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Just as any first-time itinerary to Europe should include such iconic sites as the Eiffel Tower and St. Peter’s Basilica, your first trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley should include some must-see experiences. Go for the legendary venues, the ones you’ve been hearing about for so long. Everybody needs to see the Mona Lisa once, right? Here are some of our top picks for a perfect, first-time-weekend-visit.
DAY 1: San Francisco
The clock starts ticking, appropriately enough, beneath the giant clock tower at this bustling San Francisco landmark. A major commuter terminal as well as a dining destination, the Ferry Building houses butchers, artisanal cheese makers and the James Beard Award-winning restaurant, The Slanted Door.
The Embarcadero / PIER 39
Walk north along the Embarcadero for exceptional views of Russian Hill and Treasure Island. A mile later, you’ll be at one of the most popular San Francisco destinations, PIER 39. This is the perfect place to snap a picture, stock up on souvenirs and visit with some of the city’s most famous residents: its sea lions.
From PIER 39, head west on Beach Street until you reach Hyde Street. Take a moment to stretch your legs and then start walking up Hyde. When you reach the top, you’ll be at the intersection of Lombard and Hyde, looking down at one of the most photographed city blocks in the world. Known for its steep, flower-lined switchbacks, Lombard is a must-see for visitors.
Cable Car / F Line Streetcar
It’s time to head back to the heart of the city—and as they say, getting there is half the fun. At the corner of Greenwich and Mason Streets, hop onboard one of San Francisco’s famous cable cars and head south. The only mobile National Historic Landmark in the nation, the cable car will carry you over Nob Hill and down to Market Street. At the end of the line, catch the historic F Line Streetcar at Market and Fifth Streets, going west toward Twin Peaks. Your short ride down one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares will feel like a trip back in time.
Disembark the F Line at Market and 9th Streets and walk north on Larkin Street. You’ll soon find yourself in Civic Center Plaza, a green space surrounded by monumental San Francisco architecture. There’s the main branch of the city’s public library system, the Asian Art Museum and City Hall, with its towering dome (the fifth-largest in the world). Tours of the building are available weekdays at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m., and by special appointment.
The Painted Ladies
From the northwest corner of City Hall at McAllister Street, cross Van Ness Avenue and board the 5 Muni bus, heading outbound to Ocean Beach. Hop off at Pierce Street and walk south. A short block later, you’ll be in another of the city’s most photogenic spots, Alamo Square Park. From its eastern slope, you’ll have a stellar view of the city skyline and the famous Painted Ladies of Steiner Street, gorgeous Victorian homes that have been meticulously maintained.
Hungry? Explore the Hayes Valley neighborhood. Bordered by Fulton Street on the north and Market Street on the south, this rapidly growing neighborhood is full of fine dining, independent boutiques, and multipurpose parks. Hayes Street, which is on the south side of Alamo Square Park, has a number of trend-setting establishments.
DAY 2: Napa Valley
Drive just an hour and a half north of San Francisco and you'll find yourself in wine country. Begin your day with breakfast at Oxbow Public Market, offering fresh produce, gifts by local craftsmen, and outposts of popular restaurants. Just next door to the Oxbow is the Culinary Institute of America at COPIA, a "foodies wonderland" where you can explore the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum, attend a cooking class, or shop for a selection of rare and beautiful household goods.
Next you'll have to decide your wine tasting style. If you're looking for a handful of walkable wineries, look no futher than the town of Yountville. It's a great base to explore Napa Valley, and the compact town, with fewer than 3,000 residents, also has plenty of charms of its own. A number of wineries have tasting rooms here, so you don't have to get back in your car if you want to visit Domaine Chandon; for a glass of bubbly or Stewart Cellars, a family-owned winery at the opposite end of town—but don't worry, the walk in between is less than one mile.
If you prefer a more historical elements to your trip, take a drive up to St. Helena. Winemaking began here in the 1800s, its history echoing through the gables and turrets of the Rhine House, now home to Beringer, and gracious carriage house of the region's first winery, Charles Krug.
Ready for a change of pace? Instead of another wine-tasting, how about an olive-oil tasting at the Round Pond Olive Mill? Here, staff have been trained by a Florentine mill master to work the Pieralisi mills, crushers, and extractors. You’ll taste different oils, blood orange and Meyer lemon simple syrups, and two red wine vinegars. Then your host will bring out trays of cheese, bread, and produce straight from the estate’s biodynamic garden for a midday feast.
Finally, make your way to Castello di Amorosa, an authentic recreation of a Tuscan medieval castle, just south of Calistoga. During your tour, you’ll swear you’re in Italy and, like most tours, you’ll end up in the tasting room/gift shop at the end.
Hey, being a tourist is hard work! You’ve earned a little R&R. Head into the town of Calistoga to Indian Springs, a historic hot-springs resort that’s been updated without losing its archaic charm. Book a spa treatment, mud bath (a Calistoga specialty), or just soak in the Olympic-sized thermal pool, which dates from 1913.