Can We Wine From a Nearby Location?
June 6, 2016 7:48 PM   Subscribe

As my AskMefi history will reveal, mah wahfe and I are heading to SF and Napa/Sonoma region in early July. My remaining question is a simple one: is it feasible to stay in Santa Rosa and still enjoy wine country?

We would prefer to not rent a car if possible, but are just not sure what the transportation options are for getting from Santa Rosa to different wineries for tastings and nice restaurants for lunch and dinner. Can someone with local experience let us know if this is a totally doable normal thing for visitors to do, or are we fooling ourselves and need to decide between staying in Santa Rosa with a car rental or staying someone closer to the action.

posted by joelhunt to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hi! I grew up nearby (Rohnert Park). Santa Rosa is a great hub for wine-tasting in both Sonoma and Napa. You pretty much can't swing a dead cat without hitting a winery around there. If you're only wanting to taste in Napa then it might be advisable to stay there, but honestly tasting is great in both counties so I would think it would be a waste of time to focus only on Napa unless you're just super into Napa wines for some reason. For tasting within Sonoma County, Santa Rosa is great, there's tons of wineries right there, and it's only like 15-30 minutes depending on traffic to areas like Healdsburg and Sonoma.

Public transport in the north bay was pretty abysmal when I lived there 10+ years ago and when I've visited home it doesn't seem to have changed much in the ensuing decade. I would recommend either going without a car and booking yourself on tours so that your ride is arranged, or renting a car. I would personally go with renting a car as it's easy to scoot around and there's lots of lovely things to see when you take a break from wine tasting (totally recommend Armstrong State Reserve and any of our beaches). The only downside to renting a car is obviously the issue of needing a designated. Santa Rosa itself is reasonably walkable if you stick to the downtown area, but it's sort of sprawled out other than that. Don't know the cab/uber situation.

Also happy to be PM with any questions about the area.
posted by supercrayon at 7:59 PM on June 6, 2016

Many years ago I hitchhiked up the "wine road", one of the best days ever, but I would not recommend unless you're young and destitute. I very quietly ducked up a hill between the vines for one night, a few howls in the distance made me a bit nervous but woke with the birds, no one noticed me.

(not practical info but it's really not all that big an area, possibly bike-able)
posted by sammyo at 8:26 PM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

How are you picturing your trip? Which areas do you want to visit? Do you have the budget for a limo each day for touring the wineries and a cab or limo at night for getting to and from dinner? Would you want to do dinners only in Santa Rosa? Do you want to visit city tasting rooms only, or are you picturing going to out-of-the-way wineries surrounded by lots of vineyards? How long are you going to be in the area?
posted by lazuli at 8:34 PM on June 6, 2016

Santa Rosa is wine country as far as I'm concerned. Half of the city is in the Russian River Valley AVA. Wineries like Harvest Moon or Hook and Ladder are small places, but they're only a few minutes out of town. Driving to Sonoma or Napa proper is not very far. There can be traffic though and they are country roads, so don't expect to average 55 MPH going between towns. Staying closer is no help if you don't have a car as there's not any public transportation - you'd have to get a private wine tour guide or something. It's not hard to drive and I think it's probably the most cost-effective way to get around the area. Just don't over-sample.

If you're in Santa Rosa I'd suggest heading up to Ridge Vineyards up past Healdsburg near Lytton. One of my favourite wineries.
posted by GuyZero at 9:19 PM on June 6, 2016

Yeah. There is very little you can access without a car, especially in Santa Rosa.

With a car, you'll mostly be okay between SR & NV, but note that commute hours (6-10 am, 3:30-7 pm) the roads everywhere are miserable.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:42 PM on June 6, 2016

are we fooling ourselves and need to decide between staying in Santa Rosa with a car rental or staying someone closer to the action.

Having visited the area three times over the last 18 years, I'd say you should rent a car no matter which slice of the territory you want to focus on. Vineyards take up a lot of room, so wineries tend to be spaced far apart. The beauty of the countryside is a big part of the area's appeal, so give yourself the opportunity to wander around in it.
posted by jon1270 at 2:49 AM on June 7, 2016

Thanks for all the tips and guidance. I think we are going to rent a car, spend one day/night right in Sonoma proper for city tasting and dining, and then the remaining three days we'll stay in Santa Rosa or someplace similarly situated and drive out to explore the region and estate wineries. We feel like that might be the best of both worlds. Also, we plan to rent the car in San Francisco, meaning we won't have to worry about getting transportation to and from wine country (we start and end our trip in SF).
posted by joelhunt at 7:39 AM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I live in SF and we hit up Napa regularly (typically driving our own car). I would definitely drive if I was doing your plan. I have however taken my motorcycle up to Sonoma and used Uber to get around to the wineries and dinner with friends.

There are services where folks will be your DD up there with your own car - I have friends who have even picked up the DD here in SF to go up to Napa for the day and then drive them home after - you may want to look into that if you want to go for a tasting-heavy day.

Personally I'd look to stay in either Healdsburg or Sonoma to get the real wine country feel. Santa Rosa is nice but still feels city-ish, and you have to know where to head to find a winery. Healdsburg or Sonoma it's pretty hard to drive in any direction not on the 101 and NOT run directly into a winery. Plus both town squares are very walkable and have lots of great restaurant options. Santa Rosa has nice restaurants too, but same deal, you have to know where you're going a little better. Have a fun trip!
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:52 PM on June 7, 2016

Santa Rosa native here, and it looks like I've come a bit late to the advice party. I don't have much to add on the winery front. I agree that you're best off renting a car or booking a tour.

That being said, we also have a number of award-winning breweries in the area.
posted by Eikonaut at 7:15 PM on June 7, 2016

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