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Sonoma -San Francisco 2008

Sonoma -San Francisco 2008

By
Trip Plan Tags: 
adventure,
day trip,
luxury,
wine
Destinations: 
California,
Carmel-by-the-Sea,
Monterey,
Napa Valley,
North America,
Point Lobos State Reserve,
San Francisco,
Sonoma County,
United States

Things to do in Napa/Sonoma, Carmel and San Francisco

ITEMS

See + Do

Twin Peaks, California

San Francisco, California

Repeatedly voted the city's best view by locals, Twin Peaks offers a stunning 360-degree panorama of the city, the bay, and the ocean. To get there by car, take Market Street out of town until it turns into Portola, then turn right on Twin Peaks Boulevard. Take a jacket, as it can get very windy at the top.

Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts

ALT HERE

See + Do

Castello di Amoroso, California

4045 N. St. Helena Highway (Hwy. 29)
Calistoga, California 94515
Tel: 707 967 6272
Website: www.napavalleycastle.com

Napa Valley's newest, grandest winery is not a contemporary architectural monument but a recreated European castle, complete with moat, secco fresco murals, and a torture chamber. Built entirely by hand over the course of 14 years, Castello di Amoroso is the brainchild of Daryl Sattui, owner of the nearby V. Sattui Winery and lover of medieval history. Every detail is perfect, right down to the damp, cold catacombs (bring a sweater), which double as one of the castle's many barrel rooms. Complete wine production takes place inside the castle using grapes from the surrounding 30 acres of vines. The wines are Italian in style and remarkably good. Go for the super-Tuscan, a soft but sturdy blend of cabernet, sangiovese, and merlot; the Il Brigante, a merlot blend, goes well with acidic tomato sauces and pizza. But the most impressive thing here is the castle itself. Book well ahead; this is one of Napa's hottest new properties. Tasting fee; appointment required.

Open daily 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.

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See + Do

Bella Vineyards, California

9711 W. Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, California 95448
Tel: 866 572 3552 (toll-free), Tel: 707 473 9171
Website: www.bellawinery.com

The mood is upbeat and fun at Bella, a family-run Sonoma winery where tastings are conducted inside the barrel cellars, within giant caves dug out of the hillsides. With vines on the estate dating back more than a century, here one can experience the luxuriously concentrated flavor for which old-vine grapes are prized. All of Bella's reserve-vineyard, small-lot syrahs and zinfandels have a depth of flavor unattainable with young fruit, with lush raspberry and smoky chocolate overtones. If you're lucky enough to visit in the spring, be sure to pick up a bottle of dry rosé (50% zin, 50% syrah) before it sells out—it's the perfect back-porch wine on a hot day. Despite the seriousness of the wine, there's no pretense at Bella. The youthful staff is not only gregarious and charming, they also know their stuff. Tasting fee $5, no appointment necessary.

Open daily 11 am to 4:30 pm.

See + Do

Indian Springs Resort & Spa, California

1712 Lincoln Avenue
Calistoga, California 94515
Tel: 707 942 4913
Website: www.indianspringscalistoga.com

Before Napa became famous for wine in the late 1970s, the valley was best known for the boiling hot springs bubbling up through volcanic mud in Calistoga. The little main-street town was founded in the 1850s by Sam Brannan, an East Coast entrepreneur who envisioned a California version of New York's Saratoga. (Legend has it he was a drunk and declared the town the "Calistoga of Sarafornia.") Opened by Brannan himself, Indian Springs is the granddaddy of the town's mud-bath emporiums. There's nothing fancy about the utilitarian 19th-century spa building, but this is the real deal. You get buried in mud, soak in a tub of clear hot-spring water, then take a eucalyptus steam before drifting away in a blanket wrap; tack on a massage and facial for the full treatment. The effect is glorious: you'll feel both relaxed and detoxified. Afterward, take a swim in the gigantic, hot spring–fed swimming pool. The resort also rents cozy 1940s cottages and hotel rooms with Frette linens.

