Napa, CA Overview
When To Go
July and August are the busiest months and October is harvest. Ideal months are May/June, although winter offers few crowds and the striking beauty of the yellow, gold and orange mustard plants in the vineyards.
Napa is accessible by car from either San Francisco or Sacramento airports, both slightly over an hour away.
It is nearly 30 miles from the bottom of Napa Valley to the top, so having a car is imperative. Once there, however, car services are available to take you around to the wineries and Uber is now an option as well.
Things To Do
Well, this is what you are here for right? There are any number of ways to approach this from group tours to personalized tours to DIY tours. We prefer the DIY approach because you can go at your own pace and select the wineries that appeal to you.
With over 400 wineries in the valley, you will still need a plan. First rule is that this is a long distance race, not a sprint. Can’t understand the people who boast about how many wineries they visited in a day. What s the point? Most knowledgeable people will agree that you should visit no more than 3-4 wineries per day, so 1 in the morning (most open at 10am) and 2-3 in the afternoon.
We have three criteria when we are wine tasting;
1. The wines must be highly rated 90+
2. The wines must be available for purchase at home. If I really like something, I want to be able to buy it. The only caveat here is if a wine is truly special and this is an opportunity to taste it
even if it is not readily available.
3. The tasting experience has to be unique in what it offers; maybe a food pairing, maybe lunch, maybe a killer view, maybe an incredible tasting room.
Virtually all wineries require reservations and charge a tasting fee.
Here are recommendations by AVA. Excellent wine is a given, so we ll highlight what else is special.
Castello di Amorosa – Authentically-built, 13th century inspired Tuscan castle
Chateau Montelena Gorgeous chateau and grounds. Winner of Judgment in Paris 1976.
Sterling Vineyards. Take a gondola to the vineyard 300 feet above the town.
Darioush. Remarkable architecture and grounds.
Far Niente. 13 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, wine caves
and a beautiful tasting room. Antique car collection.
Opus One The grounds are beautiful, but in this case it is about the wine. $50 gets you a glass of this incredible wine.
Robert Mondavi. The Godfather of Napa wine. This state-of-the-art facility is what modern wine making is all about.
Silver Oak Beautiful facility, amazing wine. The favorite cab of many.
Beaulieu. An opportunity to taste the Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Rutherford Hill. Best picnic site in the valley. Must purchase their wines to use the picnic area, but they are delicious.
St. Supery. Great introduction to wine and wine tasting. Explore wine aromas suggestive of fruit character, barrel aging and terroir while tasting four estate grown St. Supéry wines. Exercise your sense of smell through a series of aroma identifications designed for you to discover how your personal sensory memory impacts how you recognize aromas.
Spring Mountain. Beautiful mountain top winery. Backdrop for the 80 s TV show Falcon Crest.
Chappellet.Spectacular views of the valley from high atop Pritchard Hill
Beringer. Dramatic Tudor style tasting room. Food and wine pairings.
Joseph Phelps. Wonderful outside terrace looking down over the valley. Be sure to taste the Insignia Cab.
Heitz Cellar. An opportunity to taste the Martha s Vineyard Cabernet
Spottswoode. Organically farmed, owned and run by women. Best Sauvignon Blanc I ever had.
Buehler. The drive up the mountain is worth the trip alone. Best Cab anywhere for the money. Spectacular views.
Stags Leap Wine Cellars. Winery that beat the French in the Judgment of Paris in 1976.
Pine Ridge. Spectacular setting and delicious Bordeaux style wines.
Shafer. Gorgeous facility. Hillside Select one of the world’s greatest wines.
Domaine Chandon – founded in 1973 by Moet & Chandon. Exceptional sparkling wine. Beautiful grounds.
Del Dotto. Incredible caves and barrel tastings. Visit the Napa location.
For a truly unique experience contact Ania at Wine Country Concierge. She can get you into wineries that are not open to the public.
Napa River Trail is a 3.5 mile trek with some great scenery. Click here for a map. Under construction is the Napa Valley Vine Trail, which looks to be as wonderful as Stowe, Vermont s Recreation Path when completed. Skyline Park is another option. Bikes are available for rent at St. Helena Cyclery
Golf is available to guests of Meadowood and Silverado (home of the Safeway, PGA Tournament) resorts. Eagle Vines is a challenging public course set amid vineyards and designed by Johnny Miller. 6th hole island green.
Available at resorts like Meadowood and Silverado or at Napa Valley Tennis Courts, when not in use by the college.
