Author Topic: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?  (Read 7135 times)

Gray Matter

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Since this is my favorite go-to forum for...well...everything, I though I'd ask about a summer trip.

We are two families of five each, so four adults and six kids between ages 7-13.  We coming to CA for a week and know we want to spend part of that time in San Fran and the rest somewhere where we can commune with nature.  So, several questions:

Where do you recommend we stay in San Francisco?  Neighborhoods, districts, etc.?  We're open to family-friendly hotels or VRBO/Airbnb.  We prefer to be central and/or close to public transportation.  For this trip, given our traveling companions (who are coming from overseas), charm/character/convenience are more important than cost, but I want good value.

What do you recommend we do outside of San Fran?  I am thinking of either heading north a few hours and staying along the coast, but we'd like to be able to see redwood trees as well.  Otherwise, I was thinking of heading to Yosemite.  We would rent cars for this part of the trip.  Ideally, we'd like a resort option with a pool and other things for the kids to do, but I'm not finding as much in this vein on-line as I thought I'd find.

Any advice?

Thanks in advance!

TinyLightsBelow

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Lake Tahoe is gorgeous and has tons of camping/resorts/etc!

terran

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If you have time to make it out to the Muir Woods outside SF to see the redwoods definitely do it! A solid day by public transport, maybe less if you drive.

Catbert

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For San Francisco and charm I usually stay in one of the older (early 1900s) hotels in the Union Square area.  There are lots...including Chancellor Hotel, Cartwright.  One of them will usually have a reasonable special.  If you buy a transit pass its good for unlimited bus and trolley rides.  For the Union Square area you can use the trolley for transportation.  I find Union Square pretty centrally located. 

Check out the free walking tours through City Guides.  It's given by volunteers and really is free.  They do ask for a small donation for administrative costs (equivalent to the tip you would give for paid tours).   Google San Francisco City Guides to see the calendar  of tours.

Capsu78

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Yosemite and Tahoe are beautiful but still a half day away and back depending on where you fly in/out.  You might want to explore SF and then turn south- a day in Santa Cruz (beack, rides) and maybe 2 days around the Monterey peninsula  and maybe Big Sur... 

galliver

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I grew up in the SF bay area so I'm useless as far as where to stay...

But in your shoes, based on what you said you are interested in, I think I would head south rather than north for the 2nd half of your week. Big Basin SP is my favorite place for redwoods, the coast between Half-Moon Bay and Monterey is gorgeous, and goes from rocky to sandy and back. You should find plenty of quaint and charming lodging in Santa Cruz, Capitola, Aptos, etc. or camping in state parks along the coast. You can take kids to the Monterey Bay Aquarium or hang out at the beach or go find tidepools full of hermit crabs and anemones at Point Lobos any other rocky beach you come across. If you get ambitious, you can head inland to Pinnacles NP. Take the Balconies Cave trail, but if the kids are small, avoid the High Peaks. Look for California Condors. In summer, Gilroy will have tons of farmstands selling fresh produce, and is also a cheaper (and at times tastier!) area to go wine tasting than Napa, if you're into that.

If you want to go for the mountains, I second TinyLightsBelow: Tahoe is fantastic. Yosemite's waterfalls are cool, but Tahoe's crystal clear waters are heavenly.

gimp

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Death valley, sequioia  / kings canyon, yosemite, tahoe, lassen, redwood, the entire coast along route 1 with nooks and crannies and hidden beaches, the marin headlands looking at the golden gate at sunrise or sunset (sunrise if you're hardcore, sunset may be a lack of parking), monterey aquarium, but seriously if you have time just drive up or down route 1 and stop wherever you feel like it.

No idea where to stay, I live here. I also car camp. You're not gonna do that...

boy_bye

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oh man you are about to go on one of my favorite trips ever! :)

when we're in SF we normally stay at the hotel kabuki. it's in japantown, a nice mall filled with cute shops and yummy food and a place where you can get animal face crepes! even if you don't stay in japantown, i recommend visiting simply for the crepes! :D

if you decide to go north, it's a freaking breathtaking drive up the coast. we have stayed at this place several times and it's basically heaven -- there's a garden where you can pick your veggies for the day and a japanese soaking tub with a view of the ocean and fresh eggs from the chickens on the property. it's about 3 hour up the coast from SF, and there are lots of fun things you can do -- play at the gualala river, walk down a scary cliff path to a private beach, drive a few miles north and hike through the stornetta public lands (which are so beautiful that my husband and i still refer to the first time we went there as "the best day ever.")