Open daily 8 am to 9 pm.

Shop

Myra Hoefer Design, California

309 Healdsburg Avenue
Healdsburg, California 95448
Tel: 707 433 2166

Interior designer Myra Hoefer scours Paris flea markets, antique shops, and artists' studios, then showcases her best finds in this tiny showroom off Healdsburg's central plaza. The well-edited inventory changes often, but on any given visit you may discover hand-painted monogrammed silk pillows in multicolored hues, plaster of Paris chandeliers, Louis XIV reproduction furniture, or mounted butterflies.

Open daily 10 am to 6 pm.

Shop

Woodhouse Chocolate, California

1367 Main Street
St. Helena, California 94574
Tel: 800 966 3468
Website: www.woodhousechocolate.com

Go ahead—just try to resist the seductive window display at this high-end chocolate boutique, where white-gloved salespeople lovingly tuck artisanal delicacies (made in the European tradition, without preservatives) into china-blue boxes reminiscent of Tiffany & Co. The offerings extend far beyond your typical truffle; here, chocolate is transformed into intricately patterned stilettos, squirrels, poison-dart frogs, and other precious shapes, filled with exotic ingredients such as Thai ginger, passion fruit, and honey. But confections like this don't come cheap: One pound will set you back nearly $80. Be sure not to leave your purchases in a hot car.

Open daily 10:30 am to 5:30 pm.

Eating

La Toque, California

1314 McKinstry St.
Napa, California 94559
Tel: 707 257 5157
Website: www.latoque.com

If you couldn't score a reservation at the French Laundry, take heart: Chef Ken Frank's Gallic cooking at La Toque, a Michelin-star restaurant, stands toe to toe with the fare at America's top tables. Not only is Frank a master saucier, he also has a knack for eking out great depth from common foods, in part because he uses only the very best artisanal ingredients. Rooted squarely in the French culinary tradition, the chef plays off the classics but gives them a smart, fresh spin. Expect dishes like twice-cooked pork confit, and ribeye steak two ways (braised and stuffed into ravioli, and roasted and served with sautéed porcini mushrooms and Rutherford cabernet reduction). Though you can dine à la carte, savvy gourmands order the five-course prix-fixe menu. At $98 a head, it's a bargain in pricey Napa. The decor is austere and elegant, with well-spaced tables, one enormous flower arrangement, and a roaring fireplace anchoring the room. (It's tempting to request the table by the fire, but it often gets too warm.) Wine director Scott Tracy is a magician, selecting spot-on pairings from a list that pays appropriate respect to local wineries while also trotting out a huge selection of French grands crus, including no fewer than five vintages from the venerable Château Latour.

Open Wednesdays through Sundays 5:30 to 9:30 pm.

Eating

Oakville Grocery, California

7856 St. Helena Highway (Hwy. 29)
Oakville, California 94562
Tel: 707 944 8802
Website: www.oakvillegrocery.com

Call ahead to this artisanal food shop for a gourmet box lunch, complete with focaccia sandwich (choose from ten varieties); pasta salad; olive-and-cornichon garnish; and a homemade cookie. Or better yet, stop in to browse for picnic fixings, including local cheeses, mustards, hearth breads, charcuterie meats, and smoked fish. The space has the feel of a rustic country store, with creaky wooden floors, floor-to-ceiling shelves, and large baskets to hold your purchases. The location, right on Highway 29 in Oakville, makes this an ideal stopover when you're heading north through Napa Valley toward St. Helena from downtown Napa or Yountville; but if you're headed south in heavy weekend traffic, it's next to impossible to turn left into the driveway. There's a second location in Healdsburg (124 Matheson St.; 707-433-3200). If crowds (and high prices) turn you off, skip Oakville Grocery in favor of the rough-around-the-edges but oh-so-authentic Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Co. in St. Helena.

Open daily 9 am to 6 pm.

