Itinerary: Carmel, Napa, San Fran

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Mar 17th, 2013, 08:48 AM
  #1
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Itinerary: Carmel, Napa, San Fran

Hello all,

My husband and I are taking a trip to San Fran, Napa, Carmel in late May. We have been to Napa/Sonoma twice and San Fran 2-3 times, but this is our first time to Monterey/ Carmel area. I just wanted a quick review/opinion of our itinerary since I am looking to book dinner at French Laundry and wanted to make sure we have enough time in Carmel/Big Sur.

Sat: Fly to SFO and get in around 3:30, rent car and drive to Carmel (quick route vs. scenic)
Sun: Need ideas on things to do in Carmel/small side trips
Mon: Again, need ideas on things to do, please
Tues: Leisurely/scenic drive to Napa/Sonoma, late dinner at French Laundry (after 8:30 or so)
Wed: Wine tastings,maybe spa, dinner
Thurs: Drive to San Fran, drop off car in city
Fri-Sat: in San Fran
Sun: Depart

Any suggestions on things to do in Carmel would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
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Mar 17th, 2013, 08:52 AM
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Things to see around Carmel: Carmel Mission, Point Lobos State Reserve.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/...th/4853752192/

Drive farther south to Big Sur.
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Mar 17th, 2013, 04:13 PM
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If you plan to dine at the French Laundry, is your hotel budget at the same level?

There are a couple of relatively "expensive" places to stay in the Carmel area.
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Mar 17th, 2013, 04:45 PM
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Since you have been to Napa/Sonoma several times, perhaps consider heading south, down the coast after Carmel. Take in the Paso Robles or even the Santa Ynez wine growing areas.
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Mar 17th, 2013, 06:02 PM
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The fastest route is about a 5 hr drive from Carmel to Yountville if you go over the GG Bridge. I would never recommend that anyone take the East Bay route - which might be quicker but is dreadful as far and anything to see is concerned.

If you're doing this on a Tuesday you could easily hit commute traffic in San Jose, into San Francisco, out of San Francisco, and through San Rafael. I would budget 6 1/2 hrs driving for the trip. If you want a more scenic route up Hwy 1 along the San Mateo coast, through Golden Gate Park then perhaps 7 hrs since you would miss San Jose & into SF commute traffic. So if you leave Carmel at 9:30 after breakfast, you'll get to Yountville around 4:30pm. If you stop someplace for lunch (Sam's Chowder house just north of Half Moon Bay), you'll get to Yountville at 5:30PM. If you dawdle along the way - of course it will take longer. That's a long day on the road for me. I'm not sure I would be ready for the French Laundry on that day. Perhaps switch it to Wednesday for dinner there.

Must sees in Carmel/Big Sur area:
- Pt Lobos
- wander through the town of Carmel
- wander along Carmel Beach
- 17 mile drive - especially around Spanish Bay. Take the boardwalk along Spanish Bay
- Pacific Grove
- I'm not a fan of Cannery Row in Monterey - reminds me of Fisherman's Wharf in SF
- Nepenthe for lunch in Big Sur
- Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park in Big Sur
- Redwoods in Big Sur & Pfeiffer State Park & campground
- south along Hwy 1 about 45 mins past Julie Pfeiffer Burns park - and back

Here is more info
http://www.fodors.com/community/unit...mendations.cfm

Stu Dudley
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Mar 17th, 2013, 09:40 PM
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GG Bridge is now shifting to a no cash system. Google up what you might have to do to go southbound on the bridge.

The French Laundry is the most over-hyped overrated restaurant that I've been to in my lifetime. I plan never to go back.

It's now expanded to sucker more tourists for outrageously priced meals. The most ludicrous "course" my wife had at a $185 tasting menu was "Thomas' interpretation of a beet salad". It was a single beet, the exact size and shape of a quarter, on a lettuce leaf, nothing more. Don't worry, it got worse from there.

We had to go eat dinner after we were through with the tasting menu.
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Mar 18th, 2013, 08:05 AM
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We have an almost identical itinerary but are going in April. I have gotten alot of great advicde here: http://www.fodors.com/community/unit...elp-please.cfm
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Mar 19th, 2013, 06:01 PM
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Stu, the fastest route from Carmel to Yountville is 5 hours? I'd think it can easily be done in 3 if the traffic isn't bad.
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Mar 19th, 2013, 08:09 PM
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Stu means the fastest route up highway 1 and over the GG Bridge. The east bay route (1 > 156 > 101 > 680 > 780 ...) is a lot faster, just under three hours with no traffic. If you take Hwy 1 up through Santa Cruz and HMB, but cut over from Pacifica to the Bay Bridge and up 80 (assuming no traffic, which is a big assumption on the bridge and 80), you could do it in about three and a half, and still have most of the scenery. That's what I'd probably do, especially if I'd already seen the GG Bridge.

