Typically, the saying “it’s the journey, not the destination” doesn’t apply to vacations. But if you’re driving up to Wine Country from San Francisco anytime this summer, you might as well take advantage of the cool stuff to do along the way. Other than booking a place to stay and a rental car for the drive, we’ve got you covered with hiking plans, a pit stop featuring excellent cookies, and more great things to do and eat once you actually arrive.
Pit Stops On Your Drive Up To Wine Country
Point Bonita Lighthouse
If you’re heading up to Napa from the city and want a slightly more scenic route, cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Highway 101 North. That way, you can make the 15-minute detour to the Point Bonita Lighthouse. It’s located at the end of a short half-mile trail, so if your hiking stamina is on par with that of a three-year-old overdue for an afternoon nap, you should still be able to hang in there. Incredible views of the bay are your reward.
Marin Country Mart
Also along 101 North, just before San Rafael, is Marin Country Mart. The suburban shopping center is home to some really great food spots, like Hog Island Oyster Co. and Johnny Doughnuts, plus shops in case you realize you forgot to pack a toothbrush or a light jacket. Grab a bowl of clam chowder and enjoy it with bay views (this spot is right next to the water near the Larkspur Ferry Terminal). Then take a quick bathroom break and hit the road again.
If you’re driving up from the East Bay, Anthony’s Cookies is conveniently located off Interstate 80 in Berkeley. Stop in for some cookies that are perfectly crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside. They come in flavors like toffee chip, cookies and cream, and walnut chocolate chip - and make for an ideal handheld road trip snack that also keeps well (in case you want to save some for the next day). If you’re coming from the city and also in search of sweet treats for the road, the Mission location of Anthony’s is open, too.
Where To Eat Once You Arrive
The English muffin from Model Bakery - in all its golden, buttery glory - is essentially Napa’s equivalent of the Idyllwild dog mayor - a local celebrity. Head to this spot in the Oxbow Public Market to get them with butter or jam, or, if you’re hungrier, in sandwich form (we love the one with sausage, jalapeño jack, and roasted red pepper aioli). The original Model Bakery up in St. Helena is also open.
Kelly's Filling Station
Soft serve and hot dogs are an elite combination - and this fancy gas station in Yountville always nails it. Power up with an excellent affogato and a hot dog on a soft poppy seed roll before or after a wine tasting. The convenience store has a few outdoor tables, and also sells bottles of wine, and other drinks and snacks that are ideal for taking home (or giving as gifts).
Sandwiches are the name of the game at Giugni’s, a small takeout-only deli in St. Helena that’s been around for almost 20 years. You can customize your sandwich with things like honey smoked turkey or pastrami - just be sure to get an extra side of Giugni Juice, an herby, olive oil-based dressing that you should pour all over your sandwich. Order ahead if you’re on a tight schedule as the lunch rush line can get long.
This lowkey wine bar in Sonoma is one of the newer restaurants in the area, but it’s already a top must-visit spot whenever we head north. They serve creative, frequently-changing dishes like tender cumin lamb or soft-boiled eggs topped with XO sauce, and everything is prepared perfectly with simple, fresh, seasonal ingredients. The back patio decked in string lights and parklet are also great for unwinding with a glass of wine after being out and about all day - or just grab a seat at the bar.
The Charter Oak
The Charter Oak in St. Helena is home to a beautiful garden patio (request an outdoor table), a massive wine list, and fantastic dishes made using vegetables from their nearby farm. Get the raw veggies with fermented soy dip, and anything grilled over their open hearth. The cheeseburger is one of our favorite burgers ever, and if corn is in season, order it too.
And Now... Some Wine Tasting Recommendations
$30 per person
For a wine tasting that’s on the lower end of the Wine Country price spectrum, Saddleback Cellars in Oakville is a great bet. Their outdoor seating area has picnic tables and chairs set up right next to their vineyard and is pretty relaxed. Also, the service is incredibly friendly and attentive, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of Chloe, the vineyard dog.
Flowers Vineyard & Winery
$55-75 per person
The outdoor tasting area at this Healdsburg vineyard is one of the region’s most beautiful - it’s filled with tons of greenery, lush flower beds, and cabanas with cushioned benches for you to sit at. And as an added bonus: the tasting includes little bites, like Dungeness crab croquettes or mushroom and leek gratin, to pair with your wine.
The Donum Estate
$75-150 per person
The Donum Estate is both an open-air art gallery and a winery. Stunning sculptures from famous artists like Ai Weiwei and Keith Haring stand in the middle of the sprawling vineyards and lavender field - and all three wine tasting experiences include a tour of the grounds. They also offer bite-sized food pairings made with seasonal produce from their farm.