Hot Air Ballooning
This is an extraordinary experience and one not to be missed. It is expensive but the scenery is breathtaking particularly in the early morning when the balloons go up. We recommend Balloons Above the Valley. Starts with Starbucks coffee & fresh pastries baked daily from Sweetie Pies and ends with a Champagne brunch. $199pp
For such a relatively small area there are ton of available tours ranging from $99 trolley tours to bike tours, horseback riding tours, to chauffeured limousines to food tours and to your own personal wine country concierge. Platypus is a very popular tour company.
Enjoy vineyard rides with tastings and food pairings at Napa Valley Trail Rides.
Napa Valley Museum. Learn the fascinating history of the Valley
The Napa Valley Opera House was built in 1879 and renovated in 2002. In addition to opera, the House also presents dance, theater, music and comedy. The art deco Uptown Theater in Napa draws major music acts. Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater is home to the Symphony Napa Valley.
The renowned Culinary Institute of America has an outpost in St. Helena and offers cooking classes throughout the year
These wineries are also know for their art collections:
There are countless stores and boutiques throughout the valley, but here are some favorites; The Spice Islands Marketplace at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, everything for the foodie and amateur chef; Oxbow Public Market in Napa, music, food, wine, beer tastings fun fun .; NapaStyle in Yountville, Founded by Napa Valley chef, vintner, TV host and author, Michael Chiarello, NapaStyle showcases an eclectic mix of handcrafted and exclusive home goods and artisanal specialty foods; Lucerno Olive Oil in Napa, California grown olive products; The Napa Valley Store in Napa, products made by talented Napa Valley artisans; Napa General Store in Napa, cool wine related products.
Napa Farmer’s Market – Tuesdays and Saturdays
St. Helena Farmer’s Market – Fridays
Oxbow Public Market – Daily
A multi-stage event celebrating music, food, wine and beer in the heart of Napa Valley. Attendees will enjoy a three-day event; spread over 26 acres and featuring some of the country s best performers while enjoying the area s finest vintners and culinary talent.
Auction Napa Valley – June
Napa Valley Vintners annual fundraiser, where wine lover and winemaker meet at the source of America’s legendary wines to partake in and celebrate the best Napa Valley has to offer
Festival del Sole
Featuring concerts by some of the world s most celebrated musical artists, five-star cuisine, art exhibits and wines from Napa s top vintners, blended in a unique celebration of the art of life.
Shakespeare in the Park
Enjoy a stellar cast in productions of the Bard under the stars.
Flavor! Napa Valley
Flavor! Napa Valley, a celebration of wine, food & fun, features legendary food and wine talents of the Napa Valley for a five-day series of epicurean and oenophile.
The Napa Valley Film Festival Nov
Featuring new independent films; studio sneak previews; conversations with the attending directors, actors, producers and writers; festivities; Tribute and Awards Programs; wine tasting pavilions and culinary demonstrations and much more.
Napa Valley Restaurant Month Jan
With set-price menus for lunch and dinner, and optional Napa Valley wine pairings, there are countless opportunities to indulge.
Napa Truffle Festival
North America s premier truffle event.
*Lunch on the Napa Valley Train
*Taste the Shafer Hillside Select
*Barrel tasting at Del Dotto
*Dinner at Meadowood
*A Gott’s Roadside Burger
*Anything from Bouchon Bakery
Good to Know, Good to Go
News and Resources
The Napa Valley Register is the Valley’s daily newspaper. Napa Valley Life Magazine and Napa Sonoma Magazine are two lifestyle magazines. VisitNapaValley.com is the official visitor’s guide for the area and The Preiser Key is an indispensable resource for winery and restaurant information.
Food & Drink
Virtually all lodging in the Valley offer breakfast, many included in the room rate. Want to venture out? Try Model Bakery in Napa and St. Helena, a 100-year-old Napa Valley institution. Have one of their world famous English muffins. First time I was in Yountville, there was a line outside the Bouchon Bakery at 7am waiting for the store to open. Exceptional coffee, tea and pastries/muffins. Crazy expensive, but the view in the morning from Auberge du Soleil is the perfect way to start the day. Have the Duck Confit Hash, Slow Cooked Farm Eggs, Mache, Red Wine Sauce. Locals love the Boon Flynn Cafe at the Caneros Resort. Fun place. Try the homemade donuts and the corned beef hash.
