Wine Country, San Francisco
Many people head to the Napa Valley to sample some of the finest wines produced anywhere but it’s become overrun with tourists and the nearby Sonoma Valley offers some respite from the hordes, at least if you go during the week. You can stop in numerous vineyards and sample their wares. Then pick up some picnic supplies, a bottle or two, and find scenic spot to soak it all in. Please visit my Sonoma page for details.
Napa valley is just a short hour away, but has some spectacular scenery. Rent a car for the day, or take a guided tour, either way you'll be in lovley surroundings tasting some great wines. The Wineries are so beautiful and each has a different character to it. Great gift shops at each of the wineries. There is also a wine train, check out the website:
I highly recommend Napa Valley as a day trip if you have an extra day in the SF area. Napa is absolutely gorgeous in the fall. Almost looks unreal in person.
Although we didn't have that much time to spend in San Francisco, being so close to the famous Sonoma and Napa Valleys, we couldn't resist the temptation to book a wine tour. After doing some research online, we decided to go with Wine Country Tour Shuttle. They picked us up at the Ferry Building at 8:30 am - we got there a bit ahead of time, and our guide Chris was already there waiting for us. As we drove through San Francisco, he gave us some very interesting information about the city as well as a few "local's tips" - we were off to a good start! The drive across the Golden Gate Bridge early in the morning was fantastic, and again Chris proved to be both knowledgeable and entertaining as we made our way to Napa Valley in the very comfortable shuttle.
Our first stop was at the V. Sattui winery, where we got to taste six different wines. There was also a large deli/market where we picked up enough food for an amazing picnic. Next on the list was Domaine Chandon - this time the stop included a tour of the facilities followed by an outdoor tasting of their world-famous sparkling wine. The next winery we hit was the beautiful Andretti Winery (yes, as in Mario Andretti the race car driver) where we were invited to eat grapes right off the vines and sample four of their wines. Our last stop was at the Black Stallion winery, which turned out to be our favourite one as far as wine goes. All in all we tasted about 20 different wines so it definitely was a good thing that neither of us had to drive! Also, with hundreds of wineries located in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, it was nice to be guided to wineries that were unique yet affordable (the average price of a bottle was $20-$30). All the settings were also pretty incredible.
We took the Vallejo ferry back to San Francisco for a very enjoyable 45-min cruise on the San Francisco Bay, reaching the Ferry Building at 5:00 pm. We had such a wonderful day, I'm really glad we decided to book the tour! In total, it came down to $125 per person ($95 for the tour + $25 for all the tastings; lunch and everything else was included) and I thought it was well worth it for all the fun we had!
If you go to San Francisco and you have an extra day I highly recommend a visit to the wine country. Both Sonoma and Napa Valleys are within about an hour's drive of the city. Many vineyards offer free tours as well as free tastings. In addition to what you will learn about winemaking and wine itself, you will be treated to views of one of the most beautiful landscapes in America. Maps of the area are available at most hotels, though you could also do what we did: just get in the car and drive. We ran into some great out-of-the-way, family-owned vineyards this way.
Excellent opportunities for wine tasting abound in nearby Napa and Sonoma Counties where some of the best tasting is available. One way to explore the wine country is to head north over the Golden Gate Bridge and up U.S. 101 from San Francisco to the River Road exist. River Road is just beyond the City of Santa Rosa. Head west (left) on River Road and look for the winery signs that resemble road signs. Then explore the wineries as your adventure unfolds. This will lead you into the Russian River Valley where some excellent Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay are produced.
Other fantastic places for tasting in the area surround the cities of Healdsburg, Sonoma, and Napa. Some wineries offer free tastings, others charge a small fee. Usually tasting rooms are located right at the vineyards. Cities like Sonoma and Healdsburg also have tasting rooms that may feature one winery or offer tastings from selected regional wineries. Be careful not to overdo the tastings if you are unlucky enough to be driving.
The Napa Valley is a very popular destination with locals and out of towners alike. It's an easy few hours from San Francisco. There are many tour companies offering day trips from San Francisco and many visitors usually only spend a day hoping from winery to winery and rarely see more of the area. I'd definitely recommend renting a car, driving out to Napa and spending at least a night to get a better feel of Napa.
