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Floridians coming to Cali for the first time.

Hi, my wife and I are coming out for our honeymoon and are overwhelmed with how much there is to see and do out there. We're spending 2 days in San Fran, and 5 in Napa Valley. We always appreciate the honesty of these boards so any help would be appreciated. First, we're looking at going to The French Laundry, any comments from people that have been there recently would be great. Any thoughts on other places to eat while we're out there? We're not picky so any and all of your local favorites are welcome. We're interested in doing wine tastings both free and ones that cost, but which ones do you guys think stand out among others? Also, my wife would like to visit a winery that allows us to have sort of a picnic lunch while we're there, any recs? Finally, being it's a honeymoon, what can you recommend that's really romantic that maybe I can surprise her with? I know this thread is vague and I asked a lot, but any help you can give would be so appreciated. Thanks in advance!

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  1. The link below will help with your Wine Country questions.

    http://www.napavintners.com/maps/maps...

    This is the best site I have ever found.

    1. Sticking to Wine Country recs for now:

      First, hopefully, you are aware of the issues trying to get a reservation at the French Laundry - it is quite the circus (unless you have a connection or are staying at a hotel in Napa with a concierge desk with a connection)

      Board favorites in Napa:
      Redd
      Ad Hoc - though some rare negative service reviews have been popping up lately
      Cindys Backstreet Kitchen
      Oxbow Market (for cheese purveyors, bakeries etc.)
      Bottega

      You may also want to try Redd Wood - the casual sister restaurant of Redd.

      As to wineries, do you have any concerns about prices? Napa can get rather expensive. If not, I would say the wineries on Spring Mountain have amazing views and excellent wines. They are all appointment only. Pride has beautiful picnic grounds. Smith Madrone and Keenan are excellent. I've heard good things about Relic Wines and Terra Valentine but haven't been yet. Spring Mountain does not get as crowded as some of the other Napa AVAs.

      There's at least 200 wineries in Napa County making good to great Cabernet Sauvignon, so some understanding of your preference in varietals (cabernet, chardonnay etc.) and experiences (tours, pretty grounds, meeting the winemakers) would help us narrow it down. There's everything from large, manicured estate wineries to wineries that don't have a tasting room and shrug at the fruit flies. There's also wineries that are more "reasonably priced" at $40+ a bottle to wineries at $140+ a bottle.

      Also, with Napa, there's always the prestige factor. There's cult/boutique wineries that people chase after, there's the big luxury brands everyone has heard of, there's the small wineries completely flying under the radar etc. It's helpful to know what type of wineries you want to target.

      2 Replies
      1. re: goldangl95

        Thank you for taking the time to reply. We hadn't heard of Redd and it looks great! As for wineries, typically we drink Cabernet Sauvignon so those that offer Cab's are more what we're looking for. Price is somewhat a factor, but we'd prefer to stay away from anywhere that shrugs off fruit flies. We're not so much concerned with going to those with prestigious names unless they live up to their reputation (My father in law enjoys Darioush but I've been reading that it's one that we should avoid). We look forward to more recommendations. Thanks again.

        1. re: IDGuofM

          Napa is the land of Cab Sauv. My suggestion, if you truly like wine, and spending whole days tasting it appeals to you, is to do one "big name, established, napa wineries" day and another "off the beaten path" day. My suggestions are also based on scenic/less traffic-d areas. (Though with places like Darioush - "less traffic" is a relative term).

          Some suggestions for the established winery day:
          Silverado Trail-ish:
          Darioush (it was suggested and yes it is flashy and has a valet - but their wines are very good, and it's worth just to see Napa in its full opulence)
          Pine Ridge
          Chimney Rock
          Caymus (Appt needed)
          Chappellet (Appt Needed)
          Joseph Phelps (Appt needed)
          Duckhorn

          Off the beaten path (all appointment only):
          Spring Mountain (as I suggested before) OR
          Howell Mountain (I have not personally visited, though I do like wines from Howell mountain very much and hear good things about the tasting experience):
          O'Shaugnessy
          Dunn
          Outpost
          Cade
          Ladera

      2. The original comment has been removed
        1. Some honeymoon recommendations for romance in the Napa valley there are balloons that you can take over the valley (early in the morning and GORGEOUS) and perhaps consider a day spa; either in Carneros or a mud bath in Calistoga.

