Where to Find California’s Most Underrated Vineyards

Where to Find California’s Most Underrated Vineyards

Want to explore California’s wine country but are not interested in the buzziness (and expense) of Napa Valley? Consider traveling to these overlooked viticultural gems across the Golden State.

Paso Robles

Between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Paso Robles provides an agricultural haven with sweeping views of rolling vineyards and the Pacific Ocean coastline. Indulge in the luxury of sipping Rhône grape varieties at Booker Vineyard and Winery’s posh tasting rooms, or ensure your reservation far in advance to savor the flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon at DAOU Vineyards, arguably the most renowned estate in the region.

Credit: Karyn Millet

Where to Stay: Located in the heart of Downtown Paso Robles, Farmhouse embodies farmhouse-chic style with its 26 airy cottages sporting adorable lemon-patterned wallpapers, baby pink flower-shaped light fixtures, and woven upholstery. (We’d also consider the forthcoming River Lodge occupying a refurbished roadside motel overlooking the Salinas River.)


Located in Northern California’s San Joaquin County, Lodi is an underrated viticultural gem, exuding quaint small-town charm and renowned for its old-vine Zinfandels and 19th-century winemaking legacy. Explore the Mediterranean grounds of St. Jorge Winery, pouring authentic Portuguese port wines, and the family-owned Oak Farm Vineyards’ historic estate—featuring an original 1800s colonial-style mansion and a 70-acre oasis amidst century-old oak trees. 

Where to Stay: A Tuscan-reminiscent wine and wellness retreat in Lodi, Wine & Roses is the area’s premiere boutique hotel with 66 uniquely designed suites: the Historic Inn suites showcase bright and airy chambers, while the Spa Rooms present a zen aesthetic with soft violet-painted walls and sky-blue tiled lavatories. 

Santa Ynez Valley

Located just outside of Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez Valley is a rugged yet serene swath of viticulture terrain boasting the tranquil ambiance of the coastal countryside. Plus, the valley hosts two enchanting California towns, Solvang and Los Olivos. Visit the Central Coast Project, known for its creative spirit and natural wine services, or traditional vineyards, such as Melville Winery, highly regarded for its aromatic Pinot Noir that the area is acclaimed for producing.

Where to Stay: Alisal Ranch is an expansive 10,500-acre resort built in 1810. With its authentic 73 cottages spread throughout the land, the ranch honors its American West roots with its rustic architecture, wood-burning fireplaces, and original patios. Plus, there’s ample opportunity to get outside with its 110-acre spring-fed lake, inviting guests to fly fish and canoe.

San Luis Obispo

Presenting a far less pretentious tasting experience as compared to its Californian counterparts, SLO’s laid-back, unhurried atmosphere makes it an enticing destination for wine enthusiasts. Malene Wines graciously pours the refreshing tones of Rosé from a charming vintage 1969 airstream with a picturesque backdrop of endless grapevines. Its hospitable Chamisal Vineyards, ensconced in the heart of Edna Valley, complements the scene with estate-grown glasses of oaky Chardonnay.

Credit: Karyn Millet

Where to Stay: Housed within an original 1920s exposed brick building, the Granada Hotel & Bistro is a 17-key Downtown San Luis Obispo boutique hotel. Guestrooms flaunt industrial chic motifs with hand-crafted steel windows, exquisite Persian carpets, and wrought iron Juliet balconies. 

Sonoma County

Celebrated for its 425 well-known wineries, Sonoma County is home to hidden gems, including towns like Healdsburg, which give way to an authentic taste of Northern California’s abundant viticulture. Uncover the famed Coppola family’s passion for wine at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, where one can also discover behind-the-scenes secrets of The Godfather and more. Trendsetting tasting rooms, such as Marine Layer, offer cool climate wines that embody the laidback Sonoma Coast. 

Where to Stay: Set in the heart of Healdsburg, Harmon Guest House is a stylish, eco-conscious stay that captivates attention with its eye-catching, geometric redwood-clad exterior—a glimpse into the sustainable luxury lifestyle that awaits within. 

Sierra Foothills

The Sierra Foothills, often compared to the “Napa of 40 years ago,” presents a land of opportunity for California winemakers. Amador County boasts the oldest zinfandel grapes in the U.S. and hosts notable establishments, including Il Gioiello, Rombauer Vineyards’ Plymouth outpost, and Taste Restaurant and Wine Bar. Explore El Dorado County’s historic wineries, such as Skinner Vineyards and Boeger Winery, situated near the charming Apple Hill and the Wild West-inspired town of Placerville.

Credit: Imperial Hotel

Where to Stay: Dating back to 1879, the Imperial Hotel, a revamped historic six-room boutique hotel nestled in the Sierra Foothills, boasts a rich history intertwined with the Gold Rush. The National Exchange Hotel in Nevada City is another authentic Victorian-era stay, serving as a true time capsule to the era of forty-niners and gold-rush towns.

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