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Napa Valley is one of the most famous wine-growing regions in the world, but you’ll find there are plenty more things to do in Napa Valley, California than just wine tasting and vineyard tours.
It sits just outside the San Francisco Bay area, between Sacramento and Santa Rosa, and is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Thinking rolling hills, stone villas that look like they have been picked up from Italy, and rows upon rows of vineyards.
To find out what there is to do in Napa Valley, we interviewed Jenna Francisco who has lived in Sacramento near Napa Valley for over 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?
- Things to Do in Napa Valley
- 1. Drive the Silverado Trail
- 2. Visit A Tasting Room in Downtown Napa
- 3. Visit the Oxbow Public Market
- 4. Spend time in Calistoga's Hot Springs and Spas
- 5. Ride the Napa Valley Wine Train
- 6. Ignite Your Tastebuds With Napa Gourmet Food
- 7. Take Part in a Napa Valley Festival
- 8. Visit Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
- 9. Learn About Wine History at Napa Valley Museum
- 10. Spend The Evening at the Napa Valley Opera House & Blue Note Napa
- 11. Check Out The Robert Louis Stevenson Museum
- 12. Visit Di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art
- 13. Bike the Napa Valley Vine Trail
- 14. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride
- Getting To and Around the Napa Valley
- Best Time of Year to Visit the Napa Valley
- Where to Stay in Napa Valley
- Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Napa Valley
- More Places to Visit in California
Why Visit Napa Valley California?
Napa Valley is the world-famous California Wine Country, but it is also so much more.
The biggest reason to visit Napa Valley is that it’s incredibly beautiful. The hills are covered with grape vines, which change colors throughout the year and make the landscape gorgeous.
It’s famous for growing cabernet sauvignon grapes and producing red wines. But you can also find Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay varieties here.
The wineries, including the architecture and gardens, are another reason to visit. There are a handful of small towns and villages that make up Napa Valley (Oakville, Rutherford, Sonoma, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, Napa, and American Canyon)
Each one offers something different – from hot springs to hiking and shopping to fine dining.
Paired with world-class wine, is world-class food. There is a gourmet food scene in Napa Valley that is unmatched anywhere else. If you’re a foodie fan or wine lover, then Napa Valley should not be skipped off your itinerary to California.
Things to Do in Napa Valley
Now you know a little bit about what makes Napa Valley so special, it’s time to show you what to do in Napa Valley!
1. Drive the Silverado Trail
There are so many things to do in the Napa Valley, but the most important thing to add to your itinerary is to tour the vineyards.
One of the best ways to do this is to drive the Silverado Trail and stop in wineries along the way. It was built in 1852 and was the first two-lane road in the Napa Valley region, and so it connects to some of the oldest and most prestigious wineries in the valley.
The road is about 30 miles long and connects the five major towns of Napa to Calistoga. Chances are you will find yourself driving along this scenic route whether you plan to or not.
Best Wineries in the Napa Valley
While you are driving the Silverado Trail, be sure to stop off at some wineries. There are so many Napa Valley wineries to choose from, but if you’re not sure which wineries to add to your itinerary, some of the best ones are…
- 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.
- Domaine Carneros also has incredible views from the terrace.
- The Robert Mondavi Winery draws a big crowd because of its art collection and events.
- Clos Pegase is a great choice if you want something different — the owner has a huge collection of art scattered around the winery.
- Castello di Amorosa is a great place for wine tasting but it’s worth visiting for the architecture more than the wines. It’s a gorgeous 13th-century Tuscan Castle which looks like a fairytale dream come to life.
- Round Pond Estate has excellent bordeoux wines and also produces delicious olive oil.
2. Visit A Tasting Room in Downtown Napa
One of my favorite activities in Napa Valley is to explore Downtown Napa and all it has to offer.
There are boutiques and vintage shops in Downtown Napa and St. Helena, which is definitely worth a visit if you want to buy something special from the area.
Everyone should also know about the wine tasting in Downtown Napa. There are wine tasting rooms all along First Street Napa Downtown, each showcasing some of the finest local wines.
You can get a wine tasting pass 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.
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.
3. Visit the Oxbow Public Market
The food scene in Napa is focused on gourmet food which can rack up after a while, so for more budget food options check the Oxbow Public Market.
This 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.
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.
4. Spend time in Calistoga’s Hot Springs and Spas
If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Napa Valley, then a visit to the Calistoga’s hot spring spa is definitely one of the best things you can do.
The resort features natural hot springs pools and baths that are full of minerals and healthy toxins.
You can also have mud baths in volcanic ash or choose one of the many massage treatments.
Be sure to head over to see the old faithful geyser of California while you’re in the town of Calistoga.
5. Ride the Napa Valley Wine Train
If you’re short on time and want to see the landscape in all it’s flory, then you cannot miss the Napa Valley Wine Train.
The train began operating in the 1860s as a way for tourists to reach Calistoga from Northern California. The train journeys for 36 miles and takes around 3 hours, travelling from downtown Napa to St. Helena, and back again.
The train passes through the old industrial section of Napa, before opening up through spectacular scenery of the vineyards and agriculture of Napa Valley.
You will pass through Yountville, Oakville, and Rutherford, and of course, drink lots of wine!
