Trip Report: San Francisco/Sonoma/Carmel

Old Apr 27th, 2010, 12:37 PM
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Trip Report: San Francisco/Sonoma/Carmel

Hi: We had a fabulous time in a wonderful part of the world when we visited Northern California last week. We started our trip with a 4 night stay in San Francisco and then continued on to Sonoma and ended our trip with a few nights in Carmel.

I've started with the first day of our San Francisco visit.

Again, thanks to all who helped me make the important decisions about food, wine and hotels!
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 12:40 PM
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We had a great visit.




We arrived late in the evening on Friday. Our cab ride from the airport to the hotel was nerve wracking however. The cab driver's speed exceeded 95 mph the entire trip on the freeway. I asked him to slow it down a bit; he didn't seem to listen. I know they're trying to get as many fares in as possible, but jeez!




The Chancellor Hotel is just great. Of course our room was ready and it was immaculate, charming and certainly big enough for our 4 night stay. The room decor is really lovely. Of course the bathrooms are also clean and well-maintained but they could use a bit of an update. The tubs are huge though and the lovely shampoo and body lotion were an unexpected surprise. The location is really superb, customer service is amazing here. I would recommend this hotel to any visitor. There are niumerous good restaurants in the neighborhood and the cable car pick up point is right outside the door. The hotel tour assistant in the lobby was an invaluable source of information. It was the perfect place to stay.




After having a drink at the bar at Scala's across the street in the Sir Francis Drake hotel, we grabbed a quick bite at Lori's Diner (actually very good for what it was. I had a yummy spinach omelet). We hopped on the trolley and rode down to Market. While we were switching cars, an older gentleman came up to me and gave me his muni-pass. He said he was finished with it for the day and would appreciate it if I'd use it for the rest of the evening. This was incredibly generous and much appreciated.




It was a beautiful evening and we continued back up Powell, past Lombard street and on to Ghirardelli Square. The views were amazing! It was a very quiet night, the stars were out and it wasn't terribly cold. People jumped on and off the trolley at various stops and the driver gave me and my husband a running commentary on what we were seeing. He was a great tour guide. What I'll remember most is how quiet the ride was. We felt like we were riding the only cable car still running in the city.




We ended our ride, opened the hotel room window, turned on the ceiling fan and fell asleep to the very pleasant sound of the cable car bell.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 12:42 PM
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Great start! More please!
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 12:44 PM
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first day: We woke up late, jet lagged. We bought a 3 day passport for transport from Susan in the hotel lobby and we headed out. I thought we'd check out Sears' restaurant next to the Chancellor but the line waiting for tables nearly went to the corner of Sutter.

We headed down to the Ferry Building instead; I was planning on exploring the farmers' market. What a beautiful day we had! The weather was stunning and we decided to have champagne and a burger at the outdoor cafe in front of the Ferry Building.

Here's the thing about San Francisco: Customer service is elevated to an art form here. People truly go out of their way to make every dining experience exceptional, even when the order is for mundane burgers and beer. Ours were delicious.

If I lived in the city I'd be at the market every weekend. Ten artichokes for $1.00?? Are you kidding me?

We walked a bit and then took a street car (maybe it was a bus, don't remember) to Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. I'm glad I went. Some of the seals were in. The weather turned a bit later in the afternoon and the wind kicked up. We headed back to the hotel and made dinner plans.

A quick cab ride later and we were at Harris's Steakhouse. Go there. It was fabulous. We didn't have a reservation, but it was early enough and we were able to sit in the library- like lounge. We listened to fabulous live jazz, had a wonderful meal served by a wonderful waiter. It was a successful dinner. The hostess called for a cab and we asked to be taken back to the hotel via the scenic route. This was money well spent. Our driver drove us down Lombard (more fun than I can describe) and all over the city. We had a bird's eye view of the Presidio, the GG bridge, Chinatown, the area around the Opera house, etc. He took great care to show us the best of your city. It was a really good tour. I love cities at night. San Francisco is simply unbelievably beautiful.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 12:49 PM
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Good thing your cabbie didn't go down the S turns on Lombard St!!!

Sounds like a great trip so far. Glad you enjoyed it.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 12:52 PM
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What a wonderful start! Looking forward to more.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 12:55 PM
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If you ate at the Market Bar at the Ferry Building, my aunt's husband owns and runs it. Its a good restaurant. Have been there a couple of times.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 12:57 PM
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Wonderful report,bowspirit. I am looking forward to the next instalment.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 12:58 PM
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The Market Bar has Great burgers! We loved it.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 01:01 PM
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day 2: We woke up late again but headed down to the water again to catch a ferry to Sausalito. Now, it was lovely being on the water and the photos from the boat of the city are fabulous, but I don't think I'd recommend this as a day trip at all. The little downtown area of Sausalito is sweet, but it's basically just a strip of expensive shops with the usual tourist stuff. We weren't biking here, so we were limited to the immediate area.

