Laid-Back Luxury Trip to Northern California Wine Country

A vineyard overlooking a lake in the Napa Valley



With numerous Michelin stars, stylish resorts and spas, and hundreds of top wineries, Northern California Wine Country represents the good life, in just about every way. For travelers, the region is best explored slowly, with plenty of time to stop, relax, and appreciate breathtaking views and memorable experiences.

This 6-day itinerary offers the best of Sonoma and Napa counties, plus a jaunt into Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. The agenda features our picks for the best of the best, and includes four big, over-the-top dinners. Our advice is to build in time for yoga, hikes, or other physical activity every day. This will reset your body (and your palate) for the parade of rich food and great wine.

A bike against a table


Bike Napa

The Napa Valley Vine Trail presents a unique way to experience that part of California's winegrowing region: by bike. The trail itself parallels Highway 29, running alongside acres of vineyards. As of summer 2018, 12.5 miles of trail were open between Napa’s Kennedy Park and downtown Yountville. Bike rentals are available in both cities, and at many of the resorts we recommend.
Ca: dream big


Visit California

AFAR and Visit California bring you the very best of the Golden State's laid-back luxury lifestyle. From game-changing restaurants and cultural institutions to upscale hotels and wineries, the places in the following trips exemplify California’s most exciting, innovative, and authentic travel experiences.
Three people sit around a fire with glasses of wine.



DAY 1Introduction to Sonoma County

Sonoma County is one of the richest and most famous winegrowing regions in Northern California. It’s also an eclectic landscape of beaches, forests, river valleys, and everything in between.

Head north from San Francisco and savor the view of the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge, the gateway to Northern California Wine Country. About 70 miles north on the 101, head west on River Road and check in at the Farmhouse Inn for the first half of your 6-night stay.

As the name suggests, this exceptional spot has a rich history as a working ranch—a ranch that owners (and siblings) Joe and Catherine Bartolomei used to visit as kids before they bought it in 2001. Since they took over, they’ve expanded the inn to incorporate a Michelin-starred restaurant, high-end accommodations, and a world-class spa.

Take time to explore the grounds at the Farmhouse and lounge by the pool. Later that afternoon, head across the Russian River Valley to the hilltop tasting room at Gary Farrell Winery, which is renowned both for its commanding view and its pinot noir. Enjoy the 90-minute seated Inspiration Tasting, which includes six wines paired with three small bites.

That night, return to the Farmhouse Inn for a three-course, prix fixe meal. Chef Steve Litke is one of the biggest proponents of farm-to-table dining, so you’re guaranteed to eat dishes made with fresh, locally-sourced produce. Another must: The eatery’s signature dish that features rabbit prepared three ways.
Two people look at the roots of a fallen redwood.



DAY 2Into the Woods

The Farmhouse Inn sits on the outer edge of the Russian River Valley where giant redwoods grow. After breakfast, load up a backpack and set out to get a closer look.

Your destination: Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, just outside of downtown Guerneville. Park near the visitor center, grab a map and pick one of the self-guided nature trails. The park boasts 20 miles of trails in all—even more if you venture into the adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area. Be sure to check out the Parson Jones tree, which stands more than 300 feet tall.

Following a light lunch in Guerneville at the Big Bottom Market (try the mezze plate), return to the Farmhouse Inn and prepare for an afternoon spa treatment. The menu offers an eclectic mix of options. Our favorite: The Medley Message, which incorporates a number of different techniques and uses warm stones and aromatic towels to promote relaxation.

That night, drive into Healdsburg for a memorable dining experience at SingleThread. This Japanese-concept restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars in its inaugural year, and it continues to impress. Executive Chef Kyle Connaughton builds his 11-course menu around capturing produce and proteins at the peak of freshness, so the menu changes constantly. Without question, the first course is the most impressive—a host of small and delicious bites are spread out on tiny plates around a tree stump on the table.
Prosciutto and bread on a plate



DAY 3A Taste of Mendocino

After an early breakfast at the Farmhouse Inn, drive north on Highway 101 toward Cloverdale and beyond. Hang a left on Highway 128 and drive about an hour and 30 minutes towards the coast. Your destination: Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley.

From a viticultural perspective, this winegrowing region is similar to the Russian River Valley; it presents perfect conditions for pinot noir and chardonnay. But the vibe here is different—it’s still well off the beaten path and rustic, especially in the town of Boonville.

