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Jun 24, 2013 07:04 AM

Help on the best drive (scenic) from Sanfran to Napa?

On this drive what are the best places to stop for wine, food, etc. Don't mind driving most the day this maybe only visit to Sonoma during our trip.

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  1. So the fastest drive to Napa is not scenic and unless you get very convoluted - I can't imagine making it scenic.

    The drive to Sonoma can be. What I often do with visitors is take them over the Golden Gate bridge and stop at Tomales Bay (oysters) or Pt Reyes Station (some cute food places, cow girl creamery etc.) - sometimes there is a farmer's market going on. Pick up picnic supplies.

    From there, depending how early you started out you can picnic in Pt Reyes or head straight to the Russian River/Sebastapol (Sonoma County) wineries.

    1. Can't comment on the stops, but the most scenic, if arduous, route is to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on Hwy 101, through Sonoma via Hwys 37-121-12) to Trinity Road, across Trinity Road/Oakville Grade then south on Highway 29 through Yoiuntville to Napa. The visual highlight is when you reach to top of the Oakville Grade via the very windy Trinity Rd. (not recommended for the carsick-prone) and see the Napa Valley spread out before you.

      10 Replies
      1. re: soupçon

        Trinity Rd is the Rd I would like to take but it is hard to find on any maps online. My parents took this drive several yrs ago. I would love to go to a winery in the area before leaving Sonoma and maybe in the Healdsburg area how far in Healdsburg from the Trinity Rd turn?

        1. re: missy1974

          Healdsburg is about 45 minutes north of the start of the Oakville Grade route between Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley.

          1. re: missy1974

            Google finds Trinity quite well. Kenwood winery is 5 miles north of it in Sonoma and Far Niente is close to the Napa Oaklville Grade.
            Recent visitor to FN.
            "The day started perfectly with FAR NIENTE. What a gorgeous winery! The tour was informative and the wines were sublime, as usual. I was in heaven. We enjoyed it so much we asked them to make reservations for us at their sister winery, Nickel & Nickel."

            1. re: missy1974

              Healdsburg would be an epic detour on an already epic detour day.

              You have two options you can do the more oceanside route or focus on the Oakville grade.

              I would recommend just setting your sights on Oakville grade unless you want a really tiring route. Take 101 - 37- 121. You still get the Golden Gate Bridge.

              Stop in the city of Sonoma for lunch. Lots of good recs on this board including super casual like El Molino Central to more formal such as El Dorado Kitchen or The Girl and the Fig. Sojourn (appt only) is a good tasting room in Sonoma itself if you like full bodied reds.

              From there, take the 12 up to Trinity Rd. Wineries worth stopping at that are somewhat on the way are Hanzell (apt only), Mayo Family, Audelssa (just a tasting room).

              You could also hit wineries once you are on the Napa side of the Oakville grade. Far Niente (appt only) and Paradigm (appt only) are options right off the Oakville Grade.

              If it's still light out, I'd take the Silverado Trail down to Napa (the city) not Hwy 29. This is admittedly a litlle nonsensical but the Silverado Trail is scenic. If you woke up at the crack of dawn, there may be wineries still open on Silverado Trail when you get over there. There's tons of posts about wineries on the Silverado Trail.


              The other way is the ocean way.

              e.g. Golden Gate Bridge/Pt Reyes Station/Tomales Bay/Sebastapol/Russian River Valley trip (as outlined by me above and Robert below). This leaves you about 40 minutes west of Trinity rd.

              There's tons of posts on this board about wineries in the Sebastapol/Russian river area.

              1. re: goldangl95

                Thanks I think we will focus on Oakville grade. I think I was trying to fit to many places in one day. I would like to go to Far Niente is it better to do it on way in (how would I know what time to make appt.) or make appt for another day while we are in Napa. We are in Napa for 4 days.

                1. re: missy1974

                  It's easy to know what time to make an appt if:

                  1. If it's a weekend, and you leave by 10 am
                  2. If it's a weekday and you leave at 7 am or before OR after 10 am.

                  Otherwise expect unpredictable traffic. Make the latest appointment you can and if you have extra time shop in Sonoma the town, or stop at another winery on the 12.

                  It's not like the trinity rd/oakville grade is that long. Even if you are very slow it won't take more than an hour - and getting to Sonoma the town takes about an hour at non-trafficky times.

                  If you end up leaving super early, Ram's gate winery opens pretty early and is on the way to Sonoma.

                  1. re: goldangl95

                    We will be leaving from Mill Valley my husband and I are going to hike muir wood the day we fly in. We will be driving into Napa on a Tues. Thanks I will make the last appt of the day. Thanks again as you can tell 1st Napa trip.

