Our Carmel-Napa Valley-SF Trip

Apr 17th, 2013, 06:06 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 179
Our Carmel-Napa Valley-SF Trip

Hello everyone…. Thank you so much for all of the great advice given during our trip planning. My husband and I had five nights to spend in California at the beginning of April. We had already spent a week in San Francisco previously so our main priorities were the other destinations on our trip. I had been through Big Sur and Monterey as a kid but my husband had never been and neither of us had ever been to Napa Valley. We flew in and out of SFO as those were the cheapest flights.

Day 1: Flight arrived at SFO around 1:00 in the afternoon. We picked up our rental car at Dollar (painless) and were headed south on Hwy 1 by about 2:00. We stopped at an In-N-Out about an hour into the drive as I had to get my burger fix! The plan was to stop in Monterey and then drive around the coast through Pacific Grove, 17 Mile Drive and Pebble Beach before checking into our hotel in Carmel. This may be too ambitious for some of you but for us it worked perfectly. We arrived in Monterey around 4:30 and walked around Fisherman’s Wharf (super touristy/somewhat tacky) before jumping back in the car. Following Ocean Street (?) around the coast we stopped multiple times along the turn-out points around Pacific Grove to take photos. The pink ice plants were beginning to bloom and the scenery was stunning. I had heard the 17-Mile Drive didn’t live up to the hype, but my husband really wanted to see Pebble Beach so, for us, it was worth the $10 entrance fee. There are some really nice beaches and homes along the drive. We even saw multiple deer frolicking along the golf course. We arrived at Pebble Beach around 6:30 and got out of the car for a short walk to the 18th hole. Then we headed to Carmel, eager to check into our hotel before the sunset.
Mission Ranch in Carmel: I can’t say enough good things about this place…. It’s like a dream. When we pulled in I was stunned by the scenery… the ranch lies on a beautiful piece of property just five minutes from downtown Carmel but it feels like you are hundreds of miles away. There are even sheep! We opted for the cheapest room in their farmhouse… very small but clean and charming. The farmhouse has a cozy living area with a fireplaces and beautiful porch where we spent our evening lounging on the rocking chairs. The ranch does have some nicer rooms and private cottages as well. Sadly, we didn’t get to see Clint Eastwood while we were there! Our first night we had cocktails and appetizers at the Ranch’s restaurant which was a little pricey but great.
nspotz is offline  
Apr 17th, 2013, 06:28 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 179
Day 2: We had complimentary breakfast at the Ranch around 9:00 before heading to downtown Carmel to pick up picnic provisions (the name of the deli escapes me). The plan for the day was to follow Hwy 1 down to Big Sur with stops at Point Lobos, Pfieffer Big Sur State Park, Pfieffer Beach and Nepenthe. Our first stop was Point Lobos where we headed towards the parking area for the Cypress Grove Trail/Sea Lion Trail. This lot ended up being full so we drove down to the next lot and parked. This ended up working out in our favor because we were able to hike a different trail that linked up to the Seal Lion trail and then on to the Cyprus Grove. Point Lobos was stunning… definitely a highlight of our trip… do not skip this… you could easily spend a half a day here but we were there for about 1.5 hours. *A quick note about the parking: a lot of reviewers on tripadvisor suggest parking on the street and walking in to avoid the entrance fee, but the parking pass covers all state parks so if you are heading down Big Sur like we did it is worth the $10, IMO.

We pulled over multiple times on Hwy 1 for photo ops, including the jaw dropping scenery at Bixby Creek bridge. The weather was glorious… upper 60s with no clouds in the sky. In fact, it was like this the entire trip! Forty minutes later we pulled into Pfieffer Big Sur State Park and took the hike up to the waterfall. The waterfall is pretty but small. But, the hike through the redwoods is worth it. We stopped for a picnic lunch near the campgrounds and then headed to Pfieffer Beach. I had thoroughly researched directions so we didn’t miss the entrance, but it is pretty hidden so keep your eyes peeled. We spent about 30 minutes walking along the beach, admiring the purple tinted sand and the rock formations. It was beautiful, but very cold and windy so come prepared. We had our jackets but some people were out there in shorts and tee shirts! On the way back to Carmel we intended to stop at Nepenthe but couldn’t find it… not sure if my google maps directions were wrong or what. At this point we were tired and not particularly hungry so we just kept going. I was worried that I had planned too much for this day but it ended up being perfect. We got back to our hotel at 3:30 with enough time to take a nap before heading to downtown Carmel to explore the shops and restaurants.

