Every time of year is a good time for winetasting, and California isn’t running low on wineries or AVAs, with 139 American Viticultural Areas in total. Skip over the big-name regions and instead focus on some of the cooler, kicked backed wine tasting cities in the state. From funky new wine trails in Santa Barbara to the award-winning resort-style wineries in Temecula, California is overflowing with new opportunities to taste, grub, and explore. Read on for our top ten.
Nevada City is a lesser-known wine destination about an hour outside of Sacramento. Here, you can taste a variety of both Bordeaux and Rhone varietals that thrive in high-altitude environments where the hottest part of the day is a far cry from the coldest. Where to taste: Nevada County is home to 15 wineries, but downtown houses three notable tasting rooms: Clavey Vineyards, Nevada City Winery, and Szabo Vineyards. Where to Eat: Grab a bite between wineries at the Spring Street Market & Deli where the counter’s fresh, hot sandwiches take center stage. Plus it’s a great place to pick up a few bottles of vino! What else to do: The shops in Downtown Nevada City are eclectic. Peruse hippie-chic clothing, one-of-a-kind artist wares, and rare books. On Main Street, Body Essence offers massages, facials, and other services using organic products.
Just outside of San Joaquin County, Livermore serves up wine like it’s Napa South. The growing wine region is home to many wineries and tasting rooms, and due to its close proximity, it’s easy to stop over for the day—or just a glass. Where to taste: Sip your way through Livermore from 3 Steves Winery to Wood Family Vineyards. The best way to tackle the Livermore wine scene is in chunks, so pick a stretch of road that will lead you to three or four wineries and make that your route for the day. We recommend looking at Vasco Road for urban tasting rooms, or walking Greenville Road for vineyard tastings. Where to eat: To dine without leaving the vineyards, stop by the Garre Café, a Mediterranean-inspired eatery open for lunch and dinner, or head just up the road to Poppy Ridge Golf Course where The Grill serves American cuisine made with locally sourced ingredients. What else to do: When the weather is nice, Sycamore Grove makes a nice winter walk. The paved, flat trail will wind you through trees and nature, the perfect way to begin a day of wine tasting. Grab a passport: Get free tastings at Livermore Valley wineries year round with a passport that allows you to taste from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 at participating wineries.
Anderson Valley is the gateway into Mendocino. Located near the coast, the Anderson Valley AVA is best known for its pinot noir, chardonnay, white Riesling, and gewürztraminer. Its heavy fog and temperate, cool coastal climate lends itself to creating a library of tasteful Alsace varietals. Where to taste: There are 27 tasting rooms in Anderson Valley. Perhaps the most well-known is Husch Vineyards in Philo (which makes an extraordinary chardonnay). Other notable contenders include Philo Ridge Vineyards in Boonville and Scharffenberger Cellars in Philo. Where to Eat: Philo is home to a few charming eateries. Stop into Stone and Embers for moderately priced New American cuisine, or peek into the Bewildered Pig for comfort food that can be served outdoors. What else to do: Indulge in flavorful treats from Three Twins Ice Cream served at Paysanne with flavors like lemon cookie and strawberry je ne sais quoi (made with balsamic vinegar). Don’t miss event: On Feb. 22-23, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association will hold its annual Winter White Wine Festival in Boonville at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds.
Voted one of ten best wine destinations in 2019 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Temecula still flies under the radar when it comes to California wine stops. The temperate climate lends itself to a diverse wine portfolio, representing more than 50 varietals in the AVA. Where to taste: Take your pick! There are more than 30 wineries in Temecula. Avensole Winery & Resort offers some of the area’s best views, plus daily happy hours, live music, and seasonal cuisine; Carter Estate Winery and Resort books private tastings in its upscale setting (plus guests can stay at a private bungalow on site); Wilson Creek Vineyard & Winery has walkable grounds including a bridge, gazebo, and stream; and South Coast Winery Resort and Spa—voted the best California state winery of the year four times—won’t disappoint with its luxury spa and villas. Where to Eat: Dine at one of the wineries you stop by. Many of the larger resorts have on-site restaurants featuring menus that will have you drooling over the local fare so there’s no reason to go anywhere else. What else to do: The thing to do in Temecula—aside from taste wine—is to hop in a hot air balloon and soar off into the sky. Choose from companies like Compass Balloons and Grape Escape. Grab a passport: SIP Temecula passports are good Monday through Friday for five tastings at participating wineries ($45).
Wine, dine, and gamble in Placerville. Nestled on the El Dorado Wine Trail. The dramatic elevations of the region provide the fruits needed for the more than 70 wineries that thrive in this region. Where to taste: Placerville has several wineries of its own. We recommend stopping by Boeger Winery for a big barbera, Nello Olivio for the award-winning sangiovese, and the American River Red Blend at Lava Cap Winery. Where to eat: Add one more tasting room to your itinerary. Jodar Vineyards & Winery is just outside of Placerville in Camino. In addition to oversized bottles of delectable port, the winery creates spectacular charcuterie boards and cheese boards. What else to do: Red Hawk Casino is an award-winning 24-hour casino that offers gaming and restaurants, plus childcare options.
