Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > United States
Reload this Page >

Comment on California itinerary, restaurants, sights, activities?

Comment on California itinerary, restaurants, sights, activities?

Aug 22nd, 2010, 07:29 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 127
Comment on California itinerary, restaurants, sights, activities?

We're visiting CA in September for the fifth or so time. We've been to almost all the cities we're visiting, but we love it there, so we don't mind returning, but we'd love suggestions on things to do or places to eat that are outside the norm for tourists. We'd also like feedback on our itinerary. Have we allotted too much time, too little, etc?

Sat. 9/4
Arrive SFO and drive to Calistoga. Wine tasting, hot air balloon ride, visit CIA for lunch?, any interesting small towns we should check out?
Restaurant recs for dinner? I'm a personal chef, so I'm interested in really good quality food, any cuisine, any price range,  can be gourmet and fancy or casual burger joint as long as it's really good food. We love Mexican and can't get authentic at home, so I'd appreciate any recs for that.

Wed. 9/8
Drive to Monterey Bay area, picking up Hwy 1 just south of SFO. Stop in Santa Cruz to check out Redwoods. Take the Oceanside Walking Trail in Pacific Grove. Explore Monterey and Carmel. We've been here a couple times and have done Pebble Beach and Cannery Row. Anything on your "don't miss" list for this area? Restaurants? Stay at Carmel River Inn.

Thursday. 9/9
Go to Point Lobos State Reserve, Pfeiffer Beach, Pfeiffer Big Sur hike to Pfeiffer Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park hike to Mcway Falls. We didn't make reservations for this night, preferring to play it by ear and see how far south we end up. Restaurants?

Friday 9/10
Hearst Castle. What else should we do/see on our way down to Morro Bay? Stay at Sundown Inn Morro Bay.

Sat 9/11
Take 101 to San Francisco. Besides Paso Robles, any place else we should stop on our way? Not sure yet what we're going to do in San Fran yet. We've been many times. We've done all the typical touristy things...any off the beaten path recs? Stay at Lombard Inn.

Sun 9/12
More fun in SFO. Might check out Red Sox game. Last night in town

Mon. 9/13
Return to Miami

Thanks in advance for your help. I always use this forum to plan trips...it's always the best info!
travelbug2000 is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2010, 08:28 PM
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 704
looks like a good itinerary, however not sure about the redwoods in Santa Cruz that you mention
krgystn is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2010, 08:38 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 296
In the Hearst Castle area is the Madonna Inn...
kicky place to see and their bakery desserts are awesome! You can even ask to see one of the rooms that is currently empty as each room is done in a different tacky theme fficial&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=vPpxTOG1GJCCsQOquL29Cw&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=6&ved=0CD8QsAQwBQ&biw=1361&bih=791>
cheezz is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2010, 08:58 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,950
So you have:

- 4 nights in the Napa wine country on Labor Day weekend
- most of 1 entire day driving from Calistoga to Monterey - during week-day commute traffic. You won't have much time at all to do all of the things on your itinerary that day.
- then off to Big Sur the next day - that's not much time at all in Carmel, Monterey, Pacific Grove, & Pt Lobos.
- next day down to Hearst Castle & Morrow Bay - that seems OK.
- then back up to San Francisco. I don't know how many weeks or months you've spent in The City - but here are my ideas of stuff to do:

Suggestions - only spend 2 or (at most) 3 nights in the Wine country, and more nights on the coast or in The City. Perhaps fly to SFO & depart from Santa Barbara & do wine country, SF, & coast. Or do wine country, SF, coast & depart from SFO. The Calistoga to Monterey trip will take a lot of time on a Wednesday after the summer vacation season, when all the locals are back from their vacations, schools are in session, and the traffic is heavy. The traffic REALLY gets heavy after Labor day.

OH!!! - Labor day !! - good luck trying to find hotels with vacancies on Labor Day weekend in the Wine Country. Hope you already have reservations.

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2010, 09:20 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 65,363
I'm assuming you already have your accommodations in Calistoga nailed down.

You are going to have probably REALLY nasty traffic all through both Sonoma and Napa valleys that weekend. Like bumper to bumper in places, especially around Calistoga/St Helena/etc. And really crowded tasting rooms. Have you already booked a balloon ride?
janisj is offline  
Aug 22nd, 2010, 10:29 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 2,240
Your drive from Calistoga to Monterey will take about 3 1/2 hrs. Just avoid the early morning or evening commute times and you'll be fine. You want to get through the San Jose area before 3 pm for sure.

Will post back tomorrow with some little Napa Valley secrets.
elnap29 is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2010, 07:23 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,950
From OP
>>Wed. 9/8
Drive to Monterey Bay area, picking up Hwy 1 just south of SFO. Stop in Santa Cruz.<<

I don't think this route to Monterey is a 3 1/2 trip.

