When to visit
- Very Favourable
What to do
- Worth the detour
- Must see
A California road trip is not just beaches and vibrant cities! The countryside holds a lot of treasures.
California's Wine Country is home to the most prestigious vineyards and the most famous grape varieties in the country. This wine-growing region enjoys ideal conditions for growing world class grapes. You will have ample opportunity to judge for yourself: there are more than 400 wineries in Napa Valley, and just as many in neighbouring Sonoma Valley. These two areas abound with great names and small hidden gems that you will enjoy discovering. And along with great wine comes fine dining! Between 2 tastings, enjoy the exquisite food and bucolic scenery of this beautiful corner of California.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT NAPA VALLEY
Limited production: only 4% of California wines come from Napa Valley.
Small area: 46,000 acres (about 50 km long by 8 km wide).
Ideal Mediterranean climate found in only 2% of the world.
Diverse soils and topography.
More than 34 different grape varieties: 22% white grapes and 78% red grapes.
To make the most of your time in wine country, don't hesitate to explore other travel alternatives: tours by bus, train or limousine are offered daily, allowing you to sample the wines without having to worry about driving. Ask the staff at your accommodation for information about the different options available.
Here are some of the best-known wineries in Napa Valley:
Domaine Chandon in Yountville provides visitors with one of the most beautiful locations in the region to taste fine wines. Founded in 1973, this winery was the first French-owned sparkling wine producer in Napa Valley. Its wines are created from traditional varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY
Robert Mondavi Winery has helped bring worldwide recognition for American wines. Mondavi established his winery in a sprawling California Mission-style building with graceful arches and an expansive courtyard in Oakville. This iconic estate offers a variety of tasting options and culinary experiences that will delight both the casual visitor and the serious wine aficionado.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This Oakville winery offers a luxury oenological experience. The elegant building rises in perfect harmony with the aesthetic of its natural environment, honouring the land and the light of the estate. But watch your wallet! Opus One produces a premium wine that retails for $150 or more the bottle. A tasting of the current vintage will cost you $50 a glass!!!
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reservations are necessary to visit the property.
In 1900, when Georges de Latour's wife, Fernande, first laid eyes on the land that would become their Rutherford vineyard, she said "Quelle beau lieu!" or "What a beautiful place.” Shortly thereafter, de Latour bought the four-acre ranch, and founded Beaulieu Vineyard with the vision of making Napa Valley wines that would rival those of his native France. And the rest is history...
Open Friday-Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The story of Inglenook began in 1879 when Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish sea captain, wine connoisseur and entrepreneur, came to Rutherford to build a wine estate that would rival Europe’s finest. Celebrated American film director, producer and screenwriter Francis Coppola and his wife Eleanor purchased a large part of the property in 1975. Twenty years later, they acquired the rest of the property, including the historic winery.
The Bistro is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the Chateau from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Discover the tradition and heritage of Beringer, the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley, with a winemaking tradition dating back to 1876. Located in St. Helena, it was the first Napa winery to offer public tours. This multiple award-winning winery is one of the most popular places in the region to tour and taste.
Beringer offers a tour of the Old Winery and its historic cellars. You will also get to visit the iconic Rhine House while tasting quality estate wines.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Clos Pegase is another beautiful destination for sampling world-class wines. The entire estate, founded by Mr. and Mrs. Jan Shrem, is majestic and peaceful. The postmodern building, the work of architect Michael Graves, merges modern and ancient architecture and was completed in 1987. There is also a magnificent garden. The success of Clos Pegase is legendary.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some tours require a reservation.
Founded in 1964 by Englishman Peter Newton, Sterling Vineyards is among the most iconic wineries of Napa Valley. The estate features a rich heritage, stunning Greek-inspired architecture, a gondola ride to the hilltop winery, and revolutionary wines. The winery's eight historic bells, from London’s Church of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East, chime every 15 minutes.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
HESS COLLECTION WINERY
Located just outside of Napa, this imposing winemaking property has earned international recognition. The historic stone building was built in 1903 by Colonel Theodore Gier.
Donald Hess founded Hess Collection Winery in 1978 and opened it to the public in 1989. He also offers visitors free access to his private art collection in the Hess Contemporary Art Museum.
Winery tours are available daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in high season.
RIDE IN A HOT AIR BALLOON
A hot air balloon ride is an inspiring way to appreciate the valley's lush, rolling hills and enjoy a spectacular bird's eye view of the wineries. Balloons Above The Valley has been offering this experience for more than 40 years. If you have never tried this romantic means of transport, here is a great opportunity to do so. The basic includes a one-hour flight, coffee and fresh pastries.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reservations necessary.
NAPA VALLEY WINE TRAIN
Get a taste of the glory days of luxury train travel aboard one of the Wine Train's vintage 1915 Pullman cars, once used for first-class train travel and faithfully restored in 1989. During your 36-mile journey through the lush Napa Valley, you will enjoy both the luxurious elegance of the train and the exquisite Napa Valley scenery. Several dining excursions are offered, during which guests are served a multi-course gourmet meal accompanied by excellent Napa Valley wines. An unforgettable experience! The excursions are often full; reservations are recommended.
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
DI ROSA CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ART
This museum was founded by two art lovers, René and Veronica Di Rosa. Their vast personal collection is now accessible to the public. A non-profit organization since 1997, the museum contains numerous galleries. More than 2,000 pieces by 800 artists are exhibited across the 215-acre property, many of them on the walls of a former winery.
