If you're not from CA you'll find that lodging, restaurants, and gasoline are probably more expensive than at home.
If you're flying you have a choice of several airports:
- San Francisco has the most flights. You have to drive through SF to get to the Sonoma/Napa/Mendocino wine regions. Just getting out of the airport can be a challenge.
- Oakland is probably a bit cheaper to fly into and a very easy drive to Napa and not too bad into Sonoma
- San Jose is quite a long, congested drive to Napa or Sonoma, but is close to Livermore and Santa Cruz wine areas
- Sacramento is a small airport so there's not as many flights. It's farther than SFO or Oakland, but an easy drive.
- Santa Rosa/Sonoma County airport puts you right in the middle of the wine country, but there are few flights and they will probably be more expensive. There are direct flights from L.A., Las Vegas, Portland and Seattle. Also, you can carry a case of wine out of this airport for free.
You really need a car and GPS or a good map to get started. You can take one of many bus or van wine tours, but you'll save money by getting around on your own. Travel through the back-country roads in Sonoma County can be confusing so plan on getting lost at least once, but maybe that will lead you to some great, new winery you've never heard of before!
Where to Stay
There are lots of luxury or near-luxury hotels plus B&B's. There are numerous decent motels and budget hotel chains. The downside in going cheap is the view out your window will be of commercial establishments and traffic rather than vineyards. Decide what's important.
Santa Rosa, being the biggest town in the area, will have the best selection of inexpensive motels. There are good deals in Rohnert Park, to the south, but it's not as convenient of a location. Wine-trendy cute towns like Healdsburg, Sonoma or Yountville will be more expensive.
You can easily spend $10 for a salad, $25 for an entree and $50 for a bottle of wine every night of your stay. And maybe you want to do that sometime, but like anywhere else there are lots of good, cheaper eateries. You'll find non-chain burger joints, brewpubs, plus an abundance of taquerias and Oriental restaurants that are fun to try and not so expensive.
If you're visiting in warm weather then take a loaf of a delicious local bread and some outstanding cheese along wine tasting and picnic at a winery.
A number of wineries put out free or 2-for-1 tasting coupons. These are available at other wineries, hotels, and visitors' centers. If you have a Visa Signature card about 75 Sonoma County wineries offer free tastings.
If it's not on sale and you can probably buy it at home don't bother. Look for wines you can't find anywhere else as many wines have very limited or no retail distribution.
Getting Wine Home
If you live close enough to drive to the wineries and carry the wine home yourself be very careful in hot weather as you will ruin your wine if it overheats.
Santa Rosa, Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale all have various free weeknight events during the warm months. One of the best is Healdsburg's Tuesday night concert series. in the town plaza.
Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, and Sonoma all have interesting downtown areas to browse.
The Sonoma County Fair runs late-July into early-August with lots to do for kids and adults and is semi-reasonably priced for a day of fun.