SF excursions?
January 2, 2006 8:05 PM   Subscribe

We're heading to SF at the end of January. Any "surrounding area" recommendations for a couple days?

We're out there for about 5 days, and my inclination is to head up to wine country. Any particular recommendations for B&B's? My general inclination is to head north toward wine country, given that it's not exactly beach weather. I've been before (she hasn't), so I have an idea of a few wineries to hit (Niebaum-Coppola, of course, and I love the Robert Sinsky location), but I'd be interested to hear about particularly interesting tours. And any local farm recommendations for cheese. Thanks!
posted by mkultra to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Sonoma county is my favourite wine country. Healdsburg is a nice base of operations if you want a town. The Hotel Healdsburg is nice, if not perfect. It's quite expensive. But their restaurant the Dry Creek Kitchen is worth visiting even if you don't stay at the hotel.

For cheese, if you want a journey go out and visit the Cowgirl Creamery on the coast.
posted by Nelson at 8:11 PM on January 2, 2006

Napa is kind of, uh, recovering from a lot of rain right now. There's a LOT of wineries there, and honestly, it's not hard to just pick at random. Mondavi is great tour-wise and has an excellent large winery feel. I was also impressed by Clos du Val (and their cab specifically). I can send along other notes, but, alas, Napa may not be the best of ideas. If so, we last stayed at the Blackbird Inn and enjoyed it quite a bit. Not walkable to wineries, but, close to "downtown".

There's tons of hiking and eating to be done. Head to Castro St in Mountain View for a food afternoon, then down to Monterey for the aquarium and shoreline (kayaking, etc.). Drive back up PCH to Mount Diablo and Mount Tam to go hike. Berkeley is a cool campus to chill at with plenty to do in the surrounding campus/city area, at least if you stick to Shattuck and close.
posted by kcm at 8:19 PM on January 2, 2006

.. then there's Gilroy if you're garlic fans. :) You can always hit the Jelly Belly factory to the northeast and get some dirt cheap factory seconds, heh heh heh.
posted by kcm at 8:21 PM on January 2, 2006

assuming rain doesn't prevent you or block the road...

bodega bay area for crab-eating and some hiking, calistoga for hot springs/spa experiences, napa/sonoma for wine tasting, winchester mystery house in south bay, oakland/berkeley for east bay experiences, armstrong redwoods to check out impressive trees and some time spent in nature. or go up to tahoe and ski/snowboard!
posted by grafholic at 9:35 PM on January 2, 2006

I'll second the recommendation of Sonoma over Napa. Healdsburg is great. The last time we were there we stayed in a very cool (but if I recall a bit pricey) hotel called the Duchamp. Rather than rooms - they have these individual prefab buildings for each guest. Keep an eye on the rain, though. The entire area is under quite a bit of water right now.
Inclimate weather is bad all around for the SF environs. Yosemite isn't that far - but you might need chains or at least 4 wheel drive.
Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur can be lovely - but it will mostly likely be quite wet - so its more of a find a nice hotel/B&B and snuggle up rather than a go explore kind of place this time of year.
I've never been but Manka's is supposed to be amazing both for eating and for staying. It's not far from the city and would be perfect for an overnight outside of SF. The drive up there - if you go on the coast through Stinson Beach is beautiful. You could even take a detour through the infamous Bolinas if you can find it.
posted by Wolfie at 9:42 PM on January 2, 2006

Hiking around Muir Woods is a great day if you like trees and nature.
posted by mediareport at 10:23 PM on January 2, 2006

Oh yeah, Muir Woods and Mount Tam.
posted by johngoren at 10:44 PM on January 2, 2006

There is actually a "cheese tour" of Sonoma and Marin county cheese producers written up here but note, in the directions in the 12th paragraph ("Otherwise, turn right as you leave Spring Hill Jersey Cheese, then turn right on Chilean Valley Road,") should read Chileno Valley Road. Disclaimer: I have never tasted the Vella cheeses but I have tasted all the others and they are wonderful!
posted by Lynsey at 11:21 PM on January 2, 2006

I can second the Mondavi. They have amazing grounds and run a good tour. But I can never pass Schramsberg which is only a few miles from Mondavi. It costs $25pp for a tour through the caves they use for storage, demonstrations, and, most importantly, 4 good sized tastings.
There is also the Greystone Culinary Institute of America which has an incredible restaurant. If you have the time you can sit in on a class.
St Helena would be a place to stay in the area. It has quaint shops and central location close to Napa and many wineries while being less posh/pompous. Most of the B&Bs have romantic packages available including spa baths, massages, etc. Now is the time to go as many have reduced prices this time of year.
posted by arruns at 1:03 AM on January 3, 2006

Thirding the Sonoma and especially Healdsburg recommendations. We vastly preferred Sonoma to Napa, and we would be living in Healdsburg right now if we could afford it. It has tons of small-town charm, and the Oakville Grocery in the center of town is a great place for a casual lunch outside on the patio.

We stayed at a charming B&B called The Inn at Occidental. It was really quite nice, but Occidental is very rural, and if we weren't planning on exploring all of Sonoma, we would have gotten bored quickly. We stayed in one of the private-entrance rooms as opposed to the bedrooms in the main house. The breakfasts were generous and astoundingly good. Most days we didn't eat again until dinner.

Calistoga is great for spas, but we went to one in Occidental called Osmosis . The enzyme bath is like nothing I've ever experienced. At the time we were there, this was the only spa in the US that had this particular treatment; I don't know if that's still the case, but it really was cool and worth checking out.

The Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa is very charming if you're a fan or if you happen to be in the area. The museum employees knew Schulz well and remember him fondly, which made for some heartwarming stories.

There's also a cool redwood reserve in Sonoma County, in case you want to do some hiking.

We did spend some time in Napa as well, and your idea to visit Neibaum-Coppola is a good one. If you can get a reservation and want to spend the money, you can't do better than French Laundry. We couldn't and didn't, so instead we ate at Bouchon, Thomas Keller's bistro, and it was marvelous.

All recommendations weather-permitting, of course. But rain or shine, do try to hit an In-and-Out Burger while you're in CA. Mmm so good.
posted by boomchicka at 4:45 AM on January 3, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the recs. I love the French Laundry, but there's no way to get a reservation less than 2 months out. What kind of hiking weather should I expect?
posted by mkultra at 12:32 PM on January 3, 2006

there's no way to get a reservation less than 2 months out

Yeah, that's why I recommended Bouchon. We didn't find the rest of Yountville to be all that interesting, honestly, but we did take home some treats from the Bouchon bakery next door to the bistro.

As for hiking temps in January, I would say maybe high 50s - low 60s but cloudy and possibly damp. The redwood reserve was pretty shady when I was there in May, but you may get more sun in January when there's a bit less foliage. Just like in the rest of Northern CA, layers are a good idea.
posted by boomchicka at 1:38 PM on January 3, 2006

I would remiss if I didn't recommend the Marin headlands as a hiking zone with the Tennessee Valley Trail as a particular favorite.
posted by iamabot at 4:17 PM on January 3, 2006

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