Gay Vacations in Napa and Sonoma, California

Vineyards in Napa Valley, California
Vineyards in Napa Valley, California (Andrew Gunners/Photodisc/Getty)

Few people realize that the side-by-side counties of Sonoma and Napa (a couple hours' drive north of San Francisco) are the second-most-visited spot in California after Disneyland and are filled with more than 400 hundred wineries. These warm, languid, and incredibly scenic regions are an easy add-on to any trip to San Francisco and should not be missed.

Where Napa has an upscale image, Sonoma is more low-key and down-home. Where Napa has an opera house and hundred-dollar meals at exclusive restaurants, Sonoma has the no-frills town of Santa Rosa and lots of mom-and-pop businesses dotting the countryside. Napa has the tourist-popular hot-mud treatments in the naturally thermal town of Calistoga, where coast-lined Sonoma has wide beaches and fishing towns. Warmer Napa is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, while Sonoma (which quietly produces a bigger grape harvest than better-marketed Napa) is known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Most of the gay life in the area is centered in Sonoma's tucked-away town of Guerneville, a rainbow-hued village with laid-back gay and lesbian bars and lodgings. Better known as the Russian River, since the 1970s it has been the forested getaway for queer San Franciscans looking to escape the fog and the city and let their hair down. Popular with both bears and lesbians, the two big events in Russian River are (not surprisingly) the Lazy Bear Weekend in August and Women's Weekend in May, both with motorcycle runs, pool parties, and dance parties. More aimed at locals, early June's North Bay Pride Music Festival in Santa Rosa is a queer yet family-friendly festival with arts and crafts and live performances.

Other Sonoma sites worth seeing include Bodega Bay (the seaside town where Hitchcock's The Birds was filmed) and the groves of massive redwood trees and gay-friendly nude beaches in the area. While in Napa, take a road trip down the scenic back road of Silverado Trail, filled with some of the area's best vineyards, or ride the wine train from the town of Napa to St. Helena to soak in the county's scenery.

Published: 23 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 25 Jan 2013
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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