A Printable, Downloadable, PDF version of this itinerary is available for purchase. Includes Places to Stay in proximity.
ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
The Napa and Sonoma Valleys, just north of San Francisco, have earned a well-merited reputation for the excellence of their wines and many of the wineries are open to the public for tours and tasting. But there is so much more to lure you here than sampling wines-informative tours, exquisite artwork, historic buildings, movie memorabilia, and beautiful scenery abound. A visit to the wine country makes a pleasant excursion any time of year. In summer the days are long and warm, perfect for bike rides, picnics, music festivals, concerts, and art shows. As summer days give way to the cooler afternoons and crisp evenings of fall, the lush foliage on the thousands of acres of grapevines turns to red, gold, and yellow-a colorful reminder that it is time for harvest. You can sense the energy of the crush as vintners work against the clock and weather to pick grapes at their prime. In winter, cool days are often washed by rain, but this is also an excellent time to visit since this is “off season” and the winery tours will be almost private as you travel from one vineyard to the next. Spring is glorious: mustard blossoms paint the valleys yellow, contrasting dramatically with the dark bark of the vines laced with the delicate green of new leaves.
Recommended Pacing: You cannot follow this complete itinerary in a day trip from San Francisco but you certainly can visit both the Napa and Sonoma wine regions in a day-it takes about an hour to drive from San Francisco to the southern boundary of either valley and a day trip would allow you to visit a winery or two and get the flavor of the region. However, since the valleys are so beautiful and to allow adequate time for leisurely tastings, we suggest that you select a base (because of their close proximity you can select either valley) and stay for a minimum of two nights. Please do not try to follow this itinerary just as we have described it-it encompasses more wineries than you can possibly do justice to in a week. Instead, use it as a framework to plan your own trip: select those wineries that appeal to you (you can check out the wines they produce on their websites) and plot your route on a detailed map.
Weather Wise: The Napa and Sonoma Valleys have very similar climates. Summer days can be scorching hot and roads are often clogged with visitors. Autumn gives way to mild, sunny days, cooler afternoons, and crisp evenings. From autumn to spring you can expect some rain although many days will be sunny. In winter, temperatures are mild yet several degrees cooler than in the nearby San Francisco Bay Area.
Note: Gone are the days when you could turn up at a winery and expect a tour. Most now require advance reservations, particularly in the summer. We have tried to be as accurate as possible when giving information about tour costs and tastings, but things change, so be certain to contact each winery in advance of your arrival.
This itinerary wends up the Napa Valley and back down the Sonoma Valley. In the Napa Valley there are two parallel roads that stretch along its length-Hwy 29 and the Silverado Trail. Hwy 29 is the busier and wider of the two. The Silverado Trail, more scenic, less commercial, hugs the eastern hills, offering a welcome escape from traffic. Our suggested route crisscrosses back and forth between Hwy 29 and the Silverado Trail, and then travels west to follow a path south through the Sonoma Valley.
From San Francisco, travel east on Hwy 80 across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. After crossing the bridge, stay in the left-hand lane and follow Hwy 80 in the direction of Sacramento for 30 miles. Four miles after crossing the Carquinez Bridge, take Hwy 37 (the Marine World Parkway exit) for 2½ miles to Hwy 29 (Sonoma Blvd). Turn right towards Napa and stay on Hwy 29 into the town.
Napa sprawls for several miles. Ignore its unappealing outskirts and head for downtown, which has really improved in recent years, adding some delightful restaurants and an attractive shopping precinct.
Take First Street through downtown to Hwy 29 (in the direction of Calistoga), turn left at the traffic lights on Redwood Road for the 6-mile drive to the Hess Collection winery (4411 Redwood Road, Napa, CA 94558). Leaving the town behind, travel ever higher up Mount Veeder though pretty wooded scenery with glimpses of distant vineyards. Watch for the sharp left-hand turn in the road after 4 miles. You emerge from the trees at the winery surrounded by rolling vineyards. Visiting here gives you the opportunity to enjoy a lovely garden with lily pond, wisteria-covered walkway, and wildflower garden, laid out in front of an early-20th-century winery. When Mr. Hess purchased the winery in 1986 he set apart a portion of the historic ivy-covered stone structure to showcase a selection of his distinguished collection of paintings and sculptures. The production of wine and Mr. Hess’s collection have been cleverly woven together and the visitors’ tour encompasses wine production-fermentation vats, wooden barrels where the wine ages, and the bottling process-as well as the art housed in two large galleries. Tasting costs $10 for four wines. Open 10 am to 5:30 pm. 707-255-1144 or 877-707-4377, www.hesscollection.com.
