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Monday, June 15, 2015

Off the Beaten Path in Napa and Sonoma

  Traveling to parts of Sonoma County and especially Napa County can yield a not-so-relaxing trip as roads can be jammed along with the tasting rooms and restaurants. How do you avoid the large crowds? When you travel is important as mid-week and the off-season have much smaller crowds. But you can't always control when you go so where should you go?

Napa Valley

Generally, the least crowded areas will be:
  • Farther up valley past the town of St. Helena
  • Off the main artery, Highway 29
  • Off the valley floor into the hills on either side of the valley
Silverado Trail
  Napa's infamous traffic along Highway 29 from Oakville through St. Helena is well-known by the locals and frequent visitors.  An easy suggestion for an alternative is the Silverado Trail that parallels Highway 29  a couple miles to the east. However, lots of people are finding out about this road so the southern part of the Trail near the town of Napa can also be quite crowded.

Town of Napa
  There are tasting rooms, restaurants and lodging right in town. These can sometimes be busy, but at least you're not in a ten mile stream of traffic. Lots of the activities are all within walking distance.

Town of Calistoga
  Calistoga is at the north end of Napa Valley so not as many people make it up this far. Kind of a homey/funky little town with some smaller lodging options, several tasting rooms, and restaurants. The wineries to the north of Calistoga are probably the least crowded in the valley.

Cross roads between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail
  In numerous places through Napa Valley there are connector roads running between these two  thoroughfares. There are wineries on these roads, but not much in the way of lodging or eats. Note: Don't put yourself in a position where you are trying to make a left turn onto Highway 29 on a weekend as it's nearly impossible because of the traffic.

In the hills on Spring Mountain and Howell Mountain
  As soon as you get a half mile off the valley floor it's a whole different world (for you and the grapes). Many wineries are quite small and require appointments, but if you dislike crowds go here.

Silverado Trail

Sonoma County

  Sonoma County doesn't have the crowds found in Napa Valley plus the farther north you go in Sonoma (away from the SF Bay Area) the less crowded it will become. This means you may find the Carneros region and the town of Sonoma in the southern part of the county busy while traffic is light in Alexander Valley to the north. The town of Healdsburg is also crowded on weekends as it has shown up on a lot of top ten lists for "best small town to live in" or "best wine country town" or "cutest small town."

Western Sonoma County
  Going towards the Pacific in the Russian River Valley area you find small towns and small wineries. The hamlets of Occidental and Guerneville are the biggest burgs out here as they are actually multiple blocks long!  Others like Freestone, Valley Ford and Graton are tiny. There are wineries scattered in this region along with some great scenery and numerous restaurants.

Northern Sonoma County
  To the west and north of Healdsburg the Dry Creek Valley is well known and people often visit wineries along its main artery -- Dry Creek Road. Less traveled is West Dry Creek Road. It's only one-and-a-half lanes wide in many places and not well marked, but that's what makes it a nicer drive. Northeast of Healdsburg is Alexander Valley. It's a little less well known so less traveled.

Western Sonoma County