The Ultimate Wine Country Food Tour

California’s Napa Valley is one of the most visited and adored wine regions in the world. And while it may not receive quite as much hype, neighboring Sonoma Valley is an equally worthy destination sitting just on the other side of the Mayacamas Mountains. Between the two valleys, there are nearly 1,000 wineries to choose from. It’s kind of a staggering number, but perhaps less surprising if you consider that California produces (depending on the source) somewhere between 80 to 90% of the wine in the U.S.

If you visit wine country, you may be tempted to think it’s all about the vino. However, both Napa and Sonoma are veritable heavyweights when it comes to food culture. Collectively boasting roughly 70,000 acres of agricultural land, nearly two dozen local creameries, and seven Michelin-starred restaurants, you can put together one heck of a wine and food getaway here.

To help get you started, we complied a list of some of our favorite restaurants and artisanal products we found during our stay in Sonoma. There is an unfathomable amount of deliciousness to be found here in wine country, and we had to use some serious restraint to keep from emptying our wallets on the various gourmet goodies we kept discovering. We hope you enjoy these gems as much as we did.

The Olive Press (Sonoma)

If you love a good olive oil or flavorful balsamic, this is a great place to start. A family-owned and operated business, The Olive Press was Sonoma’s first olive mill. Founded in 1995, the owners maintain a commitment to quality and sustainability, using 100% hand-harvested, California-grown olives.

You can pop into The Olive Press’ cute shop and grab a bottle, or hang out for a tasting. Their 40-minute olive oil tastings cost $20 per person, and they even host an assortment of food-focused classes and events. Conveniently, The Olive Press’ owners also own Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, which is housed in the same Tuscan-style estate that was modeled after the family’s ancestral home in Italy. As such, you could also make a reservation for their Taste of Italy and sample both their wines and olive oils. Two birds, one stone.

If you like a more robust olive oil, the award-winning Koroneiki is a great option. If you prefer a lighter oil, the Arbequina has a beautiful flavor. It’s on the mild side, but is really delicious – as exemplified by the recent number of gold medals it’s collected in local competitions.

Our favorite pick of all, though, was not an olive oil. Rather, it was their white peach balsamic. Oh my gosh, is this stuff good. If you really want to sample one of the best things on the planet, make a dip using the white peach balsamic and one of the aforementioned olive oils. Then head twenty minutes up the road to Della Fattoria in neighboring Petaluma and grab a freshly-baked boule of their rosemary/Meyer lemon bread. Seriously… one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

Journeyman Meat Co. (Healdsburg)

Located in quaint downtown Healdsburg, Journeyman Meat Co. is a high-end salumeria that offers a variety of small-batch salumi crafted from locally-sourced and butchered meat. Journeyman’s meat is all ethically-raised on small family farms, and the recipes have been handed down from owner Peter Seghesio’s Italian grandparents. If you recognize the name, Peter is also the one behind Seghesio Vineyards’ familiar Zinfandels.

In addition to selling chubs of their slow-cured salumi, Journeyman also offers an exceptionally impressive tasting platter that allows you to choose six selections from their menu of about a dozen artisanal meats. The thing is massive – and accompanied by sides of olives, cornichons, bread and cheese – so either show up really hungry, or bring someone to share it with. When Sanchez laid eyes on her special daddy-and-me lunch, we thought she was going to wiggle herself right off the bench.

While Stephan was in love with pretty much everything he sampled (by the time we left Sonoma, he’d tried nearly everything they offered), his top two were the Fattoria and Parmesan & Porcini. An Italian salumi with red chilies and orange zest, the Fattoria was also hailed by my parents as one of the best they’ve ever tasted (second only to their Italian friend’s hand-made Soppressata). The fact that Stephan chose the latter as one of his favorites just about blew my mind. He vehemently abhors any type of mushroom and will rarely touch a dish that includes them. The fact that he even wanted to sample this one made me think I knew nothing about him after nineteen years together. I guess it really speaks to the flavors of their meat.

If you’re wandering around Healdsburg, definitely pop in here for a salumi board. Or if salumi’s not your thing, they also offer a sausage trio or a handful of sandwich selections. You can even do a wine and salumi flight! If you’re elsewhere in wine country, you can grab a chub from a number of craft grocers (including Sonoma Market or Oxbow Market).