go up a bit further and you can check out the town of mendocino, which is super cute, and then a bit north of there is where the REALLY BIG trees are. a few of my favorite places driving up that way are

- prairie creek redwoods park / gold dust falls / fern canyon: so hiking. much green.
- trees of mystery!! this is a hilarious old redwood-themed park with a tram ride up above the forest and a fallen tree with historical events like the magna carta marked on the rings.
- avenue of the giants

or, if you decide to go south, you could go to big sur, which in late june/early july has wildflower-carpeted hills that you can hike through, right along the coast. it's one of the best memories of my life, like walking through a dr. seuss story.

southern granny

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Our favorite nature related attractions when we vacationed around Monterrey was Point Lobos and the Sequoia National Park.

wordnerd

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Great trip! I love Yosemite! If you book in advance you can stay in the park in tent cabins at Curry Village, which is a great location and quite economical (and fun; I think kids would really like the camp atmosphere). It's not a resort, but I'm not sure a resort-type location near Yosemite.

As others have mentioned, there a lot of great things to see in Northern California. San Francisco, Monterey (I loved the Monterey Bay aquarium as a kid), and Santa Cruz would be me other top recommendations. Tahoe is beautiful, but a bit out of your way.

orcas50

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #10 on: February 23, 2015, 07:43:00 PM »
I have been to Yosemite three times, the last time with my husband and 2 daughters (We live in WA state) and it is one of my very favorite places. If you go to Yosemite, I'd recommend Evergreen Lodge, which is outside the north entrance of the park (about 30 min.). It is far from Mustachian price-wise, but a really special place. http://www.evergreenlodge.com. Curry Village, as someone mentioned, is fine for "camping," although you will be packed in like sardines with many other people, so hardly a wilderness experience. Yosemite also gets quite hot and crowded in the summer and I think having a place to retreat (i.e. Evergreen) would be perfect (at least for me, but I hate crowds!). There are several different sized cabins available to rent, with a large group you could rent a bigger cabin that includes  a kitchen (the smaller cabins have no kitchens). Th property is great, with bike rentals,  an outdoor pool and hot tub, game room with foosball, pool table, etc, outdoor s'mores/fire pits, and a lovely dining room. I know the Lodge was closed for a while due to the Hetch Hetchy fire last year, but I believe it's open for business again. I truly love this place and hope to return some day.

If you decide to stick with coast, there is plenty to do in Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel, Santa Cruz, etc. Also very beautiful. When we were there we rented a house in Pacific Grove through VRBO for 4 nights.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2015, 08:08:58 PM by orcas50 »

SF Semi-Mustache

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #11 on: February 23, 2015, 09:10:29 PM »
If you get an AirBNB/VRBO anywhere near BART, you will have easy access to Union Square and other areas without having to pay those prices.  For a nice mix of central location, culture, and affordability, look for an AirBNB near the 16th/Mission or 24th/Mission BART stations.  The Mission has great, cheap restaurants and affordable ethnic grocery stores.  Here's my "best of" budget San Francisco:

- You have to get a Mission "Super Burrito" in SF.  It's like our equivalent of the Philly cheesesteak, the must-not-miss food item.  My favorite is Taqueria Cancun in the mission ($7.99 for two meals worth of food).  But there are plenty of places. Dim sum can also be really affordable.  Go to Hong Kong Lounge, it's better and cheaper than the Chinatown places. 

- Get a transit pass, ride the cable cars for free.  Otherwise they're $6. 

- These things to do are free (plus transit) and fun: walking along the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building to Crissy Field (stop and see the Sea Lions at the Wharf), walking across the GG bridge, having a bonfire on Ocean Beach as you watch the sun set (just sneak in the alcohol), exploring the Marin Headlands (you can take a bus there), taking the bus to Twin Peaks or to Bernal Heights for the views, take the F train from the Ferry Building to the Castro (two-for-one strong cocktails at many gay bars at happy hour), take the Filbert Steps up to the Coit Tower, walk to the Lands End labyrinth (stop and see the Legion of Honor), see the ruins of the Sutro Baths.  (Protip:  There's no line to take the California line of the cable car as opposed to the Powell line.)