Actually what I'd really do is forget Carmel and concentrate on Napa, Sonoma, Healdsburg, Bodega Bay, Pt Reyes, and Armstrong Redwoods. On second thought, since you've been to Napa and Sonoma twice before, I'd forget them and do Carmel + Big Sur, and add in wineries in the Carmel Valley and the Santa Cruz mountains. How come no one goes to Ridge Vineyards' Monte Bello tasting room? Their wines are far better than 95% of the places people visit in Napa.

Back to the drive, stops on the way could include kayaking/canoeing at Moss Landing (Elkhorn Slough), Santa Cruz, Bonny Doon winery, Ano Nuevo St Pk, Half Moon Bay, and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Hard to know what to recommend unless we know what you're interested in.

Stu has given you pretty good suggestions about stuff to do in the Carmel area. Pt Lobos is probably my #1 recommendation. I'm not a big fan of the food at Nepenthe; I think it's just so-so and overpriced (although the view is phenomenal). Personally, we'd rather get a bag lunch somewhere else, stop at Nepenthe's coffee kiosk and check out the view, and then go have lunch on Pfeiffer Beach. There's lots of great short hikes in the Big Sur area, as well as in Pt Lobos. There is some 'old' California history stuff at the Monterey Presidio if you're interested in that, and of course the aquarium is wonderful too, although perennially overrun with kids.
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Mar 19th, 2013, 08:13 PM
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BTW, the East Bay route is not totally non-scenic -- Carmel to Gilroy is fairly scenic, Gilroy to Morgan Hill not bad, Morgan Hill to Fremont generic urban sprawl, Fremont to Pleasanton is scenic, and Pleasanton to Walnut Creek is not great but ok. But it's certainly no Hwy 1, and there's not as many interesting places to stop.
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Mar 19th, 2013, 10:04 PM
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>>>BTW, the East Bay route is not totally non-scenic -- Carmel to Gilroy is fairly scenic, Gilroy to Morgan Hill not bad<<<

That's not the East Bay. The East Bay route, IMO, is San Jose via Oakland & Richmond & Vallejo to the Napa Valley.


The fastest we've ever made it from Carmel to where we live just off 101 in San Mateo is 1 hr 45 mins. The fastest we've made it from San Mateo to the GG Bridge is 30 mins (45 mins is more accurate with minimal traffic). These are all trips under "perfect" conditions - very early Sat or Sunday morning. SF7307 & I know how to get through The City the "fastest" - depending on the day and the time of day. The OP doesn't know this. On a Tuesday (commute traffic) "leisurely" drive I would add at least 1 hr to this trip - making it 3 hrs 45 mins. From the GG Bridge through San Rafael (commute traffic leaving SF) to Yountville - perhaps a 1 1/2 hr trip as a "budget". Total time - 4 hrs 45 mins.

Stu Dudley
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Mar 19th, 2013, 11:49 PM
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Stu -- oops, my bad, the 880 to 80 route is the East Bay, and is completely non-scenic; the one I described is technically not the 'East Bay', but probably best called the Tri-Valley route (or just plain 680).

Regarding Tuesday, may_may, you've got a bit of a problem because doing the really scenic drive involves going through SF and over the GG bridge, and you don't really want to do that between 5 and 7pm.

You could probably cut it real close and hit San Francisco (280 to 19th St) at about 6:30pm missing the worst of rush hour (although there will still be some), and then you can probably make it up to Napa by 8:30pm, but you won't have any time to stop or to check into your lodgings.

Barring that questionable option, if you want to avoid traffic, you'll have to be through SF and San Rafael by about 5, which means you should hit 19th St by about 4:15-4:30. In that case, you'll probably get to Yountville or wherever you're staying by 6:15 or so.

Carmel to 19th St SF is about 2.25 to 2.5 hours driving up Hwy 1 minimum, with no stops. I'm not sure where Stu got his 7 hours figure; Carmel to Yountville with no traffic is about three hours 45 min up Hwy 1 and over the GG Bridge. If you time it after morning rush hour and to be through San Rafael by 5, it probably won't be more than 4.5 hours driving max. Let's say you get a leisurely start at 9:30. You'll have about four hours, maybe a bit more, to spend on stops on the way up. That's not too bad, you can have a nice lunch in Half Moon Bay or somewhere, and enjoy a few other stops.

