If You Love Napa Valley, You’ll Love These 4 Wine Regions Of Northern California
Napa Valley is a wine lover’s utopia. In this beautiful and productive region, you can experience some of the best libations, food and scenery in the world. Nearly four million visitors make their way to California’s most renowned wine country each year; it is a popular place.
But Napa Valley isn’t California’s only wine country. Less than 90 minutes from San Francisco, four wine regions produce award-winning wines in a relaxed environment that invites you to take a sip of California and watch the sunset.
For Napa Valley alternatives, explore these four regions. Just a short drive from San Francisco, every region has a different vibe, from the bustling urban to the laid-back agrarian.
Thank you, Visit Tri-Valley, for a tour of these wineries, restaurants and museums and for accommodation at The Rose Hotel. It was wonderful, and all opinions in this article are my own.
1. Anderson Valley
90 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge, turn northwest into the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. The two-lane Highway 128 turns and winds through a long coastal valley. The valley is a collage of vineyards, farms, ranches and micro-towns. Better yet, it’s the wine country, one of the oldest in California.
Make your visit to the wine country through Anderson Valley a little hit and miss. Learn the art of the U-turn. You will inevitably pass a tasting room, farm stand, cafe or dairy that speaks to you, so turn around and walk away.
Can’t decide where to stop? To try Maple Creek Vineyard for wine and a gallery (the winemaker is a famous artist). Silence is the oldest winery in Anderson Valley. Penny Royal Farm serves and sells its wine and its fabulous goat cheese. There is also Disco Ranch wine bar and specialty market for wine tasting, tapas and picnic supplies.
The Madrones in Philo, it is the place where you can escape to the land of wine and never leave the place. Accommodation, restaurant, tasting rooms and hidden garden are bordered by vineyards.
Anderson Valley is uncrowded, laid back, and perfect for slowing down and unplugging. Learn more about Visit the Anderson Valley.
Pro tips: Take the unforgettable Highway 128 northwest through a tunnel of redwoods to Navaro Redwoods River State Park. Once there, make a driftwood sculpture. A 30 minute drive northwest of Anderson Valley you will reach the Pacific Ocean. A crescent-shaped sandy beach sits at the mouth of the Navaro River. It is a driftwood beach popular with beach goers for building driftwood sculptures and shelters. Your structure may return to the sea at the next high tide, so be sure to take some photos.
2. Saint Rose
Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, is where the big boys play side-by-side with hand-made wines in small batches. The small town is an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The region is home to 495 wineries and over 25 breweries. Sadly, many vineyards and wineries were wiped out by wildfires in 2017 and 2020. Yet with a phoenix’s determination, the county’s vineyards, homes, and businesses have been restored.
Some of the world’s most famous labels have made Santa Rosa their home – Korbel, Kendall jackson, and Francis Ford Coppola all have tasting rooms, restaurants and spectacular experiences beyond drinking wine.
Luxury glamp at West Safari and join The Rhinos and Winos Tour for an outdoor wine and cheese tasting in Sonoma County. It is an unforgettable visit through an African wildlife reserve with a tasting overlooking the valley.
If glamping and wildlife is not your style of accommodation, I suggest the Art house in downtown Santa Rosa. Art House is a brand new hotel featuring Urban Chic and ease of driving. Two blocks from downtown plaza, you’ll be spoiled for choice for activities, dining, wine tasting, and city walks.
Food and wine pairings are superior to Francis Ford Coppola and Saint Francis. Coppola’s restaurant in the cellar, Rustic, is refined Italian cuisine, Coppola wine and sublime meals indoors or on the terrace. Don’t miss it.
There are countless wineries and tasting rooms to try in Santa Rosa. Learn more about this wine region here. Additionally, you will 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 region would be complete without visiting the Charles M. Schulz Museum.
The museum is entertaining for Peanuts fans of all ages. Immerse yourself in the life and times of man and see how the characters have developed over time. Your entry includes the theatrical performance Peanuts television and theater films. In addition, there is an art room where you can learn to be a draftsman. You will have more smiles here than in any other museum you visit.
Thirty-five miles east of San Francisco, you will discover Tri-Valley. The region includes Danville, Pleasanton, Livermore and Dublin. These valleys are known as the birthplace of California Chardonnay.
After the end of Prohibition, this region had mature vineyards of Chardonnay grapes from France. Most of the vineyards were uprooted and the cellars destroyed. However, some vineyards in the Tri-Valley were exempted and allowed to make sacramental wine.
When Prohibition ended, these wineries were one step ahead of the rest. The cuttings were shared, and Chardonnay became one of the first Californian wines available after Prohibition. Try some at went, Charles R, Concannon, and Omega Route.
When you visit Livermore, come back to Lifetime, a casual California farm-to-table restaurant. The bright, open bar and restaurant are both modern and rustic. In Pleasanton, Sabio on hand are the masters of food and wine pairings.
the Pleasanton Farmers Market is the perfect place to taste the diversity of fruits, vegetables and meat produced in the region.
In Pleasanton, The Rose Hotel to my highest recommendation. This luxurious, elegant, timeless and relaxed hotel was built by coach John Madden for his visiting friends and family. It’s a Tri-Valley treasure.
Pro tips: When you’re in Tri-Valley, don’t miss the Black Falcon Museum in Danville. The Blackhawk first saw the light of day in 1988 as the Behring Auto Museum. In 1991, an extension added the art, science, culture and history building. Beautifully displayed vintage cars are just one floor of this extraordinary museum. Learn more about Tri-Valley on Visit Tri-Valley.
4. San Mateo County
Better known as Silicon Valley, this region was growing grapes and producing wine long before technology prevailed.
In San Carlos, a short walk from Caltrain station, the wineries have made a community known as Mid-Peninsula Wine Route. All vineyards are within walking distance.
The collection of handcrafted family cellars 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 charming wineries and made into small batches of delicacies.
Some wineries on the trail serve food. Restaurants and food trucks also occupy the area. It’s the perfect place to get an immersive taste of San Mateo County’s libations and meals.
Donato Enoteca in Redwood City is an Italian restaurant using local ingredients to prepare a traditional four star Italian. The seafood is exquisite here. The wine list includes local, Californian and Italian wines.
Farm House at Belmont is a neighborhood secret, showcasing locally made wines, produce, seafood and meat. It’s all homemade.
Residence Inn Redwood City / San Carlos is the place to stay when visiting this region of the California wine country. It is brand new, packed with all amenities, and designed with guest comfort and experience in mind. I want to live here.
Pro tip: Take a day trip to Half Moon Bay to eat seafood, stroll the docks, kayak in the harbor, and hike the paved coastal path. This fishing village provides fresh seafood daily to local and San Francisco restaurants.
I have highlighted four wine regions that are within a comfortable driving distance of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). All major airlines, car rental companies and shuttle services are available at SFO. The alternative airports are 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 won’t need a car in town. Driving is a challenge. Parking fees are astronomical – around $ 60 per day at hotels. Public transportation is efficient, frequent and economical. Look in a 1, 3 or 7 day visitor pass for unlimited rides at very low prices on trams, MUNIs and cable cars. If you want to take a day trip to the wine country, hire one for the day.
These four California wine regions are among the oldest in the state. Each has its own story and a different personality. Explore, get lost, find your way back. Follow your inner compass. When you need a suggestion, the recommendations I’ve made are places I’ve known. I lingered over the wine, celebrated the food, and hugged the pillows. This is my home ground.
For more libation inspiration, browse all of our wine country content here.