Which California wine region is just right for you?

16 mins read


Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips. 
Although Napa Valley might get the most credit for world-class wine, there are quite a. few wine regions spread across California that are well worth exploring. From inland Southern California to coastal Northern California, and a half-dozen places in between, wineries throughout the Golden State provide a relaxing environment to do wine tastings, learn the process of making wine, and take in the sprawling picturesque vineyards. Here’s a guide to where to eat, stay and taste in wine regions throughout the state.
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Image courtesy of Thatcher Hotel.
Mendocino County, located about 100 miles north of San Francisco, is home to 11 wine regions, including the popular Anderson Valley. This rural area is dotted with charming small towns that are populated with generations of farming families. The vibe is laid back, the residents are hospitable, and the scenery ranges from foggy coastlines to sun-filled valleys. With 570 wineries to choose from, there’s no shortage of wine tasting opportunities. Here’s what you need to know:

Famous varietals: Pinot Noir, Zinfandel
Must-do winery: At the rustic-yet-luxurious Roederer Estate, you can taste their signature sparkling wines grown in Anderson Valley.
Best restaurant: Enjoy an organic meal at Café Beaujolais, a converted 1893 Victorian farmhouse in the coastal town of Mendocino.
Stay: The Thatcher Hotel is located in rural Hopland near the Russian River. This 1890 Victorian hotel is steeped in history, surrounded by nature, and has a mid-century modern meets farmhouse vibe. The bar and café feature local beers and wine and organic, seasonal menu items. 

Sonoma County is known for its wine, but its farm-to-table food scene is just as impressive. There are 18 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), including Sonoma Valley, that range from the cool coast to the low mountains. Located in Northern California, the historic town of Sonoma is centered around Sonoma Plaza, lined with wine tasting rooms, slow food restaurants, and unique boutiques. Sonoma is typically less expensive than its posh neighbor, Napa Valley.

Famous varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon
Must-do winery: The historic Buena Vista Winery is the oldest winery in California. Visit the museum, have a picnic on the scenic grounds, sip wine in the chic lounge, or do a tasting in a cave.
Best restaurant: Barndiva, located in Healdsburg, serves up farm-to-fork food in a barn setting.
Stay: The Geyserville Inn is a quaint 41-room boutique hotel situated on a working vineyard with many local wineries nearby. Located in the Alexander Valley, the guest rooms offer rustic charm with modern conveniences.

Hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley | Flickr CC: Ali Hamden
Napa Valley, the United States’ premier wine country, offers world-class, award-winning wines, five-star accommodations, and Michelin-starred dining. Bike through the vineyards on a wine tasting tour, hop aboard the posh Napa Valley Wine Train, stroll the riverfront promenade in downtown Napa, soar over the valley in a hot air balloon, or visit the Oxbow Public Market for fresh finds. Napa Valley is composed of seven towns that not only offer the best food, wine, and shopping, but also hot springs, a vibrant art scene, luxurious spas, and lively night life.

Famous varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon
Must-do winery: The V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena has it all—more than 60 wines, expansive picnic grounds, food pairings, a fully-stocked deli, entertainment, and knowledgeable staff.
Best restaurant: If you are able to bag a highly coveted reservation at the Michelin 3-star restaurant French Laundry, it will be an experience to remember. Another noteworthy dining choice is the Michelin 1-star restaurant, La Toque. The chefs and sommeliers couple food and wine into a perfect match for an elevated dining extravaganza.
Stay: Enjoy a romantic stay in sprawling vineyards at the SENZA Hotel, located between Napa and Yountville, with close proximity to wineries. This upscale hotel offers luxurious charm, stunning surroundings, sophisticated suites, fire pits, a pool, nightly wine and cheese reception, complimentary continental breakfast, and relaxing spa treatments.

Photo by Meridith Robertson
Located just northeast of high-tech Silicon Valley, Livermore Valley Wine Country is a lesser-known wine region in the Bay Area, but well worth a visit. There are more than 50 wineries surrounding the suburb of Livermore, with many wine tasting rooms conveniently located around town.

Famous varietals: Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc
Must-do winery: Concannon Vineyard is America’s oldest, ongoing winery under the same family label and stewardship. It has been in operation since 1883 and features estate-grown, single vineyard, small lot wines grown on the estate’s 182 acres. For a boutique winery experience, visit Wood Family Vineyards’ tasting room at TheBlock37 in Livermore.
Best restaurant: For upscale Asian fusion dining, the award-winning Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyard in downtown Livermore is the place to go. With a vibrant atmosphere, attentive services and nearly 600 bottles of wine to choose from, makes for a epic night out.
Stay: The Purple Orchid Wine Country Resort & Spa is located in the heart of Livermore Valley Wine Country. This quaint bed and breakfast is the perfect location for touring local wineries, enjoying the restaurants and shops in downtown Livermore, or hiking in Del Valle Regional Park. Enjoy being pampered at the spa, lounging by the fire in a luxurious suite, taking in the garden and olive orchard views, swimming in the heated pool, or indulging in the nightly Gathering Hour with wine, olive oil, and cheese tastings. If you need dog-friendly accommodation, the Home2Suites is a good option and rooms include full kitchens.

