It really is a hard choice as both Valleys are absolutely beautiful, esp. during the Fall! I think it may come down to a matter of style and ambiance as Napa is more sophisticated and Sonoma more casual, rural and oftentimes much less congested on the roads and the tasting rooms. I live in Sonoma Co., so must admit to a bit of a bias! In the Sonoma Valley, the Glen Ellen Inn (www.glenelleninn.com) would be a great place to stay as it's centrally located, very close to a number of excellent wineries and the pretty little village of Glen Ellen has great restaurants inc. the Fig Cafe and Wolf House Restaurant. Plus you're close to Jack London State Historical Park which offers beautiful views and scenery. If you choose to stay in the Napa Valley, I like the no. end at Calistoga as it's more peaceful than the town of Napa which is more action oriented. Calistoga also offers great restaurants, shops and galleries (and spa and mud baths too).
Napa - More expensive restaurants, larger and more crowded wineries; a bit of "snob" if you like that thing as every wine maker likes to say "I make my wine in NAPA not the less expensive Russian River area" (note: Pine Ridge Winery Quote July 10th, 2005; some nice boutique wineries (Supery, Pine Ridge, Del Dotto, Grgich). A couple of state parks...Safari West
Sonoma - Great if you like the outdoors - wonderful parks like Armstong Redwoods State Park, Sonoma Beaches, Russian River, Bodega Bay, Snoopy Museum, good restaurants, friendlier and smaller (but unique wineries).
So for scenery pick Sonoma area...for middle of the road places to stay Santa Rosa or Healdsburg is good. From Healdsburg can be in north end Napa Valley (which is most picturesque in an hour) and to the Healdsburg area in 5 minutes where there are great wineries. Easy access to Russian River area.
Napa State Parks
We also are travelling to wine country this fall with two other couples and are from Kansas City. I concur with the other postings. If you're looking for what people in KC think is the wine country experience, head to Napa. The wineries are better known and easier to find nationwide (on average). But if you go to Napa you MUST go mid-week to avoid the crowds.
Sonoma is more laid back, causal and less crowded. After a dozen trips we head most often to Sonoma. We especially like the nothern areas of the county around Healdsburg and the Russian River valley.
I think the thing to keep in mind is that Napa and Sonoma are pretty close to one another. If you'd like to stay in Sonoma because it has a certain atmosphere you can surely and easily visit wineries you like in Napa. The towns are only about 15 miles apart.
By staying in Sonoma as a base you will have easy access to the northern Sonoma Valley with many beautiful wineries like Benzinger, Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves, Kunde Estate, Chateau St Jean, Chateau Souverain etc.
You can also easily visit the fun Napa wineries like V Sattui, Berringer, Sterling, etc.
When we went there were 4 of us, I sent out a list of wineries and had each person select the wineries they wanted to visit. Naturally we visited the ones that most agreed on but we also visited others. We had a wonderful time. We stayed in Sonoma at the Lodge which is on the main street going into Sonoma. The lodge room was very nice as was room service. N ice comfy robes are included which we used in the evenings at the jacuzzi.
We prefer Sonoma to Napa. It is much more relaxed and friendly. In fact, we joined three wine clubs in Sonoma. Viansa's Tuscan Club is fantastic! --Parties up to three days and trips to Tuscany. The wines and foods are great! They even come to the Ohio/Michigan area on occasion. We also joined Ledson's club. Wines are great and the people we met are friendly. But our favorite is Gundlach Bundschu. The wines are a little less expensive, but very good. They also travel to Ohio. The parties of all three wineries are really fun--all different. But Gundlach Bundschu has the most fun parties! The people are the friendliest and the most accepting and inclusive. We are going back to their Harvest Weekend--two days of parties. The people we met there are drawing us back. We are going to spend some time in Napa this September. There is a great book--"The Winemaker's Dance" by Swinchatt and Howell (a couple of geologists) and a tour to some of the really small wineries exploring the terrior of Napa Valley--we plan to follow it. If you are into wine and geology, this is for you.
Hi - I am traveling to San Francisco next month and driving up to Sonoma. Could anyone suggest a winery for us to visit on the way. This is our first trip to wine country so we are open to any kind of experience. Thanks.
Between San Francisco and Sonoma there are a number of great wineries on Route 121, Arnold Drive. Roche is the southernmost one. Very small, very friendly, good wines. Practically next door is Viansa Winery and Italian Marketplace. Great wines! Great ambience! Great picnics! Great wine club! Great parties and trips! Great family! Across the street is Cline Cellars--they have some wines that are well rated. Next door is Gloria Ferrer, if you like champagne. Cline and Gloria Ferrer are available commercially. Roche and Viansa, you can only get there.