Where to Drink, Eat, Stay And Explore in Napa And Sonoma

While every traveler has their specific vision of what a “bucket list” trip would include, there are some destinations in the United States that seem to show up again and again – like a trip to California wine country. And while there are many areas of California known for beautiful vineyards and incredible wine, nothing approaches the prestige of the Napa and nearby Sonoma wine regions.

Home to many of the most well-known and exclusive wineries, restaurants, outdoor recreation spots, and hotels – there is something in these NorCal communities for every kind of traveler (except the budget kind, the region is pricey). Still, you don’t have to be a wine enthusiast – or even a wine drinker for that matter – to enjoy the lush green beauty and quaint towns that dot these legendary wine regions. I recently spent a week solo exploring Sonoma and Napa, barely scratching the surface of what this surprisingly large area offers, here are my recommendations:


Emily Hart

While Napa Valley and Sonoma County are incredibly diverse and offer a wide range of activities for any traveler, the big draw is still, of course, the wine. Grapes were planted in Sonoma County as early as 1812 while George Calvert Yount was the first to grow grapes in Napa Valley in 1839. In 1861 Charles Krug opened the first commercial winery in Napa Valley and by 1889 there were over 140 wineries in operation.

After many wineries were abandoned after prohibition and a destructive root louse, Napa and Sonoma began rebuilding – with California wine country truly being put “on the map” after the Paris tasting of 1976 where California Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay beat out their French competitors in a blind tasting for the first time.

You’ll need reservations for nearly any wine tasting in Napa and many in Sonoma. During peak seasons and weekends, these can be tricky to come by, so planning is of course the name of the game here.

Beringer Vineyards
Emily Hart


I spent a lovely afternoon at Beringer Vineyards – the oldest continuously operating vineyard in not just Napa but all of California. And while I’m sure any wine drinker has picked up some Beringer at the grocery store, let me tell you, there is so much more to experience at the vineyard. I first enjoyed a tour of the incredible grounds and wine caves with a glass while learning about the history of the vineyard before sitting down to a decadent Veranda Tasting at the historic Rhine House. The tasting included a selection of Beringer’s single vineyard reserve wines.

Tasting info:

There are various tastings and tours available, as well as the option to “Sip and Stroll” the grounds with a glass of wine. Prices start at $20 – $125 and can be reserved in advance here.

Hall Wines
Emily Hart


Hall Wines came highly recommended to me by some other travelers earlier in my trip. After driving by the “Bunny Foo-Foo” sculpture that greets visitors to its St. Helena property, I knew this spot was my style. The “Modern Tasting Gallery” is a part modern art gallery, and part wine tasting room with over 35 pieces of contemporary art, and several options for tastings and tours.

I enjoyed a Cabernet tasting and a walk on the incredible grounds as the sun was setting. It was one of the most magical parts of my trip.

Tasting Info:

Tastings at the St. Helena location start at $60 and tours at $75. Book in advance here.

Emily Hart


I couldn’t leave Napa Valley without stopping for a glass of my favorite bubbles – Chandon. While parts of the winery are undergoing construction, the grounds are still accessible and immaculate. I could ride a bike from my hotel – the nearby Napa Valley Lodge in Yountville – and enjoy a glass of rose bubbles under the sun. Open Thursday – Sunday, Chandon offers many different tasting experiences. I was happy to be able to purchase a glass on its own and relax – something that wasn’t available without a tasting at many of the other vineyards I visited.

Tasting Info:

Tastings start at $50 and can be reserved here.

Emily Hart


When I asked the concierge at Fairmont Sonoma for a recommendation of a winery that I could A) walk into without a reservation and B) featured fantastic views, they immediately pointed me towards Viansa Sonoma Winery & Tasting Room. The 4th-generation run family winery in Sonoma is perched up on a hillside with incredible panoramic views of the Sonoma Valley, immaculate grounds, and hospitality that is as incredible as the Italian varietal wines. I enjoyed a tasting outside on the hilltop terrace with a selection of four wines.

Tasting Info:

There are many different tasting experiences available at Viansa starting at $35 for non-members and can be reserved here.


Napa and Sonoma are both foodie destinations in their own right, with strong agricultural traditions, and are home to many high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients. The fertile soil and Mediterranean climate of the area make it ideal for growing a variety of crops, including grapes, olives, fruits, and vegetables. While I definitely spent more time wine-tasting and charcuterie board grazing than restaurant-hopping, all of the food I had was truly one of a kind.


Wine Train Napa
Emily Hart

While not technically a restaurant per se, the Napa Valley Wine Train was where I had some of the best food of my entire trip. I went all in on the full-day Legacy Experience that includes wine tastings with a 4-course meal between. We started the day with smoked salmon eggs benedict and bubbles during the ride to our first tasting. For my second course, I chose the grilled beef tenderloin, with parsnip puree, charred shallots, forest mushrooms, and bordelaise. The third course was a brie from Marin County with local honey, olives, fennel pollen, and ciabatta followed by the desert course where I chose a decadent chocolate cake.