Mapquest says it's 4 1/2 hrs. With a stop in Half Moon Bay (on Main St), Santa Cruz, and any other interesting spots - I would budget 6 1/2 hrs from Calistoga to Carmel. Leave Calistoga at 9:30 to avoid commute traffic and arrive in the Monterey/Carmel region at 4PM. This doesn't leave much time to explore the Monterey/Carmel/PG area.

Then the next morning, off to Pt Lobos, Big Sur, & all the Pfeiffer stuff.

Next morning, down Hwy #1 to Hearst Castle & Morro Bay

I would at least chop off a day in Calistoga & add 1 to the Monterey/Carmel region. Still - that's shortchanging Carmel/Monterey/Hwy #1/Hearst Castle, etc.

>>Sun 9/12
More fun in SFO. Might check out Red Sox game. Last night in town <<

The Sox are not playing in San Francisco - most likely over in Oakland. With your hectic schedule and almosty no time in San Francisco, I would not spend the best part of a day going over to Oakland, watching a game, and then back to SF (we don't call the City "SFO").

I hope you already have reservations for dinner on Sat & Sunday in the Calistoga area. Usually on Labor Day weekend, most good restaurants get booked up a month or two in advance.

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2010, 09:55 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 127
Thanks for all your comments. We're staying with friends in Calistoga, so accommodations and meals are all set.
travelbug2000 is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2010, 10:34 AM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 2,240
OH, yes, the 3 1/2 hr. drive is via Hwys. 680 to 101 to 1.

Napa Valley Tips:
Per your request for Mexican food:
* Most authentic is La Luna Market in Rutherford
* Excellent off the beaten track: Las Palmas in Napa on Yajome St. Juan, the chef/owner worked in several well-known restaurants in The Valley before opening his authentic-style restaurant that is open all day. He mans the kitchen himself, will cook anything you ask, and offers all the traditional dishes plus first-rate and fresh dishes with his own twist. I love that I can get a plate of enchiladas and a side of expertly sauteed vegetables if I wish.
* Armadillo in St. Helena on Main St. is pretty good, but I'm more fond of Las Palmas for its freshness.

Other Tips:
* Le Floret in Napa on Browns Valley Rd. - The former confectionaire for French Laundry, Wendy Sherwood, recently opened this little shop tucked inobtrusively next to a market. Here she is developing her wholesale business of marvelously tasty and gorgeous cakes and confections to special restaurants and other clients. She keeps a retail side open Weds. through Saturday where you can sample and purchase melt-in-your-mouth confections. Unbelievable!
* Rancho Gordo Beans - heirloom quality dried beans of rare varieties along with recipes (some free on their website). Providing many of the Napa Valley restaurants with their beans, the retail shop is on Yajome St. in Napa, but some of the beans are available in other local retail outlets.
* Delicious breads sold to local retaurants come from Model Bakery (Main St. St. Helena and Oxbow Market in Napa) and also from ABC, Alexis Baking Company, on Third St. Napa.
* The Fatted Calf - provides lamb crepinettes for Slanted Door in San Francisco, but sell a larger version here in their retail store. Thses you must cook at home, but they do have a few items that are ready-to-eat. Next to Model Bakery near Oxbow Market.
* Whole Spice - buy any amt. you choose of fresh whole spices in this tiny shop at Oxbow Marketplace in Napa.

Beautiful scenic drive: From Calistoga take Hwy 29 up Mt St. Helena, through Middletown to Butts Canyon Rd. Take Butts Canyon Rd through Pope Valley to Angwin back to Hwy 29 in St. Helena.
elnap29 is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2010, 11:06 AM
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 2,279
I love Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St Helena. Name is tongue in cheek -- not unheard of to see the rich and famous enjoying celebrity chef Cindy Pawlcyn's wonderful food.

Have you thought of nixing Carmel etc. and instead going north to Mendocino for a few days? Much less hassle, could go up from Calist. through the gorgeous Anderson Valley & back down super scenic HWY 1 to SF. Lots of fine little hotels & restaurants in Mendo & environs.
shouldbewriting is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2010, 11:47 AM
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 12,710
shouldbewriting's idea of going north rather than south is a good one. You won't have to drive through the Bay Area.

If you still decide to go south, for redwoods near Santa Cruz, Henry Cowell state park is a good choice. Just head up Hwy 9 or Graham Hill Rd from Santa Cruz - it is about 5 miles up the hill. Big Basin is great too, but it will take longer to get to and your schedule is tight. As it is, I'd plan on arriving in Monterey mid-to-late afternoon after the drive down from Calistoga. So not much time to explore the area. A walk along the coast in Pacific Grove and then a nice dinner would be great though.
november_moon is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2010, 12:52 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 2,240
My mistake. The confectionaire's shop is called La Foret.
elnap29 is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2010, 05:55 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 127
Thanks again for all the great foodie suggestions. Those are just the kind of places we love! We'll take a look at Mendocino, etc. Might be a good idea.
travelbug2000 is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2010, 07:04 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 127
Okay shouldbewriting, you convinced us. (What are you writing, anyway?) Instead of going south, we're going north to Mendocino. So, if we're leaving Calistoga on Wed morning and we want to head to San Franciso on Fri or Sat, what would you recommend for an itinerary? I'm thinking drive up 128 to 101 to 128 to the coast. Hit some wineries in Anderson Valley. Anyone ever ride the train between Fort Bragg and Northspur? How about staying at the Point Arena Lighthouse Cottages? Any suggestions on where to stay, eat, and what to do welcomed!

travelbug2000 is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2010, 07:19 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,088
May I suggest a stop at Kenwood Vineyards on rte 12 in Kenwood and taste their Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County wine? We first had it in a local restaurant in VA and ended up buying a case and having it shipped to us. We visited the vineyard in May, did a tasteing, and had a mixed case shipped to us.

