There is an almost perfect triangle between Sonoma, Napa and San Francisco which makes exploring wine country quite easy.
First of all, mileage is less relevant in wine country than time spent driving. Most are lovely winding roads. No freeways here. Exception: Highway 101 from San Francisco into Sonoma or Napa is heavily trafficked, but crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is certainly worth it. You can pull off and walk across the bridge if you’re in the mood for a total Northern California experience!
Expect a drive of one hour and 15 minutes from SF to Sonoma or Napa. (Depending on the time of day and traffic.) 30 minutes after you cross the bridge, you’ll be given the chance to get off 101 and drive to Sonoma/Napa, the southern destinations in wine country. Then you’ll wind through soft fields of mustard beneath rolling, golden hills, and into the misty Carneros region. Here you’ll decide whether to head east and into the town of Napa and the Napa Valley, or veer to the west and go to Sonoma with its riotous past and luscious Valley of the Moon. It will take about 30 minutes to arrive in either place.
If you like the sun and the hearty wines of Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley, stay on Highway 101. Continue north to the charming town of Healdsburg. (This is about 45 minutes to one hour, again depending on traffic, after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge.) Get off at the Central Healdsburg Ave. exit. Wander around the Healdsburg Square, and grab a map at the Visitor’s Center. Choose your wineries!
The Dry Creek Valley is within minutes of the Healdsburg Square. You’ll find wineries of the small boutique sort, to funky family barns, to grand estates. About ten minutes north of Healdsburg is the delicious Alexander Valley. This is historic Sonoma wine country. Take time to immerse yourself.
The Russian River Valley is host to the sparkling wine giant, Korbel. It is also home to small wineries. Situated in the west of Sonoma County, the Russian River AVA is a world of its own. Redwoods, champagne, pinot, sauvignon blanc, all rolling down to the wild Pacific. The Russian River Valley is about 30 minutes from Healdsburg, an hour from Sonoma, and an hour and a half from Calistoga, the northern end of the Napa Valley.In time, the distances are close.
But you could happily spend weeks exploring wine, food, historic sites, parks, and the ocean. Most people pace themselves at about 3 – 4 days, and choose one particular area to explore. Whatever choice you make will be a happy one. This is wine country!