A Day In Wine Country: Sonoma vs. Napa

As our plans to drive from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest started to firm up, Chuck took to Google Maps and planned a route. That process starts with entering the staring point (La Quinta, California) and the ending point (Seattle, Washington), determining the drive time (about 20 hours), then chopping the route up according to reasonable drive times (somewhere between 8 and 12 hours in a day) and interesting places to stop.

Eight hours north of La Quinta, straight up I-5, is the bay area. Now to most, the San Francisco area might evoke images of the Golden Gate Bridge, streetcars, and the Transamerica Pyramid building. For us, it meant (hands down) wine country and stop number 1.

Twice in 2013 we visited wine country (in July and again in October). We love California’s wine country. We love the climate, we love the scenery, we love the variety of towns from fancy to funky, but mostly we love the wine. There’s nothing quite like a wine tasting, particularly the discovery of a new favorite, and there is a practically limitless opportunity to discover here.

California wine country, by this blog’s definition, is the Napa and Sonoma valleys and the surrounding area. These 2 principle valleys make something of a V shape, with the towns that bear their names toward the bottom of the V. Each are their own wine appellation, 2 of the 6 or so that make this America’s premier wine-producing region. There are perhaps hundreds of wineries in the Napa and Sonoma valleys, not to mention all those in the surrounding appellations.

But if you have only one day to spend in the area, as we did, which deserves your attention, Napa or Sonoma?

The Fremont Diner in California Wine Country
The Fremont Diner: Our Favorite Breakfast in California Wine Country


Obviously if you have a favorite wine, visit that winery and their nearby neighbors (don’t hesitate to ask your favorite winery for recommendations: they all seem to collaborate nicely with other area wineries). Unfortunately we have about a half dozen favorite wines between Napa and Sonoma, so it required some narrowing down for us.

If you’ve never been, and you don’t have a favorite, here’s our take on Napa versus Sonoma: Napa is a big Marriott and Sonoma is a small family-owned hotel. This isn’t meant as an indictment either way: sometimes we like to stay in fancy chain hotels, sometimes we like to stay in interesting local hotels. If your idea of a visit to California wine country is high-end fine dining and limousine rides between your wine tastings, then the Napa Valley will probably better suit you. If you like to rub shoulders with cowboy-boot-wearing wine makers and eat drip-down-your-fingers food, then Sonoma will probably better suit you.

That’s not to say there aren’t small, eclectic wineries in Napa, nor big fancy wineries in Sonoma. The really fun thing about a visit to Napa and Sonoma is finding your flavor: of both wine and the wine-loving lifestyle. Cheers!

Rows and rows of beautiful zinfandel grapes

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