Favorite California Visits

Below are some of our favorites in California. Sara and I have enjoyed them – and have had many great experiences along the way….

Bay Area and North – Wine Country

Wine country. There are a wide variety of regions in California – Napa, Sonoma and Livermore valleys. St Helena and Calistoga are my favorite areas. We normally drive up route 29 through St Helena, have brunch at the Calistoga Inn and then drive back south on the Silverado Trail. The area between Routes 128/29 and Silverado Trail hold some of the finest wines on earth… Our favorite visits are:

There are many others….

If you want to spend a night up in the Napa area for greater access, we would recommend staying in Calistoga or Healdsburg – both rich with history, have good entertainment and are close to the wineries.

Sara & I enjoy walking through Calistoga and the many restaurants in town. The Calistoga Inn has a wonderful outdoor eating area with a great brunch. There is also an geyser nearby that has periodic water releases and farm animals… http://www.oldfaithfulgeyser.com/

From San Francisco you can easily commute to Napa for the day – about 90 minutes by car.

San Francisco has many nice places – in and around. Some of my favorites:

For shopping/browsing: Sausalito, Tiburon just north of the Golden Gate.

Nice restaurant in Tiburon that looks back at SF

You can even take a Ferry/Boat ride over from SF

Parks and recreation:

Baker Beach (sometimes clothing optional)

Golden Gate Park

The best deal in SF is the Alcatraz tour. You must book tickets ahead of time – I highly recommend this with the ‘Audio Tour’. The audio tour covers the history of the island and prison – which housed some of the most notorious gangsters of modern times.
US Gov site:

Alcatraz also gets you a nice boat ride over to the island. You’ll have great views of the city – if the weather is good. And, of course, there is always SF’s Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 for tourist shops and fresh fish (a lot of tourists though).

Eating a bowl of clam chowder out of a sour dough bread bowl is a must while in town at Boudin Bakery/restaurant.


Live Jazz and great Sushi you can’t beat Yoshi’s anywhere in the world. Arturo Sandoval – legendary trumpet player calls Yoshi’s one of the reaming 2 or 4 great jazz clubs in America. There is also Yoshi’s in Oakland – the original.

Bimbos always has an eclectic set of artist too… This is a club where artists like Chris Izaak, Van Morrison and other locals have played in the past.

San Jose/South of San Francisco

Going south brings many options. You can go along highway 101 – or try to take as much Highway 1 as possible. It makes a much longer trip – but 1 is along the water most of the way – very twisty and slow. If you go south from SF – Santa Cruz is a good beach and has rides for the kids (and kids at heart). There is a train ride nearby at a place called Roaring Camp that takes you through old growth Redwoods… Some are centuries old.

Santa Cruz could also be a day trip from SF. It’s between SF & Monterey.

SC Beach/Boardwalk:
Roaring Camp:

Another close by attraction is in San Jose – A good afternoon trip, from San Francisco trip to the Winchester Mystery house.. Hard to believe this place is real. The kids would probably get a real kick out of this.


A little South of Santa Cruz is a quaint beach town named Capitola that is lovely to just relax in – or maybe stay the night and enjoy the plentiful entertainment.

South of Santa Cruz & Monterey is the famous Big Sur forest and beach areas.

In all directions there are many options –

Toward the North, along the coast there are many places (mostly quiet/sleepy towns with rocky shore lines)…. Among them are Sea Ranch, Bodega Bay (Best Clam Chowder) and many more.

To the East – Lake Tahoe is beautiful too… But inland and a bit of a drive ~ 4.5 – 5 hours drive from SF. Another multi-day trip for sure.

To the Southeast – If you want to go inland you can find some of the most beautiful country on the planet. One of my favorites is Yosemite National Park. There are hotels at the summit, camping and some places to stay nearby. Beautiful mountains, redwoods, etc.

Sara & I have stayed at the Tenaya Lodge before. http://www.nationalparkreservations.com/yosemite.htm

Important note – Yosemite will be ‘dry’ in July/August and into October. In the spring, there are beautiful waterfalls and rushing streams from the snow melt and run off. This all dies to a drip by summer….



South – towards LA –

More than a day trip from SF (about 3 hour drive from San Francisco), south along the coast is a place called Cambria. It’s about half way to LA. There are many lovely Bed & Breakfast type places to stay right along the ocean.

Sara & I have stayed at a place called The Fog Catcher Inn and enjoyed it. There is a walking trail across the road on the ocean, and lots of surfers in wet suits catching waves. The town of Cambria is an artist Mecca. It has lots of shops and also places to taste local wines. The nearby wine region (Santa Margarita Valley) grows very good Pinot Noir grapes. This area was featured in the movie “Sideways”.

More interesting is the proximity to the Hearst Castle. This is one of the larges homes in the world. Build over a period of 50+ years with a full time architect… Amazing stories. It’s built on top of a mountain with amazing views. It used to have a working zoo, cattle and agricultural farming. The history is very rich and there are 7 or so different tour options. It is now owned by the state of California and operated for tours.


Los Angeles (5+ hour drive from San Francisco) is where you will find not only traffic at an all-new scale, but some of the most famous beaches around. There are many options/places to stay. I would recommend seeing/doing the following:

The Getty Museum http://www.getty.edu/


Hollywood – take walk by Mann’s Chinese Theater and the Kodak Theater where the Oscars are handed out…

Universal Studios has many shopping and restaurant areas besides the studio tours and events. If you stayed nearby, you could go there a couple of times to take it all in. They have a huge theater areas that includes and IMAX screen – if you haven’t seen a film in IMAX you should while there.

Universal Studios – http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/offer_landing.html?__source=google_lp_text

A lot of movies and TV shows were filmed around the following – weather is always great and the sand is nice.

Santa Monica pier & beach http://www.santamonicapier.org/


Venice Beach http://www.westland.net/beachcam/   http://www.westland.net/venice/


Zuma Beach in Malibu and many others are close too…. http://beaches.co.la.ca.us/BandH/Beaches/Zuma.htm

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