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Sonoma

Brosseau Wines, Monterey County, Northern California

Brosseau Wines/Facebook

As darling as the wine regions in Napa, Sonoma, and even Santa Barbara are, their acclaim has led to high lodging prices and steep tasting-room fees. It’s not uncommon to plunk down at least $250 a night for an average hotel and pay $15-$20 at each tasting room. If you’re looking for the next big thing in Northern California wine travel — and better prices — look to Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands.

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Napa Valley - James Daisa - 620

Napa and Sonoma both offer great wines, great food, and incredible experiences, but because there’s so much to do in each county that visitors usually focus on one or the other. Which is the best option for you? Here’s a guide for how to choose.

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Chewton

When it comes to hotels, it’s always refreshing to see new takes on the four-walls-and-a-bed formula. In these five treehouse suites, woodsy interiors, jacuzzi tubs, and floor-to-ceiling windows give the idea of a childhood hideout a creative update. If you’re ready to stay among the treetops, and shell out some major cash, you too can have this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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South AfricaIn recent seasons, ABC’s long-running series The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have quietly turned their attention from catfights, crying, and ill-fated proposals to routinely showcasing some of the world’s most beautiful destinations. Of course, there’s still over-the-top drama, but more and more, it’s set against a backdrop of bucket-list adventures in far-flung locales. So far this season, Juan Pablo and company have bungee-jumped off a bridge in Los Angeles and eaten insects at a food cart in Seoul, South Korea.

But you don’t have to have a harem of romantic hopefuls in tow – or ABC’s travel budget, for that matter – to enjoy some of these experiences. Here are a few ways travelers can enjoy some of the show’s around-the-world adventures. Who knows? It just might be your Most. Dramatic. Trip. Ever.

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Heraldsburg, CaliforniaIf you are looking for a fresh, laid-back take on California’s wine country, head for Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Here, you’ll find beautifully structured wines, locavore innovation, and ample ways to soak up the sunshine. A balanced blend of old-town charm and sleek modern architecture, Healdsburg has had quite a growth spurt over the past few years, and it’s had to in order to keep pace with visitor demand. The good news? It retains its sense of small-town nostalgia.

Here are some budget-friendly reasons to visit this charming wine region: Read more

Hotel Healsburg SpaWhile the rest of us are busy planning our sun-filled spring break, a few travelers – perhaps wisely – are weighing their options and thinking of ways to save on a quick, rejuvenating getaway that won’t involve too much hassle. For west coasters, this is as easy as getting into your car. San Francisco in particular has a wealth of easy-to-get-to, ideal-for-a-quick-weekend wellness hotspots. Here are three places to consider if you happen to find yourself in the Bay, in need of some quality hot tub soaking, massaging, and yoga-induced bliss. Read more

Best Sonoma RestaurantsSonoma County boasts some of Northern California’s best wineries: Kenwood Vineyards, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Chateau St. Jean, and Gloria Ferrer, to name a few. It’s also home to some of the best restaurants north of San Francisco. If you’re looking for a great meal while you’re vineyard-hopping, or you’re just in NorCal on vacation, here are five eateries offering well-prepared meals, ambiance, and, of course, excellent wine. Read more

By: Kate Sekules

iStock

For a brief few months each year, warm weather, long days, and generous vacation time opens up a world of travel possibilities. Whether you enjoy climbing the top of remote mountains, exploring breathtaking river gorges, or biking quiet backcountry roads, we’ve selected 10 spectacular outdoor adventures that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping – and earn you bragging rights, to boot. And to make sure there’s a trip to suit every taste, we’ve included a splurge option (for those who must have the most exotic and/or pampered voyage) as well as a great value (for those who don’t mind roughing it).

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By: Becca Bergman

iStock InternationalFew can resist the lure of road trips once summer rolls around

With summer around the corner, the open road beckons. In that spirit, we present our favorite American road trips from coast to coast. Some are well-known destinations and others are off the beaten path. Several are steeped in history, while a few pursue remote, wild beauty. Best of all, most of these routes make for splendid drives all year long, so you can get out and explore their bounty whenever the mood strikes. So rev your engines . . . and hit the road. For a preview of our favorite routes, see our Road Trips Slideshow.

