I've just returned from a road trip through Northern California's wine country. The trip was only three days, but it felt like a week's worth of experiences. I partnered with Visit California, and together we crafted an itinerary that made full use of the close proximity of Napa, Sonoma and Santa Rosa. And it wasn't just a food and wine trip - Visit California came up with places and experiences I didn't know existed up here including an African wildlife safari, hot air balloon ride, redwood cathedral hike and even vineyard hopping by VW bus. We squeezed it all into just three days, and I'm sharing everything from my itinerary with you guys in the blog post below. Cheers to road tripping through Northern California's wine country!
The Armstrong Redwoods were one of my favorite discoveries of the trip - just 25 minutes driving from Santa Rosa.
SANTA ROSA & SONOMA
And here I thought I knew all the good hiking trails in California. I've done a lot of trekking in this state. The Pinnacles, Yosemite, Muir Woods, Persima, Joshua Tree. You name it, I've hiked it. But this treasure located just north of Guerneville was a revelation. I'd never heard of the place! The state park is home to the prettiest trails surrounded by towering cathedrals of old growth redwoods, and just 25 minutes driving from downtown Santa Rosa.
Who knew there were African wildlife safaris in California? Safari West was born in the late 1980s when Peter Lang purchased 400 acres in the foothills of the Mayacama Mountains, just north of Santa Rosa. He then converted the former cattle ranch into a conservation facility, home to a variety of exotic wildlife including giraffe, ostrich, rhino, impala, antelope, buffalo, flamingo and more. They call it the Sonoma Serengeti and I can see why - I was just in the Serengeti over the summer, and saw so many of these animals in the wild.
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards
The winery offers a variety of tasting options, but it's the Food & Wine Pairing Experience that's particularly special. Set in their estate dining room, the multi-course experience is prepared by the winery's talented culinary team, pairing a seasonal five-courses with award winning St. Francis wines.
West Wine Tours
Wine tasting doesn't get much cooler than vineyard hopping by retro VW bus! West Wine Tours offers a completely unique (and completely hip!) way to experience Sonoma County's wine country. Three buses are available (Mojito, Olive and Sweet Pea) to book individual seats, or book the entire bus for a private tour of wine country. I'll be doing this one again in the spring, I absolutely loved the concept!
A funky little cafe located in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa. Acre Coffee is part of the craft coffee movement, but also offers a breakfast and lunch menu that includes a variety of toasts (avocado, lentil hummus, salmon) served on Red Bird Country Bakery Bread, sweet and savory waffles, frittata and freshly prepared sandwiches.
Gerard's Paella Y Tapas
Paella is what to order at Gerard's Paella Y Tapas, a little gem also located in downtown Santa Rosa. The menu boasts four paella options (the traditional Spanish rice dish), along with several small plates to share. I ordered the Rosa paella, loaded with chicken, arugula and red onion - absolutely delicious.
Perch + Plow
The bar restaurant overlooks the historic Courthouse Square and serves up an ever-evolving menu of food and cocktails. Menu highlights include grilled sourdough with chimichurri; buttermilk fritto misto; baby gem lettuce salad w/pickled persimmon, shaved Estero Gold cheese, toasted sunflower seeds & lemon vinaigrette; and California sea bass w/dashi, grilleed green onions & roasted baby turnips. Definitely the culinary highlight of my Santa Rosa visit.
I stayed at Hotel E, a completely new boutique hotel located on the Old Courthouse Square. The property is absolutely charming with a solid location - walking distance from several fabulous restaurants, coffee shops and shopping, and perfectly situated for daytrips around the region.
Had no idea an African safari existed here in California!
So many animal sightings on our game drive through Safari West - ostrich, rhino, giraffe, impala, antelope and more!
They call Safari West the "Sonoma Serengeti."
Tasting a rose at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards after my morning safari.
Mornings at Hotel E in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa.
Cutest coffee creations and breakfast dishes at Acre Coffee, also in downtown Santa Rosa.
Feast before heading off to Sonoma.
Winery hopping through Sonoma with West Wine Tours!
Alpha Omega Collective
This tasting room is the perfect start to an evening in downtown Napa, pre-dinner festivities. The variety of flights include Bordeaux-inspired releases from Alpha Omega in Napa Valley, Burgundian varietals Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from Tolosa in San Luis Obispo’s Edna Valley and Mediterranean reds from Perinet in Spain’s Priorat.