Auberge du Soleil is a great choice with excellent food and wine and wonderful high up valley views. Bistro Don Giovanni has a beautiful flower filled outside patio and an indoor fireplace. Brix is ideally located for a wine tasting day and sits in its own vineyard. Mustard’s is a lively place and local’s favorite. Another favorite of winery people is the Rutherford Grill which has outdoor seating. Bistro Jeanty has a terrace and fantastic bistro food. Bouchon Bistro is the kind of place you could while away an afternoon.
The Napa Valley Wine Train is a fun experience for lunch. If you are just going for lunch, I would choose the Vista Dome. The best value though, is the Quattro Vino, a 6 hour tour that includes tastings at 4 wineries and a 3 course small bites menu.
There are two choices for picnics in the valley. First is to find a place on your own, buy some food and wine and settle down for a leisurely lunch. The other is to visit one of the wineries licensed to offer picnics.
If you are going it alone, here are some spots you will enjoy:
Bale Grist Mill State Park and Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Between St. Helena and Calistoga.
Oakville Grocery. Great place for sandwiches and cheese and they have their own picnic grounds. Genova Deli has been family owned for 26 years. Specialty sandwiches have a cult following.
For winery picnics, here are our favorites:
- Buehler Vineyards. Spectacular mountaintop location. Great wines.
- Charles Krug. Welcomes picnickers on weekdays (Monday – Friday) on both the front and back lawns. Picnic tables are designated for visitors to enjoy while sipping Charles Krug wines. No outside alcohol is permitted. On weekends, visitors are encouraged to enjoy their Pizza on the Lawn offerings at Cucina di Rosa, which include wood-fired gourmet Italian-inspired fare paired with Charles Krug wines. No outside food or drink is permitted on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Chateau Montelena. Gorgeous chateau. Killer wines. Lakeside tables. Chinese gardens.
- Clos du Val. Sit on the Front Lawn overlooking the Stags Leap vineyards or nestled in the Olive Grove,
- Frank Family Vineyards. Just outside the tasting room, visitors are welcome to sit under the giant elm trees, relax at the wooden picnic tables and enjoy spectacular vineyard views.
- Rombauer Vineyards. Beautiful setting and excellent wines.
- Rutherford Hill. Thought by many to be the best picnic grounds in the valley. Small groups of 14 guests or less may bring your picnic lunch and enjoy Rutherford Hill wines accompanied by one of the best views in wine country. Picnic packages include two bottles of our Napa Valley wines, glasses and your own picnic table, starting at $75.
- V. Sattui Winery. More than 2 acres of shaded picnic grounds surrounded by giant oak trees, flowers and vineyards. Artisan Deli has everything you need to create the perfect picnic: Sandwiches, Panini, salads, pastas, and other specialty items are made fresh in their own kitchen every day. They make their own charcuterie in their salumeria which pairs with any of over 200 different cheeses, and fresh fruits. No outside food or wine.”
Gott’s Roadside. Delicious burgers, milkshakes, tacos and .a wine list! St. Helena and Napa
Everyone agrees Three Twins in the Oxbow Public Market in Napa has the best ice cream
Chris Kollar’s Kollar Chocolates is the go-to chocolate shop in the Valley. His Kollar Krack made with pop rocks and dark chocolate is well, like crack to chocoholics.
Bounty Hunter in downtown Napa has 400 highly-allocated wines on the shelves and 40 wines available by-the-glass. Killer whiskey list as well. Best BBQ in the valley. Great wine lists at Auberge du Soleil, Bouchon Bistro and PRESS (largest list of Napa wines in the world).
Wonderful sunsets at Auberge du Soleil. Riverside cocktails at Angele in Napa. Goose and Gander in St. Helena has great apps and an outside patio. Michelin starred Solbar in Calistoga has a gorgeous outside patio. Local’s favorite Cook Tavern in St. Helena offers great small plates and craft cocktails. Wine industry folks love Rutherford Grill at Happy Hour. Mercantile Social at the Andaz in Napa is a local favorite. Hardwood decking , comfy loungers, eclectic pots and planters and vine-covered niches and fire pits
While Away a Rainy Day
Spend a rainy day eating and drinking at Bistro Don Giovanni. Covered outside terrace, inside fireplace. Take the Napa Wine Train for lunch. Head to a dive bar; Bilco’s Billiards and Darts “Sixty beers on tap, pool, darts, and an extensive menu of deliciously unhealthy bar food (fried pickles! Patrick’s Fire Fries! Sal’s Mozzarella Sticks!) make for a winning dive bar combination.” Thrillist
After Dinner Fun
Continue your wine tasting at Carpe Diem Wine Bar in downtown Napa. Head over to Silo’s for live music in an intimate setting. Hydro Bar & Grill plays 80;s music and a middle-aged crowd drinks and dances. Uptown Theater in Napa offers headline entertainment and features the finest acts in music and comedy.
