New Destination: San Francisco/Napa Trip Report- Planning

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Zung and I have been to California many times, and to San Francisco a couple of times. While Mexico is my favorite vacation destination, the weather in mid-October has not been great for us. My birthday is October 19th and several years ago we seriously considered going to Mexico because we had a free week at the Royal Hideaway. We ultimately decided not to go, and that was a good thing because that was the year that Hurricane Wilma hit Playa del Carmen. We did go to the Grand for my 50th birthday, but almost cancelled because Hurricane Paula was due to arrive the same time we were. She headed east instead. The following year we went to the Grand for my 51st birthday and left just before Hurricane Rina grazed the area. This was just too many close calls for comfort, and last year we stayed home and had dinner at Frasca Food and Wine instead.

Several months ago I threw out the idea of going to Napa, California for my birthday. We had talked about taking a trip to Napa for years, but it never got past the talking stage. And those conversations usually went like this.

“We should take a trip to Napa sometime.”

“Yes, we should. Definitely.”

“Please pass the salt.”

This time was different though. We were serious about it. Then, in June,  our oldest son, Nicholas, decided to move to San Francisco. He made his plane reservation in early August and that sealed the deal for our trip to Napa. We made our plane reservations to arrive two months, to the day, after he left Colorado. In addition to Napa, we added on a few days in San Francisco to spend with Nicholas.

Let me say right up front that I am definitely on auto-pilot mode with my Mexico vacations. I’ve stayed at the Grand 11 times, and it’s where I expect to keep staying. We take the same flight with Frontier. We use the same transportation service with Cancun Valet. We do very few excursions. I just don’t have to do any research and my biggest decision is which of the four restaurants at the Grand to eat at each night. While some people are horrified to read that, it’s exactly the way I like it.

San Francisco/Napa was going to involve a lot more research and decisions. San Francisco has over 3500 restaurants! Where would we stay? We needed not one place to stay, but two. The only decision that was made right away was that we would eat at Quince, the restaurant where Nicholas was working. (Check out his blog about his experiences as a chef in this Michelin two star restaurant at

I will admit the choices overwhelmed me and planning for this trip was nothing short of stressful. First world problems for sure. I was looking forward to it and wishing we were going to Mexico, all at the same time.

Thank goodness for Trip Advisor review for hotel information, Trip Advisor forums for restaurant and activity information and Facebook for winery advice. Also, a big thank you to Bobby Stuckey at Frasca Food and Wine for some winery recommendations.

While the SF forums on Trip Advisor were very helpful, I have to say that San Franciscans need to lighten up and not be such snobs about touristy places. I’m a tourist. I want to do touristy things. Apparently some touristy things, like the Golden Gate Bridge are ok, and others, like Fisherman’s Wharf are not ok. When we were there ten years ago we almost didn’t go to Pier 39 because we were warned by my brother and his wife that it was touristy (and this was said in a negative tone). We went and had a great time. I got some great advice on the forums, but I decided I was a tourist and I was going to do some of those touristy things. And I’m glad I did.

For our San Francisco hotel we ultimately chose the Grand Hyatt in Union Square. I first made reservations at the Hyatt in Fisherman’s Wharf because it was significantly cheaper. I wan’t happy with the reviews and really wanted to be in Union Square. There’s great shopping in Union Square, and I love to shop.

We were able to use Zung’s reward points to get one night free and decided to book at Union Square. The free night made the stupid expensive rates a little less stupid. Not much less, but a little.

I originally wanted to stay at a Bed and Breakfast in Napa, but the ones I wanted were booked. I eventually ended up booking Andaz in Napa, which is a Hyatt boutique hotel. It was pretty expensive as well, but as we found out, we got much more for the price in Napa than in San Francisco. We loved it and would stay there again.

We planned to go to Alcatraz our second day in SF and do a walking food tour of North Beach/Little Italy our third day. I read some people’s itineraries and they packed so much into each day, it made me want to take a nap. I decided we were not going to sight-see until we dropped. Post-trip, I am confident we made the right decision. The other big question was how many wineries did we want to visit each day. I heard everything from 1-2, to, 5-6. We decided on 2 per day, except for our travel days, when we did one when arriving and “kind of” two when departing. We decided that was perfect. Except for the “kind of” two when departing. Let’s just say, tasting 9 wines before noon and then out an order sheet is not a good plan.

Dinner reservations was another big decision. Nicholas didn’t know until a couple of weeks before we arrived what night he would get off so we could eat at Quince, and he definitely wanted to eat there. He never had because it is too expensive and he really wanted to. It was one of the highlights of our trip. We thought we might get reservations at the French Laundry, but that didn’t work out. However, all the places we ate at were fantastic and worth all the research. I learned a lot from planning this trip. We will definitely be back, and sooner rather than later.

I hope to stick with my schedule of posting every Wednesday and Sunday. I hope you’ll join me as we head out on this new adventure.


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