Eating

Bouchon, California

6534 Washington Street
Yountville, California 94599
Tel: 707 944 8037
Website: www.bouchonbistro.com

An offshoot of the celebrated French Laundry, Bouchon is a classic French brasserie, right down to the mosaic tile floor, zinc bar imported from France, and red velvet banquettes. Likewise the cooking, from giant plateaux de fruits de mer (seafood platters) to succulent roast chicken to a perfect steak-frites. But more than anything, it's great fun to dine here—the room buzzes with activity, and you never know who might walk through the door, from famous vintners to Hollywood celebrities. Bouchon serves continuously all day, making it ideal for a late lunch. Though there's patio seating, the real excitement is in the dining room. If you're only in the mood for a snack, pop into the neighboring Bouchon Bakery for goodies or to gather picnic supplies, including sandwiches, pain au chocolat, and of course, crusty loaves of bread.

Open daily 11:30 am to 12:30 am.

Eating

French Laundry, California

6640 Washington Street
Yountville, California 94599
Tel: 707 944 2380
Website: www.frenchlaundry.com

At this culinary mecca, perfectionist chef Thomas Keller coaxes otherworldly flavors and textures from familiar ingredients. His famous salmon tartare "ice cream cone" is the first clue that there's alchemy in the kitchen, and the subsequent parade of nine courses confirms it. Service is flawless, and the pace is languorous—allow at least three hours. The French Laundry has won almost every award a restaurant can get, which accounts for the strict reservations policy: You have to call at least two months prior to the day you want to dine. The wine list is possibly the best in the region, but don't finish all those little pours or you won't remember what you ate. If you can't score a reservation but still want to try Keller's cooking, either book a table at his brasserie, Bouchon, or at Ad Hoc, an informal eatery serving his favorite comfort-food dishes at far more affordable prices.

Open Mondays through Thursdays 5:30 to 9 pm, Fridays through Sundays 11 am to 1 pm and 5:30 to 9 pm.

Eating

El Dorado Kitchen, California

405 First Street West
Sonoma, California 95476
Tel: 707 996 3030
Website: www.eldoradosonoma.com

At the El Dorado Hotel's surprisingly sceney restaurant (located in low-key Sonoma), large parties gather at a communal table fashioned out of wood from a 200-year-old Vermont bridge, while couples huddle at candlelit tables around the periphery. The kitchen of chef Ryan Fancher, previously at Thomas Keller's French Laundry and the Auberge du Soleil, turns out Mediterranean-meets-California dishes (lamb loin roulade with saffron potatoes, artichokes, olives, and rosemary; a risotto topped with white truffle foam) that are available à la carte or in a six-course tasting menu.

Eating

Cyrus, California

Le Mars Hôtel, 29 North Street
Healdsburg, California 95448
Tel: 707 433 3311
Website: www.cyrusrestaurant.com

Helmed by chef Douglas Keane and owner/maître d' Nick Peyton (the team behind St. Helena's popular Market) the dining room at Cyrus has soaring vaulted ceilings and tables laid with the finest linens, silver, and crystal. The staff moves through the room as if in a ballet: A plate of canapés arrives first, followed by a glittering cart bearing Champagne and caviar, where roe is weighed on a scale counterbalanced by a single gold coin; then it's a round of amuse-gueules. At first it feels a bit over the top, but the service is performed with such tongue-in-cheek levity that it's absolutely charming. Guests design their own prix-fixe meal, choosing three to five courses off the French-Californian-Asian menu, which uses locally grown organic produce. Standouts include Thai marinated lobster with avocado and mango and tempura-battered mussels in a saffron-flavored broth. Let the sommelier suggest wines from a smart list of lesser-known local and international vintages. If you can't secure a table, stop by for some of California's best cocktails, made with local herbs, freshly squeezed fruit juices, and top-shelf spirits, including vodka from Napa's Charbay Winery & Distillery.

Open daily 5 to 9:30 pm.

