San Francisco & Sonoma Trip Report

Old Oct 3rd, 2003, 04:46 PM
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San Francisco & Sonoma Trip Report

My husband and I just returned from a trip to San Francisco & Sonoma County. First of all, I want to thank many Fodorites for their help and advice, both direct (responding to my queries) and indirect (looking at other queries and answers to them). Because of you we had a truly marvelous and memorable time. Because others have taken time to help people like me, hopefully this report will help others in crafting their future itineraries.

The installments of this report include:
The basic itinerary (and a bit of explanation of why)
Our accommodations
Restaurants we ate in
What we saw ? the good, bad and indifferent

Basic Itinerary
Trip was September 11 arriving in SFO at nearly 10pm and departing 9/17 at 7am (the only times I could get via a direct flight using frequent flier miles. It was 1st class so not a hardship)
Day 1 ? arrive 10pm, get car for 5 days, drive to Pacifica
Day 2 ? Drive to San Francisco, tour, dinner and stay overnight
Day 3-6 Drive to Glen Ellen in Sonoma, tour, stay 3 nights
Day 6 - Drive to Muir Woods and tour, drive to airport hotel and stay overnight
Day 7 - return home

We stayed in Pacifica overnight for several reasons: 1) staying in San Francisco with a car is costly since you have to pay for parking about $35 per night, 2) our car rental for 5 days was so much cheaper than renting for 3 days (what we needed for our trip to Sonoma), 3) Pacifica is right on the ocean and my husband has never seen the Pacific (let alone California), and 4) given the late time, it was easier to get to Pacifica rather than trekking up to San Fran. In hindsight, this was a really good decision.

For day 2 we stayed in San Fran for the obvious reasons, a wonderful city. We stayed only 1 night here and 3 nights in Sonoma since we are wine enthusiasts. Also we chose Sonoma over Napa since many people in the forum have commented that Sonoma wineries are more casual than the Napa ones. I can?t comment on Napa, but we did have a great time in Sonoma. 3 days, though, is enough time - we were just about ?wined out? at the end of those 3 days even though we did things other than drink wine.

We chose Glen Ellen as our home base in Sonoma mainly because of the B&B we wanted to stay in. It sounded like a really nice place ? and it was! Also, it seemed like a fairly central location. In hindsight, I don?t think that would have mattered. A number of fodorites have talked about the wonderful B&Bs in Healdsburg. We didn?t get to see it so don?t know if it?s that great. We did spend time in the town of Sonoma, which was nice, but I have to say that we really liked the small town feel of Glen Ellen.
We stayed at an Airport hotel on our last night because of the early flight the next morning.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2003, 04:47 PM
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Installment 2 Accommodations
Pacifica - we stayed at the Best Western Lighthouse, right on the ocean. It?s not a fancy hotel, but it really was nice. We had an ocean view room that was HUGE ? bedroom with a sitting room. Well worth the $100 per night charge (no charge for parking). By the way, it took us 10 minutes to get there from the airport using the great AAA triptik driving directions (it would have been difficult getting there at night without them).
San Francisco ? we stayed at the Hotel Palomar in SOMA for $179 per night (obviously not Priceline prices ? but I wanted to be sure we stayed at this hotel). I had read conflicting advice about staying in South of Market (SOMA). But I also heard nice things about the boutique Hotel Palomar. The homeless issue is prevalent in SF no matter where you are, and the Palomar?s location on Market and 4th is, I don?t think, any worse than other touristy areas ? but if you walk several blocks up towards 6th and 7th, it really does get worse. I don?t want to turn you off to staying at the hotel however, since we really liked it. We arrived way before the normal 3pm check-in, but they whisked us off our room immediately. The room was large (though not was huge as the football-sized one in Pacifica), modern and close to where we wanted to have dinner. By the way, even though we had a car, we didn?t want to drive around SF if at all possible. And that is my advice to anyone going there. Don?t drive in SF if at all possible ? it?s just too crowded. We also got a parking discount at the Palomar through AAA (I?m a member) ? $20 off the ($32) parking.
Glen Ellen in Sonoma ? we stayed at the Gaige House Inn for $265 per night. It?s expensive, but worth it. Even though the inn is close to the road, there?s such little traffic, that it?s unnoticeable. Many of the rooms face the back or side of the inn and also have their own patios or decks. The pool is also in the back, along with an open-air massage treatment area. There are so many touches that make this place special. Impeccable service (they scurried into our room while we munched on breakfast and during the day, so that it would be clean when we returned). Breakfasts are to die for and we had our own table so we could have quite conversation in the morning. In the evening, wine and canapés were served in the parlor encouraging guests to mingle and converse (and we did).
San Francisco Airport ? we stayed at the Embassy Suites in Burlingame for $100 per night. Located several miles away from the airport right on the bay with free shuttle service to/from the airport. I highly recommend it ? very nice suite rooms, with perks like free cocktail hour and free breakfast.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2003, 04:49 PM
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Installment 3 Restaurants
The Fifth Floor in San Francisco We heard nice things about this French restaurant. And I agree that while our food was excellent food, I thought the prices were too high and the service a bit spotty. Actually our service was pretty good (but give yourself plenty of time, from start to finish our meal took 3 hours), but the table next to us was served their dessert before they even got their entrees. Our meal was $265 for 2 people, which included cocktails, wine, appetizers, entrées and dessert.
La Poste in Sonoma This was not a restaurant on our list of things to do?. We read about it at the Gaige House (they have a book with restaurant menus). This is a typical French bistro. By that I mean that service is poor and food is exquisite. But the place charmed us to no end. Actually, service was spotty until after our entrees were served. Then, everything turned into an enchanting Paris experience. Because the place is so small and tables closely spaced, you can?t help but hear your neighbors and before you know it you are in deep conversation with everyone around you ? including now the (French) owner of the restaurant. So while we?re all sipping our espressos or after dinner drinks, we talked about politics and who else was running for governor of California. My husband and I agree that if we lived here ? La Poste would become one of our few favorite places to eat.
The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma We read about this place on Fodor?s and chose it because it was listed as a French bistro (guess you can figure we like French food), so we made reservations beforehand. When we arrived everything was OK. Nothing special though. Service OK, food OK, ambiance OK. Maybe the restaurant they just opened in Petaluma is better. Our restaurant had other items beyond French food, like burgers. But, if you are looking for a French bistro my recommendation would be La Poste over The Girl and the Fig.
Best Western Lighthouse in Pacifica Just a brief mention about the restaurant at this hotel. We had breakfast here. What is so special is the VIEW. All the tables in this restaurant face the ocean. So, while we sipped our coffee and read our morning newspaper, we gazed outside and watched the waves crashing on the shore. If you choose to stay in Pacifica, I?d recommend to you spot that this place for a bite to eat and bit of view.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2003, 04:56 PM
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Last Installment What we Saw
While we were in Pacifica we drove down coastal highway 1 (just 1 hour round-trip). If you have a car, do not miss doing this. Spectacular oceans view along the way.

