Our answer to the question about where to stay in the California Wine Country is only one of the many that are possible. The area is very large, and the number of cities is practically innumerable.
That’s why our guide is only one of the possible combinations. But, nonetheless, we think that it’s flexible enough to suit everybody’s taste.
Where to Stay in California Wine Country
Ever since the Spanish missionaries arrived in the early 19th century and till today, wine has been a central aspect in this part of America.
Stretching mainly from the north of the San Francisco Bay area to the south of the city, California Wine Country has been a favorite destination for wine aficionados for ages.
Today, the region is so popular that, during the summer weekends, the roads are over capacity, so to speak. Plainly put, people just can’t get enough of the Wine Country.
But what is so special about this place aside from the wine? The climate, obviously, is perfect, as the hot and sunny months easily outnumber the cold and cloudy ones.
The Pacific Ocean is right around the corner, and many cities and areas, like Mendocino, Bodega Bay, and Monterey, are coastal cities. The vistas of the coast and the stunning ocean, the welcoming climate, and the fine breeze are definitely things that remind us of paradise.
Because of the huge number of visitors, Wine Country became — after the late 1970s and in the early 1980s — one of the top tourist destinations in America. The wineries are completely endemic to this part of the country, as is the wine.
There are a bunch of Michelin-star restaurants of all traditions and cuisines, and — because they’re close to the ocean — offering fresh and savory seafood.
The hotels and the resorts, too, are out of this world. Even the two-star hotels usually have on-site restaurants and bars and nice outdoor pools. You’ve probably heard about some of the cities and areas: Napa, Sonoma, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, St. Helena, Calistoga, etc.
They’ve already become household names. Because we already did a guide on Napa Valley (which includes St. Helena and Calistoga), we intentionally excluded them from this article, and we’ll focus more on places not present in that guide.
The Best Parts of California Wine Country
The number of great towns in the California Wine Country is practically uncountable, but some of them are definitely better than others.
Our list goes from the north to the south, only excluding Napa for the already mentioned reasons. All of them have something unique and interesting to offer.
Our top picks include:
- Mendocino: A small city in the Pacific Ocean, it offers wineries on the beautiful coast but not the cheapest accommodations.
- Santa Rosa: The biggest city in our guide, full of wineries, a lot of parks, and museums, as well as budget accommodation options.
- Sonoma: One of the most popular destinations in the area due to its beautiful wine and food, it also has one of the most unique downtowns you’ll ever see.
- Bodega Bay: The smallest place in our guide, it’s not so famous for its vineyards, but it has a lot of beaches and stunning landscapes.
- Monterey: The second biggest town in our guide after Santa Rosa, located on the shores of the Pacific, it boasts a large number of renowned vineyards in its area.
The Best Areas & Hotels in California Wine Country
California’s Wine Country is one of the most elite places in America. The Pacific Ocean nearby, the small yet elegant cities, and the rich vineyards keep the prices of everything really high.
That’s why traveling on a budget and finding cheap accommodations can be a real problem. One general tip is to stay out of the smaller cities if you prefer to have a cheaper stay.
The number of hotels in places like Mendocino and Bodega Bay — and to some extent even Sonoma — is smaller, and the prices are considerably higher. If you’re looking for budget options, stick either to Santa Rosa or Monterey.
Luxury, on the other hand, is never a problem. Every city and area on our list is full of stunning four- and five-star hotels with unique decorations, huge swimming pools, and high-end amenities.
Our trip through the fertile valleys and fields of the California Wine Country starts small with a town called Mendocino. With an overall population of nearly 1,000 people, it’s probably the smallest town on the list.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s less special, beautiful, and interesting; namely, Mendocino is located right on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and that, in combination with the numerous wineries in the surrounding area, has made it a popular vacation place for tourists from all around America.
As we are talking about Wine Country, starting with the wineries sounds like a smart move. There are no wineries in Mendocino itself, but the surrounding area is full of them.
After you’ve checked the wineries, you should check the next best thing in Mendocino: the countryside. The ocean’s coast is simply unbelievable and offers innumerable beaches and different water-related activities.
Then there are the parks, where you can relax and enjoy beautiful nature. There are no less than four of them:
- Mendocino Headlands State Park
- Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park
- Russian Gulch State Park
- Mendocino Area Parks Association
Finally, there’s nature and history, concentrated in some interesting institutions. In the nature domain, there are the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens and B Bryan Preserve, both of them a few kilometers from the city.