Return to Hwy 29 and cross it onto Trancas, which after 1½ miles becomes Hwy 121 (signposted for Lake Berryessa). Follow this road for 4 miles as it climbs into the wooded hills. Watch for a gate on the left marking the Jarvis Winery entrance (2970 Monticello Road, Napa, CA 94559). The gates automatically open after you give your name and tour information (book well in advance-tour groups are limited). The tour is fun and the structure of the Jarvis Winery is different from that of any other you will see on this itinerary. It also produces excellent wines (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot). All you see as you approach are two massive doors built into the hillside-it looks like an entrance into a bunker. But inside, another world opens up as you find yourself in a giant cave. You follow a path that forms a loop around the cavern, passing by an underground stream and a waterfall, and visit the Crystal Chamber, a grand reception hall. At the conclusion of the tour you sample fine wines at a small table surrounded by gilded chairs with red velvet upholstery. Five tours a day are offered. Based on demand, extra tours are sometimes added. 707-255-5280 or 800-255-5280, www.jarviswines.com.
Leaving the Jarvis Winery, retrace your tracks back down the hill to the Silverado Trail. Turn right (north) on the Silverado Trail and follow it to Oak Knoll Avenue, a left-hand turn down a road bounded by walnut trees and vineyards. Watch for a small signpost and large gates marking the right-hand turn for Trefethen Vineyards (1160 Oak Knoll Avenue, Napa, CA 94558). Trefethen Vineyards is housed in a wooden building dating back to 1886 and surrounded by towering oaks. This handsome complex is family owned and operated, proving that size is not a prerequisite for excellence. Open 10 am to 4:30 pm, tours are by appointment. 707-255-7700, www.trefethen.com.
Continue west on Oak Knoll Avenue for the very short distance to Hwy 29, which you cross, turning right on Solano Avenue, a quiet country road that parallels busy Hwy 29.
Solano Avenue ends on the outskirts of Yountville and ahead of you lies Domaine Chandon (1 California Drive, Yountville, CA 94559) where sparkling wine is made following the principles and rigid process dictated by the French methode champenoise. A wooden footbridge spans the creek-fed ponds and huge oak trees lead to the winery tucked back into the hillside. Complimentary tours are offered on the hour between 10 am and 6 pm. First you see the fermentation process in polished stainless-steel tanks and then continue on to observe the additional steps involved in making sparkling wine. In the cellar, bottles of sparkling wine are aged and riddled (turned). In the bottling room you see the process of freezing then disgorging the sediment, corking, cleaning, and labeling the bottles. A visit here shows French and Californian vintners sharing expertise and working side by side. After the tour enjoy a tasting of three to five wines for $8 to $16. Select your favorite and purchase a glass to enjoy on the adjacent terrace. There’s an elegant restaurant that steps down the hillside and in sunny weather lunch is served on the patio. Open 10 am to 6 pm. 707-944-2280, www.chandon.com.
Leaving Domaine Chandon, turn left, go under Hwy 29, and turn left on Washington Street into the small town of Yountville. As the road divides (Washington left, Yount right) take the left-hand turn if you are in a shopping mood and turn immediately left into the car park of Vintage 1870, a complex of little shops and galleries housed in a charming old brick winery.
Return to Yount Street and follow it past the town’s quaint houses, turning left onto Yountville Cross Road. After a mile turn left on State Lane for the half-mile drive to Goosecross Cellars (1119 State Lane, Yountville, CA 94559). This micro winery is a small family-run and -owned operation. Geoff Gorsuch and college roommate David Topper purchased it from Geoff’s parents, who live in the cute house in front of the winery. Walk through the aging vats into the tasting room to sample red varietals and a Chardonnay. A very popular class in wine basics is offered every Saturday morning (advanced reservations needed). Open 10 am to 4:30 pm. 707-944-1986, www.goosecross.com.
