More Quirk and Less Cork
September 15, 2009 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Looking for off the beaten track destinations/activities in Sonoma/Napa (and/or Monterey).

My GF and I will be in Northern California from October 9 until the 18th. We will surely spend a day or so in SF, and the last couple of days will be in Berkeley for a wedding. The rest is up for grabs. We will have a car.

Broadly speaking, we know we are more "Sonoma people" than "Napa people." All the same, while we lurve a tasty wine, neither of us is an oenophile and we don't intend to go crazy with wineries--though if someone can recommend a really didactic tasting, that would be great.

Instead, we'd love to hear about any hidden gems that the real Napa crowd may avoid: the great taco stand; the pretty good used bookstore; the spice shop where the CIA kids go to get interesting stuff on the cheap; the guy who sells his kind-of-odd-but-also-charming drawings in the park; the museum of spoons, etc.

Our inclination is to make it a leisurely trip, rather than driving all the time. Can you recommend a central staging area? We're happy with getting a cheap room at a Marriott somewhere and splurging on meals/activities. Is it worth it to try to squeeze in Monterey, or would those in the know just dally in Sonoma?

Anything we can't miss? We like art/culture/food, taking photographs and having hijinks. A great hike and picnic would be awesome, but we're city mice and a 15-mile excursion is likely not on our shortlist of things to do this trip.

(Feel free to MeFi mail me your hidden gems... we will be reverent and promise not to spoil them and we shan't tell a soul! It will be our little secret.)
posted by Admiral Haddock to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We did that trip a while ago. I would do Carmel over Monterey. Although 19 mile drive is pretty great for pictures.

Also, of all the vineyards we did, Bella was the most out of the way, most fun, and most beautiful. You can bring a picnic! Great photos! Lots of things to see if you wander the roads on the way up (and it's kind of a drive, way off the path, I have no idea why we ended up there.)
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:02 AM on September 15, 2009

Best answer: I like Sonoma's cemetary.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:03 AM on September 15, 2009

Best answer: My girlfriend and I had a great day with recommendations from this question.
posted by one_bean at 12:11 PM on September 15, 2009

Best answer: If you plan to drive up north/west of Sonoma and Santa Rosa at all, the River Road that follows the Russian River is really a nice drive, and there's a cool bookstore in Guerneville called The River Reader where I found a couple good books. You can taste champagnes at the Korbel Cellars in Guerneville too if you're into that. Then follow the road out to the shore, and take a long walk at Goat's Head Rock park. A beautiful spot, particularly if you can time it to be there at sunset (we didn't but folks told us we should have).
posted by aught at 12:15 PM on September 15, 2009

Best answer: The town of Sonoma is cute, and small_ruminant is right -- the cemetery is great (if you're into cemeteries; I am). Honestly, though, I can't imagine spending more than an hour or two in Sonoma, especially if you're not into wine. The countryside is beautiful, so if you want to go for a drive, you could do that. The drive out to Bodega Bay/Sonoma coast is gorgeous, and the beaches out there are really pretty. But again, if you're not into wine, eh.

For my money, Monterey/Carmel is the much better trip for you. The food there is great, the coast is gorgeous, the Aquarium is one of the best anywhere, and Carmel is full of art galleries. (Some are kitschy -- there are probably 2 dozen Thomas Kinkade galleries in Carmel alone -- but some are really nice. I'm especially fond of the Weston Gallery.) Downtown Monterey is historic and pretty as well.

And for your outdoor fix, if you want to do more than walking along the beach (oh, and the beaches in Pacific Grove, between Monterey and Carmel, have great tidepools), head about 10 minutes south of Carmel to Point Lobos. Beautiful state park.

Drive a bit further south to Big Sur, and you can stop off at Nepenthe for lunch or a drink. The deck upstairs is on a cliff overlooking the Pacific.

If you do choose to do 17-mile drive (which is actually two miles shorter than dpx.mfx suggests), stop in at the bar at Pebble Beach. If you order drinks and appetizers, they refund the 17-Mile Drive entrance fee. Plus, the bar overlooks a gorgeous expanse of coastline. (And the 18th hole, but who cares.)
posted by mudpuppie at 12:23 PM on September 15, 2009

Best answer: Cornerstone Gardens, especially nice for photographers.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:49 PM on September 15, 2009

Best answer: Giugni's Deli in St. Helena. The best bloody sandwiches in the world. My mouth is watering just thinking about one.

A couple of the more negative reviews there seem to stem from the way they make you order your sandwich. Here's how you do it so you don't look like a fool.

Stand in line (with cash, as that's the only way to pay). As you reach the first girl she'll ask you what kind of meat and cheese. That's all she wants to know, don't start telling her lettuce and tomatos, she doesn't care. She'll cut your meat and cheese.

The next girl will be the one that actually makes your sandwich and will start by asking you what kind of bread you want. There's a case with the various varieties right there, if it's not there they're out. I recommend Dutch Crunch.

She'll slice your bread and start making your sandwich. Don't tell her what you want, she'll ask you. Mayo? Mustar? (Ask for the Hot-Sweet mustard, delicious) Lettuce? You get the rest. The only thing you'll have to ask for yourself is avocado, if you want it. Ask for this at the end.

Most important. They will ask you if you want salt and pepper and Giugni Juice. Salt and pepper is up to you, but YOU WANT THE GIUGNI JUICE! I can't stress this enough, it's what makes a Giugni's sandwich divine. If you don't want the juice you may as well be eating at Subway (not really, the sandwiches are still far superior, but really, you want the juice).

They'll ask you if you want it for here or to go and cut in half, that's up to you. Then it goes to the last girl where you pay for it. Now, you should have gotten your chips and drink before you got in line, because if you ask them to hold on while you wander about trying to decide they'll roll their eyes at you and you've just branded yourself a tourist. And hence, uncool.

Remember, as the tip jar says, "big tippers make better lovers".

O wow, I need to visit back home. There's nothing in Seattle that compares to Giugni's and it's lunchtime.
posted by Jawn at 2:08 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In and around Napa; the Geysers and fainting goats, everything in Alexander Valley, the concert on the lawn at Mondavi, and the Wine Train.

On the way to Monterey over 17; the Mystery Spot, the Bigfoot Discovery Museum, and the Roaring Camp Railroads.
posted by edmo at 2:03 AM on September 16, 2009

Best answer: I've been planning to visit the Di Rosa Preserve, a sculpture garden and gallery, but haven't yet gone. It's supposed to be great.
posted by lubujackson at 1:42 PM on September 16, 2009

Best answer: The Fort Ross area is beautiful. Ft. Ross itself might be closed due to budget cuts, but the coastline around it and Salt Point is really neat in places.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:51 PM on September 16, 2009

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