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It’s no surprise that California leads the way in the U.S. as the Golden State is the fourth-largest producer of wine in the world. Only Italy, France and Spain exceed its production. Though wine is now produced in all 50 U.S. states, California wines comprise 80 to 90% of the U.S. total.

California wine production has a rich viticulture history since the late 1600s when Spanish Jesuit missionaries cultivated vines native to the Mediterranean region in their established missions to produce sacramental wines for Holy Communion.


Vines of Temecula
Vines of Temecula (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

Fast forward, and these fruits of the vine continued yielding amazing vintages year after year. This bountiful harvest coupled with talented winemakers made California very competitive in world wine competitions. Today, we rival the best of the best winemaking regions in the world.

Though Napa and Sonoma are the most well-known of California’s winemaking regions, there are many others producing impressive award-winning wines. These off-the-beaten-path and more under-the-radar locales are some of California’s best-kept secrets. Not just because of their amazing wines, but also the culture, landscape, food, and fun that accompany them.

Oak Farm Vineyards Winery
Oak Farm Vineyards Winery (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)


It’s an area often missed by visitors to Northern California’s more renowned wine regions, but it shouldn’t be. Located 85 miles east of San Francisco Bay and only 35 miles from Sacramento, Lodi is highly regarded as the Zinfandel capital of the world, producing more than 40 percent of California’s premium red grape. It’s also one of the fastest-growing wine regions in the U.S.

This picturesque region produces more wine grapes than any other California appellation, boasting 85-plus wineries sporting over 100 different varietals.

One of our favorite Lodi wineries is Oak Farm Vineyards, a family-owned and operated 70-acre estate. Originally established in 1860, the property in the San Joaquin Valley is one of the state’s most breathtaking pieces of land.

Residing along the banks of the Mokelumne River surrounded by majestic centuries-old oaks, the estate possesses an appealing bucolic character. Its white barns (some of Lodi’s oldest), and splendid white-railed fencing make Oak Farm appear like a pastoral painting.

With beautiful country roads, a historic downtown, quaint bed and breakfasts, and great places to dine, this area is absolutely perfect for an easily reachable yet more remote wine country getaway.

Tri-Valley Vineyards
Tri-Valley Vineyards (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)


Located just 35 miles east of San Francisco, the Tri-Valley (Amador, San Ramon, and Livermore valleys) is one of California’s oldest wine appellations. Anchored by the quaint town of Livermore, the triangled region is a delightful place to enjoy an authentic off-the-beaten-path Northern California breakaway vacation.

With lots of sunshine, stunning scenic views, amazing creative cuisine, and award-winning wineries, Tri-Valley is a California wine destination that both surprised and delighted us during our visit. And we can’t rave enough about its cuisine—authentic, fresh, creative, and tantalizing.

Beautiful Danville in Tri-Valley
Beautiful Danville in Tri-Valley (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

Some of our go-to wineries here include Wente, Retzlaff, and Fenestra. We must also give shout-outs to the buzzing, impressive, and growing craft brew scene here. The charming small towns of Danville, Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton, each uniquely reflect a slower almost utopian pace of life. To the delight of vintage car enthusiasts, Danville boasts the renowned Blackhawk Museum. Its impressive Spirit of the Old West exhibit showcases the rich history of the Western Frontier with honest renditions of the struggles between its Native Americans and early settlers.

Paso Robles views from DAOU Vineyards
Paso Robles views from DAOU Vineyards (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

Paso Robles

It’s no wonder that National Geographic proclaimed Paso Robles to be California’s “Next Great Wine Destination.” One visit here, and the reason rings clear as a bell.

Over 200 wineries dot miles of rolling hills in this scenic region just 30-minutes from the picturesque Central Coast. Crowded? No way, as nothing here feels rushed, hurried, or overwhelming.

It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite winery here as the vast majority of those we visited have been nothing less than impressive.

But there are two that always call us back. One is DAOU Vineyards for its panoramic mountaintop views, luscious fare, and elegant fine wines. The other is Alta Colina for its sweeping wine country vistas, top-quality organic wines, and their campsite called The Trailer Pond with refurbished vintage campers lining the shores of a private pond.

Summerwood Inn is the ideal place to stay. This nine-room romantic bed and breakfast farmhouse radiates beauty, peace and warmth, and provides the opportunity to taste Summerwood’s luscious wines.

Sensorio Light Show, Paso Robles
Sensorio Light Show, Paso Robles (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

Paso’s venues also include olive oil farms, true-blue farm-to-table eateries, and Sensorio—the unforgettable outdoor light show experience. Add in its easily walkable downtown that’s reminiscent of small-town America of yesteryear, and you have one of the best destination wine country getaways imaginable.

Beautiful Downtown Santa Barbara
Beautiful Downtown Santa Barbara (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

Santa Barbara

Different from any other wine-growing region in the world, Santa Barbara’s east-west orientation within the coastal mountain ranges provides Santa Inez Valley openings to the Pacific Ocean where the fog and ocean breezes work their magic on its vineyards.

This magnificent region boasts stunning scenery, beautiful Mediterranean weather, and its vintners are masters of Pinot Noir. Production however includes over 60 other varietals grown here.

Santa Barbara Harbor
Santa Barbara Harbor (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

Promoted as the “American Riviera,” one visit here and it’s apparent why the town and valley have received this well-deserved moniker. Santa Barbara’s harbor is home to the world famous Stearns Wharf. The historic 1786 Mission Santa Barbara is also located in Santa Barbara, along with botanical gardens, art galleries, and museums.

We love strolling the downtown State Street Promenade, a car-free pedestrian walkway with impressive Spanish architecture, fascinating bars, restaurants, and boutique shops. It’s just the ideal coastal wine country destination for a getaway.

Hot Air Balloons Over the Temecula Valley
Hot Air Balloons Over the Temecula Valley (Photo via Noreen Kompanik)

Temecula Valley

Mother Nature has truly blessed this delightful Southern California community nestled among the rolling hills and mountains of the Temecula Valley.

Though it was the wine that put Temecula on the map, its fascinating history, majestic landscapes, exquisite cuisine, and friendly locals have lured people back time and again. Its 40-plus wineries range from rustic to nouveau chic, each unique in its own right. But Temecula also offers a myriad of craft breweries to the delight of beer aficionados, along with two enchantingly hidden speakeasies in its historic downtown.

One of our favorite things to do here is to stay and play among the vineyards in one of its beautiful winery inns like Carter Estate and wake up among the vines. We loved hot-air ballooning over the vineyards as strains of Cat Stevens crooning “Morning has broken,” announced the sunrise breaking through the clouds.

For a more up close and personal experience, horseback riding through the vineyards is a fun, relaxing, and educational adventure.

Turkish novelist and playwright Mehmet Murat Ildan once said “Beautiful places are almost alive! When you visit them, you can feel their breaths!”

A trip to any of these lovely California wine country destinations will impress you with its amazing wines while offering that laid-back off-the-beaten-path escape we all covet and need now and again.

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