The 15 Best Wineries in California (Plus, What’s Special about Each One)

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Now that wine tasting rooms at some of the most unique wineries in California are starting to open up again for visitors, it’s time to plan an outing to sip the grapes from some of the best vineyards the Golden State has to offer, from Sonoma to the Central Coast to San Diego. Because if you’re a true oenophile, you know that the West Coast doesn’t just have great scenery and weather, but also some of the world’s best fruit!

Some of these tasting rooms are nestled in unlikely places with incredible food, impressive art collections or fun interactive pursuits, but all boast gorgeous views and wonderful vino. Just be sure to have a designated driver if you plan on imbibing and do check websites before heading out as some spots require reservations in advance. Now without further ado, here are the 15 best wineries in California.

14 of the Best Wineries in Napa Valley to Tour on Your Next Weekend Getaway

Grape field with mountain views in the background and yellow hot air balloons floating in the sky.
SIMI winery

1. SIMI Winery in Sonoma County

Founded by Isabelle Simi, a woman ahead of her time, this bucolic winery with a train track running through it lies about 10 minutes outside of charming downtown Healdsburg. SIMI has had a strong female heritage since the Prohibition Era and continues today with the new director of winemaking Lisa Evich overseeing the portfolio of wines. This includes multi-tier wine offerings from three different vineyards including their nearby Russian River Valley chardonnay and Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. They also have a lovely picnic area and an outdoor pizza oven where you can arrange lunches, dinners and even tastings with wines that you can only quaff at this location.

2. Elyse Winery in Napa Valley

Elyse Winery is truly off the beaten path, but this legacy brand has been a top Napa spot for vineyard-designated zinfandel, petite sirah and cabernet for the last four decades, and more recently, they have partnered with Adam Duritz of Counting Crows. Elyse was purchased by Josh Peeples in 2018 who also enlisted his friend and longtime colleague Russel Beven to craft the wines, and today the duo and their team take risks harvesting unique blends by hand—including sometimes stomping grapes by foot! The winemakers blend a hands-on approach with cutting-edge technology, using optical sorters, shaking tables, tracking software and more to fine-tune their process.

3. Ram’s Gate Winery in Sonoma County

Perched on rolling hills where the San Francisco Bay meets Napa and Sonoma, Ram’s Gate plants and produces chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc, grenache and syrah. While both the site and tasting room are stunning, overlooking 28-acres of organically farmed vines, they also have a highly sought-after new tasting menu, with a wine pairing and caviar experience by lauded San Francisco chef Ruby Oliveros. Yes, please!

Grape field with mountain views in the background and yellow hot air balloons floating in the sky.
Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery

4. Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery in Sonoma County

The Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery is the closest tasting room to the Pacific Ocean where you can sip Sonoma pinots and chardonnays with those breathtaking California views. During your visit, you can tour the vineyards and enjoy a picnic wine lunch at “Top of the Land,” which is a coastal view perch, or take a Sip & Paint class led by a local artist—just be sure to book both in advance.

5. Sabina Vineyards in Napa Valley

Nestled in the hills of St. Helena amid a 100-year-old olive grove, Sabina Vineyards is a boutique winery and vineyard producing estate cabernet sauvignon and Willamette Valley pinot noir. We especially love that this is a family-owned and managed property where the owners actually reside! Here is where they also make Matū Reserve which is a very limited production wine made exclusively for the restaurant Matū Beverly Hills, where they serve some of the best Wagyu beef produced by First Light Farms of New Zealand. The 2017 vintage made by Sabina is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon from the Atlas Peak AVA and is a match made in heaven. While this is one of the more exclusive wineries, they do offer very limited, select private tours at the vineyard by appointment only. Can’t nab an appointment? Once a year Sabina Vineyards invites direct customers to a Sabina Vineyards Open House, so you definitely want to get on that list.

Outdoor seating in the middle of Flowers Vineyard and Winery in Sonoma County

6. Flowers Vineyard and Winery in Sonoma County

House of Flowers opened not too long ago in 2019 and was designed by Walker Warner Architects, who also built Kona Village in Hawaii, so you know this vineyard oozes romance. Just picture sipping some of the region’s best chardonnay, pinot noir and rosé, which is made with their award-winning pinot noir, amid individual tables in a private garden setting surrounded by the vines. The new tasting room also offers a ‘Bottles and Provisions’ experience on Sundays with seasonal bites—the perfect way to end your weekend in wine country. Psst: Have a look inside on your way to the powder room as the interior walls hold stunning local art gems as well.

AP Field Tables woolson 5301
Abbot’s Passage

7. Abbot’s Passage in Sonoma County

Located on a historic property in the heart of Sonoma Valley and Glen Ellen, sixth-generation vintner Katie Bundschu opened Abbot’s Passage Winery & Mercantile to the public in 2021. They specialize in predominantly small production, Rhone-focused exploratory blends that have been grafted to a mix of varietals including mourvèdre, carignan and petite sirah.

The winery offers tastings or bottle service at picnic tables in the olive grove, while playing shuffleboard or kicking back in an Adirondack chair and taking in the views. Try to reserve a curated and immersive ‘field table’ multi-course family-style menu that takes place amid the property’s 80-year-old zinfandel vines, and definitely save some time to peruse the mercantile which showcases artisanal products, with an emphasis on supporting female-owned businesses and sustainably made, locally sourced crafts (we love the jewelry!).

8. Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa Valley

This could be the only vineyard in the world where the vines were blocked and named after hit song titles from “Dark Side of the Moon” to “Born to Run.” Next to the art gallery, AKA the “backstage tasting room,” you can find the work of Jerry Garcia from The Grateful Dead and Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane. Canadian-born Bordeaux lover, Cliff Lede, opened his musical-themed vineyard on six acres in the Stags Leap District in 2002 and it still remains one of the most well-visited and entertaining tasting rooms around. There is also a charming small inn on the property named after the flagship cabernet sauvignon, Poetry, where you can spend the night if you are lucky enough to snag a room.

A view of Baileyana Winery in Central Coast Wine Country
Baileyana Vineyard

9. Baileyana Winery in Central Coast Wine Country

As pioneers of the Central Coast, the Niven family started planting grapes back in 1973. Today the Baileyana brand produces over 30 wines and 11 varietals, so there is truly something for everyone from Tangent to True Myth to Zocker, led by Rob Takigawa, Director of Winemaking. They specialize in a range of chardonnay and pinot noir grown in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo, but any visit here must include the tasting room located in the historic Independence Schoolhouse with lovely vineyard views. Make sure to book a cheese or charcuterie plate with your alfresco tasting. Now this is our kind of classroom!

10. Chronic Cellars in Central Coast Wine Country

To explore more unique vineyards in Paso Robles, head to scenic Nacimiento Lake Drive that will take you to the beautiful Chronic Cellars. Here the focus is on ‘killer’ red blends such as the Tannin Bomb, Purple Paradise and Pink Petals grenache rosé, but they also have quaffable sparkling white wine and a late-harvest port-style petite sirah dessert wine available. The tasting room has an old farmhouse feel and they have picnic tables to enjoy tastings and outdoor activities. One of the fun reasons these wines are so collectible is the skeleton and skull art label, and they also sell T-shirts and other souvenirs with the same playful motif.

A landscape view of The Hilt Estate in Central Coast Wine County
Cary Wilton

11. The Hilt Estate in Central Coast Wine County

The main draw here (after the delicious wine, of course) is the gorgeous barn. But this is not just any old vineyard barn, but a stunningly modern one designed by Gillam Architects that was built with reclaimed wood from the site’s original 1914 barn—step inside and you will seriously want to move right in and curl up in a leather armchair under the cathedral ceiling. Known for pinot noir and chardonnay wines in the southwest corner of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, in Lompoc (near Santa Barbara), the Hilt Estate encompasses three vineyards from Bentrock, Radian and Puerta del Mar and wines from two renowned estates, JONATA and The Hilt.

Vineyards1 CircoCoelho
Alma Rosa

12. Alma Rosa in Central Coast Wine Country

Alma Rosa has the best of both worlds with a charming Solvang Central Coast tasting room located right in the heart of town, but if you'd like to dig deeper, you can visit the Alma Rosa Ranch House in the Sta. Rita Hills for a private tasting experience. And if you’d like to incorporate a little exercise to relieve the guilt of a little over-indulging from the two visits (we are not judging!), the tastings can include a one-mile hike past the vineyard that culminates with wine and cheese—so it’s worth the leg work, and you can book your journey based on whether you want to see the chardonnay and pinot or syrah and grenache vines.

Wineries in California Malibu Family Wines in Malibu Wine Country
courtesy of Los Angeles Tourism

13. Malibu Family Wines in Malibu Wine Country

Deep in the Malibu Hills off Mulholland Drive, Saddlerock Ranch is a 1,000-acre winery where animals run free past the cabernet vines. The wine-tasting safari in an open-air jeep has long been popular on Instagram for dates and girls’ trips, but this excursion has been put on hold during the pandemic. But fear not—there is also a wine hike that encompasses a two-hour loop where you can still see the famous giraffes wandering the grounds, which is an experience hard to replicate outside of an African safari ‘sundowner.’

A view of South Coast Winery Resort & Spa in Temecula Valley Wine Country
Photos courtesy of South Coast Winery Resort & Spa

14. South Coast Winery Resort & Spa in Temecula Valley Wine Country

Just 86 miles south of Los Angeles, Riverside County’s Temecula wine region has come a long way in the past few decades. A standout experience can be had at the 63-acre South Coast Winery Resort & Spa with over 45 wine labels spanning pinot noir to pinot grigio. This is the only winery in the state of California that has won “Golden State Winery of the Year” in the California Commercial Wine Competition not once, not twice, but five times. And the best part? South Coast Winery boast a full-service resort with rooms, a restaurant and the luxe GrapeSeed spa. Here you’ll want to book a “grapeseed facial” made with botanicals and wine grapes for the health and nourishment of your skin. So, after wine tasting, treat your complexion to more skin-on-skin contact, followed by a glass of wine on the terrace.

Aerial view of Carruth Cellars in San Diego

15. Carruth Cellars in San Diego

Yes, even San Diego, home of Sea World, has award-winning wine grapes! Carruth Cellars is the largest urban winery on a mission to “bring grapes to the people.” Owner and head winemaker Adam Carruth, a 20-year-plus wine industry veteran and San Diego native, specializes in bold California-style wines at  urban wine facilities in Solana Beach and Oceanside.

The brand also operates five local tasting rooms that include Carlsbad Village, Little Italy in downtown San Diego, and the new Liberty Station where you can sample everything from malbec to merlot and petite sirah to pinot noir, with wine by the flight, glass, and bottle, as well as cheese and charcuterie boards. If you don’t feel like driving—and who does while drinking?—jump in the van and take a “coastal” or “coast to country” specialized wine tour, or arrange a private tasting at the Solana Beach flagship.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Carole Dixon is an avid traveler, eater, wine drinker, spa-goer, beauty junkie, and design buff who has been contributing to PureWow since its inception 2010 from her home-base of...