Hey, hey, friends. It’s been a while! Between the holidays, new year, and preparing to finally go on our honeymoon, life’s been moving fast. Two weeks ago, we were in Northern California to celebrate our marriage and sample a lot of wine on our honeymoon, and it was the most incredible trip. If you’re traveling to wine country anytime soon, I have tons of recommendations for you that we wanted to share!
Luckily, John’s parents are wine lovers and have traveled to the area a few times, so they had a lot of knowledge and know-how to share with us. For example, I figured we would be staying in the towns of Napa and Sonoma, since we were going to…Napa and Sonoma.
Instead, we learned it’s better to stay in Healdsburg, a sweet and small town IN Sonoma County, and Yountville, another charming town IN Napa Valley. We went through/by the bigger towns of Napa and Sonoma during our travels and realized that the quainter towns were better suited for a vacation experience. I would’ve never known this without their expertise!
January is the slow season for these areas, but we absolutely LOVED the experience of going at this time of year. There was some rain during the trip, but overall, temps were in the 50s-60s during the day and a bit chillier at night. I expected all plant life to be dead, thinking Northern California is freezing in January, but just the vines were dormant! Much of the other plant life and farms and gardens were alive and thriving and gorgeous.
At many of our tastings, we were the only people there or two of just a handful. So, we got a lot more in-depth stories and information about the properties and wines because we went during this quieter time of year. It felt so special and personal, and I honestly think I’d really dislike going when it’s crowded and busy!
We flew into Oakland and rented a car before driving to Healdsburg for our first three nights. The drive is a couple of hours, so we broke it up by stopping at Scribe Winery an hour into the trip to have our first wine tasting. It was absolutely amazing; we sat outside on the patio facing the vineyards for our tasting that was paired with food, much of which came from the gardens on the property. Scribe was one of my favorite wineries of the whole trip. The old Spanish-style hacienda and the entire setting is just stunning — even in winter!
Sonoma / Healdsburg
In Healdsburg, we stayed directly on the square at a small, 12-room hotel called Healdsburg Inn. It was super old school with real keys for the rooms, and everything was grandly decorated. (My in-laws recommended all of the lodging for our trip and absolutely nailed it with each stay.) This hotel was great because we could walk to any restaurant in town and several tasting rooms, too. They also provided a free and incredible breakfast every morning and a wine and cheese pairing each afternoon!
The highlights of Healdsburg included:
- Dinner at Brass Rabbit: good wine and cocktails, American food (we split oysters and a decadent chicken pot pie with truffle on top), and small and trendy environment.
- Yoga at Yoga on Center: we did a 90-minute vinyasa class one morning and it was a fun activity to break up all the eating and wine drinking.
- Wine tasting at Preston Farm and Winery: such a stinkin’ cute place with lots of antique furniture, art, and gardens and old buildings to explore on site. The wine was really creative compared to other places (try the Madame Preston — so good).
- Lunch at Russian River Brewing: upscale pub food at the new Windsor location close to Healdsburg, and you can get a sample flight of every one of their beers (which John did…and I drove lol). They’re known for one of the best IPAs on the market, called Pliny the Elder.
- Tasting at Arista Winery (reservation or call-ahead required): LOVED this one. The property has a huge Japanese garden and the owners are Texan, so…you know we connected right away. They do mostly Pinot Noirs and all were incredible.
- Tasting at MacRostie Winery and Vineyards: their wine is great but their views from the property that sits on top of a hill almost beat it. The interior of the tasting room also had me practically salivating. So beautifully decorated with huge windows and gorgeous decor. And they had a cute winery dog, so…
- Oakville Grocery for lunch or to pick up snacks/wine: right on the Healdsburg square! And there’s one in Yountville. It’s a cute and small deli, market, and wine shop. We had sandwiches and salads and picked up some wine and snacks for our hotel.
- Private tasting at Hafner Vineyard (reservation required): this is a small, family-owned operation that we just loved. We had our tasting in their caves and met with the granddaughter of the first winemaker there. She was so gracious and it felt very personal for her to give us one-on-one information on their winemaking strategies.
After our three nights in Healdsburg, we drove to the coast to spend two nights at the newly renovated Timber Cove Resort, which HOLY moly is the cutest and coolest hotel ever. We were there during a very slow time and hardly saw any other guests during our stay, but it was also storming like crazy. Most rooms face cliffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean. The decor is retro-chic, and each room has a record player that we loved and used every day.
