Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are the crown jewels of California wine
county Ė chocked full of scenic vistas, charming towns and welcoming
vintners, innkeepers and shopkeepers. Something is always
happening in Napa Valley and nearby Sonoma, an antique car rally, a
wine festival, a harvest party, or a food tasting.
© Suresh B Muppala
Fall is a beautiful time to visit Napa and Sonoma when the trees and vines have turned.
many wine regions but Napa and Sonoma are extremely popular because of
their proximity to San Francisco as well as the variety of top
restaurants, resorts, inns, spas and other indulgences.
Some of the highlights of this destination include:
Over 200 wineries, Napa Valley, Sonoma Town Center,
Sonoma Valley, Old Faithful Geyser, Copia, Charles Schultz Museum,
Infineon Raceway, Safari West, Petrified Forest
Napa, Sonoma, Yountville, St. Helena, Santa Rosa, Calistoga, Geyserville, Healdsburg, Guerneville, Kenwood
Lakes and Rivers:
Napa River, Russian River, Lake Sonoma
Jack London State Historic Park, Annadel State Park, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and others
You donít need to be a wine lover to enjoy these two counties
(yes, they are also towns) but if you are, you may never want to leave.
The best way to experience the region is slowly Ė stop and take in the
views, talk to the shopkeepers and vintners, relax on a restaurant
patio, watch the hawks soar over the fields, have a picnic, get a
massage...just donít rush it.
Traffic can be heavy on the main roads during the summer or holiday
weekends so try a side trip or pick a smaller town to explore. If
you are sampling wines, designate a driver.
Visitors can take balloon rides, cycle the back roads, sample artisan
cheeses and breads, visit specialty farms, stroll numerous art
galleries, tour elaborate gardens, play golf or just relax at one of
the many inns, resorts or spas. Winemaking is a big theme here
but not the only one.
All seasons are appealing but for
different reasons. In summer, there are many events (arts, music, food,
wine) hosted by wineries, associations and towns. The vines are fully
leafed out, the hills are golden and sun is hot. Fall is harvest time
with cooler days and, in November, the grape leaves turn gorgeous
colors, especially interesting against the fog-shrouded hills. Winter
means the crowds are thinned and you can get reservations without a
wait! It never gets really cold and the hills begin to turn green again
after some rain. Spring brings the mustard crop (intense yellow
blossoms between the vines) and the Mustard Festivals, along with blue
skies and bright green hillsides.
SCENIC DRIVES: This
Wine Country has famous towns, valleys and appellations (distinct areas
in terms of soils, topography, temperatures, etc. that affect
grapevines and the wines they become). Valleys are a good way to think
of the region while planning your trip. The main ones all have roads,
wineries and restaurants so you canít miss. They are: Napa Valley,
Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek
Valley. Our routes are loaded with wineries but you will also find
many, many more on the back roads all over these two counties.
Highway 101 runs down the center and is convenient to larger towns and
services but you wonít have the same views or experience as the
highlighted roads offer. If you do land in Santa Rosa,
check out the Charles Schultz Museum ("Peanuts" fame).
From 101 or I-80, head towards Napa to get on Highway 29. Traveling north, stop in Yountville, St. Helena or Calistoga. Each is
filled with lovely shops, restaurants for every taste, and a range of
accommodations and spas. In between, youíll pass one famous winery
after another (Niebaum-Coppola, Domaine Chandon, Groth, Robert Mondavi,
Beringer, to name a few). Oakville Grocery is also in this
stretch Ė worth a stop even if you arenít hungry yet Ė a deli youíll
If you can move after the massage and mud bath in Calistoga, follow 29
(Lincoln Ave.) or Tubbs Lane to 29 and take a right to work your way
slowly down the Silverado Trail, a road parallel to the valley floor at
a higher elevation with more views. There are places to stay,
dine and sip wine so donít turn back now.
Stop in Napa for a visit to the new Copia museum of food and all things delicious. Signs to the location are everywhere.
SIDETRIP: At 128 and 29, stop at Old Faithful Geyser for
something a bit more primeval and continue on to the Robert Louis
Stevenson State Park for a hike or a picnic.
SIDETRIP: Take Petrified Forest Road to the south to see, well...
a petrified forest. This road will connect to another famous
From Napa, take 12/121 and turn north on 12 to visit the town of Sonoma
with its plaza, historic Franciscan mission (Mission San Francisco
Solano de Sonoma), shops and restaurants. If your touring juices
are still flowing, head out of town on 12 towards tiny Glen Ellen Ė a
quaint little spot for a brief stop.
SIDETRIP: Take a turnoff to Jack London State Park for a nice
hike to the authorís former ranch (and the spooky ruins of his burned
Along 12, along the way to Kenwood, you can spot well-known wineries
like Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood and Kunde Estate. Stay on 12 to
connect with 101 in Santa Rosa.
ALEXANDER VALLEY/DRY CREEK VALLEY
From Napa Valley, continue on 128 to Alexander Valley. The
wineries are smaller, lesser-known and much less crowed so it is a
great place to explore. At Geyserville, take Canyon Road to Dry
Creek Rd to explore that small valley. Again, less traffic,
smaller operations, always a nice welcome.
The town of Healdsburg has a walkable town plaza attractive to
visitors, surrounded by many famous wineries on Eastside and Westside
Roads south of town (Rabbit Ridge, Rodney Strong, Chalk Hill and many
RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY
Follow the River Road on the Russian River to Guerneville. Along
the way, as you will see, river rafting is popular, as are the many
small semi-rustic river resorts with cabins and grills. This was
once primarily a summer retreat for the gay community but all are
welcome and a festive atmosphere prevails.
SIDETRIP: Follow the Russian River all the way to the coast to Jenner and Highway 1 if you have the time.
If you wish to take a scenic drive back to 101 instead of the coast,
take 116, past Sebastopol, several wineries and many other diversions.