With its world-class restaurants, miles of vineyards and rolling hills, and of course plenty of amazing wine, it’s no surprise that Napa is one of the most popular wine country destinations. There’s nothing more relaxing than sipping wine in the California sunshine, surrounded by vines and fresh air.
Looking to plan the ideal Napa Valley itinerary? While Napa Valley is very visitor-friendly, much more so than many other wine regions, reservations are a must at wineries as well as many restaurants, and a little prior planning goes a long way. But if you’re feeling inundated by the sheer number of amazing options, don’t fret! We’ve rounded up our top tips to ensure that you’ll be able to make the most of your time here in Napa Valley.
The Best Seasons to Visit
We might be biased, but we think every season here in Napa Valley is beautiful and special in its own way. The first time I visited Napa before living here, it was the end of January, and I experienced personalized, intimate service at each winery I visited. My next visit was July Fourth weekend, and it was a completely different experience. Better weather, yes, but it was also quite crowded, and it was difficult to get a true sense of the wineries I visited during that trip.
Those pictures you’ve seen of vineyards awash in yellow? That’s springtime here in Napa, when mustard pops up all over and coats the valley with its gorgeous yellow blooms. You’ll also be greeted with flowering fruit trees like plum and nectarine, see wildflowers and California poppies, and witness the grapevine’s early growth in the vineyards.
The weather in the spring can be somewhat unpredictable, but is generally mild and devoid of the heatwaves we experience in the summer and fall. In general, the valley is less busy during this time of year as well. All of these factors mean that spring is a wonderful time to visit Napa Valley!
Summer brings outdoor concerts, fun events, festivals, warm weather, and longer days. The pace of the valley starts to pick up as towns like Napa and Yountville buzz with a happy energy. Summertime can also bring heat waves and crowds, however, so if you visit during this season be sure to book well in advance and pack appropriately.
Ahhh, harvest time. This is when the pace in the valley really picks up, as everyone prepares themselves for the grape harvest and everything that comes with it. If you’ve ever wanted to see wine production in action or have always wondered what a Cabernet Sauvignon grape actually tastes like, this is your season to visit Napa. The air even starts to smell like wine. What can get better than that?
As I alluded to above, winter is a great time to visit Napa if you’re interested in a more intimate or educational experience. Wineries and restaurants alike truly appreciate visitors during these months, and will go above and beyond to create a memorable experience. And although the weather can be a bit colder and wetter than other seasons, it’s still California we’re talking about. And yes, we know we sound crazy when we complain about it being cold when it’s 65 degrees out.
Hotels in Napa Valley
Napa, Yountville, and Calistoga to a lesser extent all offer a variety of lodging options, from five-star resorts with all the amenities to quaint B&Bs with only a few guest rooms. Of course, whether you’re on your honeymoon with your special person or meeting up with the entire family for a reunion will make all the difference in terms of where you choose to stay.
You’ll also want to consider where you’ll be spending most of your time. Do you want to be in the center of the action, or would you prefer a quiet retreat after a day of wine tasting? Do you want to stick to several different regions in Napa, or do you want to experience the entire valley? Because you’ll likely be indulging in a good amount of amazing wine, it makes all the difference if your hotel is a short walk or quick Uber ride from the tasting rooms, restaurants, and shops that you don’t want to miss.
Downtown Napa and Surrounding Area
Archer Hotel | The Inn on First | Milliken Creek Inn
Hotel Yountville | Hotel Villagio | Bardessono
Upper Valley and Calistoga
Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs | Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection | Four Seasons Resort and Residences Napa Valley
Where to Wine and Dine in Napa Valley
We’re going to go out on a limb here and guess that you’re probably planning to…taste wine. All joking aside, though, it’s important to start planning your itinerary before you arrive.
We recommend making a list of your top Napa wineries, restaurants, and any other activities. This is where things can get…well, overwhelming to say the least. Napa Valley alone has about 500 wineries and over 100 restaurants to choose from. Where to even start? The good news is, we have the answer! Visit Napa Valley (insert link) has compiled lists of wineries, restaurants, things to do, and events, all of which can be filtered for location, amenities, and more. They also provide travel tips, maps, and more.
We recommend choosing 2-3 wineries per day, and making reservations well in advance. As someone who was once a first-time visitor to Napa Valley, I understand how tempting it can be to try to pack as many winery visits into each day as possible. However, with fewer tastings per day, you will be able to enjoy the experience more, and connect more with the people and wines at each stop. It’s also important to keep in mind that the valley is about 30 miles north to south, so it’s best to hit wineries and attractions in one general area within a given day, to cut down on driving time.
You also may want to consider choosing different types of tasting experiences. For example, day one could include a cave tour and tasting, followed by an educational food and wine pairing, and ending with a relaxed outdoor tasting with vineyard views. There are too many fantastic wineries to list here, but below are a few of our tried-and-true favorites.
The B Cellars estate features a wine production facility, beautiful gardens and grounds, vineyards, and a wine cave. Enjoy wine tastings with small bites in their elegant yet comfortable Hospitality House.
AXR Napa Valley
Start your experience with a journey to the secret redwood grove on the property followed by a tasting of AXR’s handcrafted wines in their immaculately restored pre-prohibition estate.
Enjoy an intimate tasting experience while learning about the history of the property, organic farming practices, and the Ehlers philosophy.
Conveniently located just east of Yountville, this small family winery offers stunning views and friendly hospitality to complement their distinct, vineyard-focused wines.
Home to one of California’s only “Ghost Wineries”, this historic property features gardens and vineyards that provide the perfect setting to enjoy their limited production wines.
Krupp Brothers Winery
With both a downtown Napa tasting room and a Tuscan-inspired estate complete with a lake, this family-owned winery will charm you with both its stories and its wine.
Where to even start when it comes to Napa’s restaurants? Napa Valley’s soil and climate is not just perfect for grape growing, it also produces beautiful produce year-round. Most restaurants source locally and use seasonal ingredients, ensuring that each meal will be unique and delicious.
While we love a long, leisurely lunch, if you have limited time between tastings, there are plenty of great spots to grab a sandwich or salad to go. While most wineries don’t allow picnics onsite, there are plenty of parks and green spaces throughout the valley that make for picturesque picnic spots.
If you’re planning to dine out every evening, we suggest making reservations in advance, especially during weekend days. Keep in mind that some restaurants are not open seven days a week, either. If you’re visiting on a Monday or Tuesday, when some spots are closed, make sure you know in advance which restaurants are open (there are plenty, don’t worry!).
Oxbow Public Market, Napa | Addendum, Yountville | Oakville Grocery, Oakville | V. Sattui Winery, St. Helena | Buster’s BBQ, Calistoga | CalMart, Calistoga
Parks & Picnic Spots
Veteran’s Park, Napa | Fuller Park, Napa | Yountville Park, Yountville | Lyman Park, St. Helena | Pioneer Park, Calistoga
Napa: Zuzu | Ristorante Allegria | Tarla | Angele | La Toque
Yountville: Ad Hoc | Bottega | Bistro Jeanty
St. Helena: Brix Restaurant | Goose & Gander | Press, St. Helena
Are you getting excited yet? Before you finalize your itinerary, however, you may want to consider including some non-wine related activities. From hot air balloon rides to kayaking to hiking, we have it all. More on that in the next post!
For more ideas and recommendations, we recommend Visit Napa Valley.