Napa Valley is the perfect San Francisco day trip, but with over 400 wineries in the region, a trip to Napa Valley, California can seem formidable to the first timer. The trip starts with the question – Which wineries to visit? This article covers three wineries that are easily accessible and showcase the winemaking history of the region – all in beautiful scenery along Highway 29 starting south of St. Helena. The good news, no matter where you go, you’ll drink delicious California wines as every winery listed pours the classics: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Robert Mondavi Wineries
Rachel, a friend and pourer at one of the 400 wineries in Napa, recommends Mondavi as the first place to start to get the, “basics of wine and an excellent tour.” Mondavi takes care of its visitors with a “Signature Tour & Tasting” that lasts over an hour and shows how the wine is made from grape to bottle along this grand estate. The winery hosts an amazing sculpture collection that includes a very welcoming work by San Francisco sculptor Beniamino Bufano. The open-armed St. Francis culture welcomes visitors at the entrance. Location: Highway 29 Oakville, California. The winery is open year-round from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
One of the oldest wineries in the region, a visit to Beringer Winery means a visit to the history of the region and the history of California. German Immigrant Jakob Beringer founded the winery and Chinese laborers carved out the massive tunnels on the estate to house the wine at the perfect temperature. The former built enough wealth to build the impressive Rhine House, the flagship building on the property. The tasting room is on the hill and visitors can sip the wine and place to start for the “Intro to Beringer” tour that leads guests through tastings and through the impressive wine caves. Location: 2000 Main Street, St. Helena, California. The winery is open daily 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the summer and 5:00 p.m. all other seasons.
Lunch Break: The Culinary Institute of America – Greystone Restaurant
After visiting Beringer, stop for lunch at the famous Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone restaurant to taste food that matches the caliber of this incredible wine region. As “next door” as two large properties can be in Napa Valley, the Culinary Institute of America or (CIA) is one driveway down from the Beringer winery. The preeminent culinary school is housed in a massive grey stone castle. The quiet restaurant is set in the middle of the hill at the far end of the building. There is seating on a stone patio where hushed, satisfied diners look out to pine-tree covered hills and chartreuse vineyards. Students and graduates cook, display, and serve exquisite local-sourced and seasonal meals. Make reservations in advance online. With the check comes a 10% discount at the very comprehensive cooking supply store, the Spice Islands Marketplace.
High in the hills of Calistoga and further north on Highway 29, Sterling Vineyards is an excellent winery to enjoy the stunning view of Napa Valley while sipping on a crisp Chardonnay. An aerial tram takes visitors to the top of a Calistoga hill. The view makes the wine compete unfairly with the golden hills, blankets of vineyards, and Mount St. Helena. Nevertheless, as wine expert Rachel shared, “the wine has a very local, very California flavor. It’s a winery to understand Napa.” Get there early or buy your tram tickets online prior to tasting. The winery is open Monday – Friday 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Location: 1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, California.
Getting To and From San Francisco
The wineries listed are easily accessible along Highway 29. However, traffic on weekends can get pretty dense on this thoroughfare. It’s recommended to take the scenic ride to Napa and then return to San Francisco through the less scenic, but quicker Oakland Route on highway I-80.
- To Napa: Take Highway 101 North across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County. Exit to Highway 37 East to Vallejo/Napa. Turn onto Highway 121 and then Highway 29 following the signs to Napa.
- To San Francisco: Take Highway 29 South to just south of the town of Napa. Take a quick jog for two miles on Highway 37 and then merge onto Highway I-80 into Oakland.
- Robert Mondavi Wineries: The Winery
- Beringer Wineries
- Sterling Vineyards
- Sterling Vineyards Aerial Tram Information
- Culinary Institute of America: Greystone Restaurant
- Reservations to the Greystone Restaurant
- 36 Hours in Napa Valley: A great NYTimes.com article that showcases many more Napa Valley activities.