Wine Country Safari
To come this far and not make it to the Wine Country (only an hour north of the City) might just be a sin, especially if you consider the area’s wine roots. Back in the 19th century, settlers began planting the vineyards, which now cover the sloping sunlit hills. The source of those fruitful cuttings: Catholic priests. But even with this blissful beginning, it wasn’t until a blind taste test in Paris in the 1970s that California wines really made history. A little known red from Napa beat out a well-known French wine and ever since, tourists and tasters have been flocking to the region’s earthly grounds
To get going to wine country, leave the city after an early breakfast and take U.S. 101 over the Golden Gate Bridge towards Napa/Sonoma, following CA-37 East. Choose either Napa Valley or Sonoma for your day trip and, if you plan to indulge in a lot of tasting, designate a driver. Scheduling ahead is a good idea, as some wineries require prior appointments, the number in a group is limited and there may be a fee. Following are some suggestions to help guide you through the Bay Area’s grape land.
Navigating Napa Valley
Your open road trip continues on the winery-hopping Route 29, which will take you straight to the bustling little town of Napa. Your morning walk downtown will give you a chance to shop, saunter and explore the many wonderful shops that make up the area.
Then it’s time to hit the vineyards. Enjoy the drive as you pass through Yountville, the “unofficial culinary capital of Napa,” where the recently opened 62-room Bardessono has already drawn some ardent fans to their spa and restaurant. First on our winery agenda is Cakebread Cellars. This exquisite winery offers, by appointment, tours of their 82-acre estate and tastings of their top-tier wines. Surrounded by the historic and picturesque To-Kalon Vineyard, Robert Mondavi Winery offers several tours and pays tribute to Mondavi’s vision of a lifestyle founded on wine, food and art. Located in picturesque St. Helena, Merryvale’s historic building was the first winery built in the Napa Valley after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, and has become a favorite destination for visitors to the valley. Click here to see all the wineries that Napa Valley has to offer.
Time to relax? Then head to Calistoga. This long-time spa town suggests a stress-free stop. Both the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs and Golden Haven Spa and Resort have been pampering guests since the 1930s. See nature put on a show at the Old Faithful Geyser of California. And geysers keep the mineral pool, which opened in 1917, at Indian Springs Resort and Spa between 92 and 102 degrees, depending on the season. Finally, if you can summon the energy, amble down Calistoga’s main drag for dinner among the vines of the valley.
Stopover in Sonoma
From CA-37 East, continue along the Carneros Highway to Sonoma, where your wine tasting adventure will begin with a stroll through Jack London Park. The Call of the Wild author bought land here in the early 1900s. When he died in 1916, he was buried in the park, which today is filled with trails, a museum and the ruins of his dream house, which was destroyed by fire weeks before he was to move in. You’ll have time to ponder as you pick a path in this pleasant park.
Your Sonoma tasting journey begins with Benziger Family Winery which in addition to its estate wine tour also offers a tram tour of its biodynamic vineyards. Next stop is Ledson Winery & Vineyards, dominated by a 16,000 square foot French Normandy structure known as “the castle.” The next portion of your enjoyable education awaits at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Tasting Center, where the gardens allow guests to get hands-on experience in food and wine pairing. The annual Heirloom Tomato Festival in the fall showcases 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, all picked fresh from the Kendall-Jackson Culinary Gardens.
Once you are ready, head toward Healdsburg for the Kendall-Jackson Tasting Room, which is situated on the tree-lined town square, for a taste of their top wines. Here in Healdsburg you’ll discover quaint antique shops, select art galleries and beautiful boutiques in which to browse. When hunger strikes, pop in for a delicious dinner at any one of the neighborhood restaurants and try out your pairing skills with whatever is on the menu.
Want more recommendations? Check out the rest of the fabulous wineries and tasting rooms in Sonoma and Napa Valley.
A Guide for Your Safari?
If you want to relax in the wine country and have someone else do the driving, try one of our many reliable and knowledgable tour guides. You'll be sure to have a fantastic time and learn something too!