Retrace your steps to Yountville Cross Road and turn left for the short drive up the Silverado Trail to Oakville Cross Road where you turn left. The first winery on your right is your destination, Plumpjack (620 Oakville Cross Road, Oakville, CA 94562). The fanciful theater-set style of the complex is a clue that this is a winery that flaunts tradition-they were front runners of eliminating corks in favor of screwtops even in their reserve Cabernets. Plumpjack derives its name from Shakespeare’s portly character Jack Falstaff. Open for tasting 10 am to 4 pm, $10 per person. 707-945-1220, www.plumpjack.com.
Leave Plumpjack to your right and Oakville Cross Road takes you into the little town of Oakville where, as you turn right on Hwy 29, you see Oakville Grocery (on your right). If you plan to picnic, stop here for supplies and gourmet treats to accompany your winery purchases.
Just to the north of Oakville, on the right of Hwy 29, you soon come to Opus One (7900 Saint Helena Hwy, Hwy 29, Oakville, CA 94562) on your right. The winery is an exquisite showplace for the California Robert Mondavi family and the French Rothschild family. The gleaming white, circular structure looks a bit like a luxurious, futuristic coliseum. It certainly makes an impressive statement, and as you enter, is immediately obvious that no expense was spared in its construction. Tour and tasting $35, by appointment only. Tasting of their current vintage is $35. Tasting room is open from 10 am to 4 pm. 707-944-9442, www.opusonewinery.com.
Almost opposite Opus One you find the Robert Mondavi winery (7801 Saint Helena Hwy, Hwy 29, Oakville, CA 94562). This modern winery, with a statue of Saint Francis at its entrance, was styled after the Franciscan missions, with an open-arched entry framing an idyllic view of vineyards. Different tours are offered, varying in length and cost. fax: 707-244-3995, Nancy Hudson marketing The hour-and-a-half vineyard and winery tour is extremely informative and provides a good general introduction to the essentials of winemaking, $25. The spacious lawn at the back is the site of popular summer concerts. Reservations are recommended. Open 10 am to 5 pm. 707-968-2000 or 888-766-6328, www.robertmondaviwinery.com.
Continue north into Rutherford and just as you enter the town turn right to Beaulieu Vineyards, commonly known as BV (1960 Saint Helena Hwy, Hwy 29, Rutherford, CA 94573). Tours covering the history and production of their wines are offered. There’s a fee for tasting. Open 10 am to 5 pm. 707-967-5200, www.bvwines.com.
Leaving BV, turn south (left) and then immediately left again onto Rutherford Cross Road for the scenic drive across the valley (following Hwy 128 towards Lake Berryessa). At the Silverado Trail, go right and immediately right again on Hwy 128 for the scenic 15-mile drive to Nichelini (2950 Sage Canyon Rd, Hwy 128, Saint Helena, CA 94574). This winery was founded by the Nichelini family in 1884 and is still in the same family today, making it the oldest family-operated winery in the Napa Valley. The building itself is of historical interest: showing off founder Anton Nichelini’s stonemasonry, the hand-hewn stone wine cellar takes you back to the Ticino region of Switzerland. The old Roman-type press, constructed by Anton himself and in use until 1956, is the centerpiece of the visitor area. It is believed to be the only one of its kind still standing at a California winery. Open Saturdays and Sundays, 10 am to 5 pm, for wine tasting, picnicking, and bocci ball. 707-963-0717, www.nicheliniwinery.com.
Returning to the Silverado Trail, head north (right) for a short distance, taking the first right-hand turn on Rutherford Hill Road, which winds up past Auberge du Soleil, to the Rutherford Hill Winery (200 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford, CA 94573), housed in a weathered redwood barn draped with roses and wisteria and surrounded by olive groves and shady woodlands. This is THE place to head for if you want to enjoy a picnic (bring your own food) for surrounding the winery are three shady picnic areas with fabulous views and lots of tables. Rutherford Hill winery is considered the leading producer of Merlot in the Napa Valley. The tour, $20, offered at 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm, includes a visit to the vast wine caves. Guides are knowledgeable about the winery and visitors are encouraged to ask questions. Open 10 am to 5 pm. 707-963-1871, www.rutherfordhill.com.