- These things are worth the cost:  See the De Young and the Legion of Honor museums on the same day and you just buy one ticket.  Alcatraz is really cool, and it's worth the ticket, buy well in advance.  The Japanese Tea Garden is gorgeous.  Renting a bike to see the city is worth it (look at bike shops instead of the tour companies).  Get a pain au chocolat at Tartine. 

- Things not worth the cost at all:  Eating at Fisherman's Wharf, eating in Chinatown.  Don't take the ferry to Sausalito, take it and hike Angel Island instead.  I'm sure there's a lot more. 

RNwastash

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #12 on: February 23, 2015, 10:13:01 PM »
Suggestions for San Francisco-buy the City Pass  for everyone and add on the Alcatraz tour. Make sure you make reservations WAY in advance for Alcatraz. The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is a must see.  We usually stay in homes/ condos for the week using VRBO in Potrero Hill area, but you may have to pay big bucks to accommodate 10 people.  Staying in hotels may be less expensive.  Not sure.  We are a family of 4.  Hike Muir Woods, hike across the Golden Gate Bridge, there is a fort under the Golden Gate Bridge that is a nice side trip.  Yosemite is nice yet crowded, you might just get frustrated driving there.  If you go, visit Glacier Point.  Go up the Mist Trail halfway up to Half Dome if you guys are into hiking.  Bring water, snacks and wear good shoes.  Lake Tahoe is beautiful too, just go on tripadvisor and research where people like to stay.  I remember hiking by Vikingsholm, Emerald Bay, hiking around the Mount Tallac area.  Good Luck and have a great time :)

overlord34

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #13 on: February 24, 2015, 05:10:09 AM »
If you have time to make it out to the Muir Woods outside SF to see the redwoods definitely do it! A solid day by public transport, maybe less if you drive.

+1.  I visited the San Fran area in September and Muir Woods is beautiful.  It was my favorite thing that I did in the SF area.  There are other, taller trees but I think you have to drive several hours from the city to see them.  Muir Woods is only 40 minutes from the city by car so you don't have to bend over backwards to get there.

Gray Matter

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #14 on: February 24, 2015, 05:52:24 AM »
I knew you'd give me awesome advice!  Thank you so much.  Evergreen Lodge looks amazing, with the kind of character I was hoping for as opposed some of those enormous resorts.  Though the reports that Yosemite is crowded is putting me off a bit.  I expect to deal with crowds in a city, but not so much in the wilderness.

I've bundled our options and sent them to my SIL.  It's making me wish our trip was more like two weeks, so we could see and do more, and still have some time left over for sitting around doing nothing.

ZiziPB

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #15 on: February 24, 2015, 07:26:28 AM »
My DD and I just did a SF/LA trip last month.  We rented a small apartment in North Beach (Little Italy) through AirBnB and loved the location - within walking distance to so many things.  Our favorite day in SF was the day we rented bikes and biked over through Presidio to Baker Beach then over Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito and came back on the ferry.  After that we climbed the hill to Coit Tower and watched the sunset from there.  The whole day was absolutely fabulous.  I also second the recommendation for the Mission district and Taqueria Cancun - yummy!  From SF, we rented a car and drove down along the coast to LA (with a stopover for a night in Cambria).  The drive was wonderful.  As to LA, I could take or leave it, but it was fun to see Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Malibu.  All in all, one of our favorite trips ever!

Happy in CA

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #16 on: February 24, 2015, 11:18:39 AM »
Hope it isn't too late to add a couple of suggestions to the mix.  In Big Sur:  Deetjen's (www.deetjens.com) is a roadside lodge circa 1940's, very rustic and historic, not cheap, but if you want character, it has character - and is well located for exploring the area.

If you go north and like hiking, hit the Dipsea trail from Stinson Beach to Mill Valley.  You may want to arrange transportation at one end to avoid a round trip (13.7 miles total).  Or just hike out of Stinson as far as you want to go and turn back when you get tired of climbing.  We stayed at the Sandpiper in Stinson Beach.  I loved it.

SF hotels are expensive.  I'd probably try to get something on AirBnB, or possibly try the Stanyan Park Hotel near Golden Gate Park.  I haven't stayed there but like the location and it's cheaper than the more centrally located hotels.  There are still plenty of attractions nearby, including the museums (DeYoung, California Academy of Sciences) in GG Park and non-touristy SF neighborhoods like Inner Sunset, Cole Valley, and the Haight.