Make time for lunch at the Boonville General Store, an artisan deli that serves salads, sandwiches, and homemade soups. Afterward, enjoy tastings at Drew, Smith & Story, Balo, and Fel.

Head back towards the Farmhouse Inn in the late afternoon and stop in downtown Healdsburg for a stroll on the plaza and dinner at Campo Fina. What this family-style Italian restaurant lacks in pretension it makes up for in flavor; Chef Ari Rosen cooks Northern Italian comfort food with the skill of a master. After dinner, retire to the bocce court at the back of the open-air patio and challenge new friends to a game.
Stone tables in a nice restaurant.



DAY 4Relaxing in Style

Check out of the Farmhouse Inn and drive to Scribe Winery, in the Sonoma Valley, for a tour of the historic winery and a seated tasting on the veranda. This winery achieved cult status shortly after brothers Andrew and Adam Mariani opened it in 2007. It’s still one of the most popular spots around.

After your tasting, drive over to the plaza in the town of Sonoma and eat lunch at the Girl and the Fig, Then continue east into the Napa Valley. Head along the Silverado Trail to St. Helena and your next hotel: Meadowood Napa Valley. This resort, tucked at the back of a canyon and hidden from the rest of civilization, is one of the most luxurious hotels in all of California. You’ll understand as soon as you check in; whatever room type you’ve reserved, your accommodations will be light and airy, and the property’s canopy of oak trees will set the stage for your peaceful respite.

Spend the afternoon enjoying some of the amenities of the resort. Take croquet lessons. Play nine holes of golf. Challenge your partner to a game of tennis. Book another massage. Or sit on your deck under a canopy of oak trees and read a good book.

That night, enjoy the tasting menu in the dining room at The Restaurant at Meadowood. Helmed by Chef Christopher Kostow, the restaurant is a perennial winner of three Michelin stars. Since you’re in Napa, splurge for the wine pairings.
A blurry man looks at an art display on a wall



DAY 5Cheers to Art

Start the day with breakfast in bed, then prepare yourself for a day full of art.

Your first stop: The Hess Collection a historic winery on Mount Veeder that is also home to a three-story gallery of Donald Hess’ modern art collection. Grab a glass of cabernet and peruse the works with wine in hand.

Head over to the Carneros Resort and Spa and have a casual lunch at the renowned Boon Fly Café (try the deviled eggs and Ohlone smoked salmon flatbread). Then continue on to the diRosa Center for Contemporary Art, a short drive from Carneros. Specializing in works by Northern California artists—originally collected by Rene di Rosa—the center sits on a huge parcel of land that comprises two gallery buildings and a sculpture meadow. Opt for a private tour to dig even deeper into the massive collection.

Head back to Meadowood to lounge by the pool or take a nap. Later in the evening, the art theme continues with dinner at Kenzo, an authentic Japanese restaurant where every course is artfully prepared. Chef Eiji Onoyama’s prix fixe kaiseki menu includes sushi and other dishes that incorporate local meats and produce, and each course is paired with wine from Kenzo Estate. Request a spot at the 10-seat sushi bar for a bird’s eye view of the action.
A table with empty wineglasses overlooking a lakeside vineyard.



DAY 6Bottoms Up

The final day of your Northern California Wine Country trip should be spent savoring the very best of the region. In other words, it should be all about the wine, with olive oil and honey tastings to cleanse the palate.

From Meadowood, head north along Silverado Trail to Quintessa. This ultra-modern winery commands 280 acres of some of the most valuable real estate in the entire valley. Standard tastings of the Bordeaux-style reds are held in the winery or wine caves. Our advice: Splurge for the library/reserve experience at a private pavilion on a vista the Huneeus family calls Dragon’s Hill.

Over the course of the rest of the afternoon, make your way to other Napa Valley winery favorites including Silver Oak and Turnbull. At Honig Winery, try the honey. At Round Pond Estate, try the olive oil.

Finally, wrap up the day over cocktails and dinner at The Charter Oak, Chef Christopher Kostow’s newest restaurant, located in downtown St. Helena. Simplicity is the name of the game in this kitchen, which means no menu item has more than five or six ingredients. Meat dishes are cooked in a hearth, preserving both a nice char and intense flavor. Be sure to save room for dessert. After six days in Wine Country, it’s good to conclude on a sweet note.
More From This Author
Journeys: United States
Journeys: United States
Journeys: United States