A week in Northern California with nothing planned. Help!
July 22, 2019 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Flying into Sacramento in 3 weeks and have nothing booked but a rental car. Would like to hit up wine country and see some interesting sites. Any recommendations appreciated.

I bought a pair of tickets to Sacramento as Mrs. Lattiboy and I both have a full week off work. I booked a rental car with unlimited miles too. That's it! No hotels or events booked and suddenly it's 3 weeks away!

We for sure want to visit wine country for most the trip. We're not really big wine people, but we enjoy good food, drinking, and beautiful places. Napa, Sonoma, Petaluma? Where to go? Where to stay? What to avoid? I am overwhelmed!
posted by lattiboy to Travel & Transportation around Sacramento, CA (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
One of the great things about a wine tasting trip is you do not need to have a set itinerary. Just drive and turn into what seems like an interesting looking place!

If you are not set on wine country specifically, may I recommend you head towards Lake Tahoe? It is beautiful and you can have great food and some CA wines while taking in the breathtaking Sierras. There may even still be some snow on the peaks!
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 12:40 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Go to Sonoma county and visit wine country and the California coast. If you have never walked among redwoods, visit Armstrong State Park in Guerneville.
posted by elmay at 1:02 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I got some great suggestions from Mefites for places to see along the coast. If you are not familiar with that area, as I was not in those days, pretty much any place you go will be mind-blowing. One of my favorite food experiences is The Marshall Store.
posted by BibiRose at 1:10 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you end up heading toward the coast, Hendy Woods State Park is absolutely lovely to visit, and perfect for a walk, short or long, in old-growth redwoods. There are several easily accessible paths that are fine to navigate in sneakers.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:12 PM on July 22, 2019

Napa and Sonoma are great for wine and there's nothing wrong with them, but I have a couple of other suggestions.

1. Amador county is in the Sierra foothills, about an hour-ish from Sacramento. There are a bunch of wineries and tasting rooms in Plymouth and Fiddletown and those are easy to get to. If you are willing to drive an extra 20 minutes, my parents really like the Sutter Creek Cheese Shoppe and you get to drive Highway 49 through Drytown, Amador City and Sutter Creek, little gold mining towns with as much character as anywhere in the state.

2. If you're willing to drive farther, I spent 3 weeks in Fort Bragg/Medocino a couple of summers ago and loved it. Coastal redwoods, fog, wineries, beautiful.

The Sonoma coast is also very nice, but I would seriously consider Amador county.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:21 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Counterpoint: Amador County is beautiful, but three weeks from now it's going to be hot as hell and tinder-dry.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:39 PM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'd go to Healdsburg for food and wine with a little bit less of the corporate/tourist vibe and then head up 101 to Hwy 128 which will take you through the Anderson Valley for more wineries and food and will take you through some redwoods and then dump you on the coast. Keep driving north on Hwy 1 for a short bit and you'll end up in Mendocino and a very short jaunt further is Fort Bragg. Lots of wine, beer, and good food all the way through and you'll get to see many of the landscapes that make Northern California so beautiful.
posted by quince at 1:53 PM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

You sound like you're looking for a spur-of-the-moment getaway, and unfortunately Napa (and to a large extent Sonoma) have gotten very scheduled. Some wineries are still open for drop-ins, but if you have your heart set on a particular one or want to taste at a place that's a critical darling you might have no choice but to book a paid tasting in advance. The good news is that there are lots of places to go that aren't like that. Amador Foothills, Lodi, these regions don't have the prestige but they are great places to visit. But given that you'll be here in fire season, I would absolutely recommend the Anderson Valley or Mendocino. Since the prevailing wind comes from the ocean, the air quality is much better and the weather is really nice, though the coast can sometimes be too cool, depending on your taste. For instance, the high at Ft. Bragg this week is 63F/17C, though it's sunny during the day. If you go, I highly recommend Navarro Vineyards in Philo, off highway 128. Family-owned, distinctive style, not sold in stores, and you don't need an appointment. Highway 1 is great for wandering, cute little seaside towns that you can stop at as the mood strikes.
posted by wnissen at 1:53 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino are pretty far away, and, as noted above, might be booked up. But if you're up for a long drive and can find accommodations, go for it. (Sonoma is way prettier than Napa and the wines are as good or better. Healdsburg would be a good call for food and wine. I'd give Napa a hard pass*.) Amador is lovely country and there are some excellent wineries there. It might be hot, but you could visit a cave in a pinch.

