SF to Sonoma: Your Perfect Day Trip

By Kate Riley August 12, 2011

Greetings friends, happy Friday!  Guess what gang?  It’s tasting season out here in Wine Country and many of you are planning WC getaways and little day trips.  I keep getting tweets and emails with the same question time and again. 

“Hey Kate, we’re coming to San Francisco and want to spend one of our vacation days in Wine Country, where do you recommend we go/sip/eat?”

Just one day?  Oh no!  Truly, you need several days to experience Northern Cali’s Wine Country, preferably two days spent in the Napa Valley touring Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville, and two days in the different regions of Sonoma County, specifically Healdsburg and Sonoma.  A few days is really the way to vacation in the WC in order to truly absorb the flavors and the relaxed atmosphere around here.  It’s infectious.  You may find you never want to return home. 

However, if you’ve only got one day and you’re coming from (or living in) the City by the Bay, it’s true, you can still get the flavor of Wine Country in a single day.  Here is the very best route for all of you “I just have one day” visitors.  This day trip is 45 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge and takes you on a tour of the Carneros region in Sonoma, known for its Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and sparking wines from grapes that grow in the volcanic soil and thrive amid the coastal breezes. 

This tour will give you a taste and feel for the region and still allow your designated driver to get back to your hotel in San Francisco by nightfall.  Let’s journey, shall we?  Who’s up for a day trip to Wine Country?  Yay, glad you all raised your hands. 

First, travel north on Highway 101 to Highway 37 to Highway 121 – it’s best to map it out before you come on MapQuest, your smart phone, or a GPS device.  

You’ll cross Marin County into Sonoma County and enter the Carneros Valley where you’ll see the grapevines rolling along the hills and start to get excited.  Relax, there are acres of those to come!  Your first stop is Viansa, an Italian inspired hilltop winery which specializes in both red and Italian varietals.  This villa offers a fabulous view, beautiful gardens, and a great marketplace of gourmet foods.  

viansa winery

Next, you’ll travel next door to Jacuzzi Family Vineyards.  The nicest thing about Jacuzzi, other than its sustainable practices, is the fact that although relatively new, the estate buildings seem as if they’ve existed for centuries.  There’s a courtyard, fountain, and vines crawling up the stone façade.  Sample their wines and the flavorful olive oils at The Olive Press.

jacuzzi winery

jacuzzi 2


A worthy stop along Highway 121 for both its idyllic gardens and charming farmhouse tasting room is Cline Cellars. You’ll walk among rose gardens and swaying willow trees nestled along the banks of several spring fed ponds surrounded by vineyards. This winery is definitely worth your stroll, plus they offer complimentary tastings. 

Along this Highway 121 route (also known as Arnold Drive) you’ll also see two of my favorite places, the first is Sonoma Country Antiques.  They have great finds in their shop, but much more out back, be sure to look around if time permits. 

sonoma country antiques


On this route, you’ll also want to stop into CornerStone Gardens, home to many design shops and art galleries in an outdoor setting where you can stroll from shop to gallery and admire all of the garden installations and their unexpected forms designed by renowned artists.  There’s also a gourmet café here which makes a great stop for a quick lunch. 

cornerstone gardens

One of the best places on the planet for architectural salvage is Artefact Design & Salvage, located within CornerStone Gardens.  Inside you’ll find swoon worthy finds from all across the world, curated by globe trotting owner Dave.  Nate would really love this place. 

artefact salvage

Don’t spend too long because you want to sample sparkling wines while you’re in the region.  You have two places to sip them close by, Gloria Ferrer which is the next stop after Jacuzzi, or you can drive in the direction of Napa along Highway 12/121 to visit Domaine Carneros, with a stunning French inspired chateau which sits atop a knoll surrounded by vineyards.  Both wineries have amazing views and great sparkling wine samplers. 

domaine carneros chateau

domaine carneros sparkling wines


There are two other favorites wineries in the near vicinity, one of them is Gundlach Bundschu (pronounced Gun-Lock-Bun-Shoe).  They make great Cab Franc and Syrah, but also are known for unique varietals like Gewürztraminer and Tempranillo Rose. 

gundlach bundschu winery

We also like Nicholson Ranch for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and the sweeping views of the valley.  Both are definitely worth your visit if you have the time, and only a short distance from the Sonoma Plaza, which is where you want to head by late afternoon.    

