Napa Valley

January 21, 2017

Our Napa Valley itinerary is a bit different from our others as there are simply too many options to offer just one plan.  As we always tell our friends, it’s like going to Hawaii – you could plan absolutely nothing and you would still have a wonderful time.  Therefore, we will provide a few sample days at the bottom in case you want to copy/paste them into your plans – but mostly we will point out resources and tips for planning your days.

Driving.  If your goal is to enjoy wine tastings throughout the day, we always encourage visitors to plan for a driver.  There are a number of options for vans, tours, trains, etc.  We have tried a few and the one we had the best experience with so far is A Limo Excursions.  If you do plan to drive, please have a designated driver as there are a lot of cyclists, cars breaking quickly and of course police.  And luckily, Uber has come to Napa during the busy seasons which makes it much easier to get to and from any evening events now.

Drivers.  One unfortunate aspect of hiring drivers is they are often paid commissions to steer you to specific wineries (many of which in our experience are not as good).  If you have a plan you want to follow, be very clear upfront with your drive where you want to go.

Free Tastings and Appointments.  While we all enjoy free things, there are a number of complimentary tastings available (online or at the hotel) and like anything, you get what you pay for.  We have found a few to be good (i.e. Andretti is a very nice winery), but for the most part the wineries who charge a fee and/or book appointments tend to be the ones with either the best wines or the best views.  We recommend booking a few appointments per day and then filling the open time with drop ins or other wineries you want to see.

Distance.  Many people assume the wineries are right next to each other (we did our first time).  However, wineries are farms.  Meaning it could be a ten or twenty minute ride from one winery to another right down the road.  A good idea is to plan to visit the wineries furthest from your hotel in the morning and then work your way back to your hotel.  We made the mistake of doing it the other way and found ourselves with a two hour drive home at the end of a long day.

The Valley.  At its simplest, Napa Valley is often considered the corridor which includes Napa, Yountville, St Helena and Calistoga.  Of course, there are areas like Sonoma, Carneros, Howell Mountain and so on – but at its core those are the main towns so you will likely want to find lodging in or around those areas.  We will mention Yountville is our personal favorite for its size and access to dining in the evenings – and we always recommend first time visitors spend at least a half day on the Silverado Trail which is much less traveled and has some of the most beautiful wineries in the area.

Lodging.  There are accommodations for any budget.  You can find major hotel chains for economy travelers or those using points to travel.  There are high end luxury resorts (Auberge Du Soleil, Bardessono, etc.) and less expensive, quaint lodges.  If your goal is to enjoy time at the resort itself, then spending a bit more might make sense.  However, we find you spend most of your time outside so we try to save some on our lodging when possible.  One of our favorite, more economical locations is the River Terrace Inn in Napa which has a lower rate, high end furnishing, a river view and breakfast each morning.

Crush Season.  Almost any time of year is a great time to visit so what makes Crush Season in September and October different and why should you care?  Crush is when the wineries are harvesting and crushing grapes but this is also when the wineries will host a number of special evening events to celebrate their releases.  These can range from small intimate dinners to bands and dancing to full gala events.  If you decide to visit during crush, it is worth researching which wineries are having events and booking some special evenings touring the wine rooms, crushing grapes with your feet or maybe even winning a wine contest (we won six bottles of a great wine in a lottery one year at a release party).

Wineries.  There are so many great wineries in Napa Valley, it’s not really fair to recommend just a few. Part of the fun is exploring and stopping in at smaller, lesser known vineyards on your own or visiting the wineries of the ones you enjoy back home. So we encourage visitors to plan for three or four stops a day and fill the rest of their time exploring on their own.

With that all said, below are our best recommendations for full days in Napa Valley broken out by how you like to travel – just in case you prefer to have an easy plan.

And for more details on surrounding areas see our full itinerary for San Francisco and Napa Valley or our destination notes for Sausalito and San Francisco.

