Northern California's grape-growing region is widely recognized as one of the premier places in the world for wine production. All the while, it has steadily become one of America's top honeymoon destinations thanks to its beautiful and unique landscape, diversity of activities offered, charming small towns, phenomenal dining choices, high-class wine making facilities and elite resorts and inns.
For grape, dining and outdoor enthusiasts, Northern California's wine region is a perfect place to spend your first days as newlyweds.
The Northern California wine region is situated a little more than an hour north of San Francisco in the counties of Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa, where ideal soil, topography and weather conditions make for excellent grape growing. While wine has been produced in the region since the 1800s, it has never been more popular or in demand as now. Today, there are more than 400 wineries across the region as compared to 1975 when there were only 25.
But don't let the numbers sway you. The region is as gorgeous as you have seen it on television or in magazines. Plus, the activities offered and selection of places to stay has never been better.
Meanwhile, the small towns that make up the region each have a distinctive flair and include quaint shops and boutiques featuring local artists and goods. Be sure to take a day or two to get lost in Calistoga, Healdsburg, Napa, St. Helena, Yountville, Sonoma or Kenwood.
It's hard to go wrong when picking a time to visit the region. You will likely find the most crowded time to be between May and September, particularly on weekends. The fall season is harvest time and is quite popular as tourists head to wineries to check out the wine making process. For couples seeking serenity and sparse crowds, the winter months of January and February are an ideal time to visit, especially with wildflowers coming into bloom across the region. The region has a Mediterranean climate as summers are typically dry and hot (with daytime highs in the 80s or 90s) and winters are cooler and wet with temperatures in the 40s and 50s.
To truly immerse yourself in all that is Northern California Wine Country, it will take you at least 7-10 days of exploration. And whether its wine tasting on your agenda, hot air ballooning, hiking, shopping or simply relaxing at a spa, Northern California Wine Country has everything you are looking for.
Hiking - Napa and Sonoma Counties offer more than just vineyards. Actually, they are both packed with wilderness as the unique topography gives way to foggy forests, petrified trees and crazy rock formations. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and Sugarloaf State Park are both great places for exploring the backwoods.
Biking - The biking options in wine country are plentiful and highly recommended. Check out Napa Valley Bike Tours for rental information and suggested routes. Whether you are a biking enthusiast or just a casual biker, there's an itinerary available for you. Blaze past vineyards on backcountry roads or take the main drag through some of the beautiful small towns of Sonoma and Napa Counties.
Hot Air Ballooning - After a few days of wine tasting, there's nothing finer than a tour of wine country by balloon. From lift off/landing to the views of the region (and even San Francisco on clear days) and the bird's eye view of the vineyards, a trip to wine country isn't complete without a hot air balloon tour.
Small Town Discoveries - Take a day to explore the attractive Napa Valley towns of Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. The relatively small size of these villages and proximity to each other make for a perfect day trip away from wine tasting. Each destination offers something a little bit different, but visitors can certainly still expect great dining, late night options, local shopping, and unique galleries.
Spas - Northern California wine country is widely recognized as a top destination for spa treatments with sophisticated gems like Solage Calistoga and the Spa at Silverado. Experience invigorating massages, mineral baths, mud baths and a vast array of beauty and body treatments in a tranquil, one-of-a-kind setting.
The Perfect Day in Wine Country - Start the day with a tour of wine country from above via hot air balloon — truly a memorable experience that will live with you forever. Napa Valley Balloons offers reasonable rates plus pre and post-flight meals, including a champagne breakfast.
Next, head to Schramsberg Winery outside of Calistoga, famous for its sparking wines, caves and majestic views. Around midday, refuel with a burger and shake at Taylor's Automatic Refresher just outside of St. Helena.
In the afternoon, visit beautiful Hall Vineyards high atop the hills in Rutherford for a private tour before dinner at The Rutherford Grill. If you are still up for a nightcap, head over to Pancha's in Yountville (6764 Washington St.), a favorite with locals and tourists alike.