Take the Alcatraz trip and you won't need to take the ferry to Sausalito. 

It will be hard to fit all the good stuff into one week, as you have already realized.

be

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #17 on: February 24, 2015, 02:51:26 PM »
Japanese Tea garden is free Monday, Wed, and Fri if you're in before 10 am.  No in and out ability. 

De Young.  If you just want to go up in the elevator to see the view, that's free too.

What time of year are you planning on visiting?  If it's summer time, make sure to bring a jacket and long pants if you're going to be visiting the city of San Francisco itself.  Also bring shorts and short sleeved shirts if you're going to the suburbs around SF.  The summers in SF are cold and foggy.  No joke.  We can spot the tourists who didn't bring jackets or sweaters because they're the ones wearing their brand new SF sweatshirts.  But bring shorts and short sleeved shirts for going inland.  e.g. Napa.

Also bring bags to put your stuff in.  Otherwise it's usually $0.10/bag.  Yes, as in you're at the grocery store and you buy bread, peanut butter, and apples and you want a bag to put it all in.  Those cheap plastic bags you pay for in SF and other parts of CA.  To clarify, not the bag you put your apples in, but the one with the handles that you put all your purchases in.

Have fun.

New Stacher

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #18 on: February 24, 2015, 05:56:23 PM »
I live in the Bay area, so I love it here. One week, so many things to do, so little time. If you are first-timers, of course San Francisco is not to be missed. You can see most things in a day if you have a car, or maybe you can get the Red bus tours that drops you off & pick you up at certain sites.

I like both Lake Tahoe & Yosemite and I visit both every year, but staying in either will be a bit pricey. I'll just list the info I can think of and let you decide for yourself.

Lake Tahoe:
Things to do/see: Lake Tahoe - from the ground or up the mountains. We usally stay at South Shore (look for AirBnB), which is also near Heavenly Resort. Mustachian activities: hiking, biking, swimming at the lake (it's cold though even during summer), walking at the beach, going around Heavenly Village. Non-Mustachian activities: Riding the gondola up Heavenly and see an awesome view of the lake & surrounding areas; Brunch cruise around the lake. Neutral: kayaking, stand-up paddle (free if you have equipment/otherwise rent or sign up for an activity). Eat out or cook in as you please. Safeway/Raleys/other grocery stores abound.

Yosemite:
Sit/stand anywhere in Yosemite and you will be in awe. Activities are all nature-related - sightseeing, hiking, biking, learning about Yosemite, camping. There is an entrance to entering Yosemite Natl Park - $20/vehicle, good for 7 days. If you have a senior citizen with you, you can get a $10 lifetime pass for all National Parks! Hurray!! Lots of different sites to see, depending on your fitness. Most of them are driveable or you can ride the free bus that goes to most sites. There are some ranger-led hikes as well. For detailed info, you can download the Yosemite Natl Park app on your phone! or just check their website. The only "con" I will say about Yosemite is that usually the nearest places to stay is about an hour to park entrance. Once you enter the park, it will take you half an hour to get to the Valley where most sites are. If you choose to go to Glacier Point which is another beautiful site, it's an hour from the valley (though only abt 16 miles). I've once stayed inside the park as well, but that meant that we were near the sites on one side of the park, and an hour on other sites as well. So staying inside the park doesn't offer that much advantage, in my opinion. Much cheaper to stay in the surrounding areas.

Ok just shoot if you have more questions....

colganc

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #19 on: February 24, 2015, 08:44:54 PM »
oh man you are about to go on one of my favorite trips ever! :)

when we're in SF we normally stay at the hotel kabuki. it's in japantown, a nice mall filled with cute shops and yummy food and a place where you can get animal face crepes! even if you don't stay in japantown, i recommend visiting simply for the crepes! :D

if you decide to go north, it's a freaking breathtaking drive up the coast. we have stayed at this place several times and it's basically heaven -- there's a garden where you can pick your veggies for the day and a japanese soaking tub with a view of the ocean and fresh eggs from the chickens on the property. it's about 3 hour up the coast from SF, and there are lots of fun things you can do -- play at the gualala river, walk down a scary cliff path to a private beach, drive a few miles north and hike through the stornetta public lands (which are so beautiful that my husband and i still refer to the first time we went there as "the best day ever.")

go up a bit further and you can check out the town of mendocino, which is super cute, and then a bit north of there is where the REALLY BIG trees are. a few of my favorite places driving up that way are

- prairie creek redwoods park / gold dust falls / fern canyon: so hiking. much green.
- trees of mystery!! this is a hilarious old redwood-themed park with a tram ride up above the forest and a fallen tree with historical events like the magna carta marked on the rings.
- avenue of the giants

or, if you decide to go south, you could go to big sur, which in late june/early july has wildflower-carpeted hills that you can hike through, right along the coast. it's one of the best memories of my life, like walking through a dr. seuss story.

