An hours’ drive from San Francisco and stretching across several mountain ranges, Northern California’s most famous wine regions—Napa and Sonoma counties—are replete with hundreds of wineries and countless notable restaurants and cafés, relaxing spas and enough national parks and trails to counterbalance all of that eating and drinking.
So where to begin on your ultimate road trip through Wine Country? From Napa to Healdsburg, here’s how to make the most of your stay.
Congratulations—you’ve made it to what’s quite possibly Wine Country’s most popular destination, so best to grab that photo opp with the famous signage before checking into your digs for your stay. Downtown Napa has been revamped in the last few years and is now home to some solid hotel options for your trip, including the Archer Hotel, outfitted with rooftop views of downtown Napa, Charlie Palmer Steak and the Andaz.
Travelers can elevate their experience by checking out one of the many resorts in the area, including The Meritage, which only landed in Napa last year, as well as Meadowood Napa Valley, the ultimate in luxury resorts, tucked into rugged woodlands with views of the Mayacamas mountain range across the valley. Guests can enjoy swimming, massages, croquet, tennis, golf or hiking—and to top off the day, the resort is also home to Christopher Kostow’s three-Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood.
But what you’re really here for is the wine, so start with a tasting at Inglenook Winery in Rutherford. “Dating back to 1879, the property has a rich history that is filled with successes and sorrows,” says Napa-based Wine Advocate reviewer Anthony Mueller. “Currently owned by the Coppola Family, where they have lived for over 40 years, the current director of winemaking is Philippe Bascaules, the legendary managing director for Château Margaux. The flagship wine, Rubicon, is what keeps me coming back to the estate for more, year after year.”
Mueller also recommends heading to the Davies Vineyards tasting room in St. Helena. “It has a professional and educated staff that offers a wide range of experiences. The Davies family also owns Schramsberg, so guests have the chance to explore a wide range of wines from Cabernet Sauvignon to sparkling. There are many different tasting experiences to choose from and the food and wine pairing experience, especially, will be sure to leave a lasting impression,” he says. “Besides, who doesn't love bubbles and Pinot in the morning?”
Arguably just as important as the wine on this road trip is the food, and Napa Valley is outfitted with a variety of cuisines. “This cool wine bar clearly takes pride in the mastery of its sommelier by pouring a lengthy and thoughtful array of wines from the world over,” say the MICHELIN inspectors about Compline located on 2nd Street. Here, chef Yancy Windsperger’s dishes range from casual pastrami and pulled pork sandwiches for lunch to dinner entrées like Sonoma Liberty duck breast with quince, celery root and rutabaga, as well as Petrale sole with fennel, soubise, capers and brown butter.
Hankering for fine-dining? Head to Kenzo Estate owner—and Capcom founder—Kenzo Tsujimoto’s eponymous one-MICHELIN-starred restaurant around the corner on Pearl Street. An authentic taste of Japan can be had at Kenzo via two kaiseki menus, one of which is centered around sushi; each menu is priced at $225 per person with service included.
Further north in Yountville lies Thomas Keller’s stalwart three-MICHELIN-starred The French Laundry. If the walls at The French Laundry could talk, the stories they would tell would be of the many, many chefs who have worked the line and then gone on to open their own celebrated restaurants, like Corey Lee (Benu, San Francisco), Grant Achatz (Alinea, Chicago) and Eric Ziebold (Kinship and Métier, Washington, D.C.), to name a few.
All of that eating and drinking can leave one feeling sluggish, so best to work up a sweat. Runners and cyclists will be delighted by the Napa Valley Vine Trail, a 47-mile route connecting Vallejo to St. Helena, a great way to spend the morning in the California sunshine—and to burn off those calories.
Napa’s neighboring county abounds with places to stay, ranging from quaint b&bs to lavish resorts and spas, such as the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa boasting a full 18-hole golf course and 40,000-square-foot spa with private cabanas and mineral baths. The Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant in Forestville is perfect for “urbanites seeking an escape from the fray,” state MICHELIN inspectors of this charmer. Thrill-seekers take note of the nearby Russian River—the second largest river in the nine-county Greater San Francisco Bay Area after the Sacramento River,—where canoeing, kayaking, fishing and more adventure can be had.
When it comes to wineries, Erin Brooks, The Wine Advocate’s reviewer for Sonoma County, suggests checking out The Donum Estate. “It’s located just a few minutes from the center of Sonoma and is a must-see for visitors to Sonoma County,” she says. “Owned by Mei and Allan Warburg, not only are Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays here top notch, but the estate is also home to a world class contemporary sculpture collection by renowned artists including Ai Weiwei and Yayoi Kusama. The sculptures are scattered across the property and among the vines, providing a truly unique tasting experience.” Brooks also recommends visiting Flowers Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg, which now boasts a hospitality center on site, a first for the 30-year-old property. Tasters take note—reservations are required for both wineries.
Like its neighbor, Sonoma County is satiated with exemplary culinary destinations, like Saul Gropman’s Cafe La Haye, a downtown standby. The menu, prepared by chef Jeffrey Lloyd, is staunchly Californian; menu highlights include beets and Belfiore burrata with hearts of palm; beef carpaccio with fried oysters and aioli; ginger-glazed pork chop with grilled apple, beluga lentils and warm vinaigrette; and marinated filet mignon with balsamic-Worcestershire vinaigrette.
At Monti’s in Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village Shopping Center, much of the menu comes by way of the large wood-fired rotisserie. Specials include Sonoma Hills Ranch barbecued goat tacos; honey-glazed Neiman Ranch St. Louis spare ribs; Moroccan-spiced leg of lamb piadini; and crispy porchetta.
Up in Healdsburg is Kyle and Katina Connaughton’s highly sought-after three-MICHELIN-starred SingleThread, where “‘Exquisite’ barely begins to describe a meal at this jewel, where every detail has been considered, from the moss and flowers cradling the amuse-bouche presentation to the packets of heirloom seeds that are sent home as parting gifts,” say inspectors. At SingleThread, Kyle oversees recipe and menu development while Katina takes charge of the farm, the yin to his multi-course tasting menu yang.
And if you wanted to truly raise the stakes for your ultimate Wine Country road trip getaway, you can stay on-site at the SingleThread property.
After all, live your best life. You deserve it.