I just came back from Napa Valley and fell in love. Can I say that Napa is beyond beautiful and if you’re in San Francisco, go to Napa even if it’s just for a day. However if you have a weekend, it would be ideal to spend 2 – 3 nights (really all you need anyways). In a weekend, it’s possible to tour up and down the entire valley and over to Sonoma if you’re in the mood.
Obviously Napa is known for its wineries but there are also many other activities to take part in. Like hot air ballooning, horse back riding, hiking, cooking classes, spas, farmers market, and golfing. All of these would be great add-on attractions to the main event which is wine tasting! In this post I’m going to focus on the wine tasting and the many different wineries in Napa Valley.
When to go?
Most visitors will be staying over the weekend and the valley will be packed. I went in the middle of summer; by far the busiest time to visit Napa. However there is one benefit! Warm summer, cool nights and combine that with drinking wine; it’s just fabulous. So it would be hard to say not to come during in the summer but if you don’t like too many people around consider the other seasons.
Especially winter, where the entire bay area could be chilly but still comfortable enough to get in and out of your car to wine taste. Be aware that some restaurants and wineries may be closed but usually most wineries remain open.
Wineries to visit?
In a day, I visited 4 wineries ranging from Yountville up to Calistoga. There are many more wineries to check out besides the mentioned below but you’ll get a great start with the ones I listed.
My personal recommendations:
Chateau Montelena Winery
Chateau Montelena put Napa on the map for winning the white wine section of the historic “Judgment of Paris” wine competition after a blind tasting. Located just north of Calistoga, it is definitely on the northern end of the valley but well worth the visit, especially if you have the weekend to travel up and down the valley.
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa is a beautiful castle that has turned into some sort of tourist attraction. I went here and although I enjoyed it, it was somewhat overpriced and way too crowded on a Saturday. The main attraction is the castle itself and the sad part is that the wine, which was good, gets overlooked. For even more money, it’s possible to tour the castle and vineyards.
Casa Nuestra Winery
Casa Nuestra Winery was probably my favorite of the day and our group found it randomly. Located just north of St. Helena near the Napa Valley, it’s a family own vineyard and perfect if you are seeking an intimate experience. The producers were there to great us and there was only one other customer while we were one tasting! I had this most wine here and truly enjoyed taking pictures of the vineyard outside.
St. Clement Vineyards
Just down the road from Casa Nuestra Winery in St. Helena is the St. Clement Vineyards. They stay open later than many of the wineries in the area, perfect if you’re looking for your last fix of wine tasting. I really enjoyed their outdoor seating and they have a nice view of Napa Valley. I liked the wine so much here that I bought a bottle to enjoy later.
Where to eat?
I ate at two restaurants in Napa Valley. There are several renowned restaurants that are world-famous and you’ll need a reservation to get in like The French Laundry, but most places you can simply pull up, sit down and eat.
My personal recommendations:
Bistro Jeanty is French food in the heart of Yountville. This restaurant is routinely voted one of the favorites in Napa Valley and is well priced. I ordered some potatoes and beef and it was delicious. And the great part is that there was no wait to get in!
Evangeline is in Calistoga, which is the northern end of Napa. This lovely French restaurant is in the heart of the city not far away from Chateau Montelena. It has nice outdoor seating and offers a variety of wine. I ordered the lovely chicken below and a cheese plate.
Where to stay?
Everything is expensive in Napa, including hotels. Don’t be afraid to try smaller cities and smaller towns; it actually may be more preferable! Don’t expect to walk into Napa and find a cheap hotel. In general you’ll at least pay $125 and up. You could consider commuting from cheaper parts of San Francisco but even then it’s still expensive.
How to get to Napa?
Fly into San Francisco International Airport or Oakland International Airport. They are both major airports and usually I can find pretty reasonable deals from cities across the US. You will need to rent a car as there is no other better way to get there without one.
Travel north from San Francisco on the 101 crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge. Continue on the 101 through Sonoma or you can take the 37 east toward Napa. Then continue on 29 up Napa Valley.
It’s also possible to travel up I-80 from Oakland until you hit Vallejo where 29 starts. Continue up Napa Valley from there.
Take your time in Napa and explore as much or as little as you want. The one problem with Napa is that you need to drive everywhere which is more risky for drunk driving. Slow down on the wine tastings and don’t over do it. It was certainly easy for me to get drunk as they just handed me wine and before I know it I’m drunk by the second winery.
Also it is possible to cut over to Sonoma and enjoy some of those vineyard/wineries. I took the road near Santa Rosa from Sonoma Hwy to Calistoga Rd which turns into Petrified Forest Rd. This route takes you up through mountains and forests and is very scenic all the way down into Calistoga. There are several other routes through the mountains and you should feel free to explore.
images by: shawnvoyage, amanda