Eating

Dry Creek Kitchen, California

317 Healdsburg Avenue
Healdsburg, California 95448
Tel: 707 431 0330
Website: http://www.charliepalmer.com/dry_creek/home.html

If you're loath to surrender high heels and urban style just because you're in ag country, you'll appreciate celeb chef Charlie Palmer's Sonoma County outpost, Dry Creek Kitchen at Hotel Healdsburg. The architectural elements—vaulted ceilings, towering columns, and a wall of windows overlooking the town plaza—look out of place in this small town of white picket fences, but they set a dramatic backdrop for a night out. Palmer is usually at New York's Aureole, so instead the stoves are manned by Chef de Cuisine Michael Ellis, whose rich, hearty comfort cooking often relies on heavy ingredients such as pork bellies, fatty cheeses, and foie gras. Otherwise, if it's in season right now, it's on the menu. Most ingredients are sourced from within Sonoma County, arguably America's finest growing region for heirloom meats and produce and artisanal cheeses. Even the wine list includes only Sonoma vintages, and there's no corkage fee for Sonoma County wines (two bottle maximum). Menu standouts include California lamb two ways: a mustard-crusted double chop and a lumpia (think giant egg roll) of ground lamb. One complaint: The staff is young and inexperienced—when Michelin awarded Dry Creek one star, it did so on culinary merit alone. If polished service is as important as great food, choose Cyrus instead.

Eating

Barndiva, California

231 Center Street
Healdsburg, California 95448
Tel: 707 431 0100
Website: www.barndiva.com

Thanks to the travertine floors and wooden walls of this converted red barn, the dining room can get a little noisy, but it's a happening spot for dinner, and its garden is one of the prettiest spaces in town. The frequently changing menu is organized by "taste profile." "Light" may include tuna poke with a pickled ginger–wasabi mousse; "Spicy" lists dishes like crispy grilled pork belly atop seared scallops; and "Comfort" (read: filling) is for dishes like pan-seared wild halibut with creamy cashew rice and tamarind sauce. The combinations are inventive, and the flavors big. The bar is a destination unto itself and hops nearly every night. Aside from an outstanding selection of Sonoma County vintages and a few European standouts, you'll also find unusual organic spirits, many of which are mixed with house-made syrups for some of wine country's best cocktails.

Open Wednesdays through Saturdays noon to 2:30 pm and 5:30 to 11 pm, Sundays 11 am to 3 pm and 5:30 to 11 pm.

See + Do

Point Lobos State Reserve, California

Highway 1 (just south of Carmel)
Point Lobos State Reserve, California
Tel: 831 624 4909
Website: www.parks.ca.gov

This blustery jewel of a state park is famous for its wind-blown cypress trees clinging to the rocky cliffs, and for its hundreds of barking, braying, sunbathing sea lions. At low tide, tiny crabs and snails cling to the ink-black rocks and crawl in tide pools; you'll want to roll up your pant legs and explore. Harbor seals are born in the end of April and early May (bring binoculars if you want to see them from shore), and migrating gray whales pass by from December to May, making this a primo spot for whale-watching. There are several hiking trails; call ahead to ask about free guided walks. On weekends, though, be sure to show up early: Parking spaces are limited.

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See + Do

Carmel Mission, California

3080 Rio Road
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California 93923
Tel: 831 624 1271
Website: www.carmelmission.org

Though currently surrounded by ranch-house subdivisions, the Carmel Mission was once the only building for miles around. Spanish missionary Father Junípero Serra established the mission in 1771 to convert Native Americans to Christianity. Today, it's still an important site for Catholics—primarily because Father Serra's remains are interred under the altar—but even nonbelievers will find it worth a visit. The primitive statuary and ornately carved altar are beautifully preserved, as are unexpected details like the charming cherubs peeping from behind the pipes of the organ loft. Adjoining the church are the living quarters of the missionaries. One of the most interesting rooms is the tiny library (California's first), where you can peer through a glass doorway at decaying leather-bound texts frozen in time. Outside in the courtyard, baseball-size roses grow in the lovely gardens. (Shutterbugs: One of the best spots to pose for pictures is behind the Basilica, beneath the bell tower.)