If you don't mind getting into Napa closer to your dinner time, you might consider taking a longer route (about five hours driving) that takes you from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach to Pt Reyes Station to Petaluma. That's a much more scenic route, and you'd avoid San Rafael traffic (at the cost of another hour on the road however). If you do that, make sure you get over the GG Bridge in time to hit some of the Marin County sights, such as the Marin Headlands, Muir Woods, Muir Beach, and Stinson Beach.
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Mar 20th, 2013, 09:21 AM
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If I wanted to "show off" the Carmel/San Francisco/North Bay area to some friends - this is the route I would take from Carmel to Yountville.

- Leave Carmel and take Hwy 1 through Moss Landing, Santa Cruz, and then to Davenport. I would not stop to "linger" anywhere along the way. You'll pass a few nice Victorian houses in Santa Cruz. Mapquest says this is a 1 hr 10 min drive.

- Continue north on Hwy 1. I actually prefer the north drive over the south drive because you can see a "white cliffs of Dover" scene driving north that you can't see heading south. I would swing into Pescadero for a drive-around - perhaps stopping at Duarte's Tavern for lunch. Then I would continue north on Hwy 1 to Main Street in Half Moon Bay. Get out of the car and explore Main St & perhaps have a coffee someplace. Main St is probably what Carmel was like 45 years ago. Mapquest says it is 45 mins from Davenport to Half Moon Bay. With a few stops along the coast and a stop for a look/walk in Pescadero & Main Street - add 45 mins.

- Continue north on Hwy 1 through Montara, Pacifica, then take Hwy 35 North/west (away from downtown) and work your way to the Great Highway along the coast in San Francisco. Stop at the Cliff House and walk around the area & explore the Sutro Baths lookout. Mapquest says it is 1 hr 30 mins from HMB to the Cliff House. Add 1 hr for lunch at Sam's Chowder House or Duartes, and 45 mins to explore the Cliff House and Sutro Baths.

- Here is my favorite drive in San Francisco. Follow the link I earlier posted and go to the section that describes the Palace of the Legion of Honor and El Camino Del Mar drive. Leave the Cliff House and enter the Lincoln Park Golf course at 34th Ave. Just follow the road past the Legion of Honor onto El Camino Del Mar. When you run out of golf course, park the car just before entering Sea Cliff and walk to the viewing platform to your left. Lots of fabulous views of the Golden Gate and the Bridge. Then drive through Sea Cliff past Robin Williams's house and find your way to Lincoln Blvd & more fabulous views of the Bridge. Pass under the bridge, turn left and get on the Golden Gate Bridge. Up to this point, there will be little or no commute. You will probably hit some now. Go over the Bridge, and take the first "real" turnoff onto Alexander Ave and into Sausalito for a drive through. Mapquest says it is 30 mins from the Cliff House to Sausalito - but I would double this for the route I suggested. Add 30 mins for stops.

- Now it is time for a side trip to the area with the most fantastic views. Find this on my earlier link - look for "Golden Gate National Recreation Area" & "Conzelman Ave". After crossing over the Bridge and then taking Alexander Ave exit, turn left & go under 101 and then up to the GGNRA. Fantastic views back to the City. These views are best in the later afternoon. You look through the bridge & then over the bridge back to The City. Also views down the coast. Lots of WWII bunkers/batteries to explore and pictures to take. This is the highlight of the trip today. Continue over the "crest" in the road (after the large parking area) and onto a one-way road - and just explore this area in front of you by car. More bunkers/batteries. This side-trip will take about 1 to 1 1/2 hrs - so budget your time accordingly. Head to Sausalito after this side trip.

- Continue through Sausalito and get on 101 to Yountville. You might hit some commute traffic in San Rafael. I would not stop anywhere along this route. Mapquest says it is 1 hr 30 mins from Sausalito to Yountville.

All total - there is about 5 1/2 hrs of driving time if you don't do the side trip - and 6 1/2 if you do the side trip. Also, there's about 4 1/2 hrs allocated for lunch & exploring outside of the car. That makes it a 9 1/2 to 11 hr trip from Carmel to Yountville. That's a little too long for me. I would skip Pescadero and have a sandwich for lunch at the deli next to the San Benito house in Half Moon Bay (we do this frequently) - this will save you 1 1/2 hrs. I would not skip the GGNRA side trip & plan to do it on the way back to SF from Yountville. In the AM the sun will be in your face and the views of The City will not be good. You could shorten this side trip by re-tracing your route before the "crest"/parking lot & go back to Sausalito - this will save you 45 mins, IMO.

