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Aug 2, 2014 05:01 PM

NAPA/SONOMA :: 1 Day Trip

Hi all,
I'm going to San Francisco in september, and planning a 1 day trip to Napa and Sonoma.
At first, I was going to book a tour but finally decided to rent a car to be able to have a personalized day.
I don't know the distances and the locations of the wineries, and would like to have your input in order to better plan this day trip.

We will start the day with a visit to Domaine Chandon and start the day with bubbles (they have a 18 people max tour and tasting that starts at 10:30 and ends at noon - I read very good reviews)
Since we won't have a real breakfast, we would probably have lunch right after (any recommendations ?)
Then, we would like to do the Robert Mondavi tour (also read very good reviews).
Is there something else that you recommend visiting or seeing in Napa (even if it's not a winery). I heard about the mud baths but don't think we have time for this.
I also heard there is a outlet mall in Napa.. Is it worth visiting ? Or do you suggest going to one of the other outlet malls (Gilroy, Westfield, etc) on the way back to San Francisco ? If so, which one ?

Since we will already have 2 tours in Napa, I think it's best to just enjoy nice places and tastings in Sonoma.
What do you recommend ?
I really have no idea what to visit in Sonoma... read lots of reviews on websites and heard about Arrowwood, Benziger, Smith Madrone, Chateau Saint Jean, Saint Francis. I wouldn't pick more then 2 wineries.
Is there something else you recommend visiting in Sonoma ? Cheese making ?

I really don't know the distances so your help is crucial !

Thanks in advance for your replies (that I cannot wait to receive) !


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  1. Some thoughts.

    Napa and Sonoma is really too far apart to do both, traffic is pretty intense and you'll spend too much time in the car.

    I'm not sure where you are getting your reviews from, but both Mondavi and Chandon are huge and very touristy.

    I would recommend picking either Napa or Sonoma. I'd recommend Napa since you seem very interested in tours.

    If you pick Napa:
    Only book two tours and then pick random places to visit along the Silverado Trail. I'd recommend replacing Domaine Chandon w/ Schramsberg if you can get in. If not, then replace the Mondavi tour w/ Frog's Leap.

    2 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      I love the tours at Domaine Chandon and Mondavi. In the industry here in Napa Valley, those two tours are known to be excellent, especially if you'd like to learn how wine is made. Starting the day off with bubbles sounds like fun, and those two wineries are close together. Chandon is right in Yountville, full of lunch options. Be sure to eat a hearty breakfast, and plan a picnic or solid reservation for lunch.

      1. re: maria lorraine

        More thoughts on focusing on Yountville and just north to Oakville, where Mondavi is.

        Oakville: Were it me, and I wanted to learn about wine, I would take the Mondavi tour to start the day, but I'd probably pay extra for the Reserve tasting. Staying in Oakville, I'd head over to Saddleback Cellars, on Money Road off Oakville Crossroad (wonderful wine by Nils Venge) and pick up provisions (maybe beforehand) for lunch at Oakville Grocery (iconic Coca-Cola sign). If I really wanted to see one of the most beautiful wineries in America and to taste world-class wine, I'd visit Far Niente. If not Far Niente, then their pretty sister winery, Nickel & Nickel, which features a bevy of single-vineyard Chardonnays and Cabernets. Cardinale is another good option in that neck of the woods. All located within 1-2 miles of each other in Oakville.

        Yountville: Even if you did the tour at Mondavi in Oakville first, right after you could drive the short 3-mile hop south on Highway 29 to Yountville, and focus the rest of your visit there. You could visit Dominus Winery, which makes Euro-style swill, and has one of the most amazing buildings in the entire Napa Valley. Or, Cliff Lede on Yountville Cross Road (amazing building with good art and wine). Or, Goosecross Cellars on State Lane, just off Yountville Cross Road, for legendary Chardonnay. If you decided to eat in Yountville, the lunch and dinner options are plentiful, and all covered on the SF board. For delicious and higher-priced wines, I'd visit Gemstone, Kapscandy and Keever. The Ma(i)sonry on Washington Street has an arty-elegant tasting room that features a lot of prized boutique wines (I love the ones by Aaron Pott), and is open later than most tasting rooms. It's a wonderful setting. I'd probably do Domaine Chandon at the end of the day, right there in Yountville, since it's also open later than most wineries, unless you had your heart set on having bubbles to start the day, in which case I'd do that. Since Domaine Chandon is next door to the Napa Valley Museum, which right now has a great Wayne Thiebaud show through September 14th, I might stroll through the secret gate that connects the two properties and do that too. Everything listed here is within 3 miles of one another.

