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Wonderful wine

Napa Valley 

With more than 400 wineries nestled amongst its sun-drenched hills, the Napa Valley is a star of California’s viticulture. Thanks to its warm summer, it’s the ideal place for growing cabernet sauvignon – and drinking it, too. Stop by this undulating, verdant landscape during your California holiday to experience the best of America’s wine culture. 

You’ll delight in learning about Napa’s wine from a passionate master sommelier during a private tasting and blending. The valley’s vineyards are weaved between by the famous Napa Wine Train, an elegant vintage engine that ferries passengers to their next tipple-stop. While on board, enjoy gourmet cuisine in the dining car – paired with the best local wine, of course. Alternatively, soak up the sun as you flit between vineyards by bike.

Late summer and early autumn is Crushing Season in Napa Valley, when plump grapes are plucked by the winery-hands from dawn until dusk ahead of juicing. Head here in August to sample the fruits of their labour, and join in the harvest celebrations.


Sonoma is centred around a historic Mexican plaza in the heart of California’s wine country. Wine making has a long history here – dating back to the early 1800s – and the county remains a distinct American Viticulture Area. Sample some of the top tipples produced by local vineyards at Sonoma town’s cosy wine rooms (we recommend the pinot noir and chardonnay).

Although autumn’s Crushing Season is a major draw, springtime in Sonoma has its own charm. Between March and May, the vineyards show off their new-leaf lushness, and mustard flowers stipple swathes of land with gold. As its out of peak season, the crowds are fewer and the traffic is thinner – so you won’t be bumping elbows to bend a sommelier’s ear. Later in September, during the Labor Day weekend, eager crowds arrive for the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, ready to taste the fruits of the valley.

Stay within easy reach of Sonoma’s wineries with a room at the ever-lovely Farmhouse Inn. Ideal as a retreat for couples, the sibling-run property woos with the cosiest of rooms, coupled with a passion for local produce. While here, sample the world-class food served up by the resident Michelin-starred chef.

Santa Barbara 

Though not as famous as Napa and Sonoma, Santa Barbara is the unsung hero of Californian wine. Dubbed ‘The American Riviera’ for its vast stretch of Pacific coastline and warm Mediterranean climate, the county’s fertile valleys boast the ideal conditions for growing a wide variety of grapes, from chardonnay and pinot noir to grenache and merlot. Hop between some of the 200 wineries here for an insight into Santa Barbara’s distinctive viticulture, sampling the stellar vino as you go. 

Alternatively, discover the city’s famous tasting rooms during an urban wine trail. This is the perfect option if you’re on a self-drive California holiday and don’t have the spare couple of nights needed to stay over in the valleys. The trail takes you across two of Santa Barbara’s most trendy spots: the Funk Zone and the Presidio Neighborhood, both overflowing with interesting eateries, boutique tasting rooms and urban wineries.  

Stay on the American Riviera at family-friendly Hotel Californian, conveniently located in the centre of the Santa Barbara waterfront and only steps away from the beach. From the comfort of this urban seaside resort you can explore the beautiful botanical gardens at Ganna Walska Lotusland and go wine-tasting in the mountains.

Foodie favourites

San Francisco 

San Francisco punches well above its weight when it comes to gastronomy. The ‘City by the Bay’ boasts more three Michelin star restaurants than the whole of New York. It hosts the mouth-watering San Francisco Street Food Festival each year. On your California holiday, discover a pleasing mix of high-end establishments and down-to-earth eateries, proudly supplied by local organic farms.

San Francisco’s affluent Mission District has been steadily gentrifying since the dot-com bubble attracted tech-savvy go-getters to the neighbourhood. Here you’ll find many of the city’s best loved and most exclusive restaurants. Always book ahead if possible (we recommend using an app such as OpenTable – also cooked up in San Francisco). Experience Italian food with more twists than a bowl of fusilli at family-friendly Flour + Water. Or sample sublime seasonal dishes at Central Kitchen, masterminded by the very same chef.

To stock up on fabulous ingredients, drop into The Ferry Plaza’s Farmers Market – just by San Francisco’s Bay Bridge – for one of the best food and drink markets in California. Browse the freshest ingredients and artisanal produce alongside thousands of other shoppers, including acclaimed local chefs (a pretty sound endorsement). En route, be sure to treat yourself to an ice cream from the famous Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop, then sample RoliRoti’s gourmet rotisserie porchetta once at the market.  

Stay by the Bay at the St Regis San Francisco, where you can unwind with a glass of the speciality Bloody Mary as you enjoy a spectacular view over San Francisco. 

San Diego

With a knock-out coastline, superior surf and warm weather year-round, it’s no wonder people from far and wide flock to San Diego. When you’re not soaking up the sun on its beautiful beaches, discover the city’s tempting food, cracking craft beer and cool cocktails. 

Head here in November in time for the San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival, the largest event of its kind on the West Coast. For one whole week, taste the best produce the city has to offer, including over 700 different wines and beers, culinary inventions from dozens of San Diego's best chefs and gourmet bites from eclectic food vendors. 

What better company in the heat of summer than a cool beer, brewed just around the corner? Home to more than 150 breweries, San Diego is California’s craft beer capital. Hop between tastings rooms and behind the scenes of breweries, or save your feet the trouble by visiting the city’s International Beer Festival, where hundreds of brewers come together to showcase their premier tipples.  

If you’re more of a cocktail connoisseur than an ale acolyte, the San Diego Spirits Festival will serve you well. Or how about discovering the city’s historic haciendas during an Old Town tequila tour?

After imbibing the spirit of San Diego, sleep off the buzz at Kimpton Hotel Palomar – a boutique hotel perfectly situated near the trendy Gaslamp district.

Los Angeles 

When you think of Los Angeles, the first thing that springs to mind is Hollywood glamour. But this city is home to more than a star-studded red carpet and palm-fringed boulevards – there’s also a thriving foodie scene. 

Established in 1934, the iconic Farmer’s Market is an area of L.A. bustling with eclectic eateries and food stalls, and serves crowds of hungry visitors seven days a week. Nibble on everything from classic American cuisine to more exotic fare from the city’s immigrant community. From the market, pick up farm-fresh groceries, hand-mixed ice cream, artisanal bread, superfood smoothies, cold cuts, live seafood and more. Then head to the nearby Grove mall to shop ’til you drop.

Los Angeles is also home to a handful of food festivals. Focusing on street food, the annual L.A. Food Fest assembles a smorgasbord of vendors from across the city to tempt customers with everything from tacos to tofu. For ticket holders it’s an all you can eat affair, which is why the organisers suggest you wear ‘stretchy pants’. Bigger still is the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival, a city-wide culinary celebration that spans four days. Famous chefs showcase sophisticated creations, bands perform live on stage and you can gorge on gourmet gorgeousness. 

After grazing at L.A.’s food festivals, stay in one of the famous pink bungalows of the The Beverly Hills Hotel, a property steeped in Hollywood history. 

For holiday inspiration, see our main California destination page.

Click here to return to The Ultimate Guide to California start page.