I've booked tickets to San Francisco for a 4-day trip in mid-March. I am looking for advice on: (1) what Northern California area would be best to visit for a good mix of interesting activities and romantic/luxurious atmosphere (wine country? coast? city?); (2) good places to stay in $200-500 per night range; and (3) interesting things to do or places to visit.
My 30th birthday is coming up in March and based on a recommendation from my sister in law, I decided that a visit to California wine country would be the perfect mix of interesting activities for that time of year (wineries, biking, hiking/visiting redwoods), plus expensive/luxury enough that doing it for my 30th birthday felt like a treat. I booked the flight to SanFran and--based on many previous Mefi threads--was just about to drop a chunk of change on a very nice hotel in Healdsburg in the Russian River Valley area. Then, to my horror, I discovered that March 9-11 is wine barrel tasting weekend
in the Russian River, Alexander, and Dry Creek valleys--for $30, you get a glass and wristband and can visit dozens of wineries to drink for free. Yelp seems to confirm that this turns the area into a madhouse of drunk fun-seekers in bachelorette limos--the exact opposite atmosphere from what I was so attracted to before.
So. Tickets are non-refundable, so I will be going *somewhere* in Northern California from March 7th through 11th. I'm looking for recommendations of where that should be. I've budgeted about $3,500 for two people for the weekend (after plane tix) so I'm feeling like I should be able to plan something awesome--I just don't know what! Can you help me figure out:
1. Where should we go? Am I right in thinking that the Russian River Valley area is going to be a cluster*#$ during this weekend? Is Sonoma or Napa a better bet? Or some other area entirely? I really want to avoid the mass-crowd tour-bus feeling for whatever we do. I'm also open to heading further north (Mendocino?), or to the coast (Carmel?), or somewhere else entirely.
2. Good recommendations for places to stay? I'm not going to turn my nose up at an AMAZING place to stay for $100, but I'm assuming the sort of nice hotel I'd like for a special vacation is going to run more like $200-500 per night. More than that might be a stretch if I want to rent a car and eat every day! I'm not opposed to b&bs but don't love fussy Victorian decorating and the sort of place where you can hear every bed creak. (Ahem.)
3. What sort of things should we do? If you were putting together an awesome set of activities for a couple in their early 30s who were only going to be visiting Northern California once in their lives, what would be on that list? (Keep in mind it's March!) I love adventurous outdoorsy things, great scenery, good food, good booze (craft beer, good wine and especially interesting cocktails), and cultural stuff. Festivals and big crowds are less my thing.