In the history domain, there’s the Ford House Visitor Center & Museum and the Kelley House Museum, both of them dedicated to local history. In terms of accommodation, Mendocino is not the cheapest place.
Taking into account that it’s significantly smaller than the other cities and areas on our list, it offers fewer hotels and hostels. Also, there are no two-star accommodations, either in the city or in the wider area. So, if you prefer a budget option, we recommend Santa Rosa.
Things to Do
- As we are talking about California Wine Country, wineries are definitely gonna be the main focus throughout the whole guide. Mendocino is usually overshadowed in that domain compared to Santa Rosa, Sonoma, or Napa, but it offers something special and unique. Most of the other cities are located on the mainland, but Mendicino offers wine & food and a sublime view of the ocean.
- For such a small city, Mendocino has a really large number of parks to offer to its potential visitors. Each one offers something different and distinctive: Mendocino Headlands State Park has unique geological formations; Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park offers history; Russian Gulch State Park is all about the beauties of Mendocino highlands; lastly, Jughandle State Reserve offers interesting hiking options.
- If you love nature, the area around Mendocino offers two unforgettable things, both of them huge tourist attractions and 2022 Travelers’ Choice Selections. The first one is located to the north of the city and is all about the lovely flora of the region — the Coast Botanical Gardens. B Bryan Preserve, on the other hand, is located to the south of the city, and it’s a place where you can see a bunch of wild animals in a beautiful environment.
- Finally, Mendocino is an old city. Its beginnings can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century, so most of the city’s history is connected to that century. If you want a broad and overall picture, we recommend that you visit the Ford House Visitor Center & Museum. For a more concrete story, definitely visit the Kelley House Museum, which tells the story of this small California city in an interesting way.
Where to Eat
- Goodlife Cafe and Bakery is an American cafe that was selected as the 2022 Travelers’ Choice. It mainly concentrates on serving traditional local dishes, with a lot of healthy vegetarian and vegan options.
- Café Beaujolais is a French and International restaurant that’s yet another 2022 Travelers’ Choice. The place is mostly suitable for lunch and dinner, and we recommend it to visitors who prefer to experiment with their food. The wines and the cocktails are also great.
- Luna Trattoria is a Northern Italian restaurant that was also selected as the 2022 Travelers’ Choice. It’s great for two things: Italian dishes like pizza, pasta, or lasagna and fresh seafood. The calamari is their specialty.
Mendocino Budget Hotels
- Inn at Schoolhouse Creek is a relatively cheap three-star hotel located just a few miles to the south of Mendocino. It offers free parking and free Wi-Fi, facilities for disabled guests, flat-screen TV in every room, and a gas fireplace for a romantic setting.
- Mendocino Hotel & Garden is another cheap three-star hotel, but this time located on the main street of Mendocino. All of the rooms in the hotel are painted in warm colors and decorated uniquely. Some of them have private bathrooms.
Mendocino Mid-Range Hotels
- Seagull Inn Bed & Breakfast is a decent three-star hotel coming at a really average price. Located in the city, it offers furnished family rooms with private bathrooms, including hairdryers. It also offers free Wi-Fi and free parking. It’s mostly suitable for couples.
- Agate Cove Inn is a great four-star hotel that’s not as expensive and can be considered a mid-range accommodation option considering the circumstances. It boasts family rooms, free Wi-Fi, and parking, but the best thing is the superb two-course breakfast served every morning.
Mendocino Luxury Hotels
- Heritage House Resort & Spa is an elite four-star hotel located a few miles to the south of Mendocino. The hotel is perfect for those who want to stay close to the ocean since the hotel has a private beach. It also offers a spa center, a fitness center, a bar, and a restaurant on the premises.
- SCP Mendocino Inn and Farm is another four-star hotel that boasts a huge garden, shared lounge, and even a business center. Located to the south of Mendocino, it also offers a beachfront, spa and wellness center, a fitness center, and facilities for disabled people.
See All Hotels in Wine Country
2. Santa Rosa
After the tiny Mendocino, we decided to continue our journey through the area with something big, and Santa Rosa immediately came to mind.
With a population of nearly 200,000 people, it is considerably larger than any Wine Country city, but like them, Santa Rosa offers great food, tasty wines, and stunning natural beauty (there are a couple of museums too).