The onsite restaurant, Coast Kitchen, was SO GOOD. We ate there for several meals because there really wasn’t much else close to us (and I didn’t want to drive anywhere along the cliffs while it was down-pouring). Our favorites were the fried squash (which we had twice), the bloody Mary (best I’ve ever had), and the filet mignon…obviously amazing. We were essentially rained-in for the two nights, but between games in the lodge, a little bit of hiking when it was dry enough, working out, eating a lot, and just relaxing in this cute place, we were just fine to hang there.
Yountville / Napa
We drove to Yountville in Napa Valley on Thursday and stopped for lunch at Gott’s Roadside, a famous burger place. It definitely lived up to the hype, and I’m not even much of a burger person. We stayed at Hotel Villagio in Yountville, another insanely gorgeous place. The decor was everything my heart desires: natural woods, cool light fixtures, rustic-modern furniture, all the beiges and grays and whites… I was in love. Plus, they also had an enormous, free breakfast every morning. Want bagels, charcuterie, eggs, fruits, pastries, housemade granola, and more? THEY GOT YOU.
Our favorite stops during the Napa portion of our trip were:
- Dinner at Redd Wood: this pizza/Italian restaurant was super cute and had incredible food. We both agreed it was one of our favorite restaurants from the trip and was a bit more casual than some of the other spots.
- Drinks at RH: I’ve heard of these new Restoration Hardware bars + restaurants in other cities (Austin and Nashville both have them now) but hadn’t been to one. I mean, just imagine having a meal or drink IN the beautiful designs of Restoration Hardware. Amazing.
- Tasting and tour at Schramsberg Vineyards (reservation required): this was so, so cool because it was an all-bubbles tasting. For sure one of my favorite tastings of the trip, and seeing the caves where they age and store the sparkling wines was so incredible. This place has a ton of history and I loved hearing all about it.
- Lunch at Archetype: I LOVED this place. White and super clean interior with a greenhouse patio… And the food was amazing. I got the kale salad and bone broth because I was craving something healthy after stuffing myself all week. John got the lamb sandwich, which was more rich and decadent. Both were delicious.
- Dinner at Protéa: this is a Caribbean-Asian fusion, fast-casual place, which surprised us! From the outside it looked really nice, but it was so tasty that we didn’t mind ordering at the front. I got a ramen stir fry, John got steak tacos, and we split the empanadas and fries… My healthy craving clearly had gone away, and this meal was unforgettable.
- Aloft Hot Air Balloon Ride: BEST EXPERIENCE of the trip, hands down. We were both a little nervous about riding in a hot air balloon, but they were so professional and safe that our fears flew out the basket. (Sorry.) We got to see the valley from a birds’ eye view, which was absolutely incredible and just breathtaking. We also got to view some absolutely stunning homes from up there, which was a pleasant surprise for little HGTV-loving me! It’s a little expensive, but I completely recommend signing up for this experience.
- Tasting at Barnett Vineyards (reservation required): this was both of our favorite vineyard and tasting from the trip. It was foggy when we went, but normally you can see an incredible view of the valley from their property. The wine was unbelievable and the people we had our tasting with were such a fun group that we ended up having lunch with them in the onsite cave.
- Tasting at T-Vine Winery: we just walked into this tasting room in northern Napa Valley, in the small town of Calistoga, and had the best experience. The wines were great and the environment was warm and friendly.
Overall, we tended to enjoy the smaller operations for tastings and tours. We went to Sterling and Peju, two larger ones in Napa, and personally I wouldn’t go back to either. They were over-crowded and impersonal, even during the off-season. Find the quaint, family-owned places and plan ahead with a few reservations. We normally had one reservation for a tasting a day when we were in Napa and Sonoma, and then we’d wing it with the rest.
Get recommendations from locals, and try places you’ve never heard of before. You almost can’t go wrong with any of the food in either place, but the restaurants I listed here are just amazing. We ate GOOD the whole week. Others that we would like to try and have heard good things about are Mustard’s Grill (St. Helena, close to Yountville), Bistro Jeanty (Yountville), Ad Hoc (Yountville), La Calenda (Yountville), Campo Fina (Healdsburg), and Barndiva (Healdsburg).
Let me know your favorite places in Napa and Sonoma! I already can’t WAIT to go back and revisit our favorite places and try even more!