From Rutherford Hill travel north on the Silverado Trail, cross over to Hwy 29 on Zinfandel Lane, and then jog north on Hwy 29 (approaching the town of Saint Helena) to visit the V. Sattui winery found on your right (111 White Lane Street, Saint Helena, CA 94574). Sattui winemaking history dates back to 1885 when Vittorio Sattui founded the winery in the North Beach district of San Francisco. Great-grandson Daryl Sattui revived the family tradition in 1973 by moving the winery to Saint Helena. Currently 15 vintage-dated wines are produced, all of which are sold exclusively at the winery or by mail order. With a lovely garden setting, this is an attractive winery with an excellent gift shop where you can also purchase picnic supplies, selecting from over 200 different kinds of cheeses, homemade salads, pâtés, breads, and desserts. There is also a wonderful picnic spot, with tables set on the lawn beneath shady trees. You are welcome to look into the cellars or, when wine is being bottled, watch the bottling line in action-there are no formal tours. Tastings offered. Open 9 am to 6 pm in summer, 9 am to 5 pm in winter. 707-963-7774, www.vsattui.com.
Opposite V. Sattui you find Dean and Deluca, an upmarket store for purchasing kitchenware, wine, cheese, and all manner of picnic supplies.
In Saint Helena Hwy 29 becomes the town’s Main Street, lined with elegant stores, boutiques, and restaurants. Detour east two blocks off Main Street via Adams Street to the Silverado Museum, housed in a wing of the town’s library. Dedicated to Robert Louis Stevenson, the little museum chronicles his life and contains books, paintings, and Stephenson memorabilia. Open 10 am to 4 pm, closed Mondays.
As Hwy 29 leaves the northern residential area of Saint Helena, turn left into Beringer Vineyards (2000 Main Street, Hwy 29, Saint Helena, CA 94574). Set on a knoll, surrounded by landscaped grounds, the magnificent Rhine House was built as a replica of the German home that Frederick and his brother Jacob left behind when they emigrated. A 45-minute guided tour is offered every half hour, Monday through Friday between 10 am and 5 pm (from November to March the last tour is at 4 pm), Saturday and Sunday starting at 9:30 am (availability is on a first-come, first-served basis). Tours emphasize the historical aspect of the winery and include a visit through the tunnels and caverns where the wine is aged in barrels. Tours are $15 to $35 per person. The tasting fee is $10 to $25. 707-963-4812, www.beringer.com.
Four miles north, turn right off Hwy 29 onto Larkmead Lane to visit the Frank Family Vineyards (1091 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515). A vineyard has been on this spot since 1884. The main building was refurbished with local sandstone in 1906 and the resulting sturdy edifice is considered an archetype of the local wine country. Owners Richard Frank and Koemer Rombauer purchased the property from the Hans Kornell company, which is famous for its sparkling wines, and five types are still crafted in the champagne style, though nowadays the focus of the winery has shifted to the production of a superb range of still red and white wines. Tasting is free of charge. Open 10 am to 5 pm. 800-574-9463 or 707-942-0859, www.frankfamilyvineyards.com.
Returning to Hwy 29, take the first left, signposted Peterson Lane, and turn immediately up a driveway for the 1-mile drive up through woodlands to Schramsberg Vineyards (1400 Schramsberg Road, Calistoga, CA 94515). Built in 1862, Schrambsberg is the first hillside winery built in the Napa Valley and was featured by Robert Louis Stevenson in his chronicles of the wine country. Over 2 miles of tunnels are devoted to the production of sparkling wine and tours are by appointment only. In conjunction with the tour, wine tasting is offered at a charge of $35 for samples from four cuvees. Open 10 am to 4 pm. 707-942-4558, www.schramsberg.com..
Back on the 29, you soon see your next destination, Sterling Vineyards (1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515), a complex of low, white buildings crowning the hill to your right. Turn right on Dunaweal Lane to reach them. From the winery you can savor panoramic views looking down through tall pines to a checkerboard of vineyards. Access to Sterling is possible only by an aerial tramway (the first tram is at 10:30 am, the last at 4:30 pm). A fee of $20 is charged for the tram and a tasting. A self-guided tour leads you through the maze of rooms that comprise the winery and concludes with the tasting. A very pleasant feature here is the melodic sound of bells originally from a London church, that ring out every half hour. www.sterlingvineyards.com 800-726-6136.
