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Help in planning trip to California: Carmel, Wine Country...

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Apr 13th, 2005, 01:45 PM
  #1
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Help in planning trip to California: Carmel, Wine Country...

First, let me apologize for the several posts made a few weeks ago on a similar topic. I kept posting a message but could never find it. Finally did when using my PC rather than my MAC. I was so embarresd! Sorry about that!

Trying to put together a July trip to California. Weekend of July 22. Either Friday to Friday, 7 nights, or if necessary, Thursday to Friday, 8 nights. I am 35 and my boyfriend is 31. I will be celebrating my birthday while in CA.

Wanted to go to Carmel, either wine region, Sonoma or Napa. Spend a day to see the Redwoods. And spend the last, or first, day in San Fransisco. I know seeing the Redwoods may be pushing it, but I think they are amazing and would love for my boyfriend to see them! If possible.

From what I've read, I think we would enjoy staying in Carmel the town, to be able to walk around and enjoy it's charm. Is there a beach to drive to easily? And is spending a few hours in Santa Cruz a possibility or too far away, or maybe not worth it. I'm not sure how many days/nights to plan on for this area 3 or 4. I've read about a few Inns that sound great, but really need some suggestions on where to stay. Is Vagabond's House the nicest and in the best location?

Sonoma or Napa I just can't decide. I spent 1 day in Napa years ago, visited one winery, and can't even remember the name. Had a great time! Didn't do any tours. My boyfriend and I love wine. For first timers, what do you suggest? I'm sure we will want to take a tour. Massages or mud baths would be fun. If it's possible to judge, is one area more beautiful than the other? It seems like Sonoma may be less expensive but is Napa worth the extra cash? We are of course familiar with the name brand California wine, but always try the labels we've never heard of too! Is the lodging nicer in one area over the other? And of course how many nights should we plan for? Should we add on an extra night to fit in a day in the redwoods?

We will fly into San Fransisco, and of course will be renting a car. Would you suggest renting a convertable or is it just not worth the extra money?

And last, not sure in which direction to go first. I figured the wine regions would be busiest on the weekend so go south to Carmel first, but not sure about that!

Thanks for any help! You all are so helpful!
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Apr 13th, 2005, 02:43 PM
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After thinking, if you all feel I need to save the Redwoods for another trip. Just say so! I trust all of your opinions!

Thanks again!
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Apr 13th, 2005, 03:06 PM
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You can see the redwoods on your way between SF and Monterey - the Santa Cruz mountains are covered with them. With a short detour from the main highway between Santa Cruz and San Jose, you can visit Henry Cowel SP just outside of Felton. There is also a steam train you can ride through the redwoods right near there at Roaring Camp, which is fun. If you want to take more time, you can head up Hwy 9 to Big Basin near Boulder Creek.

I am not very familiar with Carmel - it's just not my style, so I can't give you any feedback there. Santa Cruz is a fun place and only about a 45 minute drive from Carmel/Monterey, so it is definitely doable. It will be pretty crowded over the weekends, but weekdays it should be better. Whether or not it is worth the stop really depends on what you want to see and do. The Boardwalk is a lot of fun, downtown has some quirky shops and even more quirky people, there are some good beaches and good views.

As for the convertible, if you have the money to spare, then go for it. The weather might be a little chilly on the coast at times, so just turn on the heater
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Apr 13th, 2005, 03:36 PM
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There's a nice beach right in Carmel, at the bottom of the main drag. It's a dog beach, which bothers some people; but it's lovely white sand, pretty views of Pebble...

Another possibility is Point Lobos State Park--gorgeous, easy trails, a beautiful place, which plenty of just-sit-and-gaze spots.

For me, Sanata Cruz wouldn't be worth the drive during such a short stay, but it is fun, and you know, to each his own! Enjoy your trip; hope other can help with the Napa/Sonoma decision.
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Apr 13th, 2005, 03:50 PM
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Vagabond's House is totally charming, in a quiet spot, but only a couple blocks away from all the Carmel galleries, shops, restaurants. Perfect spot for walking to everything. Just roll down the hill to Carmel's town beach--it is spectacular, just too cold and frequently too rough for swimming. Two short blocks from Vagabond's is a restaurant, Casanova, which is both very romantic and with great food. We've been there every 2-3 years for over 25 years and never anything but fine food and their special atmosphere.
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Apr 13th, 2005, 04:06 PM
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Redwoods can be seen at Muir Woods, great hikes or small walks in this preserved redwood forest north of SF. - easy day trip
Also as mentioned you will see redwoods on way to Carmel if you go over the hill to Santa Cruz but Santa Cruz is a "beach town" with boardwalk, boat harbor if you are into that but it does have lovely views of the cliffs and water. You can drive down hiway 1 to get to Carmel but it is a distance but then again lovely views if you are into slow driving and winding roads.