You’ve probably come to Wine Country for the wine, so let’s make a quick list of the three best wineries in and around Santa Rosa:
- St. Francis Winery and Vineyards, a 2022 Travelers’ Choice; more on it in a bit.
- Matanzas Creek Winery, famous for its lavender fields.
- Harvest Moon Winery for individual treatment.
The wineries usually offer stunning natural surroundings, but Santa Rosa has even more to offer in that domain, like the parks and the gardens, which are some of the finest in the area.
You just have to visit Spring Lake Park, Annadel State Park, Howarth Park, and Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, the lattermost of which is a must-see for plant lovers.
Finally, there are the museums. Santa Rosa is not Paris or Berlin, but it does have its fair share of interesting museums that are worth your time, like the Charles M. Schulz Museum or the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County.
However, the biggest attraction definitely is Safari West, with its more than 1,000 animals. The restaurant and accommodation options in Santa Rosa are simply great.
There are a lot of cheap motels and two-star hotels that are great for budget travelers, even more decent three-star hotels with outdoor pools and on-site restaurants, and a dozen four-star luxurious hotels.
Besides the wineries, there are a bunch of tasty restaurants and various cuisine options.
Things to Do
- As we said earlier, the most important attraction in Santa Rosa — and in the whole California Wine Country — are the wineries. We already mentioned the three most popular ones in the city, but that’s not all. Here are four more places where you can eat and drink surrounded by beautiful nature: Hook and Ladder Winery, Fisher Vineyards, Paradise Ridge Winery (with panoramic landscapes), and Balletto Vineyards (family-owned).
- If you want to enjoy nature and relax or maybe stroll amidst gorgeous flora, we recommend that you go to one of Santa Rosa’s many parks. The list is quite extensive and consists of Spring Lake Park, Annadel State Park, and Howarth Park. Luther Burbank Home and Gardens is not actually a park but a garden and can be of special interest to plant lovers.
- Probably the most interesting attraction in Santa Rosa — aside from the wineries — is Safari West, which is actually a 2022 Travelers’ Choice Selection. It houses more than 1,000 animals and hosts great educational tours.
- Santa Rosa is not actually famous for museums, but it has some interesting institutions that are definitely worth your time. The third most popular place to visit in the city — after the wineries and the Safari West — is the Charles M. Schulz Museum, dedicated to the creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Children’s Museum of Sonoma County is great too, since it is an interactive museum that stimulates discovery and experimentation.
Where to Eat
- St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, located just outside of Santa Rosa, is the go-to place in Santa Rosa for wine tasting and food pairings. It is not the cheapest place, but the interior and the exterior of the place, as well as the food and the wine, are completely worth it.
- Ca’Bianca Restaurant is a traditional Italian restaurant located in Santa Rosa’s Downtown. Formerly a family-owned house, the restaurant still offers a warm and relaxed atmosphere in combination with great pasta, pizza, and salads.
- Willi’s Wine Bar is an upscale international and contemporary restaurant, as well as a winery, that also offers a lot of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. We recommend that you try as many dishes as you can since they are full of flavor and served in small portions.
Santa Rosa Budget Hotels
- Motel 6-Santa Rosa, CA – North is a very cheap two-star motel located very close to both the Coddingtown Mall and the Charles M Schulz Museum. The place boasts an outdoor swimming pool, free parking, free Wi-Fi, and facilities for disabled people.
- Motel 6-Santa Rosa, CA – South offers basically the same things, but it’s located on the other side of the city. Again, we have a two-star motel that comes at a low price, is pet-friendly, has an outdoor swimming pool, as well as nicely furnished rooms and free Wi-Fi.
Santa Rosa Mid-Range Hotels
- Best Western Garden Inn, like all Best Western hotels, is the epitome of a decent mid-range hotel. It boasts an outdoor pool, free parking, and free Wi-Fi, as well as an on-site restaurant and a nice breakfast every morning.
- Hotel La Rose is another very beautiful (but not very expensive) three-star hotel that’s particularly suitable for couples. It has a restaurant and a bar on the premises, superb breakfast, facilities for disabled guests, and professional room service.
