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A First-Time Visitor’s Guide to Wine Country

A First-Time Visitor’s Guide to Wine Country

Finally experiencing the infamous Wine Country? You'll find our guide to first-time Wine Country visitors very helpful!

February 18, 2022

So it’s your first time visiting Wine Country, California. First and foremost, you’re in for a trip of a lifetime. But really, it’s also very easy to get overwhelmed without a proper guide to Wine Country. While a destination filled with dozens of charming towns, a never-ending stream of picturesque landscapes, farm-to-table restaurants, and incomparably beautiful hotels sounds like a dream, navigating it effectively requires careful preplanning. That’s where we step in! Before you hit the pretty road from San Francisco to Napa Valley , here’s everything you need to know about being a first-time tourist in Wine Country .

best time to tour california wine country

Napa Vs. Sonoma

First things first, unless you’ll be spending a long, long   time in Wine Country, then you should probably narrow down where you’d like to visit. Many people underestimate just how big the Napa and Sonoma Valley regions are. So, to avoid rushing from one place to the next, explore Wine Country one valley at a time. 

Need help picking between Sonoma and Napa? While there shouldn’t be any competition between the two, any guide to Wine Country would tell you that they are very different. Napa is where you go to live like a high roller and dine in Michelin-starred restaurants , while Sonoma is where you drive slowly down a dirt road and grab casual eats on an outdoor patio.

Of course, it goes without saying that a trip to either Napa or Sonoma is what you make of it. You can also stay in a five-star hotel and eat multi-course meals in Sonoma, and, on that very same note, bike to small family wineries and picnic in the vineyard in Napa. But based on reputations and popular itineraries, that’s what each valley offers best.

best time to tour california wine country

Visiting Napa Valley

Napa is the name of a town, but it’s also the name of the wider region, the Napa Valley. As the second most visited attraction in California behind Disneyland , the Vegas of Wine Country is a great place to explore. For the best experience, drive to the scenic Napa in May to avoid the summer crowds or in September through October for delightful weather.

Napa Valley Hotels 

Want to treat yourself to the best of the best Napa Valley hotels? Whether your preference is modern or historic, close to restaurants and shops or in a remote vineyard setting, Napa Valley hotels cater to your wants and needs.

If you’re looking to escape to rolling hills, charming neighborhoods, and storied wine-growing appellations, check out the bed and breakfast inns in Napa. R INN NAPA is a great luxury option in the downtown area, while Bel Abri Napa Valley Inn is a more budget-friendly choice.

Are you a bon vivant looking for endless creature comforts and chic amenities? The resorts in Napa Valley will definitely impress. Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford is a world-renowned Napa Valley hotel and spa you can’t go wrong with, while Bardessono in Yountville is another incredible choice. Both Napa Valley hotels have outstanding restaurants on their premises.

best time to tour california wine country

Napa Valley Food 

Forget Napa Valley wineries, you can easily add a hundred different restaurants to your list of things to do. From Michelin star fare to farm-to-table perfection, Napa’s dining scene is incomparable.

La Toque , the Restaurant at Auberge , The French Laundry, Kenzo Napa , and Bouchon Bistro are Michelin-starred dining hotspots in Napa Valley. Want to dine al fresco? The Grove at Copia , Lucy Restaurant and Bar , and Sam’s Social Club deliver both the scenic views and delicious cuisine. And, of course, for dessert, we recommend heading to Anette’s Chocolates or Bouchon Bakery .

Napa Valley Attractions

Put your tourist hat on—it’s time to explore one of the most beautiful and eco-luxurious places in California. Golfing, hiking, shopping, spas, arts and culture, and more fun Napa attractions await.

If you’re short on time and want a list of things to do in Napa Valley that’ll satisfy anyone, we recommend riding the Napa Valley Wine Train , flying above the valley in a hot air balloon, enjoying a Downtown Napa walking tour, stopping by Oxbow Public Market , and popping into a couple of essential museums like the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art .

best time to tour california wine country

Visiting Sonoma Valley

Sonoma delivers more of the country aspect of Wine Country. Similar to Napa, Sonoma is the name of a town, as well as the name of the wider region. While Napa wins on being more expensive, Sonoma is certainly more expansive , being almost double the size of Napa. Just like the rest of Wine Country, California, the best time to visit Sonoma is in May and late fall.

Sonoma Valley Hotels 

Any guide to Wine Country would mention Kenwood Inn and Spa , Vintners Resorts , Farmhouse Inn , and Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn as the creme de la creme of luxurious accommodations. But if you’re looking for a more laid-back stay, the Inn at Sonoma and Raford Inn are great options as well.

If you’re spending a few days in Wine Country, California, you should definitely venture out from your accommodation and drive to the small towns nearby. Healdsburg, Sebastopol, Guerneville, Petaluma, and Russian River Valley are great half-day road trip destinations to keep on your radar.

best time to tour california wine country

Sonoma Valley Food 

No guide to Wine Country would be complete without a number of Sonoma Valley restaurants to look forward to. Whether your dream dinner is in an elegant hotel, a vineyard, or at a riverfront patio, Sonoma has a seat for you at its table.

For a fine dining experience, John Ash and Co. and the Restaurant at Farmhouse Inn will exceed your expectations. But for a more adventurous culinary experience in Wine Country, California, we suggest indulging in dairy delights and meeting local cheesemakers along the California Cheese Trail , learning to cook a new dish from a Sonoma County chef, and experiencing local farms and ranches along the Sonoma County Farm Trail.

Sonoma Valley Attractions

Last but not least, as your guide to Wine Country’s Sonoma Valley, we can’t let you miss out on the best things to do here! Sonoma can fill much more than just your wine glass. 

Fill your days with fun adventures, nourish your body with healthy food, and pamper yourself with meditation and massage—a weekend adventure in Sonoma can be anything you like. As for the must-dos, make sure you visit Sonoma Plaza, hike among the redwoods, kayak on the Russian River, and roam the beaches of Sonoma Coast State Park.

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Perfect Napa Valley Itinerary for First-Time Visitors

  • on SEPTEMBER 18, 2023

Hot Air Balloons soaring above the Napa Valley vineyards

Soar high above the Napa Valley vineyards in a hot air balloon

At 30 miles long, Napa Valley is relatively small but mighty. The Northern California region that’s about 50 miles from San Francisco is, of course, synonymous with wine. Most renowned for its bold Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s also home to beautiful examples of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. In fact, there are 16 designated appellations (or AVAs), over 45,000 acres of vines, and some 400 wineries to choose from, making it a must-visit wine region in California .

Perfectly aligned with quality wine is gourmet cuisine, which Napa’s restaurant scene excels at. There’s Michelin-star venues, fine Italian dining, and casual eateries to ensure you’re never hungry here. There’s also an impeccable wellness scene that dates back 500 years ago, when natural volcanic hot springs were discovered at the base of Mount St. Helena and recognized for their healing powers. Today, many spas throughout Napa Valley, particularly in Calistoga, incorporate the natural minerals and healing waters into their spa treatments.

Want to visit Napa Valley for a few days of epicurean immersion—wine tastings, restaurant hopping, and a cooking class—culminating in a healing soak before heading home? Here’s the perfect Napa Valley itinerary for your first visit to this world-class wine region.

Napa Valley Itinerary for First-Time Visitors

St. helena & rutherford.

There’s no better way to begin your first trip to Napa Wine Country than by raising a glass or two at some of the hundreds of tasting rooms throughout the Valley. Since Napa is divided into five main towns—Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville, Rutherford, and Napa—it’s best to cluster your tastings by location. St. Helena is an ideal spot to start as it has a mix of Napa’s key players and newcomers, as well as plenty of mouthwatering eats nearby.

Start at HALL Wines for a wine tasting among art in their gallery style tasting room. Next up, Faust presents an entirely different tasting experience at their Victorian farmhouse—opt for their picnic option if your visit falls around lunch time. Or save your appetite for a quintessential St. Helena experience; a stacked-high burger from Gott’s Roadside . A downtown institution since 1999, there will surely be a line, but the reward is worth the wait.

Hall Wines in St. Helena, CA

While you could easily stay your second night in St. Helena, you may want to be closer to the day two restaurants and wineries on this itinerary. In Carneros, a few minutes from downtown Napa, the Carneros Resort and Spa is a lovely spot to rest your head, where you’ll be surrounded by vineyards from your serene, standalone cottage. If you’d prefer to be closer to the action, Andaz in downtown Napa offers chic rooms and a convenient setting close to tasting rooms and wine bars (such as a few of our favs: Acumen , Compline , and Brendel Wines ). In Yountville, you can’t go wrong with Bardessono and Hotel Yountville , each offering spacious dwellings that place you within walking distance to premier tasting rooms, restaurants, and activities.

Before getting too down that today is your last day, let Napa Valley Aloft or Napa Valley Balloons fly you high above the vines for a new vantage of the Valley. The balloons take off early in the morning and usually finish with a picnic breakfast inclusive of bubbles.

Afterwards, make time to finally discover Napa Valley’s wellness side. If time isn’t an issue, you can head back Up Valley for a soak or mud bath at Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs , located in Calistoga, or for a massage at Spa Alila back in St. Helena. But if you’d rather not drive that far and want to stay in Napa, try a specialty treatment (like the rose quartz facial) at Spa Terra , the 22,000-square-foot spa cave at Meritage Resort and Spa .

We couldn’t let you leave Napa without one last world-class gastronomic experience. But in this case, you’ll be doing the work. Sign up for one of the hands-on cooking classes at CIA at Copia , The Culinary Institute of America’s downtown Napa location. Their private classes are customizable to whatever you want to learn or create before you depart the Valley. But don’t worry, with so many things to do in Napa , we know you’ll be back soon.

Napa Valley has year-round appeal. In the summer, days are warm, the vineyards are lush, and everything’s green, but it’s also high season. Beat the crowds and visit during the shoulder seasons—October through December or February through April—when the daytime temperature is moderate in the 50s or 60s, but there’s still plenty of activity. The winter also has its allure; many hotels are equipped with ensuite fireplaces or outdoor fire pits for cozying around with a glass of Napa Cab.

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Spit, often:, plan ahead:, about jillian dara.

Jillian Dara is a freelance journalist focusing on wine, spirits, travel, and culture. She loves reporting on the intersection of them all for publications including Wine Enthusiast, VinePair, SommTV and Travel + Leisure. Jillian is partial to Napa Cab Franc but internationally she’s drawn to Carménère, discovered while living in Santiago, Chile, as well as a mineral-forward Albariño.

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The Best Time of the Year to Visit Napa Valley

  • on JANUARY 15, 2024

Welcome to Napa Valley sign

Photo Courtesy of Bob McClenahan Photography

Regardless of when you plan to visit, be it next weekend or next fall, Napa Valley is always a good idea. After all, there’s a reason why Napa remains one of the most popular destinations in California, and, believe it or not, wine is just a small part of the equation.

Happiness is not a state of mind, but a trip to Napa Valley.

From world-class wineries and breathtaking scenery to luxurious accommodations , acclaimed restaurants , rejuvenating spas , vibrant arts and culture , unique shopping , and more, Napa Valley truly has something for everyone. Plus, with its mild Mediterranean climate, this Northern California wine region boasts plenty of sunny days year-round, making it an ideal destination any time of year.

So when, exactly, is the best time of year to visit Napa Valley? It really depends on the type of experience you want to enjoy, as every season offers a different slice of Wine Country life. To help you plan the perfect getaway, regardless of the time of year, we’ve put together a seasonal guide to visiting Napa Valley.

Carneros Resort and Spa

Spring Season

After the winter rains, spring is a rejuvenating time of year in Napa Valley, when wildflowers adorn the vibrant green hillsides, vineyards start to awaken with the start of bud break, and the overall vibe is relaxed and cheerful as the days get longer. While you still may see some rain in the forecast , most of the time the temperatures are mild and inviting, making wine tasting outdoors a more appealing prospect. It’s also a great time to explore Napa’s outdoorsy side, biking or hiking around before the summertime heat descends upon the Valley. Average highs tend to range in the mid-to-high 60s and start to roll into the mid-70s by May, though evening lows are still pretty chilly, typically in the mid-to-high 40s.

Acacia House

Summer / “Peak Season”

With dry, sunny days and virtually no rain—there’s rarely a cloud in the sky from sunrise to sunset—it’s no wonder why people flock to Napa Valley during the summer months . Wineries and tasting rooms embrace the nice weather by offering outdoor tastings and vineyard tours , hotel pools can be found bustling with happy guests enjoying the California sunshine, and local farmers’ markets are bursting with summer produce. You’ll find average daytime temperatures in the mid-80s to mid-90s, depending on how far north you are in the valley, with lows ranging in the 50s at night.

Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort

Fall Season

Fall is always a busy time of year in Wine Country, when the bustling harvest season brings an air of excitement to the Valley. During the months of August, September, and October, winery teams can be seen picking grapes in the vineyards for crush, and some wineries even offer special harvest tours so you can witness the winery production facilities buzzing with action. Even if you’re not here for the wine, it’s hard to deny the appeal of fall in Napa, when the region shines with vibrant autumnal colors of orange, red, gold, and yellow. Add in mild temperatures both day and night and it’s no wonder why harvest is a popular time for visitors (we recommend booking reservations well in advance). Average day highs linger in the high 70s to low 80s, dropping down into the 50s at night, with rarely much precipitation in sight.

