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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.

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/585513
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/635342
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/601925
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/660436

          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!

            www.passionfish.net
            www.postranchinn.com