Things to Do in Napa & Sonoma
Just an hour from one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, the Napa Valley Wine Train in California distills the essence of the wine country into a single day of wining, dining, and riding through the countryside on an antique train.
Sample and enjoy wines with a view at Viansa Sonoma Winery. Located at the summit of Sonoma Valley, the winery offers panoramic views over its property, which includes 33 acres (13 hectares) of estate vineyards and 97 acres (39 hectares) of natural wetlands, home to a number of indigenous waterfowl.
Located in the world-renowned Carneros region, Madonna Estate Winery is a unique winemaker utilizing dry-farming production and organic grapes. The vineyard is family owned and operated using a combination of traditional and modern winemaking techniques. As one of the oldest vineyards in Napa Valley, Madonna Estate Winery is working to ensure the historic winemaking traditions of the past live on. It was one of the few original vineyards that survived the Prohibition era.
The idea behind their wines is minimal intervention and as much natural growth as possible. Mild fog, wild, and cool temperatures create a unique microclimate in this area, fed with coastal air. Madonna Estate Winery produces ten varietals including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio. The tasting room is decorated in Italian Pompeii style to reflect the family’s heritage, and the reserve room serves their highest quality vintages.
Fashioned after a 13th-century Tuscan castle, Castello di Amorosa looks like it belongs on an Italian postcard instead of in the heart of California wine country. The vineyard produces several varieties of red and white wines, but many visitors are drawn by the eight-level structure itself, which includes five defensive towers, a drawbridge, and a moat.
Oxbow Public Market—with dozens of restaurants, food stalls, and shops—brings the bounty of Napa’s famed wine, food, and organic produce under a single roof. Open all day, it’s a one-stop shop for great food, to quickly experience the best of Napa Valley, or relax for a moment at this local gathering place before exploring the region.
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards have been run by the same family for generations, ever since owner Fred Cline spent time with his grandfather in vineyards in his late childhood. Its heritage wines are highly influenced by the culture and wines of Italy, and the property itself has a beautiful courtyard and an Italian stone villa filled with elegant Italian art, fountains, and handmade furnishings. The barrel room has vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, adding to its elegant atmosphere. The Jacuzzi family makes a variety of Italian varietals, including Pinot Grigio, Barbera, and Sangiovese. An olive oil press and balsamic vinegar tastings round out the experience.
Uniquely, the winemakers do not use any synthetic pesticides on the vineyards. Efforts for sustainable winemaking practices are essential to the process. They’re generous with tastings of both the foods and wine made here, including their specialty: a chocolate cup filled with Pinot Noir.
Nestled in the heart of Napa Valley, Andretti Winery was founded by legendary race car driver Mario Andretti. The 42-acre (17-hectare) Tuscan village–style winery is an idyllic setting to sample the variety of wines produced at the vineyard, including red, white, sparkling, dessert, and port.
Known for growing organic grapes and using sustainable farming practices, Benziger Family Winery attracts visitors with its open-air tram tours that show off the beautiful property spread across the hills of Sonoma County. The winery is set in the town of Glen Ellen, making it easy to visit from both San Francisco and Napa.
Napa Valley’s Domaine Chandon, which is most famous for producing a French-style sparkling wine, dates back to 1973. Come to celebrate a special occasion or just because you love an excuse to drink bubbly. The winery also makes pinot noir, rosé, and other varietals of still wine.
If you like your tasting glass to sparkle, save time in your wine country itinerary for a visit to Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards. Located in the Carneros region of Sonoma County Wine County, Gloria Ferrer was the first sparkling wine house to plant roots in the area back in the early 1980s. Most of the 335-acre estate is dedicated to Pinot Noir.
Guests have a number of options depending on how much time they have to sip. Daily 40 minute tours present a winery history and an introduction to the traditional méthode champenoise sparkling wine-making process used at the winery. Food and wine pairing tours lasting 90 minutes are also offered by appointment.
The winery’s Vista Terrace comes with photo-worthy wine country views. On a sunny day, it’s the place to sip and stay awhile.
More Things to Do in Napa & Sonoma
Whether it’s food, art, picnicking, shopping, or wine you’re after, it can be found at this wine country specialty shop. Once one of the first Napa Valley vineyards called Groezinger Winery, it was restored and converted to the shops, galleries, and restaurants that make up the marketplace today. Its lush gardens, cobblestone paths, vine-covered walkways, and flowing waterfalls make it a relaxing spot to enjoy a glass of wine or a meal. Sip wine in the tasting room, pick up some meats and cheeses at the deli, or sit down for a meal at the acclaimed Bottega restaurant.
If you’re an art lover, you won’t want to miss the three galleries on site, which include specialties in wine-related art, photography, glass and sculpture. Various festival and events take place year-round, and if you’re feeling adventurous — the original Napa Valley hot air ballooning company is headquartered here as well.
Located in St. Helena, V. Sattui Winery dates back to 1885 and produces small-batch wines with a focus on organic and sustainable farming practices. Learn more about about how its wines are made on a tour of the Italian-style property, or stop by for a tasting.
Napa Valley is chock full of charming towns worth a visit during your stay in wine country and St. Helena is one of them. There are countless wine tasting spots to choose from in St. Helena, so know when you visit that you’ll be back for more. Even if you only have a couple of hours in between wine tastings, it’s worth taking a stroll down St. Helena’s Main Street. Along with boutique style shopping you’ll find an assortment of great restaurants that offer both fine and casual dining. If a cooking class is on your wine country wish list, St. Helena is also home to a campus of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).
On weekends it’s worth making the trek a few miles north of town to the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park. Here visitors can see the tallest waterwheel west of the Mississippi in motion, milling corn and wheat into flour, cornmeal and polenta.
