California wine country encompasses so may various areas of California. While i’d been to a couple of gorgeous wine regions in California, I still hadn’t visited one of the largest premier wine regions in California (let alone the world), Napa Valley and Sonoma County — located just a road trip away from Southern California
While we can’t travel anywhere far at the moment, due to Covid, we had the opportunity to spend a few days away and we opted to take a road trip up North to Napa and Sonoma for a few nights (kid-free, might I add). This wine region is not only beyond gorgeous, but there is so much love that goes into the hospitality industry up there. It was so lovely to spend time in an area where wine, food and agriculture are so immensely valued. I wanted to make the most out of our short trip, but there are so many amazing places to visit it was hard to narrow it down!
Even with many recommendations from friends, I spend countless hours researching wineries and restaurants to make sure we chose the right ones for us. Since everything is reservation-only at the moment, I wanted to ensure we had an air-tight itinerary to make the most of our time there. Needless to say, it will take many more trips to visit all of the wineries and restaurants that are on out list! And I am counting down the time we get to visit again. I hope you find this (very detailed) Napa and Sonoma travel guide and itinerary helpful!
Where We Stayed: The Cottages of Napa Valley
I typically love to stay at some kind of resort when we travel, but due to the current state of the pandemic I researched alternative options that were more private or hotels that had private entrances for guests (no elevators, etc.). In addition to privacy, I was looking for accommodations where there was limited interaction with other guests, increased cleaning protocols, etc., all without loosing the hospitality welcome, amenities and other perks of a larger hotel. There were many cute inns I had considered, but I came across a hidden gem called The Cottages of Napa Valley.
Just a mile south of Yountville (which is safe to say is one of our favorite little towns, ever), the property consists of eight adorable cottages on a quaint, well kept property. The quaint cottage had a rustic, look, but still felt elevated, included modern conveniences like heated bathroom floors, L’Occitane toiletries, a kitchenette filled with complimentary wine and beverages and more. In front of the cottage, there is a small patio with a fire pit and adirondack chairs, surrounded by tall trees that provide privacy — the perfect spot for morning coffee or post-dinner wine and dessert.
One of my favorite things about The Cottages of Napa Valley was how hospitable the owner was, he shared so much history about the property and the area. Every detail was thought through — each morning there was a complimentary breakfast basket waiting on our front porch including delicious pastries from Bouchon Bakery and the local newspaper. You can request a s’mores kit to enjoy by your fire, they’ll drop it off in your room in a little basket with all the fixings. There are also complimentary bikes and the cottages are located along the Napa Valley Vine Trail, so we took a 15 minute bike ride up to Yountville one morning. It was a truly a treat to stay here and such a different experience than what we are used to when we travel — so lovely!
Arrival Day | Napa Valley
3:45pm | Domaine Chandon
7:15pm | The Charter Oak
We booked one tasting to enjoy once we finished our 7 hour drive. Domaine Chandon was located less than 5 minutes away from the cottages (and we love bubbles), so this choice was a no brainer. The sparkling wine flight was crisp and hit the spot, we sipped while enjoying the serene greenery from the outdoor patio. Dinner was at St. Helena’s The Charter Oak — which I highly recommend! The chef of 3 Michelin star The Restaurant at Meadowood opened this casual spot, that focuses on family-style, approachable food that highlights farm vegetables and quality ingredients. The patio vibe was ideal for our date night, complete with twinkle lights and good service. We ordered the family-style chef’s tasting menu and were impressed (and so full).
Day 1 | Napa Valley
11:00 | Pick up lunch picnic items from Oakville Grocery
11:30 | Tasting and picnic lunch at Pestoni Family Winery
1:30 | Alpha Omega Winery
3:15 | Frog’s Leap
6:00 | Dinner at Bottega
Out first full day consisted of three wineries. Three wineries was a tad too ambitious for us, instead two would have been perfect – however I am glad we made it to all, because all three were so different from each other. Pestoni Family was spacious, so pretty with a lovely view of their vineyards with green space, an area to play cornhole and freedom to walk the grounds. They allow you to bring in outside food items to enjoy during your tasting, so we grabbed sandwiches and some other picnic goodies from Oakville Grocery — a cute specialty food market in St. Helena.
A skip, hop and step away from Pestoni Family is Alpha Omega Winery. Sipping wine on their serene outdoor tasting space, with a view of their vineyard and landmark water feature, is an ideal way to spend a sunny afternoon. Our last tasting stop of the day was Frog’s Leap Winery, which we loved! Tucked away off Highway 128, this quaint and beautiful winery makes organic wine from grapes that are non-irrigated. The tasting was located on the back porch of a historic home they call The Vineyard House. The staff was friendly and knowledgable and the grounds were stunning, boasting an array of vegetable gardens, herbs, fruit trees in addition to organic vineyards — a perk is that you are free to roam the grounds after your tasting.
