Looking for tips on things to do in Napa Valley, California?
As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Jenna Francisco who has lived in Sacramento, which is near Napa Valley, for 10 years and visits Napa Valley frequently. Jenna shares with us her insider tips on the best things to do in the Napa Valley including where to drink wine, eat, sleep, shop and explore.
Why Visit Napa Valley California?
Napa Valley is a world famous wine growing region, but it is also much more.
The biggest reason to visit the Napa Valley is that it’s incredibly beautiful. The hills covered with grape vines, which change colors all year, are gorgeous. The wineries, including the architecture and gardens, are another reason to visit.
Also, there is are many things to do in the Napa Valley. There are five towns that make up Napa Valley, and each one offers something different, from hot springs to hiking and shopping to fine dining. The last reason is the world-class food and wine.
Things to Do in Napa Valley
Drive the Silverado Trail and stop in wineries along the way. Rent a bike and explore all the small roads. Check out all that Downtown Napa has to offer, including the Oxbow Public Market.
Spend time in Calistoga’s hot springs and spas. Take the Napa Valley Wine Train. Of course, drink lots of wine!
Best Wineries to Explore in the Napa Valley
There are so many to choose from.
- Beringer is a good big one to start with — the wine tour is fun and informative, the grounds are gorgeous, and the wine is excellent
- Cliff Lede is a good small winery with a homey feel, sculpture in the garden, and a nice outdoor area to relax.
- The views at Signorello Estate are unbeatable.
- Clos Pegase is a great choice if you want something different — the owner has a huge collection of art scattered around the winery.
Everyone should also know about the wine tasting in Downtown Napa. You can get a wine tasting card for $25 and taste wine at 12 tasting rooms, and you can park your car for free and walk from one to the next. Definitely, an easy, inexpensive, and safe way to try lots of different Napa wines.
Places to Eat in Napa Valley
Napa Valley is a foodie’s heaven.
Grace’s Table in Downtown Napa prepares delicious food from local, sustainable sources.
If you like Japanese, try Morimoto or Eiko’s.
Oenotri is a fantastic Italian restaurant in Downtown Napa. And of course there is one of the best restaurants in the U.S., French Laundry, which requires reservations well in advance.
If you are looking for budget food options, the Oxbow Public Market is a great place to stop and get a quick meal–there are many different purveyors, from authentic Italian pizza to French crepes and Venezuelan food, and everything is fresh and local.
Bistro Sabor in Downtown Napa has excellent food from Latin America.
Where to Drink in Napa Valley
Certainly, wineries and wine tasting rooms/wine bars are the preferred places to drink in this area, but if you’re looking for something different, there are a few good bars/breweries to choose from.
In Downtown Napa, try 1313 Main, Downtown Joe’s Brewery, and the Bounty Hunter.
Places to Stay in Napa Valley
There is no shortage of wonderful places to stay in the Napa Valley.
Andaz Napa and the Napa River Inn are two excellent choices in Downtown Napa. Staying there means you are within walking distance of everything you need, and both hotels offer unique high-end accommodations.
The Napa Valley area is expensive, so there aren’t really budget options, but there are Best Westernand Travelodge in Napa, and you can get good deals at the hotels in Calistoga by looking online ahead of time.
For more places to stay in the Napa Valley choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner Booking.com. You get free cancelation on most rooms, and in most cases you only pay when you stay.
Best Markets and Shopping in the Napa Valley
The Oxbow Public Market is definitely worth a visit. Not only can you eat there, but you can also buy products to take home for yourself or others, like locally made olive oil and chocolates. It hosts a farmer’s market on Saturdays, May-October.
There are boutique shops in Downtown Napa and St. Helena, definitely worth a visit if you want to buy something special from the area.
Events & Festivals in the Napa Valley
There are tons of events and festivals going on year-round in the Napa Valley.
Some of the highlights are the Truffle Festival held every January, Music in the Vineyards held every August, wine crush and harvest festivals every September-October, the Napa Valley Film Festivalheld every early November, and Flavor! Napa Valley held every November.
Getting Around the Napa Valley
The best way to get around the Nap Valley is by car because it covers a big enough distance that you will need to use a car to see it all.
However, you can hire a driver or use a tour to get around. You can rent bikes in many places, which allows you to tour the main sights in one day.
If you stay in Downtown Napa, everything you need is within walking distance, and many hotels also have free shuttle service, but you will want to get out of the town and into the countryside to visit the wineries.
Internet connections are good in Napa Valley, but many hotels still charge and free wifi is not always easy to find.
Besides at the local Starbucks, free wifi can be found at Downtown Joe’s Brewery, Caffe Cicero, and Backroom Wines in Downtown Napa and at Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Co. in St. Helena.
Best Time of Year to Visit the Napa Valley
My favorite time is fall, especially October and November when the leaves on the grape vines are their brightest colors.
Summer in Napa Valley can get quite hot. Winter can actually be a great time to visit. It can rain for a few days at a time, but that is followed by sunny, even warm days, and the mustard plants paint the valley yellow.
Winter is also the time to enjoy lower prices and better service since there are many fewer visitors then.
Getting There & Away
The Oakland International Airport is the closest airport, just 50 miles away. Santa Rosa airport is even closer, just 35 minutes away, but is a smaller airport.
In addition, Napa Valley is easily accessed from either San Francisco and Sacramento, both about one hour’s drive. Both Oakland and San Francisco airports have shuttle service to Napa Valley.
Best insiders tip for the Napa Valley
A really fun experience is “Build Your Own Blend” at District4 Wine in Downtown Napa. Visitors try a few different varietals of wine, mix them together over and over until creating the perfect blend, design their own label, and take home 3 bottles of their special blend. Plus, District4 is worth a stop because it’s very cool and serves excellent boutique wines.
I love Napa Valley because …
It is an incredible mix of beauty, luxury, and fine food and wine, yet it still feels friendly and accessible.
Plan Your Trip to the Napa Valley
We’ve been traveling consistently for 17 years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights and car rental. Below are our preferred partners:
- Booking.com has over 100 properties in the Napa Valley including hotels, apartments, and hostels. You get free cancelation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.
Flights to the Napa Valley
- Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
Car Rental in the Napa Valley
- RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.
BIO – Jenna runs This Is My Happiness, a blog about culture, art, and travel, and writes for the new website Travel Mindset, launching in early 2013. She enjoys writing about what makes places unique in an effort to provide a deeper look at travel destinations, especially California, Brazil, and Italy. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Do you have any tips on things to do in the Napa Valley?
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