In San Francisco, we did the usual things. Some other comments: We walked from the Hotel Palomar to Fishermans Wharf via Union Square and China Town. If you do not mind walking, I highly recommend doing this. You see a lot, and make room for a nice dinner. Of course, the Wharf is a lot of fun too. We did do a boat tour (to Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island). I recommend this if you have limited time in SF because the tour included a nice prerecorded history of the area.

Sonoma Wineries
Benzinger has a great wine tour. We heard this from countless Fodorites. This is absolutely true! DO NOT MISS IT! Our tour guide, Patrick, was wonderful, reminded us of Mark Twain. Their wines are nice too.
Quivira I do not remember anything on Fodors about this place. We heard about it at the Gaige House. A small winery off the beaten path. It was quiet so our host could focus his attention on us. Plus the tastings were free (although we spent money buying several bottles of wine). I highly recommend going here.
Ledson The grounds and mansion are the reason why you have a camera. Take lots of pictures. You cannot buy their wine in a regular store (so we ordered a case to ship back home).
Simi Too commercial.
Chateau St. Jean We heard about this place from others. The grounds are truly beautiful, but it is so popular that it has become a bit impersonal. If you go, try to find someone who knows details and can give you some attention. The wine was OK
Clois Du Bois - We buy their wine in stores near us and like them so my husband wanted to visit their winery. Dont waste your time. The sales people know nothing about the wine.

Other Things besides hitting the wineries

Jack London State Park Did you know that Jack London, the famous author of many books, lived in Glen Ellen? Well we did not. We had a great time here, walking through the museum, seeing his houses/farm, doing a bit of hiking. Worth the 5 dollar (per car) entrance fee.

Sugarloaf State Park My husband and I like to walk, but this ended being more of a hike. Anyway, this place has diverse scenery and wildlife. There is a parking fee of a few dollars (on the honor system). There?s also a horse ranch there where you can rent horses (to do the walking for you).
If you like walking or hiking, I recommend these parks.

San Francisco - Muir Woods National Park This place is less than 30 minutes from San Francisco. We stopped here on our way back to the airport. This is where the redwood trees hang out whose sheer size is incredible. For those who have had the awe struck feeling from seeing the Grand Canyon, this is (to me) a similar feeling. Again, be prepared to do some walking (but you don?t have to hike). Also, be prepared to drive very very narrow windy roads in and out.

San Francisco, Sausalito - This town is just over the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped here on the way to Sonoma (because the SF tour boat mentioned this town was nice). It is a nice town with lots of boat docks.

That's it.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2003, 05:03 PM
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Sorry for the long report with some typos (my cut and paste missed in the translation.
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Old Oct 4th, 2003, 02:59 PM
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LizQ: Thanks for the great trip report. I'll be in San Francisco later this month on business but my husband and I have the weekend to ourselves. I've always wanted to go to the Napa/Sonoma area but my husband doesn't drink. Do you think it would be worth a day trip to visit Jack London State Park? We've been to San Francisco several times and are always on the lookout for different things to do.
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Old Oct 4th, 2003, 08:30 PM
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Hi LizQ,

What exactly is "AAA triptik driving directions" ?

We are debating going straight to Pacifica from the SF airport also.

Thanks, Lisa
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Old Oct 8th, 2003, 06:42 PM
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Antlori,

If you're into hiking and history you will enjoy the Jack London State Park (there's a museum there also). My guess is that you could easily spend about 2 hours there. From SF it will take about 1.5 hours each way. Perhaps, enjoy a late lunch in Sonoma on the way back (stop in the mission there - more great history). Would like to hear your comments if you do decide to go.
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Old Oct 8th, 2003, 06:51 PM
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we actually stayed in napa but toured sonoma for two days>I have to say i found Napa more inviting and the wineries more interesting.To me Sonoma was as pretentious with people who are lacking the education about wines.We loved st.jean but we new about their wines and i agree their staff is very pretentious,chateau soverien is beautiful
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Old Oct 8th, 2003, 06:52 PM
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makai1,

I'm assuming you know what AAA is (an auto club). As a member, I can request step by step driving directions, maps, and other things for trips that I take. They package my requests for any given trip. That's called the "Triptik". They will still do this service on a requested basis, but I now can also do this on-line and get the"triptik" information automatically. You can also get driving directions from Mapblast and Mapquest for free.
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