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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Happy tasting and safe travels from your local tour guide!