Drive and Dine

White Chocolate and Pomegranate Mousse 2.2018, Drive and Dine, Marin Magazine

Summer is the ideal time to explore Northern California’s outdoors, from towering redwoods and coastal bluffs to leafy vineyards and amphitheaters — or embark on a city or small-town window-shopping jaunt. In either case, along the way you’ll need a bite to eat, and there’s no better restaurant than one that showcases something special about the area. For dining as memorable as your destination, just enter one of the following into your GPS.

Rooms With A View

Beach House at Lovers Point— 2 hours, 30 minutes from Sausalito 

Rent a paddleboard or kayak in the picturesque cove below, but be sure to return by 4 p.m. to join the queue for daily sunset specials, including the signature Feast of Lanterns firecracker shrimp appetizer ($6) — a nod to Pacific Grove’s Chinese heritage — and hearty entrees such as bacon-wrapped meatloaf ($10). Among the regional highlights on executive chef Matthew Farmer’s dinner menu, which offers half a dozen organic pastas, are chilled Castroville artichoke, crab-stuffed petrale sole and hazelnut-crusted sand dabs piccata. 620 Ocean View Blvd (Pacific Grove)

Julia’s at the Berkeley City Club— 45 minutes from Sausalito

You don’t have to be a member of the Berkeley City Club, built in 1929, to enjoy the graceful architecture of Julia Morgan accompanied by the subtle French cuisine of executive chef Fabrice Marcon (also chef de cuisine at Larkspur’s Left Bank). Before an outdoor concert at the nearby Greek Theatre, feast here on expert steak frites or a Delta asparagus salad with soft-boiled egg. 2315 Durant Ave (Berkeley),

River’s End — 1 hour, 30 minutes from Sausalito

Follow winding scenic roads to this inn and restaurant overlooking the Russian River’s ocean entry and dramatic Goat Rock, then unwind with a sunset dinner. The wood-paneled dining room is an intimate backdrop for chef Martin Recoder’s sustainable seafood and natural meat dishes with global influences, from wonton rolls with Petaluma duck confit to ceviche to vegetable Napoleon to grilled elk with spaetzle. 11048 Highway 1 (Jenner),

The Mountain House— 1 hour from Sausalito

This historic restaurant in the Santa Cruz Mountains looks like a humble cottage, but in the back is a glass-walled aerie surrounded by soaring redwoods, where wild game (braised rabbit, pan-seared elk medallions) and seafood specials take pride of place. Order from the dinner menu or try more casual fare in the cozy fireside bar, good for refueling after hiking or mountain biking in one of many nearby preserves. 13808 Skyline Blvd (Woodside),

The Sur House— 3 hours from Sausalito

During daylight at the Sur House, the new restaurant of Ventana Big Sur, it’s nearly impossible to turn one’s eyes away from the stunning coastline, even with exquisitely plated, delectable dishes like avocado toast with Mount Lassen trout, dill and radish. Come sunset, though, the seasonal, locally sourced creations of executive chef Paul Corsentino and playful inventions of pastry chef Saul Perez draw full attention. Build the perfect four-course prix fixe ($90) with dishes such as venison tataki, baby carrots, ras el hanout spiced duck breast and candy cap mousse cake. 48123 Highway 1 (Big Sur),

Vine Dining

Acacia House (pictured at top)— 1 hour, 15 minutes from Sausalito

After wending your way amid neighboring wineries, you may find Acacia House’s signature cocktail a refreshing change. The salt-foamed Las Alcobas margarita is named for the hilltop inn encompassingIron ChefChris Cosentino’s restaurant, where bold flavors and stylish presentation dazzle diners just as they do at his Cockscomb in San Francisco. Don’t miss the Iberico pork schnitzel with caviar dressing. 1915 Main St (St. Helena),

FARM at Carneros— 1 hour from Sausalito

Lay down a base for Sunday wine tasting in the Carneros region with a family-style brunch. Start with the addictive beignets with Meyer lemon curd, then select from a prix fixe menu ($45 for four courses) with irresistible choices such as avocado toast on rye with crispy capers, smoked fried chicken and waffle, and lobster roll with bacon and Granny Smith apples. 4048 Sonoma Hwy (Napa),

