California is home to incredible beaches, mountains, cities, small towns, and even Danish towns. But the best thing that California has to offer? Their incredible wine regions scattered throughout the state. Aside from the world-renowned Napa Valley, there are other wine regions scattered throughout the state that are just as incredible. So buckle up, because I’m going to show you how to have one epic road trip through California in search of wine. Below are five of the best California wine regions.
Please note, for purposes of this itinerary, we’ll be moving north to south. However, this itinerary can just as easily be done from south to north depending on your preference. If you plan to move south to north, start at the bottom of this post and work your way up.
An Epic Wine Trip Through California – Exploring 5 Different California Wine Regions
- 2 nights in Napa Valley
- 2 nights in Sonoma County
- 1 or 2 nights in Paso Robles (depending on which direction you’re moving)
- 1 night in Los Olivos
- 1 night in Temecula
If you plan to start your trip in Northern California you’ll want to fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) or Oakland International Airport (OAK). I highly recommend renting a car upon arrival as there aren’t any good bus or train routes throughout the state. I prefer using Kayak to search for the cheapest rental options.
From the San Francisco area, you’ll drive north to your first stop – Napa Valley. Napa Valley is 70-miles from SFO and 60-miles from OAK.
If you start your trip in Northern California, you’ll end your trip in Southern California in the wine region known as Temecula. The closest airports to Temecula are Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), 85-miles northeast of Temecula. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), 90-miles northwest of Temecula, or San Diego International Airport (SAN), 60-miles south of Temecula.
Remember, this trip can also be done in reverse meaning you’ll fly into PSP, LAX, or SAN and depart from SFO or OAK.
California Wine Region #1: Napa Valley
RECOMMENDED LENGTH OF TRIP: 2 NIGHTS
Out of the best wine regions in California, the most obvious choice is Napa Valley. And thanks to the Judgement of Paris, Napa Valley was put on the map in 1976 and is now a world-renowned wine region in Northern California. The most popular grapes grown in the area are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, although you can taste an assortment of wines in the region. Napa is comprised of many different towns and over 500 wineries. From north to south the main towns of Napa are Calistoga, St Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville, and Napa.
- Andaz Napa – Napa
- Archer Hotel Napa – Napa
- Lavender, A Four Sisters Inn – Yountville
- Cakebread Cellars – Rutherford
- Caymus Vineyards – Rutherford
- Domaine Carneros – Napa
- HALL Wines – St. Helena
- Round Pond Estate Winery – Rutherford
- Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars – Napa
- V. Sattui – St. Helena
- Angele Restaurant & Bar – French; Napa
- Bistro Don Giovanni – Italian; Napa
- Model Bakery – Breakfast; Napa
Read more about visiting Napa Valley:
California Wine Region #2: Sonoma County
RECOMMEND LENGTH OF TRIP: 2 NIGHTS
From Napa Valley, about an hour west will take you to another famed wine region in Northern California – Sonoma County. While Napa gets most of the attention, Sonoma shouldn’t be overlooked. Wine Enthusiast magazine named Sonoma County Wine Region of the Year in 2019. And like Napa, Sonoma is comprised of 30+ different towns. There are 425 wineries in Sonoma County and the main grapes that are grown are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; although you can taste many different wines in the region.
- Harmon Guest House – Healdsburg
- The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa – Sonoma
- Aperture Cellars – Healdsburg
- Flowers Vineyards and Winery – Healdsburg
- Ram’s Gate Winery – Sonoma
- Viansa Sonoma Winery and Tasting Room – Sonoma
Read more about visiting Sonoma County:
Trip Additions: Traveling Between Sonoma and Paso Robles
There are so many incredible things to see in California between Sonoma and Paso Robles. If you have the time, I highly recommend slowing down and visiting some of the most incredible places in the state.
Sausalito is a quaint town 70-miles south of Sonoma County and across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. After visiting wine country I almost always stop in town to eat at the restaurant Fish. before continuing down south.
Read more about visiting Sausalito:
From Sonoma to Paso Robles you pass right through the dazzling city of San Francisco. San Francisco is about 80-miles south of Sonoma County so at the very least you could stop for lunch and see a few of San Francisco’s most famous attractions. Regardless of whether or not you have time to stop in the city, at least make sure that you cross the Golden Gate Bridge on your way down to Paso Robles.
If you aren’t wined out I highly recommend stopping at the wine bar Birba.