6. Ignite Your Tastebuds With Napa Gourmet Food
Napa Valley is a foodie’s heaven. If you’re not sure where to eat, then I highly recommend Grace’s Table in Downtown Napa which prepares delicious food from local, sustainable sources.
If you like Japanese, try Morimoto for inventive and high-end sushi and Japanese cuisine. The restaurant itself is also beautiful.
Oenotri is a fantastic Italian restaurant in Downtown Napa with artisan pizzas and a chic design.
And of course there is one of the best restaurants in the U.S., French Laundry, which is set in a stone farmhouse and has a menu designed by Chef Thomas Keller, who is known for producing innovative dishes that are all about flavor.
It requires reservations well in advance.
7. Take Part in a Napa Valley Festival
There are tons of events and festivals going on year-round in the Napa Valley. No matter what time of year you visit, you can be sure there is something going on.
Dont miss the wine crush and harvest festivals every September-October.
8. Visit Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
If you’re looking for a peaceful and scenic escape from the hustle and bustle of the California cities and the throngs of tourists at the wineries, then the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is the perfect getaway.
Located in the heart of Napa Valley, this park contains on of the farthest inland forest of redwoods in California, and is 1991 acres of breathtaking views of the surrounding hills and forests.
Visitors can hike through the park’s many trails, swim or fish in the spring-fed swimming pool, explore the historic Bale Grist Mill or simply relax with a picnic in one of the park’s many shady picnic areas.
9. Learn About Wine History at Napa Valley Museum
The Napa Valley Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in the rich history and culture of the region. With an extensive collection of exhibits, the museum brings local history and culture to life.
Visitors can explore the museum’s galleries, which feature a range of temporary and permanent exhibits showcasing local artists and artifacts from the region’s past.
Whether you’re a history buff or simply looking to escape the Napa Valley heat for a short while, the Napa Valley Museum is a must-see destination that will give you a deeper appreciation for the region.
10. Spend The Evening at the Napa Valley Opera House & Blue Note Napa
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Napa Valley at night, then be sure to visit the Napa Valley Opera House and Blue Note Napa, a live music venue that offers an unforgettable experience in the heart of wine country.
These historic venues offer a world-class selection of live music and entertainment, from jazz and blues to rock and classical.
Be sure to check out the what’s on page to see what’s happening during your visit.
11. Check Out The Robert Louis Stevenson Museum
The Robert Louis Stevenson Museum in St. Helena is worth checking out if you’re a literary enthusiast. Robert Louis Stevenson was the famed Scottish author who wrote Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and now you can learn about his life and works at the museum, which is a carefully curated museum by Stevenson fan, Norman H. Strouse.
Norman H. Strouse opened the museum in the late 1960s and contains a collection of items, manuscripts, letters, photographs, and personal belongings of Stevenson and his family.
The museum has 800 items from Strouse’s personal collection, as well as other items that have been donated over the years.
It’s certainly one of the more unique things to do in Napa Valley.
12. Visit Di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art
If you’re an art lover, the di Rose Center for Contemporary Art is a must-do. It has a collection of around 1,600 pieces of art by Northern California artists.
Some notable names who have their work in the gallery are Robert Arneson, Jay DeFeo, Bruce Conner, William T. Wiley, and Tony Labat.
The gallery is only open on Fridays until Sundays, from 11am – 4pm, so it’s the perfect thing to do in Napa on the weekend.
13. Bike the Napa Valley Vine Trail
The Napa Valley Vine Trail is a 47 mile bike trail that takes you along the backroads of the vineyards and wineries.
It opened in 2008, and was the brain-child of Napa Valley Vintners, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and the Land Trust.
It connects the whole Napa Valley region from Calistoga to the greater Bay Area and Vallejo Ferry.
If you’re looking for something to keep you active during your trip, this is a great way to see the scenery and take in all the sites.
14. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride
There’s no better way to experience the stunning beauty of Napa Valley than from a hot air balloon. As you sail softly through the sky, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of rolling hillsides, vineyards, and the winding Napa River, all bathed in golden light during the sunrise or sunset.
A hot air balloon ride is a unique and thrilling way to explore the region, and it’s an unforgettable experience that you won’t soon forget.
Napa Valley Aloft are one of the most top-rated companies who offer this experience.
Getting To and Around the Napa Valley
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.
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.
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.
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 Elm House Inn Best Western and Travelodge in Napa, and you can get good deals at the hotels in Calistoga by looking online ahead of time.
You may also love this Spanish Bungalow with Hot Tub! Close to downtown and easy access to Wine Country!
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.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Napa Valley
I love Napa Valley because it’s an incredible mix of beauty, luxury, and fine food and wine, yet it still feels friendly and accessible.
It’s the perfect getaway from the cities of California and a chance to hike, bike, or fly across the vineyards.
Whether you want to sample wines or simply take in the scenery, Napa Valley is a wine lovers adventure waiting to be had.
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.
More Places to Visit in California
Looking for more California tips? Start with these posts:
- Best things to do in Yosemite
- San Francisco travel tips
- A Fun Guide on Things to do in Sacramento in a Day
- Why visit Russian River (wine, beer and tube floats ahead)
- Mono Lake – a mystical attraction in Northern California
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