Planning Your Time
If you’re coming to Wine Country for the first time, you’ll probably spend most of your visit paying homage to the grape. After all, Napa and Sonoma form the beating heart of California’s great Wine Country. Literally hundreds of wineries cluster within the relatively small valleys of Napa and the Russian River, while other wineries call the regions of Carneros and outer Sonoma home.
Most visitors plan a weekend in Napa, with weekend trips back to explore the outer valleys. If you come during the summer or fall seasons, you’ll find a crush in almost every tasting room in the valley; even the smaller boutique labels do big business during the six-month high season (May–Oct.).
To make the most of your trip, do a little advance research. Plan out which wineries are must-sees, and which routes you’ll take. Be aware that Highway 29 (which runs through the heart of Napa Valley) gets jammed up around St. Helena and can be very slow on weekends.
U.S. 101 slows through Santa Rosa during the weekday rush hour commutes. Check to see whether any events are going on during your stay as they can increase crowds both at the wineries and on the roads. If you’re not up for driving, the downtown tasting rooms in the cities of Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Rosa are good alternatives to the slow trek up and down the wine roads.
Be aware that while wine tasting can be the ultimate vacation experience for adults, kids will not enjoy being dragged around all day to an activity in which they cannot participate. And children are not welcome at many small B&Bs nor allowed in most of the Calistoga spas.
Overall, a Wine Country vacation is a better adults-only trip than a family vacation. If you must bring your kids, plan a few activities that aren’t food-, wine-, or spa-related, such as the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, or enjoying the water at Lake Berryessa.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition