Jetsetting :: California Wine Country

A random fun fact about me: I love wine.


A few years ago, Mr. AJ and I took a bus day tour to wine country while we were on a trip to San Francisco and swore we’d go back some day for the real deal. This year, we finally made it. We did four days in the Sonoma area, four days in the Napa area with two dear friends and it was honestly one of the most relaxing trips I have ever been on! Here’s a run-down on what we did, our favorite wineries, and general tips for when you’re planning a trip to wine country.

To Drink: Wineries


Del Dotto Vineyards is my #1 must-go, must-do winery. A sommelier guides you through their dimly-lit wine cave and uses a “wine thief” to draw wine directly from the barrels. Be smarter than me and don’t wear white jeans (although we made it out without incident). There’s classical music echoing throughout the cave and groups are limited to 8, so it’s a very intimate experience. And where else can you drink wine before it’s even bottled? The tour ends with a snack of delicious pizzas and charcuterie, and some of the best olive oil I have ever tasted. ($60/person)


While Sterling Vineyards is decidedly more commercial than some of the stops we made, the views are absolutely incredible. We did the Silver tour, which included an additional tasting on a terrace closed off from the general public. You take an air tram up to the top of a hill, which overlooks the vineyards. The self-guided tour reminds me a little of the Guinness Storehouse tour in Dublin, if you’ve done that. You walk through the building to different tasting stations, which ends up on a rooftop terrace with awesome views. I recommend buying another glass of your favorite and a cheese platter and spending a little time just soaking up the gorgeous weather. Bonus: You get to keep your glass, which is Riedel (that was fun to try and get home). ($55)


If you find yourself in Yountville, rent a bike from Napa Valley Bike Tours and take the Napa Valley Vine Trail out to Trefethen Vineyards. It’s nestled at the back of several acres of vineyards, which makes for a gorgeous ride in. The tasting room is lovely as well! ($25)


Iron Horse Vineyards kind of falls in between a tasting room and a winery for me. It sits high on a hill, which makes for some amazing photos. They’ve got a bar outside that you stand at for tastings - they’re known for their bubbles in particular. If the weather is gorgeous, it’s definitely worth the drive. ($25)

To Drink: Tasting Rooms


A perfect wine country day is a vineyard in the morning, followed by an afternoon of tasting rooms. We rented a car, so we’d drive out to the wineries in the morning and then return to things in walking distance for the afternoon. Plus, they’re typically only $5 or $10 for 4-5 wines, so it’s a little more economical.

Hawley Winery in Healdsburg is a dark, cozy little tasting room just off the main square. We were the only ones in there, so the guy ended up letting us try one of everything. We got lucky - a woman came in fresh from a private tasting at the vineyards with a bottle of one of their reserve wines, so we got to try that too. I loved every wine so much, I ended up joining their wine club. (FREE with wine club!)

Our group is a huge fan of Ferrari Carrano’s Fume Blanc, so we made plans to stop into their tasting room when we were in Healdsburg. It’s just a bar inside of a boutique, but we ended up staying there nearly two hours! We discovered that the fewer people in a tasting room, the more stuff they let you try. We ended up shipping $400 worth of bottles home for the group. ($10)

To Eat

Archetype was just a short walk from our St. Helena BnB, so we chose that for our one “fancy” dinner out. It’s filled with cozy couches placed around large tables, with a patio area that has a fireplace. The food was absolutely delicious, too. I’d recommend making a reservation on Open Table.

When we were in St. Helena, we decided to make a patio reservation for Bravas, a cool little tapas bar. They make sangria with the oranges from their own trees, and the paella is to die for. There are heaters all over the patio - which is dog-friendly.


Since we were traveling with friends, we decided to split up for date night one night and go our separate ways. We drove down to Napa proper to check out Bounty Hunter, which my husband had seen on a YouTube video. They serve entire chickens on a beer can! It’s got a cool dive-bar kind of feel - there’s even a table where you can sit on a saddle instead of a stool.

To Do

We rented a car (convertible, highly recommend), so we decided to take it out to the coast one day. We stopped at Lucas Wharf for lunch, which is known for its seafood - they literally serve fish that they catch right outside of their door. I recommend grabbing a table by the windows, where you can see the seals swimming and playing in the water. We enjoyed watching them so much, the table was nearly silent most of the meal.


