Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Gluten-Free Road Trip: California Adventure

It had been more than 20 years since I was last in San Francisco (for a late-summer work trip) and all I remember from that time was having to leave the Giants game mid-way through because it was brutally cold. I should have realized I was out of place in shorts and a t-shirt when I noticed most everyone else wearing sweatshirts and pants.

Not that December is warm in California either, but I've always wanted to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway and see more of the sights throughout the state. With the family's winter break schedules aligning, we were able to spend four days in San Francisco and the surrounding area last month before driving through Big Sur and ending our vacation in Newport Beach.

My takeaways: California is beautiful, expensive and extremely gluten-free and celiac friendly. Out of all of our meals, we had only one occasion where the restaurant (not mentioned here) provided us with bad information, which we were able to straighten out prior to ordering.

House-made gluten-free blueberry coffee cake
at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco
Our hotel in San Francisco, the Marriott Marquis, is within walking distance of the famous Union Square. I communicated with the kitchen staff prior to the trip and felt confident that our son would be able to eat breakfast at the M Lounge. The eggs and bacon were gluten free, as was the separately baked blueberry coffee cake. Each night, there were several gluten-free hors d'oeuvres at the lounge and on one occasion, the chef brought him a gluten-free dessert.

Among the amazing baked goods at Mariposa Baking Co.
are pain au chocolat and savory "hot pockets"
We spent time in San Francisco taking tours of Oracle Park (the home of the Giants) and Alcatraz and seeing the rest of the city via the on/off Big Bus Tour, which includes stops at Fisherman's Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown and the Embarcadero. Our son had safe gluten-free meals at the all-gluten-free Mariposa Baking Co. in the famed Ferry Building and at Oriental Pearl in Chinatown (gluten-free dumplings and more). At the Ferry Building, you can also find sweet and savory options at Dandelion Chocolate, G.L. Alfieri Fruits & Nuts and Humphry Slocombe ice cream. Also look throughout town for the famous See's Candies, where every item is gluten free except for the candy canes. The company recently debuted soft and chewy red licorice medallions, which are extremely difficult to find in a gluten-free version.

C Casa in Napa is entirely gluten free
Nicholson Ranch was among the vineyards we visited in Sonoma
We took a day tour of Napa and Sonoma through Green Dream Tours, visiting three area wineries. For lunch, we stopped at Oxbow Public Market, home of the all-gluten-free C Casa taqueria and Gott's Roadside, which has gluten-free soft-serve ice cream.

On Christmas Day, we departed San Francisco and headed south, spending the evening at the Monterey Marriott. Monterey has its own Fisherman's Wharf, and we had dinner that night at Old Fisherman's Grotto. The kitchen was easily able to accommodate our son and - to his surprise - he was able to enjoy a slice of gluten-free double chocolate cheesecake, made with an almond crust.

The Big Sur region has incredible views
The redwood trees at Henry Cowell State Park
are among the tallest in the world
The next morning, we walked around Cannery Row in Monterey before departing for the gorgeous sights in Big Sur, the mountainous Central Coast region that offers amazing vistas. We stopped for lunch at Nepenthe, a 70-year-old cliffside eatery, where our son had soup and salad. We ended the day at the all-new beachfront Vespera on Ocean in Pismo Beach - one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed at. The house restaurant, Somerset Grill, had many gluten-free options for dinner (our son had the local salmon filet made with a tamari glaze) and the following morning at breakfast, including gluten-free granola.

No trip to California is complete without a stop at In-N-Out Burger, the West Coast chain that is extremely careful preparing gluten-free orders. Gluten-free options include burgers protein-style in lettuce wraps, fries and shakes.

As we headed toward southern California, we ran into the notorious traffic but plowed through past Los Angeles and spent two nights in Newport Beach at Lido House. This beautiful hotel in Orange County blends perfectly into the seaside town and offers bike and surfboard rentals, among other amenities. We rode bikes along the beachfront boardwalk on a perfect 62-degree afternoon. The house restaurant, The Mayor's Table, has a dedicated gluten-free toaster in the kitchen; one morning, the kitchen prepared our son toast with eggs, the next day, avocado toast. We had lunch at Malibu Farm Lido, along the waterfront in Lido Marina Village, and dinner in town at Wild Taco, which has a dedicated fryer for tortilla chips.

Flying American Airlines, we didn't have to look far from our departure gate at Los Angeles International Airport to find a safe gluten-free meal. Lemonade is a fast-casual chain with locations throughout California. Most salad and bowl ingredients are gluten free, as indicated by signage. There's even a packaged gluten-free s'mores brownie.

We love traveling west of the Mississippi, where the scenery and food are so different from the East Coast. I was glad to finally check off a bucket-list vacation and was even happier that we were able to enjoy nearly every meal without hassle.

For information on more gluten-free options in the San Francisco area, visit the Wheatless Wanderlust blog.
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