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A Beginner’s Guide to California Wine Country


Credit: Sonoma County Tourism

Credit: Sonoma County Tourism

Credit: Sonoma County Tourism

Visitors to San Francisco, have no shortage of things to see and do, whether’s it’s having lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf, taking a boat ride out to Alcatraz Island or seeing the Golden Gate Bridge.

But visitors who drive an hour or so northeast of the city also have a chance to see the picturesque rolling hills and valleys of Napa and Sonoma counties, the most famous wine producing regions in North America.

Must-See Sights and Attractions

Indeed, more than 500 wineries are located across Napa and Sonoma counties, a two-county region comprised of cities whose names are synonymous with wine.

We’re talking about places like Calistoga; Geyserville; Guerneville; Healdsburg; St. Helena; Windsor; Yountville; as well as the cities of Napa and Sonoma.

Napa and Sonoma also have scores of microbreweries, including Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma; Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa; Napa Smith Brewing Company and Downtown Joes Brewery & Restaurant, both in Napa.

Chris and Pauline Wood, who co-own the San Francisco North / Petaluma KOA campground in Petaluma, Calif. have so many visitors that use their park as a base camp for visiting local wineries and microbreweries that they have arranged for tour companies to pick up their guests for group tours as well as private tours so they can enjoy these venues without having to drive themselves from place to place.

Napa and Sonoma counties are also home to some of the finest restaurants in California as well as the West Coast branch of the Culinary Institute of America. Sonoma County is also gaining stature as a gourmet cheese production area with several locally produced artisan cheeses (www.cheesetrail.org).

Other wine country attractions include the Napa Valley Wine Train, which serves delicious lunches and dinners on a restored Pulman Dining Car that dates from 1915 to 1917 and a 1952 Vista Dome Car. Travelers can enjoy their meals as the train travels through Napa County’s scenic vineyards and wineries.

Other wine country attractions include hot air balloon rides, while those who enjoy scenic hikes can visit several local parks, including Robert Louis Stephenson State Park in Calistoga, where the author of Treasure Island and Kidnapped spent his honeymoon.

Both Napa and Sonoma counties also have music, art and film festivals as well as food and wine tasting events throughout the year, including:

Wine country visitors may also want to visit the scenic coastal town of Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed “The Birds” as well as the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which is located on a lonely, rocky ridge at Point Reyes National Seashore, which is considered to be the windiest spot on the Pacific coast and the second foggiest location in North America.

Wine Country Base Camps

Here’s a sampling of campgrounds that can serve as base camps for visiting Napa and Sonoma counties:

For a complete listing of Sonoma County events, visit the Sonoma County Events Calendar.

For a complete listing of Napa County events, visit the Napa County Events Calendar.

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