John I visited Napa Valley three times in the past four years and it is one of our all time favorite US destinations. Whether you’re looking for a laid-back romantic getaway with your significant other or a lively weekend away with friends, California’s wine country should be on your bucket list. Since this post is long overdue, I’m going to share photos and details from all three trips to give you the ultimate travel guide to Napa Valley!
About Napa Valley
Napa Valley is the premier wine region in northern California and the gateway to wine paradise known for its Cabernet Sauvignon wines with over 400 wineries. Napa Valley is comprised of six major towns: Napa, Yountville, Oakville/Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga. With its award-winning wines alongside its stunning landscapes, Napa Valley is a wine lover’s paradise.
Napa is located in the northern region of California, about an hour and a half north of San Francisco and an hour south of Sacramento. There are five major airports you can fly into:
1. San Francisco Int’l Airport
2. Sonoma County Airport
3. Oakland Int’l Airport
4. San Jose Int’l Airport
5. Sacramento Int’l Airport
For all three trips we flew into San Francisco. We rented a car for two of the trips and on our first visit in 2015, we hired a private driver for the day to chauffeur us to and from each winery and back to San Francisco. A day trip is a great option if you wish to experience wine country and explore the city in one visit. San Francisco is a popular city with plenty of attractions such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Alcatraz Island, the Painted Ladies, the Golden Gate Bridge and the world’s last manually operated cable car system.
When to Visit
Spring (March to May) or late fall (October or November) is the ideal time to visit Napa Valley. The region’s harvest season is from August through October making it the peak time to visit with larger crowds and high hotel prices. In 2015, we traveled in early May for our first wedding anniversary and I thought the weather was the most pleasant of all three trips with clear blue skies and ideal temps. San Francisco is quite chilly while inland gets into the 80s around that time of year. In 2017, we went over Labor Day weekend which was really uncomfortable because the weather was well into the 100s and they had some wildfires a few weeks before causing quite a big of smog in the area. In 2018, we traveled over the first weekend in November. It was still really warm during the day and we were able to wear shorts and short sleeve dresses without jackets, but it did cool off in the evenings make it really pleasant when walking into town.
Where We Stayed
In September 2017, we stayed at the Villagio Inn & Spa which has since been completely remodeled and renamed to Hotel Villagio in Yountville. Yountville is a quaint and charming town with several luxury hotels, Michelin starred restaurants on the main street and smaller wine shops, all within walking distance of each other. Yountville also has V Marketplace which has specialty shopping, art galleries, a couple more restaurants and Napa Valley Aloft Balloon Rides. They need your credit card to reserve your spot, but won’t charge you until the day of in case they have to cancel (we had a hot air balloon ride scheduled on our last day, but they had to cancel our reservation due to strong winds).
Last year we traveled with a small group of our friends for John’s birthday and stayed at the Archer Hotel in downtown Napa. Downtown Napa has several hotel options, restaurants and bars and is home to more of the locals. Scroll to the end of this post for hotel, restaurant and winery recommendations.
Hotels in Yountville
2. Vintage House (next door to Hotel Villagio)
Hotels in Downtown Napa
2. Senza (right off the highway)
Hotels in Oakville/Rutherford
Hotels in Calistoga
1. The Bergson
Hotels in St. Helena
1. Harvest Inn
Restaurants in Yountville
2. Bouchon Bistro (French restaurant owned by Thomas Keller Group)
3. Bottega (Italian)
4. Redd Wood (Italian and known for their wood fired pizzas)
5. Ad Hoc
Restaurants in Downtown Napa
Wineries We Visited
1. Robert Mondavi: Known for it’s chardonnays.
2. Peju: Super cute winery and great wine, red and white.
3. Opus: Extremely expensive and not worth it in my opinion. We spent $40/glass for a tasting and it retails for $350 a bottle. The winery itself is very modern.
5. Darioush: Very pretty winery and really tasty wine. Carries white and red wines and you don’t need reservations, but I would recommend making them (visited twice).
6. Silver Oak: One of our favorite high end wines that sells for about $150/bottle (visited twice with a tour on the first trip).
7. CADE: Situated on a mountain with a very modern and contemporary setting. The wine in our opinion was just OK (had a full tour here).
8. Quintessa: Beautiful winery and another high end wine we really enjoy. We scheduled a full tour here (about 1.5 hours).
10. Pride Vineyards: Beautiful winery and great wine which is reasonably priced. I recommend getting a tour and asking for Krysta.
11. Caymus: Great wine on the higher end. Pretty setting, but the staff wasn’t as friendly.
12. Orin Swift: one of our other favorites in the medium price range ($60-$80/bottle) located in St. Helena. We plan to stay in St. Helena next time we go.
** Pro Tip** Most wineries take walk-ins for tastings, but I would recommend scheduling at least a couple of tours to learn how wine is made and walk through the vineyards for a full experience. Three to four wineries a day is plenty when scheduling tastings and tours. I do suggest wearing closed toe shoes or flats to the wineries when touring vineyards since you’ll be walking up and down hills so you’ll want to be comfy.