Castello di Amorosa and Chateaux
My favorite spot for photos in Napa. The medieval inspired Tuscan castle sits tucked away in Calistoga, surrounded by rolling vineyards. There is a fee to enter the castle, but it includes tasting of five premium wines. There are also upgraded experiences available including a tasting of reserve and limited production wines, as well as a handmade Belgian chocolate pairing.
First Street Murals / Downtown Napa
Tucked away in downtown Napa, the inspo murals are located in the First Street Napa Mall, behind Eiko's Sushi. There are four murals to choose from - LOVE, CHEERS, SWOON and DREAM. The spot is perfect for selfies or Instagram photos.
This was my second visit Inglenook, but first proper tour of the Francis Ford Coppola winery. It's actually one of the more interesting winery tours I've done because there is so much history to the 19th century estate. And the Coppola element makes it all the most fascinating - lots of old movie memorabilia is housed here.
Miner Family Winery
The most educational experience of the trip was the Oracle Blending Seminar at Minery Family Winery. This was a first for me. The private seminar featured all five wines in the Bordeaux family (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec). I tasted and learned a bit about each of the wines, and then stepped into the shoes of a winemaker and created my own blends.
Napa Valley Aloft Hot Air Balloon Ride
It rained the day of my hot air balloon ride, so I didn't get to go up. But the experience sounds amazing - I can't think of a more unique way to see all of Napa Valley. I booked my sunrise balloon trip with Napa Valley Aloft.
I didn't visit Schramsburg Vineyards on this trip, but I'm including it for anyone who loves sparkling wines (like me). I've booked the winery tour and tasting, and it included a tour of the125-year old caves where we learned about sparkling wine production, and then ended with tasting several of their wines. Reservations should be made well in advance during peak season.
I didn't eat here on this trip, but wanted to include my favorite brunch spot in Napa for anyone planning a trip. Archetype is located in St. Helena, and is consistently delicious. I've tried everything from fish and chips to their signature lemon ricotta pancakes.
Bistro Don Giovanni
My favorite Italian spot in Napa. Love ending a day of wine tasting with Bistro Don Giovanni's handmade pasta dishes. This place gets very busy, reservations recommended.
Looking for the most Instagrammable restaurant in Napa? A visit to Gran Electrica is a must. Located in downtown Napa, the Mexican restaurant and tequila/mezcal bar offers authentic market-driven Mexican dishes inspired by traditional street fare. I went with the chips, guac, salsa, beans and fish tacos - everything was SO delicious. And the design of the restaurant is a selfie lovers dream with its stylish bar, pink neon lights, pink mural patio and the signature black + white Day of the Dead Napa themed wallpaper.
Such an iconic roadside grub stop while exploring Napa Valley. The menu is simple, but everything is made so well. They've got burgers, fish tacos, chicken sandwiches, salads, garlic fries, soft serve, shakes, beer and wines. Gott's Roadside is such a Napa classic.
The Model Bakery
When passing through St. Helena, I always make a quick stop at The Model Bakery to order a bag of their English muffins. English muffins are not usually my thing, but they were one of Oprah's Favorite Things in 2016 and 2017, so I decided to give them a try. Amazing. Worth a stop to try them.
The Setting Inn
The Setting Inn is tucked away just off of Highway 29 - probably my best Napa discovery of the trip. It's such a convenient location for a weekend Napa getaway. The boutique hotel is a 1901 farmhouse, transformed into a plush haven of luxury. I stayed in the property's Cottage, a detached two-bedroom suite featuring two King bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room with fireplace and terrace. It's one of the coziest luxury space I've ever stayed - truly a home away from home feeling. I can't imagine there is a more perfect place to stay while in Napa.
Downtown Napa's vibrant First Street is home to four inspo murals - LOVE, CHEERS, SWOON and DREAM.
One of my all-time favorite restaurants - Gott's Roadside! I've eaten at all of their locations, but this was my first feast at the original spot in St. Helena.
Wine tasting at Inglenook, Francis Ford Coppola's beautiful winery in Napa.
Feasting at Gran Electrica, the most Instagrammable restaurant in Napa (oh, and it's DELICIOUS too!).
The restaurant's wallpaper depicts the Day of the Dead in iconic Napa locations. How many can you identify?
This was my first visit to Napa in December, and the colors at Inglenook were beautiful!
Cozy morning in my private cottage at The Setting Inn.
Sat down for the most intimate private blending experience at the Miner Family Winery.
Thank you to Visit California for hosting my trip to wine country and sponsoring this post. All honest opinion are my own. xx