Napa and Sonoma are the two most famous counties in what is referred to as California's Wine Country. These areas are located in a part of Northern California where throughout its history wine has played a prominent role.
European Missionaries who moved to the area in the 1700s to introduce Christianity to Native Americans planted the first vines for wine. These grape vines, or Mission vines as they were called, began the winemaking revolution in the area, and by the early 1900s, California was a prime wine producing area.
Then in 1920, the United States passed an amendment to the Constitution that made the manufacture of alcohol and its sale illegal. While some producers were able to get by growing grapes for juice, many vineyards suffered. By the 1930s when alcohol production was allowed again, only about 100 producers were left. It would take decades for the industry to recover. Some of the original wineries that made it through the Alcohol Prohibition Era are still open however. Buena Vista Winery, the oldest commercial winery in California, still operates on parts of its original grounds and produces more than 100,000 cases of wine per year.
Today, the wine industry is important to the economy and social life of this area of California. There are over 400 wineries in the Napa and Sonoma area. They grow several varieties of wine grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. Most new visitors will find themselves a good map and set about exploring.
Getting to the city
The Sacramento International Airport is located roughly 60 miles east of the valley.
San Francisco International airport is 55 miles to the south and the busiest airport in the region. Oakland Airport is the closest however, at 50 miles to the south.
Renting a car is easy from the airport and is the most recommended as public transportation is not very extensive.
Most visitors to the region come for wine tours, but there are many other things to do besides visiting the wineries. When you are taking a break from wine, other notable destinations include the following:
Arts and Culture
- di Rosa - An Art Gallery and museum with what is considered one of the most significant holding of Bay Area art in the world. They have over 2,000 works of art from over 800 artists.
- Uptown Theatre - A performance venue also in downtown Napa. They have a live music theater and frequently host popular acts such as Chris Isaak, Kenny Loggins, and the comedian Wanda Sykes.
- Napa Valley Opera House – An historic performing arts center in downtown Napa. The Opera House is operated by a non-profit organization and showcases films, concerts, comedy, and dance performers.
- Silo's Wine Bar and Jazz Club says they pair great wine with great jazz, which is a combination that is hard to beat. The location is wonderful as well as Silo's is located right on the Napa Waterfront. Some nights you may also be treated to Blues, Rock, or Reggae acts.
- The Hess Collection is a winery and art gallery exhibiting thought-provoking modern art. It was founded in 1978 by a Swiss entrepreneur named Donald Hess and specializes in sustainably produced wines.
- A great way to experience the area is via a bike tour. You can book one by visiting Napa Valley Bike Tours. They have been in business since 1987 and also offer guided tours.
- Westwood Hills Park is a popular hiking destination. It is a gentle hike, but you will get some amazing views of the surrounding valleys.
- The nearby Skyline Wilderness Park is an 850-acre wilderness park in Southeast Napa. There are over 25 miles of trails for biking or hiking. There are areas for picnicking and camping as well.
- The Calistoga Speedway hosts sprint car motor racing and special events. The tracks and cars are smaller than with traditional motor racing, but races are exciting with speeds reaching up to 140 miles per hour.
- Learn to ride and see horse shows at Napa Valley Equestrian Center. The location is beautiful, as it is nestled between the vineyards of Napa Valley. If you are interested in a riding lesson, individual and group lessons are available.
- Napa Valley Adventure Tours offers hiking and kayak tours. They also partner with hotels and inns in the area to sell 6-7 day vineyard tour packages.
Food and Drink
- The Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa is one of the best places to sit and take a break and enjoy locally sourced food. It is a popular place to grab a relaxing breakfast or lunch before going about your day.
- Mary's Pizza Shack has two locations in the Sonoma area. They offer good pizza in a laid back atmosphere, and a full bar.
- The Girl and the Fig is a popular French restaurant in the city of Sonoma. The cheese and wine list are well renowned in Sonoma, as is the dessert menu.
- For Irish Food and Drink in wine country, you can visit Murphy's Irish Pub in Sonoma. The prices are reasonable and there is a full events calendar on their website. Murphy's features trivia nights, music, and game nights.
- For a more casual bar in Sonoma, Steiners Tavern is the place to go. It is a sports bar in the truest sense, with draft beers, darts, sports on the TV screens, and loyal local patrons. There is live music from time to time but customers visit Steiners for its true sports bar vibe.
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Image: "Napa Valley" by Brocken Inaglory - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Napa_Valley.jpg#/media/File:Napa_Valley.jpg
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.