Planning a trip to Northern California’s wine country is daunting, especially for first-time visitors. There are more than 800 wineries in Napa and Sonoma valleys — with so many options, it can be hard to narrow it down to a few key spots for tasting. However, one no-fail way to decide is to look near your hotel. If you know where you plan to stay, visit the wineries that are a short drive, bike ride or walk away.
Below we share five of our favorite hotels and the best wineries nearby.
Stay: Meadowood Napa Valley
Meadowood is one of the most sophisticated places to stay in wine country. Everything about the Five-Star resort, from the chic, subtly rustic cottages to the pristine croquet lawn to the indulgent spa with private steam showers, is thoughtful and meant to ensure you feel relaxed and pampered. If you seek an outdoor activity, play tennis or golf, enjoy an afternoon by the pool, work out in the fitness center or walk the property’s labyrinth.
Taste: Davis Estates
An 11-minute drive up Silverado Trail will take you to Davis Estates. The stunning Calistoga winery is family owned and operated and specializes in exceptional nuanced varietals from classics like merlot and sauvignon blanc to red blends and late-harvest dessert wine. Be sure to book your tasting in advance and if you’re in the mood for food, indulge in the estate wine and food pairing. Executive chef Mike Caldwell makes seasonal bites that pair perfectly and naturally enhance the flavor of the wine. For collectors, consider the VIP tasting, which involves a behind-the-scenes tour of the state-of-the-art 11,000-square-foot cave system and sips of Davis’ reserve wine.
Stay: Carneros Resort and Spa
Turn off the dusty highway into Carneros Resort and Spa, and you’ll feel instantly relaxed. Located in the Carneros district, near the border between Sonoma and Napa, the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel sits on 28 acres of picturesque rolling hills, giving the property a distinctive farmhouse feel. The 100 rooms are quaint yet luxurious cottages with private backyards. Be sure to schedule downtime at the hotel. Spend an afternoon lounging at the pool (the resort has two, one that is kid-friendly and another that is adults only), book a treatment at the spa and enjoy a meal at FARM, the Carneros’ restaurant that serves seasonal California cuisine at its finest.
Taste: The Donum Estate
The Donum Estate is a 10-minute drive from Carneros Resort and Spa. Known for its single-appellation, limited-production pinot noir and chardonnay, the winery offers a variety of tasting experiences, all of which require reservations. What makes The Donum Estate unique is its massive art collection. More than 50 large-scale sculptures — monumental works by some of the world’s most renowned international artists, including Ai Weiwei, Doug Aitken, Louise Bourgeois and Keith Haring — dot the property. Wander around and take in the artwork while enjoying a glass of chardonnay.
Later this summer, a new piece, the Vertical Panorama Pavilion, will make its grand debut. A glass canopy that took two years to develop, the pavilion will provide a new space for winery-goers to taste rosé and other varietals. Created by architect Sebastian Behmann and Studio Other Spaces, the office founded by artist Olafur Eliasson, the pavilion will be a sight to behold.
Stay: MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa
For downtown Sonoma’s best lodging, check into MacArthur Place. It’s an old ranch that was transformed into a charming Four-Star resort. The rooms, housed in historic farm buildings, are inviting and airy with neutral décor and outdoor bathtubs. Gardens punctuate the lush grounds, and a midcentury modern pool channels the slower times of the past. Layla, the restaurant, serves sensational Mediterranean food, and the intimate spa offers farm-to-massage treatments.
Taste: Gundlach Bundschu
An eight-minute drive from MacArthur Place is one of California’s oldest wineries, Gundlach Bundschu (pronounced “gun lock bun shoe”). The Bundschu family has farmed the estate for more than 160 years, and the sixth generation runs it. The team at Gun Bun, as its affectionately known by its fans, makes an extensive list of wines, so there is something for everyone. The 320-acre Rhinefarm Vineyard sustainably produces gewürztraminer, chardonnay, cabernet franc, zinfandel, tempranillo and much more.
The dog-friendly winery is home to a lovely lake. And it offers a variety of experiences, from an off-roading tour of the property in a vintage Swiss Army transport vehicle to a food and wine tasting in a 100-year-old stone barrel room.
Stay: Hotel Les Mars
Just off the square in downtown Healdsburg is this Forbes Travel Guide Recommended gem. With only 16 rooms, the opulent bed and breakfast feels like a French chateau. Four-poster beds, whirlpool bathtubs, gas fireplaces and antique furniture bring to mind the grandeur of ages past. Enjoy complimentary breakfast in bed — flaky croissants and perfectly poached eggs are required before a day of wine tasting — and afternoon wine and cheese in the lobby. Hotel Les Mars’ Old World charm makes it a great romantic escape.
Taste: Bacchus Landing
A three-minute drive from the hotel, you’ll find Bacchus Landing. The newly opened hub is like a town square with seven tasting rooms surrounding a plaza. Plan on spending the day here, and you’ll be able to taste everything from rosé to cabernet sauvignon. At Montagne Russe, enjoy cool-climate French varietals — it makes a superb syrah — and at Smith Story, you’ll find excellent rosé, sauvignon blanc and an adorable mascot named Lord Sandwich. Siblings Monica and Francisco Lopez run Aldina Vineyards, where you’ll sip elegant artisanal cabs. If you happen to be in town for a holiday, say the Fourth of July or Labor Day, you can also look forward to live music and special tastings.
Stay: Archer Hotel Napa
Wine country itineraries often neglect downtown Napa, but it’s a worthy destination with plenty to offer. Stay at this Forbes Travel Guide Recommended hotel in the heart of the action. It is a happening hot spot with a ground-floor restaurant from chef Charlie Palmer and a rooftop bar that’s a place to see and be seen. There’s also a rooftop spa and deck with a shallow pool perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day. The best thing about the Archer? Tasting rooms abound in downtown Napa, so you can enjoy wine without driving anywhere.
Taste: Chateau Buena Vista
A quick one-minute walk from the hotel is Chateau Buena Vista, a new tasting room from Jean-Charles Boisset. You can sample varietals from Buena Vista, a Sonoma winery founded in 1857, as well as other offerings from Boisset’s extensive collection of wineries. Special tastings might include champagne and caviar or cabernet and chocolate, and on the third Thursday of each month, enjoy happy hour from 6 to 8 p.m. with select wines discounted by 25 percent.