When you are planning to go wine tasting in California, there are many regions to choose from. Touring wine country has become a major tourist attraction of the state. On our California Wine Tours page, you can find out about various ways to experience wine country without doing the driving yourself.
Each California wine region contains one or more AVA’s, (or designated American Viticultural Areas), but this page is more concerned with the names of the various valleys and subregions known for having wine trails. You’ll find plenty of links to pages with more information on the wineries of certain areas.
THE NORTH COAST
By far the most popular wine country destination to go wine tasting in California, Napa Valley is bordered by two mountain ranges. It can have very warm days, especially at the northern end, near Calistoga. Cabernet Sauvignon is the valley’s most prevalent grape. Along Highway 29, there are dozens of wineries open to visitors. The Silverado Trail runs parallel to Highway 29 and boasts several wineries as well, a little more off the beaten track.
At the southern end of Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley lies the Carneros region. Being so close to San Pablo Bay, this area has a considerably cooler marine influence. The area is actually divided into the Sonoma Carneros and the Napa Carneros wine regions.
To the west of Napa Valley and separated by the Mayacamas Range, Sonoma County has several wine regions of its own. Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape, though many other varieties abound in the very diverse micro-climates of the smaller valleys.
First, there’s Sonoma Valley, which runs along Highway 12, north from the town of Sonoma.
Further north past Santa Rosa off Highway 101 is the town of Healdsburg, which is central to three other valleys. There is the Russian River Valley, the Alexander Valley and the Dry Creek Valley, each with very fine wine trails of its own.
Santa Cruz Mountains
About 75 miles south of San Francisco, between half Moon Bay and Watsonville, there are around 50 Santa Cruz Wineries throughout the region, which offer a different sort of wine tasting in California experience.
Many of the winemakers import grapes from other California wine regions, due to the unpredictable weather and rugged terrain of the mountains, but some do manage their own small vineyards. Many of these wineries are not easy to access, but have incredible views and unique wines.
The Monterey County wine region is accessible from Highway 101 near Salinas, or Highway 1 from Santa Cruz in the north or Big Sur in the south. It includes wineries in the town of Monterey, and Carmel Valley, which is inland, southeast from Carmel-By-The-Sea.
Part of the Central Coast portion of the California wine regions, Paso Robles is off the 101 freeway, about 3 to 3 1/2 hours south of San Francisco. Several wineries are found in the Templeton area, and both the east side and west side of Paso Robles.
San Luis Obispo
Halfway down the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles is San Luis Obispo. Just southeast of town lies the Edna Valley, a prime location for Central Coast wineries. This wine touring region offers a cool climate, great for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This area for wine tasting in California has also been growing rapidly with wineries and vineyards.
SANTA BARBARA COUNTY
About 1 1/2 hours north of Los Angeles, the Santa Barbara County wine region includes the fast growing Santa Maria, the popular Santa Ynez Valley and the lesser known Santa Rita Hills, which extends west from Buellton towards Lompoc. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do very well here, as it is one of the coolest grape growing regions in the state.
The Santa Ynez Valley begins in the quaint Danish town of Solvang, a good base for your wine country tour. Within Solvang itself are many tasting rooms for those who prefer a walking wine tour.
A half hour’s drive southeast of Buellton (the gateway to Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley) is world famous Santa Barbara, where there are some wineries and tasting rooms located within the town itself. Many people stay here and make it a day trip to tour the Santa Ynez Valley.
At the southern end of the state, Temecula is a popular spot to go wine tasting in California. There are several Temecula wineries located in a valley off the Interstate 15. If you want to visit Temecula on a day trip from San Diego, it is about an hour and a half drive from there.
A Temecula wine tour would make for an enjoyable weekend getaway from Orange County as well.
The remarkably diverse micro-climates and terrains of all the California wine regions make for a wide variety of places to experience wine country.
There are other areas for wine tasting in California within a few hours drive of San Diego as well (Ramona Valley Wineries, Julian Wineries).