Dinner was at Bottega, Michael Chiarello ‘s rustic Italian restaurant in Yountville. To be honest, we were slightly disappointed in our experience at Bottega, it wsn’t for us. Next time I would probably skip it and head across the street to Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, Ad Hoc or popular local French bistro Bistro Jeanty instead.
Day 2 | Sonoma County: Healdsburg
12:3o | Chalk Hill Tasting
2:00 | Explore downtown Healdsburg
3:oo | Late lunch at Chalkboard
On our second full day, we wanted to explore the most northern part of Sonoma, which includes the Russian River Creek and Dry Creek Valley. The rolling hills make for some gorgeous views up there. We visited Chalk Hill Estate Winery and enjoyed a tasting with a cheese & charcuterie plate and a stunning view of their property. This area of Sonoma has so many beautiful wineries that we will hopefully visit on other trips, but since we had hit three wineries the day prior we decided to only visit one this day.
After our tasting, we ventured over to downtown Healdsburg to walk around. The picturesque town square is framed with boutiques, tasting rooms and restaurants. Healdsburg is so charming, quaint town and looks as if you’d have stepped out a movie scene. We hopped over to Chalkboard for a late lunch/early dinner — this restaurant gets a bounty of their ingredients from Chalk Hill Estate, where their culinary gardens are housed.
Day 3 | Sonoma
12:15 | Gloria Ferrer
2:00 | Viansa
3:30 | Explore downtown Sonoma, Sonoma Plaza
5:30 | Dinner at Glen Ellen Star
Since we never have time for extended, lazy mornings at home anymore (hello, life with a toddler), we took advantage of the opportunity and had a leisurely morning enjoying our coffee and Bouchon Bakery basket (courtesy of The Cottages) on our private cottage patio. Then, we ventured out for a tasting of bubbly over at Gloria Ferrer Winery in Sonoma. We tasted five sparkling wines here, they were crisp, refreshing and all generous pours!
Located almost next door to Gloria Ferrer, we visited Viansa Winery, a gorgeous property that sits atop a Sonoma summit. Surrounded by olive trees, ivy-crawled structures and vineyards, the property truly feels as if you stepped into Italy. On the weekends they have live acoustic music and offer wood-fired pizzas and salads to enjoy alongside your tasting or a glass or bottle of wine. We are not big fans of Italian wines, so we found the wine to be tasty, but not our favorite — next time instead of a tasting I would opt for a glass of rose to enjoy with pizza, live music and the views.
Restaurants + Eats
There are so many other incredible wineries, restaurants and things to do in Napa and Sonoma County. I’ve rounded up some lists below of what is on our bucket list for our next visits!
Downtown Napa + Carneros: Oxbow Public Market (specifically, C Casa or Hog Island Oysters), Model Bakery (we went to this location, but the original location is in St. Helena. Known for their english muffins! Aim to get there when they open to snag an english muffin or a breakfast sandwich), Boon Fly Cafe and Farm at Carneros.
Yountville: The French Laundry (we’ve never been, but it’s on our bucket list! Reservations fill up weeks-months in advance – but a local gave us the tip to check lunch cancellations the day-of to snag a last minute seat — worth a try!), Bouchon Bistro, Bouchon Bakery, Bistro Jeanty (classic French, local favorite), RH Restaurant (drool-worthy restaurant design, go for a drink to soak in the beauty).
Accommodations | Inns and hotels we considered staying at:
Our experience while traveling to California wine country during the Covid-19 pandemic
All wineries and restaurants are currently required to operate outdoors only. Lucky for us, it’s summertime and the weather was beautiful, so that’s what we prefer anyway. I found all wineries and restaurants were so fantastic in implementing extra safety precautions during this time, such as extra social distancing (less tables seated), increased cleaning/disinfection (which I witnessed at a number of wineries), mask requirements when you are not seated at your table.
Each city had signs all over their respective towns reminding people to wear masks and in turn most everyone we saw had a mask on. We felt very safe and found that it didn’t really impact our experience! However, I am sure that will be a different case once winter hits and the weather changes. We’d love to come back again post-pandemic (whenever that is!) to try some tastings indoors (some of the wineries had gorgeous interiors and tastings rooms) as well as participate in cave tours, and other unique tasting experiences that typically include social interaction with the staff.