Looking for a twist on tasting your way through wine country? How about rolling through Sonoma Valley on an authentic replica of a late 1890s San Francisco cable car? No need for a designated driver or fighting to climb in and out of a limousine. Everyone has a window seat aboard the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley. The vintage, open-air design makes taking in all the vineyard views easy.
The tour departs daily at 10:30am from Sonoma Plaza, in front of City Hall. A friendly and knowledgeable tour guide provides background and wine country tidbits as you make your way to four premium wineries. The wineries can vary, but include recognizable names like BR Cohn, Benziger, Imagery Estate, Kunde and Paradise Ridge. A catered lunch from a local favorite, The Girl & The Fig restaurant, is also included with the tour.
Founded in 1977, Napa Valley’s Grgich Hills Estate produces wine with a focus on organic grapes and sustainable farming practices. Cofounder Mike Grgich is best known for winning the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine tasting with his Château Montelena chardonnay, which helped put the Napa wine region on the map.
If you’re looking for a unique Napa Valley wine tasting experience, look no further than Raymond Vineyards. Offering guests more than the typical tasting room experience, Raymond Vineyards in fact has many rooms where visitors can enjoy wine. There’s the Rutherford Room, the Red Room, and the Library Room just to name a few.
The Blending Room is where guests become "Winemaker for a Day." After blending their own red wine, guests take home a bottle of their new creation, complete with their own custom label. Raymond's estate vineyards in Rutherford and St. Helena are both certified organic and Biodynamic. All of the winery's power comes from renewable solar energy.
The oldest continually operating winery in the Napa Valley wine region, Beringer Vineyards was established in 1876 in St. Helena and sits on a regal estate listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Head to a tasting room to explore a flavorful selection of winery-exclusive wines and special reserve vintages produced by the winery’s prized vineyards.
California's Russian River is one of the longest rivers in the San Francisco Bay Area, beginning in Mendocino County and cutting through Sonoma County on its way to the ocean. The area is famous for its wine and farm-to-table cuisine, and in warm weather the river is a hotspot for outdoor adventures like canoeing, swimming, and fishing.
Folks at Larson Family Winery like to have fun, and it shows from the minute you turn down the long driveway. If you’re traveling with kids or just consider yourself a kid at heart, this winery is a must-visit when in the Carneros region of Sonoma County wine country.
Visitors are encouraged to taste and play here. Just outside the barn turned tasting room is an open space overlooking the winery’s Estate Chardonnay Vineyards where you can play bocce ball, horseshoes and an assortment of lawn games like ladder golf or corn hole. There’s also a large field perfect for a game of catch or showing off some soccer skills.
Pack a picnic, as tables are available. Dogs are welcome and are a common sight, so you’ll regret it if you decide to leave your pooch at home.
Located a quick and easy 15 minutes north of Napa, Yountville is a fun addition to any wine country vacation must-do list. It’s the type of place where you don’t necessarily need to have a plan. Park the car when you arrive and wander down Washington Street. There are numerous tasting rooms to choose from including Jessup Cellars and Girard Napa Valley.
If only bubbly will do, it’s just a quick ride to Domain Chandon. Tours and tastings are offered regularly. Yountville is also a tasty place to be when hunger strikes. The list of gourmet restaurants is long; Ad Hoc Restaurant, Bistro Jeanty, Bouchon Bistro, and Bouchon Bakery. Then there’s The French Laundry, known around the world for its amazing food and hard-to-get reservations.
The Town of Yountville gets its name from founding father George C. Yount, the first person to plant grapes in the area.
Set in the legendary Napa Valley, Sutter Home Family Vineyards has grown from a small business founded in 1948 to the second-largest independent, family-run winery in the United States. Now producing more than 20 varietals, they were the first winery ever to make white zinfandel. Due to its popularity in the 1970s and 80s, Sutter Home is credited with bringing wine into many American homes for the first time. The winery went on to bring a number of new varietals into wider availability across the country.
One of the oldest wineries in Napa, Sutter Home wines are known for their high quality and affordable price point. Most are available to taste at the winery tasting room. Wines are lighter, sweeter, and more accessible than the others in the surrounding area. Be sure to try some of their reserve wines and to check out the gardens, Victorian home, and small shop.
A brewpub at the heart of California wine country, the HopMonk Tavern is known for its draft beers, live music, and fun atmosphere. Housed in a historic farmhouse, it’s particularly lively on sunny days when its patio becomes a beer garden. Fire pits keep visitors warm during the evenings, and it’s a great place to get a taste for local brews in an area famous for its wine.
Their unique beers range from ales and pilsners to IPAs and saisons. Serving both house made beers and international brews, there's a wide selection to sip on that changes regularly. The tavern serves wine and spirits as well. Beer tours of the area often include a tasting stop here.
When it comes to food, you’ll find shared plates as well as fresh sandwiches, soups, and salads. With both an indoor and an outdoor stage, the tavern regularly hosts talented musicians to perform. You’ll find live music playing most nights of the week.
With all the charm of a small town, Sebastopol lies peacefully in Sonoma County some 50 miles north of San Francisco. It is known for its proximity to wine and apple country, with a charming downtown area and liberal culture. Check out the quirky local art on display along Florence Avenue downtown — many of the pieces are made using recycled materials — or take a tour of a local farm. Famous horticulturist Luther Burbank once maintained massive gardens on Sebastopol land.
Small restaurants and cafes all over town serve fresh local food and wine. Tasting rooms offer the best of the region’s wine and beer, and dozens of hiking, biking, and walking trails are set against rolling hills. Sebastopol is bordered on the east by the Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetlands Preserve, providing access to the natural beauty of the area.
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