California Wine Country
A unique combination of two of the best travel destinations in America: the beautiful city of San Francisco and the world-renowned Wine Country of California.
For all the good reasons, this is one of our most popular destinations: delicious local food, fantastic wines and beautiful rural scenery. It appeals equally to the connoisseurs, the casual wine and food curious, or the traveler just looking for a relaxed time in a peaceful setting. From famed Napa vineyards to tiny wineries in Alexander Valley, from renowned restaurants in Sonoma to artisan cheese-makers in Nicasio, there are infinite possibilities for every taste. Combined with a stay in San Francisco, this is the perfect family vacation or romantic getaway.
The suggested basic itinerary takes on the best of San Francisco, adds a short excursion around its famed Bay and fuses it with a multi-day exploration into the diversity of the wine country. But this is indeed only a suggestion. All year round, there is always a multitude of festivals, music and art performances, and many special events taking place in the region. Let us tailor your travel time to your own tastes and interests.
Length of trip
One week, easily extended to 10-12 days or more
Best time to travel
Sophisticated, elegant, relaxed
Urban experience, nature, history and culture
Very comfortable and pampered
Easy and relax
Couples, families and small groups
- Immerse yourself in the diversity and vibrancy of San Francisco’s neighborhoods
- Experience the sounds and sights of Chinatown’s secret alleys and Fisherman's Wharf marina
- Explore the iconic landmarks of Coit Tower, Lombard Street and Golden Gate Bridge
- Embark on a ferryboat adventure for a visit of the island and prison of Alcatraz
- Enjoy San Francisco’s multitude of beautiful museums and art galleries
- Get out of town for an excursion of the Marin Headlands, Sausalito and Muir Woods
- Discover the distinctive wines of Napa, Sonoma, Alexander Valley and the Russian River
- Follow rural roads to small family wineries and taste the best selection of handcrafted wines
- Indulge in an al fresco meal at a local vineyard, pairing wines with regional delicacies
- Visit wine cellars in the company of winemakers to learn the secrets of a good zinfandel
- Play a friendly game of bocce at one of the oldest winery in the Dry Creek region
- Visit Francis Coppola’s memorabilia collection and stay for dinner at his famed winery
Suggested itinerary at a glance
Day 1-2 • San Francisco
Start your adventure with an exploration of one of the most beautiful, interesting and diverse places in the world. In spite of its hilly terrain, many of San Francisco neighborhoods are surprisingly very easy to explore on foot.
Discover the hidden history of Fishermen’s Wharf, walk along the secret alleys of Chinatown and immerse yourself in the Bohemian culture of North Beach. Stroll along the Marina along the Bay of San Francisco to Fort Point underneath the awe-inspiring Golden Gate Bridge. If you are in an adventurous mood, walk across the Bridge to the Marin Headland side of the Golden Gate for breathtaking views of the North Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.
Another less demanding stroll takes you on an exploration of Golden Gate Park where beautiful green open spaces are the background to the renowned Academy of Sciences, the De Young Museum and the Conservatory of Flowers. Enjoy a traditional tea at the Japanese Tea Garden, then continue to Park Presidio and further to visit of iconic landmarks such as the “painted ladies” of Alamo Square, Coit Tower and the Palace of Fine Art.
There is so much to see and to do in San Francisco, but a visit of the City-by-the-Bay will not be complete without a ferry-boat across the Bay for a visit of the Island prison of Alcatraz. Upon return, head off to one of the vibrant ethnic neighborhoods for dinner. The Latin vibe of the Mission District or the Italian flavor of North Beach are only two of many possibilities.
Day 3 • Three Bridges Bay Area Excursion
One day, three bridges: a great way to discover the Bay of San Francisco. Begin with a crossing of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge spanning from the tip of the City to Marin County. Take in the breathless panoramic views of the whole Bay, the Bridge and the City, then continue on an exploration of the rugged Marin Headlands. From the wild ocean vistas of the Headlands to the gentle pace of Sausalito and Tiburon, take the time to stroll along the waterfront and lunch at the Marina. The North Bay is a place of beauty and sophistication.
From there, it is a short drive to San Rafael and the crossing of the Richmond Bridge to the East Bay. A visit to Berkeley of course is a must. Not only it is home to the campus of its eponymous world-renowned University of California, it is the epicenter of the food culture in America. Follow a gastronomical tour of its “gourmet ghetto” with a climb to the esplanade of the Lawrence Hall of Science for more stunning views of the Bay and San Francisco.
It is time to think about dinner. Another short drive to Oakland’s famed Jack London Square district brings you to a place where history, culture and food mingle for a unique experience. From tiny saloons favored by the local firemen to upscale hipster eateries serving fusion cuisine, there is something for every taste and budget. A drink at Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon is an absolute must. One the oldest bars on the West Coast, it was Jack London’s favorite dive and where he wrote many of his adventure novels.
Day 4-5 • Wine Country: Marin backroads and Sonoma County
Leaving San Francisco, you cross the Golden Gate Bridge and follow county backroads through a landscape of farms and vineyards, stopping along the way at local fruit stands and artisanal cheese producers for a first taste of the upcoming bounty. Antique stores, often hidden in old farm barns, add to the sense of discovery of this still very rural region.
While Napa Valley has achieved world fame, Sonoma county is truly the wine mother lode for the locals. From tiny family-owned wineries to renowned larger estates, the opportunity for wine tasting and exploration in this region is infinite. Starting from the charming town of Sebastopol, meander through one-lane roads into the Russian River area, where delicate pinot and fruity chardonnay are the signature wines of this appellation. Take the time to relax for an al fresco lunch in the gardens of the beautiful Hop Kiln Winery. Pairing its wines with a selection of regional foods is a quintessential wine country pleasure.
