California Wine Country
You've heard of the Napa Valley. The movie Sideways put Santa Barbara on the map. But you haven't experienced California Wine Country until you've tasted the artisan, hand-crafted Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of the Petaluma Gap or the deep, rich Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots that come out of Paso Robles. Sonoma, "wine country with a coast," offers up spectacular scenery along with its world-famous wines, making it a delight for all the senses. The Mediterranean climate in the Napa Valley produces the best wine-grape growing conditions in North America. In between tasting sessions at some of the country's best known wineries – and best kept secrets – you'll drive breathtakingly scenic roads, discover fascinating historic sites, and relax in the gorgeous coastal towns of Monterrey, Pismo Beach and Santa Cruz. Beginning and ending in San Francisco, this journey introduces you to the best of California Wine Country and so much more. So grab your pour, swirl it around, and inhale – Cheers!
PLEASE NOTE: If this particular tour is too long for you or alternatively, you have other stops in mind we can tailor a different length holiday or route to suit your requirements. Please call one of our friendly and experienced consultants on (01892) 779900 for more advice or email us with your itinerary and we will be happy to assist in helping to plan your trip.
Not looking to drive so far? Why not let us suggest some other alternative routes with less mileage? There are NO One Way drop fees on car hire in California so you really can start and end your journey just about anywhere!
- San Francisco
- Santa Rosa
- Napa & Sonoma
- Santa Cruz
- Highway 1
The world-famous Golden Gate Bridge welcomes you to San Francisco, the most-visited and beloved American city. Prepare to lose your heart as you explore delightful and diverse neighborhoods, take in breathtaking views from the tops of crooked streets, wander through Fisherman's Wharf, and sample a fabulous variety of cuisines.
Begin your stay in San Francisco by walking the Barbary Coast Trail, a wonderful 3.8-mile overview of the city ranging from Nob Hill to Ghirardelli Square. Spend a day exploring the Golden Gate Recreation Area, which includes the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio, Muir Woods and more. Jump on the ferry at Pier 39 for a trip to Alcatraz, the famous island prison that also has spectacular gardens, bird colonies, and views of San Francisco Bay. Stop in one of Boudin's famous sourdough bakeries for a true taste of San Francisco, and be sure to visit Chinatown for great food and atmosphere to match.
Just an hour's drive from San Francisco lays the delightfully historic town of Petaluma, surrounded by four of Northern California's great wine regions: Sonoma, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley.
You'll have the opportunity to explore three of these over the next few days as you travel throughout the region. Today, focus on the wineries in the Petaluma Gap, which take advantage of the unique climatic and geographic conditions to produce outstanding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Merlot varieties. Adobe Roads Winery, Keller Estate, Corda Winery, and Kastania Vineyards are some of the labels that make up the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance.
This evening, enjoy a self-guided walking tour of Petaluma's Historic Downtown, listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its collection of Victorian and turn-of-the-century Iron Front Buildings, and the Trees of Petaluma, a remarkable assortment of native, species and heritage trees.
Not far from Petaluma, Santa Rosa marks the beginning of Sonoma County wine country. More than 200 superb wineries are within 20 minutes in any direction, in spectacular surroundings that range from beautiful coastal villages to fragrant redwood forests. You'll be traveling deep into Sonoma County later in the trip, so you may wish to visit those vineyards that are closest to Santa Rosa today. Stop in at the California Welcome Center for wine country maps, coupons, and assistance in planning your route or booking a guided tour. When hunger strikes, you'll find that Sonoma's restaurant scene rivals its vineyards. As Guy Fieri, celebrity chef and Food Network star says of his hometown, "Sonoma County is the epicenter of the California wine and food scene, it offers it all – 5-diamond, 4-star, Gold Medals and Diners, Drive-ins and Dives...the action is laid back and the vibe is genuine." Enjoy!
Another short drive takes you to picturesque Healdsburg, a delightful village with a town square packed with gourmet cafes, wine shops, bookstores and a wonderful farmers market – a lovely place to begin or end a day of wine tasting. You'll find more than 20 vineyards in Healdsburg, from the ever-popular Simi Winery to the family-run Sausal Winery, which produces "simple, everyday wine for simple, everyday folks." Visit Hop Kiln Winery, located in a former brewery, Ferrari-Carano, with its grand gardens and majestic tasting rooms, Field Stone Winery, built into the hillside, and many more. Keep your energy up with a plate of fish tacos around at El Farolito, a rock shrimp salad at the Healdsburg Bar and Grill, or a prosciutto sandwich at the Dry Creek General Store.
What better combination could there be than wine and hot springs? Welcome to Calistoga, where more than a dozen spas, thermal springs and mud baths give the town the title "Spa Capitol of Northern California." After a treatment or two, you may be so relaxed that you consider putting the vineyards on hold! However, with two excellent Napa Valley wineries right in Calistoga, you can have the best of both worlds. Schramsberg, "America's First House of Sparkling Wine," was founded in 1862 by Jacob Schram, a native of the Rhine Valley in Germany. Its great history includes a visit from Robert Lewis Stevenson in the early 1880s, who admittedly – and happily – tasted all 18 of the vineyard's wines. Castello di Amorosa brings the taste of Italy to the Napa Valley, in its wines and its architecture. An award-winning reproduction of an Italian castle houses the winery and private tasting rooms, nearly eclipsing the vineyard's superb Italian style wines.
