Things to Do in Napa Valley California

napa valley

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.

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 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.

napa valley california

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!

napa valley california
wine train

Best Wineries to Explore?

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.

napa valley california

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.

Where 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.

napa valley california
Morimoto

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.

napa valley california

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.

napa valley california

Where 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 Western and Travelodge in Napa, and you can get good deals at the hotels in Calistoga by looking online ahead of time.

Markets and Shopping?

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.

napa valley california

There are boutique shops in Downtown Napa and St. Helena, definitely worth a visit if you want to buy something special from the area.

Major Events and Festivals?

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.

Getting Around?

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.

Is Napa Valley WiFi friendly?

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?

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.

napa valley california
Fall

Getting There and 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 travellers?

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.

napa valley california

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.

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 tips for Napa Valley California?

 

Craig
Craig Makepeace is the founder of yTravel Blog and has been traveling the world since 2002, first with his wife Caz, and now with his two daughters. Get his free email series on the 4 best ways to reduce travel costs. Follow him on Google+

27 Comments on “Things to Do in Napa Valley California”

  1. Thank you for sharing my insider’s guide to Napa Valley! It is a joy for me to write about it because it is such a wonderful place to visit. I hope others will find these tips helpful.
    I love the new look of your site, by the way! :)

    Reply
    • Great tips Jenna! We love wine regions and this has us inspired for a visit to Napa. And thanks!

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  2. Thanks for these great tips Jenna. We’re hoping to visit Napa for the first time in April as part of a US road trip.

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  3. Just visited Napa two weeks ago, loved it, such beautiful place, but you’ll definitely need a car to get around. And Eiko’s was excellent for sushi!

    Also when in that neck of the woods, I highly recommend dropping by to Bouchon bakery, sure there is a queue, but the macarons and croissants are worth it!

    Reply
  4. I loved Napa! We also loved going to the CIA Restaurant for dinner-it was such a neat thing to watch the chefs preparing the food right in front of you.

    Reply
  5. Awesome review! Have nearly made it to Napa in the past, but it still eludes me! We managed at least to go to a Napa wine store in San Francisco and bring home a little Napa!
    Have done the make your own blend in Niagara on the Lake – so much fun! We were there for a team building exercise at work and lets just say….there were smiles all around!

    Reply
  6. I love Napa Valley too – who couldn’t with the wine and the food. One of our favourite wineries to visit – and Thank God we were on a bike – was del Dotto. We did the barrel tasting – pricey yes at around $40 pp but you could literally drink about 18 ounces of wine and who wants to spit the good stuff? I wrote a post on the experience – Blotto at del Dotto. Memorable, delicious. Napa is also amazing for bike riding and in fact there are maps made showing all the bike friendly routes. We spent 10 days exploring the area – self supported with the only downside that we couldn’t carry much wine. Also loved the Cakebread tasting. I love this post Jenna.

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  7. What an epic guide! I’m heading out to Napa this month. I’ve been a bit lost planning, because the area is so massive. There are so many wineries I want to visit and it’s been hard to choose which town to base myself, so this guide is extremely handy. The tips I think I’ll definitely use are about District4Wine, the Truffle Festival in January, visiting Oxbow Public Market, purchasing a wine tasting card and of course making use of the places that offer free wifi. I know I’ve not planned nearly enough time for Napa, but that just means I’ll have to visit again. Thanks for writing this.

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    • Cool. Enjoy Napa Bobbi

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    • I agree that choosing wineries can be overwhelming. If I were you, I would stop by the Napa Valley tourist office (there are 2 in Downtown Napa) and ask them for recommendations besides the ones I mention here. Tell them what you like to do and what your price range is for tasting. Some wineries charge $50 for tasting now, but there are plenty of great ones that are still $15-20. And the tasting rooms in Napa with the tasting card are a great way to go!

      Reply
  8. My wife and I have been planning to go to Napa for quite some time now. We really enjoy going to wine tastings and figure Napa would be a great place to get to experience something great.

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  9. Great List – Napa is always changing -
    With in 6 months we will have another new Winery and Restaurant to VISIT, Cheers!

    Reply
  10. I’ve spent significant time over the last 6 years visiting, tasting with and writing online reviews of Napa wineries – with the intent to fully cover every single winery, virtual or physical in Napa County. My personal mission is to promote Napa…and is a self funded project.

    To date, I’ve visited, tasted and written about more than 700 unique Napa wineries with
    unbelievably several hundred still to go. As you can expect, I know the Napa Valley inside and out, when things change (and things change *quickly*, know the owners, the winemakers, the vineyards, the restaurants, the hotels – if you need help planning your trip – let me know. I’m happy to make some good recommendations.

    ~ Dave

    Reply
    • Hey Dave, My wife and I are visiting Napa this week… And will be in town for 5 days..

      What would be the top five wineries we should visit? The Napa valley region seems so expansive, Would like to see the best places… I know it is subjective, but if you could point me to some good places, it would be appreciated…

      Thanks in Advance,

      Bob

      Reply
    • Would love your list of “must do” things in Napa. We will be visiting for 4 days in June with another couple and will be based in Napa but will have a car. So many wineries and just not enough time!

      Appreciate any suggestions.
      Thanks

      Reply
    • Hi,
      I’m going to Napa in September for our anniversary and I was wondering if there are places we can go to and participate to the harvest? I can’t seem to find anything online. Thanks a lot!

      Reply
  11. Randy Gies

    When I lived in Sacramento I took the train to Napa Valley to the wine train. I loved the wine train and the train ride to Napa was fun as well. I now live in OK and will be traveling with my wife to Sacramento in June. She has never been to the area but want to show her the area and take her on the wine train. The web site for the wine train seems to be saying that the train from Sacramento is not reliable for this trip any longer. Do you have any info that might help? I could drive my 1 ton dually but would rather just enjoy the trip.

    Reply
  12. The Oxbow Public Market looks like a fun place to check out! Thanks for all the tips!

    Reply
  13. [...] piece highlighting Napa’s must sees. For that, I recommend visiting The Napa Wine Project or yTravel Blog. I’m merely going to explain why I chose the stops I did, and why I think you should consider [...]

    Reply
  14. Amazing place, it’s very exciting see a place like that, See the nature and enjoy a rustic place in the hotel with gastronomic food and wines.

    Reply
  15. great blog. We just booked our first trip to Napa late December through new year! Are cabs accessible? Rental car not the best move for drinking wine all day lol. Wanted to do our own route for wineries. not feeling the tours I looked at so far…Thoughts?

    Reply
  16. I am planning to visit California and still looking for the best place to go there, I’m glad I’ve seen your blog through google and I’ve decided to go there in Napa valley. I am very happy and much excited, thanks for this great tips!

    Reply
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