Carmel is charming, lots of shops and typical beach weather. Monterey is right next door if you want some history of early CA thrown in this trip. Down the road is Big Sur for more magnificient Redwoods and beaches. Happy b'day and enjoy the trip.

calistoga is a funky town north of St Helena in Napa County. Mud baths, messages are the thing to do there.
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Apr 13th, 2005, 04:20 PM
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I know nothing about Carmel, but as far as the wine country goes I vote for Sonoma. We had am amazing time there. We are going back in October for a longer stay but the last time we went we were only there for 2-3 days. Charming wineries, very personal, it was just wonderful. We did stop in a couple of the bigger name wineries and to us those were our least favorite.

You should do the Wine 101 class at Chateau St. Jean. This was the so much fun. If you are a wine pro you might not be impressed but for us it was perfect. We sat out in the gardens with the couple we were traveling with , it was just us and the the winery guide. She was awesome. Very laid back - we learned alot - and drank alot! I could go on and on - there is so much great info if you dig through the posts.

Have fun!
Molly

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Apr 13th, 2005, 05:20 PM
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Thanks for all your suggestions! Really at a loss on where to stay in Sonoma. From what I've read in other postings, many prefer Sonoma. The Wine 101 class sounds great! Thanks Molly!
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Apr 13th, 2005, 05:33 PM
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Another thought/question, if we stayed in Calistoga, which is closer, Sonoma or Napa area wineries.
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Apr 13th, 2005, 07:12 PM
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Any opinions on The Lodge at Sonoma? Found a weekday rate of $239 for a cottage room. Is this a nice property or should we look elsewhere?

As always, thanks!
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Apr 13th, 2005, 07:34 PM
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Apr 14th, 2005, 04:52 AM
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If you choose Sonoma Valley, you could see your redwoods at Armstrong Woods.
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Apr 14th, 2005, 05:06 AM
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We stayed at the lodge and LOVED it. It is right off the road which I was surprised by, but the lodge itself is wonderful - even the regular rooms. They also participate in priceline - i believe they are the only 4* in Sonoma on priceline. I think we paid around $90 a night.
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Apr 14th, 2005, 02:52 PM
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Thanks for all of your valued suggestions! I am anxious to make reservations and flight arrangements. Car rental too! I've read tons, taken notes, and feel completely overwhelmed! So much great advice!

Here is a tentative plan:

Flying out of Pittsburgh on Friday, July 22, at 8:30 am and arriving in San Francisco at 10:40 am. Question: Spend this first day and overnight in SF or rent a car and head for Carmel. Hoping to stay at Vagabond's House in Carmel.

First thought was to rent a car at SFO and head for Carmel. Spend Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday in Carmel and head for Sonoma on Monday.

Spend Monday and Tuesday exploring Sonoma and wine tasting! Would anyone suggest one day in Sonoma and one in Napa. If so, where would the best location to stay be?

Wednesday visit either Muir Woods or the Armstrong Redwoods. Is one area nicer that the other? If not, Muir Woods seems to be closer since we will be heading to SF from there. Definately want to spend some time on the trails.

Thursday see anything we missed and head into San Francisco for the night and depart for home on Friday. Should we keep the car this last night, or return it and take a shuttle, if that is possible?

Return flight times aren't great, either noon departure or red eye. I said I'd never fly a red eye again and here I am thinking about it! However, will probably go for the afternoon departure figuring we will be beat! But I could be convinced otherwise! That would just be such a long day!

Still uncertain of where to stay in Sonoma area or Healdsburg. That area seems to be the most recommeded. Considered The Lodge at Sonoma for $239 a night and then thought why not the Best Western Dry Creek Inn for $109 and have more fun on the road! Any other suggetions on lodging similiar to the Best Western would be very much appreciated!