Open Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 2-hour guided tours are offered at 1 p.m. weekdays, and on weekends at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
OLD FAITHFUL GEYSER OF CALIFORNIA
A spectacular natural wonder awaits you at the top of Napa Valley. This famous geyser in one of the most visited and photographed spots in California.
The site also features a petting zoo, gardens, a picnic and relaxation area, and a geological museum where you can learn about geysers, volcanos, earthquakes and more.
Open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. from March-September, until 6 p.m. in October, and until 5 p.m. from November-February.
About 3.4 million years ago, a violent volcanic eruption at Mount St. Helena caused the trees to become petrified. The process took thousands of years to complete. Travel back in time with a walk through this former forest of sequoias that have been turned to stone.
The forest is privately owned but is open to the public every day of the year (in summer from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., in winter from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., in spring & fall from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
Sonoma with its many outdoor activities is an ideal destination for families planning fewer winery tours.
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA WINERY
One of the must-visit wineries in Sonoma Valley is that of the celebrated American film director, producer and screenwriter who brought us Apocalypse Now, The Godfather and Dracula.
Enjoy a complete family experience you won't find at other wineries. The site has an amusement-park feel with two restaurants, two swimming pools (note, reservations are necessary), a gallery displaying a selection of movie memorabilia, a shop and, of course, a tasting room. Families are more than welcome, as Francis Ford Coppola designed the facilities with children in mind!
Open daily from 11 a.m.
SEBASTIANI VINEYARDS & WINERY
Samuele Sebastiani emigrated from Tuscany in 1895 and established the estate nine years later. Since Bill Foley bought Sebastiani in 2008, the team has been focusing on the production of world-class wines that showcase the Sonoma County terroir. The result is wines that are more concentrated and complex on every level. Today, the winery is making the finest wines in its long history.
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Historic Sonoma Plaza lies at the heart of the valley, in the charming town of Sonoma . This plaza has a Mexican feel and radiates romance with its artisan boutiques, meandering alleyways, sunny courtyards, historic buildings, restaurants, hotels, tasting rooms, cafes, art galleries and a vintage movie house. Park your car and go for a walk!
The plaza also hosts an array of events and markets during the summer. There are several free parking lots near Sonoma Plaza, the largest of which has its entrance on First Street East.
SONOMA STATE HISTORIC PARK
This historic park is the site of the last Franciscan mission founded in California in 1823. The park consists of 6 historic sites in downtown Sonoma, near Sonoma Plaza: Mission San Francisco Solano, the Blue Wing Inn, the Sonoma Barracks, the Toscano Hotel & Kitchen, the Servants Quarters and General Vallejo’s Home.
The buildings are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guided tours of Mission San Francisco Solano, the Barracks, General Vallejo's Home, and the Toscana Hotel are possible on weekends for a small fee.
JACK LONDON STATE HISTORIC PARK
Writer, journalist and adventurer Jack London spent the final years of his life on this 1400-acre estate until his death in 1916 at the age of 40. While history is the park's main attraction, you will also enjoy its stunning scenery.
More than 29 km of trails crisscross the site, leading to historical locations and buildings. Walk, hike, take photos, have a picnic, unwind, enjoy nature. The park, which was named a National Historical Landmark in 1963, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the museum from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the cottage from noon to 4 p.m.
Where to eat
- $ Inexpensive
- $$ Moderate
- $$$ Upscale
- $$$$ Fine dining
FARMSTEAD AT LONG MEADOW RANCH ($$-$$$)
This popular Napa Valley restaurant is located at Long Meadow Ranch. It's the perfect spot for good American farmhouse cuisine, crafted from ingredients fresh from the farm, ranch and vineyard. The elegantly casual setting provides Napa charm, and the menu is sure to please from starter to dessert.
Open Monday-Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Friday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Brix brings together French-inspired California cuisine with a comprehensive selection of the valley's finest wines, along with spectacular views of its extensive gardens and the Mayacamas Mountains. Don't be surprised to see the chefs outside gathering fruits, vegetables and herbs for the day's specials! Also offers an outstanding Sunday brunch buffet.
Open Monday-Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Reduced hours in low season.
EL DORADO KITCHEN ($$-$$$)
Located in the hotel complex of the same name, in the heart of Sonoma, El Dorado Kitchen serves contemporary California cuisine in an atmosphere that embodies a sophisticated and relaxed wine-country spirit. The menu showcases local ingredients, which change with the seasons, and the wine list features local wineries. You will also enjoy the beautiful outdoor terrace.
Open Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday-Saturday from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
AUBERGE DU SOLEIL ($$$$)
If you love fine dining and enjoy a tasting menu with wine pairings, this restaurant is an excellent choice. Chef Robert Curry's cuisine draws on Mediterranean inspiration and reflects the richness and quality of locally-sourced ingredients. The restaurant's vast wine cellar houses more than 15,000 bottles! The service is excellent, and as a bonus, you will have a magnificent view of the valley from the terrace. Reservations are recommended.
Open daily for breakfast from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. (same hours for brunch on weekends) and dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Located at the Napa River Inn, in the Historic Napa Mill complex, this award-winning restaurant is one of the most renowned in Napa. Its seasonally-influenced menu features flavours from the Mediterranean, Asia and the Americas. The menu offers a wide variety of unique and refined dishes. In addition to fine food and good wine, you will enjoy excellent service and a charming decor.
Open Monday-Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m.
*** Hours may vary ***
Festival Napa Valley
Dates: mid-July, 2021
Dates: September 3-5, 2021
Large festival with more than 80 artists performing on 5 stages, cooking workshops with renowned local chefs, and wine tasting in ‘‘wine cabanas’’ throughout the festival site.
- Very Favourable