A Bay Route to Remember: Northern California
What is it about Northern California’s Bay Area that draws visitors from all over the world? Is it the endless beaches…rocky cliffs…wineries? Or, is it the invigorating way they combine one of America’s most unforgettable cities and a technology epicenter? This road trip might be short, a mere 100 miles, but the stretch of Bay Area from San Jose, through San Francisco, to Sonoma brings together the region's variety in unexpected, poetic harmony.
First Stop: San Jose
Start with a modern city that manages to hang on to its early California gold-rush luxury appeal as you check into Fairmont San Jose, a hotel which celebrates this. Make your first stop at this luxury downtown landmark the Lobby Lounge, where live piano music and hushed conversation float past scarlet rugs and gilt trim. You'll want to enjoy a Bay Area Daisy with that. The chilled fresh lime, cognac and honey syrup concoction in a martini glass is the brainchild of mixologist Darin Gile, whose savory creation beat out nearly 100 others to make Fairmont’s international cocktail list.
Pools and Light
There are reasons John Steinbeck’s books so often talk about San Jose. It’s not only the birthplace of his mother and wife, but an area of stunning beauty. Soak up the valley's energy from the Fairmont San Jose’s palm-lined rooftop pool, overlooking the Santa Cruz Mountains, or book a room facing Plaza De Cesar Chavez for dramatic sunsets over those mountains.
Next Stop: San Francisco
To fully enjoy the 60 miles between San Jose and San Francisco, we recommend the open stretches of Highway 280 running alongside those same mountains. It’s stunning, and for much of the way, you’ll wind along the sparkling waters of Crystal Springs Reservoir.
A year to the day after the Great Quake of 1906, the regal Fairmont San Francisco opened its doors. A monument to this city of tycoons, Fairmont San Francisco was built by one of the Vanderbilts for her father (‘Bonanza’ Jim Fair, a mining magnate) atop Nob Hill and is the flagship hotel of The Fairmont brand. Walk through the grand porte-cochère into the stunning marble lobby, and continue down Heritage Hallway, to see historic figures and events that sparked its nickname: The White House of the West.
Mai Tais and Beehives
1945 was another banner year for the Fairmont San Francisco: the Charter of the United Nations was drafted here, and Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar opened its doors. Decked in bamboo and wicker, this theme lounge is a must-see: it’s a reincarnation of a Polynesian lagoon with a boat and rain falls during “indoor storms.” Don't worry, the umbrella in your Mai Tai won't get wet since you’ll be lounging in a tiki hut while the live music plays.
Don’t miss Laurel Court Restaurant & Bar, an elegant, classic-meets-contemporary setting that presents a taste of Northern Californian cuisine, from organic produce to the cold-cured local sausage in the charcuterie. Try a glass of Fairmont San Francisco Honey Saison beer (created by local brewer Almanac Beer Company), and then take a peek at the hives that produce the honey for this Belgian-inspired ale. Just head to the loggia set amid the rooftop garden’s thyme and lavender plantings, and you’ll spot those very honey bees.
Final Stop: Sonoma
When you’ve had your fill of the city, it’s time to head north. Only an hour away, Sonoma feels like another world. Open and rural, the Sonoma Valley is all mellow, rolling farmland, with gentle hills covered by local vineyard grapevines.
We heartily recommend the scenic route. After you cross the Golden Gate Bridge, follow Interstate 80 to Route 37 to Route 121. The vineyards are lovely distractions, so watch for the Route 12 turnoff or you might end up in Napa. (We realize, though, there are worse fates.)
To Your Health
Cultivated and earthy, Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa sits on land fed by underground mineral hot springs used by Native Americans for healing. Today the springs are harnessed for spa treatments like the Watsu® massage, where you float weightlessly in a fresh-air mineral pool. Afterward, your choices are tough: retire to the quiet fireside of your room, head out for a hike or mingle with others at an afternoon wine tasting?
Whichever you choose, don’t dream of departing Sonoma without a nibble of something from Santé. The Michelin Star and AAA Four Diamond-awarded restaurant (is helmed by chef Bruno Tison, who sums up his cuisine as “French, French and French, with a lot of California influence.” This cross-continental mix makes its way into the entire menu, from the local organic seasonal cheese offerings, to the rich Bordeaux canelés brought directly to your room, their caramelized shells formed in fluted copper molds lined with beeswax from the Spa’s own hives.
Constance Dunn’s travel writing and advice has appeared in print and online at Travel + Leisure, Fast Company, MapQuest Discover, Houston Chronicle, Woman's World, The Denver Post and more. She is the author of the book Practical Glamour and lives in California.
Vineyard bathed in light by torbakhopper