While it hasn't yet achieved a national reputation for the quality of its restaurants, San Diego boasts some excellent cuisine and innovative chefs.
Some critics say San Francisco has better restaurants than New York, a statement I'll leave to the experts to debate. Nevertheless, it has a large number of terrific restaurants, fun grazing in the Ferry Building, an exciting Farmers Market and some nice places for afternoon tea. Devoted food-lovers may want to make the pilgrimage to Chez Panisse across the bay in Berkeley, where some say Alice Waters invented California cuisine, but you'll have to reserve a month ahead (exactly) and make a deposit for the privilege.
The home of Spago, Campanile and my favorite La Brea Bakery has plenty of fine dining, but Los Angeles is also a great place for ethnic cuisine and reasonably-priced beachside cafes. The Farmers Market here is more of a tourist stop than a gourmet shop, but many locals swear by it.
In Beverly Hills, the annual Vintage Bouquet Food and Wine Extravaganza delivers quality that rivals the state's best food and wine festivals - and their elegant surroundings on the grounds of Greystone Mansion create the nicest ambiance we've seen at a food and wine event. The associated silent auction includes travel, food and wine packages and a lot more, giving you a chance to get something special at a great price. And to top it all, proceeds of the event support the Beverly Hills Bar Association's pro bono work.
ElsewhereNapa and Sonoma are obvious choices for wine lovers, but you can find wineries almost everywhere these days, so many that I sometimes wonder if the whole state will soon be one giant vineyard.
- The Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival and the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend are among the state's top food and wine events .
- At Camp Schramsberg, participants get to harvest grapes, learn about food and wine pairing and bottle their own bubbly to take home (and sample plenty of great sparkling wine along the way).
- Ever wonder where your food comes from? That is, before it gets to your grocery store? Evan Oakes of AgVenture Tours near Monterey can help you find out.
- The French Laundry, quite possibly one of the country's top restaurants is in the small Napa Valley town of Yountville, but there are plenty of other great places to eat in this area, too, including the Culinary Institute of America's Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant.
- Forget that old saying about eating oysters only in months with an "R" in them, you can get fresh oysters from Tomales Bay's oyster farms north of San Francisco any time of year.
- You can not only see famous chefs but learn their recipes and taste their creations at the annual Yosemite Chefs' Holidays. Yosemite Vintner's Holidays are the wine-lover's best bet.