You get to watch local produce cooked from a front-row seat into the kitchen.
You get to watch local produce cooked from a front-row seat into the kitchen.
California cuisine has long been celebrated for its use of extraordinary ingredients, from sustainably farmed produce and meats to artisanal cheeses. The state’s edible bounty was a major reason that chef and Food Network host Tyler Florence chose to open two restaurants: Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco and El Paseo in Mill Valley.
What better way to experience it than in the intimate setting of a chef’s table? There, attended by some of the state’s most renowned culinary masters, you’ll see and taste true magic.
From north to south, here are five of the state’s top experiences.
Chef, winemaker, and television host Tyler Florence fell for California through the movies. At the time, Florence was living in New York City. He recalls thinking, I want to be that person so bad—I want to ride a motorcycle to the desert. I want to see beautiful landscapes. I want to feel the sense of freedom.
When he moved to California, he turned that dream into a reality. For Florence, true luxury comes in those transcendent moments on his motorcycle that money can’t buy: the smell of the Pacific coming through the Golden Gate, the rich scent in forests of giant sequoias, and the sweetness of strawberries picked fresh. “I’m just in awe of how beautiful it is,” he says of his adopted state.
Inspired by Florence, here are some ways to find your own unforgettable California moments.
Even if you don’t own a bike to rival Florence’s custom Triumph, you can ride from San Francisco into Marin County and understand why he decided to move to California while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge one night. At Dubbelju Motorcycle Rentals in San Francisco, pick up a bike and cruise cliffs along the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Marin Headlands.
Or follow one of his favorite routes over Mount Tamalpais, then drop to Highway 1 and head to Stinson Beach, where Florence’s family rents a house. “The views are breathtaking. The sunset—if you catch it just right—is magic,” he says. From Stinson, continue north on Highway 1 to Point Reyes Station, a hub for the Marin County food scene, including many of Florence’s artisanal purveyors, and the gateway to Point Reyes National Seashore.
Florence heads to the desert for stays at the high-style Parker Palm Springs and to savor the region’s intangible magic. “The quality of the air is just so special there,” he says, describing it almost like a fine wine. “It’s sweet and it’s dry.”
Nothing beats a road trip in a convertible through the desert’s otherworldly landscapes. Famed for its golf resorts and sleek Midcentury Modern design, Palm Springs is the perfect place to start, especially because the Exotic Car Collection by Enterprise in town rents convertibles—choose the Porsche Boxster, say, or an Aston Martin DB9s. (Select Enterprise locations in California also offer premium vehicles.)
For a great drive, climb from the Coachella Valley along State Highway 62 into the rugged high desert near Joshua Tree National Park. When he’s there, Florence stops for live music at Pappy & Harriet’s, a honky-tonk in Pioneertown. Then loop back to Palm Springs by driving south through the park, past surreal stands of twisting Joshua trees and giant stacks of boulders that draw rock climbers from all over the world.
Gazing at a sunset after filming his show in Malibu, Florence remarked on the spectacular sunset. As gorgeous as Malibu may be on the ground, it’s even more spectacular by air.
Book a private flight with Elite Helicopter Tours and fly along the beach, catching glimpses of the Venice Beach Boardwalk and the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier. Once over Malibu, you’ll see the oceanfront retreats of moguls and megastars. You may also spot surfers riding the legendary break at Surfrider Beach near Malibu Pier. Then it’s time for sunset over the Pacific.
For a grand tour of L.A., try the company’s Ultimate Helicopter Tour, a 90-minute adventure that flies over Hollywood and Beverly Hills as well as the coast.
For some, luxury comes from opulent décor and ultra-formal service. Californians do luxury a little differently. “This California experience—what I call pure luxury—is just here, and it's here every day,” explains Chef Tyler Florence. “It's not anything that we can ship to you or you can buy online.” Here are five great places to find it.
With only 50 guest rooms, this modern boutique resort is set in the heart of wine country. Tucked away among olive trees on terraced hillsides, the rooms are open and airy, with Mediterranean-inspired furnishings, private verandas, and sweeping Napa Valley views. The 7,000-square-foot spa overlooks the vineyards and olive trees, providing an added sense of tranquillity. Sip signature cocktails while lounging poolside on oversize chaises or under gauze-draped canopies.
Set on 157 acres in a private canyon with a private lake, this northern Napa Valley resort blurs the lines between indoor and outdoor living. Its 50 freestanding guest lodges exude rustic elegance, with polished wood accents, cedar decks, and floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase the surrounding pines. From the spa’s soaking pools you can look out on moss-covered oaks. Even the Lakehouse restaurant places nature at center stage, with glass walls and a deck overlooking Lake Lommel.
The Parker has been attracting celebrities and scene-makers since the 1960s. Now, with hip interior spaces redesigned by Jonathan Adler, it redefines retro style: a contemporary color palate of clean, crisp white layered with animal-print neutrals and colorful, quirky accent pieces. Cool is a way of life at this laid-back desert resort, which features indoor and outdoor pools, courts for croquet, tennis, and pétanque, and an upscale diner that serves breakfast all day. The spa has a country club feel that brings old Hollywood to mind. You’ll wonder if you should be wearing a velvet smoking jacket and sipping a gin fizz.
With a spectacular ski-in/ski-out location on Northstar California, this luxe mountain lodge is a study in warm woods and stone. Its 17,000-square-foot spa offers views of the surrounding forest, along with unique treatments such as the barefoot massage, in which the therapist walks barefoot over your body; gentle grapeseed exfoliation; and a soothing seaweed body wrap. Need help with your skis and snowboards? The “mountain concierge” is on call to manage your gear.