We walked a bit by the marina, had an ice cream cone, watched the guy stack the rocks (I suspect he's always there creating his brand of art) and we left early. It may be more informative or better to get onto a tour from S.F. that includes the GG Bridge and Sausalito but I have no direct knowledge of that. Anyway, it's always great to be on the water and the day was summerlike.

When we returned, we wandered around through the city, stepped into the Argonaut Hotel to see what that was all about, had a hot chocolate at Ghiradelli's, smashed some steamed crabs and devoured those, watched the spray painting artist and worked our way back to the hotel.

Dinner was at Scala's; the cracked pepper tagliatinni was superb. The service was also superb. San Francisco really knows how to treat its visitors.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 01:04 PM
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Day 3: We had tickets for the ferry and tour of Alcatraz; we picked up a coffee and pastry from Starbucks across the street from The Chancellor. The day was summerlike yet again! We were really lucky with the weather during our trip.

Everyone should visit Alcatraz. The audio tour was very well done and the bookstore offered some great reference materials. It's a terrible place, though, isn't it? We refer to it as Azkaban, the name of the wizard prison in the Harry Potter novels. We bought our tickets on Saturday for a Monday tour. We could have gotten Sunday tickets on Saturday but Saturday's trips were sold out quite early. If you have a specific day in mind or limited flexibility, buy your tickets online before arrival. I wanted to go when the weather was good so I waited until arrival to purchase our tickets. This worked out great for us.

After leaving Alcatraz, we picked up our rental car at Enterprise at the Nikko Hotel. It was a quick and easy drive back to The Chancellor where they valet parked the car for $30.00 a night for us. This little hotel offers so many great services.

We headed into Chinatown for a quick walk through, freshened up at the hotel and made dinner plans. We had a mediocre dinner at Cafe' Claude but wonderful appetizers at Cafe Bastille in the little alleyway of Belden Place. I'd choose Cafe' Bastille next time, the pate' sampler we had was superlative. The champagne and buy one/get one free beer wasn't a bad deal either.

Our last night in San Francisco and we spent it just walking around Union Square. We took the cable car ride one last time and prepared for the next leg of our trip: Sonoma!
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 01:12 PM
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Fabulous report! Can't wait to read it all!
Remind us where you were coming from?
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 02:06 PM
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We flew in from the East Coast. Sonoma to follow....
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 02:17 PM
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One wonderful night in Sonoma (Glen Ellen):

After heading out of S.F. in the rain, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge into gorgeous weather! The scenery on our way to Sonoma was breathtaking and we quite enjoyed the ride. Driving over the bridge was a highlight for my husband. Access to the bridge from our hotel in S.F., The Chancellor, was really simple.

We got lost getting to Beltane Ranch (not a terrible thing for us, actually, as there was so much to see and enjoy) and ended up in Napa for an hour or so. We visited Rubicon's grounds but didn't pay the entrance fee, instead we found our way to Beltane.

Beltane Ranch is simply sublime. It's like falling into Brigadoon. It was raining again and everything had a misty, fairytale-like atmosphere. The long drive leading to the inn is lined with vineyards, fields and disinterested horses and cattle. The gardens around the inn are truly lovely.

We were a bit early, but we were greeted and given some suggestions for winery visits and off we went.

We stopped at Kenwood and Belzinger. We bought yummy treats at Benzinger and made our own charcuterie to accompany our wine. The rain let up and we enjoyed dried salami, lovely cheese and tasty olives with crackers as we sipped and enjoyed the scenery at this lovely winery. It was a nice afternoon.

Two tastings were enough for us (lightweights but prudent). We ate dinner at The Fig Cafe' in Glen Ellen. It was fine but not a place I'd return to.

We finished up a bottle of Kenwood red when we returned to Beltane and collapsed around 9:00. There's no television, phones, computers so there are really no distractions other than the marvelous view from the second floor porch. It continued to rain all night, the sound of the rain on the roof very soothing. Take a look at this inn online. We were in room 3, a two room suite with the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in. Everything smells like lavender. There were vases of fresh flowers in both rooms. It's a wonderful place.

We joined the other guests (full house. if you plan to stay, make reservations Well in advance. we were able to get one night lodging here because we were planning a mid-week stay. weekends are booked for months ahead) for breakfast. Delicious! We had a boysenberry, cheese, and egg souffle, lovely ham and fresh fruit. The coffee kept coming and the company was charming. We were sorry to leave this special place.

We left Beltane about 11:00 in the morning and started to make our way down to Carmel.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 02:46 PM
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From Carmel to Big Sur and beyond....

We reached the 17 Mile Drive at Pebble Beach in the midst of a rainstorm. It was blowing a gale out there! I did have some regret that my photos weren't to be of porcelain blue skies and exotic blue water, but the photos of the stormy sea are wonderful. I've printed them off in black and white and they're impressive.

