Napa + Sonoma - Travel Guide
Well — I just got back from wine country and it did not disappoint. There is nothing that does more for the soul than a trip with your BFFs - so I packed up two 30-year friendships and hopped a flight to San Francisco.
When we made it to Napa from SFO, we immediately enjoyed lunch at the local staple - Gott’s Roadside. This staple is famous for the burgers and who are we to argue? It was the perfect first meal as we were hungry from the early flight and drive. Everything was just as pictured - burgers, hot dog, fries, and hand-spun local shakes. There is always a line, but it is worth the wait. Come hungry. We then meandered around Oxbow Market where there are super cute restaurants where you can pick out your meat and/or fish that you want and how you want it prepared on the spot, an oyster bar, tons of fresh produce and snacks, desserts, local ice cream, and the cutest little cocktail tasting bar - Napa Valley Distillery. I found an amazing creme de violette that they make in house that was pure insanity (aka - loved it). This is a fantastic spot to pick up some local gifts to bring home to the family or keep for yourself.
Pro tip: Make sure when you drive from Napa down through the small cities to keep a look out
Later on, we went to our next stop on our food crawl after checking into our hotel and had an amazing dinner at Farmstead. This restaurant + winery is known for it’s farm-to-table eats and yummy cocktails. We tried some of their wines and really enjoyed them as well as the cocktails. The ribs, gnocchi, fresh farm salad, and pork chop were top notch. Two enthusiastic thumbs up for all. On premise, you can walk through their gardens, shop the general store, enjoy their cafe, and just take in the gorgeous surroundings. We weren’t quite done unwinding from our travels, so we ventured across the street and found The Charter Oak. OBSESSED - literally. This place nailed the vibe we were looking for between the indoor and outdoor seating areas and fire pit. This was a totally different vibe than the charm of farmstead, but is a great next stop following a fantastic dinner. The Charter Oak drink menu was limitless and highly curated, which I love.
Pro tip: order the Mezcal + Tarragon from The Charter Oak (Tarragon infused mezcal, yellow chartreuse, pimento dram, tequila, charred pineapple)
So before I get into our day trips, i’d like to return to our driver: Susan. After extensive research, we landed on My Napa Valley Driver due to the outstanding Trip Advisor reviews and landing on the lower cost end for how highly the company was rated. It was most economical for us to rent a car at SFO for the week and hire this company hourly to drive us around so we could indulge of course. We had our days pretty much planned out before arriving but that was changed up quite a bit when we met Susan. As soon as she arrived on the scene, her personality was explosive (in a good way of course). We went through our plan for our two Napa days and she quickly sized us up and switched up our itinerary a bit to ensure we were maximizing our day AND getting the best of the best in. This was super helpful as there were hundreds of wineries to choose from between Napa and Sonoma - which made it difficult to narrow down our long list.
NAPA DAY ONE:
Trinchero Winery - This was the perfect first stop for us. What we didn’t realize from walking in and being one of two tastings in the room (four total tastings allowed at one time), is that this winery is part of a massive portfolio of long-standing wineries in the area with the largest distribution. You would never know due to the attention and detail put into the tastings here. I had been to Sonoma once years ago and have been to numerous wine countries and tastings; however, I wanted to experience it with fresh senses. This was one of the best places for education we went on our trip. Our guide took the extra time to explain how to taste and what to look for when tasting that really set the tone for our four days. AND — the wines were awesome. Really nice big bold reds and complex whites.
Elizabeth Spencer Winery - This was one of Susan’s recommendations. We had seen it on the drive up and thought the branding was adorable and wrote it down, but when Susan recommended it- we knew we had to go. It is a small shop - which we loved. The story of the wine is just beautiful - it is a husband and wife who met over wine and landed on the coast to create magic. The back courtyard is whimsy and we could have stayed there all day. We really loved the wines we tasted and wanted to go back again during out stay, but didn’t have time. This is one to check out - make sure to ask for the education and the story! For three single ladies, it gave us hope.
Del Dotto Vineyards - Note there are multiple Del Dotto Winery and Cave locations. We went to the St. Helena location and would highly recommend it. The one in Napa is comprised of the oldest caves, but the one we went to are newer with a high end look making you feel as though you are in Vegas at the Venetian or Bellagio. Not necessarily our aesthetic, but was a really cool experience. Our guide, Alex, was super fun and provided some amazing education as well where we really got to dive into reds. The barrels are stored in the caves to maintain a temperature controlled climate until they are bottled. The amount of variations of wine they make is truly remarkable for such a small shop. It is very unique how they keep the barrels and people order from those exact barrels to the bottle. This is very smart and probably saves a lot of waste as they can estimate demand more effectively. As we walked through the cave, Alex asked our small group questions about what we like and what we don’t to chose the path we were going to take. Each tour is different as there are so many wines to choose from. With each barrel he chose, he explained what type of barrel the wine was aged in and how the flavor profiles were created. I had never tasted different types of barrels next to each other (ie. French oak vs American oak using the same grapes). There was such a huge difference and really interesting to taste and understand these tiny differences that change the wine so greatly. The pours were huge and we “revisited” a lot of them.