        Finally, I'd have dinner in Yountville (Redd, Redd Wood, Ciccio for the cacio de pepe pasta, Bistro Jeanty, Ad Hoc, etc.), or wherever you are, to sober up and avoid the rush-hour traffic before heading back into SF.

    2. You'd better go on Google Maps and plot your itinerary. I second the recommendation to pick Napa or Sonoma. To me Napa Valley is way over-touristy / gentrified.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        We just spent a week plus in Sonoma and met some friends for lunch in St. Helena. It was like another planet. The traffic, the people. I SO prefer Sonoma. And agree with you both that doing both in one day seems awful. And hopefully OP can go on a weekday.

      2. I don't think Domaine Carneros is a bad place to start a day in Sonoma. Take 101, it's much prettier. You could have breakfast or lunch at Fremont diner before or after.

        For a tour, I suggest Benziger. I'm not a huge fan of their wines but the place is beautiful.

        After Benziger you could add stops at any of the wineries from Glen Ellen past Kenwood.

        There's a huge outlet mall in Petaluma. Westfield is an upscale mall in SF. Gilroy is over 100 miles from the wine country.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Had breakfast a FD last week. Brisket hash, eggs and grits. As good as ever.

        2. I'd second Sonoma with a couple of caveats: Sonoma is really big, MUCH bigger than Napa. Sonoma needs to be divided into sections to be easily drivable without going nuts. There is more commuter traffic in/out of SF through Sonoma's Hwy 101 route. Plus, CalTRANS is working on Hwy 101 around Petaluma and sometimes the lanes are restricted, making a traffic mess when it happens (511 can be your best friend). There's also a project going on at Hwy 12, I believe. 12 is a 2-lane road so it's backed up at times, being a major East/West artery.

          Where are you starting from in SF? If you're in Fisherman's Wharf or the Marina, it's a breeze to go over the GG Bridge/Sonoma Cty. Conversely if you're starting from downtown it's easier to go over the Bay Bridge to Napa. Don't underestimate traffic in SF; it's a difficult city to drive in at the best of times and for someone who's unfamiliar with the city, can be harrowing/frustrating. It can sometimes take 1/2 hr or more to get across town, and when you've been driving/drinking all day, that's an important consideration. We want you to be able to come back someday!

          Robert L. recommended Domaine Carneros which is on Hwy 12, halfway between Napa and the City of Sonoma/Sonoma Square. I would say if you go to D.Carneros, Sonoma Square (actually, its true name is Sonoma Plaza but most refer to it as the Square) is within 20 mins and one of the most charming places in the entire county to eat, drink, and shop. There are 14 wine-tasting rooms along the Square just by itself, as well as excellent places to eat like Cafe La Haye, Girl & Fig, La Salette.

          A lot of people recommend Fremont Diner, but you should note they like it for breakfast. We tried it for lunch and thought it was awful: big portions of overly greasy food. On the weekdays (at least when we went in May 2014) they stop serving breakfast at 11:30a. If you are eating lunch, there are much better places to choose.

          If you are going to the Napa side, a stop by Oxbow Market with its many food vendors is one of the less pricey meals, but they are crowded at peak hours. Try to narrow down what you want to do, because it's impossible to do Napa and Sonoma AND a couple of wine tours AND a bunch of tastings AND some food AND….well, you get the idea. Distances and traffic are major obstacles in CA; it's better to pick just 2-3 things for a day, and make those the most enjoyable choices for everyone.

          4 Replies
          1. re: jaiko

            Good info. We take 101 to 37 and then left on Lakeville Road to 116 into Sonoma. (I hope I didn't miss anything there.) That cuts out a lot of traffic and 116 is a pretty drive. We also love the "square."

