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San Francisco/Yountville - 4 day itinerary for review/questions

My wife and I are headed out to San Francisco and Yountville/Wine Country in the middle of August (8/18-22). I'm feeling pretty good about our plans thanks to all the great contributors on this board. However, we still have some blanks to fill in and some specific questions. Please take a look and make any suggested changes/additions/subtractions:

Saturday in SF:
Up early and walk to the Ferry Building for RoliRoti and the rest of the goodies.
Taking BART to the A's game that evening. From what I've read, the food options at the Coliseum are pretty weak, so I'm thinking we might want to grab a late dinner/snack near our Financial District hotel. Is there anything worth grabbing in that area? Is it convenient to hop off the BART in the MIssion and find something casual there?

Sunday in SF/Head to Yountville:
Brunch at Yank Sing. Then we're hitting the road.
Late lunch at El Molino Central.
Tour/tasting at Benziger. This is our first visit to Sonoma/Napa. Seems like a fun place to learn something about the process and do our first tasting. I'm a wine drinker (but know very little about it), but my wife is not. She, however, is looking at this trip as an opportunity to get into wine.
For dinner, we'll probably just grab something casual near our Yountville hotel.

Monday
Breakfast at the hotel and then off to Rutherford area. Round Pond Olive Oil Tour/Tasting, Frog's Leap and Robert Sinskey seem like good choices. I like reds, especially cabs and pinot noir. Not sure what order to do these in, but I'd like to squeeze in an interesting lunch somewhere. Rutherford Grill maybe?
Dinner that night at Redd. Very excited. Would you recommend the tasting menu with wine parings?

Tuesday
We're leaving this day wide open, although we'll probably do a tasting at Chandon as my wife likes sparkling wines. Depending on how much we get into the tastings, we might head to a different area (Spring Mountain?). Or possibly head to the coast and check out the beach. If we decide to be less adventurous, I'm thinking we need to visit Napa proper at least once. Is Morimoto a reasonable option (lunch/dinner) or am I looking at $100+ per person? Bistro Sabor looks interesting as well.

Wednesday we're off to Vegas for e and LOS, but that's for a different board. Thanks in advance for your help/critiques.

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  1. A's food is not that great. There is a mexican place behind home plate that is not too bad, and a baked potato place. I will say they have a good craft beer selection.

    Bart to the Mission is easy for a late night snack. Depending what time the game ends, there are some good places on Stuart street which is in the financial dist.

    let us know what you decide

    1. Barbacco and Gitane are open late and in the FiDi.

      If you end up having more time in Rutherford, another winery to check out in that area is Sequoia Grove. Also the reserve tastings for Robert Mondavi if you want to get one monolith winery in there.

      I would advise switching out the Chandon tasting for either (in order of preference) Schramsberg or Domaine Carneros or Mumm (unless she is a true fan of Chandon - then nevermind).

      A general warning - you will be going to Napa during a very hot and crowded time. I would try to make appointments as much as possible without feeling too locked into your itinerary. And definitely do one day (if you end up feeling up for another wine tasting day) up in a little bit more of a remote area.

      Also don't get disheartened if wineries have filled up! It's a busy time of year, just let us know if you need some second or third options.

      1. Sunday the 19th is the Tour of Napa bicycle ride, which starts and ends in Yountville. Shouldn't affect your chances at getting into a restaurant much (the tour provides food), but be prepared for some bicycle traffic.

        For food: Rutherford Grill has never impressed me. Better to try Mustard's Grill on 29 just north of Yountville, or the sister restaurant Cindy's Backstreet in St Helena. You might get in a lunch without reservations, but much easier with reservations.

        Morimoto is pricy, but you can get a really nice meal at a decent price if you order carefully. (Try the pork belly and clams spatzle if they offer it -- really!)

        1. This week made my first visit to Morimoto. The set lunch is not expensive at all for what you get--three sushi, miso soup or salad, bowl of tempura and one of a number of main items. All this for $28. One of our party had the Morimoto version of pad Thai as main, another had the braised black cod. I had the Chirashi Sushi Rice Bowl with many pieces of really fine fish ($32). All of us felt it was a great lunch and total including these plus bottle of wine plus tax and tip was under $50 per person.

