All you need to know about the San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival

The 16th annual San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival is back, kicking off Sunday.
(Courtesy San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival)

The region’s biggest culinary extravaganza kicks off Sunday and features dinners, tastings, demos and tours

The San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival is the biggest culinary event of the year, attracting an estimated 11,000 attendees to its week-long lineup of dinners, tastings, demos and tours.

In the past, the festival relied on such celebrity chefs as Rick Moonen, Michelle Bernstein, Marcus Samuelsson, Rick Bayless, Duskie Estes and Graham Elliot to draw the crowds. And while there are still big national names like Gale Gand, Suzette Gresham, Nathan Myhrvold and Matt Zubrod, the 16th annual eating and drinking extravaganza — which kicks off Sunday, — has matured into a San Diego-centric celebration.

A boatload of local chefs — new and time-honored — are the stars this time around, from Luca Abbruzzino of Il Dandy, to Andrew Santana of Campfire, Quinnton Austin of Lousiana Purchase to Travis Swikard of the upcoming Callie, Flor Franco of Franco on 5th, Maeve Rochford of Sugar & Scribe, Jason Knibb of Nine-Ten, Jeffrey Strauss of Pamplemousse Grille, Stéphane Voitzwinkler of Mister A’s, to Mike Arquines of Mostra Coffee/The Lab Dining.

For the ultimate proof that the festival is a true homegrown happening, look no further than the offerings that represent three of San Diego’s biggest obsessions: beer, breakfast and Baja:

Morning Glory's over-the-top pink palace will serve breakfast for dinner
(Zack Benson photo)

  • On Sunday, the festival starts with the suds, a craft beer geek expedition to local yeast temple White Labs, Green Flash brewery and Gravity Heights mega brewpub (Tickets: $120).
  • On Monday, Little Italy’s seriously hip Morning Glory will host an over-the-top Moët Champagne-fueled breakfast-for-dinner party (Tickets: $115).
  • And on Wednesday, get your splurge on during a VIP, fully guided tour of Valle de Guadalupe’s marquee locations, featuring Baja rock star chefs Javier Plascencia and Drew Deckman and winemaker Lulú Martínez (Tickets: $435).
Superstar Baja chef Javier Plascencia will be the host of a day-long expedition to the Valle de Guadalupe.
(Courtesy of Tait Campbell)

With more than 40 events, 60 chefs and hundreds of beers, wines, spirits and gourmet food products served, the San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival has something for every palate. We’ve scoured the chock-full schedule to find what we think are the must-attend experiences. Here is our very subjective list of top picks.

Perfect your party: Join James Beard Award-winning superstar pastry chef Gale Gand and “Next Food Network Star” season one winners Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, aka The Hearty Boys, for a primo party primer, Holiday Appetizers + Festive Cocktails. Friday, Nov. 15, 2-4 p.m., at Ranch 45, Solana Beach ($65).

Newcomer Ranch 45 will host four festival events.
(Haley Hill photo)

Check out the place to be: Ranch 45, a new butcher shop and restaurant, is hosting four festival events. In addition to Holiday Appetizers + Festive Cocktails, there’s the ultimate meat-lover’s lesson, Steak 101 on Tuesday (6:30-8:30 p.m.; $115), a Basque Wine + Cheeses intensive with charismatic sommelier Charlie Arturaola, on Thursday (2-4 p.m.; $55), and a Burgundian spectacular Maison Louis Latour Dinner on Thursday night, featuring an impressive roster of chefs, including Suzette Gresham of the two Michelin-starred Aquarello in San Francisco. (6:30-9:30 p.m.; $235) 512 Via De La Valle, Solana Beach.

Cin cin! Vistal, at the InterContinental hotel along the San Diego bayfront, will host an Italian-inspired happy hour.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Italian happy hour by the bay: Chef Amy DiBiase serves up La Dolce Vita on the bayfront at Amaros + Aperitivos at Vistal. DiBiase will match Sardinian and Sicilian appetizers with Campari, Averna, Cynar, Braulio, Fernet-Branca, Branca Menta and Sardinian Mirto. Tuesday, 4:30-6 p.m. 901 Bayfront Court, downtown San Diego ($55).

Seafood superstars: The five course, Ocean-to-Table Lunch at The Marine Room is a seaside showcase for such notable chefs as Knibb (Nine-Ten), Swikard (Callie), Dakota Weiss (Sweetfin Poke), Evan Cruz (Arterra), Rochford (Sugar & Scribe), The Marine Room’s Bernard Guillas, and more. Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.- 3 p.m. 2000 Spindrift Drive, La Jolla ($130).

Most drool-worthy pairing: The fourth course of the Artisanal Mezcal Dinner at Coasterra features barbacoa lamb shoulder in fig mole served with a fig Old Fashioned made with fig syrup and chocolate bitters. One word: yum. Wednesday, 6:30-8:30 p.m. 880 Harbor Island Drive, Harbor Island ($125).

Chef Crystal White of Wayfarer Bread & Pastry in La Jolla.
Chef Crystal White of Wayfarer Bread & Pastry in La Jolla.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Make the Grand Tasting grand: The festival’s Nov. 16 finale can be a little overwhelming, but with a little focus and planning, you can make the most out of that massive event.

  • Seek out the sweet ones: Two of the most talented bakers in San Diego — Crystal White of Wayfarer Bread & Pastry and Rachel King of Kaneh Co. edibles and formerly of Mister A’s, Nine-Ten and Searsucker — will be there, so seek them out.
  • Chill out in style: The Cohn Restaurant Group is introducing a glamping-inspired area in which to relax and have wine and cocktails and bites from six of their eateries (Coasterra, Island Prime, C-Level, Coaster Saloon, Del’s Hideout and 333 Pacific).
  • Pull up a seat at the Chef’s Table Experience: At this other new Grand Tasting feature, you’ll get one-on-one time with featured chefs and other food experts. Highlights of the schedule include: Claudia Sandoval, “Master Chef” winner and “Master Chef Latino” judge (on the mysteries of mole negro, 12:15 p.m.); DJ Tangalin of Gaya Gaya (on the Filipino tradition of Kamayan, or eating with your hands, 1 p.m.); fishmonger Tommy Gomes (on how to break down freshly caught fish and how to shop for sustainable seafood, 2:15 p.m.)

Noon-3 p.m. Embarcadero Marina Park North, 400 Kettner Blvd., downtown San Diego. $135 general admission; early entry and VIP tickets available.

San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival

When: Sunday through Nov. 17, various times.

Where: Locations around San Diego County

Tickets: Free to $435


“MasterChef” winner Claudia Sandoval is an SDSU graduate.
(Eduardo Contreras / The Sn Diego Union-Tribune)