Bohemian Creamery (Sebastopol)

Bohemian Creamery sits on a quiet plot of land between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, and less than a mile from the 22-mile-long wetland complex, Laguna de Santa Rosa. The cheesemaker touts itself as ‘one of Sonoma County’s most creative artisanal creameries’ and, based on some of their unique cheese flavors, we’re inclined to believe them.

Bohemian Creamery handcrafts about a dozen unique cheeses, and offers a tasting board of their full lineup so you can sample their creations. Some of their more intriguing flavors include the Turf ‘n’ Surf, a goat’s milk cheese coated in nori seaweed that’s harvested from the Mendocino Coast; and the El Californio, a Jersey cow cheese laced with espresso bean and roasted bay nut.

The creamery is open for tastings and cheeseboards Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and also offers tours Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. Their cheese flight – designed to serve two – costs $35 and is served with freshly-grilled focaccia. For those vegetarians out there, all of Bohemian Creamery’s products are made with purely vegetarian rennet. While this mindfully-crafted cheese flight is intended for two humans, we’d be remiss to note that it also suits one person and a 25-pound street dog just fine.

This may have been Sanchez’s favorite adventure in all of wine country. She hopped up on a chair at the picnic table as if she were person, not dog, and one of royal pedigree to boot. When she found out that this was, in fact, her cheeseboard, she lit up with the elation of a child that discovered a pony under the tree on Christmas morning. And while Stephan’s excitement couldn’t quite match that of a former street dog destined to scavenge for discarded scraps, he massively enjoyed his tasting as well.

Stephan awarded first prize to Bohemian’s Discreet Charms, a sheep’s milk cheese infused with saffron and toasted peppercorn, while Sanchez went absolutely off the rails for the La Bomba. Described as a ‘nugget of stink and ooze,’ this cow’s milk cheese is washed in locally-made hard cider and is known for its ‘signature odor.’ Even our cheese guide said this one was usually a little too adventurous for most people.

While she may not be able to sample the world-class wines here in wine country, Sanchez sure did enjoy her special cheese flight. If you’re looking for something different to do while you’re in town that pairs nicely with wine, consider checking out the local cheesemakers. The California Cheese Trail runs right through the heart of Sonoma Valley, and the California Artisan Cheese Festival also takes place each spring in Sonoma County. Sanchez highly recommends crafting a Sonoma Valley ‘Tour de Fromage.’

Pro tip: Make Bohemian Creamery the start of your own wine country cheese tour! There are seventeen artisan cheesemakers in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys which are part of the larger California Cheese Trail. This online resources offers a map of local cheesemakers with pre-made driving tours by region, and can also be used to build your own cheese-tasting itinerary.

Auberge du Soleil (Rutherford)

One of the first fine-dining establishments to put wine country on the culinary map was the Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil. Perched on a hillside in Rutherford in the heart of Napa Valley, this acclaimed local hotel and restaurant offers sweeping panoramas of Napa’s rolling vineyards. It’s hard to decide which is better at the Auberge… the views or the food. While the vistas are routinely touted as some of the best in the valley, the cuisine is what has cemented the Auberge’s 40-year legacy as a ‘must visit’ restaurant.

The Auberge du Soleil has won an impressive 15 consecutive Michelin stars under the expertise and talent of Executive Chef Robert Curry. His one-Michelin-starred restaurant offers a rotating menu that’s crafted around locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients. Unlike many Michelin-starred restaurants with a set menu, you can craft your own multi-course tasting from a larger, prix fixe menu that offers about a half dozen selections per course. The best part? The kitchen will even accommodate certain dietary restrictions. There are several vegetarian selections for each course, and at least one of those for each course is (or can be made) vegan. With veganism usually stymieing my dining opportunities, I was beyond excited to be able to actually partake in such a cool experience.

If wine is your jam (you’re in Napa after all), the Auberge du Soleil also boasts a mind-blowing 15,000-bottle cellar. The wine list is presented on a tablet with probably 100 pages to scroll through, and even sports the occasional $10,000 to $16,000 bottle.

