California Wine Country Itinerary
San Francisco Bay Area / Los Angeles / North Coast / Central Coast – 8 days
Day 1 San Francisco
If food were a religion, then San Francisco might be Mecca for epicurean enthusiasts. To really get into the Northern California lifestyle, start the day at the Ferry Building Marketplace, where you can interact with local farmers, artisan producers, and independently owned and operated food businesses, some of whom who are returning to sustainable methods of agriculture and production. Here you can get a crash course in how regional produce, wine, and cuisine create a deeper connection for culinary travelers. If you’re in town on a Tuesday or Saturday, you can also experience the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, a California certified farmers market operated by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). Enjoy lunch at a gourmet café and take home culinary souvenirs, such as specialty food items, cookware, and wine and spirits. Later in the afternoon, stroll around Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can visit several museums and shops – including Ghiradelli Square. Take a ferry to Alcatraz Island – where some of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century lived from 1934-1963 – and learn more about the island, which is now a federal park and bird sanctuary for colonial nesting seabirds. Enjoy a fresh seafood dinner on Fisherman’s Wharf or venture over to North Beach, San Francisco’s version of Little Italy, for an evening of gourmet comfort food and lively nightlife.
Day 2 San Francisco
In the morning head over to Scharffen Berger, a boutique chocolatier in Berkeley. Take a free factory tour and learn more about how small-batch, artisan manufacturing creates one of the most coveted dark chocolates in the U.S. – from cacao bean to bar. After your tour stay for lunch in Café Cacao and peruse the gift shop. Then, return to San Francisco to explore Chinatown, including a stop at a wonton fortune cookie factory. For dinner, enjoy a night out at one of the city’s finest restaurants, followed by clubbing or lounging in a champagne or wine bar.
Day 3 Petaluma/Sonoma
In the morning, begin your journey into one of the most renowned wine regions in the U.S. – Sonoma County. Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County, where your first stop should be the bridge overlook, perfect for hiking across the bridge or capturing spectacular skyline photos. Then drive about an hour north to Petaluma, one of the oldest cities in California with one of the best preserved historic downtowns. Centrally located, this riverfront town is a great base for exploring more than 195 Sonoma County wineries, redwood forests, and the dramatic coastline. Take time to stroll and shop along the streets of this charming river town, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then drive a few miles east to historic Sonoma for lunch, where the vibrant restaurant scene reflects the agricultural bounty of the region. Take time after lunch to shop or do wine tasting in the historic plaza, or visit one of the nearby wineries for a tasting and tour. Spend the afternoon exploring the Sonoma Valley and Russian River wineries. For dinner, enjoy a gourmet dinner in Santa Rosa, the capital of Sonoma County, or head over to the coastal towns of Bodega Bay or Jenner. Another option is to drive back towards San Francisco, and take a detour to Sausalito, an enchanting artist colony featuring seaside restaurants and shops. Overnight in San Francisco.
Day 4 Napa
Spend the day in world-renowned Napa Valley, located about an hour northeast of San Francisco. For lunch, catch the Napa Valley Wine Train, a scenic 3-hour gourmet-dining excursion aboard lavishly restored 1915-1950 Pullman Dining and Lounge cars. Browse through small towns – such as Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga – and shop for and taste olives and award-winning vintages along the St Helena Highway in the heart of the valley. Or if you’re looking for a change of pace, take a hot-air balloon ride over the valley. In the evening, enjoy dinner at some of the best restaurants in the world. Overnight in San Francisco.
Day 5 Santa Cruz/Los Gatos
Drive about an hour south to the charming town of Los Gatos, a few kilometers southwest of San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley. Spend time shopping or exploring the many trails, wine tasting rooms, and restaurants. After lunch, take Highway 17 towards Santa Cruz, venturing to various wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountain Wine region. In the late afternoon, let your inner child loose at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the only major seaside amusement park on the West Coast. Dinner and overnight in Santa Cruz.
Day 6 Paso Robles/San Luis Obispo
In the morning drive about an hour south to Monterey’s historic waterfront district, Cannery Row, immortalized in John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. There you can shop or explore Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the finest aquariums in the world. Watch seals play while you sip local wines and savor fresh seafood for lunch. After eating, drive two hours south on Highway 101 to the town of Paso Robles, the heart of Paso Robles Wine Country. Venture to various vineyards on your own or take a guided wine tour. In the late afternoon, head about 30 minutes southwest to San Luis Obispo for a gourmet dinner. Overnight in San Luis Obispo.
In the morning, drive about an hour south to Solvang, a Danish-inspired city where you can breakfast at mouth-watering traditional bakeries featuring Danish pastries, breads, and foods. Walk off your meal by browsing the local shops and museums and then spend the afternoon enjoying the Santa Ynez Valley wine region. Be sure to include a stop for lunch in Beullton at the Hitching Post, made famous in the film Sideways. Here you can enjoy a glass of fine local wine with delicious Spanish Ranchero-style barbecue food. Santa Barbara County’s Santa Rita Hills – with its cool ocean breezes, warm afternoons, and mineral-rich soil – are producing some of California’s most sought-after Pinots. In the late afternoon head to downtown Santa Barbara for a gourmet dinner. Over night in Santa Barbara.
Day 8 Depart Los Angeles
Drive about 90 minutes south to Los Angeles’ Original Farmer’s Market, one of southern California’s best place to people-watch and purchase last-minute culinary souvenirs at 100 eclectic shops. Then, visit Beverly Hills for lunch and shopping on Rodeo Drive or a tour of celebrity homes. If time permits, visit Griffith Observatory for more stargazing or visit renowned Greco-Roman museum, Getty Villa in Malibu, followed by dinner in a trendy Hollywood eatery. Then venture to LAX for your flight home.