From Highway 12, take Broadway to the Sonoma Plaza and find a parking spot. 

sonoma city hall


There are amazing shops and galleries on all four sides of the Plaza, here are just some of the highlights: 


When you stroll around the Plaza in the afternoon and evening, visiting the shops and galleries, be sure to duck down some of the interesting alleys for even more to see. 

sebastiani theatre sonoma


For home décor visit Summervine and H Frank to the north west, Harvest Home and Chateau Sonoma for great antiques on the southwest side, and The Corner Store for beautiful linens, bed, and bath.  Many of these home décor shops close at 5 or 5:30 p.m. so be sure to arrive at the Sonoma Plaza around 4 p.m. or earlier to allow time to browse.  

Two great places to taste wine on the Plaza are the Ledson Hotel and our most favorite place to sample boutique wines, the Sonoma Wine Shop.  We’re members of their wine club because they’re experts at what they do: they fine tune your palate through various tastings, and they will ship you wines based on your personal preference.  We like that.  You’ll like them too. 

sonoma wine shop


End you busy day of sipping, sightseeing, and shopping at any one of these fine restaurants on the Plaza, mapped out above.  Here are our five favorites, and reservations are recommended:  Meritage Oyster Bar (seafood & cocktails); El Dorado Kitchen (gourmet seasonal Californian, outdoor seating); the girl & the fig (classic seasonal French); The Swiss Hotel (relaxed Italian/Californian, outdoor seating); and Della Santinas (traditional seasonal Italian fare). 

Cheers to you and a lovely day spent in unforgettable Sonoma, our favorite place to be.

kate in wine country

Happy tasting and safe travels from your local tour guide!


cg kate signature




  1. Thanks so much for that. We had a fabulous holiday in N Cali over 10 years ago and we would love to return one day – maybe even to live. Thanks for the tour and recommendations x

  2. This would be a perfect summer getaway and you’ve been a great tour guide! I’m book marking this info for a later date. Thank you.

  3. That looks divine! I must make it out there…and I will stay more than a day! Xoxo

  4. Is it weird that on the diagram of Sonoma Plaza, my eyes were immediately drawn to the Cheese Factory?!

    Great tour. This should be bookmarked for anyone planning travel to Northern Cali. One of these days I’m going to hit T’s aunt up and make a visit to SF. :)

  5. WOW – I’ve never been to your part of the world (or even your country) but I have sampled lots of wines from this area and they were delicious! One day maybe I will get to see this area as it looks beautiful. Only one problem though – who will be forced into doing all the driving and no drinking?! Maybe I will have to save up for a personal driver!!

  6. Thank you for posting this! My husband and I have been to Napa and are thinking of heading to Sonoma next. I’ve bookmarked your vineyards and hope to get to those and many more!

  7. What a lovely thing that you did. What a great tour guide you are. I have been to Sonoma once, on my honeymoon over 20 years ago. I bought a poster at one of the winerys and we framed it. It was one of our first “art” pieces. On another trip we stayed in Napa for a few days. My favorite, north of SF, is Point Reyes Station. I’d love to return again someday.

  8. My husband and I love Cline Cellars. Great wine, quaint property. We live in Vermont but dream of heading back out to wine country someday soon! Awesome blog btw!

  9. This post is perfect for me today!! My mom and I just decided to go to the San Francisco area for our mother-daughter trip. Do you have any suggestions on what to do for the week? We are hoping to try and see San Francisco, Sacramento, the wine country and the Tahoe area!! Although I’m sure we could definitely spend a week in each place…. :)

  10. What a great post, Kate! My husband and I did a tour a million years ago after our first child was old enough to leave. At the time, my husband wasn’t a wine drinker; now that he is, it would be even more fun to go back. Thanks for the great tips!!!

  11. Aw, thanks for reminding me of my wonderful honeymoon, spent indulgently at the Gaige House Inn. In addition to the wineries you mentioned, our favorite stop was Prager Port Works in Napa. Not elegant but unique, personal, and charming.

  12. I just got back from a fabulous vacation from the wine country and there were only 2 wineries we missed on this list. We went to The Girl and the Fig for lunch and omg it’s delicious. I did want to stay there forever. I kept telling my husband you know we could move out here. The weather was so lovely compared to Texas’ 3-digit temps. Thanks for the new suggestions!

  13. Love love love this post! Makes me want to pack up and head to Northern Cali right now!

  14. I stayed at El Dorado Hotel when I did SF to Napa/Sonoma for a weekend in October and loved it! I can take a deep breath, close my eyes and take all the fresh air and scenery in now *sigh* Bookmarking this for future trips to the area, thanks!