There is an Italian restaurant, the Frutti de Mar Grill, HTTP://fruttidemargrill.com/ in Marina just off the rte 1 exit about eight miles north of Monterey We ate there because another poster recommended it and we were not disapointed.

It is located in a strip shopping center between a Thai grocery and a laundromat, doesn't look like much from the outside, but has a great atmosphere inside.
ronkala is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2010, 07:27 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 127
Thanks ronkala, but we just decided to go north to Mendocino and come down the coast ( at least part of the way) to the City. please see my post just above yours.
travelbug2000 is offline  
Aug 24th, 2010, 08:04 AM
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 1
Looks like you've got a lot of good suggestions for areas around San Francisco. I'd like to give you some tips for non-tourist local hang outs in San Francisco. Check out Mint Plaza (located off 5th Street between Market and Mission St.) It's only a block away from the Powell Street cable car turn around, but a departure from tourist central. In the summer there are free music concerts at noon on Fridays. On Wednesday's the Plaza hosts a wonderful local Farmer's Market. On the Plaza you'll find several restaurants, Chez Papa Resto, a French bistro, Thermidor, new American restaurant with an interiors from a page out of Mad Men and delightful 54 Mint, an Italian restaurant. Mint Plaza is next to the Old U.S. Mint, famous for weighing gold nuggets for miners in the 1800's and becoming a refuge for San Franciscans after the 1906 earthquake.

If you haven't already, also check out the Ferry Building. Beautifully restored buidling with local eats. Many of which you will see in wine country as well. Enjoy!
kobrien is offline  
Aug 27th, 2010, 01:31 PM
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 2,279
Sorry, I've been away. Think you should be happy with your decision to go north. 128/101/128/1 sounds right. Turn right onto Hwy 1 as 128 hits the coast; Mendocino is north of Pt Arena where the Navarro River meets the ocean.

I think you mentioned redwood trees? Off 128 not far past Philo (more or less a wide place on the road, but if memory serves it does have a post office and a store or two) look out for sign to Hendy Woods State Park -- on the left. Don't miss this park; you will very likely be alone admiring the groves of first growth redwood trees. It is just like the ones full of tourists. You'll never forget it.

Boonville is larger then Philo & before it, closer to 101. There are a few interesting shops there. If timing is right, you could get sandwiches to eat at the park.

I like the Allegria Inn in Mendo. A B&B with fantastic views, nice hosts, and wonderful breakfasts. Kayaking on the Big River is fun. Have a great time!
shouldbewriting is offline  
Aug 27th, 2010, 09:12 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 3,857
You won't have to turn right On Hwy 1 from 128 - 128 merges right into it.
Scroll down a little ways in this post and see my recommendation for La Petite Rive restaurant, now located
at the Inn at Schoolhouse Creek, about 10 minutes south of Mendocino.

The cottages at Pt. Arena Lighthouse are a long way from
anything-if you want to be really self contained it would be OK-I'm concerned that you don't have rezzies already in Mendocino or the nearby hamlets-you might snag something for Thursday night, but Friday could be iffy.
See what you can find here:

When will you have time to ride the Skunk train ?
Your drive from Calistoga to Mendocino will take
3 hours without stopping. Add in lunch an wineries
and you'd be chopping quite a bit of the day.
I guess you could devote a good part of Thursday to the
train, yet you will miss strolling around Mendocino
and exploring some beaches, like Glass Beach.
Then there's always MacKerricher State Park

On your drive back to SF-do try to take the time
and drive via Hwy 1. You would re-trace your steps
driving south from Mendocino on Hwy 1 and take a right turn at the Navarro River bridge instead of merging into Hwy 128.
A breakfast, brunch or lunch stop on your way home
at Queenie's Roadhouse Cafe in Elk is a must.

razzledazzle is offline  
Aug 29th, 2010, 12:03 AM
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 4
Mendocino is great, but Fort Bragg also has some good places to stay and eat, and things other than the Skunk Train to do. I agree you should see Glass Beach, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens just south of town is also a glorious walk even if you're not a gardener - well worth a couple of hours. My favorite places to eat are The Rendezvous and Mendo Bistro, finishing with Cowlick's Handmade Ice Cream - try the mushroom flavor.
Gus_and_Riley is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 01:23 AM.