USA & Canada: California Wine Country | Napa & Sonoma Valleys

by Lori Seto

For stateside romance, few places can beat the rolling hills and world-renowned vineyards of California's wine country, an hour and a half north of San Francisco. Come here for a quickie engagement getaway or a honeymoon spent sniffing wines, strolling the coast, and surrendering to spa treatments and hot springs.

In a Word: Vineyards

Almost 300 vineyards dot Napa and Sonoma Valleys, including Robert Mondavi, Sterling Vineyards, Domain Chandon (owned by Moet-Hennessey and Louis Vuitton), Kenwood Vineyards, Benziger Family Winery, Stag's Leap, Blackstone, Sutter Home, Korbel Champagne Cellars, and Roederer Estate. If serendipity is your driver, be sure to visit large wineries for impromptu tours and tastings. Boutique wineries may require reservations. Venture underground, too, below Rutherford Hill in Napa Valley, for some of the largest wine caves in America.

Don't Miss

  • Hot springs: The town of Calistoga is famous for its 212-degree hot springs and spas. Our favorite retreat: The 1930s-inspired Indian Springs, (707) 942-4913. Make an appointment for a volcanic mud bath but then arrive early to swim in the Olympic-sized, 90- to 102-degree mineral spring pool (said to feel like a giant vat of warm Perrier) and sip the house specialty -- citrus and cucumber-infused mineral water.
  • Vineyard views: See the valley by train. Steep in luxurious vintage details during a three-hour brunch, lunch, dinner, or theme ride from Napa to St. Helena and back on the Napa Valley Wine Train.
  • Antiquing: In Sonoma, try the town of Petaluma, Sebastopol's Antique Row (more than 200 dealers along the Gravenstein Country Highway), and the Collective Shops of Healdsburg. In Napa, visit Red Hen Antiques on Highway 29 between Napa and Yountville or the Riverfront Antique Centre in downtown Napa.
  • Horseback: Gaze at wildflower-blanketed meadows, vineyards, and redwood groves from atop a horse.

Best Place to Kiss

Take in panoramic views of wine country -- even San Francisco and the Sierras on a clear day -- in a tranquil hot-air balloon ride.

When to Go

  • Best weather: August to November
  • Best prices: December to March
  • Festival highlights: The biggest event of the year is the Mustard Festival, celebrated from the end of January to the end of March. "Crush" (the season when grapes are picked and crushed) happens in September or October; residents mark the harvest with fairs and festivals from September to December.
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