          2 Replies
          1. re: alfairfax

            Thanks for the detailed report. Sounds great. If it's that reasonable for lunch, I can't imagine dinner being too pricey.

            1. re: freshlycured

              That may not be a good assumption. Why not check their web site?

          2. A coupla things... I'm confused about your Sunday schedule - if you have brunch at Yank Sing, you aren't going to need a late lunch at El Molino and then a dinner. Also, you are doing a LOT of driving if you go from San Francisco to Yountville to check in and then over to Sonoma for Benziger and back. Or, are you heading to Benziger from the city and then ending up in Yountville?

            I am personally not a fan of Rutherford Hill because it is part of the Houston chain, but I know a lot of tourists enjoy it and it is always packed. Redd is a great choice for dinner.

            Like others have said, Schramsberg might be a better choice for sparkling (GREAT tour) and is closer to Spring Mountain, if you are going in that direction. Call for an appointment.

            The Morimoto bento box for lunch is hands-down the best bargain in the valley. Even though it is a lot of food, you can supplement it with a nigiri or two if you want a little more food, but not necessarily.

            Lastly, Bistro Sabor is closed on Tuesdays. Other lunch options to consider would be Oxbow Market, Grace's Table, or Azzurro Pizza.

            7 Replies
            1. re: CarrieWas218

              We're doing Benziger/El Molino before heading over to Yountville to check in. Not necessarily planning a full meal later that evening. Thanks for the heads up on Bistro Sabor. Chandon was recommended by my Mother, who visited 20 years ago and has "helped" with our plans. I may have to go there to avoid offending Mom.

              1. re: freshlycured

                Listen to CarrieWas218, above. She lives in Napa Valley, lives and breathes food, and is an outstanding resource. Do a search for her posts over the last 5 years.

                Why Benziger instead of some other place? I don't understand why you're heading that far into Sonoma for a winery that does not merit the detour. Sure, there's scenery, but you could enjoy both scenery and outstanding wines and not go so far out of your way.

                Plus, after Benziger, you'll have a long drive into Yountville. Please be advised the drive times you're indicating for Sunday are quite a bit longer than what you might think. You'll be dealing with bridges and traffic, and the waits are *long* on a weekend. I'd advise your heading to Yountville (or nearby for a tasting) after Yank Sing. This would be the time to hit Domaine Chandon in Yountville on Sunday afternoon and make Momma (and you) happy. I like the Brut there (well-priced), their top sparkling, Etoile; and a still red wine (and an unusual varietal, a little on the lighter side) named Petit Meunier. Nice patio. Domaine Chandon is next door to the Napa Valley Museum and the properties are connected via a secret gate (ask where it is) so you don't have to drive and re-park. Dinner somewhere in Yountville, or -- you bet -- Morimoto. It's utterly amazing. Worth every penny, because the quality is so high.

                Benziger, as I've said before, is a conundrum. The winery has many things going for it, but their wines are hugely disappointing. I so want to like their wines, but it's like all the talk about biodynamic practices and other farming methods touted on the tour do not translate -- even with the new winemaker -- into the wine's flavor. It's the oddest thing.

                More about Benziger here:
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8348...

                Many wineries offer great tours to get a basic overview of how wine is made. Though it may sound like an odd recommendation, Mondavi -- though it's a large winery and a familiar name -- offers an outstanding tour that's very entertaining on how to make wine, the winery process, etc. And there's a difference between a winery tour and a vineyard tour. The winery tour goes into the cellar and fermentation area, into the caves, and a vineyard tour is outside, among the vines. Mondavi would be a great place to visit to get an education on how to make still wine. Chandon gives (or used to give) a good tour on the process to make sparkling wine.

                Yountville winery recommendations here:
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6533...

                I live locally, as well. In Yountville, so you're coming to my charming home town. Hope you enjoy your stay.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  ML and I have the mutual-admiration society 'cuz she lives in the Napa valley as well but we've never had a chance to meet! She's spot on with the Chandon rec and while many of us tout Schramsberg, it is because they have such a great tour with historical caves.

                  Don't get me wrong; I adore Chandon and often bring my own friends there when they are visiting because the setting is stunningly gorgeous and it makes for a great spot for a Sunday "brunch" (they don't actually have a brunch, but bubbly in the morning with a pate plate is enough food for me). The sculpture around the grounds and overall setting is beautiful and if you are going to taste the wine, spend a little money and go for the premium stuff.

