Which wine region to visit and why


Written by:

Joe Becerra

Last updated:

Should you go to Napa Valley or one of the smaller wine regions of California? We detail the pros and cons of each of these wine regions.

sobon estate winery
Beautiful Sobon Vineyards in Sierra Foothills

Which wine region to visit – The Good and the Bad

You need clarification on which wine region to visit in California. We can help you determine which wine region to see by reading the pluses and minuses of California’s most important wine regions. Yes, Napa Valley and Sonoma are excellent choices, but what about California’s other incredible wine regions? Take advantage of the different wine regions making fabulous wines. 

decide which wine region to visit
Navarro Vineyards in the Anderson Valley


  • Discover amazing Pinot Noir
  • Delicious Alsatian wines
  • Quiet tasting rooms
  • Beautiful scenery
  • Many small and family-owned wineries
  • Continue your stay and drive one hour to the romantic town of Mendocino on the coast. It is fantastic!


  • Mendocino can be foggy in the summer (but it’s still a great place)
  • In the Anderson Valley, there are few places to stay and dine.
  • Restaurants choices are few especially Monday to Wednesday

Explore the Anderson Valley wine country – Guide

Healdsburg in Sonoma County

Russian River Valley
View from the Westside of the Russian River Valley


  • Beautiful roads lined with vineyards
  • A variety of unique wineries from family-owned to large conglomerates
  • Great places to stay and eat
  • An easy drive from San Francisco
  • Several wine appellations to explore


  • Prices for lodging, dining, and restaurants has skyrocketed in recent years
  • Driving through Santa Rosa on 101 is thick with traffic congestion
  • Very crowded on weekends
  • Few wineries have walk-in tasting

Explore the Healdsburg/Sonoma wine country – Guide

Livermore Wine Country

Livermore Valley wine country
The Livermore Valley wine country


  • Home of first Chardonnay – Wente Clone
  • Loaded with California wine history – Wente and Concannon
  • Many Mom and Pop wineries
  • Rhone varieties on the rise


  • Can be very hot in the summer months
  • Not enough quaint lodging and restaurants
  • The city of Livermore is busy
  • Some smaller wineries have limited tasting room days
  • Always a worry about traffic conditions on Highway 580
  • Lacking beautiful scenery

Explore Livermore wine country – Guide

Lodi Wine Country

lodi wineries
Begin your visit to Lodi wineries at the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center


  • Much more than Zinfandel in Lodi
  • Unique wine varietals, especially Spanish grapes
  • Many small and family-owned wineries
  • Huge movement for sustainable and organic vineyards
  • Old downtown Lodi is quaint


  • Can be very hot in the summer months
  • It is pretty but no match for Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino
  • Not enough charming lodging and restaurants in the wine country
  • Not all wineries are open daily for visiting

Explore Lodi wine country – Guide

Napa Valley

wine country regions in california
Napa Valley – St. Helena AVA


  • One of the most famous wine regions in the world
  • Napa Valley has the most excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnays
  • Home to many award-winning restaurants
  • Many attractive Bed & Breakfast and lodging spots
  • Beautiful countryside
  • Wineries within a short driving distance from one another


  • Lodging, dining, and tasting fees are the most expensive of any wine region.
  • Most weekends bring big traffic jams
  • Many of Napa Valley’s wineries are corporate or massive family-owned companies
  • Wine snobbery is in the air
  • Buying wine is expensive

Explore the Napa Valley with our wine country guide

Paso Robles

where to go in wine country
One of many Paso Robles wine country backroads


  • Many new and exciting small wineries
  • On the way to San Simeon Castle
  • Climate and terrain vary giving winemakers versatility in varietals
  • There several beautiful backroads that lead to wineries
  • Downtown Paso Robles has great shopping, dining, and accommodations


  • Three hours drive from San Francisco, four hours from L.A.
  • Summers can be very hot
  • Once a sleepy wine country, Paso Robles is very popular and weekends draw big crowds
  • You will need reservations to taste at most wineries
  • Traveling costs are rising

Explore Paso Robles wine country – Guide

Santa Barbara

which wine region
Zaca Mesa Winery in Santa Barbara


  • Beautiful roads and countryside
  • Great Pinot Noir and Syrah wine
  • A mix of both small and large wineries
  • Not so many crowds on summer weekends
  • Santa Barbara featured in the cult wine movie, Sideways


  • Main wine trails are about an hour from the city of Santa Barbara
  • Wineries are spread out
  • Lodging and restaurants are not plentiful in the nearby towns

Explore Santa Barbara wine country – Guide

Santa Cruz Mountains

byington vineyards
Byington Vineyards – a hideaway among the Redwood Trees on Bear Creek Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains


  • Beautiful mountain roads and Redwood Trees
  • The tasting rooms are quaint
  • Great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
  • Unique, small, and exciting wineries
  • Quiet wine country


  • Wineries are spread out
  • Not all wineries are open for tasting during the week.
  • Mountain roads can be a challenge to some drivers, but the roads are good

Explore the Santa Cruz Mountains – Guide

Sierra Foothills


  • Beautiful country with historic gold mining towns
  • Loads of family-owned wineries, small
  • Old Vine Zinfandel and other interesting varieties of wine
  • Quaint Bed & Breakfast spots
  • Not crowded unless you hit the “Passport Weekend.”


  • A limited number of excellent restaurants
  • A limited number of Bed & Breakfast spots
  • Many wineries are not open all days of the week

Explore the Sierra Foothills, Amador, El Dorado, and Calaveras

Sonoma Valley

buena vista winery
Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma


  • Many famous wineries
  • A wide variety of excellent restaurants and places to stay
  • Beautiful vineyard country
  • Relatively easy drive from San Francisco
  • The historic Sonoma Plaza


  • Crowded on weekends
  • Tasting fees are high
  • The quality accommodations are very pricey
  • Weekends are busy for restaurants and lodging. Book early
  • Reservations are needed to taste wine

Explore the Sonoma Valley wine country – Guide

Additional information of importance when planning your wine country trip:

  • 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.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.