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LA to SF to Wine Country July 2018 - Suggested Stops and Must Do's in LA, SF, Wine Country

Hi, friends--My wife and I (New Yorkers in our late 50's) are planning a trip within CA after I complete a program at UCLA on July 20. We are looking for recommendations of (1) good places to stay in LA (moderate-slightly nice), (2) things to do, and (3) then places to stop along the way as we plan to drive up to SF before heading ultimately to wine country for a few days. Looking for recommendations for (1)-(3) in SF and wine country, too (Where is the best area to stay/visit--Napa? Sonoma? Russian River Valley? Is it necessary to have car if going from SF to wine country and traveling around there for a few days?) Help with any pieces of this puzzle would be greatly appreciated! Best, Paul

P.S. We did the drive down the coast 22 years ago and remember enjoying it very much; memories are vague at this point .How many days should one allow if we drive? The other option is to fly from LAX to SFO and spending an extra day or two in SF. Thanks again!

Posted by
1199 posts

So many variables. How long is your visit? All the areas you describe are large and could take a week to tour on their own (the coast between LA and SF, Napa valley area, LA and SF themselves). For perspective, if you were driving straight from LA to SF on I-5 it would take 5-6 hours. If you spent time on the coast, well, there are so many places to stop along the way; from Cayucos to the Sea Lions to Carmel to Monterey. That drive (up Highway 1) could take as long as you want to give it. Then there's Napa. Yes you will want a car. I would start by reading about these areas and deciding what you especially want to see or do. The "best" place is relative, depending on your interests. I would stick with visiting Napa and maybe the Point Reyes area (like the Martha's Vinyard of the west) because of proximity and the amount of time. You are already spreading yourself thin. Keep in mind how large CA is. What strikes you when reading about these in a guidebook or online?

Posted by
2574 posts

Lots of things to consider. On LA, can’t give you much help. Driving to SF-know that Hwy 1 is still closed at Big Sur. There are things you can see, places to visit on this drive (Paso Roble, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, etc. allow 2-3 days) but if you want to get to N. Cal and have time to explore consider Southwest Airlines from Hollywood Burbank airport. If you haven’t been to SF in a while, things have really changed, good and bad. The Embarcadero area is nice and the Ferry Building a must see. The Hotel Vitale will put you right there. It’s charming and pricey. Be prepared for many more homeless folks than you’d expect. The newly opened SF Museum of Modern Art is terrific. Yes, to see the wine country you will need a car. We rarely visit the Napa area any more as wine tasing has become exceedingly expensive. Yes, there are great restaurants, very nice places to stay for as much as you want to spend. We instead go to the town of Healdsburg in Sonoma County. A straight shot up Highway 101 from SF across the Golden Gate Bridge. Charming town with a center square, nice restaurants, shopping. We like the H2 Hotel or Hotel Healdsburg, same ownership, different styles. From Healdsburg you can visit the Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley and other regions that are less crowded, less expensive than Napa. Allow 3 days or more if you can.

Posted by
8852 posts

Alan is correct, right now it is impossible to drive up the coast from L.A. to S.F. Highway 1 is closed just south of Big Sur. Driving I-5 is faster, but having a car in S.F. is expensive to park and unnecessary. The suggestion to fly from Burbank to S.F. is good. You could pick up a car when leaving S.F., drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and stop at Muir Woods to get a taste of the Redwoods. Napa Valley is nice, but so is Sonoma Valley with less tourists. You will definitely need a car to explore the wine country. You can fly out of SFO or OAK.

Posted by
3336 posts

I could recommend a million things! Born and raised Californian here, 5th generation.
I'll comment on the wine portion of your trip!
I highly recommend stopping off at wineries in the Paso Robles region, west of the freeway. It's beautiful and the wineries are mostly small, privately run affairs.
Once you hit Sonoma County - I grew up there - I prefer the wineries of the Russian River Valley. They are smaller scale, mostly family run, and it's not as packed with people as Napa. Be prepared for heat...
I also suggest a drive out River Road along the Russian River to the ocean. Lots of cute, small towns along the way and the coast is just beautiful. The Armstrong Grove of redwood trees is just outside of the town of Guerneville on the way. It's just as good as Muir Woods near San Francisco but no crowds.

Posted by
20 posts

I want to thank you all so much for your thoughtful replies. You guys are the best! We are thinking now of postponing the drive for another year when Highway 1 is completely open, adding a few days in SF, and then focusing primarily on the non-Napa wine regions. You have helped us immeasurably. Best, Paul

Posted by
8852 posts

I think you've made a good choice. I suggested Muir Woods to have the opportunity to experience the Redwoods, but Armstrong Woods State Park would definitely be a better choice if you want to explore the Russian River area and go to the coast. We spend a lot of time in that area and Armstrong Woods is far less crowded than Muir Woods. If you want to check out a beach, Goat Rock is just south of Jenner and is easy to get to. About 10 minutes or so south of Jenner is Bodega Bay.

Anita - I'm 4th generation Californian. My family came during the Gold Rush in 1849. There aren't too many people here that are native to California.