Santa Rosa Luxury Hotels
- Vintners Resort is definitely the most expensive and the best accommodation in the whole of Santa Rosa. It’s a great four-star hotel located on a vineyard trail that offers an outdoor swimming pool, an on-site restaurant and a bar, a spa and wellness center, and a fitness center. For a hotel of this stature, you can safely assume that all of the amenities are taken care of.
- Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country is another four-star hotel that offers an outdoor swimming pool, a restaurant, and a bar on the premises. The rooms are richly furnished, with TVs, stereo systems, and very nice bathrooms with granite bathtubs.
See All Hotels in Wine Country
As we keep moving south from Mendocino and Santa Rosa, we eventually reach Sonoma, one of the most famous destinations in California Wine Country.
It’s significantly bigger than Mendocino but significantly smaller than Santa Rosa, boasting a population of nearly 11,000 people. The surrounding urban area numbers about 32,000.
As one of the principal cities of the wine country, Sonoma is mostly visited for its wineries, its gorgeous historical downtown, and the Sonoma International Film Festival.
If your main goal for visiting the area is winning and dining and not much else, this small California city is the right choice for you. The number of wineries in the city and its wider urban area is downright incredible.
Here’s a list of the five most famous and most visited ones:
- Cline Cellars has garden cabanas, surrounded by ponds and beautiful nature.
- Jacuzzi Family Vineyards will make you feel like you’ve traveled to Tuscany.
- Gundlach Bundschu Winery has been going strong since 1858, and it’s a 2022 Travelers’ Choice selection.
- Buena Vista Winery is another 2022 Travelers’ Choice selection and a great unpretentious place.
- Repris Wines is where you can enjoy both the wine and the food, as well as learn about the specific history of the area.
Aside from the wineries, the city has a lot to offer. First, there’s the incredible old Sonoma Plaza — and generally the whole downtown — which radiates the city’s rich history, dating back to 1823, the founding year of Sonoma.
If you’re really interested in history, you should see the Sonoma State Historic Park, the Sonoma League-Historic Preservation, and General Vallejo’s Home. Like all the other cities in Wine Country, Sonoma offers tasty and high-quality food.
Both the wineries and the restaurants are first-class, usually serving something unusual or based on local and fresh ingredients. The accommodation options are quite balanced, and the city is suitable for budget and luxury visitors alike. All in all, a pretty all-around town.
Things to Do
- Sonoma offers some of the best wineries in the city, and if your main reason for visiting this part of America was to wine and dine yourself to exhaustion, this is the right place for you. We mentioned the five best vineyards, but here are others that are just as good: Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, Nicholson Ranch, Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery, Ram’s Gate Winery, and Hamel Family Wines.
- If you’re interested in history and not only food and wine, have in mind that they can go hand in hand quite easily. Some of the wineries are quite old, existing for more than 100 years, continuing the long tradition of the first missions. That’s why some places like Repris Wines offer not only nice food and drink but a valuable lesson in history and tradition.
- Sonoma also offers proper lessons in history in some interesting parks and museums, where you can learn about California’s early history and growing pains, closely interrelated with Spanish history, Mexican History, and Catholicism. Check out:
- The Sonoma State Historic Park
- The Sonoma League-Historic Preservation
- General Vallejo’s Home
- Definitely one of the main attractions of the city — besides the wineries — is Sonoma’s Plaza. The utmost center of the city is lined with beautiful buildings, a lot of fancy shops, restaurants, and coffee places. A lot of visitors go to Sonoma precisely to see the Plaza. Very close to it is also the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, which offers an interesting selection of local arts and artists.
Where to Eat
- LaSalette Restaurant is a 2022 Travelers’ Choice selection that mainly offers seafood, vegetarian, and vegan options. Their most famous dish is the fisherman’s stew, but the bass is also nice, as well as the cod and the paella. As you’d expect, the wine list is also quite extensive.
- Sunflower Caffé is another 2022 Travelers’ Choice, owned by a Hispanic/Latinx owner. It is mostly about healthy and vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes, and it’s a perfect place to have breakfast or brunch.
- the girl & the fig is a highly listed and award-winning restaurant, selected as the 2022 Travelers’ Choice. An American restaurant with French influences, it’s mainly about using fresh seasonal produce, and it boasts an extensive wine list.
Sonoma Budget Hotels
- Sonoma Creek Inn is a very cheap two-star accommodation located both very close to the historical center of Sonoma and some of its top wineries. It offers rooms with free Wi-Fi and parking, as well as rooms decorated with artwork and handicrafts.
