In this Town & Country series, we explore some of our favorite city and countryside pairings. In each case, the city and the surrounding region both merit exploration on their own. But when combined, the pairings lay the groundwork for a vacation that leaves you feeling both invigorated and refreshed.
One classic city and countryside pairing in the United States is in northern California, where two of the world’s most famous wine regions lie just an hour from one of America’s most picturesque cities. An ideal short visit could include around four days in San Francisco and another four in either the Napa or Sonoma valleys. For a foodie, it would be hard to top such an itinerary.
Start in San Francisco, which Andrew Harper calls “a relentlessly charming place despite its popularity with the rest of the country.” Our three recommended hotels in San Francisco proper (The Battery, St. Regis and Palace Hotel) stand close to Union Square, a major shopping neighborhood and the revitalized Ferry Building, which “provides one of the finest gastronomic strolls in the country.” This waterfront gourmet marketplace contains dozens of local butchers, creameries, vintners and confectioners, as well as cute boutiques. We particularly like the cheeses at Cowgirl Creamery, the heirloom Rancho Gordo beans at Farm Fresh to You and the sophisticated pottery and linens at Heath Ceramics. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays stop by the mother of all farmers’ markets, which caters to thousands of people.
If you want to get better oriented to the entire city in one afternoon, consider taking a tour on electronic bikes with The Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours. With the Majestic Electric Tour, you’ll cover about 20 miles in five to six hours, and hit all the hot spots — Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge, Castro, Mission and more. (The electronic bikes make all those hills easy to tackle.)
Back on foot, take time to stroll around the Marina District, site of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition after the 1906 earthquake. Now Chestnut and Union streets are lined with art galleries, boutiques and coffee shops. The Mission District, too, makes for a fine stroll. Many alleys in this neighborhood have murals inspired by Latin American artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Don’t miss Andy Goldsworthy’s “Wood Line” installation, a path sculpted from fallen eucalyptus trees near the Presidio National Park’s oldest trail, Lovers’ Lane. Golden Gate Park embraces the renowned De Young Museum, a fine arts collection in an architecturally striking building finished in 2005.
Before you leave, be sure to visit one of San Francisco’s many acclaimed restaurants. Here are four culinary destinations we recommend there.
The Napa and Sonoma valleys lie a short drive across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and their delights are myriad. Of course, you can visit some of the world’s top wineries there, and our local wine partner, Porthos, can arrange for insider private tastings and tours at some establishments usually closed to the public. (Our contact there says none of the wineries Porthos works with were affected by the recent fires.) Spend leisurely days in the tasting rooms, picnicking among the vineyards and indulging in a spa treatment or two (many of Andrew Harper’s recommended properties have exquisite spas). A hot-air balloon ride would make an unforgettable start to one of your mornings. And for a refreshing break from the wine, spend an afternoon hiking around the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, where trees can reach over 300 feet high. Those with more time should consider staying at a property in each valley, but it’s also possible to tour both Napa and Sonoma from a single base.
If time permits, a fine way to wrap up a San Francisco-Napa-Sonoma itinerary would be to spend a cozy night or two in Sausalito, overlooking San Francisco Bay. The views are nothing short of inspiring.
[Originally published in 2015 in Traveler magazine]
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