Long visited by dreamy visions of starting their own tour company, Jewels Wine Tours owners and Napa Valley residents Julia Young and Ryan Raes utilize their regional intimacy to construct guided tours to the finest wineries, distilleries, and restaurants the area has to offer. The team takes great joy in customizing packages to their guests’ preferences, whether customers are looking to taste-test a certain hard-to-find vintage, or just want to be driven around by someone other than the family dog. A dedicated driver handles navigation for the duration of each tour, allowing the grape gurus to focus on enriching the tour experience by answering in-depth questions and providing insights into Napa and Sonoma Valley history.
It's a daunting task to visit all the wineries in the Napa/Sonoma region—there are more than 900 of them. Luckily, Stacy's Wine Tours is up to the challenge. They whisk visitors to a wealth of boutique wineries and vineyards during customized wine tours aboard a fleet of luxury vehicles. Guests can cruise through the grape-dotted countryside inside a stretch limo or opt for a basic designated-driver service.
They can also skip the wine tastings and head out on a brewery tour via Tap in Tours. A tour bus described as an "Irish pub on wheels"—though it's missing drunken novelists and poets—ferries passengers to various microbreweries along the 121 and 101 corridors, including Lagunitas, Hop Monk, and Petaluma Hills Brewing Company.
The history of wine in the Livermore Valley spans 250 years. Spanish missionaries planted the region's first grapes in the 18th century, and Robert Livermore sowed the first commercial vines in the mid-19th. These early efforts led to America's first international gold medal for wine at the 1889 Paris Exposition, when California grapes beat out bordeaux in the annual race to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
The guides at Livermore Valley Wine & Cycle Tours lead cyclists into this historic, scenic valley in which some 40 wineries currently reside. Rides between them follow moderate routes, letting peddlers soak in views of the canyons and ridges that rise and fall between the clustered rows of vines.
Imbibers don't just sniff, swirl, and sip their wine at Vintner's Cellar Custom Winery—they make it themselves. During this unique process, Vintner's experienced staffers guide customers through the first steps of the fermentation process. After six to eight weeks, aspiring winemakers pour their batch into between 24 and 30 bottles, which they then emblazon with custom-designed labels or tribal-themed temporary tattoos.
Vintner's Tuscan-style whites, reds, and dessert wines are also available by the glass, bottle, and half-bottle during regular tastings. A trim food menu brims with cheese platters and chocolate-wine truffles that pair perfectly with wines made from California's most well-adjusted grapes. Winemaking and pairing are taught in a Blend-it-Up Experience, during which customers create unusual flavor profiles by mixing different wines together.
If you've ever tried to beat rush-hour traffic by tethering your car with helium-filled balloons, then you know that hot-air flight should be left to the professionals. The Federal Aviation Administration–certified pilots at Sky Drifters Hot Air Ballooning embark on journeys from the Sierra Nevada foothills daily, and their company has been named one of the 10Best attractions in Sacramento. Whether piloting a small group or private flight, the balloon captains show passengers a bird’s-eye view of the rolling hills, winding rivers and finely crafted comb-overs whose majesty can only be truly appreciated from above. Their aerial transports also play host to weddings in the sky and can provide a lift to those who enjoy BASE jumping from the clouds.
A little bit of the Wild West still survives in Heartstoppers Haunted House, except that "survives" implies that its inhabitants are living. Visitors first find themselves in the heart of the Deadlands, a town once and still terrorized by the murderous gunslinger, Cyrus Lynch. His zombified victims, freed from their shallow graves, now inhabit the saloons and general stores, seeking revenge on their killer and someone who can figure out how to make the player piano play anything other than "Old Susanna."
Interlopers duck into Dr. Lash's Sideshow for relief, only to to find themselves surrounded by grotesque oddities and threatened by the mad doctor's unstable son, Billy. In their haste to leave town, the visitors stumble through the Tomb of Shadows—a dark, winding maze with a gauntlet of surprises—and into Steamghást Asylum, the abandoned rehabilitation center for the area's criminals. Overrun by insane doctors and bloodthirsty killers, the medical monstrosity of steam and electricity still reverberates with the screams of unwilling test subjects.