After lunch, we headed out to Goat Rock Beach to see the seal pups. There are plenty of picturesque spots along the drive to stop and get some amazing photos! We loved climbing down close to the water and seeing starfish all over the rocks - Erin took home some seaweed for a mask as well.

If you’re into nightlife, Ana’s Cantina in St. Helena was one of our favorite nights! It’s definitely a lot more locals than tourists, and karaoke night ended up being a blast. We shut down the dive bar - and Jeff made a lot of new friends with his sick dance skills.


Mud baths in Calistoga are a MUST. The Golden Haven spa was running a special, so we got a full 1.5 hour treatment for only $74 a piece! That includes the hot spring pool and spas outside, so arrive 30-45 minutes early to take advantage of that. You spend about 15-20 minutes in the mud, which is the weirdest sensation. It’s almost like you’re weightless. It’s also extremely hot, so I had a leg and an arm out at one point because I was sweating so much. After you shower off (and trust, that’s an event of its own), you spend another 15 minutes or so in a private hot spring tub. I drank almost an entire carafe of the cucumber water they gave us, I was so hot. When that’s done, you grab your robes and head to a dark, cold room to get wrapped in weighted blankets. I fell asleep. That’s about 30 minutes, and I would willingly have paid $50 for another hour in there.

Other little tips and tricks


We spent 4 days in Guerneville, 4 days in St. Helena, staying in AirBnbs in both. We bought groceries at Safeway for breakfasts and picnic lunches, which was really fun to start our day with eggs and bacon and coffee. Our first day in Healdsburg we took an elaborate charcuterie to the Oakville Grocery and bought a bottle of wine there to enjoy on their patio next to the fire. One day we took a picnic out to the park and shared a bottle we had bought at one of the wineries. Doing breakfasts and lunches like that saved us a little money, so we could splurge on dinners and bottles.


I do recommend renting a car. We got one from Turo in San Fransisco and drove it all the way out to Guerneville. Since our Bnb there was tucked away in the woods, it was almost impossible to get an Uber.

Some wineries require reservations, so check ahead of time before you drive out there. We definitely did them for Del Dotto, but found that typically Sonoma area was less picky about it than Napa was. We also found some of our favorite places by asking our bartenders what THEIR favorite wineries and restaurants were! If the locals like it, I’m definitely on board.

I’m already dreaming of planning another wine country trip for next year. What are some of your favorite recommendations?


AJ Travels :: London

London is one of the coolest cities I've been to. I love the juxtaposition of 1,000 year old buildings next to futuristic glass towers. It's only an hour flight from Dublin, so we decided to spend a few days exploring the city and being SUPER tourists.

We normally like to take a more leisurely approach to exploring cities, taking it a neighborhood at a time and just seeing where the day takes us. Since we only had four days in London, though, we decided to go full throttle and buy The London Pass for a few days of touristy fun. If you aren't familiar, you pay one price and have access to over 60 attractions including Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge. We bought the pass directly from the app on our phones, and pulled it up in Passbook on iPhone to get into all of the attractions we decided to visit. Often this meant skipping a long line, and since we just had to scan the pass and go, it was much quicker than checking out at every place. We saved about $50 or so on tickets doing a two-day pass. My only regret is that we didn't buy the three-day pass, since it was only £6 more. We could have fit another 1-2 places into our last day since our plane left so late.

Our first day, we checked into our hotel (Park Plaza Westminster Bridge - great location!) and decided to book a tour of The Palace of Westminster to learn all about UK Parliament. I highly recommend booking the guided tour - we got to access parts of the palace that the audio tours did not.

Our next day began our super tourist day, and the first day of using London Pass. We managed to fit a LOT into our day, starting with a trip to Shakespeare's Globe, a recreation of his theatre and museum. As a theatre nerd, I thoroughly enjoyed learning the history! Next, we made our way to the Tower Bridge, wandering through the Borough Market (it smells amazing!) and dropping into the Southwark Cathedral

Next up, a walk across the top of the Tower Bridge. You can walk across glass and watch the cars below, finishing your tour in the engine rooms to learn all about how they raise and lower the bridge. Our guide told us that during peak season in the summer, they can raise and lower the bridge up to 12 times a day!

Second stop: The Tower of London, which is absolutely huge and amazing. This is where they keep the Crown Jewels, which was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. There's so much to explore here, we spent over two hours there. By the time we had finished, it was getting dark so we decided to try The London Bridge Experience next, something we might not have discovered if it were not on the pass attractions. This was by far the weirdest thing we did - the tour goes through the tombs under the bridge, but is actually kind of hilarious. It ends in a completely unrelated haunted house. 

