Everything you need to know for a road trip up the California coast


Sona Patel, a California-based editor for The New York Times, put together this expandable (and shrinkable) itinerary – with help from New York Times wine critic, Eric Asimov, as well as their California restaurant critic, Tejal Rao.

The itinerary: Start in San Francisco.

San Francisco to Bodega Bay

Head north on Highway 101 toward the Pan Toll campground in Mount Tamalpais State Park, via Panoramic Highway for camping or a hike. “This is the back way to Mt Tam that only the locals know and use,” Gilbert said. Make your way to the top of Mt Tam for spectacular views.

Once you get down the mountain and head north on Highway 1, pass through Stinson Beach, Bolinas and Olema. Head a little farther north to the small-but-charming Point Reyes Station, where you can stop for cheese at Cowgirl Creamery or a pastry at Bovine Bakery. (Thanks to Ken Broad of Mill Valley for that suggestion.)

Dan Saltzstein, a former Travel editor at The New York Times, offers these suggestions for a meal along the way: Cafe Reyes, which serves wood-fired pizzas. (Try the Palomarin, with mushrooms and white anchovies), as well as fresh oysters (on certain nights) and local beers and wines on tap. Side Street Kitchen, for breakfast and lunch. They offer a veggie “hash” (roasted potatoes, vegetables, chimichurri rojo and a perfectly soft-boiled egg), chicory cold brew coffee, and beer, wine and cider.

There’s plenty to do nearby, if you’re willing to drive a little more.

Some of Gilbert’s favorites are the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which is about 32km from Point Reyes Station, observing tule elk at Tomales Point and the nearby Hog Island Oyster Company, where you can learn to shuck and BBQ oysters.

Continue north to Bodega Bay, the filming location for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1961 movie, “The Birds”, where you’ll find hiking trails. Fred Euphrat, who lives in Occidental, suggested the Shorttail Gulch Coastal Access Trail, a 800m path leading to a small rocky beach on the bay.

Although it’s about 16km away from Bodega Bay, a few readers suggested Wild Flour Bread Bakery in Freestone, for a post-hike treat.

Stay in one of the inns at Bodega Bay.

Bodega Bay to Mendocino

In the morning, hit Highway 1 north again and head to Salt Point State Park, before a visit to The Sea Ranch, “the California architectural monument of the 1960s”.

If you’re in the mood for an oceanfront picnic, consider Gualala Point Regional Park.

Then, head north just 16km past Mendocino for a day in Fort Bragg, where you can take a ride through the redwoods on the Skunk Train to Willits. Fred recommended going a bit farther to Caspar to visit the Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, which boasts a 4km Ecological Staircase Trail that “explores three wave-cut terraces formed by the continental glaciers, rising seas, and tectonic plates that built the Coast Range.”

Eric Preven, a reader who lives in Studio City, recommended Princess Seafood Market & Deli and Django’s Rough Bar Cafe for eats.

Stay in Mendocino at Brewery Gulch Inn or Glendeven Inn & Lodge.

Mendocino to Sonoma

If you’ve made it this far, it’s time to start driving south. After all that hiking and exploring the outdoors, you may be in need of a little vacation from your vacation.

Head to Harbin Hot Springs in Middletown for a soak or massage. The Valley Fire in 2015 burned thousands of trees and 95% of the retreat centre’s structures, but it has been rebuilt.

Wine Country to San Francisco

This is the part where you get to spend most of your time wining and dining. Here’s where Asimov and Rao jumped in.

On both of their lists was Scribe Winery. Here’s what Rao had to say about it:

“Scribe’s wines taste brighter and more vivid at the winery itself, a sprawling, sunlit, 19th-century home with views of vineyards. The tastings are leisurely and include some food, set at private tables, making the whole experience much closer to a dreamy al fresco lunch than an educational walk-and-talk wine tasting. Be sure to call ahead and make a reservation.”

Here are Rao’s other recommendations:

Box Car Fried Chicken and Biscuits, in Sonoma, where she said, “the lunch rush line can get a little long and sweaty, but it’s one of those rare, truly well-warranted lines for simple food made exactly right. Order puffy, tender, golden biscuits and crisp, fried chicken — in whatever combination appeals — and then find a table out back in the shade.”

And El Molino Central, also in Sonoma, where she said, “the chilaquiles made with softly scrambled eggs and the restaurant’s own fried housemade tortillas are an ideal way to start the day. If you’ve got more time, spend it with more of the menu, like the red mole enchiladas or the cochinita panuchos.”

Here are Asimov’s recommendations for wineries that might be a little less touristy:

In Sonoma, there’s Pax Mahle, who Asimov said, “makes excellent wines under his own label while nurturing talented young winemakers in his Sebastopol facility.”

And Ridge Lytton Springs, which he said, “makes terrific zinfandels and perhaps the best American cabernet sauvignon, Monte Bello.”

Finally, if you have time to take a quick trip to Napa Valley, Asimov recommended Corison for its Cabernet Sauvignons, made in a boutique operation; Frog’s Leap, which he said is a wide-ranging producer that has long been a Napa Valley leader in thoughtful farming without irrigation; and Stony Hill Vineyard, which he said is doing some of Napa Valley’s most interesting work and was a pioneering chardonnay-maker.

Linger in and around Sonoma for as long as your time and budget allow, then make the drive back to San Francisco.

New York Times


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