I second the suggestion of heading up to Tahoe.

(* My first impression of Napa was, "I was expecting vineyards not grape farms.")
posted by sjswitzer at 2:38 PM on July 22, 2019

Seconding wnissen's recommendation to check any wineries you're interested in to see if reservations are required. I found this to be especially true in Napa, and somewhat less so in Sonoma.

Some other non-winery suggestions:

*Quarryhill Botanical Garden, located in Sonoma County.

*Jack London State Park, also in Sonoma County.

*Charles M. Schulz/Peanuts museum in Santa Rosa.

*In Sacramento itself, I enjoyed the California State Railroad Museum.

*Point Reyes to visit Point Reyes Station (cute little town with some fantastic places to eat!) and Point Reyes National Seashore (lovely hikes of varying distance).

*If you enjoy kayaking, you can kayak at Lake Berryessa, Tomales Bay, or the Napa River.

*For beer tasting, Lagunitas' taproom in Petaluma is worth a visit if any of your driving routes take you through/near Petaluma.

Lake Tahoe is gorgeous; I agree with the recommendations above that it is worth trying to fit it into your trip! Another option for a slightly-longer from Sacramento, but spectacular scenery, trip would be Monterey and Point Lobos.

Finally, if you do opt to go to San Francisco, or other places right on the coast like Point Reyes or Point Lobos, I recommend bringing a light jacket and long pants. It can be chilly near the ocean, even when it is over 90 degrees in Sacramento.
posted by oiseau at 2:56 PM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are some excellent wineries in Northern California that aren't in Napa/Sonoma/Russian River. If you decide for whatever reason that you want to get in some wine tasting without several hours of driving, head East on 50 from Sacramento to Placerville, then South on 49 a few miles to Plymouth, then East. That area is full of opportunity, albeit without the fancy castles. I recommend Sobon Estates, which has some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in California.

posted by dws at 3:18 PM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are a variety of hot springs in Napa; I have been to Indian Springs, which is a bit of a splurge, but there are options in different price brackets.

Also, for my birthday one year my partner got me a falconry lesson at West Coast Falconry. It's in the foothills NE of Sacramento, beautiful but hot and dry that time of year. As someone who loved The Once and Future King (and more recently, H is for Hawk) it was a total thrill and very educational.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 3:33 PM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

As dws says, the California coast is COLD in summer. Layer your clothes so you can adjust on the run. You can bake inland then go freeze at the coast.

People from San Jose wearing shorts and tees because it's real hot there come about 30 miles to Santa Cruz for the beaches here then are just miserable and shivery. Be prepared.
posted by anadem at 7:29 PM on July 22, 2019

If you visit Point Reyes (which is lovely!) stop at Marin French Cheese, formerly known as the Rouge y Noir Cheese Factory, and grab some brie for your time on the beach. Check for road closures before you go. Bring a sweatshirt!
posted by a moisturizing whip at 8:09 PM on July 22, 2019

The El Dorado County wineries are much more laid back than Napa/Sonoma, and much closer to Sac. Napa/Sonoma can get very heavy car traffic in the summer. Whatever you do don't go there on a weekend.

Near Sac, you can white water raft the American River. Should be high and exciting this year with snowmelt from a stormy winter. Can be scary, but lots of fun.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:14 PM on July 22, 2019

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