San Francisco is notoriously cold in the summer — think foggy, 55-degree days and a chill in the air. It’s not exactly flip-flops and alfresco-dining weather. Luckily, within three to four hours of the city, there are plenty of places where the mercury rises and the outdoor dining is still divine. Here are our picks for three great escapes to heat up your season.
Roughly halfway between San Francisco and L.A. and near California’s food- and wine-savvy Central Coast sits this city of about 30,000 residents. “Paso,” as it’s lovingly called, is sunny and warm, and the heart of a thriving wine country known for its zinfandel and syrah — a good formula for summer fun. The downtown scene offers an influx of wineries, restaurants, places to stay and inviting things to do, making it a superb launching pad for exploring this quiet corner of the state.
Located just off the historic city park in Paso Robles, Hotel Cheval is reminiscent of the stone village houses you’ll find in Europe. With only 16 rooms, its aim is to make you feel at home, with outdoor stone fireplaces, a quiet library and a Parisian-inspired zinc-topped wine bar.
Thomas Hill Organics is a highly lauded wine bar and bistro with an ever-changing menu full of dishes with the freshest available ingredients, including catch from local fisheries, fresh bread from a nearby bakery and, of course, local Central Coast wine (which you can enjoy in the back patio). Artisan highlights the impeccable cooking of chef Chris Kobayashi, who draws much of his inspiration from regular trips to the abundant farmers market and organic farms in the area. Grilled salmon, wild boar, fresh salads — you name it and it’s here, and it’s done right. Il Cortile is Paso Robles’ finest Italian restaurant with melt-in-your-mouth housemade pastas, fresh seafood and quality meat.
With nearly 200 wineries in the surrounding area, wine tasting is the activity du jour in Paso Robles. To sip your way through gorgeous estates and tasting rooms, print out a map and start winery hopping. Or, while away the day at Eberle Winery, where you can roam the 17,000-square-foot cave on a private tour, taste excellent zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon, or book a gourmet picnic. Free summer concerts take place in the area’s downtown park each Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Pull up a blanket and enjoy.
Head about 70 miles north (and about 25 degrees warmer) of San Francisco to Healdsburg, an area that affords all the charm and allure of a Sonoma County getaway yet with sophisticated hotels, shopping and dining usually reserved for the big city.
The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Hotel Les Mars is your best bet. The chateau-like hotel’s 16 antique-filled, individually decorated, Old World rooms will be a welcome respite after a long day of wine tasting. The sophisticated and romantic Healdsburg Inn, with 12 comfortable guest rooms, was built in 1901 and sits right on the historic Healdsburg Plaza. Hotel Healdsburg is on the western edge of the plaza, and you can enjoy beautiful guest rooms, country gardens, as well as the popular Dry Creek Kitchen restaurant.
This little town is big on dining and you’ll be spoiled for choice. Go Greek at the delightful Taverna Sofia, where friends can share specialties of chef Sofia Petridis-Lim (who uses her grandmother’s recipes) with crisp wines from Greece and California. Kendall Jackson closed its tasting room and opened Partake by KJ, a café focused on pairing its reserve wines with an eclectic chef’s selection of small plates featuring produce from Jackson Estate Gardens and Orchards. Spoonbar debuted in 2012 and dishes out inventive American cuisine (seasoned with world flavor) in a light and airy dining room. Sister restaurant, Pizzando, offers delights such as wood-fired pizzas, housemade pasta, fresh fish and hearty appetizers.
The lush valleys surrounding Healdsburg are home to some of Northern California’s finest regional wine appellations, including Alexander Valley, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley. Wine tasting is a given, and there are hundreds of options. Print an online map and take a self-guided tour. The Russian River runs through Healdsburg, where you can enjoy beaches and swimming, or rent a canoe or kayak from River’s Edge for on-the-water fun. Don’t miss the upcoming Healdsburg Water Carnival on July 27 with wine barrel races, floats, a whimsical parade and local food trucks.
A little more than an hour south of San Francisco (and yes, warmer too), Saratoga is a perfect day trip or weekend getaway. Sitting at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the small town oozes charm yet dishes out world-class dining, shopping and entertainment. July and August temperatures hit the high 80s, so don your shorts and sandals and enjoy your endless summer.
The most luxurious lodgings nearby are Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley at East Palo Alto and Rosewood Sand Hill. Both Four-Star hotels are about 17 miles northwest of Saratoga. If you prefer a closer spot, The Saratoga Oaks Lodge is a basic but comfortable option ideally located on the main street of the Saratoga Village, just a two-minute walk from the center of town and its shops and restaurants.
Saratoga does food well, and the gorgeous Plumed Horse lures savvy diners from all over the Bay Area. Make sure you check out the three-story glass-encased wine cellar, home to nearly 2,000 selections and 20,000 bottles. For a real treat, book the chef’s table for a ringside view of the kitchen action. Indulge in the acclaimed seasonal and inspired French-California cuisine of Sent Sovi, one of Saratoga’s best restaurants. It’s celebrating 10 years. For more casual fare, head to Casa de Cobre for some of the area’s best Mexican cuisine. The outdoor patio is perfect for chips and queso, along with an ice-cold margaritas.
It’s hard to list everything, but trust us — you won’t be bored. Stroll through the tranquil Hakone Japanese Gardens, the oldest-surviving Japanese-style residential gardens in the Western Hemisphere, complete with arched bridges, bonsai trees, waterfalls and koi ponds. Ride a horse through the vineyards of Cooper Garrod Farms (sample the wine while you’re there, too) and enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and valleys. Pick up a souvenir at Deja & Co., a unique and rare jewelry boutique that encourages you to try on the merchandise. Pluck your favorites from the glass cases and the store will take note and keep a “wish list” on file for the future. Outdoor concerts have a beautiful setting at Mountain Winery, a gorgeous estate and venue (formerly the Paul Masson Winery) perched high above Saratoga, where big-name acts (The B-52s, Kenny Loggins, Tony Bennett) entertain on warm summer nights.
Photos Courtesy of Cooper Garrod Farms, Cortile Paso Robles, Hotel Cheval Paso Robles and Spoon Bar