Across the street, Clos Pegase (1060 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515) is a joy for those who love stunning architecture, sculpture, and fine wine. When owner Jan Isaac Shrem, a Paris-based businessman and art collector, turned 50, he decided to move to Napa Valley and take up viticulture. Shrem enlisted the help of Michael Graves, who designed the structure with influences that range from ancient Rome to art deco. The result is an exquisite building that the Washington Post called “America’s first monument to wine as art.” Sculptures are placed on the edge of the vineyards, on the lawns, and in the winery. Tours are complimentary (11 am and 2 pm) and reservations are not required, but be aware that the afternoon weekend tour tends to be crowded. Several tasting options are offered. Open 10:30 am to 5 pm. 707-942-4981, www.clospegase.com.
Our favorite Napa Valley town, Calistoga, bounded by rugged foothills and vineyards, is just a few miles north at the intersection of Hwy 29 and Hwy 128. Its main street, Lincoln Avenue, is lined on both sides by attractive shops and numerous restaurants. This charming town has been famous ever since Spanish explorers arrived in 1823 and observed Indians taking mud baths in steamy marshes. Sam Brannan, who purchased a square mile of land at the foot of Mount Saint Helena, gave the town its name: he wanted the place to be the “Saratoga of California” and so called it Calistoga. He bought the land in the early 1860s and by 1866 was ready to open his resort of a few cottages and palm trees. The oldest surviving railroad depot in California, now shops, received its first trainload of passengers when they came to Calistoga for the much-publicized opening of Sam Brannan’s resort. For more than a hundred years, Calistoga has attracted visitors from all over the world, primarily for its hot springs and spas. People came in search of its glorious, healing waters long before the region became a popular destination for its wineries.
There are many excellent spa facilities and two kinds to choose from: with “heavy” mud and without. Among other places, traditional mud tubs are available at Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs, 707-942-4102, www.drwilkinson.com, and Indian Springs, 707-942-4913, www.indianspringscalistoga.com. Excellent spas include Lavender Hill Spa (small and cute, great for couples and friends), 707-942-4495, www.lavenderhillspa.com, and Mount View Spa (in the Mount View Hotel), 707-942-5789, www.mountviewspa.com.
Whenever we go to Calistoga, we always make a point of visiting Old Faithful Geyser, one of only three such regularly erupting geysers in the world. It erupts at intervals varying between 15 and 50 minutes, throwing a spume of about 4,000 gallons of water over 60 feet into the air. This is certainly an interesting phenomenon, although the staging is a bit honky-tonk. Old Faithful can be viewed from 9 am to 5 pm (9 am to 6 pm during daylight savings time). To reach the geyser, travel north from Calistoga on Hwy 128 to Tubbs Lane, turn right onto Tubbs Lane, and in half a mile you see the entrance to the geyser on your left. Cost $8, 707-942-6463, www.oldfaithfulgeyser.com.
Just beyond the geyser is the very interesting Chateau Montelena winery (1429 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515), founded in 1882 by Alfred Tubbs who brought over a French architect to build an “authentic” French château (you’ll see that the architect took a little artistic license with this instruction). Enjoy a library tasting ($25), see the exterior of the château and wander round the lake, resplendent with swans and a bridge leading to a tea house on an island. 707-942-5105, www.montelena.com.
A very personal wine-tasting experience is offered by the nearby Vincent Arroyo winery (2361 Greenwood Avenue, Calistoga, CA 94515). Proceed to the end of Tubbs Lane, turn right and first right on Greenwood Avenue, and the winery is on your right. This small, friendly, winery offers you the chance to taste wine from the barrel and secure purchases from future bottlings. “JJ”, the resident black lab, offers an amusing addition to your visit, for once she observes a barrel tasting in progress, she drops a ball (or two) at your feet and climbs high on the barrel stacks waiting for you to throw the ball for her to retrieve. You can also sample and purchase estate-produced olive oil. By appointment only, hours vary. 707-942-6995, www. vincentarroyo.com.
Leaving Calistoga, take the Petrified Forest Road (which becomes Calistoga Road) west to the outskirts of Santa Rosa, forsaking the Napa Valley for the neighboring Sonoma Valley. The road climbs and winds a scenic 12 miles through forest and past meadows where cattle graze next to orchards. You may wish to stop at the rather commercial California Petrified Forest, a grove of redwoods that was petrified by ash from the volcanic eruption of Mount Saint Helena over 6,000,000 years ago.