While the rare bottle prices will make you scratch your head and wonder, ‘how in the world can someone pay for that?’, the restaurant is actually surprisingly affordable considering it’s a Michelin-starred establishment. Moreover, if you’re on a tighter budget, you can sample this exquisite menu for lunch – which costs about half the price of dinner.

A three-course lunch at the Auberge du Soleil can be had for $85 and includes a starter, main, and dessert, while the two-course lunch menu (you choose the two courses) is just $70. A three-course dinner costs $150, while the full four-course dinner is $175. For food of this caliber, we thought the quality and experience was easily worth the price.

Stephan and I took my parents here for a surprise lunch to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. The meal, the service, the location… everything was impeccable. It was so amazing, in fact, that just three weeks later we returned with my friend and her mom to celebrate my bestie’s recent 40th birthday. It was such a treat to be able to share such special memories with some of our favorite people, and all were equally pleased with their experience.

Some of the incredible menu items we all sampled, and loved, included creations such as: asparagus soup with Dungeness crab served tableside; lemon-glazed pork belly; pan-seared yellowfin tuna with avocado, spinach and Tokyo turnips; northern halibut with an onion crust and ramp coulis; crispy artichokes with yellow-eyed beans and gremolata; Iberian pork with asparagus, sunchoke puree and pickled kumquat; and cabernet-braised short rib with Bordelaise sauce. For dessert: key lime posset with young coconut sorbet; Mexican chocolate crémeux with honey orange blossom cream, cardamom ice milk and candied kumquat; chocolate mousse torte with peanut croquant, vanilla caramel and Michter’s rye ice cream; bananas fosters mille-feuille with tamarind cream and Ceylon cinnamon ice cream; Manila mango tres leches cake with lime meringue and chili caramel; and mango, young coconut and rhubarb sorbets.

Let me finish by being super transparent here… We are by no stretch food critics or well-versed with Michelin-rated cuisine. In fact, this was our first Michelin restaurant – something that was blatantly obvious to anyone who caught us staring quizzically at the French sauce spoons (thank goodness one of us didn’t try to send back our ‘dented’ cutlery). Additionally, being vegan, my fine dining experiences can probably be counted on one hand (although I do know a well-cooked beet or legume when I see one). Take our lack of sophistication for what you will when making your decision, but six very green diners all had a tremendously fantastic experience here… and maybe all ended up a little more urbane in the process.

If you’re looking to treat yourself to one splurge meal while you’re in wine country, the Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil is the one we would most recommend. Advanced reservations are required, and the menu, hours, and booking info can all be found here.

Aside: As I was writing this entry, I learned that just last week (July 2023) the Auberge du Soleil was awarded their 16th consecutive Michelin star. An impressive feat for sure and, in our opinion, tremendously well-deserved.

Bouchon Bistro (Yountville)

Just two blocks down the street from world-renowned restaurant The French Laundry, you’ll find another culinary masterpiece from Chef Thomas Keller: Bouchon Bistro. The man boasts quite the resume of culinary accomplishments, and seems to collect Michelin stars faster than my leggings collect Sanchez hair. Boasting a total of seven stars, he’s ranked as one of the top 10 Michelin Star Chefs in the world.

If you can’t afford (quite likely) or can’t secure (almost guaranteed) a reservation at Keller’s The French Laundry, neighboring Bouchon is a more accessible and budget-friendly way to sample some of the famed chef’s cuisine. Since it was my parents’ first trip to wine country, a bucket list destination for my mom, and their sapphire wedding anniversary, we figured they couldn’t go home without also making a trip to Bouchon.

As previously mentioned, none of us is a culinary sophisticate – as evidenced, this time around, when I had a Pretty Woman moment and launched a pistachio clear across the room. Counterintuitively, I guess the ‘slippery little suckers’ lend more class when served in their shells? But I digress…

Our experience at Bouchon was certainly a good one. The small café has the charm of a cozy French bistro, with a staff that’s attentive and friendly. And while it paled in comparison to the tome at the Auberge, Bouchon also boasts an overwhelming wine program and assortment of craft cocktails. Keller’s bistro also has an extensive raw bar, and the menu is designed around local, seasonal ingredients.