You'll get a true appreciation for the Napa Valley today as you travel from Calistoga to Napa today on California Highway 29, arguably the most scenic road through the valley. Traveling down the center of the valley, you'll pass through valley towns and past some of the most famous wineries in the region. En route, stop for an olive oil tour in St. Helena, located in the heart of Napa Valley, and lunch at Yountville, the "Culinary Capital of the Napa Valley." When you arrive in Napa, head for the Napa Convention and Visitors Bureau to purchase a Taste Napa Downtown Card. The card enables you to taste wines at 14 downtown tasting rooms, within walking distance of each other for as little as 10¢. You'll sample a diverse selection of Napa Valley wines from world-famous vineyards and boutique wineries. To visit the wineries themselves, consider booking a guided tour or hop aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train for a unique wine tasting and culinary experience. Stretch your legs on a self-guided walking tour of Napa's charming neighborhoods and historic sites, including more pre-1906 buildings than any other city in the Bay area. Italianate, Victorian Gothic, Spanish Colonial, Classical Revival, and Art Deco style buildings give Napa a robust character.
After you've finished your sipping for the day, it's time to head for Sonoma. Located in the heart of one of the world's premier wine producing regions, Sonoma is a working town with a rich cultural heritage. The city served as the capital of the "Bear Flag Republic" after Mexican General Vallejo was captured. Learn this intriguing story and more at Sonoma State Historic Park location of La Casa Grande, and where he was taken prisoner and the Sonoma Barracks which have hosted Mexican, Bear Flag Party and US military troops. The building was remodeled in 1860 into a winery. Next to the Barracks, the Toscano Hotel, constructed about 1850, has been furnished to appear at it did during that time period.
The Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma was consecrated in 1823 by a young, impatient and ambitious Father who intended to close down the missions in San Francisco and San Rafael. He sought to move the residents to Sonoma, where he could get plenty of water, wood, stone and other building and agricultural materials.
The Depot Park Museum, housed in the reconstructed Northwestern Pacific Railroad Depot, illustrates the fascinating story of Sonoma's history, including the Bear Flag Revolt. Nearby, stroll around 8 acre Sonoma Plaza, the town's centerpiece and largest Town Square of its kind in California.
The Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway One, is one the great scenic drives in America. Traveling this road to Monterey today, you'll be delighted by the sight of rugged cliffs and crashing waves, and recognize why this road is considered a destination in itself. Passing through Half Moon Bay, you'll find a classic coastal town with miles of gorgeous sandy beaches, tide pools, and fragrant forests. Arriving in Monterey, you'll be captivated by its legendary charm and beauty. Popular attractions include Cannery Row, immortalized in John Steinbeck's novel of the same name, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Old Monterey, and Old Fisherman's Wharf. Be sure to sample the seafood chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Literary enthusiasts will want to visit the National John Steinbeck Center in nearby Salinas. Relax and enjoy the change of scenery.
As you travel further south on the Pacific Coast Highway today, you'll encounter Big Sur, one of the jewels in the crown of the American National Scenic Byways network. On this stretch of coastal road, you may see California condors, catch a glimpse of migrating gray, humpback and blue whales, and drive right up to the beach to view the native wildlife up close and personal. In San Simeon, you'll want to stop to visit the spectacular Hearst Castle, officially the San Simeon National Historic State Park. Perched atop "La Cuesta Encantada," The Enchanted Hill, the "camp" that William Randolph Hearst built overlooks the majestic Pacific coast. By 1947, the country house had 165 rooms on 127 fully landscaped acres, along with two stunning swimming pools and several outbuildings. For peek inside this California landmark, take the Experience Tour, which includes portions of the main house, the 18-room guesthouse, both swimming pools, and the esplanade and gardens. When you arrive in Pismo Beach, you'll find this classic California beach town has it all, from gorgeous surf and sunsets to fabulous galleries and wineries.
Paso Robles is being touted as the next great California wine country, and you'll soon see why. A "winemaking frontier" where experimentation is a way of life, where family-owned vineyards are the norm, and 200 vineyards offer a diversity of wines for every taste, Paso Robles is a very special California wine country experience. Hot days, cool nights, and a long growing season produce deep, rich reds with a velvety mouth feel, "voluptuous fruitiness" and an "unmistakable scent and taste of dark chocolate." Hire a guide and see for yourself.
Originally envisioned as a spa resort, Paso was built up around the healing hot springs that the native Salinan Indians introduced to the Franciscan padres in the 1700s. The friars planted the first vineyards around that time, although commercial vineyards weren't established until the 1880s. Paso is moving quickly forward but maintains its hard-working, down-to-earth character. The thermal waters are still on offer at the Paso Robles Inn and River Oaks Hot Springs Spa, and the circa 1890 City Park is still the heart of the town.
Welcome to Surf City! Famous for its waves, Santa Cruz has 29 miles of sandy, sun-drenched beaches from which to learn to surf, people-watch, enjoy a campfire, watch the sun set or simply relax and soak up the sun. You can get out on the water by renting a kayak or windsurfer, or by booking a whale watching boat trip. In addition to the many water sports offered on the shore, Santa Cruz also offers inland sports such as hiking, biking, and that quintessential California sport: skateboarding! Stop in at the visitor center at 1211 Ocean Street for information on things to do and see in the area. There are concerts on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, wine tastings in the Santa Cruz Mountains, exhibits at the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, sea lion shows off the wharf, walking tours and movies in Capitola Village, and hikes among the giant redwoods. If you are purely beach-bound, the Beach Area Visitor Center next to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf has all the information you need to make the most of your time in the sand. What a relaxing way to end your journey.
San Francisco & Home
As you leave for San Francisco Airport and begin your journey home, know that you've experienced the trip of a lifetime in California Wine Country.
- Direct return flights from London (Please ask about other departure airports)
- 14 nights hotel accommodation and room tax
- Fully insured compact car hire
- A detailed travel pack with driving instructions and maps
We can also offer this itinerary in a wide range of other accommodation types, including superior hotels, character properties and small inns.