Story By: Laurie Jo Miller Farr // Photos Courtesy of Visit Winters
Visit WINTERS in Yolo County because ‘YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE’
About 40 miles east of St. Helena in the heart of Yolo County, Winters is probably quite used to gibes about #YOLO, the contemporary social media acronym. Actually, Yolo County is one of California’s oldest, dating back to statehood in 1850. The name is derived from the Patwin word “Yoloy,” meaning place of the rushes, given by the native inhabitants that lived off the wetland’s resources.
Today, Winters is a small town of fewer than 7,000 residents beside Putah Creek, an 85-mile-long stream with headwaters in the Mayacamas Mountains. Despite the name, it’s a warm and sunny destination near Lake Berryessa that offers a peek at the Old West, with a charming downtown and a historic steel trestle bridge spanning the creek.
Biggest surprise? Winters is less than five miles from the border of Napa County, so the potential for wine growing isn’t a stretch. Gravelly-clay-loam soils and delta breezes met by cool winds off Lake Berryessa make for a long growing season.
Main Street between Second Street and Railroad Avenue is the friendly heart of Downtown Winters, just two blocks long. Three things stand out: Everybody seems to know one another, there’s a local theatre production company; and live music almost always fills the streets.
WHERE TO DINE
At the crossroads of downtown, join the locals for classic American-style dining out at Putah Creek Café or Buckhorn Steakhouse. Try the quiche at Steady Eddy’s Coffee House, or grab a packed deli sandwich lunch to go from Preserve Market. Outdoor dining is plentiful, Ficelle is popular for Spanish tapas, and tasting rooms offer bites with flights.
WINE AND SPIRITS SCENE
It’s a family affair at Turkovich Family Wines, a top local name for small lot production and an air-conditioned tasting room with outdoor seating at 304 Railroad Avenue. Third-generation Chris Turkovich and his wife, Luciana, are the winemakers, while younger brother Danny is the founder of the downtown Winters Cheese Company, located right next door. Winery tastings and tours at the vineyard on Buckeye Road (see the Vaca Mountains from the other side) can be booked in advance. Mother Joanie may be found in the tasting room and father Tony in the fields. In Argentina, Luciana’s winemaker father, Norberto Moreno, assists with three sparkling wines for the label. Since 2007, Turkovich has been known for Syrah and Viognier, along with Tempranillo and Petite Sirah. We understand that Grenache and Mourvedre are also showing immense potential. // www.turkovichwines.com
On Friday nights from 6 p.m., live music performed by locals emanates from the Main Street tasting room of Berryessa Gap Winery. On Thursday through Sunday afternoons, visitors are also welcomed at the estate vineyard tasting room on Highway 128—gateway to Napa—where winemaker Nicole Salengo has been crafting 90-plus point Rhone and Iberian varietals and more since 2013. Book ahead for a weekend tour. // www.berryessagap.com
Yolo County’s first distillery opened in 2016; Patio29 is family-owned, specializing in seven hand-crafted premium spirits using grains and fruits sourced from Yolo, Solano, Napa, and Sonoma counties. Just across the street from the library parking lot, stop in for tasty bites and flights, live music tastings, craft cocktails, and a tour. // www.Patio29.com
As an alternative to driving, book Yolo365 Tours for a guided tour by locals in a comfortable open-air vehicle (with or without wineries and craft breweries) for an insider’s look at the best local spots. // www.Yolo365Tours.com
THINGS TO DO
Winters Chamber of Commerce maintains a staffed Visitor Center (Mon – Fri, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.) where the walls are adorned with historic photos to tell the Winters story. During March through October, time a weekend visit to coincide with the monthly Fourth Friday Festival, an all-day fair with street food, local wine, olive oil tastings, live music until 10 p.m., and fun for all ages at Main Street Railroad Ave.
Next door, Winters Opera House is an 1886 landmark, one of California’s oldest, where the local production company stages live plays. Upstairs, Palm Playhouse shares the premises where a huge hardwood dance floor in a room with great acoustics attracts musical acts and up-and-coming talent. Watch for a post-pandemic reopening of the venue. On the ground floor, Cloth Carousel stocks 1,200 bolts of fabric, offers quilting lessons and hosts a Saturday morning Art Walk through historic downtown. // www.sites.google.com/site/clothcarouselquiltshop
On Saturdays at noon, take a two-hour Park Winters Guided Tour of lush gardens and the organic Kitchen Farm. Walk among 150-year-old trees amid hundreds of acres of farmland with unobstructed views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
To further enjoy the outdoors, head for Lake Solano, a fun family place for camping, fishing, paddleboat, and canoe rental. Lake Solano County Park has several hiking trails, including an easy 1.6-mile out-and-back course that’s great for birding, fishing, and trail running. // www.solanocounty.com/depts/rm/countypark/lakesolano.asp
Meanwhile, back in town, there’s live music on Sunday afternoons on the patio at Hooby’s Brewing, a family-owned brewery with a popular taproom at 9 E. Main Street. // www.hoobysbrew.com
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Winters is the newest place in town. Opened in 2019, the four-star boutique property has 78 oversized rooms in a low-rise building on Abbey Street, an excellent base for exploring both town and country. There’s an interior courtyard patio with a shallow wading pool and water feature, a rooftop bar, an on-site restaurant, and a full-service spa. // www.hotelwinters.com
Abbey House Inn has all the Victorian charm of a 1905 home just five minutes’ walk from the center of town. Book a minimum two-night stay in one of the five rooms, each with a private bath. Guests may park on-site (electric chargers available) before settling into the lounge by the cozy fireplace or with a refreshment at the wraparound patio. // www.abbeyhouseinn.com
The Inn at Park Winters is a lovingly restored 1865 bed and breakfast farmhouse with four guest rooms. Nine miles from downtown, the country estate has complimentary breakfast, air conditioning, high-speed internet, and a large outdoor pool set in the pretty landscaped grounds. // www.parkwinters.com
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