I love Napa and whenever I visit San Fancisco make it a point to visit to indulge my love of the sweet life, that includes a few hours at my favorite Spa, sampling some excellent wines at a fantastic winery and indulging my love of food at a wonderful restaurant.
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...
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.
With the exception of some of the finer Malbec's from Argentina, the greatest wine in the world comes from the Napa Region about 40-50 miles Northeast of Downtown San Francisco. Because of the traffic, it can take up to 2-2 1/2 hours to get here. However, if you leave on a weekday from Downtown San Francisco after 10am, it shouldn't take you more than an hour to get here.
This is a picture of a wine vineyard somewhere in the Sonoma Region. I was in the middle of the freeway with no cars behind me and took this picture from outside the sun roof of my car.
I was frustrated with this picture because I missed about 20 other prettier photo opportunities until I took a shot of this.
It's a fun drive, the scene highway 12 which you get to by crossing the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge (which is Highway 80 East), and after you cross the bridge, you follow the signs to 80 East (Sacramento). Drive about 30-40 miles to Fairfield and exit to Highway 12 (Sonoma/Napa).
Once you are on Highway 12, it is a peaceful drive which you will find yourself on beautiful pastoral, quiet scenery and lots of vineyards.
If it's a hot day and you want to get away from the loudness of San Francisco, this drive is the panacea to your desires.
About a good one hour or longer drive from Downtown San Francisco is Sonoma, a city in the heart the Northern California Wine Region.
There are many ways to get there from San Francisco. You can take Highway 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge and follow the signs to Napa or Sonoma.
I recommend the longer more scenic drive where you take Highway 80 East (Towards Sacramento). About 30-40 miles on this drive, you will enter the city of Fairfield, follow the sign that tells you to go onto Highway 12.
Take Highway 12 and eventually, you will get to this City Hall in Sonoma, a quaint, friendly, lively town more down to earth making you feel far away from the busy San Francisco Bay Area hustle and bustle.
I took this picture yesterday night (May 23, 2005). Prior to getting here, I passed by at least 15 wineries. The country roads on highway 12 are windy and breathtaking if you love pastoral valleys engulfed by hot early Californian summer sunlight and hills that go up and down with vineyards with small Mountains looming in the background.
Now almost all wineries in Napa Valley and more and more in Sonoma are charging a fee for tasting. Fees are pretty high as they can range anywhere from $6 to $25 per person (yes, even $25). Pretty soon it can get pretty expenssive. Pick up a visitor's guide called 'The Best of the Wine Country' from your hotel or car rental office. It will get you FREE tasting tasting to many wineries listed and discounts to many spas. It is published by a company called econcierges.com. We were handed one by our Concierge at the Westin hotel in San Francisco. We also enjoyed a nice discount at the Golden Haven Hot Springs.
A "Day Trip" to Napa Valley may not be enough as there are so many wineries. There are maps of the areas that show the wineries and it seems like there is a winery on every corner. Furthermore, the architecture of the buildings is both varied and amazing. I've made two trips out and still would love to go back. In terms of which wineries to see I hesitate to recommend any particular one (so as not seem pushing a particular winery). I would recommend NOT going to just national brands, and also would recommend going to a couple that specialize in champagne in addition to the regular wines.
As there was only one day planned to tour the valley, I had to restrict to a few places.
This was a must-go as one of the best known in the World: KORBEL, visit of the museum with possibility to sample-taste all their wines (at least 10!!) and finish your tour with a cool REAL wine-tasting moment on the shady terrace - do I have to mention I was amongst *angels*?
Up and Away Balloon ride over Sonoma Valley is the best-the owners are great guides and the champagne brunch is first class. We only had two days but made the most of it. We stayed at the Ledson Hotel in Sonoma-fabulous accommodations! Visited the Ledson vineyard, Domaine Chandon and Viansa. All were great experiences and well staffed by knowledgeable, courteous people. Beautiful countryside. A great getaway!
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.