          Also, you MUST have a glass of Champagne at Meadowood during sunset. You could eat there as well but it is very expensive and early reports of their menu change has not been great, but it is still a stunning setting and worthy of a stop.

          Restaurant-wise, my favorites (I'm a local) include Grace's Table, Oenetri, Brassicas, Bouchon, and JoLe.

          1 Reply
          1. re: CarrieWas218

            Thanks for the reply. The balloon trips are a great idea that I hadn't thought of. We'll also check out Meadowood (regardless of if we eat there or not). Thanks again!

          2. It's come to our attention that more than a few people are upset at the shortening of California and San Francisco in my original post. Just know that we were unaware that this was insult to some of you that live out there. We had never heard of anyone taking offense to either "Cali" or "San Fran" and if we had we would have avoided the terms. We are only looking for local opinions on great wine and food, which we are glad that others have been happy to provide. We hope no offense if taken.

            17 Replies
            1. re: IDGuofM

              Not so much an offense as a sure sign that you are tourists! I must admit, originally being from the Midwest, I usually chuckled at the bristling that goes on over "Bay Area" v. City v. Marin or wherever else anyone was living or from in Northern California. Saying Cali and San Fran, though, sure sign of not from around here.

              1. re: IDGuofM

                Don't worry about it--- no one (maybe St. Francis... :-) ) would be offended by these terms--- I think they were trying to steer you away from committing a shibboleth when you visited

                Janet's link above looks great. Another search utility for picnic places is: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/listing...

                This post has tons of great ideas, some of which I'm stealing for an upcoming trip: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/784690

                1. re: IDGuofM

                  Offense, really? My grandfather, who was born in SF in 1903 always called it "Frisco" (as they did in his day), which now gets a laugh and a roll of the eyes. You only say you are staying in Napa Valley, which is a pretty big place (and to locals is not to be confused with the City of Napa, which is at the south end of Napa Valley --just so you do not start insulting them too :-) ). Also you may want to look into Sonoma county as well (which for my $ is a bit more interesting than Napa). Renting bicycles in Healdsburg -a sickeningly charming and romantic little place- is a lot of fun: you can bike up Dry Creek Rd and stop at some nice little wineries, if memory serves. No doubt you can find similar in Napa Valley, tho the traffic is heavier and more dangerous. You also do not mention when you coming, but if it is summertime, I'd save winery visits for during the week: crowd are horrendous on weekends, and also, wineries are going to be up and functioning during the week, which makes it a lot more interesting, especially if you are contemplating a tour about how wine is made.

                  1. re: MagicMarkR

                    Thanks for the reply. We're staying at the Best Western Elm House Inn on California Blvd (we basically just took advice from tripadvisor). We plan on renting a car in SF and driving to Napa, but will probably look towards cabs or other way to commute to the wineries and restaurants most of the time we're out there since we'll be drinking. A few people that I know have been telling us the same thing about Sonoma so it's definitely something I'd like to look more into. Is it convenient to spend one day in Napa and the next in Sonoma? Or are they too far apart to be worth it? We're coming in mid August and we'll be staying Thur and Fri in SF, Sat-Wed in Napa. We'll take your suggestion about skipping wineries on weekends and see if we can plan some other fun activities for those few days. Thanks again for the response and for your opinions and recommendations.

                    1. re: IDGuofM

                      I would hire a car for the day as your means of transportation to wineries. Sonoma (depending where in Sonoma you are travelling to) is about an hour away from Napa, so you can definitely do a Napa day and a Sonoma day.

                      I don't know if the differences will be worth it to you or not. Sonoma is markedly more reasonable in price. Sonoma, however, in August is as rabidly busy as Napa (though admittedly not as rabidly busy as wineries off of Hwy 29 in Napa).

