So let’s say you’re coming to visit me in Northern California but on this trip you’ve only budgeted one day to get the “wine country experience”. Well my friend, secretly I’m thinking you should have taken a little more time than 24 hours to soak it all in because the Napa/Sonoma region is a destination, haven’t you heard? ;)
But if you only have one day, I’ll still hook you up as your virtual tour guide. Whenever out of town friends come to visit I take them on this same tour of five favorite wineries in the Sonoma Valley. Four of them are clustered together on Highway 121, just 20 minutes from my house. The final stop is just a few more miles away, but worth the extra drive!
As your virtual tour guide, if you follow this day trip itinerary I guarantee you’ll get that wine country experience you seek. If you’re coming from San Francisco, you can get here in under an hour. This tour takes you through the Carneros region in the Sonoma Valley, known for its Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and sparking wines from grapes that grow in the volcanic soil and thrive amid the coastal breezes.
Included in a day trip is a stroll around the Sonoma Plaza, you can start early there, have lunch, and then hit the wineries after. Or start with the five recommended wineries, enjoying a picnic at the first one, and end your day in the Sonoma Plaza with a nice dinner in the evening.
From San Francisco, drive north on Highway 101 to Highway 37 to Highway 121. You’ll cross Marin County into Sonoma County and enter the Carneros appellation where Highway 121 becomes Arnold Drive, it’s here you’ll see the grapevines rolling along the hills.
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, a grand tasting room, and a marketplace of gourmet foods.
Next, you’ll go to neighboring Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Although the tasting room is relatively new (it opened in 2007), the estate buildings seem as if they’ve existed for centuries. There’s a courtyard, fountain, and vines crawling up the stone façades.
In addition to the wines, you can sample their flavorful olive oils at The Olive Press, housed in the same villa. These olive oils make great mementos to take home with you, I’m always buying their extra virgin and infused olive oils for myself and to give away to friends.
The third stop is directly across, it’s Cline Cellars and here you’ll find a completely different vibe. (Interestingly, the Jacuzzi winery you just visited is owned by the same family!) At Cline Cellars, a farmhouse with a wraparound porch greets you and inside you’ll be sampling sustainably farmed wines. The farmhouse is surrounded by idyllic gardens filled with roses and swaying willow trees nestled along the banks of several spring fed ponds that surround the vineyards. The grounds are beautiful for strolling, and you can linger at the outdoor picnic tables.
If you have time, consider stopping at Cornerstone Gardens, a sculptural garden and marketplace down the road. Walk around olive trees with the gravel crunching underfoot just like in European gardens. At Cornerstone Gardens, you’ll find several shops, art galleries, small tasting rooms, and the Sunset Magazine test kitchen.
Don’t spend too long because you want to taste sparkling wines while you’re in the region. There are two places to do so, the first is Gloria Ferrer which is just down the road from Jacuzzi and Cline. The Ferrer family has roots from Spain and from the terrace of this Mediterranean style villa, they specialize in sparkling wines, consider sampling a flight while you admire the panoramic views of the Sonoma Valley.
The final stop is in the direction of Napa along Highway 12/121, you’ll cross the border into Napa County when you visit Domaine Carneros, a stunning French inspired chateau which sits atop a knoll surrounded by vineyards. This French estate was founded by the Tattinger family, the chateau it was inspired by the 18th century Château de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France – home of Taittinger champagne. The terraces and formal gardens are beautiful, take your sparkling wine with you as you stroll among the grapevines while admiring the chateau above.
I put together a video for you of these five wineries so you can get a feel for this day trip.
As previously mentioned, a great way to end your day is with a stroll through the Sonoma Plaza where you can walk and shop and enjoy a great meal in any of the amazing restaurants.
For dinner, I recommend these great spots: La Salette a tucked away place that serves great Portuguese food; El Dorado Kitchen serves contemporary California wine country flavors. I also love Della Santina’s for hearty Tuscan food, especially in fall and winter, and there’s also the famous The Girl and the Fig serving authentic French country cuisine.
If you ever do this day trip, be sure to let me know! I’m happy to answer any other questions about a getaway to Napa or Sonoma. :)
I love visiting Sonoma and your recommendations are great.
I noticed some pictures in your post from Pangloss Cellars. Have you visited their tasting room on the square? The architecture and décor are amazing and the wines are affordable and delish.
Yes, I love their tasting room! It’s in the perfect spot on the Plaza, the interior is phenomenal and the wines are delish!
We’ve done Viansa twice and both times there were multiple tour buses there with such a mass of people that their large tasting room had aa waiting line just to get in. Their wine is OK but not worth the pointy elbows needed to get a taste. I totally agree that if you are in that general Carneros region, you have to go to Gloria Ferrar. Lovely setting, great bubbly and they aren’t as pretentious as Domaine C. Since you are ending up in Sonoma, you could throw in a visit to Sebastiani. They are right off the main square and while they aren’t as good as they were when they were family owned, the building is lovely and the people are (generally) friendly and chatty.
Agreed that Viansa is hit and miss, sometimes it’s crazy crowded, but I was there on a Sunday afternoon this past weekend (in August) and it was practically empty! I love Sebastiani too! And there are several tasting experiences at the Sonoma Plaza that are fabulous.
Wow, we are from New York but we literally just got back from a trip to Sonoma and San Francisco this week. First time there–so beautiful! Anyway, we did go to Cline and Jacuzzi Wineries and I loved them both. I even stashed some Peach Balsamic Vinegar from the Olive Press in my suitcase.
Yay Tricia, so happy for you!!
This is so great for us East Coast people that might come over for a Napa trip. Now we need you to keep going north and take us up to Calistoga and Bodega Bay!!
Calistoga is really fun and I pop out to Bodega Bay several times a year, love it there too!
I’m from Canada and have visited Sonoma and Napa a couple of times. I’m thrilled to be familiar with several of the places you’ve mentioned – Gloria Ferrer, Jacuzzi, Cline, and The Girl and the Fig. You live in such a beautiful part of the world, and your post has made me want to go back for a visit – thank you for your recommendations!
Come on back soon!
Hi! A group of couple friends are all visiting Sonoma this May and would like some accommodation recs that won’t break the bank. What would you recommend? Thanks!