So you’re thinking of going to northern California, but not sure where to start?

There is plenty to cover in one trip, so you need to plan well to make the most of it. Combining the cool streets of San Francisco with the prestigious wine regions of the north is a perfect way to introduce yourself to the northern part of the ‘Golden State’.

Take a look at our quick guide to the best places to stop and stay on your first trip to northern California, and inspire some California dreaming tonight…

Northern California

Stop 1 – San Francisco

‘The city by the bay’, San Francisco is a must for anyone who loves a city break. With its magical Golden Gate bridge shrouded in mystical fog, this vibrant city is the perfect place to start a northern California adventure.

View of San Francisco, northern California, Lombard Street
The view from the top of Lombard Street at sunrise

Where to stay…

Union Square is the central hub of the city and is the top spot for shopping, with every fashion label you could hope to find setting up stall in the area. The central plaza is pretty and green with a lively, yet chic atmosphere, and you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy in the evening.

The St Regis San Francisco is a fantastic spot to base yourself if Union Square appeals to you, being just two blocks from the centre of the action. The lobby has a real buzz, and is a popular hangout for locals – make sure you stop for the Art of Tea, a proud tradition of the hotel, and one of the best modern interpretations of Afternoon Tea you will find on the Pacific coast.

The St Regis San Francisco
The Lobby Bar at The St Regis San Francisco

The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco is a classic place to stay, set within a building dating back to 1909 in the Nob Hill neighbourhood, which is one of the original ‘Seven Hills’ of San Francisco. If you are embarking on an adventure into the wine regions, this is a great place to start. The hotel boasts The JCB Tasting Lounge, offering a chance to sample some of the world’s rarest wines in a fabulously fashionable setting. It is also based right on the California Street tram line, meaning you can zip up and down the city with ease!

Another good option for basing yourself while in San Francisco is at Fisherman’s Wharf. With more of a local flavour, fishermen have been coming and going from this port since the dawn of the Gold Rush. Here, you can watch the sea lions jump up onto Pier 39 or catch a boat to Alcatraz from Pier 33. If you like seafood, you will also love the fresh fish, which is served up in restaurants along the waterfront.

The Argonaut – A Noble House Hotel  is one of Fisherman’s Wharf’s most sought-after spots. Set in an old converted warehouse, dating back to 1907 (almost ancient history by Californian standards!), the nautical interiors really give you a sense of place. It even has a cute little Maritime Museum next door, while delicious homemade chowder is served in the restaurant!

Stop 2 – Sonoma

Straight up the coast from San Francisco, Sonoma is only about an hour’s drive away from the city. The coast here is ruggedly beautiful, and if you need a break from the four-hundred-plus wineries, there are beautiful walking trails, redwoods and rivers to explore in the surrounding area.

Farmhouse Inn, Sonoma, California
Farmhouse Inn, Sonoma

Where to Stay…

California’s wine regions are equally appreciated for their food, with plenty of emphasis on fresh, organic and locally produced ingredients. To get a taste for yourself, stay at the delightfully boutique Farmhouse Inn and enjoy the tasting menu created by the Michelin-starred chef. Alternatively, snuggle up by your own fireplace with a plate of cheese and wine, gather around the firepit for some toasty s’mores and look out for Giles, the inn’s adorable resident cat!

If you want a stop-over on your way to Napa Valley, Timber Cove is a great find. Sat right on the coast, the setting is spectacular, while the quirky interiors draw in young crowds from the city looking for a country retreat. Throw a record on your own Crosley record player and take it easy, or grab a blanket and head out to gaze at the stars.

San Francisco to Sonoma

Stop 3 – Napa Valley

One of the world’s most prestigious wine regions, Napa Valley is a place of pilgrimage for many wine fans. Its fertile soils have produced an array of prized bottles, and the beauty of these rolling vineyard pulls in visitors for all the right reasons. Located adjacent to Sonoma and approximately an hour and a half from San Francisco, no trip to northern California is complete without dropping by.

Napa Valley Vineyards, California
Rows of grapevines in Napa Valley at sunset

Where to Stay…

High-end luxury prevails in Napa Valley, with Meadowood Napa Valley leading the way. This country club-style retreat offers golf, tennis and croquet for the ultimate American prep experience, plus a Michelin-starred restaurant with a fourteen-course tasting menu – it’s the talk of the town in northern California.

A newcomer on the scene, Las Alcobas, A Luxury Collection Hotel is a more modern option, and is within walking distance of five wineries and the town of St Helena. It also lays claim to being the only hotel actually based on a vineyard, meaning you can savour the views from around the firepit on your private terrace.

While in Napa Valley, most people hope to experience a dinner at French Laundry, the longstanding and critically acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurant in Yountville. Founder, Thomas Keller, bought the historic building back in 1994, and it quickly gained status as the place to eat in Napa. Stay at Bardessono to be within walking distance of French Laundry, and for eco-conscious travellers, relax easy in the mind that this hotel has a deep commitment to environmentally friendly initiatives.

Sonoma to Napa Valley

Feeling Inspired?

For more information or to make an enquiry about northern California, please call our expert Travel Consultants on 01244 897 578 or visit