Photo: Courtesy of Kunde Family Winery
Napa Valley may be the most famous wine region in Northern California, and the US. It's even one of the most iconic wine destinations in the world. But, unbeknownst to many visitors, its next-door neighbor is just as enticing. If a wine-tasting honeymoon is your dream, consider honeymooning in Sonoma instead!
The first big difference between Napa and Sonoma is size. While Napa County covers more than 800 square miles, the Napa Valley, where the bulk of the more than 400 wineries in the region are clustered, stretches only about 35 miles from north to south. Sonoma County sprawls more than 1,600 square miles and though it has nearly the same number of wineries as Napa, they're spread over a much larger area, ranging from the cool, dry Carneros region to the warm Alexander Valley, and from the mountains to the coast. This not only means a wider diversity in landscapes to explore, but a wider diversity in wines; while Napa is mostly known for big, rich cabernets, the wines of Sonoma range from earthy Pinot Noirs to peppery Zinfandels, cool-climate Syrahs, and flavorful Chardonnays.
If you're a connoisseur who loves cabs or wants to visit some of the most famous names in California wines, Napa is the place to go, but for a well-rounded tasting experience, you'll get more variety in Sonoma. From gorgeous hotels and wineries, to outdoor adventures on the ocean and river, here are a few more reasons you should reconsider that Napa honeymoon and plan a trip to Sonoma instead.
It's all about the wine...but it's not only about the wine
Sonoma holds its own against Napa when it comes to wine — and it does so for less money. You can find plenty of ultra-high-end wines in Sonoma, but if you're on a smaller budget, you'll find far more options for inexpensive quality wines here than in Napa. You'll even find a few wineries that don't charge for tastings, such as sister properties Jacuzzi Family Vineyards and Cline Cellars. Sonoma is a bit more spread out than Napa, so it's wise to pick one area per day. On the southern end of Sonoma, off Highway 12, Kunde Winery offers a staggering number of wine varieties as well as special guided hikes that end in mountain-top tastings, and nearby Landmark Vineyards creates lovely Chardonnays and Pinots and has a picnic area and bocce courts. In the Russian River AVA, stop by hilltop Iron Horse for great sparkling wine and beautiful views or relax at the outdoor picnic area at Russian River Vineyards. The towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg also have plenty of tasting rooms that don't require driving.
There's a lot more to Sonoma than wine. There are more than three dozen breweries, brewpubs, and distilleries in Sonoma, and many offer tours and tastings. Check out Sonoma County Distilling Co. or Spirit Works Distilling for great vodka, gin, and whiskey. Or get your hops and barley fix at Russian River Brewing, Hopmonk Tavern, or Carneros Brewing.
You can stay in one — or a few — of the world's best hotels
One of the top ten hotels in the world, Sonoma County's Farmhouse Inn is the perfect honeymoon hotel in Sonoma. The farmhouse aesthetic prevails throughout the property, with vaulted barn ceilings, brick dual-sided fireplaces, and four-poster beds, and antique farm tools decorating every guest room. Though it's set among the vineyards outside the tiny town of Forestville, it contains everything you'd need if you wanted to settle in for a few days: there's an onsite Michelin-starred restaurant, spa, and pool, and evening services include nightly turn down with milk and cookies as well as a make-your-own S'mores set-up by the outdoor fire pits.
Elsewhere in Sonoma, there's the Mediterranean-style Kenwood Inn and Spa, which offers Italian-inspired luxury rooms and an on-site pool, spa and restaurant, or the French-chateau style Les Mars, an intimate 16-room inn in the heart of Healdsburg.
You can explore the forest and the coast in the same day
While Napa's main towns each have their own personality, the main activity in each one is wine tasting. Sonoma's location between the mountains and the coast means that you can enjoy a wider variety of activities, and the distance between towns means each one is unique in its setting and offerings.
The resort towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio have a more relaxed feel, and the main draw is the proximity to the Russian River, where you can kayak, or play along the sandy shores. The quaint Russian River wine country towns of Sebastopol, Forestville, and Occidental, provide easy access to ancient trees at Armstrong Redwoods National Park and plenty of opportunities for fine dining, wine tasting and other refined pursuit. Jenner and Bodega Bay (the setting for the Hitchcock classic, The Birds) are perfect for those who want equal opportunities for wine tasting and coastal activities like kayaking. And larger towns like Healdsburg, Sonoma, or Santa Rosa are surrounded by dining, shopping, and wine tasting. No matter which town you choose, you'll never be more than a short drive from a vineyard, forest, river, or the coast.