Set on a bluff overlooking the Pacific, the craftsman-style Montage Laguna Beach puts a luxurious spin on the classic California beach resort. Each of the spacious guest rooms offers dramatic ocean views, as does the Studio restaurant, which presents seasonally inspired menus that highlight the region’s bountiful produce. After decompressing with a Coastal Shores Stone massage or eucalyptus steam bath in the 20,000-square-foot spa, watch the spectacular sunset from the Lobby Lounge balcony.
In California, wine lovers have literally thousands of options for touring and tasting. It’s that access that drew chef Tyler Florence to make California his home.
Tyler Florence has been a student of wine for a long time. “But then I fell in love with regional Northern California wines themselves,” he explains. “There's Sonoma and there's Napa, and a lot of other micro regions that produce fantastic wine as well. It’s a huge part of why I love living in San Francisco.”
There are hundreds of wineries in Tyler’s favorite region, so to help you navigate your way through, here are some suggestions for wineries that shouldn’t be skipped. These by-appointment-only tastings and tours will help you discover the hidden side of wine country.
A Mercedes-Benz van will whisk you to remote corners of this Cabernet Sauvignon specialist’s 1,200-acre Alexander Valley estate for a farm-to-table, grape-to-glass adventure. Amid vineyards, lakes and gardens, you’ll taste current release and library wines, sample the estate’s extra-virgin olive oil, and enjoy exquisite bites prepared by the winery chef.LEARN More
Napa Valley’s Del Dotto family spent 3 years building this tribute to its Venetian heritage, and it shows in every detail—from the cathedral-style architecture to the caves lined with intricately carved Italian marble. In the caves, under the glow of more than a dozen 18th century Murano designed chandeliers, you’ll taste barrel samples of Del Dotto’s sought-after Cabernets, followed by a tasting of bottled wines accompanied by fine housemade salumis.LEARN More
With its 18-level wine cave, gravity flow system and high-tech fermentation dome, Palmaz may be the most distinctive winery in the Napa Valley. You’ll be guided through several levels of the cave to learn how the wines are made, using both innovative and traditional techniques. Afterward, enjoy a tasting of the remarkable Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, and Muscat Canelli wines, expertly paired with hors d’ oeuvres.LEARN More
Set on a steep hillside of the Mayacamas Mountains in Sonoma County, the Hanzell estate is one of California’s great vineyard sites—the source of important heritage clones that have helped establish vineyards throughout the state. The experience begins in the Ambassador’s 1953 vineyard, the oldest continuously producing Chardonnay vineyard in North America, followed by a driving tour to the Zellerbach, de Brye, Ramos, and Sessions vineyards. Next, you’ll visit the winery and barrel-aging cave, saving the best for last: a seated tasting of Hanzell’s incredible Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.LEARN More
Designed as a stylish, modern interpretation of a weathered Carneros farmstead, Ram’s Gate is all about relaxed refinement. Glass of sparkling wine in hand, embark on a behind-the-scenes tour that highlights Ram’s Gate’s winemaking and culinary and gardening practices. Then, settle down at a table among the vines to taste five single-vineyard and library wines, chosen to suit your personal preferences, each paired with a culinary creation from the winery’s executive chef.LEARN More
Food Network star and California restaurateur Tyler Florence has traveled the state, exploring and indulging at every turn. While he’s discovered a lot of places, three keep luring him back:
About an hour south of Florence’s San Francisco restaurant is a seaside escape that feels a world away from the city. “Half Moon Bay is the place we just sort of unplug and go have a beautiful dinner,” he says. Just over 20 miles from San Francisco International Airport, The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay resort offers unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean, a full-service spa and cozy outdoor fire pits where you can enjoy a locally grown Pinot Noir and the sunset.
During one trip there, Florence chartered a boat and went fishing for Humboldt squid. Florence and the captain of his boat caught 20. On a lark, he brought one back to Navio, The Ritz-Carlton restaurant that specializes in seafood. “I just dropped it on the counter and the chef turned it into five course dinner,” he says. “It was delicious.”Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay
Located in the Russian River Valley, the Farmhouse Inn is a family-owned boutique hotel that is an elegant home base for wine tasting trips in Napa and Sonoma. The rustic chic property has only 25-rooms—and most include wood burning fireplaces and outdoor sitting areas with views of the local vineyards. The farm-to-table spa offers exclusive treatments using produce harvested on the property like herbs grown in Farmhouse's kitchen garden.
On site is the Michelin starred Restaurant at Farmhouse Inn. The small and intimate eatery boasts an ever-changing menu with ingredients sourced from the owners’ own ranch or artisan farmers. The extensive wine list includes many picks from local wineries, but also includes picks from vineyards around the world that reflect the Lead Sommelier Jennifer Bishop’s philosophy, “never compromise the integrity of the pairing based on the origin of a wine.”Courtesy of Farmhouse Inn
What started as a country club is now one of the most heralded resorts in the country. Covering 250 acres in Napa Valley’s picturesque St. Helena, Meadowood’s cottages, hiking trails, croquet lawns, tennis courts, golf fairways, and swimming pools represent a retreat from the real world. The crown jewel of the compound: The Restaurant at Meadowood, has earned a prestigious three Michelin stars.
Tuck in for an unforgettable 12-14 course tasting menu. There is also a Chef’s Counter experience in the kitchen and a three course option available at The Restaurant Bar. The menu changes seasonally and the cuisine is local, sustainable, thoroughly California, and meant to blow your mind. Recent dishes include spot prawn in daylily and eel smoked over cabernet staves.Courtesy of Meadowood Napa Valley