- Motel 6-Petaluma, CA is a two-star motel located not precisely in Sonoma but in nearby Petaluma. It’s quite a nice place with an outdoor swimming pool, free Wi-Fi, completely pet-friendly premises, and facilities for disabled people.
Sonoma Mid-Range Hotels
- El Pueblo Inn is a decent three-star hotel located just two kilometers from Sonoma’s downtown. It has an outdoor pool, free parking, and free Wi-Fi, as well as a fitness center on the premises and gorgeous gardens and fountains. It’s especially attractive for couples.
- Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn & Krug Event Center is yet another three-star hotel, part of the famous Best Western chain of hotels. It offers an outdoor swimming pool, classically decorated rooms with TVs, coffee and tea machines, and a nice breakfast every morning.
Sonoma Luxury Hotels
- Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is a perfect place to stay if you want to feel like a celebrity. A super luxurious five-star hotel, it offers an outdoor swimming pool, a spa and wellness center, a golf course, and a lot of on-site dining options. The place is particularly suitable for couples.
- The Lodge at Sonoma Resort, Autograph Collection is a very luxurious four-star hotel located just outside of Sonoma’s historic downtown. The hotel is pet-friendly and has facilities for disabled people, an outdoor pool, a restaurant, and a bar on the premises.
See All Hotels in Wine Country
4. Bodega Bay
Bodega Bay is more of a village than a town, located around 20 miles from Santa Rosa and 40 miles from Sonoma. Like the already mentioned Mendocino, it is firmly located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Because of its fantastic surroundings, the stunning coastline, and the general sense of well-being, it served as the backdrop to many famous movies, like The Goonies and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Unlike the other cities and areas on our list, its primary activities and attractions are not connected to either wine or wineries.
Aside from the very beautiful place called Sonoma Coast Vineyards — which is a unique phenomenon in this part of the Wine Country — most of the things that are worth seeing and doing in Bodega Bay are about the sea.
There are three beaches in the wider area around the village: Bodega Head (a 2022 Travelers’ Choice selection), Doran Beach, and Sonoma Coast State Beach – Salmon Creek. All of them offer something different to the potential visitor.
Bodega Head is a perfect whale-watching viewpoint, and it’s just something that you have to experience first-hand. Doran Beach, on the other hand, is a challenging windsurfing beach.
Lastly, the Sonoma Coast State is just a regular beach, perfect for relaxing, but given that it’s on the Pacific coast, it’s just special. Bodega Bay is maybe small, but it has its charm, mainly because of its not-so-short history.
Besides, given its proximity to both Sonoma and Santa Rosa, you can use the beachfront as your exploration base for further trips into the wine region.
In terms of cultural attractions, Bodega Bay’s two most important buildings in the village are located right next to each other. There’s the Potter Schoolhouse, famous for appearing in Alfred Hitchkok’s Birds, and St. Teresa of Avila Church, the main religious building in the area.
Two more things: the restaurants in Bodega Bay are marvelous, mainly in the seafood department. The accommodation options are not so perfect, at least in terms of price, as most of the hotels are quite expensive due to the beautiful sea view.
Things to Do
- Bodega Bay, unlike the other cities mentioned in this guide dedicated to the California Wine Country, is not popular for its vineyards. But the coastline, the beaches, and the marina are all simply marvelous. Most of the hotels have their private beachfront, and the best thing you can do is to relax and sunbathe at some not-very-crowded beach and enjoy the beautiful waters of the Pacific Ocean. The more popular beaches, such as Bodega Head and Doran Beach, offer activities such as whale watching and windsurfing.
- Going around this small city and learning its secrets can be really fun. Alfred Hitchcock was not a fool to select this part of America for filming some of his most important movies. Vertigo was shot in San Francisco and the Mission San Francisco de Asís, but parts of Birds was filmed precisely in Bodega Bay, and Potter Schoolhouse is an undeniable witness to that fact.
- Finally, Bodega Bay is perfect for nature lovers. If you love parks, here you’ll find the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail, which is great for hiking. Westside Regional Park is also attractive, offering more than 50 campsites. If you’re really into hiking, take the Pinnacle Gulch Coastal Access Trail; if you prefer fishing, go to Hagemann Ranch Trout Fishing; lastly, for horse riding, Chanslor Ranch. As you can see for yourself, there’s something for everybody around here.
