California and wine, let’s review. We’ve scoured the Golden State to come up with inspired suggestions that involve everything from hot air balloons to Teslas. Prepare yourself for a deep dive into our California wine shortlist that will have you checking your calendar and planning your next trip. Corkscrew not included.
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: An Embarrassment of Riches
Yountville, Napa County
Food, wine and music are an irresistible combination, especially when served up in the Michelin star-studded hamlet of Yountville. These three ingredients fuel the Yountville Live Food, Wine & Music Festival, a popular annual celebration that includes intimate dinners featuring top chefs like Bottega’s Michael Chiarello, cult wine-tasting events showcasing local faves and musical performances with top acts such as Mayer Hawthorne and the Goo Goo Dolls.
Go with the flow and check out these wine country retreats and one-day experiences that pair Namaste with Nebbiolo and other varietals. Offered in woodsy Sonoma County, Body Flows Wine & Yoga Retreats offers experiences that are a social and healthful mix of group hatha and vinyasa flow yoga classes, organic wine, local food sampling and expert instruction.
CENTRAL COAST: A Fast-Rising Star
Goleta and Santa Ynez
These are the spots for private or small group wine tours to visit sustainable boutique vineyards. Walk and lunch amidst the vines or cruise the oak-studded backroads of Santa Barbara County in a sun-powered Tesla X SUV. Sustainable Vine Wine Tours does an amazing job of showcasing Santa Barbara’s lesser-known but rock star-ready wineries.
You love to take pics of food and wine (and so do we). Get the inside scoop and tips on how to kill it on your Insta account from Eat This, Shoot That, an expert local guide who takes you off the tourist track exploring Santa Barbara’s urban wine scene in hot spots like the Funk Zone and El Presidio neighborhood. Tours include small bites at hidden restaurants, tastings at top shelf wineries, photo tips and local history.
Lompoc, Santa Barbara County
The disruptive name says it all: don’t expect chandeliers and hushed tasting rooms at the Wine Ghetto. Instead, in an unassuming cluster of low-rise industrial buildings, you’ll find award-winning winemakers pouring their own wine and happily chatting with visitors who are dropping by to see what all the buzz is about. Located on the western edge of the Santa Rita Hills appellation, the alt-wine vibe here is pure Central Coast: irreverent, experimental and all about what’s in the bottle.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Comeback Kid
Malibu, Los Angeles County
You might know Malibu best for its famous surfing beaches and multi-million dollar homes. But beyond sun, sand and celebrities, “The ‘Bu” has some serious wine cred too, including its own Malibu Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area). Stretching 46 miles along the coast, it includes more than 50 wineries ranging from small boutique operations with a few acres to Malibu Wines’ 1,000 acres of vines. An unforgettable way to enjoy the rustic canyon landscapes here is to enjoy some sips and sunshine at Malibu Wines’ tree-shaded open-air tasting area. Our suggestion: the 2010 Semler Cabernet Sauvignon with a bold palate emblematic of a classic Malibu wine.
Temecula, Riverside County
Put this on your California to-do list: soaring in a hot air balloon and wine tasting. Every May brings a festive, carnival-like atmosphere to Riverside County with the Temecula Wine & Balloon Festival‘s delightfully diverse line-up of activities and events, including tastings of local wines, a food pavilion of global flavors, a Kids’ Faire, live entertainment, and the chance to hitch a ride in a hot air balloon. If you want to stay grounded, you can also just take in the spectacular scenery as the majestic balloons take flight at sunrise and sunset.
Where to stay: Kimpton hotels in California