Mayacamas Vineyards

Winter Holiday Season

Mid-November through early January is no doubt a magical time in Napa Valley, when festive winter events and holiday gatherings add to the joy of the season. Starting with Thanksgiving, many restaurants in the area offer special holiday dinners to take advantage of, while wineries host a range of specials on wine and holiday open-houses. Whole towns even go all out this time of year, showcasing bright twinkly lights and special events for kids of all ages. Daytime averages are usually in the high 50s to low 60s, with nighttime temps clocking in the 40s and high 30s. So, while you won’t be in for a “white Christmas” in Napa, rainy days can be more frequent, so don’t forget an umbrella or a rain jacket for those times when the weather forecast calls for rain instead of sun.

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Winter is the best time to visit Napa Valley without crowds

Oct 12, 2021 • 5 min read

Young woman in the wine cellar tasting white wine alcohol. professional wine steward sitting indoor napa valley restaurant concentrated looking at glass. elegant lady relax in grapery bar

Tastings rooms are less busy in winter giving visitors more opportunity to try a variety of wines © PR Image Factory / Shutterstock

If someone invites you to Napa Valley – the most renowned wine country in America – the first thing to do is say yes. A jaunt through these vineyard-dotted hills is appealing all year round, with the region’s opulent, chateau-like wineries offering up some of the planet’s most full-bodied, mind-melting Cabernets. The top-notch culinary scene is also a major draw, with fabulous food festivals, swanky cooking schools and too many Michelin stars to count. 

Choosing when to visit can be difficult, but it’s helpful to remember that in Napa Valley , sunshine directly correlates with higher hotel rates, crowds and the necessity of reservations. For those looking for the quintessential Napa experience, the fall harvest season – although it's busy – is the best time of year.

Interior of award winning restaurant Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, Napa Valley

Low Season: November to February 

Best time for budget travelers

If you’ve ever dreamed of having a Napa winery all to yourself, and all the tastings you can swallow, wintertime is your jam. Because monsoons are frequent and temperatures dip into the 50s, 40s and even the 30s, hotel prices are at their low point (which is still pretty high in California’s most chichi wine country, and of course excludes the holidays). Food festivals go off in January and dazzling yellow mustard flowers paint the hillsides early in the year.

Shoulder Season: March to May 

Best time to explore the outdoors.

As the winter frost drips away, Napa Valley goes into full bloom and greenery abounds. Long dormant vines pop with new shoots and days begin to lengthen, with highs in the 60s and 70s when the sun is out, and lows dropping into the 40s in the mornings and evenings. Soak up these uncrowded and lovely days with hikes and bike rides, but don’t be surprised by a bit of rain, particularly in May. 

High Season: August to October

Best time to visit vineyards.

When the harvest season rolls around in August, grapes fly off the wines and Napa Valley comes fully alive. With the grape smashings, harvest dinners and fabulous balls, though, expect crowds and high prices and book hotels, restaurants and tastings  accordingly (months in advance!). Note that clear and sunny summer days also tend to lure untold numbers of oenophiles and festival-goers. 

Stacked rustic oak barrels near a vineyard in California wine country

During the cheapest time of year to visit Napa Valley, things are pretty quiet, with the exception of a couple of food festivals to liven things up. Rainfall is on the high side while daytime temperatures hover in the 50s, dropping at night.

Key Events: Napa Lighted Art Festival , Napa Valley Restaurant Week , Napa Truffle Festival

Temperatures are on the rise and the rain tapers off a bit and yet the crowds are still absent, making February a pretty lovely month in Napa Valley.  The destination makes for a super romantic (if busy) Valentine’s Day, and tastings are otherwise easy to come by.

Key Events: Napa Beer Mile , Napa Valley Restaurant Week

With spring comes breaking buds, greening and yellowing hillsides and more sunny days, with temperatures mostly hanging out in the 50s. Prices and visitation begin creeping up, particularly during popular events like the Napa Marathon and Bud Break Festival.

Key Events: Napa Marathon , Yountville Live , Bud Break Festival

Welcome to 70-degree days perfect for vineyard tours, picnic lunches and hot air balloon rides. Because visitation levels remain relatively low (apart from Easter), this might just be the most pleasant time of year to visit Napa Valley.

Key Events: Arts in April , Vineyard to Vintner  

Masks and social distancing are part of the wine tasting experience at California wineries

Temperatures continue rising in May, but considerably more rain begins to fall. In other words, definitely pack that umbrella. While the springtime greenery is out in full force, crowds are not, particularly on weekdays.  

Key Events: Bottle Rock Napa

Summer is here, and it brings incredibly sunny weather and a delightful array of outdoor concerts. Crowds and high prices are a bit much, but those who book in advance and know what they’re getting into will do just fine. 

Key Events: Jazz Getaway , St. Helena Summer Concert Series , Calistoga Concerts in the Park

Sunshine and live music continue to draw all the tourists, but now those daytime temps are creeping into the 80s and even the 90s. Many of the traditional agriculture events go down this month, including the Napa County Fair.

Key Events: Festival Napa Valley , Napa Porch Fest , Napa County Fair

The harvest begins, the sunshine remains and the rain is nowhere to be seen. This is the best time of year to visit Napa Valley, and everybody knows it, including the people deciding the prices for hotel rooms and everything else.  

Key Events: Blues/Brews/BBQs

Crush time is peak season in Napa Valley and winemaking operations are in full force. Accommodations, tours, tastings and restaurants should all be booked at least four months in advance.

Key Events: Calistoga Harvest Table

Grapes and colorful autumn leaves  in Napa Valley, Northern California

Still harvest time, this is Napa’s busiest month. Prices are steep. The weather is sunny and perfect in the daytime, cool in the evening. Crowds are intense. Reservations need to be made at least four months in advance.

Key Events: Crush Challenge

The rush dies down, the fall colors pop and the valley transitions into holiday mode, with events including Turkey Chase, Napa’s Lighting of the Christmas Tree and the Christmas Parade. The more relaxed and festive atmosphere make this a superb month for a visit.

Key Events: Napa Valley Film Festival , Turkey Chase , Lighting of the Christmas Tree , Christmas Parade

Temperatures have dropped, tourists have fled and the grapevines have gone bare. But the valley is lit up with festive holiday lights, and fireplaces are making things super cozy for the few visitors who do show up.

Key Events: Holiday Happenings

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An Eater’s Guide to California Wine Country

Unofficial, highly opinionated recommendations for the famed wine and food destination

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Northern California wine country is one of the premier wine-growing regions in the world. Cabernet sauvignon grapes were first planted in the area in the 1800s, when a few of the most historic wineries were established, and they started growing in popularity in the 1940s, following prohibition. Once side-eyed by the French, the big upset was when California won the “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting in 1976, finally throwing Napa Cabernet and Chardonnay onto the world stage.

Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley have since flourished as a wining-and-dining destination. Napa has more than 400 wineries, Sonoma has more than 425 wineries, and between the two counties, they currently share eight Michelin-starred restaurants . It’s only a half-hour drive from the Golden Gate Bridge to the first winery at the gate of Sonoma, drawing many San Franciscans and Bay Area folks for wine tastings on the weekends. But wine country is also a world destination, attracting thirsty travelers from around the globe, and there’s plenty to eat and drink for those that would like to relax at a luxurious country inn for a very full week.

Welcome to the Land of Fine Wining and Dining

Wine country is a large geographic area, so before you hit the road, it’s worth picking which specific region you might want to explore. Napa Valley is the big-name destination, attracting travelers for its big bold cabs and starred fine dining. Napa, of course, is the name of the valley, county, city, and river running through. There are two main highways, and route 29 is the main thoroughfare, while the Silverado Trail is off the beaten path. You’ll hit six towns driving up from the south, starting with the city of Napa, followed by luxurious Yountville, quaint St. Helena, and the beautiful Calistoga. With more than 400 wineries, it does draw big tour buses, but for good reason.

Sonoma Valley is a little more laid-back and preferred by locals, although it’s all relative in this rich part of the world — over-the-top Chardonnay goes hand-in-hand with good tacos. Likewise, it’s both a valley and a county, and a historic mission, plaza, and town. Just in the valley, highway 12 is the main drag through, rolling up through historic Sonoma Plaza, charming Glen Ellen, and quiet Kenwood. But Sonoma County is huge, extending all the way to the coast, and it boasts 425 wineries altogether. Within West Sonoma County, Russian River Valley is literally cooler, with rolling redwoods and tendrils of fog breezing in off the ocean. It’s a little more funky and hippie, if you prefer swimming holes and earthy pinot noir — or wild western beer and cider.

Where to Start on Eater SF’s Top Maps

Where to eat at restaurants.

Shining Michelin Stars : Of course, many travelers head straight to the French Laundry , the Californian fine-dining institution (as well as sister restaurant Ad Hoc for fried chicken). But post-pandemic, fine dining is roaring back in wine country , and many locals are vying for a reservation at one of SingleThread’s stunning farm-to-table experiences.

Cal-Italian Comforts : There is no shortage of fresh pasta, fresh pizza, and fresh vegetables in wine country. Catelli’s Restaurant is an old-school red sauce joint dating back to 1936, which serves grandma-style chicken parm, along with great vino.

Hand-Slapped Tacos : El Molino Central is a longtime favorite roadside stop for tacos, tamales, and ceviche. The handmade tortillas are also sold at SF farmers’ markets under the brand Primavera, but they taste even better fresh off the griddle.

Barbecue Food Trucks : The Black Piglet is the darling of a couple of local star chefs, and it’s often parked at Davies Family Vineyards in Russian River, slinging pulled pork and bacon caramel popcorn.

Picnic Provisions : Oxbow Public Market is the food hall to caffeinate and stock up on sandwiches and snacks for a long day of wine tasting in Napa. And Big Bottom Market in Russian River is also worth the stop for Oprah’s favorite biscuits, along with other essential supplies.

Where to Taste Wine with Food

Cabernet Sauvignon : Stag’s Leap helped put Napa Valley on the map when their bold cab won the “Judgement of Paris” in 1976, and these days, the winery also has a strong food program, serving pairings by the lake.

Sparkling Wine : The area is also known for sparkling wine, and Domaine Chandon not only has an over-the-top flower garden and crisp Cali sparklers, but you can also get a picnic basket stuffed with mini bottles of bubbles, charcuterie, cheese, and other snacks.

Pinot Noir : Flowers Winery in West Sonoma County edges closer to the coast, yielding fog-kissed and minerally pinot noir and Chardonnay, which you can sip and snack in open-air cabanas.

Natural Wine : With the growing natural wine movement, Valley Bar and Bottle Shop is the cool new restaurant and wine bar on historic Sonoma Plaza, from a couple of veterans of Scribe winery, now pouring favorite organic and biodynamic winemakers, and serving XO eggs and butter beans.

The Best Time of Year to Visit Wine Country

Wineries and tasting rooms do have a season. Most open doors with fresh spring releases in April, welcome many visitors over the summer, and celebrate the fall harvest by October. BottleRock Napa Valley , the wine-and-music festival, usually goes down in May, although it’s been pandemic-delayed to October 2021. And Sonoma County Harvest Fair is the big food-and-wine festival that’s scheduled as usual for the fall — also in October 2021. It is worth noting that wildfire season is now sadly an annual occurrence in Northern California, so you might want to check heat and drought forecasts before booking hotels and flights.

Coronavirus Considerations

California is scheduled to fully reopen on June 15 , so wineries and restaurants should be free to go back to business as usual — but many remain cautious after a hard pandemic year. Many will require masks, offer hand sanitizer, and take other precautions. And while it used to be relatively easy to pull over to the side of the road and stroll into a tasting room to try some cab, more so than ever before, wineries and tasting rooms are requiring reservations; and with an influx of excited travelers, those reservations are going fast. Suffice it to say, book early and book everything, from wine tastings to dinner reservations. The Napa Department of Public Health and Sonoma Department of Public Health will have the latest local rules and restrictions for the two counties.

Eater SF’s Ultimate Guide to Wine Country

  • Wine Country Roars Back to Life With Fine Dining Restaurants in High Demand
  • Sushi, Craft Cocktails, and More Newness in Napa and Sonoma
  • 18 Premier Wineries With Excellent Food in Napa Valley
  • 19 Destination Restaurants in Napa Valley
  • 14 Top-Notch Restaurants in Sonoma County
  • 19 Laid-Back Wineries with Real Food in Sonoma County
  • Where to Eat and Drink in the Russian River Valley

Napa Valley   Travel Guide

best time to tour california wine country

Best Times To Visit Napa Valley

The best time to visit Napa is August through October or March through May. Napa's peak tourist season corresponds with the region's harvest season (August through October). During this busy time, expect crowds and high prices for just about everything, especially accommodations . If you catch the tail end of the harvest season, you'll enjoy the area's beautiful autumn weather, complete with changing leaves and the chance of lower hotel rates. March through May, when spring is in full bloom and the summer rush has yet to arrive, is another prime time to visit. If you're looking to save a few bucks and don't mind chillier weather, a trip between December and February will likely be less crowded and more affordable (just remember to pack an umbrella). Plus, there's a number of food events that take place during this time, including Napa Valley Restaurant Week. Regardless of when you plan your Napa vacation, you'll find plenty to do, as wineries don't experience seasonal closures and festivals are held year-round. Temperatures vary greatly across the valley between morning and evening (sometimes by as much as 30 degrees), so you'll want to pack a light jacket no matter what time of year you visit.