Dry Creek, Alexander Valley and Geyserville are among the distinctive wine-appellations of the region. At a gentle pace, take the time to explore and appreciate their subtle different characters. Wine tasting is only part of the rich experience though. Visit the Passalacqua Family cellars in the company of the wine-maker, play a game of bocce ball at Pedroncelli winery or just relax under the vines at Topolos with a glass of zinfandel.
With its shaded central plaza surrounded by cafes, restaurants and art galleries, the small town Healdsburg is the perfect place for a relaxed afternoon where laziness meets sophistication.
For a fitting ending to the experience of this unique region, head out to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The famed movie director took the old Rosso & Bianco winery and transformed it into a large welcoming public estate. The gorgeous grounds include a pool and a large exhibition space of Coppola’s personal collection of movie memorabilia. The wines are superb and the menu at the Rustic restaurant is based entirely on his family recipes. Choose a table on the patio overlooking the rows of vines, order an Italian pasta dish, share a bottle of red wine and enjoy a perfect evening.
Day 6-7 • Wine Country: Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley
One of the most delightful ways to go from West Sonoma County to the famed Napa Valley is via a small meandering road through hills and forests to the small charming town of Calistoga. Well-known among the locals for its thermal sources, it is also a fitting place to start the next phase of your Wine Country exploration. Just outside of town, Chateau Montelena, one of the oldest wineries in the Valley, is credited for putting California wines on the map when its chardonnay won an international competition in France in 1976.
Discover the dozens of wineries, small and large, dotting Route 29 from Calistoga to the town of Napa. While the larger estates offer a wide range of wines, some small-production wineries are known for only one or two varietals of the highest quality. Slow down the pace and take the time to visit the cellars, talk to the winemakers and immerse yourself in the culture of the place. These wineries welcome the curious travelers to stroll in their gardens and tour their old heritage buildings. Others, like Beringer Winery, know that wine is meant to be enjoyed with food. They offer a tasting of its exclusive selection of reserved wines with a pairing of regional cheese, fruits and chocolate.
It is only a short drive on Route 12 from Napa Valley to Sonoma Valley. Perhaps less known than its neighbor, Sonoma Valley is today the prime destination for wine connoisseurs. It is also a place rich in history: the small historic town of Sonoma is the birthplace of what will become the State of California. Visit its Old Spanish Mission then, as in Healdsburg, take the time to relax in its shaded plaza and to discover surrounding cafes, restaurants and galleries. A short distance away, the Di Rosa Preserve is home to the foremost collection of contemporary California art.
Many wineries make Sonoma Valley a great destination. Located at the center of the Valley, the Kunde Family winery invites you for a visit of its cavernous cellars and a stroll among its vineyards at the top of the hills overlooking the entire region. Take side trips on the rural roads and discover many small wineries around Glen Ellen and the Valley of the Moon. You will be rewarded by charming, uncrowded venues and superb wines. For a grand finale to your adventure, take your place toward the sunset hour at the outdoors balcony of Domaine Carneros for a tasting of a sparkling wines. The bubbliness of its renowned champagnes will stay with you until sundown.
If you have another few days
Point Reyes Peninsula • Start the day in the charming village of Point Reyes Station just north of San Francisco. Like the locals, have coffee and locally-baked pastries near the hay barn and then head out to explore the peninsula jutting dramatically into ocean. Choose a nature hike, whale-watching, kayaking, or simply relaxing on the beaches of this unique place. Opportunities for tasting local food abound. The oyster farm across the Bay of Tomales is a favorite spot, as is a picnic basket at the local cheese factory. End a perfect day at the tavern of tiny Nicasio to sample the region's micro-brews and listen to music by local bands.
Año Nuevo • An hour away just south of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast, the Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve is home to Northern elephant seals, California sea lions, sea otters, and other marine mammals who come ashore to rest, mate, and give birth in the sand dunes or on the beaches and offshore islands. Walk on the boardwalks built atop the sandy dunes to the overlooks above the beaches to witness the breeding ritual in their natural habitat of these unique species.
Silicon Valley • Once a fertile valley of orchards and small farms, this region is nowadays home to revolutionary companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook as well as myriads of new enterprises, Stanford University and the highest concentration of venture capital anywhere in the world. Visit the Google campus, tour the Computer History Museum and dine with local entrepreneurs at an Indian buffet for a complete experience of the place.
Muir Woods • Named after John Muir, the famous naturalist who founded the Sierra Club, Muir Woods National Monument is a beautiful forest of untouched giant sequoia redwood trees. Follow the accessible trails meandering among these silent giants, some of them 800 years old and soaring to 250 feet high. For a complete change of scenery, discover Muir Beach nearby and relax with a hot drink at the old-world Pelican Inn.
Angel Island • Discover the “Jewel of the Bay”. Once an Indian fishing village, then a Union Army base defending the entrance to the gold fields of California, the island became the site of an immigration station, the “Ellis Island of the West” and, more secretly, the location of a Nike missile battery during the Cold War. Embark on the ferry from San Francisco or Tiburon and land at Ayala Cove. Hike or ride the trolley up the hill for breathtaking views of the entire Bay of San Francisco. Visit the Immigration Station and other historical buildings to understand the rich history of the West Coast of the US.