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iStock International

You’re all grown up, so it’s time to leave the slumber parties behind and take a real vacation with your favorite ladies. Planning a weekend with your sister, a once-in-a-lifetime trip with mom, or a bachelorette party for your best friend? No matter the occasion, these exciting girl getaways are primed for bonding women together. Whether it’s surfing, clubbing, pampering, cooking, or shopping that gets you and your gal pals going, we’ve found the 10 places for you to do all that – and much more!

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Forget the bald eagle or the Statue of Liberty. In America, the car is still the ultimate symbol of freedom, empowering us to shift our daily routines out of idle and “go anywhere,” as long as we make peace with the traffic report before we go.

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Olympus Digital CameraPaper-thin cherry blossoms, bleeding hearts, tulips, golden daffs – it seems everything is in bloom nowadays, including those vine-grown buds that will give rise to plump wine grapes come autumn. Following a summer’s dose of sun, some three million tons of grapes will be harvested in California alone this September. For true oenophiles, there’s only one way to really embrace the event: Sleeves rolled up, plucking the soon-to-be-fermented fruit alongside the veterans.

Now in its fifth year, the Sonoma County Grape Camp brings together the region’s top grape growers, vintners, and chefs (an Iron Chef contestant participated last year) for a one-of-a-kind immersion in the annual harvest. From gathering grapes in the dusty fields during the crisp, early-morning hours to concocting your own artisanal label, campers learn the ins and outs of what makes for a successful vintage – while also sipping their way from vineyard to vineyard.

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Sonoma2 EditLocated at the north end of Santa Rosa, the 4-star Hilton Sonoma Wine Country is set on 13 immaculately landscaped acres with panoramic views of the alluring Santa Rosa Valley. Now through October 28, 2011, the Hilton is offering a shopping package with nightly rates as low as $169! Included in the package is a welcome bottle of wine, a $50 Macy’s giftcard as well as an 11 percent discount coupon valid at Macy’s! With in-room spa services, a complimentary local vineyard wine tasting, and a location convenient to world-renowned vineyards as well as department stores and boutique shops, this hotel primes travelers for the perfect vacation.

THE VALUE: With this deal travelers can save up to $100 as standard room rates alone can start as high as $149!

THE CATCH: All rates are subject to hotel availability and do not include taxes.

THE DETAILS: To book your stay, visit www.Hilton.com.

WE’VE GOT MORE: Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights to San Francisco.

Take a look at our Sonoma Travel Guide and see everything this picturesque region has to offer!

Napa hotelMost Sonoma visitors are likely to spend a day exploring Napa, which I do recommend. Certainly it is also possible to stay over in Napa. If you expect to tour both Napa and Sonoma, Yountville in Napa County is a nice little town for bedding down. (Note that another option is to visit Napa wineries in day one on the way up from San Francisco and then continue straight on to Sonoma).

In Yountville and St. Helena, some solid hotels include the modern, design boutique Bardessono (www.bardessono.com), and the classic Wine Country Inn (www.winecountryinn.com). In the town of Napa, the Westin Verasa (www.westinnapa.com) is a very good smart luxury option, or try the cozy Carneros Inn (www.thecarnerosinn.com). I’d also recommend the ultra luxe Auberge du Soleil in nearby Rutherford.

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Napa Valley wineryWhether staying south in Sonoma town, which has a really lovely square, or north in Healdsburg, you will want to traverse Route 128 and enjoy the rolling hills of Alexander Valley, where so many fine Sonoma wineries are found. One huge difference from years ago is that many wineries only allow visits with appointments. Large wineries still permit drop-ins, but for trying many fine smaller ones, you must call ahead.

Some of my favorite Sonoma wineries include Vérité (meet Pierre, the winemaker; www.veritewines.com), Lancaster Estate (www.lancaster-estate.com), and Garden Creek Vineyard (a very small quality winery run by a Swedish couple, Karin and Justin; www.gardencreekvineyards.com). For just dropping in without an appointment, stop at Chalk Hill (www.chalkhill.com) or Robert Young (www.ryew.com). Note that many wine tastings have a fee and if you’re making an appointment at a winery, there will be some pressure to purchase bottles at the end. I ended up buying 12 or so bottles from the three appointments. It does become hard to resist.

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