Located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, Orange County extends over forty miles of stunning coastline. With a thriving art scene, an internationally acclaimed theater district, and hidden coves that equally attract surfers and sunbathers, it has become one of California’s most popular destinations. A haven for many types of travelers, Orange County– or “The OC” as it is affectionately called– is also a favorite of wine lovers.
In our current COVID-19 reality, businesses must adjust to state and local mandates related to social distancing and requirements for serving guests, which include outdoor seating only and masks required when not seated. We have provided the most current info on wine bars and wineries in Orange County that are open for business, and with our support they will hopefully continue to remain open. From a wine bar that overlooks the ocean to the county’s largest winery, here are a few of the area’s standouts for oenophiles.
Rancho Capistrano Winery; San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente
Located in the Los Rios District, California’s oldest neighborhood, Rancho Capistrano Winery is not only a tasting room but also a stellar restaurant that specializes in comfort food favorites. They have live music on their sprawling outdoor patio several nights a week, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming along to covers of Crosby Stills & Nash in between bites of Gorgonzola Apple Flatbread. The largest winery in Orange County, they have created over 50 different wines and source their grapes from all over the world. Don’t miss their Sunday brunch, which is served under a canopy of vines and best accompanied by a glass of their rosé.
Wine Gallery; Laguna Beach
Visit this cozy wine bar on Pacific Coast Highway just steps from the ocean and enjoy both ocean and hillside views on their expanded patio and upper terrace. Featuring over 25 wines by the glass, they also have their own lines of wines called Mile 216. The owners are collectors of fine, limited production wines, and their respect for the winemaking process shows in their outstanding selection. Don’t just stay for the wine though, it is best accompanied by one of their specialties such a variety of wood-fired pizzas or the Wine Gallery Burger, a local favorite. They also offer curbside pickup on to-go orders and their own in-house delivery service within Laguna Beach.
Giracci Vineyards and Farms; Silverado
Create your own adventure at the rustic Giracci Vineyards, where owners Chad Kearns and Linda Grace will welcome you like old friends. Nestled in the eastern hills of Silverado Canyon and surrounded by working stables, you will have to convince yourself that you’re still in Orange County as you relax under oak trees while sipping a glass of wine. Giracci opened its doors in 2010, and three years later Kearns and Grace decided to partner with their best friends to open Cowboy Canyon Winery, which is located on the same property. In observance of the state, local, and CDC guidelines, the winery is now only serving food and wine to guests outdoors, and reservations are recommended as seating is limited.
McClain Cellars; Laguna Beach
This tasting room is located at The Hive, Laguna Beach’s hip shopping center in the Arts District. And guests are all abuzz about the wines at McClain Cellars, which showcases wines from California’s Santa Ynez Valley and also recently opened a tasting room in Buellton. Hip with an industrial vibe and colorful paintings adorning the walls (that are also featured on their labels), guests can now enjoy their wine on the outdoor patio that extends to the parking lot. Choose from an array of snacks including McClain’s own line of popcorn or create your own cheese board depending on the size of your appetite. They also have live music on the weekends, and their own WineTV channel, which hosts virtual wine tastings about once a month.
Barnoa Wine Company, San Clemente
A hot spot for happy hour, Barnoa Wine Company is a laid-back bistro that has limited patio seating as well as curbside pickup. Their wine and beer menu is focused on the West Coast, and they feature a variety of wines from around the world in their wine shop. Beer drinkers can rejoice as they also have seven beers on tap along with a fridge full of unique beers. Featuring a full menu, you can’t go wrong with their Brie Fondue or Margarita Flatbread. Barnoa hosts occasional wine events, including wine tastings featuring wineries or region-specific tastings that showcase particular wines. These events are limited to thirty people to observe social distancing standards, so reservations are recommended as they can fill up fast.
A Stone’s Throw Winery; San Juan Capistrano
True to its name, A Stone’s Throw Winery is just a short distance from downtown San Juan Capistrano. Sitting on over two acres of land and surrounded by Valencia orange trees, this tasting room is located inside the historic Swanner House, a two-story Craftsman-style home that was built in 1923. As you make your way over the creaky floors to the tasting area, you might sense the spirits of the home’s former inhabitants beckoning you over for a glass of wine. However, you’ll have to wait for that, as the tasting room is now serving guests outdoors only, on the last Sunday and second Friday of the month. With a beautiful backyard overlooking hills that are covered with colorful wildflowers and mustard during the spring, it is also a popular venue for weddings.
Danielle Bauter is a California-based freelance writer who specializes in travel, food, and wine. Her work has appeared in both online and print publications including Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Lonely Planet, Atlas Obscura, COAST Magazine, and Budget Travel. Her insatiable wanderlust began as a child and her travels continue to fuel her imagination. In her spare time she enjoys wine tasting with her boyfriend and fantasizing about their next getaway. View her online portfolio at daniellebauter.com, and follow her on Instagram @missbauterfly.