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The Great American Road Trip #3: California Wine Country

Written by  Tuesday, 24 June 2014 09:43

Napa Valley welcome signImage by Wally Gobetz

In 1975, there were just 25 wineries in Napa Valley. Today there are over 40! The Wine Country has been booming for the last few decades, so there’s plenty to explore than just vineyards and wineries; the beautiful landscapes are perfect for picnics, hiking, kayaking and more.

Setting Out

California’s Wine Country is most easily accessed from San Francisco International Airport. From the airport, it’s only an hour drive to the south of Napa Valley where your road trip will begin. A rental car from the airport is the easiest way to explore this region of Northern California, as group tours are very expensive and don’t give you the flexibility to customize the trip to your liking.

Accommodation can be a bit pricy as well, especially during the summer and fall months. Renting a larger vehicle such as a camper van would allow you to camp out in any of the numerous camping grounds in the region.

Once you pick your dream car rental, it’s time to head northeast through San Francisco before crossing the Bay Bridge into Oakland along Route 80. From there it’s just less than an hour drive to Napa Valley.

Napa Valley

Castello di AmorosaImage by jimg

The most famous valleys in all of Wine Country, Napa Valley is home to some of the best vineyards in the world.

Begin your tour of the Napa Valley at the di Rosa Art + Nature Reserve, where Rene di Rosa has curated over 1,700 works of art. The di Rosa Art + Nature Reserve features multiple galleries, a historic residence, the Sculpture Meadow and over 200 acres of gorgeous landscaped grounds for you to take in. For a truly unique experience, meander down the 1/3 mile trail in the Sculpture Meadow where you will find large-scale sculptures juxtaposed against the natural beauty of the landscape.

Next on your itinerary is the tour de force of Napa Valley – the wineries! Just a six-minute drive north from di Rosa’s is Artesa Vineyards and Winery, known for its gorgeous vistas of the valley, on a clear day you can even see 50 miles across the San Pueblo bay to make out the San Francisco skyline! Artesa offers different wine tasting events, and tapas tasting and pairing.

After taking in the breath-taking scenery of Artesa, head north along State Route 29 to reach some of the biggest wineries in Napa Valley. From Route 29, you can reach notable vineyards such as Domaine Chandon, Schramsberg Vineyards, Castello di Amorosa, Sterling Vineyards and many more.

All of these vineyards have a unique experience to offer. Domaine Chandon specializes in sparkling wines and was the first French-owned California sparkling wine cellar. Schramsberg is a part of American history, as their Blanc de Blancs was used as a wine of diplomacy in 1972, when President Nixon served it at the Toast to Peace in Beijing. Castello di Amorosa is an impressive fortress, modelled after a traditional Tuscan castle –complete with a torture chamber! Finally, award-winning Sterling Vineyards is located 300 feet above the valley floor on a volcanic hill. Visitors can enjoy aerial views as they take an automated tram up the hill.

However, because of the boom of the wine industry, Route 29 can often get very congested during peak season. If tailbacks aren’t your idea of a good time, try driving north along the Silverado Trail. Running parallel to Route 29, the Silverado Trail offers visitors access to a host of boutique wineries and vineyards.

After you’ve had your fill of Napa’s vineyards, take a hike through the Petrified Forest, located just a 12-minute drive from Sterling Vineyards. Home to varied flora and fauna, the Petrified Forest is most famous for its giant petrified redwood trees, dating back 3 million years.

After a long day of wining and walking, head just five miles east to Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort to pamper yourself with a mud bath, where you can soak in volcanic ash and peat moss.

After your relaxing spa session, you can continue your discovery of Wine Country by heading west to Russian River Valley.

Russian River Valley

Boat on River ValleyImage by Nate Bolt

Though it also has its fair share of wineries, the Russian River valley is famous for its more exciting attractions. If you’re looking for more outdoor activities, then the Russian River Valley has everything you need, with many sports and water activities available. Just head west along Route 12 to find your way to the Russian River.

If you’ve chosen a camper van, this region has plenty of campsites such as Bodega Dunes, Wrights Beach or the Sonoma Coast State Park. Once settled, you have the opportunity to try your hand at kayaking, canoeing or rafting along the river. A relaxing way to spend the day, you’ll feel at ease with the world while you’re floating down the calm waters of the Russian River.

If you’re looking to stay dry, try hiking through the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve just north of Route 116. For more of a challenge you can also hit the cycling trails throughout the park. You’ll be amazed by the 300-foot tall redwoods surrounding you.

Once you’ve had your fill of rafting and cycling, head back south along Route 101 to make your way back south to Sonoma Valley.

Sonoma Valley

Known as the birthplace of the California wine industry, Sonoma Valley is home to some of the oldest wineries in America. Nestled between the Mayacamas and Sonoma Mountains, the beautiful scenery and laidback atmosphere create the perfect environment for a relaxing road excursion.

Be sure to check out the Gundlach Bundschu Winery, located east of Route 12. The Gundlach Bundschu Winery dates back to 1858, and has been a staple in the Sonoma Valley community since. Aside from offering the usual vineyard tours and tastings, they also offer a unique tour of the caves located on their estate.

Ram’s Gate Winery, in addition to tastings, offers their 'Behind the Gate' experience where patrons are treated to a cooking class and demo. Other major vineyards worth checking out are Bartholomew Park Winery and Buena Vista Winery.

Not just home to fabulous wineries, the Sonoma Valley is also home to the Jack London State Historic Park, where famed Call of the Wild author Jack London had his home and ranch, and also where he and his wife are laid to rest.

Sonoma also plays host to the Sonoma International Film Festival. In the early spring each year, Sonoma welcomes over 90 hand-selected films, documentaries, world cinema and shorts to the valley, and screens them in the historic town plaza. The 5-day event also includes local wines and first-rate cuisines from local chefs. Definitely not to be missed when visiting the Sonoma Valley!

Providing peace of mind

If you want to enjoy peace of mind whilst on vacation, it is important that you have the correct insurance policies in place. This means checking your personal auto insurance and even your credit card coverage to see if you're protected for damage or loss whist in your rental car.

However, no matter what coverage you have in place, you should consider buying a Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) or Collision Damage Waiver (CDW). A CDW or LDW provides protection against the financial burden you might face if your rental car were to become damaged or stolen.

Under the terms of your personal auto insurance, if you were to make a claim against damage or loss to your rental car, you would have to pay a deductible. If you are not covered by your personal auto insurance and do not have a CDW/LDW in place, you may be liable to pay for the full cost of the damage to your rental car.

However with a CDW/LDW in place, the cost of damage to your rental vehicle will be covered minus a deductible. Similarly, in the event of an accident, you will usually have to pay your rental car company for the loss of income while it's getting repaired. Again, with CDW or LDW in place, you can protect yourself against these charges.

When you pick your car up from the counter, your rental car provider will try and sell you a CDW or LDW as an extra. However, buying this type of insurance direct from your car rental company is often more expensive than it needs to be. Insuremyrentalcar.com offer LDW policies from $5 a day, potentially saving you up to 70% on over the counter prices. Click here for more information on LDW and to get a quote from insuremyrentalcar.com that suits your need.

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