Your opinions are all so helpful! Thank you! Thank you!
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Apr 15th, 2005, 07:20 AM
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There are some great B&B in Healdsburg from what I have read - and many are quite reasonable & include a very nice breakfast. We are exploring this option for ourselves in lieu of staying at the lodge this time around. I think you can see them on wineroad.com? might not be the right link. The square in Healdsburg is really nice and the wineries in this area and nearby are spoken highly of. We had a very limited time in Healdsburg and want to go back and see more. The Lodge is not in the best setting as far as what you might picture, it is directly on the main road if I recall correctly as you enter Sonoma. Healdsburg as a more cozy feel to it.

We are thinking about doing 2 days in Carmel now as well. I had not even thought about it but the more we read about it the more tempted we get.

Have fun!
Molly
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Apr 15th, 2005, 06:49 PM
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Re: <Wednesday visit either Muir Woods or the Armstrong Redwoods. Is one area nicer that the other? If not, Muir Woods seems to be closer since we will be heading to SF from there. Definately want to spend some time on the trails. >

Armstrong has taller trees and is more "parklike" all around. Muir has a wide, paved trail, and it's only about a mile long by a quarter mile wide. There's lots of hiking in the surrounding state park, but the redwoods get even smaller and are replaced by douglas fir and chapparal as you get away from Muir Woods.

Armstrong isn't a whole lot bigger, but it's a bit more spread out, so there's a network of trails. And it's usually a lot less crowded. You can hike out of the redwoods into open grasslands in the adjoining Austin Creek area for longer hikes. But neither of these parks is going to give you a whole day hiking in the redwoods, unless you keep retracing your steps. You could cover all of Muir Woods in an hour or two, Armstrong, in maybe three hours.

Since you're heading south, too, you could check out Big Basin State park. It has the biggest redwoods within 200 miles of SF, and lots of room to hike in them. It's on Hwy 236, about 25 miles north of Santa Cruz, 65 miles south of San Francisco. There's a great hike there from park HQ to Berry Creek Falls, 5 miles one way through big redwoods almost the whole way, on the Skyline to the Sea Trail. You can make a loop back to HQ by heading up Berry Creek to two more falls, and then take the Sunset Trail back. This gives you a small taste of chapparal, but puts you back in the redwoods pretty soon for 5 miles back to HQ.
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Apr 16th, 2005, 06:32 PM
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I did almost this same trip in 2002 (me/wife, early thirties). Flew into San Francisco, rented a car and drove strait to Carmel and stayed at a B&B for two nights (easy drive). Lots of great B&B's, Vagabond's is one of the best. Carmel is great for walking around, lots of neat shops, restaurants, very unique houses, beach, etc. Also went to Monterrey for half a day which I would not do again, very touristy, wish I had gone to Big Sur instead for day trip. Also did 15 mile drive through Pebble beach and took pictures of the beach and seals. After 2 nights in Carmel, drove back up along coast through San Fran to Healdsburg and stayed at "Healdsburg Inn on the Square" which was great. Really neat town, ate at Bistro Ralph (don't know if it is still there) awesome. Good local wineries, hiking, biking. Did lots of wine tasting. I still mostly buy wines made in Healdsburg. I've heard from friends in San Fran that both Sonoma and Napa can get overcrowded and too touristy, Napa more so. Anyway, after 2 nights in Healdsburg headed back to San Fran in the AM, about 1 hour drive and stayed in a B&B in Union Square for one night, toured San Fran on foot all day and saw all the "have to do" stuff. I would like to have stayed in San Fran one more day and seen more including Muir Woods but didn't have the time. Overall great trip. You will have a great time
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Apr 16th, 2005, 07:40 PM
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Ah, yes, Healdsburg. Healdsburg is a bit to the east along the Russian River from Guerneville, in the heart of the Russian River wine appelation. (Zinfandels and Pinot Noirs, not sure about whites). Healdsburg is in the warmer regions, pines and oaks rather than redwoods, but not at all far from Guerneville and Armstrong Woods. It would be an ideal place to stay for a night or three and have all your desires rolled into one. Redwoods, wine, and the rest of your time in San Francisco.
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Apr 17th, 2005, 01:04 AM
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Carmel is very crowded on the weekends. Lodging booked, restaurants filled, busy streets. You might have a better experience if you could go there mid-week.

Keep in mind that the weather stays cool all year round. Even in July, you'll probably need a sweater.
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Apr 17th, 2005, 02:37 PM
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When you arrive go straight to Carmel. It's not worth the trouble of driving to SF, parking car, getting into hotel, etc. See SF on your way back - get into town earlier.
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