With glittering cities, laid-back coastlines and rolling countryside, the sun-soaked state of California is one of the country’s most diverse. The sheltered valleys and sunny slopes of Napa and Sonoma are the archetypal wine country, but there are many other regions to enjoy too. Here, Audley Travel’s specialists share their favourite Californian food and wine experiences throughout the Golden State…
Napa Valley and Sonoma County
Situated northeast of San Francisco, Napa Valley and Sonoma County produce some of the finest vintage wines in the United States. These areas provide a peaceful break for cycling and hiking through the countryside, as well as sampling delicious wines including Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir and learning the wine-making process. Napa Valley attracts many visitors because it produces renowned, quality wines from a wide ranging selection of grapes. Sonoma County encompasses a large area stretching north towards the coast, it boasts mountains, miles of Pacific coastline and sun-soaked valleys. Sonoma has the state’s oldest commercial winery Buena Vista, and the oldest operating family-run winery, Gundlach Bundschu. It is also home to many smaller vineyards and offers a distinctively Mediterranean flair.
Elegant and inviting, San Diego is an alluring city known for its picturesque beaches, gardens and warm climate. Although the Pacific coastline is a doubtless attraction, the area also offers fantastic food experiences. Its proximity to the Mexican border can be felt through the delicious restaurant scene. Gaslamp Quarter is a lively square with a mix of chain and independent restaurants. On a walk around here, you can try generously portioned Mexican food such as tacos and burritos. The Cowboy Star is renowned for high-quality and delicious meats, during the day the locals flock to its onsite butcher, while in the evening it reinvents itself as a steak restaurant.
Further south on the central Californian coast sits the coastal city of Santa Barbara. Here, the temperatures are a lot cooler and it is far less visited, creating a laid-back atmosphere. With a heavy Spanish influence, this area also has a Mediterranean style with terracotta rooftops and cream-walled buildings. Santa Barbara’s vineyards reach out into the hills and fertile valleys of the Santa Ynez Mountains that anchor the area. Fortunately, the emergence of The Funk Zone removed the need to visit them all individually. This is a collection of small streets dedicated to showcasing the best of the local produce. Winemakers and experts of the industry head here to offer tastings and other wine experiences, with all of them supporting each other and recommending the best wines to suit your palate. You’re also welcome to take food with you from place to place. When you’re finished, you can either take the electric shuttle back or walk – the evening air is pleasant and the best accommodation options are within walking distance.
Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of California’s prettiest coastal towns and perfect for enthusiastic golfers, hikers and spa-lovers. A great way to explore is on a three-hour tour led by a passionate food expert, they’ll tell you about the interesting history and architecture as you sample some of the local food and wine such as risotto, truffles and Californian wine. You’ll visit stylish restaurants, bars and cafes including the Casanova Restaurant, Anton & Michael, and Lula’s Chocolates, plus you’ll also have the chance to meet local business owners.
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At Audley, our specialists travel regularly in search of unique, authentic and unforgettable experiences. The specialist who plans your trip will carefully tailor it to your specific interests, tastes and budget based on their first-hand experience.