On the residential outskirts of Santa Rosa, turn left on Hwy 12 in the direction of Sonoma. This road travels down the center of Sonoma Valley, often referred to as the “Valley of the Moon” after Jack London’s famous novel of the same name.
Your first destination in this lovely valley, Landmark Vineyards, lies 6½ miles to the south (101 Adobe Canyon Road, Hwy 12, Kenwood, CA 95452). Tucked up against the hillside, the winery enjoys spectacular views of towering Sugarloaf Ridge from its beautifully landscaped courtyard, lakeside picnic grounds (bring your own picnic), and vineyards, which you tour in a wagon pulled by massive Belgian dray horses (Saturdays only, May to October, noon to 3 pm). As an accompaniment to wine tasting, you enjoy beautiful gardens and the opportunity to play bocci ball. Tasting $5 to $10. Open 10 am to 4:30 pm. 707-833-0053 or 800-452-6365, www.landmarkwine.com.
The neighboring Chateau St. Jean ( 8555 Sonoma Hwy, Hwy 12, Kenwood, CA 95452) lies snug against the hillside. An extremely pretty road winds up through vineyards to the strikingly beautiful winery and main house surrounded by lush lawns. With the exception of its mock tower, Château St. Jean is Mediterranean-French in its architecture. Be careful to pronounce its name as the English “Jean” since the winery is named after the founder’s wife, Jean Sheffield. A booklet outlines a self-guided tour of the courtyard garden, which leads to the visitors’ center, a combination tasting room and gift shop. Tastings are $10. Luxury wine tastings are available in the château for $15. Open 10 am to 5 pm. 707-833-4134, www.chateaustjean.com.
Your next winery is the nearby Kunde Winery (10155 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 95452) whose founder, Louis Kunde, settled in the Sonoma Valley in 1904. The present-day winery, which re-creates an 1883 barn that previously stood on the same site, houses a reception area with wine tasting and a small gift shop. Tasting, $10 estate wines, $20 reserve wines, is available between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm. Complimentary tours of the barrel-aging caves, which feature half a mile of interconnecting tunnels, are available approximately every hour on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. 707-833-5501, www.kunde.com.
Travel south on Hwy 12 for several miles before taking a turnoff to the right to Glen Ellen. In the center of this small, quaint, wooded town turn right for Jack London State Park. Before you reach the park, stop to visit the Benziger Winery found on the right.
The Benziger Winery (1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442), set on a wooded knoll, is a fun, family-run winery. If it’s close to lunchtime, take advantage of picnic tables set under redwood trees (bring your own food). Before you walk up to the tasting room, follow the informative self-guided vine tour next to the parking lot. Benziger offers tours ($15) every half hour. You climb aboard a trolley pulled by a bright-red tractor for a tour of the vineyards, which lasts approximately 45 minutes. After the tour taste some of their wines. 888-490-2739, www.benziger.com.
Continue on up the hill to Jack London State Park where Jack London is buried. This lovely wooded park was established as a tribute to the famous author who had such an impact on the Sonoma Valley. This strikingly handsome man lived a life of rugged adventure and wrote passionately about life’s struggles and how to survive them with integrity. In the 16 years prior to his death at age 40 he wrote 50 novels, which were immensely popular and are today considered classics. Two of his more renowned novels are Call of the Wild and Sea Wolf. This park offers a fitting tribute to Jack London, a courageous, dynamic man, full of life and concern for others. Open all year 9:30 am to 5 pm (7 pm in summer). www.parks.sonoma.net/jlpark.html.
In the park you can visit the ruins of Wolf House (London’s dream house, which mysteriously burned to the ground the night of its completion), Beauty Cottage (the cottage where London wrote much of his later work is staffed from noon to 4 pm on weekends), and the House of Happy Walls (the home that Charmian London built after her husband’s death, open 10 am to 5 pm). This last building is now an interesting museum depicting London’s life through numerous photographs, writings, and furnishings that belonged to the author. From the museum, paths lead to the other homes and the gravesite. After visiting the park, return on Arnold Drive into Glen Ellen, turn right, and travel south (past the Sonoma State Home) to Madrone where you turn left, crossing over to Hwy 12, which takes you into Sonoma.