Weather in Napa Valley

Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center

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Popular Times to Visit Napa Valley

Tourism volume is estimated based on in-market destination search query interest from Google and on in 2015-2016. Hotel prices are sourced from a sample of U.S. News Best Hotels rates through 2015-2016.

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  • California: Things to Do
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What is the Best Time for California Wine Tours?

  • FIRST POSTED: 1st February 2022 | LAST UPDATED: 20th June 2022
  • 9 minute read

There’s a good reason why California is the most visited state in the USA. When it comes to cultural offerings and natural landscapes, cosmopolitan cities and fantastic culinary scene, the Golden State never disappoints. 

California is the perfect go-to for a fix of adrenaline rush or a romantic getaway. It‘s the top choice for a family holiday or a long-overdue solo trip. People travel here to experience the magic of amusement parks, hike through scenic trails, rejuvenate in world-class spas, lounge on sun-drenched beaches, walk amongst superstars, and explore iconic landmarks.  

Whatever your reason for visiting California, there is one thing you should never miss. The wine! 

If you want to experience the real deal, you’ll need to go to California’s wine country and immerse yourself in its wine culture. With hundreds of vineyards, wineries of all kinds and world-class blends, it’s no secret that nothing compares to the wine tours in California.

As well as the multitude of wine tours to choose from, the region has plenty of other activities for visitors to try. California’s varied terrain and stunning views make it ideal for hiking, cycling, horseback riding, and hot air ballooning. You will find natural wonders, including golden beaches along the Pacific coastline, dense oak and redwood forests, miles of rolling hills, wide-ranging wildlife, and secluded hot springs baths. The region also has elegant villas, boutique hotels, upscale resorts, trendy cafés, and Michelin star restaurants for those seeking luxury.

So, what is the  best time to visit the California wine country? The northern valleys have a Mediterranean climate, marked by warm, dry summers and cool, rainy winters. While the scenery remains beautiful throughout the seasons (yes, even in winter!), some activities only happen during certain months of the year. 

Ultimately, your California wine tasting tour experience varies depending on the time of the year. Here are my recommendations for the best time to go to the wine country in California.

Wine Barrels

The weather in California is unpredictable in spring. Mostly, it is warm and sunny with clear and bright blue skies and long days. However, a fair amount of rain is forecast between March and May, and there may even be the occasional thunderstorm. Be sure to pack a waterproof jacket along with your sunhat and sunglasses, and prepare for the unexpected.

Even so, the region looks lovely in spring as wildflowers bloom, carpeting the meadows and the hills with a wild assortment of colours. Around early spring, sprouts start to show on the vines, giving the vineyards a lush, verdant look that deepens as the days progress. However, do not expect to see grapes; the fruits don’t appear until a little later.

The Wine country tourist season officially begins in spring, and the region starts to swell with visitors in search of the best wine tours in California. Yes, there will be wine sampling. But you will be tasting last year’s vintage.

The wine country is at its hottest and sunniest in summer, with temperatures sometimes reaching the high thirties in July and August. Despite the heat, holidaymakers flock to the region, which means that the wineries and other attractions can get overcrowded quite quickly.

Although wine tours run more frequently and wine tasting outdoors becomes possible again, nothing of real significance happens during these months, particularly for serious wine connoisseurs. The vineyards are still worth seeing though, as in the height of summer they turn brilliantly green, and grapes start appearing.

The hot months are ideal for outdoor activities in California, such as camping and day trips to the beach. In summer, specifically July and August, local farmers sell their home-grown produce and homemade goods in markets.  The wine country gets especially busy during the Fourth of July as more visitors arrive to celebrate the event.

Grapes in Sunshine

Autumn is undoubtedly the best time to visit the wine country in California. As early as the last week of August, the region begins to bustle with activities as hordes of excited tourists arrive and wineries get in a frenzy with harvest preparations. Nature, too, is busy. Vineyards turn golden yellow, and vines hang low with heavy bunches of ripe grapes. But while the temperature mellows down, the days remain long and sunny with pleasantly warm evenings. 

The start of the harvest season varies depending on the weather and other factors. But most wineries begin fruit picking in late August. Tourists can also watch the process of pressing and bottling the wines.

Autumn is definitely the best time to visit California wineries for the gorgeous weather and wealth of activities. However, expect higher prices, not only for accommodation but also for the wines. The vineyards and tasting rooms are often full of people, so if you want to escape the crowd, consider visiting in late October when most tourists have gone home.

Winters in the California wine country are pretty mild. Whilst it doesn’t snow, it rains most days, so most activities have to move indoors. After the harvest, the vines are all bare, so the vineyards don’t appear as impressive. Thus, winter is not the best time to visit the California vineyards.

But don’t think winter in the wine country is boring, dull and dreary. On the contrary, the season is a magical time of the year. 

The holiday gatherings, starting with Thanksgiving and peaking with New Year, bring a different kind of warmth and excitement. Towns spruce up; streets come to life with Christmas decors and twinkly lights. Many restaurants serve special holiday dinners, wineries offer discounts on wine, and hotel rates go down. Best of all, the crowd has dispersed, allowing you to enjoy a quiet, laid-back, and reasonably-priced wine-tasting holiday.

Where to Go on a California Wine Tour

The California wine country is recognized internationally as a leading wine-growing region. It cultivates over 100 grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon blanc, and Zinfandel. 

California presently has over 427,000 acres of vineyards and more than 1700 wineries, making it the fourth-largest producer of wine in the world, after Italy, Spain, and France. There are a variety of different parts of the area that are recommended for a wine tour, each with its own speciality.

Napa Valley

Vineyard in Napa Valley

Undoubtedly, the superstar of the California wine-making industry is Napa Valley. It’s the most popular destination in the wine country, receiving 3.85 million tourists annually. 

The valley stretches four miles wide and 30 miles long, with 43,000 acres of vineyards. It boasts villas inspired by Tuscan architecture, Michelin-starred restaurants, and over 400 wineries serving award-winning blends. More than three dozen varieties thrive in the Napa Valley, but the most widely planted are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. 

Napa is merely an hour away from San Francisco, but it looks and feels like a village in Tuscany. While in Napa, you will find the big names of the American wine industry, including Diamond Creek, Opus One, Mondavi and Joseph Phelps.

Located 130 miles north of San Francisco, Mendocino is a spectacular mix of rocky coastline, pristine beaches, lush mountains, and redwood forests. It is not only one of the most picturesque places in all of California, but it also has 25% of all certified organically-grown and biodynamic grapes in the United States.  

Mendocino’s focus on organic viticulture has earned it the nickname ‘organic wine Mecca’. The wine region is best known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Established as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983, Santa Ynez Valley is part of Santa Barbara and has the largest concentration of wineries in the county. The valley lies between the Purisima Hills and the San Rafael and Santa Ynez mountains, with the Santa Ynez River coursing through the valley towards the Pacific Ocean.  The colder, western side of Santa Ynez grows Chardonnay, while the eastern portion cultivates Rhône varieties, such as Syrah, Grenache Mourvèdre and Viognier.

Sonoma Vineyard

Can’t choose between Pinot Noir and Zinfandel? In Sonoma , you can have the best of both. The county’s diverse topography and microclimates allow it to grow more than 65 grape varieties, but it is most renowned for its big reds. 

Sonoma is also known as the birthplace of California’s commercial wine industry. The Buena Vista Winery, the state’s first premium winery, was established in Sonoma in 1857. Visiting this wine is, in a way, a journey back to the origin of winemaking in the country. 

Among the wine regions in Sonoma County, the Russian River Valley and Dry Creek are perhaps the prettiest. The Russian River Valley grows critically acclaimed Chardonnay, while Dry Creek has Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Carignane.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara has over 115 wineries and cultivates 21,000 acres of vineyards. Franciscan missionaries planted the first wine grapes in Santa Barbara in the late 18th century, and by the 1960s, the county had become a premier winemaking region. 

The 2004 film Sideways highlighted Santa Barbara as a viticultural centre and brought special attention to its Pinot Noir wines. It is also known for its Chardonnay and some Rhone varietals.  

San Luis Obispo

This wine country lies along the Pacific coast, which makes it the ideal destination for those who want to combine a wine tour and a beach holiday.  Established as a viticultural region in the 18th century, San Luis Obispo is primarily known for its juicy Pinot Noir.  However, its four AVAs offer a variety of specialities: Chardonnay from Arroyo Grande Valley, Rhone, particularly Syrah and Viognier, from Edna Valley, Merlot and Zinfandel from Paso Robles, and Cabernet Sauvignon from York Mountain.

Temecula Valley

Wine in Temecula

Temecula Valley is part of Riverside County, located inland about 800 kilometres south of San Francisco. The area is remarkably gorgeous, surrounded by rolling hills and rugged mountains. 

Many vineyards are on elevated land as high as 1600 feet above sea level. The warm days and cool nights create the best condition for growing high-quality grapes, with varieties coming from the region including Merlot, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc. Recently, vineyards in the Temecula Valley also started cultivating Mediterranean varietals, such as Syrah, Pinot Gris, Grenache, Sangiovese, and Viognier.

Although Temecula Valley has its share of upscale wineries, most are boutique-style and family-owned. You will also find fascinating tourist sites around the valley, including a replica French chateau and buildings inspired by Snow White’s cottage in Disney’s 1937 animated film.

As you wind into the Santa Cruz Mountains, you will discover lush vines growing amongst towering redwoods on a rugged mountain path. The scenery is surprisingly striking, and even more surprising is the fact that this seemingly off-the-beaten-path wine region has approximately 200 vineyards and over 70 wineries. Experts claim that Santa Cruz’s rugged terrain and microclimate help create a unique character in the grape varieties, making their wines distinct and different.  

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varieties grow on the coastal areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains, while Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel are abundant inland. Santa Cruz’s grape growers and wineries use sustainable practices, such as canopy management, cover crops and erosion control. They also utilise renewable energy like solar and biodiesel in their production processes.

The best time to explore California’s immense and astounding wine region depends on what you want to experience and achieve. For a combination of good weather and fun outdoor activities, visit in spring. Summer brings lots of sunshine, great adventures, and tourists, so be ready to work your way around massive crowds.  

If you have a deep interest in viticulture and want to learn more about winemaking, visit during autumn. But take note that it’s the peak season; prices are usually sky high, and tasting rooms swell with hordes of visitors. By winter, everything settles down, though there is not much to see in the vineyards. However, you get the opportunity to enjoy the place all to yourself.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the best time to explore the wine country in California. Take a look at the rest of my guides to this state if you’re looking for more recommendations of what to see and do when you visit!

best time to tour california wine country

When is the Best Time to Visit California?

  • FIRST POSTED: 14th January 2022 | LAST UPDATED: 18th February 2022

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This Is the Secret to Experiencing California's Wine Country Without the Crowds

There's no time like the post-holidays winter season to experience the best and most peaceful version of Northern California's wineries.

best time to tour california wine country

If you love sipping a perfect pinot on a sunny, 75-degree August day in California's wine country , you're far from alone. Literally. Because one unwelcome addition that idyllic day is practically guaranteed to come along with? Hundreds of other people — all vying for the same wine-tasting seats, the same coveted hotel rooms, and all waiting in the same endless lines for brunch at Bouchon . Over-touristed travel is rarely fun. The good news: There is a way to do wine country without the crowds.

According to the Napa Valley tourism bureau, the area welcomes about 3.85 million visitors per year, the majority of whom come through during the area's busiest (and sunniest) months, from summer to early fall. Luckily, as wise travelers will tell you, high season isn't the only season — in wine country or elsewhere.

Besides, there are now more wineries in Northern California than ever before ( 3,600 by our count ) which means there's absolutely no need to elbow your way into the handful of uber-popular ones. All you need is a bit of planning and a little trust in the knowledge that when it comes to wine country, taking the road less traveled will truly make all the difference.

Plus, there's no time like the present — that is, the post-holidays winter season, from January through early March — to experience the best and most peaceful version of Northern California's wineries.

Think outside the Napa box.

Yes, Napa is central to California wine culture . But said culture is a robust and varied one, and it's far from a one-town market. Napa city proper is usually the most crowded — and can be the most expensive — choice on the map, so instead, seek out a unique experience by heading to the more laid-back (but still wine-centric) locales of Healdsburg, Yountville, and Sonoma.

On a recent wintry visit to wine country, I was pleasantly surprised — shocked, even — by the striking balance of chill and chic to be found in all three of these towns when they're at their emptiest. Especially after past trips to experience the typical summertime wine country (you know, the most basic version: tipsy in a shared rental limo zipping across Napa with a bunch of friends), I had no idea what I'd been missing: namely, wandering hushed riverside vineyards and quaint downtown streets — alone.

