouldn't miss is the "Tuck Box" on Dolores in the village. It is an english tudor little cottage open for breakfast,lunch and afternoon tea. they make unusual scones and homemade jams and it is really special abeit touristy. I have taken dozens there over the years.
                                                                                  Since my birthday is also in May, I will share with you one last...I have celebrated many birthdays in Pacific Grove at Fandango. Not new but always consistent and lovely. I have always had diver's scallops and the lamb...seated in the front room (like the interior of a cottage with full bloom window boxes and fireplace) that room and the food make for a special dinner imo. hope this helps.

                                                                                  Boulettes Larder
                                                                                  Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: cakebaker


                                                                                    Thanks to everyone for all the great info. I'm heading to the Bay Area this summer and am really looking forward to it. Never even been to California before. What a place!

                                                                                    (Kentville, close to Halifax.)

                                                                                    1. re: seemac70

                                                                                      Seemac70 - good luck with your planning. I grew up in the Valley: Wolfville and Hantsport. Small world. Have fun.

                                                                                  2. One of the best things about this board is that people introduce new ideas and remind you of practicalities. Based on some of the recent posts, I believe I'm going to make a change in our wine country plans. It will look like this:

                                                                                    Monday (the day we leave San Francisco) - We have decided to forgo a large breakfast and line ups of Dottie's. Instead we will grab a good coffee, and some baked goods. We are not going to take the Alcatraz tour either (We'll come back and do that with our kids :) ). Instead we'll get our rental car and go for a hike in the Marin Headlands or Muir Woods.

                                                                                    I struggled to decide if we would visit Suasalito for lunch at one of the recommended places which all look great for different reasons. However, I think I'll keep it simple and head to The Fremont Diner after our hike. It looks fun, and logical place to stop.

                                                                                    Here's where the most significant change comes in. I think I am going to abandon the weak effort to see a bit of Sonoma county and change our hotel reservations from The Kenwood to Solage. A big factor in this decision is that it just seems I will get a much better meal, much more conveniently, at Solbar than I would if we stayed at The Kenwood. While The Vinyards Inn sounds good and fun Solbar sounds better. I could leave Kenwood and find somewhere else to eat, but the thought of getting back into the car for dinner doesn't appeal to me. By contrast, Solbar would be right on property. The cost of the two options work out almost exactly the same. I recognize that Calistoga is no closer, and may be farther, but the overall driving looks simplified.

                                                                                    After lunch at The Fremont Diner, we'll head towards Calistoga. I have made a 3:00 PM tasting appointment at Pride. It seems to get a lot of praise. It will be the only "mountain" winery (I think) that we will be visiting. My thinking is that we will have plenty of time to get there after lunch, we'll get to experience the views of the valley, in addition to experiencing their wine.

                                                                                    After Pride, we'll make our way to Solage, where we will simply check in, relax, have a drink/wine, before dinner at 7:30 at Solbar.

                                                                                    Tuesday: Breakfast at Solbar. Relax at the resort and around Calistoga. I don't think we'll do any wine touring or tasting that morning. We'll eventually head to Oakville Grocery for a light lunch and shopping/browsing. Notwithstanding the advice above, I think we'll stick with our 2:00 PM tasting at Shafer. we may stop at another winery en route, before Shafer, which is TBD. I gather the Shafer tasting is 90 minutes. so that would put us in Yountville before 4 to check in and relax a bit before our 5:45 dinner reservation at the FL. While that is not a huge resting window, I think this plan sets out a relatively relaxed day. I could also see us strolling Yountville after supper, maybe going out for a drink or just relaxing at The Bardessono that night.

                                                                                    Wednesday: We have a 10:00 AM appointment that friends arranged for us at Crocker and Starr. I've heard the advice to mix it up, eg, try an olive oil tasting or sparkling, which we might still do. However, I feel a little obligated to go Crocker and Starr because of our friends' effort. It looks and sounds like it would be a nice experience. Please warn me if we should not go there.

                                                                                    I am thinking of making a lunch reservation at Auberge du Soleil, for Wednesday. I don't plan on doing much more in the way planned wine tasting on Wednesday. Rather, after lunch we'd head back to The Bardessono to relax. We have 8:00 pm reservations for Redd that night.

                                                                                    Thursday: we'll be up and on the road to Monterey early.

                                                                                    While this all involves driving, I am trying not to book too much or expect to do a large number of tastings, so as to keep things sane.

                                                                                    Oakville Grocery
                                                                                    124 Matheson St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                                                                                    6526 Yount Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                                                    Fremont Diner
                                                                                    2660 Fremont Dr, Sonoma, CA

                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Halifax

                                                                                      Sounds like a lovely time Halifax. This sounds more relaxing than splitting time between Sonoma and Napa, and you will get more of a flavor of the Napa Valley. Love the idea of a hike in Marin and then lunch at Fremont diner (you will need one of those pastry snacks to hold you over as it is a bit of a drive). My last food there was delicious once again. If you end up with a spare 25 minutes, take the back route into the Napa area via Old Sonoma Rd (off the Sonoma Hwy), and swing by Artesa Winery for a quick stop just to take in the views from their elevated site.
                                                                                      At Solage, they will loan you cruiser bikes to ride into Calistoga (very short distance, but easier than walking) if you are into that sort of thing. I thought it looked like fun. Callistoga has a cute little main street that should be waking up nicely in May. If Wednesday weather is good, try for the deck at Auberge . . . I LOVE to eat on the deck outside the bar area . . . it is sublime:-) Your proposed changes sound very doable to me and should not be overtaxing. The pool area at Solage is really pretty, so if you like to swim or just hang out t the pool, plan on some relaxation time there. The Oakville grocerynice and fun, but is pretty small . . . one option would be to consider the spacious Dean and Delucca instead if you've never been to one - quite fun to check out the inventory which includes plenty of wine and kitchen wares. They have a great deli. Hope all your dreams are realized on your first California (and Napa) exploration:-)

                                                                                      Artesa Winery
                                                                                      1345 Henry Rd, Napa, CA

                                                                                      1. re: vday

                                                                                        I have booked a 12:00 lunch reservation on the deck at the Auberge du Soleil for the Wednesday. This should fit in nicely after our 10:30 tasting at Crocker and Starr. After lunch I think we'll head to the Bardessono/Yountville and just relax until supper at REDD.