Sonoma is a gem of a town. By simply exploring the boundaries of its main square you will glimpse some of California’s most important periods in history. (A small admission fee is charged to tour Sonoma’s historic buildings.) On the square’s northern edge sits the Sonoma Barracks, a two-story adobe building that was the Mexican provincial headquarters for the Northern Frontier under the command of General Vallejo. The adjacent wood-frame Toscana Hotel has been restored and on weekends guides lead interesting tours through the rooms. The nearby Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, the last Franciscan mission built in California, was restored in the early 1900s. If you visit during the week, you may see elementary-school children, dressed as missionaries with their simple cloaks and rope ties, experiencing history “hands on” as they work with crafts and tools from the days of the missionaries. One hall of the mission houses an unusually beautiful collection of watercolor paintings depicting several of California’s missions. The long, low adobe building across the way, the Blue Wig Inn, originally built to house soldiers assigned to the mission, enjoyed a more colorful existence as a saloon and gambling room during the Gold Rush days. www.parks.sonoma.net/sonoma.html.
In addition to the historic sites on Sonoma’s plaza, there are numerous shops and boutiques to investigate, including some wonderful specialty food stores where you can purchase picnic supplies. The Sonoma Cheese Factory on Spain Street is interesting to visit.
Leaving the square, go east on Napa Street for 2 miles to Old Winery Road where you turn left to visit the region’s oldest winery, Buena Vista (18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, CA 95476), built in 1857. Nestled in a wooded glen, the old ivy-covered buildings are very picturesque with arched caverns and stone walls. Picnic tables are set under the trees (bring your own food and be prepared for quite a crowd in the summer). There’s a self-guided tour, tastings $5 and $10. Open 10 am to 5 pm. 800-926-1266 or 707-938-1266, www.buenavistacarneros.com.
General Vallejo, the military commander and director of colonization of the Northern Frontier (until the Bear Flag Revolution established California as a free and independent republic), lived nearby with his wife and their 12 children. General Vallejo’s Home, “Lachryma Montis” (translated to mean mountain tear, an adaptation of the Indian name given to a free-flowing spring that surrounds the property), is well signposted on the outskirts of town on Spain Street. In its day this lovely Victorian-style house was considered one of the most elegant and lavishly decorated homes in the area, and is still attractively furnished. www.parks.sonoma.net/sonoma.html.
Leave Sonoma south on Broadway (Hwy 12), continuing on to Hwy 121 towards San Francisco.
A short drive brings you to the Gloria Ferrer Winery (23555 Hwy 121, Sonoma, CA 95476). The Ferrer family, who brought expertise in making Spanish sparkling and table wines, hails from Catalonia, Spain and, consequently, the winery resembles a small Catalonian village. A wide road sweeps up to the winery through the vineyards. Three tours a day are offered, $15. They start from the spacious tasting room whose windows look out over the vineyards and valley. Most of the narrative is given in a room decorated with winemaking instruments from the Ferrers’ winery in Spain. The riddling of the bottles to capture the sediment is explained, and then you go to the observation room to see the process of freezing then disgorging the sediment, corking, cleaning, and labeling the bottles of sparkling wine. The tour then descends into a maze of interconnected wine-storage tunnels. It is awesome to stand next to towering heights of stacked bottles. The tour concludes back in the tasting room. Wine tasting is $5 to $10 per glass. 707-933-1917, www.gloriaferrer.com.
One more winery awaits you before you return to San Francisco. Just a short drive from the Gloria Ferrer Winery you come to the Viansa Winery and Italian marketplace (25200 Hwy 121, Sonoma, CA 95476). Founded in 1990 by Vicki and Sam Sebastiani, Sam being a third-generation Sonoma Valley winemaker, this lovely winery produces Italian varietals, all of which are sold exclusively at the winery or by mail order. The hilltop location is especially inviting with its shaded picnic tables (for food bought on site) overlooking acres of vineyards and wetland. In the marketplace you can purchase gifts, wine, and delicious food items prepared daily in the Viansa kitchen, or sample one of the many pantry foods set out for tasting. A tour of the cellar is offered at 3 pm and includes a tasting, cost $10. Open 10 am to 5 pm. 707-935-4700, www.viansa.com.
From the Viansa Winery it is less than an hour’s drive back to San Francisco by continuing along Hwy 121 to Hwy 37 and onto Hwy 101, which takes you over the Golden Gate Bridge into the city.