California wine country vacations let you fully experience the fabulous sights, sounds, smells and flavors of winemaking. This bounty for the senses is the perfect recipe for getting away from it all.
See also: Wine taste like a pro.
1: Healdsburg to Forestville (Russian River Valley)
A drive through the rolling hills of Sonoma County's Russian River Valley is a must during any California wine country vacation. From Healdsburg, head south on Westside Road to Forestville, have lunch — the casual, creative Aioli Delicatessen is a good choice — then return to Healdsburg on Eastside Road on the other side of the Russian River. On the way south, stop at Arista Winery. On the way back, don't miss J Vineyards. (Unless otherwise noted, wineries on this and other drives are generally open daily from 10 or 11 until 5 or 6, but check to be certain.)
2: Los Olivos to Jalama Beach (Santa Barbara area)
Saarloos & Sons, a tasting room in Los Olivos, is a great start to this wine country drive. Afterward, head west on Highway 246 toward quaint Solvang and enjoy a sandwich lunch at the Succulent Café. Continue west on 246, perhaps stopping to feed the ostriches at Ostrichland before tastings at Cold Heaven Cellars, Pali Wine Co. and Brewer-Clifton. Then pick up Highway 1 south to Jalama Beach for an oceanfront sunset and a burger at the BYOB Jalama Beach Cafe. Also note that all the wineries on this drive open at 11; some close at 4 or 4:30.
3: Paso Robles
From Paso Robles, take Highway 46 west to the Hope Family Wines Cellar, with its stylish tasting room in the renowned Templeton Gap area. Travel farther west to Farmstand 46 for lunch before continuing west to Vineyard Drive. Turn right (north) and visit some boutique wineries specializing in French varietals — Jada is a standout — and olive-oil producer Pasolivo. If you want to visit Hope Family, head out on a Friday or Saturday.
4: Silverado Trail (Napa Valley)
From the city of Napa, head north on the Silverado Trail, which parallels Highway 29. There are numerous wineries on this road, including Robert Sinskey, Darioush and Miner Family. After lunch at Auberge du Soleil, continue north on the Silverado Trail to Larkmead Lane (left) and visit Frank Family Vineyards, dating from the 1800s. End your day in Saint Helena with dinner at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, one of the valley's most renowned eateries.
5: Boonville to Mendocino (Anderson Valley)
From funky Boonville, head west on Highway 128 to sparkling winemaker Scharffenberger in Philo, then hit a tasting room on the stretch between Philo and Navarro: Handley and Roederer are standouts. From here, you'll drive through a redwood forest, then along the Pacific Ocean on Highway 1 to Mendocino, a gem of a town that's a magnet for hippies and romantics alike.
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