Planning a trip to the wine country of Napa Valley vineyards but not sure where to start? Don’t worry. We’re here to help you.
Every year California’s Napa Valley, home to the world-famous Cabernet Sauvignon, sees hordes of tourists. So when you mention your upcoming visit to Napa in front of anyone, you’re sure to get lots of random “expert” suggestions.
Unfortunately, too much information can create a lot of confusion. Especially if you’re traveling for the first time. Here are some great tips and suggestions to help you plan your Napa Valley trip easily and effectively.
When Should You Visit Napa Valley?
Many people might tell you that the best time to visit Napa Valley is in the summer. It is a good time to visit, but it may not be the best time to visit. Unless you love being in crowded places, standing in long queues, and paying a hefty amount on everything, avoid summer.
A great time to go to the wine country is actually in fall. The months of September and October are the harvest time. The weather is pleasant with fewer crowds around this time. Even the prices start falling a bit.
You can also plan on visiting Napa Valley in spring. Although you might not get to see any grapes on vines, you’ll get to see bright yellow mustard plants blooming. It’s really a spectacular view.
How Can You Get to Napa Valley?
By road, Napa is roughly an hour and a half to two and a half hours away from San Francisco/Oakland.(depending on time of day) You can drive down or take the public transport. Information on public transport to Napa can be found on this website.
Another possibility that the people of Napa know about but people visiting may not know is Sacramento. The airport is easier to get out of and the traffic is not as congested.(no bridges or tolls) It is about an hour and fifteen minutes. Unless you plan to visit San Francisco, you might want to try Sacramento.
Highway 29 is the main road that goes through Napa Valley. Another road called the Silverado Trail runs parallel to this highway. Most of the wineries, restaurants, and hotels are on either side of these two roads.
Where Should You Stay in Napa Valley?
If you run a random search for places to stay in the Napa Valley, you might come across some unbelievably cheap hotels. Most of these hotels are likely to be located pretty far-off from the best vineyards and restaurants. So before you book your stay, check the location of the hotel. The best areas to stay are Yountville, Downtown Napa, Calistoga, St.Helena, and Rutherford.
- Yountville is one of the best and classiest areas to stay. You’ll find a lot of great restaurants here such as Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty, Ad Hoc, Bottega, Hurley’s, Redd and of course, French Laundry. Some of the popular places to stay are Villagio, Bardessona, Vintage Inn, and Yountville Inn.
- Downtown Napa is the one of the least areas to stay so if you’re on a budget, this would be a good choice. This area has some great places to eat as well. Andaz, Embassy Suites, River Terrace Inn, Marriott, The Westin Verasa and Napa Inn are the most popular places to stay.
- Calistoga is the farthest on Highway 29, most famous for its mud-baths. Popular places to stay are Dr. Wilkerson or the Calistoga Ranch. The latter might be very expensive though.
- St. Helena and Rutherford are quite pricey too. However, the unique feature of this area is that the hotels are comprehensive travel destinations. Meadowood, Auberge du Soleil, Rancho Caymus, and Harvest Inn are the most popular choices.
How Can You Get Around Napa Valley?
The road from Downtown Napa to Yountville is a beautiful one. You can rent a bike and go down this trail while visiting some of the wineries along the way.
If you have driven down to Napa Valley, you can easily get around in your car. However, given that you will be tasting wines quite often, it is not a very safe idea. The good news is that Uber is easily available in the area, so you can plan accordingly.
What Should You do in Napa Valley?
Drinking and eating should be the topmost activities on your Napa Valley itinerary. Bear in mind that most of the wineries are closed on important holidays. So plan your visit accordingly.
Most wineries do not require prior reservations. However, it is better to call them and check once before going. If you find that fighting for a place at a free wine-tasting seems to disrupt your experience, you can pay a premium. For $10 or $20 per person, you can get a much better wine-tasting experience, away from the crowds.
The best way to go on a wine tour is to choose 3 to 4 wineries to cover on a day. That way you have enough time to spend at each place for a better experience. Here are some of the best wineries to visit for first-timers:
- Domaine Chandon – Try their Sparkling Wine (Champagne).
- Robert Mondavi – Try to take a tour of this place and reserve it in advance.
- Beringer Vineyards – This is a beautiful one with its lush grounds, farmhouse, and stone winery. You can book a tour here too.
- Inglenook Winery – This will give you the feel of an old European winery.
- Castello di Amorosa – If you love medieval castles, this one’s just for you! The tour takes you inside the castle and its secret passages and dungeons.
- V. Sattui Winery – This one has a beautiful picnic ground and great lunch options.
Apart from wines, Napa Valley is known for some great food too. Some of the best places to eat are Bouchon Bistro, The French Laundry, Ad Hoc, Mustards Grill, Rutherford Grill, Go Fish, and Celedon.
If you have more time on your hands, you can also visit the Oxbow public market and the R.L.Stevenson State Park.
Wine tasting at Napa Valley can be quite an expensive experience. A great way to save some money is by sharing tastings. It’s not embarrassing at all, and quite acceptable.
I hope you’ve got all the essential information you need to rock your first trip to Napa Valley. Have fun and enjoy your trip! And if you liked this article, please click the “Like” button and share your thoughts in the comments below.