Our Best All Around Recommended Day – Itinerary

  • 10:00 – Mumm Napa – Sparkling wine in the morning on the patio, followed by a tour of the Ansel Adams museum onsite
  • 11:00 – Joseph Phelps – Appointment – Amazing wine and one of the best views in the valley
  • Lunch – V. Sattui – Touristy yes but why mess with success? Great deli and picnic tables to enjoy a bottle of wine under the oak trees.
  • 1:30 – Plumpjack – Small winery with our favorite wine
  • 2:00 – Silverado Trail – Visit the amazing wineries (Robert Sinskey, Stag’s Leap, Clos Du Val, Darioush, etc.)
  • Dinner – Bottega (Rustic Italian), Bistro Jeanty (French) or French Laundry (the original “farm to table restaurant” which you booked a year early to get a reservation and money is not an issue)

I know I’m a Tourist, So I Want to See The Big wineries! – Itinerary

  • Early Morning – Hot Air Balloon Ride or Coppola Winery up north.  Frankly, we were not that excited about the Hot Air Balloon rides as they are very early mornings, a lot of time and we think the area is actually pretttier from the ground.  However, some people do love this activity so we wanted to note it.
  • 10:00 – Sterling Vineyards – Ride the Gondola up to the top
  • 11:30 – Beringer – Everyone knows Beringer
  • Lunch – V. Sattui – Again, it’s touristy but good food and a picnic with wine under the oak trees is still great.
  • Afternoon – Peju, Cakebread and Robert Mondavi – or go to Del Dotto and drink lots and lots of wine from the barrel.
  • Late Afternoon – Merryvalle – Tasting room is open one hour later than most so it is always an interesting late crowd
  • Dinner – Mustard’s Grill (California, New American and one of the most popular in the valley)

I Want to Avoid The Crowds and Go Where Others Don’t – itinerary

  • 10:00 – Domaine Carneros – Impressive French-style Chateau. Sparking wine while watching the sun rise over the rolling hills.
  • 11:00 – Artesa Winery – Known more for its beautiful fountains, art and sculptures than wine.
  • Lunch Option 1 – Oakville Grocery, Regusci Winery – The oldest continuously operated grocery store in California since 1881. Pick up sandwiches and salads for lunch.  And if you make a wine tasting appointment and ask nicely, you can enjoy a picnic at Regusci overlooking the valley.  Another option is Rutherford Hill where you can also reserve picnic tables.
  • Lunch Option 2 – Auberge Du Soleil – Make reservations at their high end restaurant and look out over the valley below while dining.
  • Afternoon – Spring Mountain – Head up into the western mountain range and visit Schweiger for an intimate tasting and then a tour of Pride Mountain where 1/3 of the vineyard lies in Napa County and 2/3 lies in Sonoma County dividing their harvest.
  • Afternoon – Kuleto – Head upwards to the east and visit arguably the best view (but not necessarily wine) in all of Napa.  Appointments are required and it is a windy drive but a patio overlooking Lake Hennessey is one of a kind.  Stop off at Plumpjack afterwards to pick up some good wine at the smaller vineyard.
  • Dinner – It’s hard to find a spot to dine that is not crowded but if anyone knows of one, we are happy to hear.

Again, there are so many great places and wineries, you cannot really make a mistake.  Below are a list of websites we have found to be very helpful when planning a trip.  We hope these will help on your next trip.

LINKS – Napa Valley Itinerary


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    1. Hi, I just came across your website after we connected on Twitter and I really like your idea customised itineraies. Well done! You are right that people love free things which is why I’ve created a specific page just for free things to do in places. It’s not that people won’t spend money when they go there but sometimes the free things are little hidden gems you wouldn’t otherwise see. If you want to check them out they are here.

      Good luck with your travels. Enjoy life!

      1. Thank you Fiona!! We love your tips as well. As I mentioned Iceland is on the short list for a future trip so we do appreciate it.

    1. A little add on about drivers: it’s worth mentioning that there are quite a few that don’t take commissions from wineries and will work with you to customize your day to the wines, experiences and budget you’re looking for. Some, like us, include this as part of their service while others will charge extra for this 🙂

      1. Ha!! Probably fair to say it’s a generalization. However, we had very pushy drivers on two visits so we felt the need to note it but appreciate not all companies should be held to that. Glad to hear some make a point not to do that. Thanks for sharing!

    1. If you really want to get off the beaten path, talk to me. I’ve been to more then 930 Napa wineries and producers and written and photographed them all. I have a perspective of the valley that very few have. That is 11 years of intense research to date.

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