Now, of course both Napa and San Francisco offer much more to see and do than can possibly fit into one weekend, but if you’re in town for a quick trip like I was, here are some tips on how to make the most of your time in the Bay Area.
Day One – San Francisco
Go ahead and get Fisherman’s Wharf out of the way first thing in the morning.
Is it miserably touristy? Yes. In fact, one of my friends forewarned me that I would “hate it.” Fisherman’s Wharf is a place where you will be hard pressed to find anyone who actually lives in San Fran. But, despite the fact that the streets are lined with tacky souvenir shops, no trip to San Francisco would be complete without seeing Alcatraz and at least catching a glimpse of the seals at Pier 39. (If you have time to tour Alcatraz, chances are your boat will leave from nearby Pier 33).
The restaurants and bars in this area are overpriced and generic, but I found one exception – The Buena Vista. This bar/restaurant brought Irish Coffees to the States from Ireland in 1952, and therefore, have capitalized on “inventing” the American Irish Coffee, a simple drink made with coffee, whiskey, a sugar cube, and cream.
I’m not usually a fan of this cocktail, but the Buena Vista’s was undeniably delicious. As an added bonus, it’s entertaining to sit at the bar and watch the bartender make ten Irish Coffee’s all at once.
After you’ve done these things, get out of the Wharf!
Along the waterfront you’ll find many bicycle vendors. Rent a bike (or a bicycle made for two, if you prefer) and cycle to the Golden Gate Bridge. (Don’t worry, the vendors will provide you with a map). En route to the bridge, you must stop at the stunning Palace of Fine Arts along the marina.
The large pinkish structure was originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, but now has become a popular tourist destination (and is understandably popular for engagement photos and weddings).
After you reach the bridge and take the obligatory Golden Gate pictures, keep on going! Unfortunately, I didn’t have time cross the bridge, but if you do, I’d recommend cycling across to sunny Sausalito. Have lunch in Sausalito at one of the town’s charming bistros and then grab the ferry back to San Francisco.
Once back in town, take the Powell & Hyde cable car up to Lombard Street to see the “world’s most crooked street.”
Then head to Smuggler’s Cove for a pre-dinner cocktail. This tiny, tropical speakeasy specializes in handcrafted rum cocktails and has a drink menu with over 70 cocktails on it. It’s definitely a unique experience and unlike any other bar I’ve been to.
Once you’ve drunk up an appetite, head to the edgy Mission district (or “The Mission” as the locals call it). Choose a hip restaurant or tapas bar such as Esperpento for a tasty cheap meal. Our dinner for two cost us $33 before tip for four large tapas and two glasses of wine. The same meal would have easily been double the cost in Atlanta. (On a side note, for being the most expensive city in the USA, I was pleasantly surprised by how reasonable the prices for food and wine were). Once you’ve finished dinner, experience a taste of the hip nightlife the Mission district has to offer and then get your beauty rest before your early morning wine tour.
Day Two – Napa Valley
With one day in Napa and a busy month at work, I found it easier to go ahead and hop on an organized wine tour. Of course, if you have the time and energy to research the overwhelming amount of wineries in the region, there is a plethora of private tours and transport options.
However, if you are looking for a great deal, book a group tour with Napa Valley Wine Country Tours. For $99 a person, you will be picked up in a limo bus in San Francisco between 8:10 a.m. and 8:40 a.m. (you can choose from three different pick-up spots in the city) and are transported to Napa. En route, you’re provided a complimentary breakfast of bagels, croissants, fruit, cheese, crackers, and a mimosa.
Our first stop of the day was at Jacuzzi Winery.
The grounds were pleasant and the wine was good. Connected to the tasting room was “The Olive Press” where you could sample a wide array of olive oils and balsamics. Personally, I was too busy drinking wine to waste time on olive oil, but those who sampled the many flavors seemed to be pleased (jalepeno olive oil, anyone?).
The next stop was Viansa, where I found their red Italian-styled wines to be particularly palatable. The indoor tasting room was spacious and well staffed, while the outdoor tasting room offered rolling views.
En route to the third winery of the day, we made a pit stop at Angelo’s Wine Country Deli.
Oh. My. God.
If you are in the area, you MUST stop at Angelo’s for some deliciousness. I could have easily been persuaded to buy most anything in the store, but the seasoned turkey jerky, garlic salsa, and garlic mustard were the stand-outs for me.
After Angelo’s we continued to Madonna Estate, a small family owned vineyard. After a tour of the vineyard, barrel room, and bottling room, we were treated to a lunch (included with the tour) featuring deli meats, cheeses, salads, and falafel – it was no Michelin star lunch, but it was tasty.
Our last stop of the day was at Jamieson Ranch Vineyards.
Out of the four wineries, this one had the sleekest tasting room and best views.
We chose to spend the rest of our time in Napa sipping chardonnay on the picturesque terrace while taking in the views. It was the perfect ending to the perfect quick weekend in the Bay Area.
What are your favorite things to do or see in the San Francisco area?
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