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Just Back: San Francisco and Wine Country

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Earlier this year, I took a weeklong anniversary trip to San Francisco, Napa, and Sonoma with my husband, Lee, an academic who gets hives at the thought of anything luxurious. Keeping him comfortable meant mixing extraordinary meals with unexpected finds and cheap local favorites. Here’s the best of our high-low itinerary that kept both of us satisfied.

We arrived on the Thursday before pride week, which mean that the evening festivities at the California Academy of Sciences Nightlife program (every Thursday evening) were extra colorful. Between the live baby ostriches and the phenomenal living roof, we sipped specialty cocktails, sampled ice cream, and took in a drag show. Bonus: the tickets are a steal at just $12 per person, or about half the cost of regular admission.

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The following day we returned to Golden Gate Park to take in the Japanese Tea Garden (75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., (415) 752-1171, japaneseteagardensf.com). We skipped breakfast and took a painfully slow bus to get there, so the mixed cookie tray and warming tea were a perfect restorative addition to the zen space. For lunch we stopped at Nopalito for bright and fresh Mexican food like caldo tlalpeño (a satisfying soup with avocado and queso fresco) and grass-fed beef empanadas. As the fog burned off in the afternoon we stopped at not one but two ice cream shops: Smitten (432 Octavia St.) for frozen-to-order ice cream in a retro-fitted storage unit and later the San Francisco classic, Bi-Rite Creamery.

Saturday started at the Ferry Building to take in the sprawling farmer’s market. After a drip coffee from Blue Bottle and a breakfast sandwich from Cowgirl Creamery, we took our market purchases (cheese, bread, and the most delicious blueberries either of us had tasted) to the namesake ferry for a scenic ride (sit on the left side, er, port, for perfect views of the Golden Gate) to Sausalito where we caught a bus to Muir Woods.

Our four mile hike in the woods gave us ample excuse to carbo-load in the Mission. With our name on the list at Flour + Water we took the two hour wait (it was worth it) as an excuse to have a drink at Schmidt’s (2400 Folsom St.), just down the street. The Bavarian bar serves a staggering number of beers on tap as well as refined German fare—smashed pea cakes with salmon and crème fraiche (for me) and chewy satisfying pretzel rolls (for the hubby).

We had breakfast at Tartine (600 Guerrero St, (415) 487-2600) and walked the length of the city up to the San Francisco MoMA one morning and ended with an awesome find by our hotel in the business district: Happy hour at the Farallon (450 Post St.), a recommendation from friends we made in line at Flour + Water. The “six before seven” happy hour features cocktails and small plates for, as you guessed, $6 before 7pm. Champagne and oysters for me; medium-rare sliders for him.

Onward to Napa: Set on Howell Mountain, the LEED gold property Cade has a phenomenal view over the valley. The concrete and oxidized metal structures have recycled jeans as insulation, use recycled water, and are cooled naturally by invection. Take a tour of the caves where a mix of French barrels and concrete aging eggs are lit by chic Edison bulbs. Down the mountain and on our way to Plump Jack (620 Oakville Cross Rd.), we stopped off for sandwiches at Dean & Deluca (607 South St. Helena Hwy.) after Lee balked at the menu at Press, just next door. That evening we headed to Yountville to check in to our hotel before our crowning meal at Thomas Keller's Bouchon (6534 Washington St.). We feasted on brandade-filled beignets, a heaping charcuterie board, gorgeous desserts, and even managed to take home brownies from the bakery next door.

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Our day in Sonoma began at the Fremont Diner (2698 Fremont Dr., (707) 938-7370), perhaps the perfect meal for each of us: chilaquiles for Lee and ricotta toasts with fig, honey, and mint for me. Well fed, we travelled to Scribe (2300 Napa Road, (707) 939-1858), a 2009 winery that absolutely everyone we met recommended. The vibe was perfect: relaxed tastings at outdoor picnic tables under shade trees are an hour and a half with one of the young laid-back staff. Everyone here, including Luna the vineyard dog, is friends.   

Just across the street at Gundlach Bunschu (2000 Denmark St., (707) 938-5277) our pourer was quite the opposite, though equally charming. The oldest winery in Sonoma, Gun Bun offers beautiful German wines with unpretentious education.

For our drive back to San Francisco (and our redeye flight) we stocked up at Oxbow Market with bread from Model Bakery and cured meats from the Fatted Calf. Even so, we were distracted by Girl and the Fig in Sonoma and ended up eating a second dinner of duck confit and moules frittes.

It was the perfect trip for each of us, especially the choice of travel companion.

Charlotte Savino is the digital listings editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photos courtesy of Charlotte Savino

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