Planning a trip to Northern California wine country this summer? Your itinerary will certainly include wine tasting and sitting down to fabulous meals in the area’s great restaurants. You could spend an entire visit to Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Solano County and the surrounding area doing little else than drinking wine and eating. But what if you could add a taste of something different and local that kicks your wine country experience up a notch?
There’s much more to do in Northern California Wine Country than just eat and drink, so here are a handful of activities to consider adding to your itinerary. These were chosen because they are fun, interesting and require no special equipment, clothing or preparation. Several activities require reservations, so check with vendors or destinations for detailed information.
Art galleries featuring local inspirations can be found throughout wine country, including this sample of visitor favorites: di Rosa (Napa), The Hess Collection (Napa, at Hess Collection Winery), Ma(i)sonry (Yountville), AÆRENA Gallery (St. Helena), Jessel Gallery (Napa), Riverfront Art Gallery (Petaluma), Upstairs Art Gallery (Healdsburg), Arts Guild Of Sonoma (Sonoma), and the most popular gallery in downtown Napa – Quent Cordair Fine Art.
A little more about Quent Cordair Fine Art… Quent and Linda Cordair’s mission in Napa is to provide a fine-art experience that not only complements, but heightens the wine-country experience for guests and locals. “As a writer and artist, I’ve been enchanted by the culture of Napa and Sonoma for over twenty-five years,” Quent explains. “The culture of wine-making and wine-enjoying here is so fundamentally different than the culture I grew up with in the blue-collar Midwest and South, where wine was thought of as little more than another type of alcohol people consumed and food preparation was very basic. But the culture here is about living as well and beautifully, as contentedly and fully as possible. We love the approach to life here, with all the beauty and abundance, the nuance and variety, the high art and passion brought to the creation of food and wine by our neighbors and friends, Napa’s chefs and winemakers. We so enjoy rounding out this experience for our guests with an offering of paintings, sculpture, and drawings created by artists who give as much care and attention to detail, who bring as much skill and passion to their work as our friends making wine and food. Our hearts and souls, too, need and deserve the most finely crafted fare available, our spirits thriving when we not merely fill them with whatever may be within easy reach, but when we take the time to appreciate and savor the creations of those who have dedicated their lives to crafting the very best. Established in 1996, Quent Cordair Fine Art serves an international clientele of private and corporate collectors. QCFA is a premier provider of Romantic Realism, the movement which renews the high esthetic standards and techniques of pre-20th century ateliers, bringing a rebirth of comprehensibility, beauty, and stylization to contemporary subject matter.
See the San Francisco Bay Area from the air! Seaplane Adventures has downtown, coastal and champagne tours originating in Sausalito. Flights range in duration from thirty to forty five minutes.
Prefer a helicopter ride? Bay Aerial offers private and one hour tours of the Bay Area, plus additional services for businesses and the film industry.
Balloon rides over Napa Valley are a popular way to see the area from the air. Many “champagne flights” and other custom experiences are available. Napa Valley Balloons Inc. and Napa Valley Aloft are among several vendors to contact for schedules and rates.
The Budweiser brewery in neighboring Fairfield, about fifteen minutes east of downtown Napa, offers tours at the top of each hour from 10am to 5pm (closed Tuesday, Wednesday and most holidays). The facility brews beer for the entire Northwest area of the U.S. and is known as a “green” facility with a large solar panel array and two huge wind turbines visible from miles away. Take the tour and sample their products in the bar. Check their web site for location and current hours.
Several casinos in Northern California wine country offer Las Vegas-style gaming and live entertainment. The Graton Resort & Casino, California’s largest, is located a few minutes south of Santa Rosa in central Sonoma County. The facility offers a large gaming area (much of it smoke-free), restaurants, spa and premium hotel rooms. Also in Sonoma County, River Rock Casino in Geyserville is a popular stop for gaming, lunch and dinner. Cache Creek Casino Resort (named after an actual creek that runs through the resort’s golf course) is located east of Napa in the rural community of Brooks. Cache Creek has long been a favorite weekend getaway for Bay Area residents and offers gaming, entertainment, golf, spa and premium rooms and suites. If you’d like a quick game of cards, Napa Valley Casino in American Canyon (five minutes south of downtown Napa) offers Poker, Blackjack, Pai Gow, Three Card Poker, & Baccara twenty four hours a day.
Major League Baseball Games
San Francisco Giants: AT&T Park on San Francisco Bay is one of baseball’s great venues. Crowds routinely top 40,000 for San Francisco Giants games, day or night. When staying in the Napa area, get to the game the easy way – take the San Francisco Bay Ferry from Vallejo to San Francisco – a 50 minute boat ride down the Napa River and across San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay. If staying in Sonoma, catch the Golden Gate Ferry in Larkspur. On weekends, the ferries dock literally at AT&T Park. On weekdays, they dock at the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco, about a mile from the ballpark (walk or hop on a pedicab). After all games, weekend and weekday, return ferries to all destinations leave directly from AT&T Park about 30 minutes after the last out in the game. You can also catch BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) from points closer to Wine Country, click link for map and current schedule. Caution: Even on the hottest summer days, temperatures drop significantly at AT&T Park after sundown as cool ocean breezes rush in. Bring a jacket to night games! Helpful links: Golden Gate Ferry San Francisco Bay Ferry Information San Francisco Giants Schedule and Tickets
Oakland A’s: The Oakland Athletics play in the Oakland Coliseum, located on Interstate-880 just a few minutes from the Oakland Airport. From Napa or Sonoma, drive or catch a ride share to the Coliseum or hook up with BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) anywhere along the line and get off at the Coliseum station – click link for map and current schedule. Oakland A’s Schedule and Tickets
Live Concerts and Music
The most popular Northern California wine country musical event is the annual Bottle Rock, held this year May 25, 26 & 27 in Napa. Acts scheduled to appear include Bruno Mars, Snoop Dog, Billy Idol and several dozen more. Tickets are already sold out, but may be available through the event’s secondary ticket exchange. Several aftershows are scheduled in smaller venues locally and in San Francisco, Berkeley and Sacramento – check out who is playing and buy tickets: click here.
The Sonoma Harvest Music Festival is September 22 and 23 at the B.R. Cohn Winery and Olive Oil Company a few minutes north of downtown Sonoma. This event is also sold out, but tickets may be available on a secondary exchange.
Wonder how jelly bean candies are made? Less than two minutes from the Budweiser brewery in Fairfield (fifteen minutes east of downtown Napa) is the Jelly Belly factory and visitors center. Take the self-guided tour or sign up in advance for a factory floor tour. There is a Chocolate & Wine Experience available that features wines from nearby Suisun (sih-soon) Valley, the “Petit Verdot Capital Of the World.” A non-alcoholic experience is available for visitors under 21. Location: 1 Jelly Belly Lane, Fairfield, CA 94533
There are many world-class spas in Northern California Wine Country, why not take a half or whole day to pamper yourself? In no intended order, here are a few spas to consider.
Napa Valley: Silverado Resort & Spa (Napa); Hotel Yountville Resort & Spa (Yountville); Meadowood Napa Valley (St. Helena); Hotel Villagio At The Estate (Yountville); Bardessono (Yountville); Auberge du Soleil (Rutherford); The Meritage Resort & Spa (Napa); Napa River Inn (Napa)
I hope these ideas spark enough interest that you’ll try one or two during a future visit to Northern California Wine Country. Cheers!
Note: Vendors and destinations identified as examples in this article are not specifically endorsed by Wine Adventure Journal or our sponsors and we assume no responsibility or liability for problems that may arise from purchasing goods or services from them.