Stu Dudley
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Mar 20th, 2013, 09:27 AM
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I would ... have a sandwich for lunch at the deli next to the San Benito house in Half Moon Bay (we do this frequently)

Flying Fish is an alternative, especially for its fish tacos.
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Mar 20th, 2013, 10:06 AM
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. You guys must have a brother living in San Diego
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Mar 20th, 2013, 11:04 AM
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Stu has given you good advice.

Although I don't think that HMB to Cliff House is anywhere near 1.5 hours drive. I've regularly done HMB to Stonestown area in 30 minutes or less. Google Maps shows HMB to Cliff House via 1 > 35 > Ocean Blvd as 41 minutes. Maybe he meant Davenport to Cliff House?

BTW if you like poking around in tidepools and the tide is out, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach is great. Right off Hwy 1; allow 30+ minutes to wander around.

Unless you leave Carmel fairly late, you'll probably hit Pescadero too early for lunch, so perhaps HMB is a better lunch stop. There's also a really good taqueria right off Hwy 1 in Pacifica on the oceanside access road; can't remember the name. Will post it if I figure it out. Or if you like a late lunch, there are plenty of places in Sausalito, although your wallet might suffer a bit.

I also don't think it's an hour driving from the Cliff House to Sausalito, even going through Seacliff and taking Alexander, although with stops it certainly can be. But that is a very nice route. If you have time, you can go down to Baker Beach for great views of the GG Bridge and Marin Headlands from the water level, which is a totally different perspective from what you'll get up on Conzelman.

If you've been to the Marin Headlands before, you can skip most of Stu's side trip, and perhaps just take Conzelman up to the first bluff nearest the bridge, which has great views and is only five minutes from the bridge. Even if you've done that view, it's worth checking out again, as the light and fog always seem to be different, and it's such a phenomenal view!

Personally I find Sausalito a bit underwhelming, but a lot of people love it. It's a nice little town on the water with great views of SF and the bay. OK, maybe I'm being too hard on it.

When I add it up, it's 4 3/4 hrs of pure driving, 5 1/4 if you add the side trip through the Marin Headlands. In any case, it will be a long, but scenic day.
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Mar 20th, 2013, 12:53 PM
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>>Although I don't think that HMB to Cliff House is anywhere near 1.5 hours drive.<<

You're correct - I mis-read my own notes. It is 45 mins. That saves the OP 45 mins car time. My route was all along the coast - where possible.

>>I also don't think it's an hour driving from the Cliff House to Sausalito<<

OK - mapquest stays 22 mins - so another 30 mins are saved - unless there is heavy commute traffic on the Bridge and then it could be 45 mins.

I'm not a fan of Sausalito either - however I was a fan 45 years ago when I first visited it.

Stu Dudley
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Mar 20th, 2013, 05:21 PM
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Will you have a GPS or a TomTom?

The suggestions are great, but in some of the areas, it's easy to get lost if you haven't been there before.

For example, the route past Robin Williams' house. RW doesn't have a big sign on his house saying "This is Robin Williams' house", so unless you know which house it is, that's not going to be of much help. You are going to need some sort of electronic aid to get through those streets.

Going along the coast up to Yountville is better than taking the inland 680 route, but slower. You'll have more things to do along this route as Stu has posted. However, I would not be crossing the GG Bridge at 5pm, traffic will be horrendous. Marin County is a "bedroom" county for SF and there'll be lots of people heading home at that hour from work. Try for no later than 3pm.

I agree that French Laundry is way overrated, but it's a status thing.
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Mar 20th, 2013, 07:57 PM
  #19
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Thank you everyone. Okay so the drive to Napa area, it doesn't have to be that scenic. I am actually not a huge fan of hairpin turn roads and have driven the coast before, but husband has not. I figured drive between Carmel and Big Sur for a little day trip should be pretty scenic? A quick route to Napa would be fine, and we have been over the GG a few times already. Thank you everyone!!

To easytraveler, not my hotel budget is definitely not like my dinner budget
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Mar 20th, 2013, 08:14 PM
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Stu & kbob88

Thanks so much for your very detailed responses and driving directions/stops.

nspotz....you'll have to post a quick trip report so I can see how your drives went. It seems we are doing pretty much the exact trip!
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