Napa and Sonoma Valleys are renowned wine producing regions. But these areas of California are great to visit for multiple reasons, great weather, great food, arts and entertainment, and outdoor activities. The weather is great in the summer. Depending on where you are, 80-90% of the days between June and September are sunny to partly sunny. This is the weather that produces fantastic grapes, but also produces great vacations.
Are the Sonoma and Napa Valleys a good place for a family vacation? Absolutely, Sonoma and Napa offer great outdoor activities for the whole family, examples include the Jelly Belly Candy Factory, the Charles Schulz Peanuts Museum, and the Old Faithful Geyser of California. In addition, many of the wineries offer special activities for kids.
In this 7 day itinerary we spend 3 days in the Sonoma area and then 3 days in the Napa area before heading back to San Francisco for the flight back home. We usually choose to rent a vacation home with a pool so the kids can enjoy the pool in the afternoon after some morning touring. Homeaway has a number of vacation properties to rent in the Sonoma valley area.
We start our 7 day Napa / Sonoma vacation in San Francisco. San Francisco is about an hour’s drive from Sonoma. Pick up your rental car and head out over the Golden Gate bridge via Highway 101 to Sonoma. We’ll spend the first few days in Sonoma which is a little less crowded than the Napa area. The centerpiece of Sonoma is the Sonoma Plaza , which is still anchored by the northernmost Franciscan mission in California—and it’s even the birthplace of the California State Bear Flag, created by Americans rebelling against Mexican rule. Take a walk around Sonoma Plaza which is lined with charming shops, tasting rooms, and popular restaurants.
Do some wine tasting in the morning. One of my favorite stops is Ravenswood which produces some of the best Zinfandel wines in California. Take the tour of its estate vineyard and cellar, including barrel samples. In the tasting room, have a comparative flight of its Zins.
Another option is the tour at Benziger which offers a Biodynamic tram tour. Biodynamic farming and winemaking can be hard to understand without seeing them in action. Benziger gives guests a crash course with a tram tour through its organically farmed vineyards and gardens, which grow herbs for tonics. Afterwards enjoy the stop in the naturally cooled cellar.
In the afternoon, take it easy relaxing by a pool.
In the morning drive to Santa Rosa and visit the Charles Schulz museum. Charles Schulz was the creator of Peanuts, the famous Charlie Brown comic strip and TV specials. Visitors can laugh at Schulz’s original comic strips, learn about the art of cartooning and Schulz’s role in its development, view a re-creation of Schulz’s art studio, watch animated Peanuts specials and documentaries in our Theater, and draw their own cartoons in our hands-on Education Room. Before leaving, visit Snoopy’s Home Ice, just across the street from the museum, which was designed and built by Schulz and his first wife, Joyce. Visitors can ice skate or enjoy a hot chocolate by the fireplace in the Warm Puppy Café, which looks out onto the ice and was favorite of Schulz for breakfast and lunch.
In the afternoon head to Healdsburg, at the north end of Sonoma County, which was recently listed as the No. 2 “Best Small Town to Visit” in the U.S. by Smithsonian magazine. On the way home take a drive along the Russian River and stop off at the Korbel Champagne Cellars for a tour and tasting.
Head to Napa. On the way over visit the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield and take the tour. The kids will love the tour and tasting afterwards.
Afterwards drive to Napa and visit the town. For dinner drop in to the Oxbow Public Market, a lively food hall where you can slurp fresh oysters at Hog Island, savor artisanal charcuterie from Fatted Calf, or indulge in truffles and caramels from Anette’s Chocolates. If wine tasting has you in the mood for a good pizza, pick up an organic wood-fired pie from the market’s Ca’ Momi.
Drive to the Oakville / Rutherford area. Start your touring at the Robert Monday Winery. The architecture of the winery is stunning and they offer some great tours. The Discovery Tour and Tasting is a family-friendly walking tour with a taste of 2 wines. Children are welcome.
There are many great wineries to visit in this area. One of my other favorites is the Rutherford Hill Winery. Besides the great wine, at Rutherford Hill you can enjoy breathtaking views, spectacular wines, and a tour of the nearly mile-long caves.
Drive to Calistoga. Located at the northern tip of Napa Valley at the base of Mount Saint Helena, Calistoga is the less traveled, laid-back sister to the bustling downtown Napa. Calistoga is the valley’s spa and hot springs capital, and visitors have flocked here seeking rejuvenation in mineral-rich volcanic waters since the 1800s. Spas and resorts range from casual (and clothing optional) to upscale, and most offer hot soaks, saunas, and massages. Visit the Castello di Amorosa, one of Napa Valley’s most unique wineries. At over 136,000 square feet, the authentically-built 13th-century Tuscan-style castle and winery offers a variety of tour options. Continue north from Calistoga to visit the Old Faithful Geyser of California.
On the way home stop off for lunch or a snack at the Dean & Deluca Gourmet Food Store in St Helena.
Head back to San Francisco for your flight home. If you have time before your flight visit some San Francisco attraction such as Alcatraz island or Ghirardelli Chocolate store in Ghirardelli Square.
Tip – To quickly find more details on California attractions, see the clickable attractions on our California map