Boutique shopping, mouthwatering cuisine, scenic landscapes, world-class vineyards — these are just a few reasons why California is one of the most popular states for tourism in the United States. San Francisco makes a great jumping-off point, putting you within easy reach of rave-worthy attractions, activities and restaurants, not to mention famous wineries.
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It’s easy to see why Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. The compact downtown area — sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay on California’s central coast — bustles with excitement day and night. Most of its popular sites are within easy reach of one another, making it easy to explore in short order. That leaves you plenty of time to head north to taste some of the country’s best wine. We’ll show you how to enjoy a rich sampling of San Francisco and wine country offerings in one week.
Days 1 – 3: Touring San Francisco
Start your stay in San Francisco with a visit to the city’s most iconic site: the Golden Gate Bridge. Spanning the nearly 5-kilometer-wide Golden Gate Strait between downtown San Francisco and Marin County, this suspension bridge is heralded as one of the most impressive construction achievements of the 20th century.
Start your day watching the sun rise from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s historic Cliff House. Then walk 14 kilometers of the California Coastal Trail past some of the city’s most scenic places, including Lands End and the Seacliff area, to the Golden Gate Bridge.
For a different vantage point of the area, board a ferry from Fisherman’s Wharf or the Ferry Building to ride out to Alcatraz Island. Known as “The Rock,” Alcatraz was one of the most famous prisons in U.S. history. If you’re brave, sign up for the nighttime tour, which comes complete with ghost stories. Afterward, both Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building are great places to grab a bite to eat or shop for souvenirs.
If you’re looking for a more unique shopping experience, head to Union Street, which runs through the Cow Hollow neighborhood just south of the Marina District in the northern part of the city. The stores showcase everything from art and antiques to unique clothing and jewelry. Meanwhile, the funky Fillmore District south of Union Street is a great place to shop, sample cuisines from around the world and enjoy live jazz music at venues like Yoshis.
Day 4: Sampling Sonoma Valley Wines
After three busy days in San Francisco, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge about 70 kilometers to Sonoma Valley.
One of the best ways to get a taste of the Sonoma Valley is to ride the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley, which transports wine aficionados to four of the region’s most popular wineries to let them sample some of the area’s tastiest vino. Trolley seating is limited, so reserve your spot in advance.
There are several wineries located within biking distance of the town of Sonoma, including the Ravenswood Winery and the Buena Vista Winery. The valley’s other notable towns, including Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, also make great starting points for vineyard walking tours. At the end of the day, kick up your feet and relax with a bottle of locally made wine and a farm-to-table meal at one of the family-owned restaurants located in and around Sonoma Square.
Days 5 – 6: Exploring Napa Valley
After a day or two exploring Sonoma, drive about 23 kilometers east to Napa, California’s best-known wine region that is home to castle-like wineries, gourmet restaurants and quaint bed-and-breakfasts.
Leave your car and your worries behind and climb aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. This three-hour historic rail tour includes a gourmet onboard meal. There are many add-ons and packages that include private group winery tours, tastings and lodging.
Before hopping aboard the train, make a pit stop at the Oxbow Public Market, located next to the depot in downtown Napa. The market, which is open daily, is filled with eateries and local merchants selling everything from fresh produce to handmade cheeses and meats to locally roasted coffees and artisanal chocolates.
But the best way to see the Napa Valley may be to take to the skies. Numerous companies offer hot air balloon tours, allowing you panoramic views of the verdant vineyards. You’ll find tour companies operating out of Napa and Calistoga, a charming village located about 25 kilometers northwest of Napa.
Learn more about what there is to see and do in Napa Valley.