Indagare member Jessica Dolan and her boyfriend just drove down the coast of California. They started in Napa and ended in Santa Barbara, with a stop in Big Sur. Here is their itinerary and some helpful tips.
“At the beginning of our trip we spent three days in Napa. On day one we had breakfast at the ABC Bakery (1517 Third Street; 707-258-1827), a really great little spot right in downtown Napa. We then headed up the valley and stopped at the Oakville Grocery (7856 Saint Helena Highway; 707-944-8802) to grab a lunch to pack in our cooler. This grocery is an amazing gourmet market and deli, with great coffee, sandwiches and sweets—I wanted one of everything.
“Our first tasting was at Frank Family (1091 Larkmead Lane; 707-942-0859) in Calistoga. They had some great wines and a peaceful area to have lunch but the experience was lacking. Next we went across the street to Larkmead (1100 Larkmead Lane; 707-942-0167) for one of the highlights of our trip. We had a one‐on‐one tasting with a super dynamic guy there named Sonny; he walked us through the vines and taught us about the land and the process and we tasted the grapes. We tasted the wines and bought some of our favorite Cabernets to bring home. We walked to dinner that night at Angele (540 Main Street; 707-252-8115) in downtown Napa, which is along the water and had great outdoor seating. This meal was good but not really a stand‐out.
“The next day we had breakfast in St. Helena at Model Bakery (644 1st Street; 707-259-1128), another amazing spot. Had an early tasting at Duckhorn (1000 Lodi Lane; 707-963-7108), which wasn’t a particularly unique experience, but they had nice seating area where we could linger and we loved their Goldeneye Pinot Noir. Afterwards, we strolled around the town of St. Helena and had lunch at Gott’s Roadside (933 Main Street; 707-963-3486). We were naughty and had delicious burgers, sandwiches and onion rings. After lunch we headed to Joseph Phelps (200 Taplin Road; 800-707-5789) off the Silverado Trail. It had great views and we had a nice tasting. Again nothing particularly wowed us here, but we liked the great views and had a nice tasting. They too have picnic tables where visitors can relax and the staff doesn’t bother you about buying anything. That night we had the best dinner of the week at Auberge. (They had seatings at 6pm and 8pm and I was really happy we got the 6pm.)
“A friend from Napa connected us with the Napa born‐and‐raised Buoncristiani family, which consists of four brothers who started making wines as teenagers in their garage. Today they produce some really great wines and one of the brothers took us to their new facility they are building at the top of a hill. After touring the wine caves that are under construction we sat in the shade and tried their wines, which are in pretty small production relative to other Napa places but have received some high ratings. We had lunch at Bistro Don Giovonni (4110 Howard Lane; 707-224-3300), which looks sort of cheesy and touristy from the outside, but friends had told us was a must-visit and it did not disappoint. It serves really delicious Italian fare, so I recommend you go hungry.
“In the early evening we drove over to Sonoma and it made me wish we had made it over there sooner as it is beautiful and a bit quieter than Napa. We had dinner at The Girl and the Fig (110 West Spain Street; 707-938-3634). This place came highly recommended and I thought had a lot of potential, although we had some service issues. The bar scene while we waited for our table was fun and some of the food was really good, but other menu items were a bit of a disappointment. We waited for an eternity for our food and the restaurant was kind of shutting down by then. I think this place has the potential to be great, but I would recommend getting there early and reserving a table on the patio. It’s also much more casual then some of the other dining options, so if you are looking for a reasonably-priced place with simple and yummy food, this is your spot.
“We left Napa early and drove south. We reached Monterey around 11am and picked up sandwiches at Campagno’s Deli (2000 Perscott Avenue; 831 375 5987) (a total dive with huge, amazing sandwiches), then went to 17 Mile Drive and Pebble Beach where we pulled over and sat at a picnic table. After an attempted attack from an extremely aggressive band of seagulls, we finished our lunch in the car.
“We saw the Lone Cypress, the golf course, then drove into Carmel and walked around town. After a coffee break, we got back on the road and started the drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. I was not prepared for how phenomenal the vistas, the air and the whole scene was going to be; it was shockingly beautiful. We opted for the ‘rustic’ vibe and stayed one night at the Lucia Lodge (62400 California 1, Big Sur; 831-6672391). The hotel has amazing views but was very minimal (no cell service and minimal internet bandwidth, but I loved feeling off‐the‐grid). I would recommend bringing a cooler with food because the restaurant there was pretty bad and driving to a restaurant on those roads after dark would scare me. I do recommend this hotel though for people who don’t want to splurge on the Post Ranch Inn. (Some of the motels in Big Sur can be a little seedy.)
“We went to the Julia Pfieffer State Park and hiked to the McKay Waterfall, which provided some of the best views during the whole trip. A friend had recommended horseback riding in Big Sur at the Andrew Molera State Park. We didn’t have time to do this but I wish we had.
“We arrived at the Biltmore Four Seasons, which was perfect for us in a lot of ways. It was really nice and elegant, yet relaxed and laid back. The service was great and the grounds were phenomenal. They have two great pools, one of which is Olympic-sized right on the beach, the other is a little quieter and only for adults. Both have excellent poolside service. The Biltmore offers yoga and Pilates classes for just $10, that are almost always pretty empty, so you end up having basically one‐on‐one sessions with the instructor. Breakfast at the hotel was nice – Bella Vista is the restaurant and we sat outside and enjoyed the phenomenal views. Drinks at the lounge were very lively and they either had live music or a DJ every night on the weekends.
“Cava (1212 Coast Village Road; 805-969-8500) was an awesome casual Mexican restaurant in the town of Montecito. We had our favorite meal of the trip at Bouchon (9 West Victoria Street; 805-730-1160), which is a really nice quiet quaint atmosphere. (I recommend requesting a table on their front patio.) Brophy Bros (119 Harbor Way; 805-966-4418) is casual and serves really fresh good seafood on the harbor. They usually have a wait, but you can have drinks at the bar or walk around the harbor while you wait for your table. We also walked to Joe’s (536 State Street; 805-966-4638) in Santa Barbara for some very stiff cocktails.
“Tydes is the Biltmore’s upscale restaurant. You can’t beat the scene but the food was just ok. I recommend going just for a bottle of wine or dessert. We filled our days reading by the pool and the beach. The beaches aren’t the best in the world but they are nice—I preferred to walk south from the hotel as opposed to north towards the Santa Barbara beaches. We went for a bike ride to the pier which was fun (the hotel has free beach cruisers that guests can borrow).”