Napa Valley is a wine lover’s utopia. In this beautiful and productive area, you can experience some of the best libations, food, and scenery in the world. Almost four million visitors visit California’s most famous wine-growing region each year; it’s a popular place.
But Napa Valley isn’t the only wine country in California. Within 90 minutes of San Francisco, four wine regions produce award-winning wines in a relaxed setting that invites you to sip California and watch the sun go down.
For alternatives to the Napa Valley, explore these four regions. A short drive from San Francisco, each region has a different vibe, from bustling cities to laid-back farming.
Thank you, Visit Tri-Valley, for a tour of these wineries, restaurants and museums, and for your accommodation at The Rose Hotel. It was wonderful and all of the opinions in this article are my own.
1. Anderson Valley
90 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge, turn northwest into the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. The two-lane Hwy 128 turns and winds through a long coastal valley. The valley is a collage of vineyards, farms, ranches and small towns. Best of all, they are wine growing regions – some of the oldest in California.
Make your Anderson Valley wine country tour a little random. Learn the art of U-turn. You will inevitably pass a tasting room, farm stall, cafe or dairy that appeals to you, so turn around and go back.
Can’t make up your mind where to stop? To attempt Maple Creek Winery for wine and a gallery (the winemaker is a celebrated artist). silence is the oldest winery in Anderson Valley. Penny Royal Farm serves and sells its wine and fabulous goat cheese. There are also Disco Ranch wine bar and specialty market for wine tasting, tapas and picnic accessories.
The Madrones in Philo you can escape to the wine country and never leave the site. Accommodation, restaurant, tasting rooms and a hidden garden are lined with vineyards.
Anderson Valley is not overcrowded, casual and perfect for slowing down and switching off. Learn more at Visit Anderson Valley.
Pro tips: Take the unforgettable Highway 128 northwest through a tunnel of sequoias Navaro River Redwoods State Park. Make a driftwood sculpture there. A 30-minute drive northwest of Anderson Valley is the Pacific Ocean. A crescent-shaped sandy beach lies at the mouth of the Navaro River. It’s a driftwood beach popular with beach goers for building driftwood sculptures and shelters. Your structure can return to the sea the next high tide, so be sure to take a few photos.
2. Santa Rosa
Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, is where the big boys play side by side with small, handmade wines. The small town is an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The region is home to 495 wineries and more than 25 breweries. Unfortunately, forest fires decimated many vineyards and wineries in 2017 and 2020. Even so, the county’s vineyards, houses, and businesses have been restored with the designation of a phoenix.
Some of the most famous labels in the world call Santa Rosa their home – Korbel, Kendall Jackson, and Francis Ford Coppola all have spectacular tasting rooms, restaurants, and experiences that go beyond drinking wine.
Luxury Glamp at Safari West and join the Rhinos and Winos Tour for an outdoor wine and cheese tasting in Sonoma County. It’s a memorable tour of an African nature reserve with a tasting overlooking the valley.
If glamping and wildlife are not your accommodation style, I recommend The Art house in downtown Santa Rosa. Art House is a brand new hotel with urban chic and ease without a car. Two blocks from downtown plaza, you’ll be spoiled for choice between activities, dining, wine tasting, and city walks.
Food and wine pairings are superior to Francis Ford Coppola and St. Francis. Coppola’s bar in the winery, Rustic, fine Italian food, Coppola’s wine and sublime dining is inside or on the terrace. Dont miss it.
There are tons of wineries and tasting rooms to try in Santa Rosa. Find out more about this wine region here. You can also find breweries listed on the same page.
Pro tip: The man and his beloved cartoon characters are honored in many places in Santa Rosa, and no trip to the area would be complete without a visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
The museum is entertaining for peanuts Fans of all ages. Immerse yourself in the man’s life and times and see how the characters have evolved over time. Your admission includes the theater performance peanuts Films from television and theater. There is also an art room where you can learn to be a cartoonist. You will have more smiles here than any other museum you can visit.
Discover Tri-Valley 35 miles east of San Francisco. The region includes Danville, Pleasanton, Livermore, and Dublin. These valleys are known as the birthplace of California’s Chardonnay.
After the end of Prohibition, this region had ripe vineyards with Chardonnay grapes from France. Most of the vineyards were demolished and wineries destroyed. However, some Tri-Valley vineyards were exempted and allowed to make sacramental wine.
When the ban ended, these wineries had an edge over others. Cuttings were split and Chardonnay became one of the first California wines to become available after Prohibition. Try it out at Wente, Charles R, Concannone, and Omega Street.
If you’re visiting Livermore, stop by Range service life, a casual Californian restaurant that comes from the farm to the table. The bright and open bar and restaurant are modern and rustic at the same time. In Pleasanton, Sabio am Main are masters of combining food and wine.
the Pleasanton Farmers Market is the place to try the diverse range of fruit, vegetables and meat from the region.
In Pleasanton, The rose hotel has my highest recommendation. This luxurious, elegant, timeless and casual hotel was built by Coach John Madden for his friends and family. It’s a tri-valley treasure.
Pro tips: If you are in Tri-Valley, don’t miss this one Black Hawk Museum in Danville. The Blackhawk began as The Behring Auto Museum in 1988. In 1991 the building for art, science, culture and history was expanded. Beautifully exhibited vintage cars are just one floor of this extraordinary museum. Learn more about Tri-Valley at Visit Tri-Valley.
4. San Mateo County
This region, also known as Silicon Valley, grew grapes and produced wine long before technology was in charge.
In San Carlos, just steps from the Caltrain train station, wineries have a community called The Central Peninsula Wine Route. All wineries are within walking distance.
The collection of family-run, artisanal wineries wins awards and makes fans for their traditional and innovative wines. There are no vineyards in the heart of the city; however, grapes from across the county are brought to these boutique wineries and processed into small batches.
Some wineries along the way serve food. Gastronomy and food trucks also populate the district. This is the place to get a full taste of all San Mateo County’s food and drink.
Donato Enoteca in Redwood City is an Italian restaurant that uses local ingredients to prepare a traditional four-star Italian. Seafood is exquisite here. The wine list includes local, California, and Italian wines.
Farmhouse in Belmont is an insider tip in the neighborhood and presents locally produced wines, products, seafood and meat. It’s all homemade.
Residence Inn Redwood City / San Carlos is the right place to visit this region of California’s wine country. It is brand new, packed with every amenity, and designed with the convenience and experience of guests in mind. I want to live there.
Pro tip: Take a day trip to Half Moon Bay to eat seafood, stroll the docks, kayak the harbor, and explore the cobbled coastal path. This fishing village provides fresh seafood daily to local and San Francisco restaurants.
I’ve highlighted four wine regions that are a convenient drive from San Francisco International Airport (SFO). All major airlines, rental car companies and shuttle services are available at SFO. Alternative airports include Oakland, San Jose, and Santa Rosa. You will need a car and a GPS to get around these four wine regions.
Pro tip: If you choose to stay in San Francisco, you don’t need a car in the city. Driving a car is a challenge. Parking fees are astronomical – around $ 60 a day in hotels. Local public transport is efficient, frequent, and budget-friendly. Look into a 1-, 3- or 7-day visitor pass for very inexpensive unlimited journeys with trams, MUNI and cable cars. If you want to take a day trip to the wine country, rent one for the day.
These four California wine-growing regions are among the oldest in the state. Everyone has their own story and personality. Explore, get lost, find your way back. Follow your inner compass. If you need a suggestion, the recommendations I’ve made are places I’ve experienced. I lingered over the wine, celebrated the meal, and hugged the pillows. This is my home.
For more inspiration for libations, read all the content of our wine regions here.