Wine Country, San Francisco
A nice day trip from San Francisco is a drive out into Wine Country. Napa and Sonoma Valleys are both within a couple hours drive. The roads are dotted with hundreds of wineries, so pick some and stop in for a taste.
The region's "Mediterranean climate" gives it a different look from the rest of the USA. In the summertime, most places are lush and green. In this area the grass dries up and turns yellow in the summer. The only green comes from trees and bushes.
If you can find a brochure called "The Best of the Wine Country", you can show it and get free gifts, discounts, and free tastings at dozens of wineries. We found it at the Tourist Welcome Center in Santa Rosa, just off Route 101. The brochure is published by dayguide.com.
Napa and Sonoma are perfect destinations for a weekend getaway. They are also close enough (about an hour to SF) so that you can just get out of the city for a day... The weather is almost always nice so you'll most probably have a great time in any of these locations. Some good wine definitely helps too! I prefer Sonoma over Napa because it's not so crowded, less touristy and therefore wineries don't even charge for wine tasting. I would suggest buying some groceries at Oakville or Sonoma town and then sitting down at one of the winery's picnic area. Which winery to go to? Just get a map from the visitor's bureau and check out the wineries at random. There are some famous ones that everyone go to, but I can assure you you'll come across some very nice wineries and really good wine if you just check them out at random.
but if you definitely need some names, I would suggest Domaine Chandon in Napa and Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma. Especially Chateau St. Jean has a nice picnic area. If you are curious about wine making, Mondavi winery in Napa has a really good tour.
By the way, start your day early, most of the wineries close by 5 pm...
The two valleys, Napa and Sonoma, lie between 60 and 90
minutes drive north of San Francisco. Both offer the same
rustic beauty of vineyards, wildflowers, and green and
golden hills, but the characters of the valleys are quite
different. Napa Valley, further inland, has 200 or more
wineries, many of them with gorgeous gardens, knock-out
views, interesting architecture and art collections. Of
particular note is Stag's Leap Winery, famous for its
1973 cabernet sauvignon that beat the French in a blind
tasting in Paris. Calistoga, a spa town in northern Napa,
is probably the most attractive option for overnighting.
Sonoma Valley is low key and less commercial, with only
about 30 wineries. Happily, free tastings are still the
norm in Sonoma Valley.
A slender, compact valley rimmed with rolling hills that
rise to rounded peaks, Napa Valley is the heart of
California's wine country." Only an hour's drive from
San Francisco, this verdant valley is dotted with wineries,
award-winning restaurants, elegant resorts, and country
inns. You'll also find world-class shopping, challenging
golf courses, and recreational areas.
Northern California's glorious Wine Country is a feasible
day trip from San Francisco, but an overnight stay will
give you a much better taste of the vineyards and
circumvent any 'who's gonna drive' conversations. Only
about 5% of Californian wine comes from the Wine
Country, but it's the quality stuff; plonk ordinaire is
churned out by the barrel in the Central Valley. The best
time to visit is autumn harvest, when the grapes are on
the vine, or in spring, when the hills are brilliant green.
If you've got the time, and like good wine, drive up to Napa Valley and visit some vineyards. Some of these places only sell their products on-site - you can't buy this stuff anywhere else, not even in restaurants. It's maybe a 2 hour drive north across the Golden Gate Bridge, and so you pretty much need a whole day to do it. If you're only around a few days, I'd stick to SF proper.
You will probably have seen the city with the help of 'Fodor' or other reliable guides. If you have another day then use it to visit the Napa Valley. This can be done best by motor car or alternatively there is a wine train consisting of 1930's pullman cars which can be recommended. Fares are about $70 including lunch. Three wineries are especially recommended for visiting. 1. Opus One, a modern, almost futuristic winery set up by Robert Mondavi and Baronness Rothschild - very exclusive - very expensive. 2. Beringer winery. Good shop in the interesting 'Rheinhaus', also tours. 3. Robert Mondavi Winery for an absolutely first class and fascinating tour with a 'tasting' at the end.
An escorted trip to the wine country either by limo or tour bus is a must . . . the wines are wonderful and the scenery divine. I traveled to Viansa in Sonoma County and Monticello in Napa County.
Get out of town up to the Napa and Sonoma valleys and go wine tasting. Make sure you have a sober driver!
Nappa Valley is due north of San Francisco but the countryside is well worth the trip and the wine is excellent!