When you’re a college student with a thirst for fine wine and upscale eats you face a major enemy… budget constraints. Still, my friends and I managed to squeeze in a spectacular week in California for Spring Break and scratch this trip off our bucket lists with careful planning, research, and dedication.
This post is dedicated to all my fellow foodies and travelers that want to travel to the Bay Area and Wine Country and enjoy every single luxury without worrying about overstepping your budget. I’ve narrowed down my top recommendations, favorite places, and insider tips.
Where to Stay
As a group of five college girls on a budget, hotel rooms were definitely out of the question. We did a ton of research and found great options in Airbnb, the best areas for affordable apartments in cool places for going out and getting to know San Francisco are SoMa, Chinatown, and the Financial District. We found a gorgeous apartment in the Financial District that had all the amenities you could ever dream of (lobby, gym, pool, jacuzzi, rooftop, barbecues, yoga room, etc.) and it was walking distance to Union Square, Embarcadero, and Chinatown. I definitely recommend traveling in groups of 3 or more to split the costs, places are not huge, we had to share a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment but considering the location and the apartment this wasn’t a problem at all.
What to Do
We spent four amazing days in SF and I believe we did all the “musts”, so here’s our specific itinerary for our time in the city:
Day 1: We got to know our neighborhood and went grocery shopping. (Rule #1 for traveling on a budget). We went out that night, in San Francisco I would definitely recommend the bars and the laid-back places rather than the nightclub scene.
Day 2: We walked around Chinatown and Union Square, we tried to go to Mr. Holmes Bakehouse to try their so-very-famous cruffins and doughnuts but they were all sold out by the time we got there. Instead, we took an Uber to Tartine Bakery for a coffee break, and ended our day with the gorgeous view from the Twin Peaks.
Day 3: After a delicious brunch, we went to the Golden Gate Park, where we were supposed to rent bikes and ride all the way up to Sausalito, sadly the weather didn’t allow us to do this, so we ended up taking an Uber to Sausalito, with a pit stop for pictures with the Golden Gate. We spent our afternoon at Sausalito, had amazing seafood, and headed back around 7 pm.
Day 4: On our last day in SF we went to the Embarcadero Waterfront, Pier 39, and Lombard Street. We then headed for lunch near Hyde Park, did a little shopping around the boutiques in the area, and ended our day with a goodbye barbecue at our SF home.
Where to Eat
Now here’s the part you were all waiting for, and believe me it’s my favorite part too. We all know my definition of tourism is eating and trying local food, so here’s the rundown for my favorite eats in the Bay Area.
Chambers: if you want good food, great ambiance, and even better drinks, this is the place to go. My friends and I fell in love with their Crispy Pork Belly with fig chutney that practically melts in your mouth, and the Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare is also a must.
Tartine Bakery: no questions asked, this is definitely the best bakery in San Francisco. Yes we had to wait in line about 30 min to try this place, but the quiche, the croque-monsieur, the tres leches cake, and the morning bun make it all worth it.
Zazie: open 7 days a week for brunch, Zazie was our life saver when we wanted a boozy brunch on a Monday. This petite French bistro serves Eggs Benedict in every single way possible and has the best mimosas in town.
Scoma’s Sausalito: when in Sausalito, seafood is definitely a must. We originally wanted to try Fish, a local favorite, but it wasn’t as close to downtown as we thought. Nevertheless, Scoma’s did not disappoint at all, their Lobster Risotto was to die for, and the fish was so fresh you could almost taste the ocean.
Souvla: I’m seriously considering contacting the owner of this place and begging her to open a location in the East Coast. The gyros and salads in this place are some of the best I’ve ever had, and like that’s not enough they have frozen greek yogurt with Baklava crumbles for dessert and wine by the glass. This place is very affordable and a necessary stop if you love Greek food and are ever in the area.
Where to Stay
Airbnb was our go to option here as well. In the Wine Country area, Napa is definitely the last place you should stay in if you’re watching your budget, instead look for places in Fairfield or Sonoma that are only 15 min away from Napa Downtown, or Calistoga that is a little farther up but very close to the best vineyards. We stayed in a gorgeous loft in Fairfield that accommodated us perfectly and was very affordable.
What to Do and Where to Eat
Well obviously there’s only one thing to do in Napa: wine, wine, and more wine. Of course you can also rent bikes and ride through the vineyards, and walk around Napa Downtown, but at the end everything revolves around wine.
Day 1: We decided to try one of the local wineries in Fairfield since we heard great things about them and the prices were much more reasonable than the ones in Yountville and St. Helena. Our experience in GV Cellars was incredible, the wines were top notch and we fell in love with every single one of them in the tasting, the staff was extremely kind, and the view was amazing. We obviously ended our day devouring burgers in In-N-Out, because we couldn’t leave the West Coast without trying them.
Day 2: By 11 am we were ready to start our tasting at V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena, we tasted 5 of their amazing wines that are sold there exclusively, we also got to taste some of their dessert wines like the Angelica that is a fortified wine that is like nothing we had ever tasted before. The staff was extremely knowledgeable and friendly and made the experience a whole lot better. We then headed to their Artisan Deli that offers gourmet paninis, pastas, and more than 200 types of cheese. After picking our favorite bottle, and something to eat we sat down in the gorgeous picnic area to enjoy a nice day out with good wine and even better food.
Tip: Download the Winery Finder App, you can find great deals on infinite wineries and it’s super user friendly. We found a great deal for 2 for 1 tastings in V. Sattui.
After relaxing in the picnic we headed to our Cocktails 101 class at Domaine Chandon in Yountville. Here we were taught how to make 3 different types of sparkling cocktails, while we learned about the history of Sparkling Wine.
Day 3: In our last day we had lunch at the Oxbow Market, while everything looked delicious I went for the unique crab and duck tacos at C CASA. We then strolled around Napa Downtown where we mostly admired the menus of all the delicious restaurants and the sculptures of the Napa Art Walk. For our last dinner before heading home we went to Ca’ Momi, an authentic Italian Osteria that didn’t disappoint us at all. My favorite plates were the beef tartare, the gnocchi with ricotta and fresh black truffle, and the seafood ravioli. The Angioletti which are basically fried pizza dough “churros” with organic chocolate-hazelnut cream (Californian for Nutella) were the favorite dessert on the table.
In my opinion, this trip is a must for anyone over 21. You’re probably not that used to see me writing about something besides food, but I hope you find my SF and Napa guide useful for future trips. Don’t forget to check out my Instagram (@ilpiattone) for more food pics of the trip.