July 26, 2012

8 Tips for Visiting Napa and Sonoma

Earlier this month we gave you a throwdown between San Francisco and Philadelphia in terms of food and fun things to do. Also a memorable part of that trip was our two day visit to wine country. One day in Napa Valley and one day in Sonoma worked out perfectly. They're really only 30-40 minutes away from each other, so it's easy to do both. Here are a few tips for each based on what we ate/did, with lots more photos to check out on Facebook and Google+


Drive past the main little towns. As first timers, we were surprised that so many big wineries were literally right in a row and close to the main road (Rt. 29). There are dozens and dozens of great places to stop along there, but we encourage you to also drive past those towns and off onto smaller roads like the Silverado Trail to find other great wineries in more quaint, rustic settings. Duckhorn and Chateau Montelena are two of many great options. On Rt. 29, Peju is a very pretty winery with a fun, crazy guy behind the tasting counter (hat tip to PhillyFoodDude for sending us there).

Beautiful Chateau Montelena with a famous Chardonnay
Duckhorn Winery with tastings on the wrap-around porch.

Lunch at Gott's Roadside: Midway through a day of wine tasting, you're bound to get hungry. Some may call Gott's Roadside by its original name, Taylor's Refresher, but either way, it's a classic roadside joint with picnic tables and awesome burgers, fries and shakes.

Just LOOK at that burger. 

Stay in Yountville: We read/heard everywhere that the actual town of Napa is not very nice. Yountville is just a few miles north and an ideal place to stay. It's the tiniest little town with a mile-long main drag that hosts a handful of lovely hotels, restaurants and shops. The Napa Valley Lodge sits at one end, a picturesque motel-style inn with large, comfortable rooms, a nice pool and free breakfast. Famed restaurants, The French Laundry and Bouchon, are just a few minutes' walk down the road.

Eat (twice) at Bouchon: Hit up Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery in Yountville for breakfast or lunch of baguette sandwiches and sweets. Then cap off a day of wine tasting with dinner at his french bistro, Bouchon. No matter what the weather is outside, don't miss the french onion soup. It's possibly the best we've ever had. Also try a cheese plate and anything with Keller's thin cut french fries. The restaurant feels a lot like Parc in Philadelphia, only much smaller and more distinguished.

French onion soup at Bouchon
Bouchon Bakery's baguette and monkey bread


Take a bike tour with Doug from Goodtime Touring Company: A one-of-a-kind, relaxing, totally non-commercial way to see Sonoma's beautiful countryside and taste wine at several friendly vineyards. Doug from Goodtime Touring is the nicest guide and he/his wife pack on one heck of a delicious picnic lunch with some of the best fruit we've had. Bradd and I agreed that this tour may not be ideal if you only have one day in wine country, but if you have two or more, don't miss it.

Doug also alerted us to the Sonoma Valley Farmer's Market on Friday mornings. What a nice way to grab fresh fruit, try homemade baked goods and chat with the locals.

Learning about vines on our bike tour
Beautiful picnic lunch at the Bartholomew Winery

Stay at El Dorado Hotel: Sonoma is an adorable little town with a center square out of a movie set. The El Dorado Hotel is ideally situated on one corner, so all you have to do is walk out the front door to find restaurants, bars and shops. Rooms were small-ish but cute. Free parking is really limited. 

El Dorado Hotel

Eat at El Dorado Kitchen: Actually, you don't have to walk out the door to find great food. The hotel's namesake restaurant offers an enticing, earthy menu. We only had time for appetizers at the cafe bar, but WOW were the fried green tomatoes and tuna tartare amazing. The bartender was really cool, too. Thanks to Laura Price from Quaker City Mercantile for the suggestion. 

Fried green tomatoes at El Dorado Kitchen

Eat at The Girl & The Fig: Across the street from the hotel is The Girl & The Fig, one of wine country's finest restaurants - with Philly ties, actually. Of our entire trip to San Francisco, this was the best complete meal we had. We tried the fig and arugula salad, garlic soup special, pork chop, duck breast and fig + port ice cream. All fantastic. 

Duck breast
Fig and port ice cream in a cookie bowl

These are just a few of the many, many great places to eat, stay and visit in Napa and Sonoma. We'll also leave you with a few "don'ts" to consider as you customize your own trip. 

  • Don't rush. Five wineries in one day is too much. Take time to really enjoy just a few and make sure you take in the breathtaking scenery, too.
  • Don't buy your own tasting at every winery. You can share tastings at most places - a cheaper way to still taste plenty of good wine and not lose your balance too quickly. 
  • Don't forget to book some tastings/tours in advance. Check which require reservations here
  • Don't miss The French Laundry's garden. It's across the street, right there on the side of the road in Yountville and clearly labeled. 

Many thanks to our friends, family, Twitter and Facebook followers for giving us such great recommendations!


Patrick Edmonds said...

The food looks awesome! My wife and I were recently in Italy, and it's amazing that some of the most beautiful sights are the ones you order at the restaurants that you visit. Sonoma and Napa are beautiful; I hope to go back some time. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I love visiting Napa Valley! I can't wait to try some of these restaurants next time we visit! :)

napa wine tours from san francisco said...

Frankly speaking nice blog above but one thing i could say that there are really the amazing places nearby san francisco and in outer suburbs of SF.yup and one more thing but if anybody want to visit sanfrancisco before that you must visit napa wine tours from san francisco