After so many unnecessary chainsaws (seriously, this tour was so weird), we dropped into The Shard for a few cocktails while taking in a gorgeous view of the city. Protip: It costs £26 to book a ticket to the viewing gallery, but for free you can get the same view at Aqua Shard, and enjoy a cocktail while looking down on the city. After a wine or two, we headed to Coppa for dinner. I highly recommend Coppa! In the winter, they put igloos on the patio so you can dine with a view, and their prices were extremely reasonable. The Crispy Fried Truffled Gnocchi was *SO* delish. Now that I've literally told you everything in the next story, see it for yourself:

We got an early start the next morning, heading to Westminster Abbey. I basically devoured The Crown the week before we left, so seeing the place of so many royal weddings and coronations for myself was absolutely amazing. We did the audio tour on this one, which my husband was a little skeptical of, but ended up thoroughly enjoying. It's insanely old and beautiful, and one of my favorite things we did in London. It takes about two hours to get through if you listen to all of the guides and really take your time to explore. 

After that, we headed to the Churchill War Rooms, a museum and audio tour through the WW2. Let me start by saying that this is a fascinating tour. I definitely was more interested after watching The Crown, and Winston Churchill was such an interesting man. That being said - we were in there for over two hours! I was not expecting the tour to take that long. You'll want to make sure you have a solid chunk of day to tackle the whole museum. 

After a full day of tourist stuff, we did the most touristy thing of all - Warner Brother's Studio Tour, where they filmed a large amount of Harry Potter. Nerd alert! It was, by far, one of the most magical things I've seen. They have a large amount of sets, props, and costumes from the movies, and the tour reveals all sorts of interesting bits of movie magic. We booked the last tour of the day - 6:30 - which actually was pretty nice, because as rooms cleared out, you could get really great photos (like the one we got in the Great Hall!). This tour takes 2-3 hours, and I'm glad we did a night tour, since most other attractions are closed at night. It, of course, deserved a story all its own:

Our final day in London was a little more low key. We ate some proper English pies at the cutest little pie shop: Pieminister (CUTE NAME ALERT), explored the Tate Modern, and then spent the rest of our evening in a cozy wine bar in Leadenhall Market: Broker's Wine Bar & Restaurant. The wine was cheap, the pours were good, and they played nothing but David Bowie and George Michael. Plus, the owner came around and gave us snacks after an hour or so, which is clearly the way to my heart.

I loved London, and cannot wait to go back. I have a long list of other restaurants, bars, and attractions I want to see on our next trip! If you need me, I'll be looking up tickets for the summer.

AJ Travels :: 9 Hours in NYC

I'm back! I'm back in the land of muggles and currently experiencing some serious post-departurem depression while I adjust back to the real world. My husband and I just got back from two weeks over the pond in Ireland and England, which I'll be recapping a bit over the next couple of days. It was my first jaunt to Europe and I found it just as magical as it looks in the movies.

Not enough time to drop in for Hamilton this trip, sadly. Still one of a million things I haven't done.

Not enough time to drop in for Hamilton this trip, sadly. Still one of a million things I haven't done.

In preparation for the trip, I did what any normal person would do. I watched a ton of Rick Steves, that movie "Leap Year," and bought as many sweaters as I could possibly fit in my bag. 

This trip was a bit of a last minute deal, because I found roundtrip tickets from Dallas to Dublin for just $400. The catch, of course, was that we had a 9-hour layover in Newark, New Jersey. We planned to hang out in the United Club for part of that time and drink as many vodka sodas as possible, but even in the comforts of the club nine hours would prove trying. So we decided to hop in a cab and drive into NYC for the day while we waited for our plane to Dublin.

I created a little story about every day on our trip using Stellar, a pretty nifty little storytelling app. Here's our first adventure!

Next up: Our adventures in Ireland! Rather than drag this out over a few weeks, I'm planning on posting one post per country, with all of the Stellar stories embedded so you guys can peruse them at your leisure. And if you just can't wait, you can see them all on my Stella profile now. I hope you enjoy!

"Outfit" Details from this story:

Coat: Zara
Tote: Briggs & Riley Large Shopping Tote
Boots: Ugg Adirondack II in Otter
Vest: Uniqlo Ultra Light Down
More about Spectacles