I can’t pretend to be an expert on wine country, Sonoma, or Napa Valley (maybe someday), but after spending five days here I’ve upgraded from saying “mmm!” when I taste wine to making a (still uninformed) comment on the tannins. So I’m basically a sommelier. But seriously, my in-laws live in California and spend a lot of time in Sonoma and Napa. They were our tour guides while we were there and gave us a crash course in all things wine! We had sooo much fun so I want to share our favorite parts.
Here’s the scoop on where to stay in wine country, wineries you can’t miss in Napa (and Sonoma!), and the best hikes in the Napa and Sonoma area.
Where to stay
We stayed in Guerneville at the most gorgeous Airbnb EVER. Seriously, I didn’t want to leave. The living area was filled with sweeping views of a vineyard and there was a hot tub with uninterrupted views in the backyard. The pictures don’t even do it justice.
If you’re traveling with a group, an Airbnb like the one we stayed at is a great option. Guerneville was closer to the hikes we did but a little further away from the wineries and shopping. If you’re traveling as a couple or want to be more centrally located, it probably makes sense to consider staying in Healdsburg, Sebastopol, or Calistoga. My in-laws rave about Brannan Cottage Inn in Calistoga.
The best wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma
We visited Pride, T-Vine, Banshee, and Iron Horse while we were in town. If you’re in town for a few days and are interested in getting a taste of what the area has to offer, I think this is a great group of wineries to visit. The Cabernets at Pride were incredible. I’m still drooling over the Cab Franc. Iron Horse has really fantastic sparkling and Pinot. If you’re going as a couple, it’s worth doing a flight of each either individually or to split.
Banshee also has a lot of great Pinots.
A few pointers:
- Make reservations! This is a must in peak season.
- You’ll want to plan about two hours at each winery so you don’t rush. We went by the two hour rule and enjoyed the flights and tastings slowly. When you do a tour of the wineries this way, you won’t get wasted. We drove ourselves (safely and unintoxicated) from winery to winery without any issues. Alternatively, you could book a tour.
- Dress casually. Wear your favorite outfit, but there’s no need to get super fancy.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Best shopping in Napa Valley and Sonoma
Healdsburg and Sebastopol have the most shopping. We didn’t do as much shopping in Sebastopol so I don’t have specific recommendations. But Healdsburg had a great mix of eccentric and unique shops. Some of my favorite places in Healdsburg were:
- Punch (women clothing)
- Re Te (women and men’s clothing)
- Ereloom (men’s clothing)
- Cupcake (baby and kids store)
Best hiking spots the Napa Valley and Sonoma area
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is a MUST if you haven’t seen the redwoods before. You can park in a free lot right outside of the entrance and walk in about a quarter or a mile, or pay for parking inside the park. Most of the picturesque redwoods are visible on a short hike at the base of the park. If you’re interested in doing a longer hike, there are lots of options, but you won’t see redwoods after you gain altitude. We did a 5.6 mile hike (East Ridge to Gilliam Creek to Pool Ridge) and I’d do it again. The views from the top were BEAUTIFUL. A full list of the trail options is available here.
We planned on hiking the coast in Jenner, but it started pouring when we got there. We drove along the coast and could see the trail from the road. When (I say when, not if) we go back, we’ll definitely plan to hike the coast in Jenner. If you head out that way, check out Café Aquatica.
That’s it! My number one recommendation is not to pack too much stuff into your days. Our day usually went something like this: easy, slow morning with coffee, hike, lunch, winery, dinner, and drinks at home in the evening. Would recommend.
Have you been to wine country before? What were your favorite parts?