San Francisco, California is the home of the world-famous Napa Valley. A day trip to the California wine country is an absolute must especially if you are vacationing in the state (especially in and around the Bay Area).
While Napa Valley is the most famous, it is not the only viticultural region in California. There are hundreds of wine-producing areas in the state that it can be divided into four primary regions: North Coast, Central Coast, Central Valley, and South Coast. But for those who want to experience American wine culture for the first time, the most mainstream choices are Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, both of which are located on the North Coast.
Wine lovers will surely have the time of their lives in the California wine country. However, the region offers lots of other things that even non-wine drinkers will enjoy.
Napa Valley alone accounts for three to four million visitors annually! Summer is the peak season for tourism, although every season unfolds unique and breathtaking beauty to the California wine country. Any time is a good time to visit there.
But what if you are crunched for time and you have only one day to visit any of California’s wine-making regions? Although a day is not enough, it makes for an excellent prelude for more extended visits in the future. Here are some planning tips and suggestions to help you make the best of your day trip to the California wine country:
1. Do not try to visit several wineries in one day.
Instead, choose one winery tour and one wine-tasting tour from any of the top wineries in the region. For instance – if you are planning for a trip to Napa Valley, you can pick from any of the region’s top 10 wineries to your liking.
It is preferable to go to one winery in the morning and another one much later in the day. The best wineries require reservations in advance so that you will have the best wine tour experience. It is also recommended that you choose wineries that are not too far from each other so that you won’t have to spend much of your time traveling.
A lot of tourists want unique experiences out of their winery visits. They want to visit wineries that also feature fantastic architecture and offer breathtaking views. One of the most renowned wineries among tourists is Sterling Vineyards, which is located in the city of Calistoga (in Napa County). It sits on top of the hill that only a short cable car ride will take you there, which allows you to enjoy fantastic vistas of the valley.
Castello di Amorosa is another famous winery in Calistoga. Although it was built and opened recently, the winery accurately mimics a 13th-century Tuscan-style castle, complete with defensive towers, moats, a courtyard, a chapel, and even a torture chamber.
Many wineries also double as art galleries. Excellent examples include Cliff Lede Vineyards, Donum Estate, Hess Collection, Mumm, and many more. These are some of the recommended wineries for lovers of both art and wine. Even non-drinking art lovers will find themselves occupied admiring pieces of contemporary art.
2. Where to eat?
After a visit to one winery in the morning, it’s time to have brunch or lunch before setting out to another winery visit. Napa Valley alone boasts a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants so you cannot go wrong in going to any of them: La Toque, French Laundry, Bouchon, Morimoto, and Kenzo, among many others. There are also family-style restaurants as well as cafes.
The California wine country, especially Napa Valley, is notoriously expensive. But it is possible to find cheap eats there if you know how and where to look. The Oxbow Public Market is a sure place to go because it offers standout bargain eats and beverages.
The region is undeniably a melting pot of eclectic cuisines, so you will be able to choose one that suits your taste and budget.
There is an attractive option where you could combine wine tasting and great food that will further please your senses. Possibly the best place to do this is Round Pound Estate Winery, which is located in the city of Rutherford in Napa County. It offers wine tasting, sumptuous garden-to-the-table meals plus olive oil tastings as well.
You may want to take your lunch or dinner to a different level by taking the Napa Valley Wine Train, which offers onboard dining plus scenic views of the hills and vineyards.
3. Find other activities than drinking wines
The California wine country may be a vast playground for oenophiles, but both drinkers and non-drinkers will also find plenty of fun activities besides drinking wines. Allow one or a couple of non-wine activities which include eating at picnics on winery grounds, pampering yourself in Calistoga (famous for its mud baths and spas), stomping on grapes (during the fall season), relishing in nature walks, taking a bike tour, or enjoying a hot air balloon ride at sunrise.
These activities will further enrich your day trip to the California wine country and make you want to plan for a return trip there soon!