vacation in California

Old Jun 20th, 2013, 09:59 AM
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hwm
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vacation in California

My husband and I are planning a trip to California in September driving up the coast from San Diego to Napa Valley and would like some help from those of you who know CA well. Here is what were thinking so far: San Diego zoo, Santa Barbara, Carmel, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Fran, ferry to Sausalito, football game in Berkeley and Napa Valley wine tour. We're looking for beautiful vistas, charming villages, good food and a relaxing journey. Thanks for any suggestions you have.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 11:22 AM
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Are you renting one car and dropping off?
Why start in SD? I like driving southbound from the San Francisco area. There are many threads on this forum that should answer many of your questions.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 11:24 AM
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How long are you giving yourself for this trip? The amount of driving you're undertaking is pretty formidable-- California is a very big state.

There is so much to see in the state that a lot is being simply left out. Say, the largest city in the state (with its own world of attractions). Which you will spend at least two or three hours driving through.

You'll need to plan your route with the knowledge that some portions simply will NOT be coastal with breathtaking views. There's no point, for example, in taking PCH (Pacific Coast Highway, known as California 1 outside of southern CA) between Long Beach and Santa Monica; the road passes through long stretches of ugly commercial zoning and offers no ocean vistas. That means that you'll be on LA County's notorious freeway system to get between the two cities-- and the "relaxing journey" requirement has to be suspended at that point (trust me on that one). You might want to spend one night in Santa Monica just to get a touch of the LA area.

San Diego is more than its wonderful zoo; San Francisco could take you a week or more to really explore (it's a FANTASTIC town). The Central Coast is much more than just Santa Barbara (and just a few miles inland are the great wineries hinted at in the film Sideways. Napa is nice, but Sonoma is much better IMHO (although I do have to say I love Domaine Chandon, which is in the Napa Valley).

I think you'll get more concrete suggestions if you give us a better idea of your timeframe and the reasons that you chose the places you specified (like, just out of curiosity, why a football game in Berkeley?!).
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 11:27 AM
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Might want to take a trip out to Channel Islands National Park

Hearst Castle
McWay Falls
Aquarium at Monterey
Big Sur-a lot of people stop at Nepenthe for dining/view
The drive @ Pebble Beach(there is a fee)
Point Lobos State Park
We really enjoyed Kayaking at Elkhorn Slough
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 11:28 AM
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I was curious about the football game too.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 11:30 AM
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tomfuller: Although driving south on CA-1 is always an option, some stretches will give palpitations to anyone with vertigo or a fear of heights. You know, where there's hardly any shoulder and the road seems to be smack on the edge of a cliff. Driving north gives almost the same great view, but less anxiety/panic/heart attacks.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 12:29 PM
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We are thinking 10 days for this trip. We have been to LA and Santa Monica so will skip them this time to see the areas we haven't seen before. Yes we are picking up and dropping off one car. Why do you prefer Sonoma over Napa? Can you recommend some vineyards? CAL football game? My husband loves college football and CAL vs Ohio State sounds, to him, like a fun game. Keep some ideas coming, we appreciate your input. Thanks!
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 01:38 PM
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Sonoma is a larger region than Napa; I think it's prettier as well. And frankly, I enjoy the breadth of good wines found in Sonoma; Napa is better-known, but the wines in Sonoma are more interesting. On our last trip up, we stayed at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa (awesome) and took a fun wine tour: the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley (www.sonomavalleywinetrolley.com). We hit four tasting rooms-- three on the grounds of the actual wineries. Our favorites:

-- The Benzinger family runs a fairly large operation and hosts a great tour of their winery, including the vineyard.

-- Imagery Estate is much smaller and whips up some super-tasty varieties (including delectable whites-- and I am NOT a white wine drinker)

-- Landmark Wine has a lovely Pinot Noir.

-- Gundlach Bundschu has a fun tour of their facilities, and the wine is actually quite good.

-- Paradise Ridge has a beautiful main winery in Santa Rosa, and maintains a little tasting room (well, a roadside cottage complete with pet chickens in a coop) in Kenwood (on Sonoma Highway). Great reds, and a mind-blowing sparking Shiraz (trust me, you'll LOVE it)