Another vote here for the Kabuki and Japantown.  Right in between a frequent bus line or two that can get you to "downtown" and Chinatown.  I love the crepes and the mall is a lot of fun.  I travel to SF at least once every year and always stop at Japantown, however I only stayed at the Kabuki once.  I enjoyed my stay and would stay there again, but there are so many options in SF.

mm1970

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #20 on: February 25, 2015, 10:49:52 AM »
I LOVE LOVE Yosemite, been several times.  But really, all the suggestions here?  You cannot go wrong.

The first two times at Yosemite we stayed in a hotel in Mariposa.  About an hour's drive into Yosemite.

The last time was winter (March), and we took our neighbor's advice and stayed IN Yosemite in Yosemite West, which is kind of like VRBO.  You can rent condos/ duplexes/ houses.  That was awesome - they are private and it was INSIDE the park.  We rented a duplex, 2BR.

http://www.yosemitewest.com/

dragoncar

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #21 on: February 25, 2015, 12:41:18 PM »
I know you want to stay central in SF, but consider doing a vrbo further north (say guerneville) where you can get a 2-3 bedroom house on the Russian river really cheap.  Enjoy wine country and wooded areas, drive down to SF over the Golden Gate Bridge, and pay the $20 parking with the money you've saved (or park free further along a muni line)

Btw I prefer the Exploratorium to the Academy of Sciences, but both are good
« Last Edit: February 25, 2015, 12:46:44 PM by dragoncar »

boy_bye

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #22 on: February 25, 2015, 02:32:52 PM »
I know you want to stay central in SF, but consider doing a vrbo further north (say guerneville) where you can get a 2-3 bedroom house on the Russian river really cheap.  Enjoy wine country and wooded areas, drive down to SF over the Golden Gate Bridge, and pay the $20 parking with the money you've saved (or park free further along a muni line)

Btw I prefer the Exploratorium to the Academy of Sciences, but both are good

that's a great idea. guerneville is cute as hell and within spitting distance of many many fun things.

cavewoman

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #23 on: February 25, 2015, 03:11:40 PM »
I second or third the couple of people who mentioned Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP.

Its only a teeny bit farther than Yosemite from SF, but generally much less crowded.

It's best if you're coming in April or May, though.

Big trees are great on the Sequoia side, but I advise anyone who makes the trip to not skip the one way in-one way out drive on Hwy 180 into Kings Canyon.  The road opens to the end in late April.  It is one of the coolest drives I've ever seen (and I worked there and drove it and walked it often - it never got old).  You literally drive down into the canyon along one side and can see the cliff face on the opposite side.  Once the road levels out at about 3,300 ft and continues on you meander next to the river, have a couple of trail options and some waterfalls. 

Especially during the week in pre or post summer - you can feel like the only person around for miles.

Crystal Cave in the Sequoia parks is quite beautiful too, and the kids always really like the front gate entrance.

Enjoy!

SF Semi-Mustache

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Re: Where to stay? What to see? Trip to San Fran and either No. CA or Yosemite?
« Reply #24 on: February 25, 2015, 03:32:32 PM »
I know you want to stay central in SF, but consider doing a vrbo further north (say guerneville) where you can get a 2-3 bedroom house on the Russian river really cheap.  Enjoy wine country and wooded areas, drive down to SF over the Golden Gate Bridge, and pay the $20 parking with the money you've saved (or park free further along a muni line)

Btw I prefer the Exploratorium to the Academy of Sciences, but both are good

that's a great idea. guerneville is cute as hell and within spitting distance of many many fun things.

Third-ed.  Armstrong Woods State Park in G'ville is like Muir Woods minus the crowds.  There's some great wine in that area as well, at a much more reasonable price point than on the Napa side.  I'd say about half the folks in town on any given weekend are LGBT, FWIW.