Cycling and wine have a history together. Up until the 1960s, it was common for pro cyclists in the Tour de France to drink alcohol during the race to dull the pain and keep warm as they climbed over snow-covered mountain passes. Famous photographs of cyclists in the '20s and '30s with bottles of wine instead of bottles of water tucked into the pockets of their jerseys are common—after all, what's more French than cycling and vino?
Today, wine is just as much a part of the culture of cycling as a visit to the local cafe—something to enjoy after a long day on the bike. It makes sense, then, that Santa Rosa and the wine country of Sonoma County have quickly become a premiere destination for those who seek to tour some of the most scenic countryside in the U.S. on two wheels.
With world-renowned wineries, rural roads and breathtaking scenery, a cyclist can't go wrong with a trip to Santa Rosa. Here's what you need to know before you go.
How to Get There and Where to Stay
If you're on the West Coast, Santa Rosa is a 90-minute flight from Los Angeles or a 2-hour flight from Seattle. Be aware that Santa Rosa is a small, commuter terminal, so you might not be able to get direct flights from other cities.
If you don't mind driving, flying into San Francisco is also an option. From there you can either rent a car or take a shuttle from SFO to Santa Rosa, with travel time for each option totaling just under an hour and a half.
Once you're in town, you have a few options for lodging. One of the more popular destinations for tourists is the Hilton Sonoma, which has reasonable rates and includes free wine tastings every Thursday. For a more intimate experience, some of the vineyards surrounding Sonoma County also have bed and breakfast options. While they might be more expensive, the charming and relaxed atmosphere is perfect for a romantic getaway or a weekend escape.
With well over 20 miles of bike paths, cycling through the heart of Santa Rosa is pretty easy. Most cyclists visiting the area will most likely want to head toward the vineyards, where you can pedal on low traffic roads and take in the countryside. If mountain biking is more your thing, the Redwood Forest isn't too far away and is a once in a lifetime experience.
Unless you know someone who lives in the area, your time might best be served by signing up for one of the local bike tours. Getaway Adventures offers several different options, including a relaxed Sip N' Cycle Tour that focuses on tasting at several of the best wineries in Sonoma.
If you're looking for something more cycling intensive, the Velo N' Vino is a 30- to 35-mile ride followed by a picnic lunch at one of the many family-owned wineries. Either way, if you aren't sure where to go, you should give the owner of Getaway Adventures a call. Part wine aficionado, part bicycling enthusiast, Randy Johnson has over 20 years of experience and knows the ins and outs of Santa Rosa like few others. From back roads to bike trails, Johnson can map out cycling routes on the fly depending on your interest, which means you get a personalized experience no matter which option you choose.
Wine and Dine
Whether you're a wine connoisseur or a novice who wants to learn more about the craft, it's hard to go wrong with any of laid-back Sonoma's 400 wineries. If you do need help narrowing your list, Inman Family and Benovia are two of our local favorites. Kim Caffrey and Roger Carrillo of each respective location not only have extensive knowledge of their own wineries, but are experts on the history of Sonoma Valley—and they're each willing to teach for as long you'd like to listen.
For a more formal experience when you're off the bike, check out Willi's Wine Bar off Old Redwood Highway for some of the best food and wine in town. The staff is both approachable and helpful if your eyes become overwhelmed by all the options.
If wine isn't your thing, Santa Rosa and the nearby Barlow district are quickly becoming famous for their breweries. Russian River, makers of the famous Pliny the Elder, brew a special batch of Pliny the Younger each February during beer week; it's so popular, customers have been known to wait up to six hours just to get inside for a pint.
Whatever your tastes may be, you can't go wrong making your next cycling vacation a trip to Santa Rosa.
For more information, contact the visitor's bureau of Santa Rosa.
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