                      If you do head to Dry Creek, one lovely cab producer is Sbragia. Ridge makes a fantastic cab.

                      In Napa, if you stick to the mountains or to appt only wineries, you will have as pleasant an experience as the open to public wineries in Sonoma.

                      1. re: goldangl95

                        Second hiring a car if you don't want to do your own driving; the cost of taxis in between wineries will become cost-prohibitive ($40 here and $50 there will add up...)

                        Considering your Sat-Wed in wine country, I wouldn't bother with one city for the entire stay - consider Saturday, Sunday and Monday in Sonoma and then head over to a Napa location for Monday night and Tuesday night. There are far less people at the Sonoma wineries on the weekends (although still do-able!) and that will save you visiting Napa wineries during the week when they are less busy.

                        1. re: CarrieWas218

                          I'd keep the rental car up in wine country, as the rest of my comments to follow make clear. I would suggest, though some may disagree, that you can only do so much wine tasting before it becomes boring/tiring. Honestly, I find that 3-4 wineries in a day is my max, and doing that for more than 2 days in a row can also be tiresome: a) your body just gets tired from all that wine; b) your tastebuds lose the ability to make distinctions in wine. So, you might consider say, a day dedicated to wine tasting, say along the Silverado trail in Napa or some of the wineries tuck in near Mayacamas, and then the rest of the time, mybe limit yourself to a couple places on your drive to do other things. The nice thing about Sonoma, in my opinion, is that there is a bit more to do outside of the wineries. if you have a rental car (which I think you would want/need), you can make your way to the Sonoma coast which is so beautiful; Guerneville and floating down the Russian River on inner-tubes; look into other sorts of tastings at farms that do more than just grapes.

                          However, if your preference is to gorge on wine the whole time, well then yes, driving is something to be avoided. Maybe you could find a small winery tour in that case.

                      2. re: IDGuofM

                        Consider the possibly of an early Saturday morning stop at the Ferry Building Farmers Market on your way to Napa.
                        http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.c...

                        1. re: wolfe

                          Looks like a great reason to get to Napa early on Saturday. We love markets like these. Thanks for the suggestion!

                          1. re: IDGuofM

                            The Ferry Building is in San Francisco and I thought you could hit before driving north. So actually Napa will be a little later but notice where the FBFM is on this non- alphabetical list.

                            http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/2...

                            1. re: IDGuofM

                              If you like markets like the Ferry Building (SF), but it ends up not working with your schedule, Oxbow Market in Napa has a similar feel/idea.

                              1. re: goldangl95

                                The Oxbow development is an $11 million attempt to knock off the Ferry Building by the guy who was project manager for the retail portion of the Ferry Building project.

                                They reportedly have a little farmers market there on Saturdays but why go to the little knockoff when you'll be near the big original?

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Oh I agree that the Ferry Building is something a step above from anything else in the Bay Area or Wine Country.

                                  It may be a stretch, however, to call it an original and everything else a knock-off as I was under the impression that the Ferry Building took many of its ideas from Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston.

                                  1. re: goldangl95

                                    Even more from Pike's Place marketplace. I certainly remember when they were building the Ferry Building, people talking about Pike's Place as inspiration.

                                    http://www.pikeplacemarket.org/visito...

                                    1. re: goldangl95

                                      The Ferry Building Marketplace is the original only in the sense that the Oxbow market is its clone. There's little or nothing original about the FBM compared with markets such as Pike Place and Granville Island, which Steve Carlin has mentioned as models.

                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/535707

                                      1. re: goldangl95

                                        The original farmer's market is Alemany, it was the first in California. Not gourmet but it is the godmother of all others.

                                        1. re: ML8000

                                          The first farmers market in California was at Duboce and Market in 1943, it moved to Alemany a few years later. But Pike Place Market had been in operation for over 30 years by then.

                                          http://foundsf.org/index.php?title=Fa...
                                          http://www.seasonalchef.com/brucato.htm