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San Fran to Napa/Sonoma

Fort Worth, Texas
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516 posts
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San Fran to Napa/Sonoma

I will be visiting San Fran the week of Aug 8th-12th. I have decided to rent a car and drive up Hwy 29 to Calistoga, then back down to Napa on the Silverado Trail to visit a few wineries and then to Sonoma and hang out around the square, shop, etc and be back in San Fran to go out that night.

I have never been to San Fran as well as Napa/Sonoma. I am not a big wine drinker, but I would say that I drink more rieslings and zins more than anything. Does anyone have any suggestions as to what wineries to visit for a first time? Also, about how long to spend at each winery? Maybe a suggestion for an itinerary for the day?????

Napa, CA
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1. Re: San Fran to Napa/Sonoma

aggie-

I'm sure you'll get someone here who will give you a laundry list of places to go and things to do. But is that the point?

Are you sure you want to do this? Part of the joy of the wine country is basking in the sunshine, taking a lazy sip of wine, and enjoying the breeze as it blows through the vines. What you've laid out has you sitting in a car for most of the day.

It will take you 2.0-2.5 hrs to drive from SF to Calistoga. It will then take another .75 hr to drive down to Silverado Trail from Calistoga to Napa, and another 20-30 min to go from Napa to Sonoma. Then another 1.5 hours from Sonoma back to SF. Add another hour (each way) if you leave SF between 7-9am, or head back between 4:30-7:00pm (commute traffic).

If you add all of that up, you spend 5.5-7.5+ hours driving-- and that doesn't allow any time for eating or visiting wineries!

Assuming you don't want to leave SF at 6:00 am (it's vacation, after all), let's take a look at how much time it will take you to get around if you left SF at 9:30 am:

Drive from SF to Calistoga, 9:30- 11:30. If you spend only an hour in Calistoga (for lunch, say), then stop at 2 wineries on the Silverado Trail, it will be 4:30 or 5:00 by the time you get back to Napa. Since most of the wineries close by 5:00, you won't have a chance to hit any of the Sonoma wineries, and Sonoma's shops on the square will be closed by the time you get there (the restaurants will be the only things open).

I would never send any of our guests on a trip this intense (unless your main goal is to drive, drive, drive--in which case, this is an excellent scenic road trip!). I just don't think you'll get much of a feel for the "real Napa" by zipping around so much.

Part of the magic of this place is the fact that locals enjoy relaxing and engaging in the gentle art of conversation.

I don't know what you like, and don't like, but I can tell you that the coolest thing about the wine country is its ability to just captivate people and allow them to slow down . . . and relax. It's why so many folks come here on vacation.

I hope this doesn't sound too presumptious. I'm really not trying to tell you what to do-- I just think that by rushing around, you're going to miss out on what makes Napa and Sonoma such an amazing place to visit.

Any chance you'd consider scaling back your itinerary to just one or two spots?

-Russ Herschelmann

Innkeeper

Napa Old World Inn

Fort Worth, Texas
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516 posts
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2. Re: San Fran to Napa/Sonoma

Hi Russ-

Yes, I would consider scaling back my itinerary. Originally I wanted to go to Carmel/Monterey but from what everyone has said about that, unless I want to spend a lot of time in a car, then it seemed like Napa/Sonoma was a better choice. I have no idea or does my friend coming with me as what to do and see. If you give me an itinerary for the day, getting the most out of my time then I will take it.

I don't want to spend so much time in the car. I love to hang out, check out scenery, taste wine and relax. Hopefully enjoy the nice weather as opposed to the fog in the city. We are open to leaving somewhat earlier from San Fran since we are on vacation and want to make the most of our time.

I hear the square in Sonoma is pretty neat to hang out, and possibly shop????? Honestly, I am not big into wines....I have drank the Beringer wines and Chateau St. Jean.....those are it.

HELP??????

Fort Worth, Texas
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516 posts
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3. Re: San Fran to Napa/Sonoma

Hi Russ-

Yes, I would consider scaling back my itinerary. Originally I wanted to go to Carmel/Monterey but from what everyone has said about that, unless I want to spend a lot of time in a car, then it seemed like Napa/Sonoma was a better choice. I have no idea or does my friend coming with me as what to do and see. If you give me an itinerary for the day, getting the most out of my time then I will take it.

I don't want to spend so much time in the car. I love to hang out, check out scenery, taste wine and relax. Hopefully enjoy the nice weather as opposed to the fog in the city. We are open to leaving somewhat earlier from San Fran since we are on vacation and want to make the most of our time.

I hear the square in Sonoma is pretty neat to hang out, and possibly shop????? Honestly, I am not big into wines....I have drank the Beringer wines and Chateau St. Jean.....those are it.

