5 Northern California Wine Country Day Trips

I’m convinced that if I took every week of the year to go on a different weekend or day trip from San Francisco, I would only scratch the surface of what California has to offer. If there’s something you want, you can probably find it in California. 5-star hotel, check. Microbreweries, check. $1 street tacos, check. Nudist beaches, check. However, since moving to San Francisco over a year ago, my eyes have really been opened up to the culture of Northern California wine country. With harvest season in full swing, it felt only appropriate to highlight five Northern California wineries that are an easy day or weekend trip from San Francisco.

1. The Madrones. With hundreds of wineries in Northern California (Over 400 in Napa alone), travelers may find the differences among the typical wineries becoming muddled with the more they visit. However, the term “typical” goes out the window when you pull into The Madrones in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. While you may be pulling into The Madrones for the wine, you’re staying for the experience. And an invitation to stay is what you get. That’s because the property at The Madrones features several tasting rooms, a garden, shop, an inn with several rooms, and a restaurant that will opening soon. Anyone who has spent any time in Northern California wine country knows how much of a luxury it is to find accommodations like this, as rarely do you find wineries and tasting rooms that offer guest rooms. With its location in the Anderson Valley, The Madrones is an ideal base for spending a weekend exploring the wineries of the Anderson Valley, while also being just a short drive from the Mendocino coast.

Cliff Lede Vineyards 2. Cliff Lede Vineyards. Music and drinks just seem to go together, or at least for me it does, as I love to dance, but it’ll take a few drinks before you see me out on the dance floor. However, step foot into most wineries and you probably don’t exactly hear music that makes you want to tap your foot or shake your booty. That all changes though when you step into the tasting room at Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa, where you’ll hear the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll overhead, such as “Express Yourself” or “Hotel California”. Cliff Lede’s passion for rock music is seen throughout the  winery, including vineyard blocks and wine blends that are named after songs. Similar to The Madrones, Cliff Lede Vineyards invites you to stop and stay a while, as they offer a couple different accommodation options, including the luxurious Poetry Inn and The Farmhouse.

3. J Winery. Wine and food. Give me those two things on a wine country trip and how couldn’t I be fat and happy? While at most tasting rooms you’re just getting a sample of their wines before you’re off to the next tasting, J Winery wants to make sure you don’t leave hungry. Step into J Winery’s Bubble Room and you’ll sit down for a customized wine tasting experience, a 3-course wine and food pairing that pairs their wines with freshly made appetizers, meats, veggies, and desserts. A sampling of their current menu includes cucumber soup, sautéed pork tenderloin, and pistachio cake. J Winery’s 3-course food and wine pairing is offered Thursday through Sunday and reservations are recommended. While you’ll need to give yourself a couple hours for the pairing, if you don’t quite have the time, J Winery also has public tastings that are offered daily.

4. Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Yes, that Francis Ford Coppola. Maybe you’ve heard about some of the films he’s directed, like The Godfather. Well it would seem that Francis Ford Coppola knows a thing or two about wine as well. While the winery doesn’t have accommodations like a couple of the wineries listed here, it seems to have everything else. Yes, as a matter of fact, it does have bocce ball courts. Yes, also a swimming pool with an open-air bar. However, to enjoy the outdoor amenities, make sure you plan a visit during the summer months and reserve your space ahead of time, as this is a popular spot on those warm summer afternoons in Sonoma. Once inside, guests will also find a tasting area, as well as a full-service Argentine restaurant, RUSTIC.

5. Medlock Ames. You know what I hate about wine tasting? Only one thing: You’re really starting to hit your rhythm wine tasting late afternoon and then you pull into the next winery and what do you encounter as you reach out to open the door to the tasting room? A locked door. That’s because most tasting rooms close by 5 or 6 p.m. That’s also the case at Medlock Ames in Healdsburg, whose public tasting room closes at 5. BUT, what other winery do you know that has a speakeasy-style bar that opens when the tasting room closes? After you finish a tasting or food and wine pairing at Medlock Ames’ tasting room, simply step next door and grab a glass of their wine or a artisan cocktail featuring fresh ingredients from their garden and grab a seat on the patio as the sun sets over Sonoma. That and who doesn’t love a photo booth in a bar?

What’s the best wine tasting experience you’ve ever had?

13 Comments on “5 Northern California Wine Country Day Trips

  1. I also like Cliff Lede. Their sculpture collection on the patio and the grounds is small but impressive. It’s hard to choose a best wine tasting experience but I recently really enjoyed John Anthony and Taste of Oxbow in downtown Napa. Both had great wines & a nice, relaxing atmosphere. District4 in Napa was great, too.

    • It’s great seeing the art collection both inside and out at Cliff Lede. It just adds to the uniqueness of the winery. I’ll have to add those wineries to my list. Thanks!

  2. Dear Spencer,

    J Vineyards & Winery is honored to be included in your “5 Northern California Wine Country Day Trips” article, as we LOVE you highlighting fun in Northern California during Harvest. In addition, we are so thrilled your J Bubble Room experience left you feeling fat & happy. Cheers!

    • Thanks guys. It really is a unique experience. The only thing better then drinking good is eating and drinking good!

    • Thanks guys. I look forward to spending more time in the Anderson Valley!

  3. We really do want to do a trip to California wine country so thanks for this post – now to find out what is – and isn’t – dog friendly!

    In passing, we feel the same way about Ottawa (Canada). I feel like there are so many amazing places to see just a short drive in any direction it’s amazing. From toronot, to Montreal to Quebec city … to closer like Kingston and Mont-Tremblant ski village … to tiny historic towns like Chelsea, Merrickville, Uppr Canada village … and the hiking trails of the Gatineau Park. We often forget what is close to home.

    • Well I highly recommend it. There’s really so much to Northern California wine country. Between Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino, there are so many different wine experiences. And the food scene isn’t too shabby either. I often tell people to give themselves a minimum of 10 days in Northern California, because between San Francisco, the coast, and wine country, there’s just so much to see and do.

  4. I love wine tasting, but I definitely need a designated driver if I’m going to get the most out of he experience! Hopefully my husband and I can make it up this way some day, so thanks for the recommendations!

  5. Pingback: Wanderlust Wednesday: Wine Barrels in Northern California

    • Definitely add these to your list. This was such a popular post I’ll need to do a follow-up!

  6. Pingback: 5 Northern California Wine Country Trips Near San Francisco

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