California's missions were positioned one day apart by horseback, so you can see several in a day traveling by car. If you're heading south on Highway 1, it's easy to make a detour to Mission San Antonio de Padua, in the middle of nowhere near the tiny town of Jolon (Mission Rd.; 831-385-4478). It provides a glimpse of how the missions looked before modern-day civilization grew up around them.

See + Do

Kayaking, California

Monterey, California

Monterey Bay supports one of the world's most diverse ecosystems and spans a whopping 5,300 square miles. A National Marine Sanctuary since 1992, it's an absolute must to explore by water, with frolicking sea lions and sea otters, low-flying pelicans, and giant orange starfish common sights.

If you've never gone kayaking, don't worry: It's fairly easy—assuming you're in reasonable shape and you stick to relatively sheltered areas (if you head out to sea, you're on your own). Monterey Bay Kayaks provides rentals, instruction, and tours for all levels; most tours last three hours and cost about $60 (800-649-5357; www.montereybaykayaks.com ) . If you want real drama, take a sunset paddle, or time your trip by the lunar cycles and take a full-moon tour.

See + Do

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Website: www.carmelcalifornia.com

Originally founded as an artists' colony in the early 20th century, Carmel (also known as Carmel-by-the-Sea) has the look and feel of a Christmas snow-globe village—without the snow. Streets are paved with cobblestones, giant Monterey pines make whooshing sounds in the sea breeze, and the houses resemble picturesque Mediterranean villas and miniature castles. The artists have long since been priced out, and major celebrities (Doris Day, Clint Eastwood) have taken their place, but you'll still find more galleries per capita than perhaps anywhere else on the California coast. Head to Dolores Street between Fifth and Sixth for the best gallery-hopping. Stop into the Carmel Art Association, the only gallery that exclusively shows local works (831-624-6176; www.carmelart.org); Masterpiece Gallery, which has a collection of early Californian and American paintings (831-624-2163; www.masterpiecegallerycarmel.com); and Gallery Sur, specializing in landscape photography (831-626-2615; www.gallerysur.com). The best time to visit Carmel is midweek; avoid coming on Saturday in summer, when it gets overrun with oohing-and-aahing tourists. If you want to meet locals, head for the beach in the early evening; the whole community seems to turn out to watch the sunset.

Eating

Flying Fish Grill, California

Mission Street at Seventh Avenue
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Tel: 831 625 1962

Seafood's the thing at this tiny Cal-Asian spot, down a flight of stairs from street level. The space feels Japanese, with low ceilings and lots of dark wood, but the menu goes further: Beyond the usual seared ahi tuna and tempura you'll find almond-crusted sea bass with a rock-shrimp stir-fry (the house specialty) and steamed halibut cooked in parchment with Chinese spices. The fact that owner Kenny Fukumoto works the floor every night means the service is terrific—a rarity in this resort town.

Eating

Cantinetta Luca, California

Dolores Street between Ocean and Seventh streets
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California 93921
Tel: 831 625 6500
Website: www.cantinettaluca.com

Breaking ranks with the intimate French restaurants that for decades have defined the Carmel dining scene, Luca serves stellar trattoria-style Italian cooking in a big, buzzing dining room. The salumi and pastas are made in-house (try the Bolognese) and make an ideal lunch while shopping downtown. But the best dishes come from the wood-fired oven: Try any of the crispy-thin pizzas or family-style meat and fish dishes, particularly the pan-roasted lemon-garlic chicken. Because the menu is so big and many of the dishes so appealing, it's easy to over-order. Take it easy: Portions are huge. The bar scene hops at sunset, when local luminaries show up to swill wine. If you're looking for a quiet dinner, Luca may not be a good fit, but the food is some of the best in town.

Open daily noon to 2:30 pm and 5 to 10 pm.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.