Auberge du Soleil - This terraced resort is built into the hillside, blending in perfectly with the surrounding landscape. Mediterranean-inspired décor accent each of the 30 guest rooms and suites, while a spa, tennis court, outdoor pool, and sculpture garden offer every kind of luxury you deserve on your honeymoon.
Meadowood Napa Valley - Tucked away in charming St. Helena, Meadowood is a 250-acre country estate complete with a Michelin-starred restaurant, hiking trails, croquet fields, and private shingled-cottage guest rooms. Don’t miss the daily wine tasting in the lobby, featuring the best vintages from nearby wineries.
Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Napa Valley - The centerpiece of Las Alcobas is the historic Acacia House, a 1905 Georgian-style residence that was fully restored and transformed into a hotel/restaurant. Elsewhere on the three-acre property, which fronts the vines of neighboring Beringer Winery, are light and airy guest rooms, surrounding a pool, plus an event space and full-service spa, both set in refurbished barns. The greatest amenity, however, is the location, just a stone’s throw from the restaurants, tasting rooms, wineries, and shops of downtown St. Helena.
North Block Hotel - This boutique hotel has just 20 guest rooms, each situated around a central courtyard and featuring either a private patio or balcony. No matter the room, couples have the perfect vantage point from which to take in the rolling hills of Yountville and Napa Valley.
Calistoga Motor Lodge - For a totally unique set-up, book a stay at this new 50-room property, located at the northern end of the Silverado Trail. New York-based design firm AvroKO reimagined at 1940s motor lodge into a chic, minimalist dream. Rooms are clean-lined, with youthful, Insta-ready accents. Hang by the pool (complete with hammocks and analog games), take in views of the Mayacamas Mountains from your twin Adirondack chairs, or retreat to the colorful spa, modeled after a classic bathhouse, with seven treatment rooms, geothermal mineral water-fed pools, a fun “mix your own” mud bar, and relaxation garden.
The French Laundry - The O.G. of fine-dining in California wine country still remains one of the world’s most lauded restaurants. Helmed by Michelin-starred Chef Thomas Keller (plus a deep roster of talent in the kitchen), the French Laundry’s tasting menus—with classics like “oysters and pearls” served alongside daily-changing dishes—continue to surprise and delight. If you’re a foodie couple, it’s worth the splurge; if not, you can still visit the gardens across the street, where you might spot chefs picking produce for that night’s meal.
Gott's Roadside - When you’ve had your fill of Napa’s haute cuisine and are jonesing for a good old-fashioned hamburger, Gott is your go-to. The place gives off all the right unassuming vibes—picnic table seating, no-frills counter service—but there’s nothing low-key about the juicy burgers, fish tacos, and Three Twins ice cream milkshakes. There’s also a long list of beers on tap, and, of course, wines by the glass and half bottle.
The Restaurant at Meadowood - - Chef Christopher Kostow’s three Michelin-starred tasting menu finds perfect harmony with its elegant setting at the luxe Meadowood Napa Valley. There’s no set menu, so prepare for a culinary journey that changes with the seasons (and will cost you as much as $500, not including wine pairings). If you don’t want to commit to the whole shebang, you can still book a three-course bar menu for $125 per person or a $90 per person “fireside snack” at The Restaurant Bar.
The Charter Oak - - For a more casual dining experience from Chef Christopher Kostow, seek out his new restaurant in St. Helena. The cozy indoor/outdoor space pairs perfectly with family-style dishes, many of which are cooked directly on the hearth in the center of the dining room.
Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch - - A ranch, restaurant, and winery all rolled into one, the Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch is California wine country on steroids. Arrive late afternoon to sip pre-dinner cocktails in the live-music-fueled outdoor courtyard. For dinner, request one of the handsome brown-leather booths and take your pick among the meat-centric dishes (beef comes from the restaurant’s own herd of cattle).
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Oakland International Airport (OAK) are your best bets for getting to Sonoma or Napa Valley and both are about 60 minutes away. A car rental is essential for maximum wine country exploration. No worries, both airports feature an ample amount of rental agencies.