Planning a Trip to Napa or Sonoma

As you can imagine, I have people ask me to play their personal concierge in wine country all the time. While I don't mind sending personalized recommendations, I have compiled a list of my favorite wineries, restaurants and hot spots to visit in Napa and Sonoma. I will be revising this annually to include new recommendations, so save this link as a reference for your wine country travels. 

Napa Valley VS Sonoma Valley: Napa is like a Disneyland for adults, lavish and over the top. Sonoma is a bunch of farmers making wine. Both have quality wine. Both have marketing gimmicks. HERE is my favorite wine blog, Wine Folly, and an in depth look at which region may be more your style. Another wine blog I highly suggest is Wine Country Table by Jordan Winery. 

Please note: You can’t do both regions in one day (I have made this mistake before). But if you stayed in wine country for a week, you could divide your week in half staying in each region and get a good feel for both. 

Navigating Napa: When in Napa, take the Silverado Trail. Highway 29 gets backed up with traffic. Here is a great map of Napa Valley.  

Best wine tasting application for planning your trip: Go to the app store and download econcierge app. They have a ton of 2 for 1 and other deals in Napa. Connectivity may be limited.

Ask the locals: Always ask the hotel, B&B, and other wineries for advice.  They usually have good recommendations and provide you with 2 for 1 vouchers.

Where to stay: With the dog and baby, we usually stay at Air BNB’s these days to have the extra space (and kitchen). You can find some beautiful properties nestled in the vineyards. Check out THIS one just north of Healdsburg. I’ve listed some hotels below I’ve either stayed at and loved or heard good things about.

When to visit: Many people like to visit in September / October in time for harvest and the smell of fermenting grapes is in the air. Housing / hotels are through the roof this time of year because of the influx of visitors and harvest employees. My favorite time of the year to visit is Spring because the mustard plants (a share crop planted in between vineyard rows to maintain the nutrients in the soil) have bloomed and the landscape is green and lush from rain. If you can time it to visit right before harvest in Summer, the vineyards are lush and green. Makes for some great photos. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to taste the different grapes prime for picking.

Before you go: Read my article on wine tasting etiquette so you don't make common rookie mistakes.  

Napa Valley

Calistoga

A sleepy town known for it’s natural mineral hot springs. With only a few options for nightlife, stay here when you’re making a baby (or at least want plenty of time for practice). While you’re here, indulge in a spa treatment at any of the below listed hotels. 

Where to stay: Indian Springs, Solage, Calistoga Ranch, Brannon Cottage Inn

Where to eat: Solbar, Evangeline

Where to sip: 

Chateau Montelena: Historic. Touristy. Beautiful property. Competing winery from the Judgement of Paris in 1976. 

Sterling Vineyards: Wines are not great. Take the gondola up to the winery for some awesome views. Touristy. 

Castello di Amorosa: Wines are not great, but it's a castle. Pretty cool. Touristy. 

Schramsberg Vineyards: Sick of heavy reds? Wrap your day up with some sparkling wine

St Helena

Where to stay: Meadowood Napa Valley, Harvest Inn, Las Alcobas Napa Valley

Where to eat: Goose & Gander, Mustards Grill, Farmstead, Market, Gott's Roadside, Dean & DeLuca (grab n go for picnic)

Where to sip:

Alpha Omega Winery: End your day here to watch the sunset one day. Great wines and service (rose, sauv blanc and red blend are my fave's)

V. Sattui Winery: Touristy, but pretty location and good for picnics. Wines are not good. 

Chappellet: Great view, ambiance, service and wines. Highly recommended.

Del Dotto Vineyards: Beautiful property and wines. Do the cave tour. Note: There are 2 Del Dotto’s. Be sure to go to the one in St. Helena. 

Pride Mountain Vineyards: Great wines and ambiance. A little out of the way, but worth it. 

Quintessa: Need a reservation, love their wines. 

Raymond Vineyards: Playful and eccentric experience involving all of your senses. Check it out at some point. 

Hall Wines: Property has many unique art installations. Try the food & wine pairing. 

Newton Vineyard: Great chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Beautiful garden. 

Corison Winery: One of my favorite Napa cabernet sauvignon’s. Balanced & elegant reds. ‘Underwhelming’ tasting room experience though. Cathy Corison prefers to let the wines speak for themselves vs. wowing the guest with an over the top winery experience. 

Rutherford & Oakville 

Where to stay: Auberge du Soleil (they have a great spa), Rancho Caymus Inn

Where to eat: Auberge du Soleil (enjoy an early dinner and watch the sunset with a glass of Champagne in hand. It’s worth the price.), Oakville Grocery (grab n go for picnic)

Where to sip: 

Miner Family Wines: Hands down a must visit!

Round Pond Estate: Lunch and olive oil tasting was amazing here. Reds are great. 

Peju Province Winery: Love the wines and service

Grgich Hills Estate: Historic - competed in the “Paris Tasting” of 1976. Worth a visit.

Mumm Napa: When you're sick of heavy cabs, end your day here with sparkling wine.

Inglenook: Historic and beautiful estate.  