Calistoga Ranch Spa. Calistoga. Nestled in the woods, this Forbes 4 Star spa re-invents the “taking of the waters” appeal.
Indian Springs, Calistoga. People have been coming to Indian Springs for over 100 years for its natural thermal mineral waters, mud baths and special treatments.
Meadowood Spa, St. Helena. Brand new. As elegant and calming as the resort itself. Try the “Cabernet Crush,” a warm Cabernet grape-seed skin-polishing treatment followed by an application of fragrant, vitamin-rich grape-seed oil.
Spa Terra. Meritage Resort, Napa. Housed in an underground wine cave. Try the Solo Vino package; an exfoliating Cabernet grape seed scrub, followed by an invigorating rinse and a decadent body wrap with wine cave mud. A Terra Massage ends this Napa Valley favorite. Cheese tray and a glass of wine included.
The Spa at Carnaros Inn, Napa. Set on 27 acres of vineyards, farmland and orchards. Forbes 4 Star spa.
Virtually all of the wineries open to the public sell their wines at the winery. There are however, many that are not open to the public. Here’s some great places to find them:
750 Wines. St. Helena. Tasting shop that also sells its limited production wines. Tastings last about 1 1/2 hours.
L. Kaz Wine Collection, Yountville. Very cool tasting concept. From the “The Taster” ($75), 6 wines that retail in the $40-$100 range to “The Centurion”, ($350) 6 wines that retail in the $150-$1,500 range. 90 minutes. Food pairings optional.
Enoteca Wine Shop, Calistoga. Receives an allottment of hard-to-get Napa wines. Amazing point of sale descriptions of the wines.
VWine Cellar, Yountville. 3,000 wines including hot new releases and rare library gems.
Vintner’s Collective. First luxury cooperative of boutique Napa Valley winemakers, Vintner’s Collective offers exclusive wines handcrafted by small, boutique vintners, often exclusively, for some wineries that don’t have the facilities to offer tastings on site. The historic building, which was a saloon and brothel dating back to 1875, is conveniently located on Main Street and rotates an extraordinary assortment of over 15 hard-to-find, small producers.
Work It Out
Many lodging facilities have a fitness center of some sort, but for those that don’t here are some options:
Healthquest Fitness Center, Napa. Classes, equipment, pool, sauna and steam. $21 day pass. Opens 5am.
Wine Country Crossfit, Napa. $20 day pass if you are doing cross fit elsewhere.
No matter how many times you visit, you’ll never know Napa the way a local does. Our friend, Ania Gatto, runs a company called Wine Country Concierge. She has lived and worked in Napa Valley for the past several years, establishing cult winery brands, and building her vast network in Napa Valley’s most sought after experiences. Prior to this worked as a Sommelier for more than 15 years in numerous Michelin-starred restaurants including the Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove, The Modern NYC, Four Seasons Hotel, Atelier of Joel Robuchon NYC, The French Laundry, and as a Wine Director for Saveur Magazine. She knows food and she knows wine.
Ania’s value to the Napa visitor is being able to do things you could not do on your own. She can get you into wineries that are not open to the public. She can arrange private lunches or dinners at a winery with a winemaker. She knows the best companies for private transportation and hot air balloon rides. She can get you upgraded accommodations and she can plan an entire itinerary for you based on the things that are important to you.
