Napa Valley in Northern California is one of our bucket list items and one I know that many all of ages want to hit once in a lifetime – at least. It is full of beautiful vistas and over 375 vineyards that are available for tastings (at least when Covid restrictions don’t shutter them). Some say over there are actually over 425, although it’s all a matter of how you count. Suffice it to say, there are more than one person could possibly visit all in one trip. It is also a foodie’s paradise. There are 4 Michelin one-star rated restaurants and The French Laundry boasting 3 stars. Additionally, 25 restaurants carry the Bib-Gourmand or L’assitte rating.
*Disclaimer: Some links in this post may be affiliate links. If you click these links and purchase these items, we will receive a small commission. This will not increase the cost to you at all but will help defray the costs of the blog.
As far as the links go we own or use everything we have linked and will personally attest to their value. As you’re planning, read more about the wineries we visited and where we stayed to help make your trip ever better.
If you’re looking for a relaxing spa or wellness getaway, a romantic getaway or even a family trip, there are accommodations for everyone. From B&Bs to inns and boutique hotels and larger resorts, there is something for everyone in your group. The issue becomes how you plan a trip to Napa in limited time with so much to choose from. First, you could spend the money to have someone plan the trip for you, get a private car, and allow yourself to be whisked to the best destinations. If that’s your style and it sounds like a truly stress-free vacation read no further. Just remember you will be seeing someone else’s version of Napa. Here is a sample link of companies that will do this for you . Also, many expensive resorts have concierges that will help you plan as well.
But for those of you looking to plan the trip yourself and leave some wiggle room for spur of the moment decisions, let’s start talking about how to plan the trip.
One thing we also purchased before heading out was a wine suitcase to bring home some of the single bottles we purchased along the way to avoid shipping. We really liked it and everything got home in one piece. If you buy heavy bottles however you may only get 11 bottles in under the weight limit.
Steps to get started:
- Write down your must dos/haves for wineries, restaurants, and hotels. Think about your goals and aspirations for the trip. These things could include: how much time you plan to spend in your room, how close you want to be to nature or the nightlife, whether you are looking for a wellness retreat or instead plan to visit wineries non-stop, are you a large winery or boutique winery person (or both), etc.
- Write down those things you would like to do if you have time, but aren’t at the top of the priority list.
- Think about your budget and start to prioritize. Costs can climb quickly so continually keep your budget in mind as you are planning.
- Consider transportation because if you’re tasting you won’t want to drive yourself around. But you may still want to rent a car for non-wine drinking days where you may want to visit other parts of the area, or just for the drive from the airport to the area. If you are doing things slowly, using Uber/Lyft can be fine. If a whirlwind tour with many tastings is your style, a private car for that day may be helpful. (There are also wine trolleys and wine trains and bike tours too!)
- Organize everything into regions as that’s is the way to experience and plan Napa. We break this down into:
- Calistoga/Saint Helena (Napa North)
- Yountville/Oakville/Rutherford (Napa Central)
- Napa Proper/Los Carneros/Coombsville (Napa South)
For many people there are specific wineries they have heard of but rarely drink due to cost and availability (Opus 1, Far Niente, Silver Oak, Stag’s Leap, etc). For some, they have vineyards they want to visit because they enjoy their wine and want a deeper connection (for us that’s Matthiasson, more on this in other posts). For some, they just want to visit wineries but have no real must do’s (these people should prioritize their restaurants and do wineries that are appropriately priced in the right areas for their dining selections).
Do you want to do a wine train, an electric trike tour, or an open air wine trolley? Is a visit to the spa on the list or is the plan to relax at a sumptuous resort for a few days in between wine tastings? It’s easy to get lost in all the things to do, places to eat, and wines to try.
So far everything is about avoiding the biggest mistake most people make, especially in their first visit. That’s trying to do it all and realizing you just can’t in a week.
Although some winery tastings are free (typically if you purchase a bottle of wine), many often cost between $45 and $200 per person depending on the type of tasting and whether it includes food, a tour, or something else (private, cave, vineyard grounds, etc.). The elite nature of the winery of course can also effect price. As one can imagine, this can add up quite quickly if you do 2-4 tastings a day. Lodging has a similar cost spread with rooms ranging from $1200 per night and up at some of the choicer hotels like the Four Seasons or Auberge, $180-300 per night at your more typical chain hotels like the SpringHill Suites or Marriott. The rule of thumb is the further you are from the central wine area the more affordable the accommodations. Obviously, six nights at the Auberge may be the entire budget or more for many, so be mindful. The restaurants can also be quite pricey, especially if you are Michelin star dining more than once.
