Find the best things to do in Wine Country in this Sonoma and Napa Valley travel guide. From the obvious (hint: wine) to the unexpected, this guide will ensure you don’t miss out when you visit Napa and Sonoma.
First thing’s first: Should you visit Napa Valley or Sonoma?
The answer is both. You don’t have to choose.
Napa Valley and Sonoma are within 25 minutes of each other, and it’s easy to experience both places on one long weekend.
Of course, it would take you months to visit all of Wine Country’s wineries, so a bit of research is needed to determine the kind of experience you’d like to have.
Are you looking for a luxurious experience with plenty of fine dining? Is Cabernet Sauvignon your crème de la crème when it comes to wines? → Napa is for you.
Do you love a more relaxing atmosphere, complete with sprawling hills and countryside picnics? Do you enjoy a variety of different wines, from bold reds to effervescent sparklings? → Sonoma takes the win.
Sonoma is generally considered to be more laid back and inexpensive than Napa, with an average tasting fee of nearly $10 less. It is also usually less crowded than Napa.
Napa has more wineries than Sonoma, and both have incredible dining options, including Michelin-star restaurants.
Napa is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Sonoma is known for Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and sparkling wines.
While there’s a few differences between Sonoma and Napa, I like to visit both. I actually prefer Sonoma’s wineries and staying in Sonoma, but I love to go to Napa for their restaurants. Which is why I decided to combine this travel guide to cover both Sonoma and Napa.
Let’s explore the best things to see and do in California’s Wine Country.
The Best Things To Do in Sonoma and Napa Valley: Travel Guide
1. Relax at Fairmont Sonoma
Picture this. You arrive in Wine Country and check in at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa. While checking in, you’re offered a cold glass of sparkling pink wine. You then make the peaceful walk to your room and admire the lush gardens and grounds. Then, a dip in one of the five healing geo-thermal mineral pools are in order and perhaps a spa treatment or massage before dinner.
Fairmont Sonoma is a beautiful hotel that features natural mineral hot spring pools, seasonal dining including a Michelin-rated restaurant, and a luxury spa. There’s plenty to enjoy, including an 18-hole championship golf course, fitness and yoga classes, lawn games, outdoor fireplaces, and more.
The hotel is pet-friendly, and I highly recommend the Deluxe Rooms with a wood-burning fireplace. Every single room has a complimentary bottle of wine waiting for you. Room service is amazing (get the Lemon Cottage Cheese Pancakes for breakfast in bed) and WiFi and self-parking are free.
When deciding where to stay in Sonoma, Fairmont just can’t be beat.
2. See Wine Country From the Sky
Did you know that Napa Valley is known for their hot air ballon rides? Take to the sky to experience sweeping views of Napa’s lush, green rolling hills. Balloons take off at sunrise, and you can book add-ons such as sparkling wine or a post-flight brunch. Family-friendly festivals such as the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic happen every year and should definitely make it on your Napa Valley travel guide.
3. Sip Bubbles at Gloria Ferrer
When visiting Sonoma, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards is usually my first stop. The winery has beautiful, sprawling views of the vineyards with both indoor and outdoor seating. There are several different tastings that you can do here, including elevated experiences such as Bubbles and Bites, Tapas on the Terrace, and Glassware Exploration. You can also book the Gloria Wine Country Picnic or a reserve tour. There’s always fun events happening at the winery, from seasonal events to intimate wine dinners to the annual Holiday Crab Feed.
If you’re a fan of bubbles, there’s no better than Gloria Ferrer. Their wines have received over 500 gold medals and 50 90+ ratings in the past five years alone. All of their sparkling (and still!) wines are incredible. I especially love the Carneros Cuvée, Brut Rosé, and José S. Ferrer Chardonnay. Spend the day at this gorgeous winery sipping bubbles and soaking up the sun. Sample their small bites — cheese and charcuterie plates, chocolate pairings, truffle potato chips, and bread with their own olive oil — to pair with your bubbly.
Psst: their wine club is pretty amazing, too.
4. Hop on the Wine Train
One of the most fun and unique ways to experience Wine Country? By train.
Hop aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train, a restored historic train that offers scenic views of Napa paired with wine and gourmet cuisine. There’s several different tours to choose from, including lunch or dinner trains, half or full day winery tours, and special events such as a Murder Mystery Tour.