I started in Sonoma, Napa's slightly sleepier sister city; my first evening in town was spent at a bar with a sign reading , "Napa: Get off your high horse — sincerely, Sonoma." Said bar is the on-site cocktail hub of The Lodge at Sonoma , an Autograph Collection property. The hotel lives up to its motto, "heritage uncorked," with ample wine programming — including on-site tastings and a "pedal for pinot" project that lets you meander through local wineries on a bike — as well as design and decor that's firmly rooted in Sonoma's history as a Mexican mission. Rooms are situated casita-style, with separate entrances for each, among leafy walkways and an ancient oak.

As for downtown Sonoma, a short (free!) shuttle ride from The Lodge, the town center is always adorable, but particularly so in the sleepier season, when you can easily pop in and out of urban tasting rooms Roche , Auteur , and more, without having to jostle for a spot. Cap off your day with dinner at elegant but laid-back French eatery The Girl and the Fig . Go for the delectably simple radish appetizer and flounder meunière; stay for Geoff the uncannily knowledgeable server who truly belongs on the stage. Or at least on his own YouTube channel.

Napa's northern neighbor, Yountville, is perhaps best known as the town with the most Michelin stars per capita in North America. A relatively unsurprising feat, mind you, given Yountville's tiny (less than 3,000) population stacked against its two Thomas Keller restaurants — the aforementioned ever-busy Bouchon as well as The French Laundry .

But Yountville is more than a high-end foodie's paradise, particularly in the off season. Sure, you're more likely to get a reservation at one of Keller's restaurants on a random weeknight in January, but again, the popular spots can feel overrated — particularly wallet-wise. If you need a break from the tried-and-true (and expensive), fancy Yountville seems like it might lack options. But you just need to know where to look.

In fact, perhaps my most perfect evening in January wine country involved a stroll down the largely deserted but festively lit Yountville main drag to get to a standalone Mexican-owned taco truck on the edge of town. Tacos Garcia , operated by owner Gabriel Garcia and his family, is licensed by the city of Yountville to operate from a parking lot, slinging delicious tacos for just $2.50 apiece. That'll spare you plenty of cash for a glass of wine (or four) at the glam and cavernous RH Wine Vault on the walk back to your hotel.

And speaking of hotels, there's no better place to stay in town than Hotel Villagio, part of the 22-acre Estate at Yountville property. Hotel Villagio , like The Lodge at Sonoma, offers outdoor-entrance joined rooms, so there's no cramming into elevators or dodging fellow patrons in hallways. Its elegant but accessible accommodations include working in-room fireplaces and a seriously delicious daily breakfast that leaves most hotel buffets behind.

The last, and perhaps chillest of all, stop on my hiding-from-humans-in-wine-country tour was Healdsburg, an hour's drive north of Yountville — a micro-road trip that passes dozens of wineries on the way, so feel free to stop around at your leisure.

Hotel-wise, the go-to in town is ​​the Montage Healdsburg (you may have heard about their luxe over-the-top astro-tourism package ). Hotel Trio is another local favorite, and for downtown accommodations, Harmon Guest House is a beautiful — and eco-friendly — option.

But perhaps your best bet for a stellar experience without the crowds is just outside Healdsburg in Forestville: Stay at the gorgeous family-owned Farmhouse Inn , and you can get your own idyllic cottage with easy access to all of the property's upscale amenities, from the Michelin-starred farm-to-table restaurant that put the inn on the map to a spa whose welcoming, curated atmosphere feels authentic, not cheesy. Also on offer are local sommelier-led wine experiences, complimentary lobby bars for both hot chocolate and artisanal bath products, and rooms that make escaping the crowds easy — because you never want to leave.

Like Sonoma, Healdsburg is home to a cute downtown plaza that manages to be both full of life and far from the crowds, at least for winter visits. Start your day with phenomenal French toast — pain perdu for the traditionalists — at Costeaux Bakery , or locally roasted coffee and a violet-laden cashew butter tartine at Black Oak Coffee Roasters . And for dinner you cannot do better than Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar for cocktails, wine, winter fish options galore (the lobster roll is otherworldly).

Unsurprisingly, Healdsburg is actually becoming celebrated for its off-the-beaten-path status. It "offers visitors a beautiful sense of small-town charm that might not be found in other similar California wine communities," explains Brooke Ross, member of the Healdsburg Tourism Improvement District (HTID) and director of sales and marketing at Hotel Trio. "The scale of Healdsburg's downtown plaza and its surrounding neighborhoods make it feel very intimate, with a palpable energy and walkability — there is an ease of connection for both locals and visitors."

She adds that "Healdsburg is one of a few wine country towns that make it easy to enjoy a full day of wine tastings, art galleries, shopping, and innovative culinary offerings without ever having to get in a car" — not quite the same as sprawling, vineyard-scattered Napa Valley itself.

If you do have a car on hand, though, it's worth the 30-minute drive to see the breathtaking — and uncrowded, this time of year — coastal redwoods in Armstrong Woods . You can even hire hike guide and health coach Karen Austin of HealthStarts2Day for a curated woodsy experience; Austin knows these trails like the back of her hand and is a pro at steering clear of the heavily trafficked times and places.

Timing is everything.

The secret formula: winter + weekdays. In addition to planning your wine country visit for the cooler-weather "off" (but still very much on-trend) season, avoiding weekends can get you prime spots for wine tastings and chef's tasting menus alike.

"Weekdays are a must," advises Nicole Hinchliffe, aka the Wine Country Mama . But she points out that "some wineries and restaurants take Mondays and Tuesdays off, so you must plan accordingly."

And don't get spooked by those potential off-season temperatures; you're not going to freeze. Both Napa and Sonoma Counties only dip down to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit in January, with highs of 58 or so. By March, you'll be seeing sunny skies and highs of 67.

Winter is "an absolutely great time to visit the Sonoma wine country," agrees Joe Bartolomei, owner of the Farmhouse Inn. "The scenery and landscape is beautiful, and you don't have to deal with the crowds. The wineries are eager to see you, you get all kinds of special attention."

Healdsburg's Ross concurs, noting that "one of the best-kept secrets of California wine country is to visit between winter and spring. After harvest and the always-busy wedding season, things tend to slow down quite a bit and travelers are able to get a real behind-the-scenes look at the destination."

Shop small.

Of course, your best bet for a behind–the-scenes look is to "visit the mom and pop shops," urges Hinchliffe. "Big, famous wineries are nice, but there's nothing better than visiting a small winery and having the winemaker and their family host you. Visit and support the smaller, eclectic wineries rather than just going by Yelp 5-star populars."

Some top options for uncrowded indie wineries include Talty Vineyards , Hanna in the Russian River Valley, and my personal favorite, Truett Hurst , a local leader in biodynamic winemaking that is taking holistic farming to a new level. Here, fourth-generation vintner Paul Dolan (official title "partner, founder, and CEO," unofficial title "wise winemaking wizard") is helming something of a sustainable wine revolution — from converting 70 grape acres to certified biodynamic and regenerative, to growing horsetail on-site that he mixes into organic bug repellent for the grapevines.

Slow travel has its perks.

On a slow day in the vineyards, you'll be surprised what delights lie in wait — that you'd likely miss if you were among the crowds whizzing from major winery to major winery in the high season. At J. Rickards winery in Cloverdale, they'll "pour you vintages that are not available to the public if it's a slow day," says Hinchliffe, "and let you lounge in the courtyard area to oversee their Alexander valley vineyards."

As for my own slow-travel wine country journey, my family and I closed out an evening at Truett Hurst with a tasting that was private, outdoors, and heated. It was a damp, chilly day and we largely had the vineyard to ourselves. My son hobnobbed with the resident goats while we dove into a cheese board laden with local goodies alongside Truett-Hurst's signature zinfandel and an aged sparkling rosé, neither of which are sold anywhere else in the world.

As the sun set and Paul kindly dazzled us with his wine wisdom (something tells me he doesn't quite have the time to do this in, say, June) I couldn't believe it had taken me so long to consider visiting wine country in the winter. I think I'm officially an off-season convert for good.

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The Complete Guide to California Wine Country for 2021

words: Sam Sumpter

This article is part of a summer California winery series, California Dreaming .  Discover more articles here !

From redwood forests to star-paved sidewalks, California has something for everyone: spectacular beaches, world-class museums, towering mountains, and miles of rolling vineyards. This summer, the Golden State is calling every nature lover, culture craver, and, of course, oenophile to come take a spin across its sunny landscape.

California is a clear leader in the world of wine. Over 635,000 acres of prime California land is dedicated to over 100 different incredible grape varieties, accounting for over 80 percent of all U.S. wine production. With thousands of wineries to choose from, it’s not just the country’s top producer but fourth in the world.

While this is exciting, it’s also, understandably, quite overwhelming. To help you navigate this wine-filled wonderland, we’ve consulted with a few of our favorite California wineries to help you discover the finest spots for sipping, dining, sleeping, and more. Check out our list of some of the best wineries, restaurants, resorts, and activities in the state’s top wine regions.

With more than 375 wineries open for tasting and 90 urban tasting rooms, Napa Valley offers plenty to eat, drink, and explore.

At Louis M. Martini, Cabernet Sauvignon lovers may explore the wine in its truest form and learn why the winery has kept this variety the primary focus of its portfolio.

We’ll start in St. Helena with Louis M. Martini , an iconic Napa Valley landmark and contemporary wine destination. Since 1933, Louis M. Martini has made Cabernet Sauvignon the focus of its portfolio, sourcing from the most coveted mountain vineyards throughout Napa Valley. One of the founding wineries in Napa post-Prohibition, it has been restored to reflect its storied legacy. Today at Louis M. Martini, you’ll find world-class wines and a diverse portfolio of Cabernet Sauvignon. Enjoy your tasting in stunning new spaces like the Heritage Lounge and Winemaker’s Table or outdoors in the expanded Martini Park that opens into a beautiful sycamore grove featuring al fresco tastings, bottle service, and private cabanas.

Pro tip : When booking your reservation, be sure to ask for a tour of the historic underground cellar for a chance to see decades-old artifacts and explore how the Martini family helped shape Napa Valley’s reputation as a world-renowned wine-growing region.

Another must-stop in St. Helena sits nearby at Orin Swift Cellars , where you’ll find well-crafted, creatively named wines such as Mannequin, an inky Petite Sirah, and 8 Years in the Desert, the famed Zinfandel blend that Orin Swift winemaker Dave Phinney explains “marks [his] return to the grape that started it all.”

When it comes to Orin Swift, every packaging element, glass selection, and label material is designed by Phinney himself. Many of the designs come from ideas he has incubated for years, while others originate from fleeting thoughts of inspiration throughout his day.

“I’m not trying to make some statement. I’m just doing what I like. And if you like it, that’s great. And if you don’t, I totally understand. [The designs] just are what they are: telling the story,” Phinney says.

Pro tip : Each bottle itself is a piece of Dave’s Phinney’s artistic expression, so be sure and ask about the unique story behind each label and see them in person (one of our favorites is Mercury Head, whose label is a rare Mercury dime applied to the bottle).

For a different setting and view, head out to William Hill Estate Winery . For more than 40 years, William Hill Estate Winery has offered rich and expressive Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and other Bordeaux varieties from select vineyards in Napa Valley and the California coast.

Located just 10 minutes outside downtown Napa at the foot of Atlas Peak along the Silverado Bench, William Hill Estate produces a collection of wines that is rooted in the character of the unique, rolling hills of its 200-acre estate. “Our small-lot and single-region wines convey the nature of the vineyard, letting the fruit’s inherent flavors and complexity unfurl in the glass,” says winemaker Mark Williams. “With blends, the fruit’s contrasting qualities offer layered flavors and structure, creating complex, seamlessly integrated, and generously fruited wines with depth and nuance,” he adds.

Come see for yourself how special William Hill Estate Winery truly is – surrounded by beautiful, rolling hills and vineyards for a truly unique Napa wine country experience

When it comes time to sip these wines, there are five tasting experiences to choose from. The Arbor Picnic Basket pairing is a fantastic choice that allows you to take in the glorious views of the property while enjoying four of their meticulously crafted wines accompanied by a picnic basket of culinary delights.

Pro Tip : Spot the 2019 Benchmark Chardonnay? Ask for a taste — it recently received 97 points from renowned critic James Suckling and a 94 from the Wine Advocate.

If you’re unable to make the trip out to the winery, you can still get a taste of William Hill Estate through its North Coast collection, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. This coastal tier reflects the ocean’s influence over the wine and can be found in stores near you.

If you’re in the mood to sip another type of libation, look no further than California Brandy House in downtown Napa — the first standalone tasting room showcasing California brandies. We suggest exploring both brands ( Argonaut and Germain-Robin ) with a flight featuring five brandies and enjoying your tasting out on their redwood deck. Then, consider bringing a few customized engraved bottles and one of their popular Old Fashioned cocktail kits home from the shop — or maybe even join the club .

Pro Tip : California Brandy makes for a fantastic ingredient in classic and innovative new cocktails. Ask for the Cocktail Concierge list of the best spots nearby to find cocktails using Argonaut and Germain-Robin.

Explore luxury brandy –– and all the category has to offer –– at the California Brandy House.

Lastly, fizz fiends will love Be Bubbly , a sparkling wine lounge in historic Downtown Napa. Helmed by a “chief bubblehead,” the bar features an array of Champagnes and global bubbles, with dozens available by the glass, bottle, or flight, plus a stellar selection of small bites.

