Springtime in California Wine Country

So I was supposed to be going to Portugal this spring. Flights were booked, AirBnbs were reserved, activities were bookmarked. Annnnnnnnd then omicron hit with a vengeance. My adventure friend and I made the tough choice to cancel the Portugal trip, but we were supposed to be celebrating her 40th birthday, so we decided to go on an adventure a little closer to home — California Wine Country.

Neither of us had ever been to the region before, but thanks to flight credits on Southwest, a well-timed email from Travelzoo with a hotel deal, and a lot of sheer will, we quickly pivoted to a week in Napa. After flying from Baltimore to LA, and then LA to San Francisco, we hopped on the Airtrain and picked up our rental car. It was a rare clear day in the Bay area, so we had to make an obligatory stop at the Golden Gate Bridge for a quick photo shoot.

After a long travel day, we were craving so delicious, greasy food, and the iconic Gott’s Roadside drive in fit the bill exactly. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and onion rings, which I most definitely recommend. Fortunately we hit Gotts at an off peak time, so we were the first ones in line and got our food very quickly.

Our first winery stop was at Tank Garage Winery in Calistoga. This funky winery located in a converted auto body shop offers unique wine blends with sassy names and quirky labels. My personal favorite was what we have come to refer to as “The Butt Wine”, but is actually a lightly effervescent pet-nat called “Fever Dream”. Honestly, I was a little concerned that wine tastings in Napa would be a bit intimidating for someone who is not a wine expert, but Tank Garage had a very approachable and fun vibe. They are coming out with new blends quite regularly, so if you’re looking for some new and different wines, Tank Garage is a perfect stop.

From Tank, we headed to check in to our home base for the week at the Calistoga Motor Lodge and Moonacre Spa. The Motor Lodge has a fun retro vibe and eclectic decor. Our initial room was a double queen “camper style”, which paid homage to the classic Airstream camper with it’s buttery colored banquette and black and white tiled bathroom. One of the most unique features was a massive tiled shower, which you had to walk down two steps to get into. We ended up moving to a vista view room after a couple days due to an issue with the key card reader overheating. This room had clearly been renovated and had a balcony overlooking the pools. The Motor Lodge actually has three different pools of varying temperatures fed by mineral hot springs that run under the property. We love a good hot spring, so these pools were a major selling point in our decision to stay there.

Calistoga itself is located in the heart of Napa Valley with wineries essentially as far as the eye can see. It’s a super cute little town with lots of wellness hotels/spas, thanks to the geothermal playground underneath the soil. We hit up the Calistoga Roastery every morning for coffee and breakfast, which I’d highly recommend The service is friendly, the coffee is strong, and they have fresh pastries daily made from family recipes. Here’s a fun piece on the owner of the shop, who greeted us bright and early each morning.

Our second day in Cali was filled with delicious wine, thanks to recommendations from friends and family. The first stop was at Dry Creek Vineyards in the Sonoma region. We were shown to a beautiful garden table for our tasting. The old stone building looks almost like a castle with its custom stained glass windows featuring wine bottles. Our server Paige was an absolute delight, and full of helpful information about the wine, restaurants to check out, and other wineries to visit. We also chatted about cats, reality television, and other scintillating topics. Honestly, I could have stayed at Dry Creek all day chatting with her and sipping wine amongst the flowers, but more wine was calling my name.

Stop number two was at MacRostie Vineyards, located in the Russian River Valley. We were met upon arrival with glasses of rose bubbly before we even made it to the door. Pro tip — if you ever want to endear yourself to me, hand me bubbly pink wine. Shown to the best table in the house with panoramic views of the Russian River Valley. The Russian River Valley region is known for its pinot noirs and chardonnays, and MacRostie’s versions didn’t disappoint. Side by side tastings of chardonnays and pinots allowed us to really taste the difference between the bottles.

Our third (and final) winery of the day was Preston Farm Vineyards. This working farm and vineyard grows an abundance of crops other than just grapes and has a lovely, property. The main draw for us, though, was the fact Preston Farm has 10 farm cats roaming the property that will hang out with you while you drink wine. I didn’t especially love any of the wines here, but I did love the kitties, especially old man Ike who allowed me to snuggle him enthusiastically.

When we decided to venture to California, I knew I wanted to break up the wine drinking with some time amongst the mighty Redwoods. Muir Woods National Monument is the perfect place to achieve that. We headed out of Calistoga early and drove the 90ish minutes through the notorious Bay Area fog to get to the forest by 8:30am. The early wake up call was totally worth it, though, as we had the whole place essentially to ourselves. One of the things I notice about Muir Woods is that the whole park is very accessible; there are well-maintained trails and boardwalks throughout, which make maneuvering with a stroller or wheelchair very easy. If you’d like, you can choose several offshoot trails for a more challenging hike, or you can stick to the beaten path and enjoy a very peaceful and reflective experience.

We followed up our walk in the woods with a stop at the famed Muir Beach Overlook. The fog swallowed the vistas, but the overlook had an eerie elegance anyway. Surrounded by the sound of crashing waves, we took some time to breathe in the misty air.

We decided to make our way back up north via Hwy 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway. Point Reyes National Seashore came as a highly recommended stop with lots of wildlife. While I wish the fresh oyster shacks had been open , I had what may have been the best reuben sandwich of my life at the Inverness Park Market. Inverness is a quirky little town within the National Seashore. We enjoyed looking at the architecture and decor on the homes and house boats, and took a quick wander on a low tide sandbar in the bay before heading back to Calistoga.

On our last full day, we decided to pamper ourselves at the Moonacre Spa, which is located right at the Calistoga Motor Lodge. The spa is in a separate building behind the hotel rooms, and has its own spa garden, relaxation area, bath tubs for mineral baths, and a delightful steam room. I opted for the Best of Both Worlds massage, which is a 60 minute treatment focusing on your feet and your head, neck, and shoulders. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day, so couldn’t take advantage of the spa courtyard, but it looked lovely and serene with a pergola, hammocks, loungers, and outdoor showers.

Following out leisurely spa morning, we ventured into town for lunch at nearby Sushi Mambo. The food was fresh and tasty, but it got very busy very quickly with only one server for the whole restaurant. We went from lunch to our last wine tasting of the trip at Domaine Carneros, because as previously mentioned, I love bubbly wines. This tasting room is located in what I would classify as a “chateau” — it’s a sprawling, romantic building overlooking the valley with ornate gardens and scrolling wrought iron work. The tastings are definitely not what I would consider intimate, as you and 100 of your closest friends are essentially in a large restaurant dining room, but the wine is yummy. Definitely worth a visit.

Our last hurrah was a meal at Sam’s Social Club, which was so, SO good. We started with the fresh, hot skillet bread, then I had the steak with onion rings and potatoes au gratin as my main course, and finished with some deliciously decadent chocolate cake. If you find yourself in Calistoga (which you really, really should), definitely make a reservation here. You can thank me with a bottle of Napa Valley wine.

Have you visited Napa and Sonoma before? If so, what other vineyards should be on my list for the next visit. Leave your recommendations in the comments!

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