Napa and Sonoma Valleys are the heart of U.S. wine country. The region has a rich viticultural history. Wine enthusiasts from around the world dream of visiting the vineyards and wineries located here. Sonoma and Napa are adjacent California counties. Napa is directly to the east of Sonoma. Driving from Napa City to Sonoma City takes just about half an hour. That means that time and wallet allowing, visitors can include sites from both on their itineraries. Their tastebuds will thank them! Of course, if travelers must choose one or the other, there are a few points they should have in mind.

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The Wine

Most travelers to Sonoma and Napa Counties head there for the wine so this should be the main consideration. Both valleys produce some of the most delicious wines in the world and offer incredible tasting experiences. They are also renowned for the technological advances they've achieved in winemaking. Tours of historical vineyards and wineries are popular.

The wines from Napa Valley are different from those originating in Sonoma even though the counties are geographically adjacent. This is due to the varieties of grapes growing in the vineyards. Napa is best known for its chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons. In 1976, a chardonnay from Napa made history by winning the Judgement of Paris competition. It beat out French wines in a blind tasting. Sonoma, on the other hand, produces more pinot noirs and zinfandels.

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Sonoma, measuring 1738 square miles is little more than twice the size of Napa, 789 square miles. The population of Sonoma is about 3.5 times larger than Napa. That means that Sonoma produces more grapes and wine in its nearly 425 wineries. Napa is home to no fewer than 375 wineries, though. Each of these counties plays host to American Viticultural Areas or AVAs.

Sonoma's oldest winery is slightly older than Napa's. Buena Vista Winery, founded in 1857, is California's second-oldest winery. Four years younger, Napa's Charles Krug Winery began in 1861. Both offer fantastic tours and tastings to people interested in viticultural history.

Getting Around

Sonoma and Napa receive numerous tourists every year. Napa County offers more planned tours, shuttles, and professional drivers. These packages, listed on NapaValley.com, help visitors reach the most famous wineries in the county. They won't have to worry about doing too much planning or having a designated driver. Sonoma, with its larger size and more diverse economy, gives explorers more license to discover hidden-away wineries for themselves.

The wine train is one Napa option that travelers shouldn't pass up. Sonoma doesn't offer an experience to rival it. Riders can choose from 3-hour and 6-hour rides. They'll enjoy the scenery but won't have time to get bored since the train stops to visit wineries along the way. A gourmet meal is included for guests on the perfectly preserved first-class railcars.

Napa also offers tourists 47 miles of scenic bike tracks. These are curated by the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition. The level, paved paths make it easy to visit nearby wineries without getting in a car. Sonoma County also has bike paths, although they are not as interconnected or curated as Napa's.

Finally, visitors to Napa can take a hot air balloon tour. That way they can see wine country from above. Five different companies in the county take travelers aloft for areal sightseeing.

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Since it's located on the coast, Sonoma County offers travelers the chance to drive along the breathtaking Highway 1. They can stop and enjoy one of the county's 17 beaches when they aren't exploring wineries.

Budget

Tourists taking care of their wallets will want to know a few things before picking Sonoma or Napa as a vacation destination. Both Sonoma and Napa can be expensive, but don't have to be.

Generally, Sonoma offers a wider range of accommodation options and prices. Hotels in Sonoma City tend to be the best option for people on a budget. Napa's lodging is more luxurious, but also pricier.

Wine tastings in the area frequently cost between $25 and $65. SonomaValley.com publishes a list of wineries that offer tours and tastings. Several options cost around $25. Napa's tastings have an average price closer to $45.

People planning a trip to the area will benefit from purchasing the Covet Pass. This pass allows its owner to attend tastings at various wineries in Sonoma and Napa without paying a fee at each one. It's a great deal for vacationers who are planning a longer stay and want to visit the participating wineries.

The Sonoma County Tasting Pass is similar to the Covet Pass, but only allows access to wineries in the county.

Whether vacationers decide to visit Sonoma County, Napa Valley, or both, they'll have an incredible experience. They'll experience new flavors and see beautiful landscapes.

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