Before you delve below, relax and understand you'll probably have a great time no matter where you stay. If you obsess on the details, like trying to get the absolute most for your dollar, you'll hinder you're actual enjoyment. Vacationing in wine country is a laid back type of vacation (i.e., wearing a suit or high heels is out-of-place at winery tasting rooms).
The Big Where: What Town Should You Stay In?
Stay in Yountville or the City of Napa if you:
• Love Napa Cabs or Merlots
• Don’t mind slow traffic and lots of people (i.e. touristy) on weekends
• Want to dine more than once at the very best restaurants in wine country
• Want the best food in wine country and more menu choices. Don't mind that the restaurants usually are medium-to-large in size and have higher markups on wines (than Sonoma County)
The city of Napa is at the Southern end of Napa Valley, and it is convenient to all of Napa Valley plus the Town of Sonoma, and also San Francisco. It is far (in travel time) from Healdsburg, Russian River Valley and very far the Sonoma Coast and Mendocino.
Stay in Calistoga or St. Helena for:
The same reasons as Yountville, above, but if you'd like to be closer to the Alexander Valley, Healdsburg and the Russian River, and further from Los Carneros, town of Sonoma and San Francisco.
Stay in Healdsburg/Santa Rosa if you:
• Love Russian River Pinot Noirs, and/or
Dry Creek Zinfandels, and/or...
• Like less touristy spots.
• Prefer small but very good restaurants – many (except the most expensive) have low markups on wine, too. Corkage is only $10-$10, in general.
• Fewer spas, but not as expensive, and for example, the Osmosis Spa in Freestone (near Occidental) is interesting.
Stay in Town of Sonoma if you:
• Love Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Mtn wineries...
• Want an easy drive to Carneros, Petaluma, and Napa...
• Dig the Jack London, Glen Ellen thing. The town of Sonoma and Glen Ellen are quite beautiful.
Stay on the Sonoma Coast
• If you love beaches (non-swimming - the current is too strong at most and the water is extra cold), sea birds, wind, er, etc.
There's a good amount of unspoiled scenic beauty. Understand, too, that you have left wine country.
Wineries are in five basic areas: (This is a gross simplification.) • Napa Valley (the best sub-appellations are mostly adjacent to each other)
• Russian River/Dry Creek/Alexander Valley
• Sonoma Valley
• Carneros (Southern Napa/Sonoma)
• Spring Mtn (Middle Napa/Sonoma)
If you’re going to all five areas, you need at least 3-4 full days here (— I lie: five plus!). If you’re here for more than 4 days and are staying in Calistoga or Sonoma County, and it’s not raining, a restful drive to the Sonoma Coast (and/or the town of Mendocino) is a nice idea. There are wineries in Mendocino (North of Sonoma) and Lake Counties (North of Napa), but visits to either are only worthwhile if you’re here for a lengthy stay (say, 10+ days).
If you’re coming to visit specific wineries, you should visit their website and/or contact them to learn of special events, winemaker dinners, open houses, etc. Some wineries have it together on publicizing their events (or big events that they’re participating in), others don’t at all.
Maps of Wine Country
Note: You have to go up a level or two of detail to get what you're looking for from the default.
Map of Napa/Sonoma County: Google (St. Helena and Santa Rosa are not as close as they look - the road shown is a 20mph Mtn Rd)
Three important notes:
• Most hotels and B&Bs require a minimum two-day stay on weekends.
• Note: Saint Helena and Santa Rosa may look close to each other on the map, but are actually a good 45 minutes apart via Calistoga or 1 hour via the "direct" mountain cross road.
• Sonoma County hotels and restaurants are, in general, less expensive than those in Napa Valley.
Dining at Wineries
Unlike other wine regions
of the world, there are just two wineries which have restaurants on the property: Domaine Chandon and Francis Coppola Family's Unnamed Cafe– formerly Chateau Souverain restaurant). These were grandfathered in – no one is allowed to open a restaurant at a winery. (Although all of the big wineries and Napa cult wineries have on-staff chefs.)
Weddings at Wineries Winecountry.com has a list of locations of wedding chapels and ceremonies for Napa and Sonoma, which includes a small number of wineries.
Our first choice might be Madrona Manor. Our second choice might be Castello di Amorosa