If you have one week for a vacation in California, consider the drive from San Francisco to Sonoma and Napa. Sonoma and Napa feature world-class wines, delicious farm-to-fork food, charming small towns, stunning scenery and beautiful, wide-open spaces. I’ve also included some suggestions for the Russian River area just north of the Napa Valley that features beautiful redwood trees, outdoor activities along the Russian River and great wine and beer tasting.
Arrive in San Francisco, check-in to your hotel. Spend some time touring San Francisco sites like the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate Park, and the Cable Car Museum.
Often it is foggy or cloudy in San Francisco but can be fabulously sunny after you cross the Golden Gate bridge and head north to Sonoma. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and keep driving along Highway 101 North about 20 miles until it splits off for Highway 37.
From there, it’s less than 10 miles to CA-121, which will lead you to Sonoma. This will take you right to your first stop of the day: the Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards. The winery is famous for its sparkling wines, and a glass or flight of bubbly will start your day off on a light, relaxing note.
Gloria Ferrer’s located in the Carneros appellation – or AVA (American Viticultural Area) – a cool-climate area that’s between Sonoma and Napa counties. Carneros’s exposure to ocean breezes and fog create perfect growing conditions for Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
Another interesting stop on the way to Sonoma is Cornerstone Sonoma, a wine country marketplace featuring a collection of world-class shopping, boutique wineries and tasting rooms, artisanal foods, and art-inspired gardens. It’s a great place to stroll and browse, getting into the relaxed, laid-back wine country lifestyle.
When you arrive in Sonoma, explore the shops and cafes in the main plaza.
Continue your wine tasting at some of the best wineries in the Sonoma valley. 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.
Head over to the Napa valley. If you have kids, make a slight detour to 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.
Head north out of Napa 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.
Continue on highway 128 north of Calistoga to Healdsburg and the Russian River area. The small towns on and near the Russian River including Guerneville, Healdsburg, Forestville, and Windsor are some of the most beautiful in California – and each has a distinct personality.
In Healdsburg, explore the historic Healdsburg Plaza, which dates back to the late 19th-century and is filled with luxury boutiques, art galleries, gift shops and wine tasting rooms. If you’re in the mood for wine tasting, start at Selby Winery, the oldest tasting room in downtown Healdsburg, where winemaker and owner Susie Selby pours bold wines including sangiovese and zinfandel. Other tasting rooms worth visiting include Banshee Wines, pinot fanatics C. Donatiello Winery, and Siduri Wines, where you can pair small bites with their wines.
If you want to enjoy the outdoors in the surrounding area see if you can line up your vacation with one of the vineyard hikes offered by Jordan Winery . The walks feature mountain views, wildlife, vineyards, lakes, wine tasting. Our small group traipsed through chamomile blossoms, with dozens of little blue butterflies darting around as though we were in a Disney movie.
On the way home take a drive along the Russian River and stop off at the Korbel Champagne Cellars for a tour and tasting.
Tip – If you prefer scenery to city life, consider spending an extra day in Napa and one less day in San Francisco.
Tip – For another possible one week itinerary from San Francisco, check out our San Francisco to Los Angeles itinerary along the Big Sur Coast