Where to Eat
- Terrapin Creek Cafe is an American restaurant that mainly serves local dishes but also has many vegetarian and vegan options. In a 2022 Travelers’ Choice selection and a Michelin star restaurant of this stature — with great seafood — we recommend that you try the crab cake and the oysters.
- Spud Point Crab Company is another 2022 Travelers’ Choice selection and another great place to savor fresh seafood fished from the Pacific Ocean. It offers arguably the best clam chowder and the best crab sandwiches in the wider area.
- Fisherman’s Cove is — you guessed it — yet another 2022 Travelers’ Choice selection, but this time, located very close to the Westside Regional Park and Campground. It’s a casual and relaxed place that’s mainly famous for the oyster prepared with a special homemade sauce.
Bodega Bay Budget Hotels
- Valley Ford Hotel is a relatively cheap two-star hotel located around eight and a half miles from Bodega Bay. The whole place is decorated in beautiful rustic decor, offers free Wi-Fi and parking, and has a restaurant and a bar on the premises.
- Jenner Inn is a cheap three-star hotel that hangs somewhere in between a great budget and a decent mid-range hotel. Located around ten and a half miles north of Bodega Bay, it offers rooms with river views, tea and coffee machines in every room, and a nice breakfast.
Bodega Bay Mid-Range Hotels
- The Inn at the Tides is a great three-star hotel located at the heart of Bodega Bay and around one and a half miles from the beach. It offers an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub and sauna, rooms with a view of the bay, and a nice breakfast.
- Bodega Bay Inn is a very cheap three-star hotel just five minutes away from the Pacific Ocean. Again, it’s a hotel located inside the city, and it has free Wi-Fi and free parking all around the stone-made premises, as well as a great common room and private toiletries.
Bodega Bay Luxury Hotels
- The Lodge at Bodega Bay is a superb four-star hotel and definitely one of the best accommodations in the wider Bodega Bay area. It has — among other things — an outdoor swimming pool, rooms with cable TVs, private bathrooms, free Wi-Fi, and a bar on the premises.
- Nick’s Cove is an extremely beautiful four-star hotel located a bit further from Bodega Bay — the distance amounts to around 18 miles or 30 minutes by car. However, the distance is definitely worth it, as it has a famous on-site restaurant, a private beach, and luxuriously equipped individual cottages.
See All Hotels in Wine Country
Now let’s do a quick jump over San Francisco and San Jose and head straight to the south, to the beautiful Pacific city of Monterey. Again, after the miniature Bodega Bay and Mendocino, we are talking about a city in the true sense of the word.
With its 30,000 people, it is significantly bigger than Sonoma but not as big as Santa Rosa. All around and inside the city, you’ll see wineries that look like they jumped directly out of somebody’s dream.
Probably the combination of the nice buildings and the nearby Pacific is what creates the specific magic.
Make sure you visit the following places:
- Folktale Winery & Vineyard
- Holman Ranch
- Joullian Vineyards & Winery
- Caraccioli Cellars
- Scheid Vineyards
Quite obviously, and very similar to Bodega Bay, most of the attractions in Monterey — aside from the vineyards — are connected to the ocean.
Other than that, if you’ve come here by car, we recommend that you take the 17-Mile Drive. It’s one of the best scenic drives in this part of America, offering an unforgettable view of the Pacific Ocean, as well as the pelicans, sea lions, and seals that move along its shores.
For a closer and clearer picture of the marine life around the ocean, go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the second biggest attraction in the city. It has more than 80,000 types of animals and plants.
Finally, if you’re into hiking, the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail is great and picturesque. For relaxed strolling, Old Fisherman’s Wharf is an authentic experience with a multitude of shops along the way.
If you’re visiting with kids, Dennis the Menace Park will be their favorite pastime. To wrap things up, we have to emphasize that the accommodation options in Monterey are numerous and various since the city is on the larger side.
There’s something for everybody and in all price ranges. It also has some great foreign restaurants — the Asian and Polynesian ones are a true treat, but there are also more traditional European restaurants that are just as good.
Things to Do
- Again, the wineries have to be your main focus while staying at Monterey. The specific climate and surroundings offer a genuinely unforgettable experience and a lot of nice food and wine. We already gave a short list of the best places in the region, but here are a few others that are equally sublime: Pierce Ranch Vineyards Tasting Room, Ventana Vineyards, Boekenoogen Winery Tasting Room, and Hahn Estate Winery.