The menu was top-notch, and my mom said the warm asparagus salad with poached egg was one of the best things she’s ever eaten. My dad raved about the sautéed rainbow trout with haricot verts, toasted almonds, and brown butter sauce; while Stephan enjoyed his olive oil poached cod. For dessert, both the gianduja Paris-Brest and classic chocolate entremets were hits at the table.

Oxbow Public Market (Napa)

A local gathering place for food, wine, and craft beer, Napa’s Oxbow Public Market sits just off 1st Street along the Napa River. The marketplace is committed to supporting local farmers and business owners, and offers a variety of shops and restaurants as well as a place for producers to sell organic and sustainably-grown crops. Here, you can find Napa and Sonoma wines, artisanal meats and cheeses, handcrafted chocolates, locally-produced olive oils, and a host of local food vendors.

We made a couple trips to Oxbow Market while we were staying in neighboring Sonoma, and found a slew of great places to grab a bite. Some of our favorites: Hog Island Oysters, Gott’s Roadside, Loveski Deli, and Model Bakery. The Olive Press (see above) also has a small kiosk inside the market.

As for food: Hog Island’s oysters are sustainably-farmed just fifty miles west in Tomales Bay. The company started forty years ago and is staunchly committed to providing a farm-to-plate experience that uses environmentally-minded practices. My dad was super excited to stop here, and ordered their Oyster Bar Mix – a ‘flight’ of six different oysters. We were all curious to know if they would taste different, or if you could even have a favorite oyster. Much to my surprise, his answer was yes (and for the curious, it was the ‘valley pearl’).

For those looking for a sandwich or burger for lunch – perhaps something less fishy – stop by Gott’s Roadside or Loveski Deli. The former serves a variety of California-inspired cuisine using local ingredients, and was recognized as a James Beard America’s Classic. A self-proclaimed Jew-“ish” deli, Loveski sells sourdough bagels, cured and smoked meat sandwiches, and fermented veggies harvested from their family farm. Stephan had their pastrami sandwich and said it ranked second only to Sam LaGrassa’s world-famous monster in Boston (about the highest praise one can get).  And if you’re looking to try the English muffins that twice made Oprah’s list of favorite things, head over to Model Bakery.

This vibrant market is a mecca for great local food, and you can even enjoy your order at a picnic table on the riverside deck that runs along the back of the building. And if you’re into craft beer – and wicked good hopped-up IPAs – Fieldwork Brewing is just next door.

Glen Ellen Star (Glen Ellen)

Most people have probably never heard of the humble hamlet of Glen Ellen. Until we arrived at our house three miles up in the road in Sonoma, we certainly hadn’t. With a population of just 1,200 people, the entire town essentially exists along a one-mile stretch of Arnold Drive. By no means does Glen Ellen spring to mind when someone mentions wine country. However, maybe it should. For such a small settlement, Glen Ellen boasts quite the collection of high-end restaurants and wineries.

Tucked between the rolling greenspaces of Sonoma Valley Regional Park, Jack London State Historic Park and Bouverie Wildflower Preserve, the once reviled residence of writer Hunter S. Thompson now boasts a charming downtown centered around some really nice eateries. One of those is the Glen Ellen Star.

Another restaurant that prides itself on using locally-grown ingredients, the Glen Ellen Star sources most of their produce from a nearby biodynamic farm whose gardens are planted in the rich, volcanic soils of Sonoma Mountain. Additionally, the restaurant’s executive chef was named Food & Wine People’s Best New Chef in 2015 and spent two years mastering his craft at The French Laundry.

Aside from the Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, this is one of the pricier options on our list. That said, when Stephan caught wind of an interesting sounding pizza, he decided he just had to try it.

Since it was one of our last nights in wine country, we figured we’d have one last indulgence. Stephan’s wood-fired sourdough crust was topped with spicy salami, red onion, Calabrian chili honey, and fresh basil. He always loves sampling a unique pizza, and he was duly impressed with this one. Since there was one vegan option on the menu, I figured I’d give it a whirl. It was a pile of Japanese sweet potatoes served with sunflower seed sofrito, chickpea puree, and crispy sunchoke chips. It sounded interesting and turned out to be really delicious. It was a little more than we’d typically spend, but worth the experience.