Up next… Napa!
nspotz is offline  
Apr 17th, 2013, 06:29 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 9,354
Looking forward to more! Thank you for reporting back on your trip.
MichelleY is offline  
Apr 17th, 2013, 06:36 AM
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 25,349
Thoroughly enjoying your report. Sorry you missed Nepenthe (for the view, not the food!).
sf7307 is offline  
Apr 17th, 2013, 07:18 AM
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 4,248
Enjoying your report so far! I'm headed to SF and Monterey/Carmel in a couple of months, so the information is very helpful.
jent103 is offline  
Apr 17th, 2013, 09:12 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 179
Day 3: We were very sad to leave Carmel… The ranch was seriously spectacular and the town of Carmel is so beautiful. But, on to the next destination! It was about a 3 hour drive from Carmel to our first stop in Napa Valley. We left around 10:00 and didn’t hit any traffic along the way, thanks to all the driving directions from Fodorites! Since check-in for our hotel wasn’t until 4, we headed to Frog’s Leap Vineyards in Rutherford for our first winery stop. The grounds are gorgeous and the house looks straight out of a Pottery Barn catalog. We opted for the wine and cheese tasting ($20 per person, no reservations) on the porch where they provided us with blankets since it was quite windy! After the tasting they encouraged us to walk around and explore the vineyards, they even have a self-guided tour map. We wondered around the gardens, chicken coop, beehives and vineyards. Next we stopped at Oakville Grocery, which I believe is the oldest continually operating grocery in CA, for sandwiches. The store would be a great, albeit, expensive place to grab picnic provisions. Our total for two sandwiches, no drinks or chips, came to $24. Were they the best I’ve ever had? No… but it was a neat experience. After that we drove up north through St. Helena to Calistoga and kept heading north. Here is where all of you familiar with this area will probably laugh at me… On a spur of the moment we decided to keep going to Healdsburg since we weren’t planning to spend any time in Sonoma the next day. Big mistake-I didn’t plan for the drive back or rush hour traffic. It took us about 30 minutes to get from Calistoga to Healdsburg-beautiful but windy drive. And then an hour to get from Healdsburg back to Napa Valley. GPS took us through Sonoma and Glen Ellen then through an extremely narrow and windy mountain pass back down to the valley floor at Oakville. By the time we got to the mountain pass our gas light came on and started blinking… no gas stations in sight or GPS signal. We coasted down the mountain and prayed we would pass some sort of civilization soon. We did finally make it to a station and then to our hotel around 5:30 pm. Whew! If you have a full day, this drive would be a great way to explore the Sonoma Valley. Unfortunately I seriously underestimated the milage and did not plan properly. Oh well, lesson learned!
We were so glad we had made reservations at the Cottages of Napa Valley. It was definitely the splurge of the trip, but so worth it. We had our own little cottage complete with a combined living/kitchen area. They think of everything there: heated tile floors in the bathroom, L’Occitane toiletries, robes and slippers, the most comfortable bed, indoor thermostat controlled fireplace, free Netflix, a picnic kit, complimentary drinks, snacks and a bottle of wine. I could seriously spend an entire day just relaxing in the cottage. In the mornings they deliver a breakfast basket from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon bakery as well as a copy of The Times. They also offer complimentary driving service from the cottages to downtown Yountville for dinner (the cottages are located about a mile south of Yountville). I cannot say enough good things about this hotel… highly recommended if you can make it work in your budget.
nspotz is offline  
May 11th, 2013, 02:15 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 2,240
I apologize for not writing sooner. I was really enjoying your report, and I do hope you will continue it. I live here in the Napa Valley and appreciate hearing what others have enjoyed or not. We get many visitors and family, and sometimes when you live In a place, you don't know exactly what to recommend for the visitor's point of view. We have our little hidden gems of course.

The road you discovered from the Sonoma Highway (Hwy 12) back over to Highway 29 in Napa Valley is not for the faint of heart. It is a beautiful drive but steep and windy. On the Napa side of the of the mountains it is called Oakville Grade. I believe it is called Trinity Road on the Sonoma side.

And yes, you've given a good reminder to folks about filling up the gas tank before exploring. There are a limited number of gas stations in the more rural areas. In Napa Valley you can find gas only in Napa, Yountville ( opened just recently), St. Helena and Calistoga. NOT in Oakville or Rutherford.
elnap29 is offline  
May 30th, 2013, 07:46 PM
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 997
Thanks for a great report! We try to go up to Napa once a year and appreciate the info on the Cottages.
Iwan2go is offline  

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