SAN FRANCISCO — As Memorial Day kicks off summer travel season, California wine lovers don’t have to choose between visiting the Golden State’s majestic parks and touring its diverse wine regions. That’s because many of California’s national and state parks are located within or near some of the world’s most famous winegrowing areas. What could be better after a morning hike in the woods than a relaxing afternoon among the vineyards with a delicious glass of California wine?
To help with summer travel planning, Wine Institute has curated pairings of California wine regions with nearby national and state parks. With 143 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) across the state, travelers won’t have to go out of their way to find incredible wine tasting opportunities close to their park-touring adventures. Along with inviting visitors to recharge while sipping the latest vintages, many wineries offer activities like vineyard hikes and cycling. In California wine country, it’s all about a balanced lifestyle.
To find California wineries near a park destination, and get information on summer events at wineries, visit DiscoverCaliforniaWine.com.
Travelers can get information about visiting California’s parks, including current COVID-19 guidelines, at the National Park Service and California Department of Parks and Recreation websites. Some of the most popular parks require visitors to book ahead for day passes and/or camping during the busy summer season. Multi-day events such as the inaugural California State Parks Week June 14 to 18 offers a variety of events from which to choose.
Sonoma County & Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Ancient Coast Redwoods — the world’s tallest trees — are the main attraction at this 800-acre park and natural preserve. Located just a few miles north of the town of Guerneville, Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve lies within the Russian River Valley AVA in Sonoma County. After hiking and picnicking among the preserve’s towering trees, take time to explore the local wineries. Home to more than 90 producers, the region is famous for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The charmingly rustic town of Guerneville, with its riverfront cabins and lodges, is the perfect place to spend the night and enjoy river activities like canoeing and swimming. On June 25, the Taste of Sonoma is a showcase for Sonoma County wine and food.
Napa Valley/Lake County & Robert Louis Stevenson State Park
This 5,000-acre park offers stunning views of Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties from the summit of Mount St. Helena, California wine country’s highest peak. Robert Louis Stevenson State Park’s location near Calistoga, at the northern end of the Napa Valley, also provides the perfect opportunity to visit the region’s wineries — world-renowned for their impressive and affordable Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The town of Calistoga, with its famous mud baths, boutique hotels and restaurants, is an ideal home base for a visit to the park and local wineries. On July 26, Napa Valley hosts Taste of Napa, a celebration of the region’s wine, food and music. On Sept. 17, travelers can taste and bid on Lake County wines at the Lake County Wine Auction.
SIERRA FOOTHILLS/CENTRAL CALIFORNIA
Sierra Foothills & Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Gold Country presents a host of natural wonders, from groves of giant sequoias to ancient volcanic formations to the Stanislaus River. The park is just north of Arnold, in the scenic Calaveras County wine region — a haven for Spanish, Italian and French varieties. Also within the larger Sierra Foothills AVA are Zinfandel specialists Amador County and El Dorado County, which produce everything from Bordeaux varieties to wines made from Rhône, German, Italian and Spanish grape varieties. Camping is popular at Big Trees, so summer reservations book up quickly. Not to worry, though; the park is less than an hour from the old mining town of Murphys, which features hotels, inns, restaurants and more than 25 winery tasting rooms along Main Street.
Madera Wine Country & Yosemite National Park
Rock-climbing Mecca Yosemite National Park is world renowned for its soaring granite walls and cascading waterfalls. Just south of the park is Madera County, one of California’s oldest appellations. The region is known for its dessert wines and port-style wines, and there is plenty to sample along the Madera Wine Trail. Summer camping reservations at Yosemite are quickly selling out and visitors should also book ahead for day passes, but there are a variety of alternative accommodations in nearby Mariposa, from bed and breakfasts to campgrounds to cabin rentals.
Monterey Wine Country & Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park in Soledad wows thousands of visitors each year with its unique volcanic landscape of monoliths, canyons, oak woodlands and towering rock spires frequented by golden eagles and California condors. Within an hour’s drive is the Cienega Valley Loop in San Benito County, as well as the River Road Wine Trail, which winds its way through the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in Monterey County, celebrated for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Because summer temperatures at Pinnacles tend to run high — ideal for early morning hikes — the park is most popular during the cooler months. That means reservations for the Pinnacles campground are fairly easy to find for summer visits. There are also lots of lodging and tasting room options in Monterey wine country, in the quaint, storybook town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Ventura/Santa Barbara Wine Country & Channel Islands National Park
The Channel Islands chain is known as “North America’s Galapagos” due to its natural beauty and wealth of rare plant and animal species. Boats to Channel Islands National Park depart from Ventura and Oxnard. From there, it’s an easy drive to the Ventura County Wine Trail, which features about a dozen wineries in a relaxed, coastal setting. In Santa Barbara wine country, the nearby Sta. Rita Hills AVA is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while wineries of the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Trail excel at Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. If short on time, many of these wineries offer tasting rooms in Santa Barbara’s urban Funk Zone. The National Park Service operates primitive-yet-stunning campgrounds on each of the five Channel Islands, but if that’s too much camping, book a stay in Ventura or Santa Barbara.
San Diego Wine Country & Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is home to the country’s rarest pine tree, the Torrey pine, along with one of the last salt marshes and waterfowl refuges in Southern California. After exploring the reserve’s 1,500 acres of maritime chaparral and miles of beautiful beaches, pay a visit to the wineries of San Diego County. The region boasts more than 100 wineries, best known for Merlot and Chardonnay, and grows 60 different grape varieties. Torrey Pines is located within the San Diego city limits, so lodging, restaurant and other travel amenities abound.
Gino DiCaro, Wine Institute