            1. re: jaiko

              I've never had breakfast at Fremont Diner. I strongly recommend it for lunch:


              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                And we've only had breakfast (at least six times) and love it. And it's so not touristy feeling. I'm sure plenty of the guests are but sitting at a picnic table just feels homey.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  We'd do Hole In The Wall/Sebastopol before ever going back to Fremont Diner. We just didn't enjoy it. I grew up on diners and love 'em, but the chicken at FD was simply awful, good chicken drowned in a sea of orange oil (Backyard/Forestville does a much better job with fried chicken from Green Star Farms in Sebastopol; smaller but a much richer taste than the Mary's brand that wowed our group of 4).

                  Did like the Czech sausage at Fremont but the frisee salad was mediocre and the chili was worse than Hormel's canned. Cornbread so-so, mac'n'cheese tasty but gluey instead of creamy. The Czech sausage from FD with some fried eggs would be a great breakfast, though! And the service at FD is good but again, at HinW it's also very good. Neither place takes reservations and peak times mean a wait.

              2. Oh my! There's no way to do both Napa and Sonoma in one day. there's no way to do Sonoma in one day. Take a look at a map of the county. It is HUGE, and everything is very spread out.

                If you are planning to go on a weekend day, I suggest you forget Napa and just go to Sonoma. There are only two roads through Napa, and on the weekends they get VERY congested. It can take an hour just to go a couple of miles.

                If you want a great sparkling experience, I recommend visiting Iron Horse in Sebastopol. Make an appointment. Just up the road from them is Redwood Hill Farms that makes delicious goat cheese. You can visit them as well. Then you're not too far from Healdsburg to check out any one of a number of great places, either at the winery or tasting rooms in town. There are a lot of detailed maps on line so you can see what is where.

                For a one-day visit, I recommend two tutored tastings (with appointments) and a nice lunch somewhere, where you can taste additional wines with your meal. and if you have time at the end of the day, perhaps a "drop in" tasting on your way back to SF. In the matter of winery visits, more is not usually better.

                6 Replies
                1. re: ChefJune

                  I have to disagree about the traffic in Napa v. Sonoma generically.

                  If you go to the lowest region of Sonoma (say Carneros, Sonoma the town), then yes it's about the same.

                  But heading out Sebastapol or say up to Healdsburg from SF has been a disaster lately between various events, roadwork on the 101. Even with Waze trying to get us around, last month it took us 40 minutes to get from Santa Rosa to Healdsburg at 11 am on Sat.

                  That was granted an absurdly horrible time. But it's been pretty bad, and if you're not familiar with the area unlike in Napa, you can't just get off an exit and easily find wineries the way you can off the Silverado trail or Hwy 29.

                  1. re: goldangl95

                    Past Glen Ellen, Hwy 12 is one winery after another.

                    Traffic on 101 around Santa Rosa is often bad, but for a one-day trip, it doesn't make much sense to go that far north.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Sure, but I was addressing the Iron Horse rec which is going to take you straight into that traffic that starts around Rohnert Park and gets worse getting through Santa Rosa until you get to Healdsburg. Plus getting back from Iron Horse across the Golden Gate Bridge in the late afternoon is pretty awful as well.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I can think of only a few wineries on Highway 12 north of Glen Ellen, going all the way into Santa Rosa, and I don't consider it a goldmine for quality wineries. Just a couple that I can recommend, and I think another area would be a better choice for exploration.

                        Glen Ellen does offer several good options for wineries and tasting rooms.

                      2. re: goldangl95

                        37 is no walk in the park. Two weeks ago they had three days of racing (FR-SU) at Sears Point. We did a work around which involved turning onto Lakeville Road and then onto 116 and so on and so on.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          True, it's all really bad these days. But if it gets really bad and you are heading to Napa 1) there's at least 3 different main routes to get there plus numerous side routes. 2) if it gets really bad you can do Ram's Gate and Carneros and skip heading into Napa Valley proper.

                          Plus once you are in Carneros there are signs for wineries everywhere.

                          I guess in the end what I'd say is. If you are just going to be wandering around, and you only have a day your best bet would either be to go to Sonoma the town and then check out wineries in the area either in Carneros or heading up through Hwy 12 as Robert suggested.

                          Or go to Napa.

                          But I wouldn't send someone wandering around the Russian River Valley/Sebastapol or Healdsburg/Dry Creek right now who is just a casual wine drinker. It's not worth navigating unless say you really like Pinot or really like Zinfandel.