                                                                                        I'll bear in mind your other suggestions, thanks.

                                                                                      2. re: Halifax

                                                                                        Sounds much more sane! Driving up and down the Napa Valley is much easier than across the mountains. Leave some time to stroll St. Helena, and when possible, take Silverado Trail instead of Hwy 29.

                                                                                        1. re: Halifax

                                                                                          Great plan! One of my favorite things about Napa Valley (and Sonoma too) is the discoveries along the way -- it's great that you have a few winery appointments, and from there you can just stop in to places that you drive by that seem promising. A lot of places don't require appointments (and some of them, even if they do, aren't very stringent about that at this time of the season) so you can just stop into places that you might recognize and check about tastings. Also, I like to ask for advice at wineries that I visit and enjoy -- once they see what kinds of wines that you like a lot, if you tell them which way you're going, they can often tell you good wineries to stop into. One thing that I recommend is to pick up some of the free guide to Napa magazines that you see around; I try to grab one at the first winery that I visit that day, and they have good maps and info about wineries (hours, sometimes varietals) that are useful as you tool around. Have a great trip!

                                                                                        2. This always happens to me. I basically finalize all plans and reservations only to have some new option, factor or problem introduced that causes me to doubt a decision.

                                                                                          Please help with my current quandry.

                                                                                          I will be arriving in SF from Halifax at 3:30 PM on a Saturday. I have a reservation for that evening at 1550 Hyde. I chose it mostly because it seems fun, relaxed, very authentic California/SF, relatively inexpensive and appears to be highly recommend by the folks here.

                                                                                          A friend I haven't seen in years, who lives in the Bay area, will be joining my wife and I for dinner. I had to call in a favour from our concierge to increase our reservation to 4 people. My friend is very easy going, and is happy to go to 1550 Hyde, but has thrown out his own, local recommendations: Slanted Door (Vietnamese fusion); Water Bar (seafood); Epic Roasthouse (steak); Ozumo (japanese); Boulevard (french); Zuni Café (american) . He is most high on The Slanted Door, and I believe is going to make a tentative reservation for 8:45 there.

                                                                                          I must admit that I am a bit torn. Do folks think I should change my choice from 1550 Hyde to one of his suggested options, especially The Slanted Door? It does seem different than the other places I am eating at during the trip. I am a bit concerned about the 8:45 resy since my body will be telling me that is 12:45 AM. So I may have to embarrassingly call my concierge back and see if she can get me an earlier time, or just fight through fatigue. Of course even that would be a bit of a long shot.

                                                                                          What do you think: stay with 1550 Hyde, switch to the Slanted Door, go with one of the other recommendations, or switch to something new altogether?

                                                                                          Slanted Door
                                                                                          Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                                                                          Zuni Cafe
                                                                                          1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                                                                          1550 Hyde
                                                                                          1550 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                                                                          Epic Roasthouse
                                                                                          369 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94105

                                                                                          2251 Broadway Avenue, Oakland, CA 94612

                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: Halifax

                                                                                            His selections are a veritable greatest hits of the dining scene, at least in that area. Slanted Door is over-rated in my opinion. On a Saturday night it's going to be crowded and extremely loud. In other words, I think you should stick with your first choice. It's not as if your friend can't eat at the Slanted Door any time he wants! Gently remind him that your body clock is going to be three hours later and that you really want something more quiet and relaxing.

                                                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                              Yeah, it looks like your friend has a copy of Zagat in hand. I like Slanted Door, but to go there when you are fatigued, just doesn't seem worth it to me. You will probably be dragging and it might ruin the next day of your vacation due to fatigue. Out of the other recs, the only other one that I'd consider is Zuni, otherwise over-priced and some ... touristy. Some of these places have spectacular bay views ... but you can get that same view just walking down the Embarcadero with out putting out $$$$$.

                                                                                            2. re: Halifax

                                                                                              Slanted Door is a big noisy place, to me not the most convivial for reuniting with an old friend. None of the places on your friend's list except maybe Zuni really seem like a good fit for the occasion. I'd say stick with your original plan.

                                                                                              1. re: Halifax

                                                                                                If you could get a Zuni reservation, I'd go there, but I like the Slanted Door, though it is very noisy and wouldn't be the best choice for reuniting with a friend, and you'll be starving (and sleepy!) by 8:45. Check in with your concierge and see if she can get you a Zuni reservation on the early side (or call Zuni yourself).

                                                                                                Slanted Door
                                                                                                Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                                                                                Zuni Cafe
                                                                                                1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                                                                              2. Thanks for all of the advice regarding my 1550 Hyde/Slanted Door dilemma.

                                                                                                I am less than a week away from our trip and am very excited. We are starting to do our packing. Of course, what comes with that is the inevitable decisions on what to bring. My wife is most concerned. Can folks give me a little insight into how dressy The French Laundry is?

                                                                                                I presume all of the other places are very casual. If I am mistaken on that, please chime in?

                                                                                                The French Laundry
                                                                                                6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: Halifax

                                                                                                      Men are expected to wear coats/jackets but not ties. I think business casual is pretty safe. The link below covers women but same logic as coat but no tie.