How to Plan a Tour of California’s Wineries

When it comes to planning for California wine tours, virtually every corner of the state has something to offer wine lovers. Good weather makes California a popular destination all year long, but wine tourism tends to peak in the summer and early fall as the grapes mature and harvest takes place. Northern California has a cooler, wetter winter season than the southern portion of the state but conditions can vary greatly depending on whether you are at the coast, on top of a mountain or in the desert. Many wineries are open throughout the year but hours, schedules and tasting fees will differ in each area. For general information about wine and food tourism in California visit The Land of Wine & Food.

Driving the California Wine Routes

Napa Valley Wine Country

From the major metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Oakland or Sacramento, the Napa Valley can be reached in two hours or less by car. Visitors planning to tour wineries should keep in mind that a designated driver will be needed and traffic volume can be heavy especially on weekends or during the harvest season. While there are many lodging options throughout the valley, inexpensive choices that are close to the major wine routes of Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail are limited. Napa Valley also offers exquisite fine-dining. Reservations for popular restaurants are a necessity. Some wineries require appointments. For details on the wineries, maps and more visit the Napa Valley Vintners Association.

Sonoma County Wine Country

In contrast to the faster pace of Napa, the winding two-lane roads of Sonoma are quieter and the feel is more rural. Wineries are spread out over a wide area. The Sonoma County Vintners Association offers extensive information about the wineries, maps and more; and the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau for a free guide to help plan your trip. Options for lodging cover the full range from deluxe resorts to tent camping. The charming town of Healdsburg is popular with wine tourists both for its proximity to wineries and excellent fine-dining choices.

Lake and Mendocino County Wine

Visitors to Lake County in search of water sports, wine and a quiet atmosphere will enjoy the area around Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the state. Tourist amenities and lodging choices are good but somewhat limited. See the Lake County Winery Association for winery listings. Heading north and west towards Mendocino, the Anderson Valley is an excellent intermediate stop with a number of wineries located in close proximity to Highway 128. Download a free map of local wineries from Anderson Valley Winegrowers and for more information on all of Mendocino County’s many wineries and attractions. The redwood forests and Pacific coast views near Mendocino are breath taking.

Sierra Foothills & Lodi Wine

The city of Sacramento is the ideal jumping off spot for a trip through the Sierra Foothills gold country and Lodi. Just a one-hour drive east of the city, the three counties of Amador, Calaveras and El Dorado offer historic gold rush-era towns dotted with wineries and tourist activities. Amador County offers the greatest concentration of wineries but the small town of Murphys in Calaveras County is a must-see for good wine and Old West atmosphere. For maps and information on the wine scene for each of the three counties visit the Amador, Calaveras and El Doradowebsites. The city of Lodi is 35 miles south from Sacramento and its growing wine region is easily accessed from the roughly 30 or so tasting rooms near downtown Lodi. The Lodi Wine and Visitors Center is also an excellent way to sample the local wines. For more information on Lodi wines and attractions see Visit Lodi.

Livermore to Santa Cruz Mountains Wine

The Livermore Valley wine region is just a short distance from the cities of San Francisco or Oakland. Many tourists visiting the greater San Francisco Bay area will be pleased to find they can enjoy a wine country experience without leaving the metro area. Lodging options and tourist amenities abound throughout the region. Wente Vineyards is a very popular Livermore destination for wine tasting, dining, golf and outdoor concerts. For information on all 40 wineries in the Livermore Valley see Livermore Wine. And for wine tourists seeking a more rural experience that is still close to the city, head south through Silicon Valley and into the Santa Cruz Mountains. Narrow, hilly roads with wineries tucked here and there make for a fun drive to the city of Santa Cruz. If you plan to taste wine you will need a designated driver. For details visit Santa Cruz Mountain Wineries.

Monterey Wine Country

South from San Francisco approximately 115 miles is Monterey Bay, centrally located in California’s sprawling Central Coast wine country region. In Monterey County tourists will find a wonderful combination of coastal treasures like Big Sur, great golf at legendary Pebble Beach resorts, excellent shopping and dining in upscale Carmel and of course, numerous wineries to tour and sample. For a map, guide and information visit Monterey Wines and start planning your trip. The inland Salinas Valley has the greatest number of wineries open to the public but no visit to the area would be complete without seeing the stunning natural beauty of the Pacific coast.

Santa Barbara to Paso Robles Wine

Only 100 miles north from Los Angeles are the premier California Central Coast wine regions of Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. Although visitors can fly directly into Santa Barbara, many tourists drive from points north and south to enjoy the pleasures of the Pacific coast, tour magnificent Hearst Castle and sample some of the hundreds of wineries in this region. For an encyclopedic listing of wineries in San Luis Obispo County visit the San Luis Obispo Vintners Association. For Santa Barbara visit the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association website. North of Santa Barbara, the small towns of Solvang, Buellton and Los Olivos offer a broad array of options for lodging, fine-dining and a central location for touring the wineries. From the city of Santa Barbara, Paso Robles is approximately 130 miles, so wine tourists should plan on staying in San Luis Obispo County to tour Paso Robles wineries. For in-depth information visit Paso Robles Wine Country.

Southern California Wine

Sunny beaches with surfers and beautiful girls, Disneyland, Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, Hollywood’s movie magic, star-studded Malibu and the bright lights of Los Angeles. There is simply nowhere in the world like Southern California. With so much to see and do, the possibilities seem endless. For visitors who want to squeeze in a little wine tour and tasting, the area will not disappoint. For an opportunity to experience an enjoyable wine country experience with easy access from either Los Angeles or San Diego, the Temecula Valley can’t be beat. The Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association is the perfect place to learn more about this fun, laid-back slice of wine country.

Organized California Wine Tours Tours

Wherever you are in California there is a wine region nearby and a bevy of services available that make it easy, fun and affordable to take advantage of an organized tour. By eliminating any concerns about drinking and driving or not finding your destination, you can sit back, relax and take in the pleasures of a wine country vacation. Maybe a horse-drawn carriage or an old-time trolley appeals to you. Or perhaps a train trip with an elegant winemaker dinner? Whether it is a mini-van with your own private guide, a limousine with a dozen friends or a hot-air balloon ride, there are so many fun ways to experience wine country that don’t require your own transportation. Most hotels and lodging facilities will be happy to assist you with planning an organized tour or check out Visit California for a free visitors guide and extensive links to services throughout the state.