We found our way to The Cypress Inn and checked in about 4:00 or so. Do you all know about this place? It's owned by Doris Day and is dog friendly. Now, when we're in New York City, everyone is carrying around or dragging around a little dog. Not in Carmel. These dogs were generally large breeds: labs, goldens, standard poodles; they were all wonderfully behaved and very charming. We learned that their owners were pretty good company too. Many Carmel locals who aren't staying at the Cypress come to share a bottle of wine while sitting around the great outdoor fireplace in the courtyard. It's another great place. We hope to return here too.

I made a bad choice for dinner our first night out in Carmel. We went to Demetra and were really disappointed. The atmosphere (other than the filthy plastic tablecloth) was fine and festive. The chef came out from the kitchen and sang lovely Spanish love songs while accompanied on the guitar by the owner/host. Unfortunately, the food was not up to par. The Caesar salad was made with yesterday's Romaine and the croutons were commercially bought. There weren't any anchovies on the salad either. Now, I know that Caesar salad is fairly pedestrian these days, but when made correctly it's truly delightful. This one was a klunker. Perhaps I ordered wrong because the almond encrusted halibut served to the table next to us looked fabulous. The pasta was edible but the whole dinner reminded me of pizza house food rather than a fine dining experience. It was one of two bad meals we had during our trip.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway:

Oh My. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of this place.

We had an amazing day. Spectacular weather, views and photo ops. It is a beautiful place. We drove past Lucia from Carmel. We didn't go into San Simeon, stopping about 15 miles north of there. We turned around and had a wonderful burger at Nepenthe. I missed the gift shop! I didn't see it and now we'll just have to return one day for earrings! (my weakness). Listen, if you haven't had the French apple pie at Nepenthe, it's worth the drive. I also missed McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Another excuse to return.

There isn't enough time in a few days to do everything the area offers. We'll definitely return. I did see an intriguing campground with sites directly overlooking the sea. Now that looks like it might be fun! Frankly, we wanted to be off the coast road before dusk. We saw quite a few deer as we were leaving and didn't want our car to have a "close-up and personal" encounter with one of them!

What a beautiful part of the country this is. The road was very well maintained and the little road work going on was well marked and monitored. We weren't encumbered or slowed down by any work going on, our longest wait being less than 5 minutes on a short stretch of one way driving. Fabulous trip.

We didn't see/do everything, but we loved what we did see and do. The entire area is just chock full of potential days out; our limited time allowed the most sweeping of overviews. But it was a wonderful introduction to a truly special place.

Lovely day. Once in a lifetime kind of day. I felt lucky and grateful that day. I hope to return.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 03:01 PM
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Wrapping it up:

We had a wonderful dinner at The Cypress Inn after our long PCH drive. We ate in the courtyard and had caesar salad topped with a clam cake, sand dabs and cumin rice, and fettucine with clams. We washed the whole thing down with the lovely, dry complimentary champagne the management chilled in our room for my husband's birthday. It had been a bit of a stellar day, I would say.

The Cypress Inn includes a really good breakfast in their room rates, by the way. Scrambled eggs in addition to the expected fresh fruit, yogurt, cereals and pastries. Their popovers are standouts.

Tip: Call the hotel directly for discounted rates. Our room was heavily discounted and it was a gorgeous room (standard King).

We left The Cypress Inn about noon after visiting the wonderful Carmel beach and made our way back to San Francisco on route 101 (is that right?). It was an interesting ride back through lovely fields, farms, ranches and by the occasional Lowe's, Home Depot and Target. We were hurrying back so we could return the rental car by 6:00 p.m. We were scheduled to have dinner with friends at 6:30 that night and we weren't sure of the restaurant's location.

The trip back and the car return were uneventful and we had plenty of time to wander through the Westfield Mall's high-end shops in Union Square for an hour or so before we headed out to dinner.

We ate at a great Thai restaurant on 3rd street right next to Zeke's sports bar (where we had a Stella first): 'Koh Samui and The Monkey'. Anyway, we had grand curry in a pumpkin, caught a cab to The Chancellor to retrieve our luggage and then we continued on to the airport. We're now home, safe and sound, with hopes for another S.F.area trip very soon.

Again, many thanks to you all. We had a grand time in California.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 04:53 PM
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lovely report. so glad you enjoyed your trip in spite of some bad weather.
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Old Apr 27th, 2010, 07:42 PM
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San Francisco, even in the rain, is wonderful!

You are now officially SF addicts, you WILL return [again and again - I speak from experience!]
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Old Apr 28th, 2010, 03:14 AM
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Funnily, I don't remember the weather being too bad at all! It didn't rain all day on any day so we just carried on.

You're right, DebitNM: We are SF addicts. I started looking for cheap flights for the end of the summer as soon as we arrived back home.
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Old Apr 30th, 2010, 02:54 PM
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I am an SF addict too. I only live an hour away so a day trip is easy, though we stay over for a weekend a couple times a year.
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