Visit Winters: California wines, cuisine, and a side of adventure

by Sep 11, 2021California

Winters Downtown Street Scene

You may not have heard of Winters, but you do need to visit Winters, located just 40 minutes from Sacramento, California. It’s a quaint farming town that will delight anyone interested in wine, world-class cuisine, and fun adventures such as hot air ballooning.

When on a northern California road trip, you need to plan to visit Winters. Just 38 miles from Sacramento, the charming town of Winters is what one dreams about when imagining a country escape spent sipping wine, eating delicious food, and chasing a golden sunrise in colorful hot air balloons.

Historic Highway 128 begins in Winters, then winds its way through Napa on its way to Mendocino. That makes this bucolic farming town the ideal starting point for a California road trip where wineries and world-class restaurants play a supporting cast to a picturesque natural landscape.

Following the Mexican land grant in 1842, white settlers moved into what is now known as Yolo County, neighboring Sacramento County to the west, and began growing vegetables, planting fruit trees, and cultivating grapes. The actual town of Winters, named after landowner Theodore Williams, wasn’t founded until 1875 when the railroad arrived in Yolo County. For a time, Winters became an agricultural and commercial hub with three trains passing through daily. Through an earthquake and various booms and busts, Winters has maintained its historic charm and rich connection to agriculture. Victorian homes and small parks sit along streets lined with huge trees offering cooling shade on a valley’s hot summer days.

Visit Winters – you’ll want more than a day

You’ll want more than a day to truly enjoy all that Winters has to offer, and I’d recommend you stay a night or two at the Hotel Winters, situated smack in the middle of the quaint and walkable downtown.

Make sure you have arranged a hot air balloon trip the following morning with Yolo Ballooning Adventures. The hotel offers packages that include a balloon ride so check when you book your stay. If you plan your visit to Winters during the sunflower bloom about early/mid-June to mid-July, you may even be lucky enough to enjoy a sunrise view floating over fields of endless yellow blooms.

Yolo Ballooning Adventures Winters Sunflowers

Tantalize the taste buds

While you’re breathing in all that delicious country air and relaxing, you’re going to want to sample as much of the local farm flavors as you can while in Winters.

There is nothing quite like starting your morning at Steady Eddy’s Coffee House, trust me. It’s a small coffee house and café where I enjoyed what was absolutely one of the best lattes I’ve had in recent years. Granted, it took a while to make with the barista dumping out the first cup because she was not happy with it, but it’s the product I care about, not the speed of delivery.

Steady Eddy Coffee Shop Winters

With coffee in hand, wander a block or so up Railroad Avenue and duck into Lester Farms Bakery, a family-owned bakery where you’ll discover scrumptious pastries that just might change your mind about the health benefits of carbs, butter and sugar … or not. Either way, don’t miss out on the cinnamon rolls. Oh, my soooo good.

Putah Creek Cafe Corn Chile Pie

For lunch, I’d recommend either the El Pueblo Meat Market & Taqueria or the Putah Creek Café. If you’re staying two days, try them both! At Putah Creek Café, be sure to try the Santa Fe Mexican Corn Pie. Trust me, it’s a delectable baked crustless pie with corn, jack and cheddar cheese, egg, green chilies, corn meal and served with roasted tomato salsa. Yeah, my mouth is watering just writing the description and remembering the flavors.

At El Pueblo Meat Market & Taqueria, get your taste buds ready for authentic Mexican flavors. I sampled one shrimp taco and one fish taco, and they were perfect in every way. Reminded me of tacos I used to eat at taquerias in Baja. And remember, you are there for the food, not the ambience.

El Pueblo Meat Market Taqueri Winters California

For dinner, you have plenty of options to choose from in town, all offering world-class cuisine that features farm-to-fork ingredients from all over Yolo County and many right from the Winters area itself. If meat is something you crave — and I know I do from time-to-time — you won’t find better steaks than at the Buckhorn Steakhouse (fun tidbit, it’s owned and operated by the same family that runs the Putah Creek Café). The interior harkens back to a classic roadhouse, the food … anything but. A destination bar and grill for decades, Buckhorn is famous for its 42-day aged, hand-cut on premises, certified Angus beef steaks that diners will drive 100s of miles to get. I ordered a filet mignon that was so perfectly cooked and tender, I could have cut it with a butter knife.

This area has some amazing wineries too, though the region is nowhere near as well known (yet) as neighboring Napa — and maybe that’s a good thing. If you don’t want to jump into your car to wine tour, that’s just fine since there are two fantastic tasting rooms right in town. The Berryessa Gap tasting room is a wonderful place to curl up with a book, your journal and a glass of wine or two – be sure to make a reservation for a formal tasting. Shut down due to Covid, weekend evening music should begin again soon.