Let’s talk about wine’s best friend: food.

Located in Yountville, BRIX Restaurant & Gardens is situated among gardens and orchards on 16 acres in Napa Valley, where produce from the farm-to-table menu is often sourced from the 25 vegetable beds that decorate the green grounds.

Another slice of garden-to-table magic, FARM is one of three restaurants at the Carneros Resort and Spa , where chefs source inspiration and ingredients from the 1,300-square-foot organic gardens on site. Enjoy live music and dine al fresco at the outdoor lounge, which features fireplaces to keep you cozy all year long.

Cook , a petite eatery in St. Helena, also spotlights locally sourced ingredients — all artfully adapted into Michelin-approved Northern Italian cuisine. Envision a daily rotating risotto (with vegetarian and vegan options) and dishes featuring the restaurant’s house-made pasta and hand-pulled mozzarella.

As for staying (maybe forever?), there are some lovely, luxurious hotels where you’ll find experiences that are remarkable on their own.

Bardessono Hotel and Spa in Yountville has lush gardens, a rooftop pool, a spa with seasonal treatments, and a field-to-fork restaurant. Guests may also use the hotel bicycles to pedal around town and visit nearby wineries.

Sights set on St. Helena? Try the Harvest Inn , where you can enjoy panoramic vineyard views and walk among the redwoods. Whether you stay the night or not, it’s worth hitting this hotel for the restaurant Harvest Table , where — once again — farm-to-table rules supreme.

If downtown Napa is your destination of choice, The Archer promises five-star comfort and a particularly tempting bonus: a rooftop bar featuring 360-degree views of the valley. Up there, you’ll discover a water deck with semi-submerged lounge chairs to keep you cool during the day, fire pits to warm you up at night, and a variety of wines, cocktails, and small plates to keep your culinary side happy.

Finally, if you want to infuse your wine country visit with some friendly competition, Silverado Resort has you covered with an acclaimed, PGA-level golf course and one of the best tennis resorts in the world. Of course, there’s also a spa, should poolside lounging and deep relaxation top your agenda.

Beyond the Bottle

There is much to see and do in Napa Valley beyond exploring the best of wine and food. For a different type of flight, take in the scenery from a new perspective with a sunrise hot air balloon ride over one of the most incredible vistas in wine country, watching from above as the valley wakes. If defying gravity isn’t your style, enjoy the great outdoors from the ground with trails and tours that will guide you through Napa’s natural wonders.

A wealth of parks, hiking and biking trails, and even horseback riding alongside vineyards gives you plenty of options. Enjoy a leisurely picnic downtown at Fuller Park or Oxbow Commons or check out Old Faithful Geyser of California in Calistoga for a family-friendly activity. If you’re feeling more adventurous, Skyline Wilderness Park near Napa and Robert Louis Stevenson State Park in Calistoga both offer some beginner and more challenging trails, but the rewards of incredible views of Napa Valley and beyond are well worth the effort.

Want to catch a show, check out art exhibits, or walk away with a souvenir that isn’t imbibable? Give yourself the gift of rest and relaxation with a full-day spa experience , or stop to admire the local and international artists on display throughout Napa Valley. Check out the Gordon Huether Studio in Napa for dramatic glass and metal sculptures, or stroll along Main Street in St. Helena, stopping into the art galleries along the way. The culture is as rich and ripe as the grapes, so be sure to check out the theaters, museums, and galleries that play off the wine to make this area so special.

With more than 425 wineries in Sonoma County , the options can be overwhelming. Why not let an expert serve as your guide — and, even better, your chauffeur.

Customize your adventure at California Wine Tours or Pure Luxury Transportation , where a concierge will design private and personalized tours throughout Sonoma based on your unique preferences and their experts’ hand-picked favorites.

However, no matter what else your tasting to-do list entails, be sure to stop at J Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg, where its portfolio of top-notch sparkling wines, single-vineyard Pinot Noir, Chardonnay blends, and more has been earning acclaim for more than 30 years. If you were to try only one wine, J winemaker Nicole Hitchcock recommends the Vintage Brut sparkling. The first wine produced after the winery was founded in 1986, the limited-production Vintage Brut is only available direct from the winery.

Crafting a dozen different Traditional Method sparkling wines, J has a style to fit every taste.

“Unlike most domestically produced sparkling wines, it is aged in the bottle for more than five years prior to release — so tasting it is like uncovering a time capsule and discovering a treasure inside,” says Hitchcock. “The extended aging time allows for the development of intriguing qualities that you don’t see in wines with less time spent aging: notes of brioche, bread, toast, nuttiness, or similar characteristics.”

Hitchcock also recommends the seated Legacy Tasting , which she calls a “blend of luxury with wine country casual.” The tasting features a flight of five wines — you can choose between an all-sparkling experience or the varietal flight, which includes an overview of all the J winemaking styles

Pro Tip: If you get lucky and see the 2018 Annapolis Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir, give it a sip. This stunner got 95+ point scores from both the Wine Advocate and James Suckling!

Choose their artisan cheese pairing plate and you’ll also enjoy five incredible cheeses topped with tasty house-made accompaniments ranging from roasted nuts to spiced fruit to sweet-and-salty brittles and rich fudges.

Eat Up & Rest Up

Let’s start with where to drop your bags and rest your head.

Located in the Russian River Valley region, the Farmhouse Inn is not the standard hotel experience. One of the most highly rated hotels in the world, it takes the hospitality experience to the next level with sommelier-led wine tours, nightly tastings, a Michelin-starred restaurant, an on-site spa, and a VIP welcome at 23 local wineries (plus a curated selection of wine in each room).

Next up on the list: Montage Healdsburg , a luxury hotel, is described as “a refined wine country retreat … nestled among 258 acres of rolling vineyards and oak tree groves.” Plus, with one-third of each lodging space dedicated to either a deck or balcony, Montage gives you plenty of room to sit and sip outside.

As for Healdsburg dining, while there are three options at Montage (including a poolside restaurant), Barn Diva is well worth heading into town for a culinary treat. A farm-to-fork restaurant (and cocktail lounge with an award-winning wine bar), the motto here is “eat the view” — and given how gorgeous the Sonoma County scenery is, you can only imagine how good it’s going to taste.

One more can’t-miss restaurant, located right in the heart of the town of Sonoma, is Wit & Wisdom . A wine-country venture from award-winning celebrity chef Michael Mina, this tavern features regional California cuisine — like fish from the Pacific Coast, wood-fired pizzas, and handmade pasta — with a strong list of local wines and an on-site bocce ball court.

Trade the wine bar for the beach — or the mountain, lake, river, or forest — at one of Sonoma County’s state parks , where in true California fashion, there are miles and miles of beach and trails to hike, bike, and ride. Take a leisurely hike among the redwoods and lakes at the 300-acre Riverfront Regional Park in the morning, then dip into the refreshingly cool waters along the Russian River in the afternoon. Check out the nearby Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville , a summer tradition for locals and visitors alike. To see where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean, head out to the sandy Goat Rock State Beach to watch the thunderous waves (and probably a few seals, too).

If you fancy yourself more of an indoor kid, Sonoma still delivers. Here you’ll find plenty of establishments and events to please, including museums, performing arts centers, art galleries, film festivals, and more. Fans of the “Peanuts” comic strip can visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, where the artist made his home. You can explore a full list of fun things to do in the region — wine-related and otherwise — here .


While Napa and Sonoma reign as famous wine destinations, a lesser-known, but equally fascinating wine scene thrives in the world-famous Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Sleepy Hollow Vineyards, Talbott’s crown-jewel vineyard, offers near-perfect conditions for growing cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

One of our favorites is the Talbott Vineyards tasting room , where sea, vine, and story come together in an airy, coastal-chic bungalow. Before we head through the quaint cobblestone streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea to Talbott’s tasting room, we need a little backstory: Talbott Vineyards helped put the Santa Lucia Highlands, a small but mighty AVA, on the map. Talbot was among the first to realize the near-perfect conditions for growing elegant, cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir –– and has been doing so for nearly 40 years. Talbott’s Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, one of the first planted in the Santa Lucia Highlands, has earned recognition for consistently producing exceptional and distinctive Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Sip through a flight of exclusive single-block Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that are only poured at Talbott’s tasting room, and marvel at how Talbott has captured the essence of this magical place in its wine. Winemaker David Coventry was born and raised in Monterey, giving him a lifetime of perspective about what makes this region so special and how to translate the provenance into each glass.

Ask David what he hopes guests at the Talbott tasting room take home and he’ll offer a poetic guide on how to experience the coast and vineyard coming together in the wine. “Feel the same breeze rolling off the water that cools the grapes and allows them to ripen gradually,” he says. “Or, taste the minerality influenced by the jaw-dropping terrain in a glass of Chardonnay. Catch a glimpse of the sapphire waters of Carmel Bay. There’s no other place where ruggedness and elegance deliver such a sublime experience.”

Pro Tip: Buy a bottle of your favorite Talbott wine and take it to lunch or dinner at The Pocket just across the courtyard, where there isn’t a corkage fee for any Talbott wines.

When it’s time to wind down, we suggest Carmel’s Bernadus Lodge & Spa , which is nestled among vines with stunning mountain views. The Lodge prides itself on stimulating all the senses, with amenities including an award-winning restaurant, estate vineyard and rose garden, live music, signature massages, complimentary yoga, and an adults-only jacuzzi. We suggest you go see, smell, hear, feel, and, of course, taste it all for yourself.

Then, there’s the Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel, where you’ll find “luxurious accommodations,” waterfront dining starring seasonal American cuisines, and the “ Best Golf Playing Conditions ” in all of Central California.

Another excellent option for R&R is Carmel Valley Ranch . A few of the fun things you’ll find on the Ranch’s 500-acre property? Swimming pools, equine experiences, spa treatments, tennis courts, and a resort golf course that was spotlighted in Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best” readers’ survey. Post-play, consider dining at one of the four restaurant options, including the Valley Kitchen .

Monterey, a one-of-a-kind place that bustles with people and sea life, can’t be missed. When the hunger pangs hit, look no further than the Sardine Factory . Located just blocks from the ocean in the Cannery Row setting of Steinbeck fame, the restaurant serves sustainable seafood prepared by award-winning chefs. It also has some serious local cred in the form of a laundry list of Readers’ Choice wins, including Best Restaurant in Monterey, Best Fine Dining, Best Date Night Dining, and — most importantly — Best Wine Selection.

When you think of California’s beaches, you may envision SoCal’s palm trees, surfers, and celebrities, but it truly doesn’t get more gorgeous than California’s Central Coast.

When in Monterey, take in the salty air and pristine Pacific with a windows-down drive across the legendary Highway 1. Stop and have a picnic on the sand at Lover’s Point , or go tide-pooling to catch a little glimpse of life beneath the sparkling surface.

And because the only thing better than gazing out at the water is being out on it, be sure to book a unique whale watching adventure when you have the chance, or consider checking out the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club , a non-profit yachting and social club, where you’ll find premier sailing, boating, and racing.

This article is sponsored by J Vineyards & Winery .

Published: July 8, 2021

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Napa Valley Wine Tours

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Holding wine glass on a Napa Valley Wine Tour

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More Information on Napa Valley tours and towns

A napa wine tour through the carneros region.

Napa Valley Wine Tour at Artesa Winery in Carneros region of Napa Valley

The Carneros appellation is considered the crossroads of both Napa and Sonoma Valley where the two major wine regions collide. Along with this, it is known to produce some of the finest Sonoma Valley chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wines. Also it should be noted that the climate with the bay breeze and foggy mornings make for the perfect growing region of these Sonoma varietals. In addition it is the perfect halfway area for a Napa or Sonoma wine tour if you are coming from San Francisco or anywhere in the bay area. Finally It is also home to the oldest winery in all of California. What winery is that you ask? None other than the Historic Buena Vista Winery. Founded by Agoston Haraszthy in 1857.

Wineries and convenient spots for lunch or dinner

Our Partners in the Carneros Region: Artesa Vineyards & Winery , Calmere Estate , Etude Winery , Domaine Carneros , Dominus Estate Winery , Buhman Estate Vineyards, Madonna Estate Winery and Cuvaison Estate Wines

Savory Eats close by: Farm at Carneros , Boon Fly Café and Stanly Lane Smokehouse

Hotels on Hwy 121: Carneros Resort and Spa

Artesa Winery

Located in the steep foothills of Mt. Veeder overlooking Los Carneros, the rocky soils and maritime climate of our Estate Vineyard produce world-class pinot noir and chardonnay. Learn More and visit Artesa winery

Staying in downtown Napa and want to take a Napa Valley Wine Tour?

Napa Valley Vineyards

Napa is the largest of Napa Valley’s six towns. Apart from this it is conveniently located just about an hour north of the San Francisco Bay Area and an hour South of Sacramento. It undoubtedly offers an array of hotel options, art galleries, boutique shops, tasting rooms and exquisite restaurants it caters to all generations.

