It's that time of year again ... the temperatures are dropping, the leaves are turning ... the perfect time to plan a dog friendly getaway has arrived! Whether you're looking for a weekend road trip or planning a longer vacation, harvest season is a great time to visit a winery. The grapes are ripe, there's lots of activity, and spending a sunny afternoon overlooking the vineyards is the picture of perfection. Half of the lower 48 states have wine growing regions, so chances are you won't have to travel far to find one, but our favorite area is in Sonoma County, California.
Sonoma is about an hour north of San Francisco, where the hills are golden, the days are sunny, and the night are crisp. It's truly a vacationers dream with world-renowned restaurants, magnificent spas and ... of course ... the wineries.
Many of the 400+ wineries here will roll out the red carpet for your dog. However, as with most things wine related, there is a bit of etiquette involved. These tips will have you enjoying the wine ... with no whining.
- Not all wineries and vineyards are pet friendly. Be sure to search GoPetFriendly.com for pet friendly wineries in Sonoma.
- Some wineries welcome pets on the grounds, but not in the tasting room. Before entering a tasting room with your dog, ask about their policy.
- If the tasting room is crowded, consider taking a walk around the grounds until things quiet down before taking your dog inside.
- Once inside, keep your dog leashed and close to you. It's best to avoid flexi-leashes.
- Each winery has it's own personality. Some are laid back and fun-loving, others require a bit more decorum. If your dog is more boisterous than appropriate, the patio may be a better place for him to show his enthusiasm.
Now that you've got the basics, let's have our own little tour ...
Rodney Strong Vineyard
The Rodney Strong Vineyard generally welcomes pets on their patio overlooking the Russian River Valley. We were lucky enough to be there when the tasting room was empty, and the boys were allowed to join us. (Fortunately, Buster and Ty were on their best behavior.) We chose this winery for sentimental reasons - Rod's son gave us a bottle of their Cabernet as a gift, and we wanted to email him a picture of us in front of the sign. It turned out to be one of our favorites thanks to the quality of the wines, the reasonable prices, and a helpful and friendly staff0.
Lambert Bridge Winery
A bit off the beaten path is the Lambert Bridge Winery, known for it's very limited production wines. I'm sure the wines were delicious, but I don't remember much about them because I was focused on the winery's dogs!
Greeting all the guests is Bernadette, a beautiful (and huge) St. Bernard, and Gus, a plump yellow Lab. Gus' rotundness is no doubt attributable to his expert cracker wrangling skills - a more persistent, yet polite, beggar you'll never meet.
Though visiting dogs are not allowed in the tasting room here, the grounds and Mediterranean-style gardens are not to be missed. If you're packing a picnic, you'll want to plan to take advantage of one of the covered tables here around lunch time.
Buster and Ty were welcome in the tasting room at DeLoach Vineyards, and Buster was quite pleased when some of the other guests wanted to scratch his ears.
We were there too late in the day to take advantage of it, but there is also a lovely picnic area on the grounds here. You're welcome to bring your own, or the winery will provide you with artisan cheese, salami, olive spread, cracker, nuts, and DeLoach chocolates for $30. We may take them up on that the next time we visit!
Unless you've had more luck getting your dogs to drive than we have, you won't be able to spend all day at the wineries. When it's time for a break, you might consider heading to one of the many state parks in the area. Unfortunately, most of California's state parks don't allow dogs on the trails, so we did a little more ... um ... digging.
Lake Sonoma Recreation Area
Created in 1983 with the completion of the Warm Springs Dam, Lake Sonoma sits amidst a 17,600 acre park with more than 40 miles of trails. Paths though deciduous forests, golden grasslands, and redwood groves open to panoramic views of the lake and surrounding hills. Leashed dogs are welcome on all the trails and a trail map can be picked up at the visitors center. This is a great break from wine tasting and chance for your dogs to enjoy the water and the cool forests.
We wish you waggin' trails!
About the Author: Amy Burkert runs the award-winning pet travel website, GoPetFriendly.com, which makes it easy to plan a trip with your entire family. Her blog, Take Paws, is an encyclopedia of pet travel tips, pet friendly destination advice, and stories of the adventures she and her husband have as they travel full-time in their Winnebago with their dogs, Ty and Buster.