The Mill at Glen Ellen (Glen Ellen)

If you’re looking for a bit of history in a storybook setting, head to The Mill at Glen Ellen. Here you’ll find a 19th-century mill enveloped by forests and flowers at the edge of Sonoma Creek. First built as a sawmill in the 1830s by Sonoma’s founder, General Vallejo, the building was converted into a grist mill before becoming one of the region’s first wineries in the 1850s.

Today, the historic building is a restaurant – and one that was met with an unimaginably challenging start. Opening a restaurant in general seems like one of the most difficult and daunting endeavors. Doing it in the middle of a pandemic, however, seems all but impossible. Glen Ellen’s chef and co-owner somehow made it happen. After spending more than a year renovating the nearly 200-year-old former mill into his dream restaurant space, COVID struck. With the service industry suffering the greatest hit, many well-established eateries were shuttering their doors. Despite the many challenges, though, Sanjeev and his wife persevered, managing to open their doors at the height of the pandemic in the summer of 2020.

With limited staff and indoor dining restrictions, The Mill focused on eco-friendly takeaway, with bamboo plates and biodegradable packaging and cutlery. Today, with most COVID-related restrictions a thing of the past, you can finally enjoy a meal in their renovated indoor space, or on the lovely, forested deck overlooking Sonoma Creek.

The Mill at Glen Ellen serves up a variety of modern American cuisine inspired by global dishes and flavors. The menu has a bit of everything – from wraps and a handful of plated entrees to their famous wood-fired pizzas and flatbreads. They even offer an assortment of vegetarian and vegan entrees and desserts.

Stephan loved his Wagyu steak burger, while my dad enjoyed the Rachel on Rye. My mom said her chili was the best she’s ever had, and my meal was equally exciting – vegan masala potato patties finished with a ginormous dish of vegan chocolate mousse with berries for dessert.

If you’re looking for a great meal and to support a wonderful local business, swing by The Mill at Glen Ellen. Sanjeev and his staff are the friendliest, most welcoming bunch you will meet. You can tell he genuinely appreciates his customers and newfound success, and is eager to please every diner after such an arduous journey in creating his culinary dream. After pouring so much into opening this restaurant, we hope they have a long and successful future.

Los Agaves (Napa)

With two locations in downtown Napa – a brick and mortar and food truck – it should be pretty easy to get your hands on some of Los Agaves’ tasty Mexican cuisine. The owner has worked in the restaurant industry for twenty years, and began his own business to honor his Mexican heritage.

Stephan popped into the small Mexican joint at the recommendation of a local friend. Her suggestions? The quesabirrias and a margarita. Since he was just up the road having the Subie serviced, he figured it was the perfect time for a visit. Since it was 11 a.m., however, he did ultimately skip out on the marg.

When he returned home a few hours later, Stephan was raving about the food. As he waved a pic in front of my face, he exclaimed that the birria-style beef was cooked to perfection, and the accompanying dipping broth exceptional. Honestly, I was kind of surprised he was so stoked about such a simple dish, but he was. If you need to grab a quick bite in Napa and are craving some good Mexican food, we’ll also pass this suggestion along.

Need more wine country food?

  • Love hopped-up IPAs? We’ve compiled a list of our favorite craft breweries.
  • How about cheese? Stephan and I crafted some at-home charcuterie boards so that family and friends could sample some local fare while sipping wine on our gorgeous little backyard terrace. The winning cheese was Laura Chenel’s orange blossom honey goat cheese – a small business that began in Sebastopol but is now much larger and more commercial. Some other favorites you may want to explore:
  • Because wine country is an absolute behemoth when it comes to food culture, we clearly didn’t make it to every place on our list. Here are some spots we habitually heard great things about and didn’t make it to:
  • And since wine country is still kind of about the wine, here were some of our favorite vineyards in Sonoma Valley.
  • Still need more? How about a couple Napa Valley wineries just for good measure? We had great experiences at both Bouchaine and Corison. The former has a gorgeous terrace, is one of the few wineries that lets you build your own tasting flight. They also sell these killer pinot noir chocolate-covered cherries. The latter is a small, woman-owned winery that offers a nice cab tasting overlooking the vineyards. The cabs are a bit-more fruit-forward than the traditional style, but tasty and thoughtfully crafted.

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