11 things not to miss in California Wine Country

Napa and Sonoma Valleys in California Wine Country is (or should be!) on everyone’s travel bucket list, whether or not you drink wine. It’s just a picturesque place to be, with so many vineyards and wineries to visit. You’ll learn so much about the wine growing and making process by tasting, listening, and taking tours of the wineries. You’ll be drawn to the laidback wine lifestyle and all of the incredible restaurants!

California Wine Country Trip Planning Tips

Planning a trip to Napa and Sonoma can be overwhelming because there is so much to do and see!

Here’s a tip that will make your planning more enjoyable, and your trip more enjoyable: only plan to do 2 tastings or experiences per day. Plus lunch and dinner.

Take your time at the wineries.

Schedule experiences, don’t just winery hop.

Otherwise, you’ll be drunk, stressed, and worn out.

Favorite things to experience in California Wine Country

I was going to attempt to do individual posts about each of our favorite spots in California Wine Country, and then decided that most people probably just want to look at pretty pictures and read about our favorites. I tried to make this a Top 10 list, but had to add one more!

Wine Blending Seminar at Conn Creek

1. Conn Creek Wine Blending Seminar

If asked, “what is the coolest experience you had in Napa & Sonoma?” I wouldn’t hesitate and respond “The Conn Creek Wine Blending Seminar,” which is why it’s #1 on this list. I’m not sure if it was the culmination of wine tastings and tours, but this seminar made so many things click about wine for me. We started out in the garden, with a brief talk about the grapes and the terroir, and then moved into the blending room. There were barrels around the room, each filled with a Cabernet from various appellations in Napa and Sonoma. Each wine had a distinct taste with different flavors, and the climate, soil, and area each made an impact on the flavor profile, and it was very obvious when sampling each one. We each created our own recipe from the barrels, and blended a bottle, which we will try in a year. I think it will be fun to taste the differences between Conn Creek’s blend (“Anthology”) my blend (“Decade” because we will try it on our 10 year anniversary), and Will’s blend (the “W Blend”).

Related: The Coolest Wine Tasting in Napa: Wine Blending Seminar at  Conn Creek Winery 

 J Brut Rosé, NV, Russian River Valley - California Wine Country vacation

2. J Bubble Room Tasting Experience

The Bubble Room Tasting Experience is a wine & seasonal food pairing prepared by the executive chef of J Vineyards, and is an experience not to be missed while visiting Sonoma. The food showcases their incredible line-up of wines, and is a relaxing and romantic vacation date that we will plan to do each visit. Last year, we did a tasting in their lounge with cheese pairings, and that was enjoyable, too! Check out the menu for the J Vineyards Bubble Room.

winecountrybikes.jpg- California Wine Country vacation

3. Bike Ride around Healdsburg

One morning, Will and I rented bikes from Wine Country Bikes. Our 20 mile excursion through farmland, vineyards, and pretty homes took about 2 hours and was one of my favorite mornings on our vacation. I had the Trek Verve which I absolutely loved – it’s a hybrid bike, and has a little bit wider tires than a road bike and a larger seat, and was a very comfortable bike to ride along next to Will on his road bike. We went along at a leisurely pace, and I was able to keep up with him.

California Wine Country vacation

4. Dry Creek General Store Picnic at Dry Creek Vineyards

If I could eat like this every single day, I would. The food in this little roadside spot is unbelievable. The sandwiches are incredible with delicious, crusty bread and fresh ingredients. The sides – beets, kale salad, and quinoa salad are equally as delicious. I’d love to figure out how to duplicate this at home. I’ll let y’all know if I’m successful. It’s a short distance from Dry Creek Vineyard, so you can pack up your lunch, head over to their garden with picnic tables, order a glass of their crisp Chenin Blanc and have a delectable picnic lunch.

The Famous Porkchop

5. Pork Chop at Mustard’s

The best porch chop of all time is served at Mustard’s Grill in Napa Valley, and it is definitely worth the visit. The other items on the menu are also excellent, but this dish is outstanding, and I want to fly across the country just to enjoy this meal again.

Farmstead Restaurant in Napa

6. Artichokes at Farmstead Restaurant

Even though we took a hot minute to figure out how to eat the artichokes, once I figured it out, it was game on. I have dreams about these artichokes drizzled in a perfectly salted lemony olive oil. Farmstead Restaurant in Napa has a fantastic menu and a cool, farm-chic style atmosphere.

Ad Hoc in Yountville, Napa Valley

7. Mystery Menu at Ad Hoc

Ad Hoc, a Thomas Keller restaurant, has a unique approach to dining: there is a new menu every night, served in a file folder, so each visit will be something different. Slightly risky, but also a really fun experience. We didn’t think it could be possible that we would be presented with something we did not enjoy, and we were not disappointed. Everything was divine.

Cafe Citti ravioli is life-changing

8. Cafe Citti Ravioli Experience

Skip everything on the menu, and go for the ravioli. It’s a little roadside restaurant in Sonoma that doesn’t look like a must-pull-over type place but trust me: pull over. It’s close to Landmark, which has a gorgeous garden and tasting room, so you could enjoy a tasting of their wines and head over to Cafe Citti for lunch or dinner. I also enjoyed the green olives!

9. Toad Hollow Tasting Room & Shopping in Healdsburg

We love Toad Hollow – particularly the Pinot Noir – and their tasting room is located in downtown Healdsburg, a wonderful little Sonoma town with great shops and restaurants. Our favorite spots were Spoon Bar for the Jalepeno Business martini, Willi’s Seafood for an incredible tapas-style lunch, the prawns at Pizzando, and Bear Creek brewery.

Picnic - California wine country

10. Rodney Strong Picnic

Rodney Strong Symmetry is our go-to favorite special occasion wine, and we ended our vacation with a trip to the tasting room followed by a picnic outside with a bottle of Symmetry. It was a beautiful afternoon, and a fun little picnic.

Stags' Leap Winery in Napa

11. Stags’ Leap Winery Tour

This was one of our favorite tours because the Stags’ Leap Winery has so much history (and the house has a secret trapdoor to the hidden Speakeasy!) – and they have a fabulous bocce ball court overlooking the vineyard. A tour has to be scheduled, but is definitely worth the trip.

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  1. 8.11.14
    Morgan said:

    I am SO thrilled that you put this list together! It’s the perfect must-do for a trip to Sonoma, and it’s inspiration to get up there with the hubby as soon as this next baby is born :). Your top 11 sound like perfection.

  2. 8.14.14
    Marta said:

    Fab info. My only request is that you tKe a group of us out there and be our tour guide.