Read more about visiting San Francisco:
MONTEREY + CARMEL + BIG SUR
The fastest way to get from Sonoma to Paso Robles doesn’t take you along the coast, but if you have the time this is one of the most beautiful and scenic areas in all of California (and arguably the world). If you choose to drive along the coast I recommend spending the night in the quaint town of Carmel.
Read more about visiting Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur:
California Wine Region #3: Paso Robles
RECOMMENDED LENGTH OF STAY: 2 NIGHTS (if you’re driving north to south), 1 NIGHT (if you’re driving south to north)
From Sonoma, head to the very underrated wine region located in Central California – Paso Robles. Paso Robles is about five hours south of Sonoma and is quickly gaining in popularity as more people find out about this hidden gem. There are 200 wineries scattered throughout the rolling hills of Paso Robles with Cabernet Sauvignon being the main grape grown throughout the region.
- Daou Vineyards
- Halter Ranch Vineyard
- Fish Gaucho – Mexican
Read more about visiting Paso Robles:
California Wine Region #4: Los Olivos
RECOMMENDED LENGTH OF STAY: 1 NIGHT
From Paso Robles, continue to explore Central California’s wine region by stopping in Los Olivos. Los Olivos is 90-miles south of Paso Robles in the Santa Ynez Valley. There are 120 wineries throughout the Santa Ynez Valley and over 30+ tasting rooms in Los Olivos alone. The most planted grape in the Santa Ynez Valley is Chardonnay.
- Roblar Winery
- Rusack Vineyards
- Sunstone Winery
- Vincent Vineyards
- Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe
Read more about visiting Los Olivos:
Trip Additions: Traveling Between Los Olivos and Temecula
There are so many unique things to see in Central California when you’re traveling between Los Olivos and Temecula. If you have the time, I highly recommend slowing down and making a few pit stops along the way.
A quintessential Danish town in the heart of America, there is no reason why you shouldn’t make it a priority to stop in Solvang when you’re visiting Los Olivos. Only a 10-minute drive south from wine country, Solvang is the perfect place to stop for lunch or even spend the night!
Read more about visiting Solvang:
While there are a ton of incredible destinations in California, Santa Barbara takes the cake for being the most beautiful. A quiet beach town, Santa Barbara is oftentimes referred to as “America’s Riviera” for its Spanish and European influence, laidback atmosphere, incredible shops, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms. Plus it’s only a 40-minute drive from Los Olivos so it’s easy to get to.
If you aren’t wined out, make sure to visit Santa Barara’s Funk Zone!
Read more about visiting Santa Barbara:
East, and about an hour out of the way, if you want to venture into the California desert then visiting Joshua Tree is a must. Joshua Tree feels like a reprieve from everyday life, where you can just hang out in the desert, visit vintage stores, and relax in this desert oasis.
Read more about visiting Joshua Tree:
Similar to Joshua Tree, Palm Springs is also located in the desert and is a bit out of the way if you’re driving from Los Olivos to Temecula. Unlike Joshua Tree, Palm Springs is a playhouse for those looking for an upscale place to hang out under the California sun. With its loud and colorful stores, incredible restaurants, and amazing houses… Palm Springs is the place to stop if you have the time.
Read more about visiting Palm Springs:
California Wine Region #5: Temecula
RECOMMENDED LENGTH OF STAY: 1 NIGHT
From Los Olivos, head further south to visit another premier wine region in California – Temecula. Temecula is a small wine region located about three hours south of Los Olivos with 50 wineries. This grape-growing region is different than the rest of the places previously talked about due to its hot climate. Here a lot of Spanish, French, and Italian style wines are produced using grapes like Sangiovese, Syrah, Viognier, Tempranillo, and Montepulciano among others.
- Callaway Vineyard and Winery
- Europa Village (wineries include Bolero, Vienza, and C’est la Vie)
- Ponte Winery
SHOP MY FAVORITE WINE TASTING LOOKS!
If you complete this road trip from Northern California down to Southern California (or vice versa), you will have covered over 500-miles of California ranging from the ocean to the desert, busy cities, quaint towns, country roads, and more. As someone who can’t get enough of wine tasting, learning about wine, and being surrounded by vineyards – you’re truly in luck when you come to California. I highly recommend exploring beyond the popular destinations of Napa and Sonoma and give the more underrated California wine regions a try.
Have you been to California before? What’s your favorite California wine region? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers friends!