Driving Up the West Coast USA In Style


A little while ago, we asked you about your best California road trips.

We got tons of great recommendations for routes that crisscross the state. But, of course, heading along the coast north of the Bay Area and Wine Country were frequent recommendations.

As Norm Gilbert — a reader who sent us a detailed email that formed the backbone of our guide — put it:

“This trip can be done in a few days or a few weeks or longer. For the longer trips, just stop more, stay over night, wine taste, have spa treatments, eat in some of the world’s best restaurants and see some of the most spectacular views of nature you can imagine.”

Sona Patel, a California-based editor for D & F , put together our expandable (and shrinkable) itinerary — with help from our wine critic, Eric Asimov, as well as our California restaurant critic, Tejal Rao.

The itinerary …

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,” Norm 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.

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 Norm’s favorites are the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which is about 20 miles 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 1963 movie, “The Birds,” where you’ll find hiking trails. Fred Euphrat, who lives in Occidental, suggested the Shorttail Gulch Coastal Access Trail, a half-mile path leading to a small rocky beach on the bay.

Though it’s about 10 miles 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 10 miles 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 2.5-mile 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 percent of the retreat center’s structures, but it has been slowly 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 Eric Asimov and Tejal Rao jumped in.

On both of their lists was Scribe Winery. Here’s what Tejal 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 Tejal’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 Eric’s recommendations for wineries that might be a little less touristy:

In Sonoma, there’s Pax Mahle, who Eric 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, Eric 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.


Jill Cowan


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