The Best of Napa & Sonoma

Sunlight bathes rows of grape vines in a Sonoma Valley vineyard.

Vineyards in Sonoma Valley. Photo © torbakhopper, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

With so many wines to taste, restaurants to try, parks to visit, and spas to savor, visiting Wine Country can be a dizzying proposition, and that’s even before the first bottle has been opened. To make the most of your time, pick a location and spend a day or two, exploring it at your leisure, either by bike or in limited jaunts in the car. Below are suggestions for one- or two-day trips that make the most of California’s Garden of Eden.

Napa Valley

The best way to start a one- or two-day-long adventure in the Napa Valley is a stop at Bouchon Bakery for some espresso and pastries. Early afternoon is a great time to visit the iconic Robert Mondavi Winery, grab a bite at the Bistro at Francis Ford Coppola’s Inglenook or a table at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena.

Farther up the valley, Castello di Amorosa impresses with its medieval largess, and the historic Chateau Montelena pours such good chardonnays and Bordeaux blends that you’ll see why the Paris judges swooned. For a smaller, more intimate tasting experience, stop by Cuvaison or Zahtila Vineyards in Calistoga. While you’re there, take in the restorative waters at Indian Springs Resort or Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs before indulging in a low key dinner at JoLe. If you’re looking for a bit more nightlife, shoot back down the valley to Napa, where 1313 Main pours great wine in a cool, lounge-like atmosphere. When you’re ready, slip out for dinner at the equally hip Morimoto’s, followed by a drink and dancing at Silo’s jazz and blues bar.

Carneros and Sonoma

Start off with a hearty breakfast at Boon Fly Café paired with one of its famous bacon Bloody Marys. Next, put on your hiking boots for a tour through the di Rosa Preserve, where 2,000 works of modern art are found on its 200-plus acres. Next, toast the day with champagne across the street at Domaine Carneros, or compare the art and architecture at Artesa Vineyards & Winery while sipping Spanish cavas.

For lunch, head west to Cornerstone Sonoma and spend some time browsing Cornerstone’s stores and wandering through its series of art-laden landscaped gardens. More Carneros bubbly awaits at Gloria Ferrer and at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, also home to the tasting room of The Olive Press. If you are eager to move on to something darker, Rhône varietals and cool-weather syrahs and zinfandels can be tasted at Cline Cellars. At last, finish your day with a relaxed dinner at the girl & the fig on Sonoma’s historic plaza.

Dry Creek to the Russian River Valley

Start your day tasting under the vineyards at Fritz Underground Winery, then head south to Preston Vineyards, where its Rhône varietals rival the homemade bread and other deli snacks. Picnic over a game of bocce ball, and be sure to say hello to the resident cats. For a dose of history with your wine, stop at Hop Kiln Winery or Korbel Champagne Cellars. Don’t forget to grab a bottle for an afternoon spent at the Russian River. Once the sun has gone down, hope for a table at Boon Eat + Drink or, if you are feeling more adventurous, Hi-5 and some KFC (Korean Fried Crack). After dinner, trade wine for beer at the Stumptown Brewery, where pool and live music keep the fun going late into the evening.

Guerneville is also a great place to start your day with a breakfast at Big Bottom Market, followed by a hike at Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. Then get on the Gravenstein Highway to Iron Horse Vineyards to enjoy an award-winning brut in the rustic surroundings, or make an appointment at the back-to-the-land Porter Bass for a personal tasting. Hungry? Lunch on oysters or tuna nicoise at Underwood Bar & Bistro in a classy red leather booth, or just grab some fruit at Walker Apples and save the rest of your appetite for a dinner at the farm-to-table Zazu.

Healdsburg and the Alexander Valley

French pastries from the Costeaux French Bakery & Café are the perfect fuel for a morning spent antiques hunting in Healdsburg. Either pick up supplies at the Oakville Grocery or make a lunch date at the Jimtown Store. Along the way, stop at Alexander Valley Vineyards and taste their much loved Cyrus blend and take a tour through the extensive caves and one of the valley’s first farms complete with a schoolhouse built in 1853. Architectural fans will want to see the award-winning tasting room of Stryker Sonoma Winery next, while cab lovers will want to continue north and try the offerings at Silver Oak Cellars, where the motto is “Life’s a Cab.”

More cabs can be tasted once you arrive in the tiny hamlet of Geyserville. There, Meeker makes them like no other, but a more laid-back tasting awaits you a few feet away at the fun-loving Mercury Wines. Locals Tasting Room is a must with its wide variety of local boutique wines. Next, an Italian dinner at either Catelli’s or at the pizza-centric Diavola restaurant will soak it all up.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Napa & Sonoma.

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