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Did you know that California is home to more than 100 grape varietals spread across more than 100 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas)? So if you’re jetting in and spending your wine country vacation in Napa alone, you’re missing out. But don’t worry. We have the ultimate nose to tail road trip through California’s wine regions that will have your taste buds asking, “Are we there yet?”

RELATED: 3 perfect days in Paso Robles

Day 1: Southern California

Southern California wine country sometimes feels like the stepchild of the state’s more popular, and populous, wine regions to the North. But Temecula has been growing grapes since the late 1700s and thanks to a coastal fog that rolls inland, this region is turning out some interesting Italian and Rhône varietals. Fly into San Diego and start your road trip in Temecula, home to more than 40 wineries.
EAT The Goat and Vine is a rustic kitchen serving stone-oven pizza and sandwiches. Meanwhile, PUBlic House is an upscale gastropub in the heart of Old Town Temecula.
SIP Award-winning winery Leoness Cellars serves the region’s best varietals including Viognier, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and lesser known varietals like White Merlot, Muscat Canelli and Cinsault Port.
STAY After a long day of imbibing, South Coast Winery Resort and Spa offers a romantic escape with miles and miles of vineyard vistas.

South Coast Winery; photo courtesy of South Coast Winery


Days 2–4: The Central Coast

Drive up to California’s Central Coast, the setting for the cult classic wine movie, Sideways. Yep, this is where Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church took their famous road trip.

If your tastebuds are feeling a bit dry, stop for the afternoon in Santa Barbara. You won’t find vineyards in this charming seaside town but there are some great restaurants and a number of tasting rooms (especially in the Funk Zone) where you can start exploring the many regional varietals for Central California.

Get your selfie stick ready because you’re about to experience one of the state’s most scenic drives, the 101. Head north to the Santa Ynez Valley where you’ll hit the town of Solvang and think you’ve made a wrong turn into Denmark.
EAT Grab some authentic Danish food for your road trip at the Aebleskiver Café here.
SIP Lucas & Lewellen was voted the “Best Tasting Room in the Santa Ynez Valley” and pours award-winning Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.
STAY Experience the Old World charm of the Wine Valley Inn by staying in one of its Danish-inspired chateaus.

Solvang; photo courtesy of Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau


Get an early start and save your appetite because the Santa Maria Valley has some amazing wines to explore, but is also the home of Santa Maria-style barbecue (lightly seasoned tri-tip steaks grilled over an open flame). The transverse mountains, coupled with a cooler climate, set the wines of this region apart.
EAT Don your cowboy boots and visit the historic Far Western Tavern, a fixture since 1958 for the region’s best Santa Maria-style barbecue.
SIP Riverbench Vineyard is one of the region’s premier wineries producing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines. Presqu’ile is a small and very modern family-run winery that pours Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Rosé and sparkling wines in a tasting room that offers vineyard views against a stunning backdrop.

Riverbench Winery; photo by Beth Graham

If you’re a red wine lover, spend an afternoon in Paso Robles, known for its deep red varietals thanks to its inland location, shielded from the coastal winds and marine fog. This region is turning out some memorable Rhone grapes, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
SIP Four Sisters Ranch Vineyards & Winery is perched high on a hilltop and produces award-winning limited-release varietals and blends.

Cleanse that palate because your next stop, several hours north by car, is the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea. Located right on the ocean, this pedestrian village is lined with art galleries, boutique shopping and cafés. And it’s not called a wine walk for nothing!
EAT Dametra Cafe features a hearty Mediterranean menu with gyros, hummus and baklava. Don’t be surprised to see the chef standing in the center of the restaurant belting out a few tunes accompanied by a mandolin.
SIP Purchase a wine passport at the Visitor Center and follow the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea where you can sip and swill at more than a dozen tasting rooms.
STAY Book a room at the Bavarian-inspired Hofsas House where many rooms feature private balconies with unbelievable views of the Pacific Coast.

Carmel wine tasting; photo courtesy of Carmel by-the-Sea


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Days: 6–8: Northern California

If your head is spinning, not from the wine itself but from all of the varietals you’ve experienced, hold on tight because you’re about to enter the region that put California wines on the map.

Located between the San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains lies Lodi, one of California’s up-and-coming wine destinations. Although there are more than 100 varietals grown here, Zinfandel is what you’ll want to taste.
EAT Rosewood Bar & Grill serves up seasonal, farm-to-table cuisine paired with local wines.
SIP Klinker Brick Winery is owned and operated by fifth-generation farmers and winemakers known for their Old Vine Zinfandel.
STAY Bordeaux Inn Lodi is a modernized 111-year-old B&B that’s just a 5 minute walk from downtown Lodi.

Sonoma County shares the limelight with Napa Valley, but these side-by-side wine regions both deserve a day (or two) as their wines are as diverse as their lifestyles. Sonoma is slow living, dirt roads, unoaked Chardonnays and spectacular Pinot Noirs. Napa is limousines, Michelin-starred restaurants, bold Cabernets and buttery Chardonnays.

You’ll get a true feel for Sonoma’s casual lifestyle in Healdsburg, where the world-class cuisine shares the spotlight with the wine.
EAT Spoonbar spotlights the best of this region’s locally-grown organic herbs, fruit and vegetables in both its cocktails and food.
SIP Wilson Artisan Wineries are all owned by The Grape Leaf Inn purveyors (see below). Their seven boutique wineries—Wilson Winery, Mazzocco Sonoma, Matrix Winery, deLorimier, Jaxon Keys, Soda Rock, Pezzi King, St. Anne’s Crossing and Greenwood Ridge—are spread throughout the Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River Valleys, and guests at the inn can take advantage of free tastings.
STAY The Grape Leaf Inn is a Victorian-era home, built in 1905, that has been renovated and modernized featuring 13 romantic and artfully decorated rooms. Its wrap-around porch is perfect for enjoying a bottle of wine found on your day’s wine tasting excursion, set among tranquil, English-style gardens.

EAT Napa is home to some of the world’s most acclaimed celebrity chefs so book ahead and visit Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Yountville, if you’re lucky enough to land a reservation. You won’t be disappointed.
SIP Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) offers a taste of Napa’s top varietals. If you’re looking to taste one of Napa’s world-famous iconic Cabernets, head to Chimney Rock in the Stag’s Leap District.
STAY Silverado Resort and Spa is a luxury resort that’s centrally-located among Napa’s more than 540 wineries.

The Silverado Resort & Spa in Napa Valley



Tagged: California

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Beth Graham
Beth writes about the things that feed her soul - food, wine and travel and blogs at

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