Surprise! According to data from Booking.com, Lodi beats out Napa, Burgundy and even Bordeaux as the most endorsed location for wine, welcoming more than 2 million visitors each year. Known as “big red” country, Lodi has been growing grapes since the mid-1800s and is California’s largest appellation (gasp!). Hearty Zinfandels are its hallmark, but winemakers are also doing a lot with Spanish and Rhône varietals. Tastings at its 85-plus wineries (many of which are fifth-generation family-owned) are much more affordable than Napa, and the people couldn’t be friendlier. But the fantastic vino isn’t the only attraction. Here are all the reasons to put Lodi on your weekend radar.
The bad news: It’s not close (but neither are a lot of places in Napa and Sonoma). By car, it will take you about 1 hour 45 minutes. You could also take Amtrak right to the station in downtown Lodi. From there, you can pick up a GrapeLine bus or Sip Shuttle to take you around.
WHERE TO TASTE
Head to Bokisch Vineyards to sample Spanish varietals, from the best-selling (and award-winning) Tempranillo to the rare Graciano. Then set up a picnic lunch under the big blue oak tree in the middle of the vineyard’s grapevines. Over at Acquiesce Winery, housed in a converted 100-year-old barn, winemaker Susan Tipton crafts white wines only (plus one rosé) from Rhône varietals. And you’ll get your fill of jammy Zins at Harney Lane. The manicured grounds are so beautiful you’ll want to take your tasting outside (which is totally fair game).
WHAT TO DO
Start your day with a leisurely paddle down the calm Mokelumne River. (Trust us: Tipsy post-tasting paddling is not advised.) Rent a kayak, canoe, pedal boat or SUP from Headwaters Kayak in Lodi Lake Park. Later in the day, fuel up with a post-wine coffee at School Grounds in downtown Lodi before perusing plentiful galleries and thrift stores, including Secondhand Rose (good finds, reasonable prices). There’s also quite the brewery scene, so check out Lodi Beer Company, Brix and Hops or Scotto’s Wine & Cider if beer and cider are more your thing.
WHERE TO EAT
Pick up picnic fixings at Cheese Central in downtown Lodi, where the lovely Karen will let you sample all types of fromage before you buy. For fancier fare, head to Towne House, where you’ll find upscale farm-to-table dishes by James Beard Award-winning chef Bradley Ogden. Or head back downtown for a livelier scene and grab a table at The Dancing Fox for a proper pub burger or fish and chips.
WHERE TO STAY
After a long day of tasting, you’ll be ready to rest your head. For posh accommodations, book a room at Wine & Roses, which is known for its award-winning spa and on-site gardens. The charming Inn at Locke House—a Gold Rush-era neo-Georgian-style house and brick barn on the National Register of Historic Places—is off the main drag in Lockeford but puts you one step closer to the surrounding wineries. And Bella Vino is a beautifully restored Craftsman bungalow that blends modern design with an antique French-country vibe.