 

Situated between Silicon Valley and the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Region is a beautiful area with stunning views of vineyards and Redwood trees. The area is much cooler than most valley wine regions and is actually the coldest Cabernet Sauvignon-producing region in California. Wind through country roads leading to small towns and sprawling vineyards. There are nearly 300 wineries spread across 1,300 acres. The rural area is much more laid back and less pretentious than many other wine regions.

Famous varietals: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay
Must-do winery: For a unique wine tasting experience, visit Beauregard Vineyards in the midst of the towering Redwoods in the small town of Bonny Doon. The tasting room is a more than 100-year-old cabin in the woods, once home of “The Lost Weekend” bar. Visitors can purchase a “2020 Lost Weekend Old Vine Field Blend,” a Zinfandel blend for $25 named after the historic structure.
Best restaurant: For something a little different, while cruising through wine country, stop off at the Cowboy Bar & Grill in Felton where you’ll dine on Western comfort food.
Stay: Nestled on 300 mountain acres, the award-winning, 4-diamond Chaminade Resort & Spa offers a luxurious escape surrounded by nature. Whether you want to enjoy the serene Redwoods, the picturesque Pacific Ocean beaches, or the bustling city of Santa Cruz, this resort makes a good home base to explore the area. The 156-room resort features a full-service spa, pool, tennis courts, pickleball courts, hiking trails, a treeside restaurant, and fitness classes.

The quaint town of Paso Robles is centrally located between L.A. and San Francisco on Highway 101, in Paso Robles Wine Country. The area is a little bit country with a cowboy meets surfer vibe. The rolling vineyards make a great backdrop for wine tasting, ziplining, or horseback riding. Explore the historic town square in downtown Paso Robles, lined with wine tasting rooms, gourmet restaurants and custom boutiques. Had your fill of wine? Take a tour of nearby Hearst Castle or watch the elephant seals frolic on the beach.

Famous varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah
Must-do winery: Stroll along manicured pathways lined with beautiful sculptures while sipping locally grown wine at the Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden. The multi-million-dollar sculpture garden, which consists of bronze and granite artworks, adds a pleasant twist to your visit.
Best restaurant: Thomas Hill Organics, located in downtown Paso Robles, focuses on fresh, organic, and locally sourced wine, meat, produce, and breads for its seasonal menu that rotates frequently. Their “straight from the earth” ingredients are used to craft imaginative cuisine that delights the senses.
Stay: Just off the Paso Robles Town Square, Hotel Cheval is a charming equestrian-themed boutique hotel with only 16 guest rooms. Relax by the outdoor fireplaces with a glass of local wine, indulge in made-to-order s’mores from the S’mores Butler, unwind in the Library that features jars of candy, board games, books, and a fireplace, or take a stroll to the nearby shops and restaurants.

Photo by @ericjohnstudio
Relaxed and rural but undeniably SoCal, this emerging wine region is nestled between the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains and helped put Southern California wine country on the map while providing perfect access to the Central Coast and charming cities like Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. “Sideways” was filmed here.

Famous varietals: Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Syrah
Must-do winery: Sleek and modern Presqu’ile Winery is our fave.
Best restaurant: Join the morning queues for a cup of joe and pastry at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery, a local charmer.
Stay: Skyview Los Alamos offers hip digs close to wineries in Santa Barbara Wine Country. The 33-room retro boutique motel is dog friendly, has its own vineyard, serves locally sourced comfort food at the on-property Norman restaurant, and offers great views of sunset over the vineyard. Sip a craft mocktail by the pool, bike to the throwback town of Los Alamos, cozy up next to a firepit in the courtyard or on your private room patio, or just unwind in the midcentury modern guest rooms.

If you’re interested in wine tasting in Southern California, Temecula Valley Wine Country is your best bet. Located in Riverside County, the area is not far from San Diego, Orange County, or Palm Springs. In addition to nearly 50 wineries, you’ll also find a dozen breweries, two distilleries, and a meadery. Take a wine country tour via a Jeep, cable car bus, horse, bike or limo. Stroll through western-themed Old Town Temecula to shop for antiques or art, take a peek at historical buildings and monuments, visit a wine tasting room or two, purchase fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market, or listen to live music.

Famous varietals: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel
Must-do winery: Italian-inspired Bottaia Winery is an elegant escape to not only taste local wine, but to also relax and unwind. They have several tasting room experiences that range from tasting inside in the Barrel Room our outside on The Deck. Members can have more intimate tastings in the sophisticated Indoor Lounge or on the Members Only Terrace. Seated wine and food pairings are also available. In addition, visitors can enjoy lounging and dining at The Pool.
Best restaurant: Cork | Fire Kitchen, at the Temecula Creek Inn, takes farm-to-table dining one step further by foraging local ingredients whenever possible or picking seasonal produce straight from the on-property chef’s garden. The ultra-fresh items are used to create inventive dishes with bold flavor. The dining room and outdoor patio overlook the pristinely manicured golf course.
Stay: Within close proximity to several wineries, the Ponte Vineyard Inn is situated on the grounds of Ponte Vineyards, which spans 300 acres. This upscale Spanish-style hotel features an outdoor pool, fitness room, manicured gardens, vineyard views, in-room spa services, several on-property dining options, a gift shop, and guided estate tours.

 

Tagged: California, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Francisco
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