  15. Hi Kate!

    Just wanted to let you know I’ve been anonymously reading your blog for almost two years now, and I’ve finally started my own, and you’re mentioned in my first post! Because, well, you’re kind of the reason I’ve started a blog. So thank you for all of the wonderful inspiration!


  16. This is great! Thanks so much for the guide, I will keep this in mind next time we are in Cali visiting the family. :)

  17. Wow Kate! You’re like my favorite neighbor that I’ve never had the pleasure to meet! Great post, this is the exact tour I give friends when they come to town to visit, minus Domaine Carneros, I always drive by but have never taken the time to go in. My brother works at Jacuzzi and we are so lucky to get a killer discount. If you haven’t tried it already, try the Montepulciano or the Nero d’Avola. I happened to write a post about a day in Sonoma, here http://www.brittanymakes.com/brittanymakes/2011/07/a-day-in-sonoma.html. Thanks Kate, you never lack in details and your tour is something I can forward to any friends looking for a great time in WC :)

  18. Loved our trip out west to Northern California last month. Thanks for the input. Up and down the coast was divine and I cannot cross off Big Sur from my bucket list since I absolutely MUST do it again. Loved Carmel By the Sea, Monterrey and San Francisco. Had no idea it was so cold there and we were there on the 4th of July with two shirts and two jackets!!! It would have been perfect if I could have gotten out to Petaluma and bought you lunch/dinner. Would have gladly due to all the joy I receive from reading your blog!

  19. Wish I was there. I have been to Sonoma and it is wonderful. I live on the other side of the US and we have some nice new Vinyards. Look for Valhalla, Amrheins, and Chateau Morrisette, all in my area. Love your blog

  20. I’m totally going on this tour when we’re out in CA for Thanksgiving! Great advice. Last time I was in Sonoma I was preggers, so I’m due for some wine tasting. :)

  21. THANK YOU! My husband and I are coming from NC for our anniversary next week– just printed this post out for our travels- – heading to Sonoma for two days from San Fran– sooo excited to have some fun shopping suggestions!!! I love to bring something home from our trip. thanks!!!

  22. Wow! Awesome! I’ll have to save this to reference for a future vacation! My husband and I are big wine lovers and we’d love to go out there some day!

  23. That sounds like a perfectly lovely trip. I’m bookmarking this post because I would love to do that. Thanks so much for all the info.

  24. I’m back to this post again because I can’t stop thinking about the lovely bubbly and the architectural salvage place! Just pinned it so I won’t forget where to go the next time I’m in Sonoma.

  25. Great post! i love your blog btw. i come every day when i can and have been inspired. We have lots in common actually- i too am a lawyer, live in SF and wish i could design all day instead. alas…

    this post is so dead on. I must say, I am so lucky. One of my best friend’s mom has a house in oakmont, a retirement community. but she is only there part of the week, so we get the house pretty much any weekend we want. :) its right on the border of sonoma and these are our usual haunts.

    TIP: for Jacuzzi, they have incredible olive oils and olive stuffs. the olive oils are pretty pricey at 26 per bottle. BUT – if you bring your won bottle – even empty wine bottle – the olive oil is only a dollar per ounce. so the 26 dollar bottle is only 16!, so bring your pretty bottles and fill them up! i LOVE the lemon olive oil and their mission olive oil for cooking. YUM!

    All the wines are good. many are great. and all of it so fantastic to try!

  26. Love it. LOVE IT! Domaine Carneros is one of our absolute favorite places. It was actually the first place I ever stopped in Wine Country. Fond memories.

    Thinking of heading back out again the first or second weekend of November. We’ll definitely try out a few new places that you outlined in this post.

  27. Any recomendations on places to stay for someone trying to plan a trip to wine country?

  28. Hi Kate – I’ve been meaning to comment on how helpful this blog post was when my husband and I traveled out west last fall. I think we hit every place you talked about and loved it all! I always fwd the link to this post to friends going to Sonoma as well. It’s nice to have an “insiders” view! Thanks again.

  29. I am from SC and love life here; however, I would move to Sonoma in a heart beat! We are members of Viansa Wine Club and that is how I keep a connection to Sonoma. I tried so hard to win HGTV’s home they built there a few years ago. It was a farm style home, which I love, and in Sonoma!! Win!! Win!! Thanks for this review of a day in Sonoma!

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