POSTED ON October 30, 2018 | IN Napa Valley, Sonoma County | BY Joe Becerra
crossroads of napa valley and sonoma which is better

To the Napa Valley or Sonoma?

What is the difference between the Napa Valley and Sonoma?

Should I travel to the Napa Valley or should I go to Sonoma? What is the difference between the two wine regions and which one is better?

best picnic wineries Sonoma Valley

St. Francis Winery in Sonoma. In the background are the Mayacamus Mountains.

Main differences between the Napa Valley and Sonoma

We travel to the Napa Valley and Sonoma regularly. Wine country travelers often struggle over which to visit. Sometimes they decide to try both on a visit. That’s okay if you have more than a few days. If not, stick to one of these areas a vacation. Here some thoughts from our experience on the differences between the Napa Valley and Sonoma.

Geographic area

The Napa Valley runs north and south for 30 miles. To the south is the city of Napa, and at the northern end is the town of Calistoga. At its widest point, the Napa Valley is five miles. The Sonoma wine region is much larger. The Sonoma Valley runs from the city of Sonoma to Santa Rosa. To the north in Sonoma County are the town of Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley wine appellations. To the west of Highway 101, there is the Russian River Valley appellation.
 

Main Towns

The Napa Valley has four tourist destination towns. These are Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. Sonoma’s most popular destination towns are Sonoma and Healdsburg. In Sonoma County there are very small cities including Geyserville, Forestville, and Sebastopol. All of which are fun wine towns.
Napa Valley compared to Sonoma

Looking down Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga

Vineyards, wine, and tasting rooms

Napa Valley wineries make many varieties of wine. Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon have the greatest vineyard acreage and production. Sonoma has more varieties of wine. These wines include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, and others. The large geographic area of Sonoma lends itself to growing many types of grapes.
 
The Napa Valley wineries are close to one another and are easy to find and visit. Drive along Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail, and there are many wineries to visit. Sonoma wineries are more spread out. There are many more secluded backroads in Sonoma.
 
There is much more traffic and congestion in the Napa Valley. Sonoma is larger, so there are more roads to travel to wineries. Napa Valley tasting rooms can be very crowded with tourists. The same can be said for the popular Sonoma wineries. Many Napa Valley tasting rooms require reservations.
 
Tasting room fees are higher in the Napa Valley by a wide margin. Napa Valley Tasting Room Index
Sonoma vs Napa Valley

Beautiful and quiet backroad in Sonoma County – West Dry Creek Road

Restaurants

Napa Valley wins the restaurant comparison. Napa Valley has many upscale restaurants. It has two top Michelin Star rated restaurants. They are the French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood. The towns of Healdsburg and Sonoma have excellent choices of restaurants. The cost of dining is higher in the Napa Valley.

Napa Valley better than Sonoma

Chef Thomas Keller tends to his French Laundry garden

Lodging

Both the Napa Valley and Sonoma have many great choices for lodging. Budget to luxurious accommodations can be found in both regions.

Is sonoma better than Napa Valley

Madrona Manor – excellent accommodations and upscale restaurant near Healdsburg

Intangibles

  • Napa Valley can be uppity at times.  Sonoma is more laid back.
  • Sonoma has more small and family-owned wineries than the Napa Valley.
  • The Napa Valley is one of the great wine regions of the World.
  • A weekend stay in the Napa Valley will be more expensive than a weekend stay in Sonoma.
  • Do you like to picnic in the vineyards? Sonoma has many more winery picnic areas than does the Napa Valley. Napa County has restrictions on picnicking.
  • Sonoma is a huge geographic area. What exactly do we mean by Sonoma Wine Country. Please read What is Sonoma Wine Country

Conclusion

Both the Napa Valley and Sonoma are sensational wine countries and are both worth a visit. We highly recommend visiting both, but on separate getaways.

Comments

  1. Laurie Mann says

    Well written and balanced comparison of what each region offers travelers in terms of wine and ambiance. I appreciated the honest discussion about budget and types of experiences available in both locations.

  2. Ana Maria Fernandes says

    I loved this article and will help a lot. I have never been to any of them 🙁 … I only know some of the vineyards in Temecula; I live in Florida!

  3. Beltran Michael says

    Well written with an honest review of cost and amenities. My vote goes to Sonoma. Tourists will pay top dollar to experience the aura of Napa and return home with bottles of $100 Cabernet or some other pseudo Cult wine. Granted they are exceptional wines- but my choice is more high quality varietals at a better price. You also meet many people who actually run and own the property. Visitors would do well to spend quality time in Sonoma. Bottom line: save money and buy more wine ?.

    • Laurie Mann says

      Well written and balanced comparison of what each region offers travelers in terms of wine and ambiance. I appreciated the honest discussion about budget and types of experiences available in both locations.