10 Reasons to Choose Napa Valley over Sonoma Valley for a Wine Vacation

choosenapaNapa Valley and Sonoma Valley are separated by the Mayacamas Mountain range. They share a claim to the Carneros wine growing region to the south. Both valleys provide visitors with as much wine tourism as could ever be desired. However, what follows are the Top 10 Reasons to Choose Napa Valley Over Sonoma Valley for your vacation.

Logistics First: Both Valleys run parallel to each other on a relatively North-South axis and are separated by the Mayacamas Mountain range. You can drive from one to the other in no more than a half hour. Each is roughly 50 minutes north of San Francisco.

1. The Food
You’d be hard pressed to find a way to justify not putting Napa Valley on a Top-5 list of The Most Great Restaurants Per Capita in the United States. The Napa Valley might even be #1. If you want to engage in a series of great meals, you’ll choose Napa Valley over Sonoma Valley

2. The Icons of American Wine Are in Napa Valley
Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Caymus, Screaming Eagle, Spottswoode, Chateau Montelena. You’d need a number of trips to the Valley just to visit all the iconic California wineries located in Napa Valley. This is where you go if you want to experience the pantheon of American wine.

3. The Hillside Drives
Sometimes people forget that in order to have a valley, you need hillsides. Napa Valley possess a series of unique mountain regions that each have roads heading up into them. These are special drives. You could spend five days in Napa Valley filled only with trips up Spring Mountain, Mount Veeder, Howell Mountain, Atlas Peak and Diamond Mountain without ever giving a second thought to the valley floor destinations.

4. The Resorts in Napa Valley Are First Class
Napa Valley knows how to do resort lodging. If you are looking for destination lodging, the kind of place where you don’t leave all day, receive first class pampering, eat stunning meals, gawk at the views and even want to stay in your room all day, you need to choose Napa Valley.

5. The Golfers Will Want to Choose Napa Valley Over Sonoma Valley
If you stay in the town of Yountville, you have a choice of ten golf courses that are within a half hour drive. In Sonoma Valley, you’ve got three. There is no question that if you want plan some golf between the wine tasting and eating, Napa Valley is your choice over Sonoma Valley.

6. Napa Valley is Ground Zero for the Greatest Cabernets Produced in America
If Cabernet Sauvignon is your thing, then you must choose Napa Valley over Sonoma Valley. The concentration of great Cabernet in Napa Valley is overwhelming. Nearly every winery in the Valley makes a wine from Cabernet grapes. You’ll pay for it. But you’ll never run out of different Cabs to try.

7. The Oxbow Market and Downtown Napa
The town of Napa at the southern end of the Valley used to be what we called a “drive by”. Unless you wanted to stay at the TravelLodge, there was no good reason to stop here on your way up Valley. Today, there is good reason to never leave. All the live entertainment is in Napa. The restaurant scene in Napa is spectacular and I’d argue rivals the former king of dining, Yountville. Then there is the Oxbow Market, a charming conglomeration of great food shops and restaurants under one roof. Nothing like this kind of city exists in Sonoma Valley.

8. The Architectural Wineries are Pretty Spectacular and Nothing Like Them is Found in Sonoma Valley
Some folks here in the Valley think they are cheesy tourist traps. But when you see Castello di Amarosa, Clos Pegase, Artesa, Chateau Montelena, Darioush, Domaine Carneros, Opus One or any other of the showcases up close, it’s hard not to be wowed. You could spend an entire week only touring the architectural showcase wineries and still not get to them all.

9. Soaring Over Napa Valley is Pretty Spectacular
Assuming you aren’t afraid of heights, the Hot Air Balloon rides over Napa can be a spectacular and memorable event that is not available in Sonoma Valley. Most of the balloons take off over Yountville and gently soar south, over vineyards and wineries in the early morning. It’s an event.

10. It’s Napa Valley
For many people, Napa Valley is a bucket list destination and for good reason. It’s beautiful, it’s iconic, the concentration of great food and wine is remarkable. It is America’s adult playground and that title is well-earned. Despite the other amazing wine regions strewn throughout the country, there is nothing like Napa Valley.

Click here to read the case for choosing Sonoma Valley over Napa Valley


Posted In: Wine Places


28 Responses

  1. 10 Reasons To Choose Sonoma Valley Over Napa Valley For Your Wine Vacation - Fermentation - May 20, 2014

    […] Click here for the ten reasons to choose Napa Valley over Sonoma Valley for your next wine vacation […]

  2. Richard - May 20, 2014

    Bravo, no nobody can complain, except the people who love Napa and hate Sonoma or love Sonoma and hate Napa… BTW: Think that number 6 – “Napa Valley is Ground Central for the Greatest Cabernets Produced in America” should read “Napa Valley is Ground Central for the Greatest Cabernets Produced in the world.” Just a thought – but, then you’d tick off the French…

  3. Kevin - May 20, 2014

    I would argue that you severely limited Sonoma by choosing “Sonoma Valley” over Sonoma County as a whole. A good comparison might be a similar article choosing Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, or Dry Creek Valley, or Alexander Valley over Napa’s Pope Valley. The diversity of climate, scenery, wild Sonoma coastline, and great amenities clearly outstrips Napa County. Now that would be a fun comparison: Napa County vs Sonoma County? Having lived and worked in both, I come down clearly on the Sonoma aside.

    • Tom Wark - May 20, 2014


      I understand your point. However, Sonoma COUNTY is so huge and so diverse and really very hard to really get a sense of even during a week long vacation that the idea of comparing Sonoma COUNTY to Napa VALLEY doesn’t even seem fair.

      Also, there is a certain affinity between Napa VALLEY and Sonoma VALLEY in my mind.

      I too have lived in both Valleys. As I hope I pointed out, each has their strengths AND I think each provides a different vacation experience.

  4. Jim Caudill - May 20, 2014

    World class art…the international visitors we see at The Hess Collection sometimes are surprised to also find…a winery.

  5. Tom - May 20, 2014

    The art angle is a great one that goes in Napa’s column. Thanks,

  6. George - May 21, 2014

    In #2, sadly you overlooked iconic Spring Mountain Vineyard which was established in the 1880s, the 4th place winner in the 1976 Judgement de Paris and the 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards Regional Trophy winner for the Best Bordeaux Blend in the US.

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  14. Miki Finnin - June 6, 2014

    Tom, We have been to both Napa and Sonoma and was ready to disagree with you when I first started reading this blog. But…. I read on and really can’t disagree with your commentary. But just to say that Sonoma has its individual charm also…. But then you know that! Thanks for the insight! Miki

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