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Escape Napa Valley and Sonoma


Written by:

Joe Becerra

Last updated:

No doubt that the Napa Valley and Sonoma County are numbers one and two in wine country tourism. It’s surprising how many from out of state think this is where all California wine is produced, but there are many other terrific wine regions to visit in California. These regions are less touristy and perhaps, more importantly, less expensive. Here are three regions that will take you to wonderful wine country. Think different and escape Napa Valley and Sonoma.

Mendocino’s Anderson Valley
This wine region is about a two-hour drive from San Francisco, heading north on Highway 101 and taking Highway 128 West to Boonville. In this excursion you will be able to experience two wine AVA’s (appellations), the Yorkville Highlands, and the Anderson Valley. In Yorkville we recommend Meyer Family Cellars and Yorkville Cellars. Meyer has a Bocce Court and Yorkville produces some very fun and offbeat wines. In the Anderson Valley you will find tasting rooms and wineries galore. This is the land of Pinot Noir and Alsatian-style wine. A couple of our favorite wineries are Navarro Vineyards and Handley, but there are many other excellent wineries along Highway 128 from Boonville to the town of Navarro. Anderson Valley Wine Trail

image of Breggo in the Anderson Valley
Breggo in the Anderson Valley

There are restaurants and lodging in the Anderson Valley, but they are somewhat limited. We recommend the Boonville Hotel or The Madrones. Many travelers like to explore the wineries in the Anderson Valley and then continue on another hour to Highway 1 and the quaint and romantic town of Mendocino. Whatever you decide, your experience in this Mendocino County wine region will be tranquil and relaxing. Lodging in Anderson Valley. Restaurants in Anderson Valley.

Sutter Creek and the Shenandoah Valley
This region is about a two-and-a-half hour ride from San Francisco. In our opinion, Sutter Creek is the very best little town in gold country. It’s a charming town and the gateway to the wonderful wineries 15 minutes away in the spectacular Shenandoah Valley. We like several wineries in the area, and we have divided the wineries into two distinct wine trails: The Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail and the Shenandoah School Road Wine Trail. We like the Hanford House Inn for lodging, but there also several other good places to lodge in Sutter Creek. The best restaurant in the area is Taste Restaurant in Plymouth, and there are several restaurants in Sutter Creek where you can find decent dining.

image of Shenandoah Valley
Shenandoah Valley

Santa Cruz Mountains
The Santa Cruz Mountains is a huge AVA stretching from Half Moon Bay in the north all the way to Watsonville in the South. It encompasses three counties: San Mateo, Santa Clara and Monterey. The Santa Cruz Mountain climate is ideal for growing the cool climate grapes, especially Pinot Noir. You can get a glimpse of this gigantic AVA with a visit to three very good wineries. Begin the trip at the Thomas Fogarty winery on Skyline Bvld (Highway 35) in Palo Alto. Thomas Fogarty wines are quite delicious and we love the Gerwurztraminer. The views are truly spectacular at Fogerty and on clear day you can see breathtaking views of the Bay Area.

image of View at Thomas Fogarty
View at Thomas Fogarty

Continue your journey on Highway 35 south about 20 miles and then a right turn onto Bear Creek Road. Among the beautiful Redwoods you will find the David Bruce Winery and Byington Winery. Byington is the ideal spot for a game of Bocce and a picnic lunch. At this juncture you have several options. You can head back the way you came or continue on Bear Creek Road past Highway 35 and it will eventually lead to Highway 17. Highway 17 will also take you to the city of Santa Cruz where you can explore more wineries and the Santa Cruz beach area.

Happy wine country travels!

Next article – Santa Barbara wine country here we come.

  • Joe Becerra

    Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.