Northern California Wine Country in Napa Valley and Sonoma County — a glorious drive an hour or so north of San Francisco — have long drawn honeymoon couples, gourmets, wine-lovers, and others with a taste for romance and the fruit of the vine.
There's so much to see and do in California Wine Country, and so many exquisite places to stay in this part of California, that you may initially feel overwhelmed by the surfeit of Wine Country choices. Don't let that deter you -- this is one destination northern California worth investigating -- and taking your time to do so.
Why Have a California Wine Country Honeymoon?
Imagine a sun-dappled day outdoors. The two of you are at a winery, overlooking acres of grapes bursting with flavor in the California warmth. You raise your sparkling glasses of wine, toasting your good fortune and your new love. It's the California Wine Country experience -- and it's a memory that lasts a lifetime.
According to Napa Valley Online, "The majority of small, family-owned wineries give tours only by appointment. These are the wineries that can be the most interesting, and that will give you a chance to actually talk with the winemaker herself (or himself).
"To visit these wineries, call in advance. While you may be able to set up an appointment the same day, or the next day if you're spending the night in the valley, you're better off phoning before you even come to the valley."
In addition to offering tours, tastings, and hosting special events, some large and small wineries make their premises available for outdoor garden weddings. Check with individual properties for availability and prices.
To help you get your bearings, have a look at this illustrated map of California Wine Country. One more thing before you hit the road: To raise your level of wine expertise and add to the enjoyment of your Wine Country trip,you could pick up a copy of California Wines for Dummies.
Birthplace of the California wine industry, 17-mile-long Sonoma Valley sits between two mountain ranges and is home to dozens of wineries where tastings and tours are held daily. Sonoma's town square is the Plaza, surrounded by historic adobe buildings, boutiques, and restaurants. Thanks to its hot springs, the area has drawn health-conscious visitors for more than a century. Today it includes several world-class resorts and spas.
Napa Valley, which consists of six towns (Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville, and the city of Napa), similarly boasts first-class wine producers, restaurants, resorts, spas, and Wine Country scenery.
Downtown Napa visitors walk from tasting room to tasting room without needing a car. It’s a grown-up version of a bar crawl with sophisticated flair. It's also a time saver if your romantic getaway to Napa Valley is limited by time. You might not get to stroll through the vineyards but you will get to swirl more wine in the glass.
Many of the 150 wineries in and around the Russian River Valley are small, family-run operations. Some have tasting rooms as chic as the bar in an elegant restaurant, while in others, visitors stand amidst barrels and stainless steel drums, sampling wines that have been poured by the winemaker himself.
The Russian River Valley is also known for its commitment to artisanal cheeses and locally grown produce, making the region appealing to both food and wine aficionados.
Other Wine Country Activities
Before you start thinking, not another winery!, arrange to spend time involved in one of California wine country activities likely to delight honeymoon couples:
- Hike along the ocean bluffs in Russian River and Napa Valley
- Go kayaking or canoeing
- Calistoga spas - where you can soak up to your necks in mineral-rich mud
- Hot-Air Ballooning - soar over the beautiful northern landscape
- Shopping - including wine, glasses, and accessories
- Check out the Microbreweries
- Treat yourselves to a romantic dinner
Tip for Tipplers
Unless you have a designated driver, avoid tasting wine and getting behind the wheel. Options include staying in Downtown Napa to enjoy tasting rooms there, hiring a limo, even visiting vineyards in a horse-drawn carriage. Wine tour shuttles are in abundance and you can choose conveyances that range from a private car service to a jovial party bus. If you have more time to spend, swish, and spit, consider booking passage on the Napa Valley Wine Train. A variety of romantic hotel and train packages are available.