It’s July and I am freezing in California. I live in San Francisco where ‘summer’ is cold and foggy, particularly near the ocean. Thankfully my day-job requires I go to Napa and Sonoma at least once at month so after work I soak in the sunshine and sip on some wine before I return to the air conditioned city.
Napa is the first place most people will go when they visit Wine Country. It’s nice. There are boutique and chain hotels, victorian B&Bs, cute villages like St. Helena and Yonteville, famous restaurants and even a ‘Mini-SF-ferry-building’ named the Oxbow Market. Napa Winery tours travel up Silverado Trail and down Hyw 29, sipping on wines with $20+ tasting fees. To put is mildly Napa is popular.
If your Travel Goal is to drive a convertible through California Wine Country stopping at wineries big and small. Stay in a village where you blissfully amble from art galleries to boutiques and have a variety of dinner options. Unless you are prepared to anty-up for a romantic stay in St. Helena you are better off skipping Napa for superior California Wine experience…
Try This Sonoma
If you plan a trip to California wine country, and your priority is wine drinking — and it should be — Sonoma is great home-base. Blissfully drive through fertile valley of vineyards and drink local wine in the sun-shine. Relax away the evening wandering (or stumbling) around Sonoma City Park exploring boutiques, art galleries, wineries and restaurants.
Often overshadowed by Napa; Sonoma is closer to San Francisco and more centrally located with easy access to Napa Valley, Russian River Valley and Sonoma Valley making Sonoma town center an ideal central location for Wine Country exploration.
There are a dozen hotels all with 4-5 star reviews within walking distance of Sonoma City Park in addition to B&B and home rentals, unless it’s NASCAR weekend at Infineon you should have no trouble find a great value place to stay.
Around Sonoma there are hundreds of wineries pouring everything from bubbles to zinefindel, most will wave the $10 to $15 tasting fee with purchase and some pour up to 5 tastes for free — yes, FREE wine tastings. To navigate all this choice I pick up the Sonoma County Wine Map — available at any hotel, winery, or tourist office. I also like to ask winery staff for other suggestions, it’s a small town and locals know what’s good.
Unlike napa wineries, Sonoma is extremely picnic friendly and often sell picnic-to-go cheese plates for peckish enophiles. Try Cline or Gundlach Bundshu for park-like-picnics. Keep it classy at Gloria Ferrer Champaign or cool off at Deerfield Ranch Wine Caves. For a special experience book a wine tasting and botanical garden tour at Robert Hunter by appointment only.
Once you have overdosed on local wine don’t throw in the towel, Try This… award winning micro-brew beer! Russian River Brewery is the top micro-brewery in the nation located in nearby Santa Rosa. Locals love Lagunitas outdoor restaurant in Petaluma and Sonoma Springs Brewery is the Sonoma-town brewpub.
Do NOT drive past the Fremont Diner on hwy 121 between Sonoma and Napa. They have the best home-made food serving breakfast lunch and dinner. Even if you’re not that hungry stop in for a snack sandwiches like Biscuit & Bacon or Fried Chicken way better than chick-fil-A.
Wine, Beer, Food — You can’t go wrong!
Next time you thirst for a taste of a Northern California Wine Country skip the crowds in Napa…. Try This Sonoma.