HELP??????

Las Vegas, Nevada
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4. Re: San Fran to Napa/Sonoma

In taking out-of-town friends and family through wine country for 25 years, this is a tried and tested way to see Napa Valley. This will work even if you are not big into wines.

Leave San Francisco early in the day and drive directly to Beringer winery in St. Helena (it is on highway 29 about 1 minute north of St Helena.) Stop there and take the tour. Beringer is the best tour that shows off the historical version of wine making. Then proceed north from Beringer to Sterling Winery which is about 10 minutes north of Beringer and a little south of Calistoga (skip Calistoga ��� not enough time). Sterling is located on the top of a mountain and accessible by Arial Tram. The wines are not very good but the tram is fun and the self-guided tour will allow you experience some terrific vista scenery. By this time you will be nearing the lunch hour.

After Sterling, go south on highway 29 (towards San Francisco -past BeringarBeringer) to the southern edge of St Helena. On the left side will be V. Sattui winery and deli. Stop there and taste their wines. Buy a bottle of something you like (ask them for a taste of Suzanne���s Vineyard���s zinfandel ��� excellent!). Go to their HUGE deli and buy some cheese, salami, bread or whatever and then go sit in the grass or at a picnic table and enjoy an outdoor lunch.

Following lunch, proceed south on highway 29. Stop at any winery that strikes your fancy but especially Grgich winery where the wines are excellent and you should sample a few there. Eventually you will come to Mondavi. Stop there and take the tour. They give you the best tour of modern winemaking and the most education on grapes. By the way, if you get to Napa early enough, stop at Mondavi on the way up ��� it is a good tour to take early as opposed to leaving it to the end.

Finally, make you way south on 29 until the turn off for Sonoma. Go to the square in downtown Sonoma and walk the shops. The return to San Francisco.

This will give you a very very full day and you���ll get to see most of what you want except for the Silverado Trail. Given the time constraint, I���d say skip the Trail in favor of this other itinerary.

Good luck!

Boston, MA
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5. Re: San Fran to Napa/Sonoma

Ravenswood Winery is a small winery in a gorgeous hillside setting. It's known for it's zinfandels and it's laid back attitude and I really had an amazing experience with it's tour guides.

I also recommend seeing Copia (the american center for wine & the arts) www.copia.org. They have an enormous variety of foods, tasting, tours, etc. Great for the first timer to the area.

If you want some more ideas for an itinerary you could pick up a winery pass like the new explorer card (www.explorerpass.com) might be easier and cheaper for you considering you're not familiar with the area.

Milwaukee
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for Milwaukee
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6. Re: San Fran to Napa/Sonoma

Aggie,

There are so many wineries and almost all I have visited are fun, so it's hard to go wrong. I do have a few sugestions and in my opinion you could make a wonderful day of it.

A potential first stop is Sterling Winery, south of Clistoga. There is a gondola that takes you to the top of a hillside for a self guided tour (just takes a few minutes) and a beautiful setting for tasting wines. You mentioned that you are not a big wine drinker. One of the plusses of Napa is to try wines you haven't tried before. All the wineries have bowls or jars you can dump your taste if you don't like it. It's not a big deal. I have not found people to be judgemental or pretentious.

Another nice stop for a free tasting and great picnic lunch is V. Sattui winery. I might suggeest that you consider dinner on the square in Napa, sorry I don't have a restaurant recommendation, then drive back to SF after dinner.

That is a long day with lots of driving, but also lots of time to stop and enjoy yourself.

There is guidebook called Access that I think has great listings of wineries, restaurants, etc and good maps. You should be ble to find it at Barnes & Noble or your local book store.

Fort Worth, Texas
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7. Re: San Fran to Napa/Sonoma

Thanks for all the great suggestions. Several of you have given me different things to think about......do I need reservations at these wineries or do they talk walk-ins? Also, are most tours like every 15-30 mins, etc? I had heard the traffic wasn't as bad during the morning rush hour going North as oppose to South, how early do you all think we should leave San Fran to get the most out of our day? What time do most wineries open?

Milwaukee
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8. Re: San Fran to Napa/Sonoma

Some of the small and very exclusive wineries reuire reservations, but ther are so many that are open to walk ins that unless you are picky about wines you don;t need to go to the ones that require reservations. Most open around 11:00.

If you leave SF around 9:00, you will be fine. I don't think you would want to leave much later than that with all you want to accomplish. You can taste and walk around on your own. I don't know how many actual tours you need to do. I guess that is a matter of personal preference. We usually end up in the tasting rooms and seldom do the tours. Some wineries offer free tastings and some charge $ 5.00 or more. You can always share a tasting, just pay for one. It is perfectly acceptable.