Note-worthy Napa Wine Tours: Darioush , Domaine Carneros , Calmere , Jarvis , Silverado and Chimney Rock

Savory Eats: Morimoto , Angele , Celadon , Cole’s , Bistro Don Giovanni , Ristorante Allegria and Torc

Accommodations: The Westin Verasa Napa , The Archer Hotel Napa , The Andaz , The Embassy Suites , The Napa Valley Marriott , Hilton Garden Inn

If you’re touring Napa Valley, you will more then likely drive through Yountville

Without a doubt the town of Yountville is among the most charming little Napa Valley regions you will come across. Known for its Michelin starred restaurants, award winning Napa Valley tasting rooms and luxurious accommodations. Talk about being transported right into your very own hallmark movie.

Note-worthy Yountville Wine Tours: Domaine Chandon , Bell Wines , Robert Sinskey , Stags’ Leap Winery and Cliff Lede Vineyards

Savory Eats: Bottega, Mustards Grill, The French Laundry , ad hoc + addendum , Brix , Bouchon and R+D Kitchen

Accommodations: Hotel Villagio , Bardessono , Northblock and Napa Valley Railway Inn

Popular stops on a Napa Valley Wine Tour in Oakville, Ca

Wine country grocery store in Oakville

Right off Napa Valley’s Highway 29 is the small town of Oakville. How small you may say? Well if you blink you quite possibly could miss it. Furthermore, that does not mean that its bold Napa Valley wines do not pack a punch. Whereas you will find the flagship Oakville Grocery deli known throughout the Napa Valley for its delicious picnic spreads. It acts as the perfect wine tour lunch stop for all locals and visitors alike.

Note-worthy Rutherford Wine Tours: Pestoni Family Estate Winery, Grgich Hills, Honig Vineyard & Winery, Mumm Napa, Fleury Estate winery, Alpha Omega Winery, and Frog’s Leap Winery

Savory Eats: Rutherford Grill, and Bistro at Auberge du Soliel

Accommodations: Auberge du Soliel, Maison Fleurie, and Rancho Caymus

Rutherford, Napa Valley

Refined with a touch of rustic Napa Valley, Rutherford will not disappoint. This area was once a riverbed and known for its unique soil. Producing some of the best Napa Valley Cabernet with an element of spice known at the “Rutherford Dust”. Also, home to the iconic Napa staple Rutherford Grill because what is better than comfort food paired with award winning Napa Valley Wines?

St Helena Wineries, Restaurants and Accommodations

Napa Valley Wine Tour activities in St. Helena

As you venture further north to the town of St. Helena you will be greeted with even more small-town culture. St. Helena is in the center of the worlds famous vineyards of the Napa Valley. Clearly perfect for those with a love of the outdoors and Napa Valley viticulture. Want to enjoy a breath-taking picnic with epic views? Particularly our dreamy Napa Valley Wine Tours will have you falling in love all over again. St. Helena is not only the center of historic Napa Valley Wines, but also the home to some of the best views around.

Note-worthy St Helena Wine Tours: Beringer Winery , Louis Martini Winery , Charles Krug , Pride Mountain Vineyards ., Piazza Del Dotto Winery & Caves , V. Sattui , Brasswood Cellars

Savory Eats: Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch , Press , Charter Oak Restaurant , Goose and Gander , Model Bakery and Gott’s Roadside

Accommodations: Harvest Inn , Southbridge Napa Valley , Wydown Hotel , Alila Napa Valley , Meadowood Resort

Calistoga Wineries, Restaurants and Accommodations

At the peak of the Napa Valley you will find the historic town of Calistoga. With its old western charm its easy to feel like you are transported back in time. With always something new to discover the Napa Wine Tasting experiences run far and wide. From higher end exclusive Napa Wineries to smaller family owned boutique estates there are a plethora of wineries to choose from for your Napa Valley Tour.

Note-worthy Calistoga Wine Tours: Castello di Amorosa , Tamber Bey Vineyards , Schramsberg Vineyards and Chateau Montelena Vineyards

Savory Eats: Sam’s Social Club , Solbar , Calistoga Inn Restaurant and Brewery , and Buster’s Southern BBQ

Accommodations: Solage Auberge Resorts , Indian Springs Calistoga , and Four Seasons

When to Visit Wine Country


Written by:

Joe Becerra

Last updated:

Now is the best time to visit wine country – July 2023

In the July the tourist season is in full swing. Weekends can be very busy in the Napa Valley and Sonoma. Plan ahead booking your reservations for wine tasting, accommodations and meals. The vineyards are looking so beautiful this time of the year. Catch the vineyards at sunrise or sunset; this is when they look their best.

What each time of year brings to wine country

Winter – december to january in wine country.

The wineries are much less crowded. You won’t need to fight the crowds and the traffic, particularly in the more famous wine regions of the Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. The vines are dormant, showing rows and lines of bare trellising. There are many sunny and bright days mixed with rainy weather. 

February in Wine Country

Limerick Lane backroad

Plan your Valentine’s trip. There is also President’s Day around the same time. Wildflowers begin to grow among the vines. It’s a photo opportunity time in the wine country.  More on February Weather in Wine Country .

March to April in Wine Country

bud break

The vines awaken and begin to bud. Vintners call it “Bud Break.” Wine country wildflowers are in bloom and a delight to view. The visitor season starts in earnest. More on  March Weather in Wine Country ,  April Weather in Wine Country

May to June in Wine Country

image dry creek valley

These are some of the most pleasant months in the wine country. The weather is warm, and the vines are proliferating. Thinning of the vine leaves takes place during these months. The tourist season is well underway.

July to August in Wine Country

early cabernet sauvignon

Veraison takes place. Veraison is the onset of ripening. It is hot in most areas of the wine country, and there are high expectations for the coming harvest. Many tourists travel during this time and weekend crowds can be considerable. The tourist season is in full swing. More on  July Weather in Wine Country ,  August Weather in Wine Country

September to October in Wine Country

Harvest Napa Valley

It is harvest time in the wine country. It’s great fun to visit a winery during the harvest. The harvest time varies depending on the climate and region. It is a busy and bustling time at a winery. Beware of the crowds at this time of the year. More on  September Weather in Wine Country ,  October Weather in Wine Country

November in Wine Country

best time to tour california wine country

The vines and trees show off fall colors. November is indeed the most beautiful time in the wine country. It is our favorite time of the year. It’s a photographers delight! More on the  November Weather in Wine Country

A Vineyard Year

This quick slide video depicts each of the seasons in a vineyard year. The video will present all the events and changes that take place from bud-break to harvest, and more.

Joe Becerra

Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.

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Winery Season: Best Times of Year to Go Wine Tasting

Best Times of the Year to Visit Wine Country by Season |

The Best Season(s) to Go Wine Tasting & Vineyard Hopping

Seasonal wine travel offers adventure and culture enthusiasts an opportunity to taste history. Every season offers a different perspective, but the best time to visit wine country depends on your personal travel preferences .

In this guide, we’ll explain the differences between seasonal wine travel, and help you decide what regions and seasons may be most compatible to you.

RELATED: How to Plan the Perfect Wine Tasting Trip

Highlights of Visiting a Vineyard During Winter

  • Fewer Crowds
  • Different Landscape Perspective
  • More Personal Experience

Vineyards in Tuscany during the winter wine tasting season

Often the most under-looked season to take a visit to wine country, Winter wine travel has dozens of advantages.

Not only is the “Winter Wonderland” aspect of snow laying across a beautiful landscape appealing, but visitation at this time of year is also down. That means you’ll have an opportunity to have a more personal experience when you visit a tasting room. More often than not, the winemakers and owners themselves are willing to give you a more intimate tour or tasting.

RECOMMENDED: Romantic Tuscany Itinerary to Follow This Year

Keep in mind that the winter season in the southern and northern hemispheres are different. Officially, the northern winter meteorological season begins on the Winter Solstice, or around December 21st. The southern winter meteorological season begins on June 21st.

RELATED: The Best Winter Destinations in Europe to Visit This Year

Highlights of Visiting Wine Country in Spring

  • Ideal Weather
  • Spring Flowers
  • Witness Bottling Processes
  • Inexpensive

Budbreak at Borthwick Vineyard in Spring

Early Spring is also an ideal time to visit a wine region if you’re hoping to avoid crowds. Especially in Europe, when this time of year is considered one of the shoulder seasons. The weather is still relatively cool, hotel costs are down and plenty of accommodation options are available.

RELATED: How to Best Explore New Zealand’s South Island for Winetravelers

Aesthetically, the vines themselves are just starting to bud and local flowers are starting to bloom. This often-overlooked season makes for a perfect getaway opportunity.

RECOMMENDED: The Best Wine Regions to Visit This Year

Highlights of Visiting Wine Country during Autumn

  • Unique Harvest-related Experiences
  • Barrel Tastings

Piedmont vineyards at the beginning of fall from an aerial perspective

A personal favorite time of year to visit wine country, autumn gives Winetravelers an opportunity to see the vineyard and winery at full tilt. Aside from seeing wine production in action, the stunning fall colors present on both the vines and surrounding landscapes is nothing short of breath-taking.

Producers at this point are intensely focused on harvesting their grapes. That means you’re unlikely to have an opportunity to hang out with the winemaker without a special appointment.

Larger wineries may offer special events or experiences, including grape stomping with your bare feet, live music, and food and wine festivals.

Keep in mind that this time of year is very popular for wine tourism, so making reservations and planning your route is recommended in advance.

RELATED: Best Fall Travel Destinations for Winetravelers this Year

Highlights of Visiting Wine Country during Summer

  • Sweeping Green Views
  • Juicy Grapes

Provence is an ideal summer wine destination

Next to fall, summer is another popular season to have a wine-focused vacation. Remember that many wine regions during the peak of summer can be exceedingly hot, as it’s advantageous for growing certain grape varieties.

For the traveler, however, it can be brutal. If you’re willing to put up with the heat, the landscapes are often in full bloom, the grapes are juicy on the vine and there are food and wine festivals in many regions.

Be sure to make reservations ahead of time and consider looking up any potential events to maximize your summer wine travel experience.

RELATED: Best European Wine Regions to Visit if you Love the Seaside

Frequently Asked Questions about When to Visit a Vineyard or Winery for Wine Tasting

What is the ideal season or month to visit a vineyard or winery.

The best month to visit wineries largely depends on the region, but generally, autumn is a particularly fascinating season to visit wineries across the globe. These typically include months between September to November , and August for warmer regions. During this period, also known as the harvest season, the vineyards are filled with ripe grapes, creating an enchanting scenery. This is when the magic happens: grapes are picked, sorted, crushed, and set to ferment. You can immerse yourself in the vibrancy of winemaking process, while the air is filled with the intoxicating aroma of fresh grapes. Many wineries also host harvest festivals during this time, offering wine tastings, tours, and events. However, for a less crowded and equally enjoyable experience, consider visiting in spring , when the vines burst back to life with new growth and the winemaking process begins anew. But no matter the season, a winery visit always offers the chance to savor good wine and to learn more about the art and science of winemaking. Learn more about the pros and cons of each wine tasting season in this travel guide.

What are the considerations for visiting vineyards or wineries during weekdays vs. weekends?

Visiting wineries or vineyards during weekdays versus weekends offers different experiences and considerations. On weekdays, wineries tend to be less crowded, which often leads to a more personal, intimate experience. You might have more opportunities to engage with the staff, ask in-depth questions, and perhaps even meet the winemakers. Wineries can often accommodate impromptu tours or tastings during the week because of the lighter traffic. If you’re a wine enthusiast looking for a quieter, more educational experience, weekdays might be your best option. Weekends, on the other hand, are generally busier, but they come with their own advantages. Many wineries offer special events on weekends such as live music, food pairings, wine release parties, and more. You’ll likely encounter a vibrant, festive atmosphere. If you enjoy socializing and don’t mind the crowds, weekends can provide an entertaining and lively experience.

Where is the heart-shaped vineyard in Slovenia?

As pictured in our featured image during the winter season, the heart-shaped vineyard in Slovenia is located in the small, picturesque region of Špičnik . The vineyard is famously known as the “Heart Road” or “Heart Among Vineyards” and has become a popular tourist attraction. From an aerial perspective, the configuration of the road that runs through the vineyard forms a perfect heart shape, surrounded by lush, green vines, making it a favorite spot for photographers and lovers of wine alike. The region itself is near the town of Maribor, which is situated in the northeastern part of Slovenia, close to the border with Austria.

When is “winery season” in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres?

“Winery season,” typically referred to as the harvest season when grapes are picked and the winemaking process starts, differs between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres due to the reversal of seasons. In the Northern Hemisphere, which includes renowned wine regions like France, Italy , Spain , and California, the harvest season generally starts in late August and runs through October , depending on the specific grape variety and the weather conditions each year. The exact timing varies by region and wine type. For instance, in cooler climates like Champagne , France , or Oregon , USA, the grape harvest might extend into October and November , while in hotter climates like Southern Italy or California’s Central Valley, the harvest could start as early as August. In the Southern Hemisphere, home to notable wine-producing countries such as Australia, New Zealand , Argentina (Mendoza) , and South Africa , the grape harvest and winemaking activities usually occur between February and April. Again, timing can vary based on the specific region, grape variety, and local climate. Remember that outside the harvest season, wineries are still active with the various stages of winemaking, maturation, and bottling. Thus, it’s possible to have an engaging and educational visit at any time of the year. Always check with individual wineries for their peak times and any special events they might have.