Berryessa Gap Winters Tasting Room

Turkovich Family Wines tasting room will be familiar if you headed out on a sunrise hot air balloon tour since this is where you will meet – a bit early for wine, but not too early for the traditional sparkling rosé wine toast afterward. I loved sitting on the sidewalk in the tasting room’s seating area sipping on a lovely albariño, munching on some cheese and crackers, and watching the world slowly pass by. Or take advantage of the new (in 2021) back courtyard patio. Reservations are strongly recommended due to limited seating.

Visit Winters Turkovitch Family Wines Tasting Room

I’d be remiss if I did not mention a local craft distillery tasting room as a must-visit, too. Family-owned and operated, Patio 29 is less than a half mile from the downtown, walking north on Railroad Ave., but the industrial area doesn’t make it a super attractive stroll. If it’s hot out, I’d recommend jumping into your car. But if you are a gin lover (as I am) or into your whiskey (as Therese is) then you’ll be in heaven here. Be sure to try Patio 29’s Harmon Hot Pix-branded flavored whiskeys for something really different … even I liked the cinnamon whiskey! (Another piece of trivia: The inventor of Harmon’s vintage cinnamon toothpicks is the grandfather of the distillery owner.) At the time of this writing, only open Friday, Saturday and Sundays, but available for special events.

Winters Yolo Patio 29 Distillery

Visit Winters and connect with history

The Winters Museum is housed in a small, funky space just off Main Street and is jam-packed with cupboards full and stacks of photographs, antiques, newspaper clippings and knick-knacks that help to tell the rich history that have contributed to making Winters what it is today. Plan on an hour to tour when the museum is open, Thursday through Sunday from 1-5 p.m. Or, if you need to visit outside of those times, if a volunteer is available, it is possible to schedule a private tour, as we did with docent, historical society board member, retired teacher, and former Winters mayor, Woody Fridae, who was wonderful!

Visit Winters Museum

Go pick some flowers and experience an amazing garden tour

Time to get in your car since this recommendation is definitely not walking distance from the downtown area. I can assure you though that a visit to Park Winters is well worth the short drive! Famous as a world-class wedding destination, Park Winters’ grounds are open for day tours and yes, you can even pick your own flower arrangements. I’d recommend you book a garden tour with co-owner Rafael Galiano (whose uber-exuberance is utterly contagious). You’ll never look at a flower, fruit, or vegetable quite the same way again, rest assured. At this still-undiscovered gem, everything from the chicken coop to the benches are, as he puts it, repurposed, recycled or reused.

Park Winters Garden Rafael Galiano

A bit of Winters fun and quirk

No small town, no matter how uber cute, is without its fun legends and quirky tales. Winters is no exception. As you wander about town, look for Sam Spade’s Office at 305 1st St. It’s best viewed at night, when the lights are on, but the reality is, there is nothing there. No Sam Spade at all, just a vacant building that we hear remains vacant because the owner won’t or can’t spend the money the building codes mandate to make the space useable. There’s a number to call – (530) 400-8681. Dial it and a woman’s voice will tell you that Sam is not in but to leave a message and “Sam will call you as soon as he gets in.” FYI, don’t expect a return phone call.

Winters California Parking Winter

Also keep a sharp eye out for the lone parking meter in town. Surrounded by numerous free parking spaces, the parking meter was installed as a bit of a joke on April 1, 2015, when the city council was getting harangued about locals unable to find parking spaces due, yes, to all those darn tourists. The unofficial meter has stayed, and money collected from it (mostly from clueless tourists it seems) goes toward funding Winter’s 4th of July fireworks celebration.

And finally, look for an old, very old, piano loitering about, tucked in a parking area or driveway off Main Street – or wherever it may land. Since 2013, the city has been performing a “piano drop” – which means hoisting up an old piano – one well past its prime — on a crane and then dropping it from 60 feet or so above a boisterous crowd who have gathered to witness piano destruction mayhem. So, for a year prior to destruction, said piano sits out in the sun and rain, waiting for loving fingers to tickle its keys from time-to-time before it experiences the ultimate indignity. Why Winters does this, I have no idea, but there you have it.

Winters is quaint, boasts an agricultural bounty, remains a bit undiscovered, and has a few oddities tucked into a back pocket, too. Don’t miss it!

Disclosure: We were hosted for select parts and activities of this trip by Visit Yolo. Any reviews, mentions and opinions here are our own, and are not approved, provided, or otherwise endorsed or influenced by Visit Yolo or any of the attractions mentioned.

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