Good idea to bypass LA this trip, actually. I recommend getting up VERY early on whatever day you do it; if you hit the greater LA area on a weekday between 6 and 9 AM, you'll suffer our famous traffic. On the weekend, it's not so bad.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 01:41 PM
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You'll note I listed more than four wineries.... Well, I was speaking at a conference, and I had to bring clients on a SECOND wine tour, arranged by my company's PR flacks (my husband hit the resort spa). Landmark and Gundlach Bundschu were on the second day (the other wineries that day were rather lackluster-- Ravenswood?!?!?). The Wine Trolley had a better selection; we only had one winery that was so-so (Buena Vista), and even then the wine was good.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 02:33 PM
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This is a really good thread on Sonoma wines:

http://www.fodors.com/community/unit...r-heard-of.cfm

We enjoyed the little town of Calistoga. The Best Western there is a good option.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 03:34 PM
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If you want to attend the Cal / Ohio State game buy the tickets ASAP. It will sell out - my guess it is close to sold out already.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 09:45 PM
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You can't get the single Cal tickets yet, but can buy them off Stub Hub -- if you need help with the new stadium and seating, let me know. And let me know who you plan to root for, because that will make a difference in where you might want to sit!

Also, get there early, they have some pretty decent tail gating pre-game!
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Old Jun 21st, 2013, 11:01 AM
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Benzinger is a good winery, we enjoyed in when in the area.
Just FYI, you will be passing near some other very nice areas with wineries on your drive that may be less pricey than Napa and its $15 and up tasting fees. Paso Robles inland from Cambria (nice play to stay, Cambria) has quite a few and is making some very nice reds, also the Santa Ynez Valley inland from Santa Barbara. Have a great trip.
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Old Jun 21st, 2013, 11:08 AM
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jamie99 is right; if you wanted to "front-load" the wine experience, the Central Coast is generally a bit cheaper than up in Napa and Sonoma (and note that some wine tours don't include all of the tasting fees), and the wines are quite good. It's been years, unfortunately, since I've been up to the Central Coast to wine-taste. Still, it's a lovely part of the state, and "just off" the 101 (unfortunately, a bit inland from CA-1).
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Old Jun 21st, 2013, 11:24 AM
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Thank you for all the suggestions for wineries. Do we need to make reservations ahead of time or can we just show up and have a tour/tasting?
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Old Jun 21st, 2013, 12:02 PM
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I'm not 100% sure. I think it depends on the day of the week and the winery in question. If you're going to stay in whichever region you choose, I'd chat with the hotel concierge for suggestions and help on reservations, breaks on tasting fees, etc.

Benzinger (www.benzinger.com), for example, requires reservations. I highly recommend the Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour they offer, because you get to see the whole process from vine to wine. Imagery (www.imagerywinery.com) does NOT require reservations-- and their website says they're pretty easygoing; I can vouch for that, as we got an extra taste or two and some somewhat generous pours of the wines we REALLY liked.

If you have specific wineries in mind, absolutely reserve any that have facility tours, and check for those where you will probably only be tasting. Make sure you stay hydrated, and make sure you have something to eat in the morning; each place will offer at least four wines to taste, and if you're like me you'll actually drink the samples. Each and every drop. Yowza.

Great, now I want to drop everything and go for a wine class tonight at my local wine shop!! Or drive up to Buellton tomorrow...!
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Old Jun 21st, 2013, 09:28 PM
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Thanks for the information on driving north on CA1. We are a group of five seniors contemplating this drive, and we will certainly use this suggestion if possible.

Now off to try and find a fabulous restaurant on the water as we only have a few nights in San Francisco., and three of us are Australian. We would love to make our last couple of nights in the US truly memorable.

This is a wonderful forum!
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 11:15 AM
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If the winery is open for tasting, usually no reservations are needed. Some you need to reserve for a tour, others do tours at set times. Some smaller wineries you need to reserve for tasting as well. Suggest if you are a member of AAA, you get their wine country maps, they have all the wineries listed with their hours, open to public or not, and types of wines for each.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2013, 07:05 AM
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Thank you. We would like to do a tour of a winery. Can anyone suggest a tour that is especially wonderful? We do have the AAA pamphlet which is great.
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Old Jun 24th, 2013, 07:27 AM
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In Sonoma, I've already mentioned Benzinger (for the comprehensive tour, as well as the good wines) and Imagery (for a much smaller operation with a very polished tasting experience and striking varietals). I throw in Paradise Ridge's Kenwood tasting shack because it's the epitome of California laid-back commerce-- a couple of pourers, some tasty wines, and a chicken coop by the side of the Sonoma Highway. Their Santa Rosa facilities are supposed to be spectacular (many weddings are held there), but I've never been.

In Napa, I'm a fan of Domaine Chandon (www.chandon.com) because they actually have great, real champagne (certified méthode traditionelle) that doesn't give me a headache; they also have made some stunning still wines (pinot noirs especially). The V. Sattui winery (www.vsattui.com) has beautiful grounds and an attached deli with very good lunch items for picnicking; they produce small runs of quite good wines, and the tastings are not expensive, so you can really get a Wine Country experience there, including some California eats, for not a lot of green.
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