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Are you 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.
Napa Valley is a world famous wine growing region, but it is also much more.
The biggest reason to visit is that it is 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 so much to do here! 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.
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!
There are so many to choose from.
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.
Napa Valley is a foodie’s heaven.
If you are looking for budget 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.
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.
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 Western and Travelodge in Napa, and you can get good deals at the hotels in Calistoga by looking online ahead of time.
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.
There are tons of events and festivals going on year-round.
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 Festival held every early November, and Flavor! Napa Valley held every November.
The best way to get around is by car because the Napa Valley 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.
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.
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.
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.
It is an incredible mix of beauty, luxury, and fine food and wine, yet it still feels friendly and accessible.
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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.
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