It was as luxurious and extravagant as it sounds — and I recommend it to everyone.

The Napa Valley Wine Train offers the day-long experience as well as several other experiences that include tastings with lunch, afternoon tea, and even a seven-course “Tasting on the Rails.” Book your experience here.


Ad Hoc Yountville
Emily Hart

Yountville is of course famous for chef Thomas Keller’s legendary French Laundry restaurant, but for a more casual experience, I opted to head to Keller’s more casual spot: Ad Hoc. Serving a set four-course menu each night with innovative takes of classic American comfort food, I was truly rendered speechless by my meal. I started with a kale salad, followed by an herb-roasted chicken with smashed potatoes and an incredible salsa verde. I finished my feast with a coconut cake while drinking great wine (of course).

The ambiance was sleek and I loved that it was within walking distance from my hotel in downtown Yountville.


Kivelstadt Sonoma
Emily Hart

After spending my entire trip budget on wine tastings (when in wine country, right?), I asked a local for a recommendation for “food that is not pretentious in an eclectic environment.” They recommended Kivelstadt Cellars and Winegarten on the spot– and I understand why. The menu is thoughtful and delicious without being overly fussy. I loved sitting in the wine garden patio area with some of their wine (served straight out of kegs to eliminate waste), a book, and a delicious burger.



Fairmont Sonoma
Emily Hart

I was excited to stay at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa as I am a fan of the Fairmont brand, and again I was not disappointed. From the moment I drove onto the grounds I felt like I was in a fairytale. I was greeted by a 100-year-old sycamore tree and somehow the historic property just kept getting better and more scenic from there. As a member of the Historic Hotels of America, the property dates back to 1927, with a colorful history throughout its several iterations.

Situated over geothermal mineral spring pools, there are several hot pools at the spa along with a rejuvenating self-guided bathing ritual and — my personal favorite — a relaxing spa pool with music playing under the water.

Emily Hart

I loved the balcony adjacent to my room among the sycamores, the nightly wine tastings in the lobby, and the guest shuttle was a great perk. Walk and bikable to much of Sonoma, it was the perfect spot for exploration and relaxation. Book your stay here.


Napa Valley Lodge
Emily Hart

In Napa Valley, I stayed in the utterly charming town of Yountville, at Napa Valley Lodge. I cannot say enough about this uber-convenient and meticulously designed property. Located directly downtown and walkable to nearly every restaurant and many wineries on my list – it was convenient while also being completely luxurious.

Napa Valley Lodge
Emily Hart

I stayed in a gorgeous room with a fireplace and high ceilings with a balcony overlooking vineyards and rolling hills. I enjoyed the daily champagne breakfast that was included in my stay, and taking one of the lodges cruiser bikes out on the Vine Trail and to the nearby Chandon.

The property is well maintained, with a beautiful courtyard with a pool area, lounging areas, and fire pits. Book your stay here.


Wine country isn’t just about wine, of course. It’s an incredibly picturesque landscape with plenty of outdoor activities, art galleries, spas, and fresh foods. So if you aren’t an oenophile, or just need a break for a few hours, here is what I recommend:


Sonoma Coast
Emily Hart

The Sonoma Coast is one of my favorite portions of the California coastline – which is saying a lot. Many people may not even realize that Sonoma County has a coastline at all. This stunning stretch of rugged cliffs, pristine beaches, and picturesque coastal towns runs from Bodega Bay in the south to Jenner in the north — and it is definitely worth spending some time at between wine tastings.

The Sonoma Coast offers tons of outdoor activities, including great hiking, beachcombing, whale watching, and surfing. Sonoma Coast State Park is one of my favorites, offering miles of hiking trails, secluded beaches, and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Pro-tip: make sure to stop at Goat Rock Beach.


I didn’t spend much time on the trail during this trip, although there are plenty of heart-pumping options. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is just off Highway 29 in St. Helena with more than 10 miles of hiking trails. Robert Louis Stevenson State Park and Skyline Wilderness Park are also nearby and would satisfy any hiker.

Emily Hart

I loved biking on the Napa Valley Vine Trail – a biking path that will at completion cover 47 miles from Vallejo’s Ferry to Calistoga. Currently, 12.5 miles are complete from just south of downtown Napa to the north end of Yountville.


Fairmont Sonoma
Emily Hart

Napa Valley is home to several hot springs – notably in Calistoga, including the historic Indian Springs Resort, which has been welcoming guests into its healing waters since 1862. I only had the chance to soak in Sonoma at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa which is located over a hot spring with several geothermal mineral spring pools to relax in at the spa.


Napa Hot Air Balloon
Emily Hart

While I didn’t have the chance on this trip to get in the air, hot-air ballooning is definitely on the agenda for my next trip. I loved waking up each day to the idyllic sight of balloons floating above the vineyards in the hazy light. As one of the most popular activities for tourists, there are companies in Napa, Yountville, and Sonoma that will get you in the air to see nature in a whole new way.

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