- Monterey offers one of the most famous American tourist attractions, one of the things that are probably endemic to America since it offers breathtaking sights along perfect roads: the scenic drive. The 17-Mile Drive is a nationwide attraction that leads you along the shores of the Pacific Ocean, offering a panoramic view of the natural beauty and the animals living near the shores.
- All of the cities in California Wine Country have their fair share of history to offer to their visitors, and Monterey is no exception to this rule. The Cannery Row is, coincidently, a famous historical landmark and a central location for the city’s culture and entertainment life. Colton Hall Museum is a 19th-century building and a former public school, which has been transformed into a museum.
Where to Eat
- Crystal Fish is a Japanese restaurant that specializes in sushi and seafood. A 2022 Travelers’ Choice selection (most of the foreign restaurants in Monterey are great), it offers food prepared with fresh ingredients, an authentic atmosphere, and a nice bar.
- Estéban Restaurant is a Spanish and Mediterranean restaurant. You can try the usual specialties like the paella, the tapas, and the patatas bravas, as well as a lot of fresh and very tasty seafood.
- Hula’s Island Grill is an interesting combination of an American Bar and a Polynesian restaurant. Yet another 2022 Travelers’ Choice selection, here you’ll find dishes from both traditions, a relaxed atmosphere, and great drinks.
Monterey Budget Hotels
- Pacific Inn Monterey is a very cheap two-star hotel with free Wi-Fi and free parking that’s only five minutes away from the Monterey Peninsula Airport. A particularly suitable place for couples, it also has an on-site restaurant and facilities for disabled guests.
- Arbor Inn Monterey is another cheap but decent two-star hotel located just to the south of Monterey downtown. Again, we have free Wi-Fi, free parking, facilities for disabled people, and spacious rooms with a microwave, ironing facilities, and a refrigerator.
Monterey Mid-Range Hotels
- Travelodge by Wyndham Monterey Bay is a relatively cheap three-star hotel with an outdoor swimming pool. It is completely pet-friendly, and it has facilities for disabled people, a bar, a restaurant, and a fitness center on the premises.
- Best Western Park Crest Inn is a decent three-star hotel, part of the reliable Best Western chain of hotels. It boasts an outdoor pool, free Wi-Fi, free parking, spacious and classically furnished family rooms, and a tasty breakfast in the morning.
Monterey Luxury Hotels
- Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa is a very luxurious and expensive five-star hotel, part of the famous and exclusive Hyatt chain of hotels. It offers — among other things — an outdoor swimming pool, spa and wellness center, a business center, and a bar on the premises.
- Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa is another very luxurious five-star hotel, this time located right next to the shore of the Pacific Ocean. It has an on-site restaurant, pub, and a bar, facilities for disabled people, a spa and wellness center, a fitness center, and a rooftop bar.
See All Hotels in Wine Country
So, Where Should You Stay in California Wine Country?
No article, aside from a 500-page book, can be a complete guide to the California Wine Country. But, having already covered Napa Valley (together with St. Helena and Calistoga) in another article and adding the five places in this guide, we are slowly but surely reaching our goal. That being said, let’s do a short recap.
- Mendocino is a small coastal town with a lot of wineries, a fine shore, and a bunch of parks. But, because of its size, it is not particularly suitable for budget travelers since it doesn’t offer many cheap hotels.
- Santa Rosa is the biggest city in our guide and one of the biggest in the larger area. Due to its size, it’s the most versatile and all-around in its offer and a perfect place for visitors who are on a budget because of its many two-star hotels.
- Sonoma, together with Napa, is definitely the most popular destination in the California Wine Country. It offers a bunch of vineyards, a pretty and historical downtown, and a lot of beautiful hotels and restaurants.
- Bodega Bay is another coastal place that’s more of a village than a city. It’s not particularly famous for its wine or vineyards, but it offers a bunch of water-related activities.
- Monterey, located to the south of San Francisco (all the other cities in our guide are on the northern side), is the second-biggest city on our list. Yet another coastal city, it strikes a nice balance between vineyards, ocean-related activities, and affordable accommodations.
As we’ve shown you, there are far more places to stay in California Wine Country than you might think. So, with so much to see and do and eat and drink, what are you waiting for — book your trip today!