Funk Zone (Santa Barbara’s urban wine trail)
It’s no secret that Santa Barbara is home to quite a few impressive wineries, including an urban wine trail that takes visitors past more than 20 tasting rooms called the Funk Zone, essentially a group of warehouses transformed into tasting rooms, artists studios, restaurants, and more. Where to Taste: Embrace the area’s contemporary charm with stops at the quirky Municipal Winemakers and DV8 cellars with sparkling wine on tap. Embody the spirit of the hippie zone and go where your feet take you—past surfboard makers and art museums located in the same warehouse district. Where to eat: Locals will steer you toward The Lark, a hip, and upscale eatery with a mission to remain sustainable. What else to do: Peruse all Santa Barbara’s artist neighborhood has to offer including shops and hands-on exhibits at the MOXI.
Santa Ynez Valley
Just a quick trip north of Santa Barbara gets you to the Santa Ynez Valley. Near the coast, pinot noir and chardonnay thrive while inland Bordeaux varietals are king. Where to taste: This area rose to fame in the 2004 movie Sideways, and many guests like to choose their wine tasting trail based on the film. To see the locales where the movie was shot visit tasting rooms in Buellton, Los Alamos, and Los Olivos. Firestone Vineyards, Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard, Foxen Vineyard, and Zaca Mesa Winery are just a few of the wineries featured. Where to eat: In Santa Ynez you can’t go wrong with Italian fare from S.Y. Kitchen where patio seating is best when the weather is nice or Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn where American grub pairs well with a list of local wines. What else to do: Combine wine tasting with other activities; there are a few cool ways to tour the area’s wineries. Book a Cloud Climbers Jeep Tour to see the mountainous terrain while you sip wines from local spots, tour the wineries on horseback, or opt for door-to-door service. Grab a passport: The Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Association offers seasonal wine tasting passports with zero black-out dates allowing sippers to taste at 14 participating wineries.
The Silicon Valley isn’t all start-up tech companies and Stanford. Between the rows of Teslas and buzzy lunchtime hotspots sits a hidden gem—the Saratoga Wine Trail (also known as the Silicon Valley Wine Trail). The walkable winery villages help wine exploration in the valley become accessible. Plus, the scenic drives through the adjacent hillsides make it feel like you’ve escaped the city without going far at all. Where to taste: Follow the trail through Saratoga’s vineyards to sip cabernet sauvignons, pinot noirs, and chardonnays. You can drink without leaving downtown at Big Basin Vineyards and Cinnabar Winery (the latter is a good after-hours hotspot). Where to eat: Enjoy an upscale meal at Plumed Horse, where you can start with reserve caviar and end with an assortment of fancy chocolates. What else to do: Saratoga is surrounded by natural beauty. Visit the storied Hakone Estate and Gardens, an 18-acre traditional Japanese garden, or walk through the Montalvo Arts Center, an Italian Mediterranean Revival mansion with hiking trails and a view. During warmer months Mountain Winery hosts a concert series.
Once part of the Russian River AVA, Petaluma—a lesser-known wine destination in Sonoma County—was recently granted its own AVA dubbed the Petaluma Gap. Since 2018 it has been operating as Sonoma County’s 18th AVA, with 4,000 acres of wine grapes, and it’s bringing big attention to the small wine locale. Where to taste: Keller Estate Winery is likely the area’s most popular choice for a tasting partly because of its family estate wines and partly because of its breathtaking views. Barber Cellars is another funky find housed in the restored 1923 Art Deco-styled Petaluma Hotel, known for its zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon. Where to eat: There is no shortage of places to grab a bite in Petaluma. Step back in time at Stormy’s Spirits and Supper, a roadhouse that dates back to 1854 and features a collection of hearty comfort foods and fresh seafood. What else to do: A trip to Petaluma is hardly complete without a stop by Lagunitas Brewing Company. Or, go antiquing.
The California Delta
Who says you have to go far to taste quality wines? The Delta Farm & Winery Trail boasts wineries and farms for locals and visitors to enjoy, plus the vibe is very kicked back even compared to some of the other places on this list. Where to taste: Bogle Vineyards & Winery is the most well-known winery in the region and local gem Julietta Winery is also worth a stop. Then, stop into the Old Sugar Mill with 13 tasting rooms inside. Where to eat: Enjoy a down home meal (and some brews) at Husick’s Taphouse just past the Old Sugar Mill. Menu items include stacked sandwiches and BBQ favorites. What else to do: Visit the farms along the trail in between winery stops. R. Kelley Farms in Sacramento is a good place to handpick fruits and vegetables, and there’s even a hunting preserve on the trail.