Perfect 3 Day Itinerary for Napa Valley and Sonoma County, CA
The iconic wine region in California that put American wine on the world stage. This area is only an hour drive from San Francisco and transports travelers to a world of incredible food, delicious wine, signature craft beer, and beautiful scenery. When my brother lived in San Francisco, we always added a day trip to Napa or Sonoma so while we have visited multiple times, we have yet to do an extended stay.
If you have to fly like we do, San Francisco airport is the best bet. There are smaller airports in the Valley for private planes but for us, it’s good’ole SFO. The next decision is how you plan on getting around. As always, if you are wine tasting it is important to be careful of consumption if you are driving. There are plenty of companies that will drive you around either as a part of a structured tour or a private experience. The other option that is popular is renting bikes since the vineyards are extremely close together.
Since we always rent a car and drive, Kevin and I have a few hacks for staying:
- Space out the tastings
- Stay hydrated and fed
- Take turns tasting, such as every other vineyard, and take turns driving
- Split one tasting instead of each getting a tasting (this also saves a bit of money!)
Speaking of wine tasting, another helpful hint is to check the price of tasting before you go. Napa and Sonoma can be one of the most expensive wine regions to taste and it is not uncommon to pay $50 for a tasting. If you are planning on visiting multiple wineries, this can be a quick budget buster. We do seek out wineries that we enjoy but do not think a more expensive tasting means you will like it more – one of our favorite tastings in Napa was free (Heitz Cellar).
It is easy to spend weeks exploring both Napa and Sonoma separately and for a short trip like this, you may want to focus on one or the other – especially if you want to take a more relaxing approach. For this itinerary, I chose a sampler of both areas. Choosing which wineries to visit is personal – what I enjoyed may not be what you enjoy, or even Kevin enjoyed – but I can highly the ones we have been too and the ones we look forward to trying in the future. To help you decide, let’s review Napa and Sonoma.
Each wine region is divided up into multiple AVA designations so depending on where you are, the same grape will taste different.
- Sonoma covers more land and is known more for Pinot Noir
- Sonoma County Appellations (AVAs): Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros – Sonoma, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Fort Ross – Seaview, Fountaingrove District, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Knights Valley, Moon Mountain, Northern Sonoma, Petaluma Gap, Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma Valley
- Even though Napa is smaller, the wineries are jam packed and is known for their Cabernet and Merlot
- Napa Valley Appellations (AVAs): Atlas Peak, Calistoga, Chiles Valley District, Coombsville, Diamond Mountain District, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, Mt. Veeder, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Spring Mountain District, Stags Leap District, Yountville and Wild Horse Valley
Does a lot of this mean nothing to you? Have no idea where to start? No worries! I remember our first trip out there and I was completely overwhelmed by the hundreds of wineries – how do you choose? I felt like throw a dart at a map would have been more successful than teasing through endless lists of wineries.
- Take a look at your favorite bottles from these areas and take note of the AVA designation to help decide where you want to taste
- Ask your local wine shop where they recommend
- Consult blogs or friends that have visits for insight
No a big fan of wine or want more of an experience outside the tasting room? Some of the wineries have much more – the Coppola Winery has a pool, movie prop museum, and bocce court, to visit Sterling requires an aerial tram ride showing sweeping views of the valley, and Castello di Amorosa is in a castle. The Napa and Sonoma experience offers so much customization.
Here is where we have visited and where we are looking forward to on a return trip:
What is there to do?
While Napa and Sonoma Valleys are known for their wine, there is a surprising amount of non-wine activities so do not let the wine deter you if you do not drink.
- Hiking through the State Parks – including finding redwoods
- Beaches on the Sonoma Coast
- Take a hot air balloon ride
- Kayak on one of the many lakes
- Rent bikes to explore
- Witness a geyser erupting
- The wine trail is lined with small towns that are ready for exploring
- Did I mention the food???
Take a look at some of the non-wine related activities you can incorporate into your trip:
|Petrified Forest Old Faithful Geyser of California
Dr Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Las Posadas State Forest
CIA at Copia
|Sonoma Coast State ParkBeach Hop – Goat Rock Beach, Portugese Beach, Schoolhouse Beach
Bodega Bay – Spud Point Crab Company, hike to Bodega Head, Doran Beach, Birdwalk Coastal Access Trail
Sonoma Canopy Tours
Armstrong Redwoods State National Reserve
Robert Ferguson Observatory
Where to eat?
And now for the food – oh it is delicious! There are so many great stops to eat but I have to say, among all the Michelin stars, we will never miss a stop at Addendum for a bucket of fried chicken. Be mindful it is opened seasonally and there are limited hours, make sure to check before you make plans on visiting. Here are some of the places we would like to visit on a future trip:
|Thomas Keller Restaurants:
CIA at Copia
Oxbow Public Market
|The BarlowAmy’s Drive Thru (vegan)
Flying Goat Coffee
Costeaux French Bakery
The Girl and the Fig
And for the craft beer lovers out there, Sonoma has some famous breweries that are worth a stop:
- Crooked Goat Brewing
- Russian River Brewing (Pliny the Elder)
- Lagunitas Brewing
- Bear Republic Brewing
There are many options for accommodations ranging from budget to luxury, from Airbnb to boutique B&B’s, and in all locations around the Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Depending on where you are visiting will help determine the best place for your stay but much of the area is central for seeing everything if you did not want to move around. Santa Rosa is fairly central to all activities but nothing is a far drive away from wherever you decide to camp out.
Based on all this information, here is a 3 day itinerary for exploring Napa Valley and Sonoma County! As with most 3 day weekends, I like to travel on Thursday after work to get the most out of the three days at the destination.
|Day 0||Afternoon||Arrive in SF|
|Evening||Drive to Sonoma
|Day 1||Morning||Armstrong Redwoods State National Reserve|
|Evening||Sonoma Brewery Trail|
|Day 2||Morning||Wine Tasting – start in Geyserville and work south|
|Afternoon||Old Faithful Geyser of California Wine Tasting – North Napa (Calistoga / St Helena)|
|Evening||Robert Ferguson Observatory|
|Day 3||Morning||Wine Tasting – pick up where you left off yesterday and work your way south on the Silverado Trail|
|Afternoon||More Wine Tasting
|Day 4||Morning||Depart *If driving back to SF or SFO, make sure to stop at Golden Gate Vista Point|
Before you cross the Golden Gate Bridge, make a pit stop at Golden Gate Vista Point for one of the best views of the bridge and San Francisco.
If you have been to Napa Valley or Sonoma County before, let me know what I missed and what your favorites are!