Yountville

Where to stay: Vintage House, North Block Hotel, Bardessono

Where to eat: Redd, Ad Hoc, Bouchon (macarons!), The French Laundry

Where to sip: 

MA(i)SONRY Napa Valley: A selection of several wineries in one elegant tasting room and art gallery

Robert Sinskey Vineyards: Love their wines from the rose to the cabs

Stags' Leap Winery: Historic winery that served as a speakeasy during Prohibition (not to be confused with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars)

Napa

If you want an 'active' nightlife with plenty of options for restaurants and bars, downtown Napa is the way to go. Use this as a home base, most wineries are north. 

Where to stay: Candle Light Inn, Silverado Resort and Spa, Senza Hotel, Andaz, Hennessey House Bed and Breakfast, Napa River Inn

Where to eat: Oxbo Market, Compline, Oenotri, Carpe Diem, Angele, Morimoto, ZuZu

Where to sip:

Darioush: Over the top cabernet and winery

Palmaz: Try the food & wine pairing and cave tour

Sick of wine tasting? Take a hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley with Napa Valley Balloons

Sonoma Valley

Healdsburg

Definitely the most uppity town in Sonoma Valley with a wide range of dining options. It will always hold a place in my heart since I ran my first half marathon here in 2008 and we got married at a Healdsburg estate in 2015. You will love checking out all the shopping, restaurants, bars, and tasting rooms on the square. 

Where to stay: H2 Hotel, The Duchamp, Grape Leaf Inn, Madrona Manor Inn & Restaurant

Where to eat: Campo Fina, Chalkboard, Valette, Barndiva, The Shed, Dry Creek Kitchen, Single Thread, Flying Goat Coffee, Dry Creek General Store

Where to sip: 

Jordan Winery: Do the winery tasting & tour. You won’t regret it. Great cabernet and chardonnay. 

Ridge Lytton Springs: Known for their zinfandel blends, enjoy the outdoor patio.

A Rafanelli: My personal favorite zinfandel in California. Great cabernet and merlot too. 

Medlock Ames: Biodynamic, make an appointment for their winery vs tasting room. The grounds are stunning. 

Truett Hurst: During a weekday, snag the red chairs on the creek for a picnic. You must be a member to reserve them on weekends. 

Comstock Wines: Good wines, enjoy the bocce ball court and corn hole games.

J Vineyards: Great sparkling wine and pinot noir. Walk in

Rodney Strong: Next door to J Vineyards. Walk in

Sebastopol

Still has a feeling of being undiscovered, with down-to-earth people. Mostly known for pinot noir and chardonnay since it is a cooler climate. Not too far from Bodega Bay if you want a unique seaside adventure. 

Where to stay: Unless you find a cute Air BNB, I would stay in Sonoma and venture here for the day. 

Where to eat: Zazu, The Barlow, Flying Goat Coffee, Hana Sushi

Where to sip:

Iron Horse Vineyards: Known for their sparkling wine, chardonnay and pinot noir. Enjoy a picnic at the property. 

The Barlow: a 12-acre Bay Area outdoor market district in Sebastopol, California featuring local food, wine, beer, spirits and crafts made onsite by Sonoma County artisans. Check out Kosta Browne!

Littorai Winery: Great pinot noir

Paul Hobbs Winery: Great chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon

Emeritus Vineyards: Great pinot noir

Russian River Vineyards: North of Sebastopol. They only serve food two nights a week, but I have heard great things about the progressive dinner. 

Gary Farrell Winery: North of Sebastopol. Great wines. 

Sick of wine tasting? Float the Russian River in Guerneville just north of Sebastopol. 

Kenwood & Glen Ellen

Where to stay: Kenwood Inn & Spa, Beltane Ranch

Where to eat: Glen Ellen Star, Olive & Vine, The Fig Cafe

Where to sip: 

Imagery Estate Winery: Full bodied, balanced wines.

Benziger Family Winery: Biodynamic, great whites and reds. Take the tram tour. 

Ledson Winery & Vineyards: Known for zinfandel. Try the food and wine experience for lunch at the castle.

Ladera Vineyards: Chardonnay & pinot noir

Hamel Family Wines: I haven’t actually been, but hear great things

Lasseter Family Winery: Owned and operated by John Lasseter, the film maker, and his wife Nancy. Organic wines.

Sonoma

Also situated an a picturesque town square, Sonoma town is a great place to make your home base. 

Where to stay: Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, MacArthur Place, Ledson Hotel

Where to eat: The Girl and the Fig, El Dorado Kitchen, Harvest Moon Cafe

Where to sip:

Hanzell Vineyards: Great chardonnay and pinot noir, beautiful views of the city from the vineyards. 

Scribe Winery: Beautiful outdoor patio, great wines

Three Sticks: South of Sonoma Square, great wines

Patz & Hall: Great pinot noir and chardonnay

Sojourn Cellars: Great pinot noir

Sick of wine tasting? Enjoy breathtaking views of Sonoma Valley from a hot air balloon with Up & Away Hot Air Ballooning

Carneros

Located underneath both Napa and Sonoma. Great place to stop on the way to wine country from SF. Mostly known for pinot noir. 

Where to stay: N/A

Where to eat: Boon Fly Cafe 

Where to sip:

Rams Gate: Good service & ambiance, decent wines. It's on the southern side of Napa and Sonoma, so it's en route to both.

Domaine Carneros: Bubbly, good views, on the way to Napa from the city

Saintsbury: Beautiful wines

Sick of wine tasting? Drive a race car around a race track instead at Sim Raceway Driving School.