Pro Tip: Use the word revisit if you want more of anything before, after, or during the tasting.
Pro Tip x 2: Stop and take photos in front of the Welcome to Napa Valley Sign if you see one. Such fun and cute photos to take home with you.
St Helena Shopping - Such a cute downtown for shopping. Definitely stop here and walk the few blocks to scope it out. For lunch, look for Goose and Gander.
NAPA/SONOMA DAY TWO:
Hot Air Balloon Ride over Napa Valley: Rise and shine! We woke up before dawn and headed to Domaine Chandon for a hot air balloon ride and sparkling wine brunch on the beautiful grounds. This was a total bucket list item for us and although pricey, was worth it completely. We floated 3,000 feet above Napa Valley and gazed down at the fields upon fields of grapes, rolling hills, ocean, and beyond. We had our own little compartment in the balloon that each fits 4 adults (there were 16 of us on board) and our pilot. It was a magical experience and surprisingly not scary at all (except at the beginning when we started going up). Napa Valley Balloons is a very safe and well set up operation - you are in good hands.
Solage, An Auberge Resort - Sol Bar - We drove up to this stunning location and had lunch and cocktails at Sol Bar. The Chicken, Sole Tacos, and Buratta were amazing. The cocktails were also epic. This property is super high end so if you are looking for a relaxing and beautiful spot to spend your trip - this may be the ticket. This area I guess has hot springs and a ton of spas - which I would have LOVED to scope.
Castello di Amorosa - So we ended up stopping here in the afternoon. This is highly touristy so we didn’t taste or tour here. We would recommend going first thing in the morning and walking the castle grounds because it’s so so cool, but hitting the road before the tourists come. Worth seeing and driving up to get some pics. Plus - there were piglets.
Oenetri - Great italian spot in downtown Napa - Pizzas and pasta = YUM.
Cadet Wine Bar - Also in downtown Napa - cute little wine bar with outdoor seating. Older crowd.
Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar - Rooftop at the Archer Hotel. Super cute store right next door that we loved.
Mercantile Social - Classy lounge on the rooftop of the Andaz Hotel. Great vibe and fire pits.
Downtown Joe’s and Napkins - Seem to be the only two places open late after 9/930. Downtown Joes has live music and Napkins — well — you’ll just have to see it for yourself. You’ll be transported back to college, so make sure you have had some cocktails before entering.
SONOMA DAY THREE:
MacRostie Winery – This spot was recommended by our most fab driver and was a fast favorite. In fact, I joined wine club I enjoyed it so much. The views are spectacular and the clean, fresh design makes for an amazing overall experience. It is perched up overlooking the rolling hills of Sonoma. All of the wines were fantastic, and the tasting experience was really delightful.
Gundlach Bundshu – AKA GunBun – We really enjoyed the property and taking photos. There are a lot of live music shows here, so would be nice to check one of those out while tasting wines. We only sampled one or two of the wines, so we can’t really speak to them. Compared to a lot of the other places we had been on our voyage, we enjoyed GunBun, but LOVED some of the others much more. Don’t discount this as a great stop though!
Scribe Winery – This was our absolute fave out of all of the wineries we visited. Totally our style in the setting and the “look” and “feel” of the tasting house. It was very California “cool”. The people were chic and knowledgeable. We LOVED the wines and the food pairings with the food were amazing. I am still dreaming of the food. Luckily, I joined the wine club here as well, so I can continue to enjoy the wines.
Saint Clair Brown Winery & Brewery – Technically in Napa, but was on our way back from Sonoma. Such a cute little gem we stopped at on the way back to Napa after our tastings. We didn’t make it into the winery, but we did make it to this cute little stop. We ordered some wines and cheese and enjoyed our evening chatting about the days that had passed. Great, cute little spot and super chic.
Downtown Sonoma – We stumbled all over downtown Sonoma and it definitely deserves a half a day to explore. Pro tip – wine and cheese plate at Sunflower Café
I can’t wait to get back to Napa and Sonoma. Let us know if there are any amazing places we missed for next time!