Posted by
3336 posts

Hi Andrea! Isn't that true! If I ever mention to people about how long my family has been here they can't believe it either. My great-great grandfather came for the Gold Rush as well. Worked near Placerville. Didn't strike it rich and ended up as a tin smith in San Francisco. :)

Posted by
3329 posts

I would strongly recommend staying in Sonoma rather than Napa county for the wine country part of your trip. The Napa Valley has become unendurably crowded during tourist season. Sonoma county lodgings will probably be cheaper, too. I also advise that you get reservations pinned down soonest. Yes, you will need a car.

Posted by
11432 posts

I'm going to suggest something different since you no longer want to drive from LA to SF.

From LA, fly (nonstop) to Santa Rosa (STS) airport. Rent a car and tour wine country. Then drive to SF, turn in the car, enjoy the city, and then fly back to NY from SFO.

This will save you time driving roundtrip from SF to wine country.

As for hotels in LA, anything near UCLA or on the Westside will be costly.

Posted by
5788 posts

If you are flying from LA to the Bay Area for travel to wine country, check flights into Oakland (OAK). http://www.oaklandairport.com/about-oak/

Southwest LAX to OAK fare July weekdays are $63 pp, weekends are $79 pp:
https://www.southwest.com/flight/shortcut/select-flight.html?outboundMonth=7&inboundMonth=&selectedOutboundDate=06/01/2018&selectedInboundDate=

Google Maps drive distance and time:
OAK to Sanoma via Richmond-San Rafel Bridge: 57 miles 1 hr 16 min
SFO to Sanoma via US 101: 57 mi 1hr 28 min
OAK to Napa Valley Wine Train via I-80: 50 miles 1hr 13 min
SFO to Napa Valley Wine Train via I-80: 59 miles 1hr 29 min
(Leave now drive times - Sunday 6 pm; Drive time SFO to Napa Valley Wine Train via I-80 departing 3:55 pm Monday July 16: Typically 1 hr 30 min to 2 hr 50 min same miles)

Posted by
20 posts

Thanks again for more great suggestions, everyone.
We're convinced that not staying in Napa is a good idea. Are there places that you'd recommend highly in/near wine country that are good values. The budget is not set up for the 500+/night fancy resort. Are there wonderful places that we would enjoy spending time at below that threshold?
Thanks again. You all have been terrific!
Paul

Posted by
2574 posts

The Best Western Dry Creek in in Healdsburg is pleasant, clean, well located and has a pool. In the $140-150 range. You can walk to shops and restaurants and there are numerous wine tasting venues nearby as well.

Posted by
441 posts

I have a unique suggestion, and I am not JUST promoting my own backyard. The Lodi/Woodbridge area is a booming small winery area near the foothills of the Sierras. For years our local vineyards supplied a majority of the grapes for the Napa wineries. They wisely decided they should keep things closer to home. We don't have the beautiful hills, but we also don't have the traffic and high prices. I might suggest the Wine and Roses Hotel.https://winerose.com
Lodi/Woodbridge is about two hours from SF on either I-5 or 99. A quaint downtown full of tasting rooms for wine and cheese, lots of locally owned restaurants and friendly people.

In addition to the many small wineries you could visit, it is a scenic and short drive up to the old mining towns of Columbia, a cave tour at California Caverns and a must-do walk through the Big Trees park. All of those are easy days trips from your base in Woodbridge.
http://www.visitcolumbiacalifornia.com
https://caverntours.com/california-cavern-state-historic-landmark/
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=551

Posted by
349 posts

Since you will be at UCLA, something to do would be a visit to the Getty Museum. Great art and a view. Also, a trip to Malibu to the Getty Villa for the antiquities.

Posted by
8852 posts

I was at the Getty Center last Thursday. It's a wonderful museum. There is no admission charge, but parking is $15. If you visit the Getty Villa the same day be sure to get a parking pass at the Getty Center so you won't have to pay for parking at the Villa. A timed reservation is necessary at the Villa, but there is no charge for it.

Posted by
13206 posts

We love Healdsburg! Nice small town, unpretentious, totally different from Napa. On Tuesdays they have music in the town square (which is mostly grass) and people get up and dance. Some of the couples are really good dancers, lots of fun to watch if you don’t feel like dancing yourselves. The night we were there it was Rock n Roll, but other times they do salsa or swing music. Here is the schedule:

https://www.ci.healdsburg.ca.us/335/Summer-Concert-Series

Lots of excellent wineries in the nearby Dry Creek Valley.

Posted by
1549 posts

We lived in Sonoma county for 18 years before moving to Monterey County and I was in the wine industry for 13. Agree with previous posters that Napa is expensive and not as personable. However 1 day in Napa is always a good experience. Stay away from most of the huge wineries on Hwy 29 (Sutter, Monday, etc). Our favorites in Napa that we always took visitors to are Provenance (great wine, friendly, and outdoor seating area), either Sterling (tram ride to winery and great views of valley) or Castello Amerosa (like a European Castle), and Sullivan (small, outdoor seating, have old antique cars).
But we loved tasting in Sonoma County. West side road to Dry Creek has some great wineries. Our all time favorite is Gracianas- every guest we had since we found this Gem has been there.

Posted by
3159 posts

You MAY be in luck if you want to drive up Highway 1 after your time in southern California. It was announced this week that the portion closed by the mudslide last year would be open by the "end of July", 2 months early. Ckeck back with the SFChronicle or Caltrans later in July to see if they are able to accomplish this.