Featured Image via iStock / Getty: Worth mentioning, this is a unique vineyard in Slovenia while the vines are dormant during the winter season, the tranquility and serenity offer a unique experience. The air is crisp, and the quiet is interrupted only by the soft crunch of fresh snow underfoot. The vineyard’s normal verdant green is replaced by a blanket of pristine white snow, punctuated by the stark brown vines, standing silent and resolute, patiently waiting for spring’s rejuvenating touch.

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Weather & Climate

The Weather and Climate in California's Wine Country

TripSavvy /  Hilary Allison

California's Northern Bay Area wine country —a larger region wine-making region that includes both Napa and Sonoma counties—is a year-round destination for both locals and visitors alike, in part because of a mild Mediterranean-like climate that makes it ideal for grape growing. Wine tasting is a popular area pastime from January through December, though winters can be relatively cold and wet and even, though rarely, produce a flurry or two. 

This guide to the area's local weather and climate will help you make the most of your visit, whether it's a harvest season celebration or a summer Sunday sipping chardonnay in Sonoma beside Balletto Winery's own baseball diamond. 

Fast Climate Facts:

  • Hottest Month: August/September (84 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Coldest Month: January (55 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Wettest Month: January (4.37 inches) 
  • Windiest Month: June/July (approximately 10 mph) 

Summer in Wine Country

In summer the throngs of travelers on holiday and those looking for a warm escape from San Francisco's endless fog make their way up to wine country, where temperatures are comfortable and rain is nowhere in sight. While it's a perfect time to take in the growing vines as they ready themselves for harvest, and the days are long and lazy, you'll also have to battle the crowds—which include an upsweep of out-of-town winery tours, ample farmers markets, and outdoor events like art and wine festivals, music in the vineyards, and Fourth of July celebrations. Heat waves can occur, but mornings and evenings are often cool, making them ideal times for enjoying a vineyard stroll or live tunes as the sun sets. 

What to Pack: Despite the warm days, any Bay Area resident worth their salt will advise you to bring layers, especially if you'll be returning to San Francisco later in the evening. Shorts, skirts, sandals, and tees are appropriate for the afternoon; carry a light jacket or long-sleeve shirt to throw on as the day progresses. A hat and sunscreen are also advisable, as well as a swimsuit and towel if you're considering a dip in Lake Berryessa or a visit to one of Calistoga's geothermal hot spring pools. 

Average Temperatures by Month: 

  • June: 78 F (25 C) / 50 F (10 C)
  • July: 78 F (25 C) / 53 F (12 C)
  • August: 80 F (27 C) / 52 F (11 C)

For those interested in Wine Country's annual harvest season and the actual winemaking experience, fall is the ideal time to visit. The weather starts to cool a bit by October, though by then, the region's more than 800 wineries are already well into “crush season,” picking peak ripened grapes for sparkling and white wines, followed by reds, and getting them into the fermentation tanks to begin their transformation. Air is filled with the scent of freshly crushed berries, the leaves of the vines are turning brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow, and most wineries are working at full capacity from early morning until late at night. It's an exciting time of celebration, with harvest balls and grape-stomping festivities, which means it can also be quite crowded. It's best to book any overnight stays early. Rain is a possibility, especially from October onward, and wildfires are an increasing occurrence, with the devastating Kincade fire taking place in 2019, and the Tubbs fire in 2017. 

What to Pack: Once again, layers are recommended—even more so in the fall when evening temps start to plummet earlier and earlier. Consider a light jacket, sweater or fleece, and a hat for cooler evening. Make sure to have an umbrella or rain jacket on hand for later in the season. 

Average Temperatures by Month:

  • September: 80 F (27 C) / 49 F (9 C)
  • October: 74 F (23 C) / 43 F (6 C)
  • November: 64 F (18 C) / 39 F (4 C)

Things tend to be a bit slower in wine country during winter months , once the harvest season is over and the weather continues to cool. While temperatures don't typically fall below freezing, rains can be quite cold and heavy at times (February tends to be the area's wettest month), making indoor activities such as food-and-wine pairings a popular seasonal pastime. Crowds tend to dissipate during this season as well, meaning prices are more budget-friendly, and you can get more customized service, whether this means a one-on-one wine tasting or a private barrel room tour. There are also numerous winter activities, such as Calistoga's annual Winter in Wineries Passport , which gets you complimentary wine tasting flights at 16 wineries for $60 through the months of December and January; and the Napa Lighted Art Festival, a free nine-day celebration of light art and illumination that occurs each January. 

What to Pack: Dress warmly, including a rain jacket or warm coat and umbrella, plus a hat and gloves, which are musts during the winter season, when temperatures can get frigid. 

  • December: 56 F (13 C) / 36 F (2 C)
  • January: 55 F (13 C) / 37 F (31 C)
  • February: 60 F (15 C ) / 39 F (4 C)

If you're looking for relatively few crowds, inviting temperatures, and stunning natural scenery, spring just may be the perfect time to visit California's Napa and Sonoma counties. The weather is starting to warm, and the grape vines begin producing new shoots and tiny grape clusters. Rain starts to lessen, and the hillsides and vineyards become covered in mustard blooms in shades of orange, gold, and bright yellow, feeding the vines with substantial nutrients and providing a spectacular sight to see. Mild temperatures provide the perfect weather for picnicking, and many Sonoma wineries in particular are set up just for the occasion. 

What to Pack:  Rain is still possible, so bring along an umbrella, and dress for the season: a light jacket, long pants or jeans, and a T-shirt, a long-sleeve shirt, or a light sweater depending on the day. Comfortable walking shoes are also a good idea, as you may want to take advantage of the agreeable temps with a stroll or hike. 

  • March: 64 F (18 C) / 40 F (4 C)
  • April: 68 F (20 C) / 42 F (5 C)
  • May: 73 F (23 C) / 46 F (8 C)

The Best Time to Visit California's Wine Country

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Bucket List on a budget: How to explore California Wine country without going broke

VIDEO: Tips to travel to California wine country on budget

Wine Country is a bucket list destination for wine lovers and gourmands thanks to endless tastings, culinary delights and gorgeous scenery that can put any mind at ease.

best time to tour california wine country

It's not cheap, though, and those on a budget might find it difficult to carve out the cash they need to plan their dream vacation in Napa.

To help, "Good Morning America" scoped out plenty of ways to save on this dream vacation.

Getting there

Situated north of San Francisco, many flights from all over the country will get you to Northern California and -- with perhaps a short layover -- many can do it on a budget.

The peak seasons for traveling to Wine Country are March through May and August through October, so going outside of those times may save you a bit of money.

For instance, you can check out Delta for various packages including flights and hotels stays.

Where to stay

There are a few different regions in Wine Country for you to explore including two primary areas, Napa and Sonoma -- according to experts who spoke with "GMA," Sonoma is a bit less expensive.

Lodging is typically the most expensive portion of your trip, so "GMA" found the Flamingo Resort & Spa , a "Midcentury Modern marvel" located in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country that's offering plenty of deals all summer long so you can enjoy their spa, wellness activities, delicious Lazeaway Club eatery and more.

Food & fun for the whole family

best time to tour california wine country

Sonoma Wine Country is a wine and food lover's paradise, and the approximately 475 vineyards in the area offer ample chance to indulge at every turn.

You can expect to spend around $100 per person on reservations at most places, or you can hit Big John's Market and create your own basket of cheese, fruit and other nibbles before heading to a winery that allows you to picnic.

You can also make reservations at Quivira starting at $35 per person of $50 per table, but the cost gets you credit toward wine and other goods.

For a more kid-friendly experience, try Safari West: The Sonoma Serengeti where more than 400 rolling acres let nearly 1,000 animals representing over 90 distinct species like African antelopes, primates, birds and more can be observed and appreciated.

And "GMA" viewers can save 20% when booking kids' safaris when they mention or use the code GMAKIDS20 at booking.

An elevated food & wine experience

If you are ready to spend a bit more on a full tasting, some credit cards offer buy-one-get-one pricing.

If you have a card that It says Visa Signature or Visa infinite in your wallet, use it on your wine tasting tour to get BOGO benefits.

Hitting the race tracks

Shift into high gear and hit one of the area's main attractions, The Sonoma Raceway.

You can even rent an exotic car to drive on a real racetrack for three to four laps after a 25-minute safety class, all while a professional instructor rides next to you.

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Travel | Sonoma wine country weekend: Exploring Kenwood…

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Travel | evacuation order for tracy as corral fire spreads to 9,000 acres, subscriber only, travel | sonoma wine country weekend: exploring kenwood in the valley of the moon.

California's Valley of the Moon is home to more than 100 vineyards, including these in Kenwood. (Getty Images)

Native American legends abound in this valley, with tales of mystical, sacred spaces where you can see the moon rise and set seven times each night — an illusion helped, perhaps, by the moonlight shifting through the jagged peaks of the Mayacamas Mountains, but romantic nonetheless.

This was the setting for Jack London’s 1913 novel, “Valley of the Moon,” too, whose plot echoes London’s journey from Oakland to this verdant valley. Today, it’s home to more than 100 wineries, including Kenwood Vineyards , which sources its grapes from London’s historic ranch in nearby Glen Ellen. But there’s plenty to do here besides wine tasting, making it a perfect weekend escape just an hour or two from the Bay.

Beltane Ranch , just south of Kenwood, makes a great base for weekend play. This 100-acre agricultural preserve is a historic property, owned by the Wood/Benward/Krause family for the past six generations. Today, the beautifully preserved farmhouse, built in 1892, operates as an upscale inn, its modern features and amenities juxtaposed with antique elements and the authentic farmhouse decor.

Historic Beltane Ranch, just south of Kenwood, California, in Glen Ellen, makes a great base for weekend play. The beautifully preserved farmhouse, built in 1892, operates as an upscale inn. (Courtesy Amber Turpin)

The property is farmed regeneratively, with an orchard, garden, vineyard and farmyard denizens — chickens, two longhorn cows, horses and a flock of geese — that greet you along the driveway. That stone wall you see along the drive dates back to the 1870s, when landowner John Drummond repurposed the stones he’d cleared out to plant the original vineyard with French cuttings. And the rose garden, raspberry brambles, tennis courts, pond views and extensive outdoor seating make this a popular spot for brides, as well as the rest of us.

Enjoy breakfast at the long wooden dining table near the library or on your own private balcony. Chef Neil Corsten, formerly at Forestville’s Farmhouse Inn, crafts a four-course dinner with estate wine pairings on Thursday through Saturday nights and a wood-fired dinner on Sunday evenings. On other evenings, the inn provides cheese, charcuterie and provision boards, amply piled with delicious nibbles from local producers and the ranch.

The rooms at the historic Beltane Ranch inn, just south of Kenwood, California, in Glen Ellen, mix modern amenities with period charm. (Courtesy Amber Turpin)

Don’t miss the cozy library, where you can read up on the rich and astounding history of Beltane Ranch —  especially the part about ranch owner Mary Ellen Pleasant, a Black self-made millionaire and 19th century abolitionist.

If you have a spare meal slot open, make reservations for dinner at Golden Bear Station. Chef Joshua Smookler and his wife, Heidi He — whose buzzy Sonoma restaurant, Animo, closed in December — opened this charming eatery soon after in Kenwood.

Perch yourself at the white marble bar, where the bar stools are padded with sheepskin, and let the flickering candlelight, open kitchen, fun soundtrack and fresh flowers envelop you for the dining experience to come. Order the signature grilled Hen of the Woods mushrooms ($20) with sweet onion-yuzu cream and an egg yolk and one  of the pizzas ($30-$32), which Smookler took months to perfect. With deep char from the wood oven, these are memorable pies, saucy in the best way.

Chef Joshua Smookler opened his Golden Bear Station restaurant in Dec. 2023 in Kenwood, where he turns out a wide array of dishes, including memorable pizzas. (Courtesy Amber Turpin)

Fresh pastas and entrees round out the menu, with dessert anything but an afterthought. Basque style burnt cheesecake ($14) and a brownie sundae for two ($24) with chunks of pecan pie, ice cream and hot fudge are among the options. A small by the glass wine selection prominently features Kenwood wine. And your bill comes in a lovely “Thank You” card, almost like a parting gift — said no one ever, until now.

Another great option for dinner or even just happy hour is Salt & Stone, which offers lively ambiance, tons of outdoor seating and a seafood-leaning menu with plenty of cocktails for the wine-weary palate. Try the pretty Starry Night with lychee puree and butterfly pea ice.

To work off some of the culinary feats of the area, take advantage of the vast natural setting and oak-studded hills with a hike at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park with features 25 miles of hiking trails in the Mayacamas Mountains and a seasonal waterfall at the headwaters of Sonoma Creek.

If that all sounds too active, opt for a soak at the historic Morton’s Warm Springs, another spot to enjoy the scenic Sonoma Creek, with geothermal pools heated to 84 to 94 degrees, depending on weather. Psst, the onsite Cafe 108° serves housemade Meyer lemonade.

