There are countless reasons to toast the Golden State, and just as many ways to do so. From award-winning wines to coveted craft beers and legendary cocktails, California's notable drinks truly make it a beverage destination. Here are seven must-try classics to sip on your next vacation.
1. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Ask a wine lover in any part of the world to name a great American wine region, and the answer is almost sure to be Napa Valley. And if Napa is California’s most famous wine region, Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely its star attraction. Revered for their boldness and complexity, Napa Valley cabs range in style from the opulence of Caymus to the age-worthy elegance of Corison. Great Cabs exist elsewhere in the state—including nearby Lake County—but any exploration of this varietal needs to start in Napa. (more)
California didn’t invent this ancient drink—a tangy blend of fermented tea, fruit juices, and probiotics—but kombucha has been a staple since the 1960s. Today, it’s enjoying a modern resurgence as a craft beverage for hipsters as well as hippies, with breweries popping up across the state.
3. San Diego IPAs
Along Highway 78 just north of San Diego you’ll find the Hops Highway, where beer lovers head to sample the famously hoppy, citrusy West Coast IPAs. Plan stops at Stone Brewing in Escondido, Belching Beaver in Vista, Pizza Port in Carlsbad, and Breakwater Brewing in Oceanside. (more)
4. Date Shakes
The Coachella Valley is the Date Capital of the World, so it’s only fitting that the area boasts its own date-based drink (along with its own annual Date Festival). A whirred wonder of sweet local dates, milk, and vanilla ice cream, the date shake has become a true destination dessert. Try the classic rendition at Shields Date Garden in Indio or at the foodie-favorite Great Shakes in Palm Springs.
5. Pinot Noir
This notoriously fussy varietal, immortalized in the 2004 film Sideways, is hard to cultivate but very easy to drink. Delicate and delicious with a lighter hue than more familiar red wines, Pinot Noir pairs particularly well with food and is therefore a sommelier staple. You can find this grape throughout the state, but celebrated clusters have formed in regions that enjoy cooler weather at night, including the Santa Maria Valley along the Central Coast, (where you can taste along the Santa Maria Wine Trail), the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, and all over Sonoma County.
6. Gin Martini at Musso & Frank Grill
For more than a century, Musso & Frank has been known as an Old Hollywood hangout, attracting the likes of Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart, and Marilyn Monroe. The restaurant is all class, with wood-beam ceilings, cozy leather booths, and red-jacketed servers anticipating patrons’ every need. Stirred but never shaken—shaking ruins the drink’s delicate texture—Musso & Frank’s legendary martini is served in a small glass, with the remainder poured into a mini decanter placed over ice to maintain its perfect temperature. You may recognize the restaurant from its big screen appearance: It recently appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
7. Pliny the Elder Double IPA
Actor Sam Rockwell once told The New York Times that whenever he visits California, he immediately seeks out the nearest place where he can get a Pliny. He’s not alone. Hopheads around the globe flock to Russian River Brewing Company’s original Santa Rosa brewpub, as well as its newer taproom in nearby Windsor, to pay homage to the brewery’s much-celebrated Double IPA. Thousands also line up around the block each February for a taste of Russian River’s limited-release Pliny the Younger Triple IPA. Although Sonoma County is known best for its acclaimed wine, the whole region boasts an impressive collection of craft breweries.
The safety of both visitors and residents is a top priority in the Golden State. Before traveling, familiarize yourself with local guidelines and regulations for all of the destinations you plan to visit. We also encourage everyone to check out Visit California’s Responsible Travel Hub as well as the latest Travel Updates.