Some hotels (typically the more expensive ones), like the Carneros Resort, will have a shuttle that will take you a certain distance from the hotel (5-7 miles is about what they will do). Ubers/Lyfts are very prevalent, but there can be a wait depending on your location and the demand. So if choosing this type of transportation leave time between tasting and request your ride near the end of the tasting to save time. Private cars can be pre-arranged either by you or your hotel and if you are traveling in a group, you have the option of alternating designated drivers. If traveling to multiple hotels and wine areas, renting a car may be the most economical choice as the drive from the airport can be expensive depending on where you are traveling to in the valley.
The Wine Regions:
People travel to wineries for multiple reasons, whether it be the beautiful scenery, the wine itself or both. The thing to consider though is that the wine is just part of the experience. Some wineries have cave tours and others food with wine pairings, so there’s a lot to consider. Lastly, not all wineries taste on all days (many at least in off seasons are open only Thursday-Monday) so that is yet another aspect to consider when planning.
When planning our first trip, here is a selection of the wineries we considered:
Our own personal favorites:
- Silver Oak
- Stag’s leap
Places that we wanted to go because of the reputation of the wine:
- Opus 1
- Far Niente
Places that we wanted the experience:
- Castello di Amoroso
- Domaine Carneros
- Brian Arden
There are many great places to stay as we discussed above. While this is not nearly an exhaustive list, it was some of the places that had been recommended to us, or we had read about other places, and we considered in planning our first trip. There are numerous links here but we have no specific deals with any of these establishments.
- Located in Calistoga
- Bike tours from Hotel available
- Surrounded by organic vineyards (Elusa winery)
- Gorgeous views and beautiful rooms transport you to Provence in style and grace
- Located in Rutherford
- Has a Michelin one star restaurant (14 years running 2022) on property
- Located In Calistoga
- Offer personal Pelotons if requested
- Mud baths at the spa
- Beautiful retreat amongst the backdrop of wine country
- Located in downtown Yountville
- Boutique hotel
- Beautiful accommodations in the heart of the town
- Complimentary bicycles
- Luxury spa
- Beautiful surroundings
- Many activities and amenities for guests
- Saint Helena
- Saint Helena
Putting it all together:
We recommend staying in 2-3 locations as it makes things easier for travel and tasting, but depending on your plans and how long your visit is you may decide to plan out of one location.
Regions and wineries to consider in each — This is by no means a complete list, but does include some everyone should consider based on the quality of wine, uniqueness of the growing conditions and beauty of the estates. These demarcations are arbitrary, as there are numerous (some say 16 regions) within the Napa Valley area, but one must divide things up somehow. This is mostly divided by areas to stay as many hotels are concentrated in the middle of these areas.
Calistoga/Saint Helena (Napa North)
- Castello di Amorossa
- Frank Family
- Brian Arden
- Clos Pegase
- Chateau Montalena
- Charles Krug
- Hall Rutherford
Yountville/Oakville/Rutherford (Napa Central)
- Alpha Omega
- Robert Mondavi
- Far Niente
- Silver Oak
- Nickel and Nickel
- Stag’s Leap
- Clos du Val
- St Supery
- Rutherford Hill
Napa/Los Carneros/Coombsville (Napa South)
Websites to help you plan:
We used the following two sites to help plan our trip, but there are many out there to help assist with your planning.
Napa Valley-great site to pick wineries and book some experiences
Visit Napa Valley – has a great map that is easy to read and to use for planning and can be printed so you can write it on it and take it with you
Napa Valley Wine– My favorite planning site as it has itineraries preplanned with 3-6 wineries based on location and wine type as well as a very use friendly interactive map
At the end of the day:
There are a lot of things to think about, so many places to stay and only so much time to be had. This post is no where near inclusive of all options but I hope it helps guide everyone towards a wonderful stay in Napa. I would love to hear what people thought about this post and how it could be better. Please like the post and/or click the feedback button to let us know what you thought and what you did and didn’t like.