And to really cap off the weekend, treat yourself to the Valley of the Moon massage at Kenwood Inn & Spa, a landmark property went through a series of upgrades and renovations last year. The spa is a quiet two-story retreat, with a marble soaking tub, automated Japanese toilets and a serene lounge area that overlooks the pool below. This much relaxation will send you back home fully grounded and ready for the week ahead.

Beltane Ranch: Rooms start at $344. 11775 Sonoma Highway in Glen Ellen;

Golden Bear Station: Open from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and until 8:30 p.m. Sundays at 8445 Sonoma Highway in Kenwood; .

Salt & Stone: Open for brunch on weekends, dinner daily and lunch everyday except Wednesday at  9900 Sonoma Highway in Kenwood:

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park: Open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at 2605 Adobe Canyon Road in Kenwood. Day use fees are $8-$10 per vehicle; .

Morton’s Warm Springs: Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday for the summer season at 1651 Warm Springs Road in Glen Ellen. Day use passes are $15-$25 by reservation at

The Kenwood Inn and Spa: The spa is open to day guests Monday-Thursday by reservation.10400 Sonoma Highway in Kenwood;

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best time to tour california wine country

Best places to retire for people who love wine country

Y ou’re dreaming of a retirement that includes sipping award-winning wines while taking in the scenic beauty of the surrounding vineyards that produced those very grapes.

You want a retirement where you can live and breathe the terroir of a top Cabernet or pair a Pinot with a pizza at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

We’ve rounded up a few of the best places to retire for people who love wine country, on a variety of budgets.

Napa and Sonoma valleys in California

More than half of the nation’s 269 American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs, are in California, which produces over 80% of the U.S.’s wine. An AVA is a designated wine-grape-growing region that provides the official appellation of a wine, or its geographic pedigree.

California wine spots such as the famed Napa and Sonoma valleys produce their award-winning wines with some of the most expensive wine grapes in the country, according to the USDA, and it can be costly to live there, too. 

A single person may need a minimum annual income of around $73,200, or $165,240 for a family, according to Sperlings , to live in Northern California’s wine country. 

Using the commonly cited 4% retirement rule, that means you would need about $1.83 million to retire there, and the Santa Barbara area farther south is still more expensive. Another alternative and up-and-coming wine region is Paso Robles, Calif., where the median home price is around $805,000, and the cost of living 46.1% higher than the U.S. average.

If you’re looking for a top-notch, money-is-no-object wine-country location to retire, one of these places might be for you.

Napa, Calif.:

  • Median home-sale price: $840,000 (Redfin, February 2024)
  • Rent, average: $1,760/month (Sperlings)
  • Cost of living: 60.8% higher than U.S. average (Sperlings)
  • Climate risks: The highest risk is storms, 60/100 (100 is worst), and yearly rainfall is expected to increase in the area

Sonoma County, Calif.:

  • Median home sale price: $800,000 (Redfin, February 2024)
  • Rent, average: $1,940/month (Sperlings)
  • Cost of living: 51.8% higher than the U.S. average, 1.3% higher than the California average (Sperlings)
  • Climate risks: The highest risk is storms, 60/100 (100 is worst)  

Following are some retirement alternatives for wine lovers in California and around the country, where you can enjoy good wines, good food, attractive scenery and a lower cost of living.

Sierra Foothills in California

If you’re up for small-town living, the Sierra Foothills region of California runs along the western edge of the Sierra Nevada, above the hotter, flatter Central Valley, and offers less-expensive options.  

Zinfandel is the most planted grape in the region, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay, according to Wine Enthusiast , which says vineyards here were planted in the middle of the 19th century, during the Gold Rush, though the AVA wasn’t established until 1987. 

The region includes the counties of Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne and Yuba. To the west are larger cities with more amenities, including Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto. 

The foothills and surrounding Sierras provide many opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, from hiking and biking to skiing, rafting and camping. To the east are several popular ski spots, as well as the world-famous destinations Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe.  

The historic downtown of Murphys in Calaveras County is a former gold-mining settlement, like many of the towns in the region. It’s full of quaint shops, cafés and restaurants, and over two dozen wine-tasting rooms. Its surroundings are dotted by vineyards set against golden hills and oak woodlands. Other historic towns in the foothills include Angels Camp, Mokelumne Hill, and then there are larger towns such as Placerville, Grass Valley and Auburn.

This is a huge region, and some places can be remote, so the cost of living varies.

In Murphys, Calif., summers are dry, with an average July high of 89° Fahrenheit, or nearly 32° Celsius, and an average December low of 38° — a mild winter with occasional light snow.

Calaveras County:

  • Median home-sale price: $472,450 (Redfin, February 2024)
  • Rent, 2 BR average: $930/month (in Murphys, Calif.) 23.4% lower than U.S. average (Sperlings)
  • Cost of living: (in Murphys) is about 20% above the U.S. average, but about 20% below the California average (Sperlings)
  • Climate risks: The highest risk in Calaveras County is fire, rated 89/100 (100 is worst), followed by heat (61) and storms (58), according to

Willamette Valley in Oregon

Oregon’s 150-mile long Willamette Valley is home to more than 700 wineries and is one of the most influential wine-producing regions in all of Oregon and the entire Pacific Northwest, according to Wine Enthusiast.

Rich, volcanic soils and cool marine breezes help create a mild climate with just the right conditions to grow grapes for world-famous wines, especially Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. Established in 1983, the larger AVA is divided into several smaller ones.

Portland, Ore., sits at the northern tip of the valley, and other Oregon cities in the region include Salem and Eugene. McMinnville, Ore., is a small town closer to Portland, with several local wineries and vineyards, and plenty of outdoor activities including fishing and hiking. 

Within the valley, Corvallis, Ore., is a college town with a younger population. It’s easy to get around, and it has a lovely river promenade in the heart of its eclectic downtown district. There’s plenty of outdoor recreation in the region. Beer lovers won’t be left out, as the Willamette Valley also has taprooms, distilleries and cider houses. 

Corvallis has been ranked a best place to live by Livability and Bankrate, and a best place to retire by Forbes. 

Temperatures year-round are mild, with warm dry summers and wet winters. (Oregon is rainy.) Those looking for work in their retirement years will do well in Corvallis, particularly with Oregon State University, according to

Corvallis, Ore.:

  • Population: about 61,000
  • Median home-sale price: $532,000 (Redfin, February 2024)
  • Rent, average, 2 BR: $1,073 /month, 7% lower than U.S. average (Sperlings)
  • Cost of living: 8.7% higher than the U.S. average, 4.9% lower than the Oregon average (Sperlings)
  • Climate risks: The highest risk is of storms 52/100 (100 is worst)  

Walla Walla Valley in Washington

The Walla Walla Valley wine region straddles the Oregon-Washington border on the eastern side of the Pacific Northwest states, and is known for world-class wines. Wine Spectator once described it as “Sonoma meets the Midwest,” and Wine Enthusiast says the area has enviable growing conditions for Rhône and Bordeaux varietals. Walla Walla was once ranked the best place to retire in the country by Money magazine.

Walla Walla is a small town and not close to any big cities — it’s over three hours to Portland and almost as far from Spokane — but it’s a college town in a scenic setting surrounded by hills and mountains, with outdoor recreation including hiking, biking and paddling, plus skiing and snowshoeing in higher elevations. It’s close to the Columbia River and has a livable downtown with a small-town feel, according to TopRetirements .  

The region has more than 130 wineries, which draw plenty of visitors. The area boasts great restaurants, three colleges, six golf courses, an annual four-day guitar festival in March, a summer chamber-music festival and a balloon stampede with over 30 hot-air balloons. Plus there are those great Walla Walla onions.

Walla Walla, Wash.:

  • Population: about 34,000
  • Median home-sale price: $462,500 (Redfin, February 2024)
  • Rent, 2 BR, average: $960/month (Sperlings), 19.6% lower than U.S. average
  • Cost of living: 6.8% lower than the U.S. average (Sperlings)
  • Climate risks: The highest risk is heat, 49/100 (100 is worst). FEMA’s risk-index rating for Walla Walla is relatively low compared with the rest of the U.S.

Texas Hill Country

The Texas Hill Country AVA includes over 20 counties, with Austin to the east and San Antonio on the southern edge, and is one of the largest appellations in the U.S., encompassing more than 9 million acres.

Wine Spectator has called the area “[a]n emerging wine region on the cusp of something great,” noting that the wines here range from Bordeaux blends to Italian varietals, as well as cool-climate grapes. 

Hill Country wines have won numerous awards both at home and internationally, according to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association.

Fredericksburg: In the heart of the AVA is Fredericksburg, Texas, a town of just 11,000 where the cost of living is about 4% above the national average. The town has landed in the past on a Kiplinger’s list of best places to retire. The February 2024 median home-sale price is above the U.S. average, but rents are about 8% lower than the U.S. average, according to Sperlings.

Crime is low, and, as a popular tourist town, Fredericksburg is home to good restaurants and a number of cultural resources. According to TopRetirements, people who like the idea of living in a historic town will like Fredericksburg. 

Fredericksburg is about 70 miles from San Antonio and 78 miles Austin, so one of these larger cities, or their surrounding suburbs, might be better options for those looking for a bigger place with more amenities.

Austin: Anyone who loves good food, outdoor recreation and live music will be in heaven in Austin, where you can grab an award-winning bite from a food truck and simply stand on the sidewalk and discover a great up-and-coming band. And, of course, there is a variety of wine-tasting rooms and urban wineries. The city sits on the eastern edge of Texas Hill Country.

A college town and the capital of Texas, Austin is rarely boring, as it offers a range of activities and events, like the annual SXSW and Austin Film Festival, as well as sports, art exhibits and food festivals. You don’t have to leave the city limits to enjoy miles of running, walking, hiking or biking trails, and you can kayak on Lady Bird Lake right in the heart of of the city. The economy is thriving in Austin, but the downside is that it has experienced rapid growth and some sprawl over recent years and its cost of living has risen dramatically. 

San Antonio: For those on a tighter budget, San Antonio may be a better option. The city was ranked one of the best places to retire in 2023 by Forbes, and the cost of living is 8.7% lower than the U.S. average, according to Sperlings. The median home-sale price in San Antonio in February 2024 was $265,000.

Fredericksburg, Texas:

  • Population: about 11,000
  • Median home-sale price: $454,500 (Redfin, February 2024)
  • Rent, 2 BR average: $1,060/month (Sperlings)
  • Cost of living: about 4% above the national average (Sperlings)
  • Climate risks: The highest risk is heat, at 91/100 (100 is worst),  though FEMA ranks it as “relatively low.”
  • Population: 944,658
  • Cost of living: 29.1% higher than U.S. average 
  • Median home-sale price: $525,750 (February 2024)
  • Climate risk: The highest risk is heat, at 98/100 (100 is worst), according to ClimateCheck .

Asheville, North Carolina

Nearly 60 wineries are scattered among the mountains of western North Carolina, including the Biltmore Winery and a number of family-owned wineries, according to Asheville’s convention and visitors bureau, with more than a dozen wineries within an hour’s drive of the city.

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with nearby AVAs including Appalachian High Country, Crest of the Blue Ridge Henderson County, Swan Creek and Yadkin Valley, Asheville itself has several wine bars and tasting rooms.

The sloping hillsides and higher elevations and soils of the region create unique challenges and benefits to produce over 24 different grape varieties.

Asheville enjoys mild weather and has has been ranked one of the best places to live in by CNN Money and U.S. News, and a best place to retire by both U.S. News and Kiplinger’s. 

Asheville, N.C.:

  • Population: about 94,000
  • Median home sale price: $437,500 (Redfin, February 2024)
  • Rent, 2BR average: $1,081 (Sperlings)
  • Cost of living: 5.8% higher than the U.S. average (Sperlings)
  • Climate risks: Asheville faces the biggest risks from precipitation with a score of 88/100 and heat, 79/100 (100 is worst)

Finger Lakes region in upstate New York

The Finger Lakes AVA includes a dozen counties and is close to both Rochester, N.Y,, and Syracuse. If you can handle challenging winters, the scenic region can be a good place to retire for anyone who enjoys a slower pace of life along with natural beauty, outdoor recreation and cultural activities, according to TopRetirements.

A popular tourist destination, the Finger Lakes are home to more than 120 wineries and are known especially for cool-climate varietals including Riesling and Gewurztraminer, but reds are also produced here, such as Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

The Finger Lakes area has a population of about 1.28 million and is made up of several small towns and agricultural areas including Canandaigua, Geneva, Penn Yan and Skaneateles, along with the better-known towns of Watkins Glenn, famous for car racing, and Ithaca, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, according to TopRetirements . The historic small city of Geneva sits on the shoreline of Seneca Lake and offers low home prices and a low cost of living.

Geneva, N.Y.:

  • Population: about 13,261
  • Median home-sale price: $162,675 (Redfin, February 2024)
  • Rent, 2BR average: $850/month (Sperlings)
  • Cost of living: 9.2% lower than the U.S. average (Sperlings)
  • Climate risks: The highest risk in the area is storms 87/100, and heat 60/100 (100 is worst)  

Explore a map of the U.S.’s AVAs.

Median home-sale prices are from Redfin, February 2024.

Rents and cost of living figures are from Sperlings .

Climate risks are from , unless otherwise indicated.

Readers: Do you have any suggestions to add? Share them in the comments.

Best places to retire for people who love wine country


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