When it comes to enjoying wine, California is the place to be. The state encompasses 107 out of 188 of America’s Viticultural Areas; a full 90% of all U.S. wine exports have their roots — or vines, at least — in California. The pursuit of top-quality vintages is all but synonymous with mentions of California’s verdant Napa and Sonoma valleys. This season, why not take a break from the tumultuous bustle of living life in San Francisco by planning a trip into wine country?
But, stop; we know what you’re thinking. Aren’t all wineries essentially the same? Won’t the classy novelty of sipping winery-poured vino and nibbling at complimentary cheese get stale pretty quickly?
Well, maybe — if visiting wineries was the only item on your travel itinerary. The truth is, countless activities in wine country don’t technically involve pouring a glass at all. Let’s go over a few.
Hike (or Bike) to Better Views
Take your pets, take your family; the Napa Valley Vine Trail welcomes everyone — except cars, of course. The scenic, paved trail stretches for a remarkable 47 miles, making stops at nearly every town between Vellejo and Calistoga.
However, if you prefer the Sonoma Valley to Napa, you may want to plan a walk along the Joe Rodota Trail instead. The trail meanders for eight and a half miles along the out-of-use Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad, weaving through the county’s largest freshwater wetlands expanse as well as several agricultural areas. It’s a trail perfectly suited to enjoying nature or taking the scenic route between wineries.
Explore Regional Specialties
Put wine to the side — how do you feel about tasting new and exquisite foods? Visit Napa’s Oxbow Public Market to get a sample of the best cuisine the area has to offer. The market brings together over 20 merchants across several disciplines including cheesemaking, butcheries, and sushi preparation; visitors can also check out the market’s artisanal cafes and fish markets, or enjoy their food on a scenic deck overlooking the Napa River. But don’t just go for the food! Oxbow Market hosts a year-long calendar of live music performances, happy hours, and literary events for residents and visitors alike.
Paddle Along the Russian River
No, you don’t have to travel overseas for this one. The Russian River weaves through the Sonoma Valley to land in the Pacific. It’s an incredible spot to see wildlife and enjoy a day out on the water. Don’t have a kayak? Not a problem! Several local vendors offer kayak rentals as well as half- or full-day tour programs.
…And Enjoy Some Wine
No trip to wine country would be complete without at least one tour and one (or more!) glass. Finding your preferred winery, however, isn’t as simple as picking one at random from a list. As Curbed’s Jess Lander wrote for a recent article, “The path you choose depends greatly on your favorite kind of wine (cabernet or pinot?) or the type of respite you seek—Sonoma is often positioned as the laidback little brother to the luxurious and sometimes over-the-top Napa […] Whether you want a lavish experience or a chill vibe, there’s a town for you.”
An exploration of wine comes part and parcel with exploring the area that makes it. The town of Yountville, for example, is the unofficial center for art in the Napa Valley. Art permeates the town, from the steps of the local Napa Valley museum to its outdoor Art Walk. Some wineries in town have spaces that serve as both tasting rooms and art galleries. But maybe art isn’t your preferred focus; perhaps you would prefer spas and relaxation at Calistoga, or partake in St. Helena’s culinary extravagance. Whatever your preference, the town you choose should match your interests.
The lesson here? When you’re planning a trip to wine country, don’t just find focus on the wine — find value in the country, too.