                2. re: goldangl95

                  The Sonoma end of the Oakville Grade can be found on maps by looking just north of Glen Ellen.

                  The most epic way from SF to Sonoma through Healdsberge is the road from Rte 1 - Stewart's Point. The sonoma coast north of Guernville is gorgeous, as is the 20 miles between 1 and Healdsberg. This is a known epic motorcycling road.

                  Regrettably, there are no eats of note north of Pt Reyes Station and Marshall (until you get a lot further north), but a few hours without food will help you in the coming days in Napa. There's historically not much cell coverage up there either, so make sure your maps are pre-loaded --- or you'll be making friends and asking directions a lot, which isn't a bad thing.

              2. re: soupçon

                Aside from Trinity Road and Oakville Grade, this is an easy drive rather than an arduous one. I always enjoy 101 to 37 to 121 to 12, with stops at DiRosa preserve for art and Domaine Chandon and Cline.

              3. Is your final destination the city of Napa or somewhere in Napa Valley?

                4 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  We will be staying in the city of Napa.

                  1. re: missy1974

                    If you want to drive all day, Highway 1 up the coast, potential stops in Point Reyes Station for picnic supplies, Marshall Store for oysters, Terrapin Creek in Bodega Bay for lunch, wine tasting around Sebastopol / Graton / Forestville, stop by Bud's Custom Meats in Penngrove, more wine tasting around Kenwood / Glen Ellen, lots of places to eat and shop in Sonoma proper, Fremont Diner on the way to Napa. That's about five hours total driving.

                    Or after Kenwood / Glen Ellen take the Oakville Grade to Yountville.

                    Personally I'd stay around Sonoma, the city of Napa would be kind of a letdown after most of that trip.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Yes, unless you have a required destination in Napa, Sonoma is prettier and closer to where you'll be. The Carneros district of Napa is very close to Sonoma though.

                      Note that Napa and Sonoma are the names of both the large counties and the cities that make up the county seat. The cities (towns, really) are quite close to each other.

                      1. re: Windy

                        The border between Sonoma and Napa counties runs down the middle of the Carneros district. Without traffic, the cities are about half an hour's drive from each other.

                        Sonoma was always a charming town with historic wineries. Napa was a working-class county seat best known for its large state mental hospital until the city and developers spent millions trying to build things to attract the tourists who were driving past on their way to the wine country.

                2. Flying into San Fran and driving to Napa on a Thursday. Thought we would do Wine tours on Friday and Saturday and travel Sunday to San Francisco hoping to stop along the way and see some sights. What do you suggest? I would like to get Muir Woods in there. Will have 2 full days in SF also...any suggestions?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: neecee212

                    This is a food discussion site and general travel tips are off topic. Maybe you can refocus your question so it's more food-destination oriented?

                  2. >>We will be leaving from Mill Valley>>

                    I don't know if anyone else has experienced this, but we spent three days in Sonoma Cty in late March, driving from the EBay on our usual route: over the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, up 101 North to Santa Rosa. We left right after lunch, and exited the bridge about 2:30p, well before the evening commute traffic normally starts.

                    We hit HORRIFIC traffic because CalTrans had two of the three lanes closed from just outside San Rafael, all the way past Petaluma. Apparently, having finished the years-long project that widened 101 from Petaluma through Santa Rosa, they are now working on the southern end. All the signboards (both ways, north & south) indicate this is another major project - great when finished, but h**l until then.

                    It took us over an hour to crawl 15 miles. YMMV, so just FYI. Be sure to check regularly.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: jakkom

                      I don't think this is an ongoing problem. I commute from Novato to SF 5 days a week and haven't encountered closed lanes on 101 in either direction in quite some time. In fact there was almost no traffic on my way home today (kind of weird actually).

                      1. re: Civil Bear

                        CalTrans usually schedules work outside of commute hours. Here's a list of projects in that area:


                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Yeah, when closing lanes (such as for repaving) it is typically done during the night, and even then it would be done in phases one lane at a time.

                          1. re: Civil Bear

                            They have to close two lanes to paint HOV lanes, which is one of the projects going on in the area where jakkom encountered closed lanes.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              The continuity of the HOV (aka carpool) lanes in Marin County were completed years ago in conjunction with the added lanes. I don't see why they would have had to close two lanes in order to open them up.

                              There are at least 4 lanes open and no freeway construction going on until just north of Novato where Caltrans is widening the "the narrows" to and through Petaluma. Even with that construction going on there should be no lasting lane closures since the work is being done in phases - the new lanes are created while the original lanes remain open, then traffic is diverted to the new lanes while the original ones are redone.

                              It sounds like jakkom must have just hit an unlucky day when Caltrans was transitioning between phases or something.