Madrona Manor— 1 hour from Sausalito

Sonoma-raised chef Jesse Mallgren’s artful melding of classic French and modern techniques in the dining room of this regal Victorian inn has netted a Michelin star for the last decade. You can order delicacies such as the smoked egg or Hokkaido scallop crudo à la carte, but the five-course prix fixe menu ($98, plus $55 for inspired wine pairings) provides a better excuse to spend the night — and continue exploring the Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley wineries the next day. 1001 Westside Road (Healdsburg),

Restaurant at Wente Vineyards— 1 hour, 15 minutes from Sausalito 

Undulating vineyards flanked by parks and suburban homes lead the way to Livermore Valley’s most august winemaker, which hosts a summer concert series in the natural amphitheater on its sprawling grounds. The pricey but serene restaurant in the historic Cresta Blanca building focuses on estate-grown produce, beef (try the steak tartare) and Wente’s most limited-production wines. 5050 Arroyo Road (Livermore),

It Takes a Village

Dick Blomster’s Korean Diner — 1 hour, 30 minutes from Sausalito

Not everything is fried at this once-funky Korean fusion cafe, set to reopen Memorial Day weekend after a major remodel, but everything fried here is delicious, from pickles with kimchi aoli to chicken with vanilla slaw to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (coated in pancake batter) topped with vanilla ice cream and Pop Rocks. Families visiting nearby Johnson’s Beach or the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve will appreciate the American-style kids’ menu; vegetarians have ample options, too. For a practical souvenir, pick up the new beach towel printed with the diner’s Russian River map. 16236 Main St (Guerneville),

Duarte’s Tavern— 1 hour, 15 minutes from Sausalito

The Portuguese-influenced hamlet of Pescadero, 2 miles inland from San Mateo County’s pristine coast, has a handful of shops, two quaint churches and one landmark restaurant, established in 1894. Duarte’s homespun dining room, bracketing a decidedly untrendy bar, draws steady crowds for fresh seafood, artichoke dishes (including the popular off-menu “half and half” soup blending cream of artichoke with cream of green chile) and ollalieberry pie. If you fill up on hot sourdough, order the pie to go. 202 Stage Road (Pescadero),

Pasta Armellino — 1 hour, 30 minutes from Sausalito

Tiny, tony Saratoga serves as a gateway to 18,000-acre Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which boasts older and taller trees than Muir Woods. For a casual-chic pit stop amid cute shops, look no further than this counter-service Italian cafe, featuring artisan pastas, pour-over soups and carefully arrayed salads. It’s a busman’s holiday for chef-owner Peter Armellino, whose elegant California cuisine across the street at Plumed Horse has earned a Michelin star since 2009. 14560 Big Basin Way (Saratoga),

The Wolf— 45 minutes from Sausalito 

It’s easy to fall in love with Piedmont Avenue’s intriguing boutiques and cafes, including this California brasserie on the site of the former Bay Wolf, where back in 1996 then-aspiring restaurateurs Rebekah and Rich Wood fell in love. Opened in early 2017, their handsomely renovated incarnation features farmers’ market finds (Little Gem lettuce Caesar salad, root vegetable ragout) and French classics such as pâté de campagne and bouillabaisse and savory American plates such as Colorado lamb chops. 3853 Piedmont Ave (Oakland),

Note: Drive times are estimates based on midday weekend travel.

Jeane Cooper

Travel and features writer Jeanne Cooper fell in love with Marin and the Bay Area as a graduate student at Stanford University. After 20 years as an editor and writer for the Washington Post, Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle, she began a freelance career that has taken her from the Austral Islands to Zimbabwe, with many visits to Hawaii in between. Her stories have appeared in numerous national and regional magazines, including Hemispheres, Sunset, San Francisco and Nob Hill Gazette, as well as Marin and Local Getaways. The author of several Frommer’s guidebooks, she now lives on the Big Island, where she’s active in animal rescue. She still enjoys exploring Northern California with her husband and friends.