The Alternate Guide to America’s Best Wine Regions

What to do, see, and eat when the wine tasting ends

Wine country is endlessly romantic. Whether you’re in the Willamette Valley, Sonoma, or Texas Hill Country, the idyllic rolling hills of vineyards and the precious tastings of their products are reason enough to spend the weekend indulging in wine-soaked afternoons and leisurely, well-paired dinners.

But, dare I say, there is only so much time you can spend sipping and spitting before you start yearning for a few non-dizzy hours. These regions may be known for their grapes, but they all offer a range of activities and sights worth seeing when you’re ready to take a break from comparing cabernets.


Napa Valley, Calif.

The best-known wine region in the U.S., Napa Valley is home to some of American wine’s most famous producers. And with Ubuntu, The French Laundry, and La Toque, the region is no stranger to some of the country’s best chefs and freshest ingredients. But once stomachs are full and happy, and glasses have been emptied, Napa Valley is ready to satisfy art lovers, theater aficionados, hot air

balloon curiosities, cyclists, gliding enthusiasts, and farmers market obsessives.

One of our favorite activities is at the Fatted Calf (pictured), where you can take classes in butchery, preparing terrines and pâtés, or learn how to make sausages at home. We’d also stop by the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone for a quick browse through their marketplace of spices, a cooking demonstration, or a peek into how chefs balance flavors in the Flavor Bar. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/{Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester})

The outdoor extravaganza that is the Di Rosa Art Center boasts sculptures, photographs, drawings, and paintings from some of California’s most notable artists. Guests can stroll the gardens and hills, with a new art work popping up at every turn. And in the evenings, Napa’s Uptown Theatre hosts live music, theater, and performances like Beck, Rufus Wainwright, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Taking a glider ride or flying lesson at one of the many outfitters in Napa will be just enough of a thrill to make you waltz right back into those tasting rooms for a bit of Northern California calm.

Willamette Valley, Ore.

One of the most exciting regions for wine in the U.S. right now, Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a food-, wine-, and outdoor-lovers dream destination. Known particularly for pinot noir, the valley boasts more than 200 wineries to visit on your own or on a designated wine route.

Once the last glass has been poured, step into another kind of tasting room — at SakeOne. Then, sobered up, we’d rent bikes and venture out to one of the valley’s classic roads. You can bring bikes onto the Historic Canby Ferry to cross the Willamette Valley to continue your ride. Lovers of rest and relaxation will appreciate the rustic, off-the-grid feel of the Bagby Hot Springs.  

Space geeks can indulge in a trip to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, where the Spruce Goose, a B-17 Bomber, and the SR-71 Blackbird are on display, while food nerds will want to take advantage of the tours and olive oil tastings at the Oregon Olive Mill or book a trip with A Helfrich Outfitter to catch trout and salmon in the McKenzie River.