5. Spend the Day at Cline Cellars
There’s more to experience at Cline Cellars besides wine. This family-owned and operated vineyard is rich in history and robust Zinfandels and Rhône-style wines. The winery practices sustainable farming and the grounds are simply breathtaking.
Cline is one of my absolute favorite atmospheres around. The grounds are spacious and relaxing, complete with water fountains, ponds, lush gardens, and farm animals you can visit. The winery is also home to the California Mission Museum, and offers a tour that you should definitely consider taking.
My favorite wines are the Nancy’s Cuvée, Late Harvest Mourvèdre, and 93 point Live Oak Zinfandel.
6. Lunch Seasonally at Scribe Winery
While you won’t find much in terms of food at most Sonoma and Napa wineries, Scribe Winery is an exception. Scribe focuses on seasonal, farm-to-table fare by offering a fun, elevated light food pairing.
The menu changes often and you’ll find seasonal treats, from pickled garden squash to smoky eggplant toast to garden salads with freshly baked bread.
The colorful, plant-forward cuisine, terroir-driven wines, and picturesque surroundings make this winery an Instagram-worthy dream.
5. Take a Bite Out of Wine Country
No Napa Valley travel guide would be complete without also mentioning food. While Sonoma has more places to eat than Napa, Napa is definitely known for its fine dining.
Both Napa and Sonoma are home to Michelin-starred restaurants, including Auberge du Soleil, The French Laundry, Kenzo, and SingleThread. Napa is home to my favorite chef, Thomas Keller, and five of his restaurants and bakeries. Dine at The French Laundry (make reservations way, way in advance) for the ultimate culinary experience or grab a croissant and macaron to-go from Bouchon Bakery.
For other dining gems, try:
6. Learn About Wine
During your Wine Country visit, you may be interested in more than just sipping wine. If you want to get nerdy about all things grapes, there’s no better place to learn about wine.
Many wineries offer tours where you can learn about the process of wine-making. Each winery does something different that makes them unique, and winery tours are a fantastic way to learn about different techniques and the various terrains and grapes of Wine Country.
For unique experiences, stomp grapes at Grgich Hills Estate, become a winemaker for a day and blend your own wine at Raymond Vineyards, or go completely underground at Jarvis Estate’s winery and caves.
7. Take a Cooking Class
The Culinary Institute of America’s CIA at Copia is “a food lover’s paradise in Napa.”
The CIA at Copia has a museum, shop, and restaurant, in addition to hundreds of foodie events and cooking classes. The events calendar is always featuring something fun and unique, from seasonal happenings to their Cinema Under the Stars. Cooking classes are aplenty, and range from family-friendly classes to more advanced techniques. There’s also plenty of classes that pair food with wine, such as Wine and Cheese, Cooking with Wine, Wine and Chocolate, and Bubbles for Every Occasion.
8. Hit the Coast
For stunning scenery and ocean air, pack a picnic and head to Sonoma’s coast.
There’s hiking, beautiful beaches, horseback riding, camping, fishing, boating, and more to enjoy along the coast. Spend the day at Sonoma Coast State Park or visit the many wineries and farms along the coast.
No Sonoma or Napa travel guide is complete without some shopping.
In Sonoma, spend the day at the historic Sonoma Plaza. The plaza has tons of restaurants, wine tasting rooms, art galleries, and shopping galore. You’ll find unique boutiques, gift shops, jewelry stores, artisan chocolate and olive oil shops, and more.
Napa Valley offers shopping for everyone, including the elegant Napa’s Riverfront shops, Yountville’s V Marketplace, and the Napa Premium Outlets. Don’t leave town without visiting the Oxbow Public Market, which showcases specialty food, organic produce, coffee, spices, cheese, and more.
10. Think Outside the Wine Box
Yes, Wine County is known for wine. It’s in the title. But Napa and Sonoma offer plenty of options for other libations, too.
Visit Hanson of Sonoma Distillery and Tasting Room for craft cocktails and organic grape-based vodka. There’s vodka flights, guided tours, martini and caviar tastings, vodka and chocolate pairings, and more.
With so many amazing places to add to your ultimate Sonoma and Napa Valley travel guide, which spots are making your list? Let us know below!
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