Where To Stay
AAA Four Diamonds Lodging
OVERVIEWThe Andaz Napa is located in the heart of downtown Napa, accessible on foot to everything in town and by car for the surrounding areas. Part of the Hyatt chain, this upscale brand offers luxury accommodations at affordable prices. THE ROOMS The 141 rooms are elegantly decorated with contemporary furnishings, plush beds with crisp cotton...…View Property Details
Hotel Yountville, Yountville
OVERVIEWHotel Yountville is in the center of the town which is in the center of the valley, making it an ideal base for your visit to Napa. In Yountville itself, you can walk to tasting rooms, Michelin starred restaurants, an amazing bakery and wonderful boutiques. The hotel is an elegant compound of 80 rooms surrounded by...…View Property Details
Maison Fleurie, Yountville
OVERVIEW This may well be THE value accommodation in the Napa Valley. Located in the heart of the valley in Yountville, this charming B&B sits on a half acre of beautifully sculpted gardens and is made up of three stone and brick buildings. Maison Fleurie was built in 1873 as the Magnolia Hotel, constructed of stone from...…View Property Details
Meadowood, St Helena
Bar, Fireplace Rooms, Fitness Room, On Property Golf, On Property Tennis, Oversized Rooms, Pool, Restaurant, Spa
AAA Five Diamond Dining, AAA Four Diamonds Lodging, Best Weekends Hall of Fame, Forbes Five Star Lodging, Forbes Five Star Spa, Relais & Chateau Property, Wine Spectator Award Winning List
OVERVIEW In 1979 H. William Harlan was searching for land on which to create a wine estate when he was introduced to Meadowood, which had been founded in 1964 as a private country club. The property wasn’t ideally suited to grape growing, but Mr. Harlan was intrigued and called his partners to share the news...…View Property Details
North Block Hotel, Yountville
OVERVIEWNorth Block is a boutique hotel in Yountville that could have been plucked from a Pottery Barn catalog. The stone buildings with slate roofs surround a courtyard that has seating areas and fireplaces. The entrance way is lined with citrus trees, hand painted tiles and lanterns. The chic lobby is bathed in shades of brown with...…View Property Details
Where To Eat
Most restaurant owners toiled for others, honing their skills and working on the plan to open their own restaurant. This was true for Angele partners Bettina and Claude Rouas. Bettina started her career as a manager at The French Laundry restaurant and refined her skills as general manager of Bistro Jeanty and Bistro Don Giovanni.…View Restaurant Details >
Auberge du Soleil
The Auberge setting may be the best in the Valley, high atop a hill overlooking neighboring vineyards. It is the perfect place to watch the setting sun each day. I'm not sure which meal I enjoy more here. The food, wine and panoramic vistas lend themselves to long leisurely meals. The dining room has a kind of…View Restaurant Details >
Bistro Don Giovanni
Bistro Don Giovanni typifies what a Napa Valley restaurant should be; a warm and comfortable place to enjoy good food and wine. Owner Giovanni Scala is the consummate host and his personal touch has made this landmark a favorite of local winemakers, winery owners and anyone who enjoys food and wine. When it is cool outside,…View Restaurant Details >
"In every day French life, it is the Bistro that is woven into the daily pattern of meals and celebrations. The Bistro is that little neighborhood restaurant where they know who you are, greet you warmly, and serve you satisfying foods that change with the seasons and define regional homey French cuisine." Philippe Jeanty Jeanty…View Restaurant Details >
Bouchon is an opportunity to experience Thomas Keller's cooking without the price tag of a visit to The French Laundry. This charming bistro on Washington Street in Yountville offers the same attention to detail as its upscale counterpart in a more casual, laid back atmosphere. The brick and burgundy colored wood building is surrounded by…View Restaurant Details >
Cole’s Chop House
Cole's is a wonderful steakhouse and is a favorite of locals particularly those who live in the town of Napa. The 100 seat restaurant (plus 12 at the bar and 50 outside) sits in the center of town and occupies a unique stone building circa 1886. Inside, the two tier restaurant has the original open truss…View Restaurant Details >
Chef/Owner Ken Frank came to love French cooking while living in France as a teenager. He first achieved national acclaim in 1977 when he was Chef of La Guillotine Restaurant at age 21. He was the original Chef at Michael’s in Santa Monica, considered the Los Angeles birthplace of “California Cuisine,” which he left in…View Restaurant Details >
There are a lot of pioneers in the Napa Valley, on both the food and wine sides and Cindy Pawlcyn, owner of Mustard's Grill and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, is one of them. Born in Minneapolis, she received a degree in hotel and restaurant management from the University of Wisconsin and received further training at Le Cordon Bleu…View Restaurant Details >
They had me at bacon.. Sat at the bar before dinner and lo and behold one of the apps was a bacon bar; Double-Cut Nueske's, Wisconsin Snake River Kurobuta, Idaho; Durham Ranch Wild Boar, Wyoming, Benton's,Tennessee, Candied Hobbs, California. You can buy them individually or do a tasting for $22. I just knew this was…View Restaurant Details >
In almost every town, there's a place that people, locals and visitors alike, seem to gravitate. It becomes a favorite for any number of reasons, but mostly because it feels good to be there. Rutherford Grill is just such a place. Owned by the Hillstone Restaurant Group who have restaurants all over the country, we became fans…View Restaurant Details >