The Regusci Winery in Napa Valley — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Malcolm Carlaw
With about 600 different wineries, and their corresponding tasting rooms, in the valleys, there are a number of ways to plan a road trip through this hilly, beautiful region. But because of that, it can also be hard to narrow it down.
Here are our 10 favorite stops on a looping road trip from Southern Napa up California State Route 29 or the Silverado Trail, through Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Calistoga and up to Geyserville. Then wind down south on Highway 101 into Sonoma Valley.
The key to this road trip is whimsy and flexibility. Hit your main points of interest, but stay open to explore whatever stops catch your eye.
The best time for this road trip is August through October, during harvest, although the weather is lovely most of the year. Oh, and it goes without saying: Designate a sober driver.
The Meritage Resort — Photo courtesy of Flickr user George Fletcher
1. The Meritage Resort and Spa
You can find a full spectrum of lodging options in Napa Valley, from exquisite to an inexpensive room above a bar, but the Meritage Resort and Spa is a great starting point. Located just south of Napa, this resort is a destination in and of itself, with wine tastings, Tuscan decor and a full-service spa, complete with rocky steam grottos, waterfalls and soaking pools to start your trip out on the right foot.
2. Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley
The fairly new Ma(i)sonry in Yountville offers a unique combo of art, wine and design. Set up a private wine tasting in this 1904 historic building and visit the on-site, art-packed Aerena Gallery. The furnishings in this “living gallery” are a work of art, too, and are available for purchase. Beyond the building, guests can gather around the fire pit outside or drift through the sculpture gardens.
It’s not a proper visit to Napa Valley without stopping for a tour of at least one 100-plus-year-old winery, and the Inglenook is our favorite. It's an oldie, having began in 1879. Sign up for the Inglenook Experience, a tour of the property that wraps up with a wine tasting and artisan cheese in a private cave. Other historical wineries include Charles Krug, Chateau Montelena and Nichelini.
St. Clement Vineyards — Photo courtesy of Flickr user TruffShuff
4. St. Clement Vineyards
The grand, dramatic vineyards are a sight, but there’s something special about the smaller boutique vineyards, like St. Clement. Housed in a historic Victorian house, this winery offers casual tours or private tastings in the “vault.” After a guided tasting, the perfect way to toast the afternoon away is on the stunning terrace.
The dramatic Beringer Rhine House — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Frank Kovalchek
5. Beringer Rhine House
The historic Beringer Rhine House offers tours through historic tunnels. Learn about the history of the region and the winery, while tasting a variety of different varietals. And don’t miss the wine and chocolate pairings. See how three local chocolates from Anette’s Chocolates of Napa Valley complement different glasses of Beringer.
Castello di Amorosa — Photo courtesy of Flickr user juliesmithdavid
6. Castello di Amorosa
This Italian-style winery’s home is an authentically recreated, 13th-century-style Tuscan castle. Feel like you’ve traveled back into medieval times when you tour this stone building, complete with a moat and drawbridge. Plan your dinner stop here; the Royal Food and Wine Pairing on Fridays through Sundays is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
7. Howell Mountain
You’ve experienced Napa in tunnels, caves and beneath a castle, so now head up Howell Mountain, about 40 minutes north of Napa. This off-the-beaten-path region has its own vintners and growers association, with breathtaking views of the valley. While here, visit the Cade winery, a sustainable, LEED-gold certified winery on the mountain.
Bella Vineyard's cave — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Star5112
8. Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves
Caves and a vineyard on the Russian River mark Bella Vineyards, but the Mixing It Up class has got to be the highlight here. Tour the winery and learn more about winemaking and blending, before giving it a go for yourself. Each guest winemaker also gets exclusive access to barrels that they can taste.
9. Wine Road
Sonoma County is home to hundreds of more reputable wineries, and one great stretch to explore is Wine Road, which connects wineries in three different valleys. Even if you think you’ve seen it all in the Sonoma region, chances are you can find something new here. Of the nearly 200 wineries along the road, you can find some of California's oldest.
10. Sonoma Adventures
Wrap up your Napa and Sonoma road trip on different wheels: a bike tour. Sonoma Adventures is one of a handful of locally owned companies that rents bikes and organizes tours through wineries and along lesser-known paths. A lunch tour along country roads includes a gourmet locally sourced picnic. Or for something totally different, sign up for a Segway tour. Yup, you can take those funny, two-wheeled vehicles through wine country, and even hit up the Vella Cheese Factory along the way.