                  ML is also spot-on about Benziger. It is a helluva drive for a mediocre experience and mediocre wine. I'm like her that I have tried to enjoy it but it is so much like every other winery surrounding it to not make it worthy of such a detour when you've got so much driving to do.

                  1. re: CarrieWas218

                    Thanks for all of the insight. Not knowing the realities of the terrain, how hard will it be to get from Benziger to Yountville, if we decide to keep our original plans? We don't mind a little driving, but don't want to be stuck in impossible traffic. If we decide to go straight from SF to Yountville, is there a good winery option along the way for a relaxed introductory tour/tasting? Maybe we can hit a vineyard and then stop in Napa for an early dinner Sunday night.

                    1. re: freshlycured

                      Knowing your flight arrival times and what time you are planning on being on the road would help. With no traffic, from the San Francisco airport to Benziger is about two hours.

                      There is a very mountainous road that could lead you from Benziger to Yountville (if you are adventurous) that can take as little as 45 minutes. Most people would head back through Carneros and up through downtown Napa which is an hour-and-a-half, at least (barring traffic).

                      There are a TON of relaxing vineyards you could hit en route to Yountville - although hitting a vineyard and then stopping in Napa for dinner is sort of counter-intuitive as the vineyards are north of downtown Napa. Perhaps consider a different restaurant (Don Giovanni or Brix) which is more in line with heading towards Yountville, doesn't require backtracking to downtown Napa, and will have vineyards on the way...

                      1. re: CarrieWas218

                        Thanks to your advice, and a good rental car deal out of Oakland Airport, we're going to redirect on Sunday and head straight towards Yountville. We still want to do a fun/educational tour and tasting on Sunday. It looks like Mondavi isn't that far from Yountville. Is that our best option? Is it difficult to cut over to Silverado Trail and hit Pine Ridge, Robert Sinsky or somewhere else? Or is the tour at Mondavi worth, what I assume, is a lesser wine tasting experience.

                        1. re: freshlycured

                          Napa Valley is very easy to navigate. It's laid out like a ladder. The two major thoroughfares -- Highway 29 and Silverado Trails -- are the legs of the ladder that travel up and down the length of the valley. Various crossroads -- Oakville Cross Road, Rutherford Cross Road, Yountville Cross Road, Zinfandel Lane -- are the rungs of the ladder and run between Highway 29 and Silverado Trail. So yes, it would be easy to head over to Silverado Trail from Yountville using Yountville Cross Rd. and visit Pine Ridge or Sinskey or Silverado Cellars (great views and good chard and red and wine).

                          Domaine Chandon on Sunday afternoon would be a nice option. They offer a fun sparkling wine tour. After a long day of travel, that's what I'd do. It's very near, in Yountville -- you could take loaner bicycles from the hotel if they have them, and if you have the energy.

                          Robert Mondavi Winery has a great tour, and by no means it is a lesser experience. Mondavi has many tiers of wine-making, but the Oakville winery is their top wine-making facility. It is a glorious Mission-style building, and yes, commercial, but a good one to visit for the tour and reserve tasting or the library tasting.

            2. I think the wine tasting/touring is finally coming into focus:
              Late Sunday - arrive and do Robert Mondavi tour/tasting.
              Monday - plan on heading north to Rutherford area - 29 on way there and Silverado on way back (originally tried to book Pride tour, but was sadly shut out). Thinking of Grgich Hills tasting . . . are there more interesting options on the way? Round Pond olive oil tour booked at 12:30. Then a Frog's Leap tasting.
              Tuesday - early tasting at Robert Sinsky. Head to Napa for Morimoto lunch. The back to Yountville for late afternoon tasting at Chandon.

              With so many interesting options, it's hard to narrow things down. Thanks for all the help.

              1. As for the A's game -- food is allowed in the ballpark, just no cans or bottles/glass containers. You could pack your own meal from the farmers market. Don't count on getting out in time for dinner -- their last time they were home they set a team record for the longest average length of games for a ten-game homestand. Plus, by the time you deal with BART it could be well after 11 by the time you get back to SF.