We love wine, and we especially love visiting wine country. While Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico used to be our favorite winemaking region to visit, one visit to Napa Valley very quickly changed that.
Over the past 50 years, Napa Valley has become one of the most esteemed wine-producing regions in the entire world. The unique Northern California climate and the rich volcanic soil have put Napa Valley wines among some of the best in production.
If you’re a wine enthusiast – or at least enjoy a nice glass of wine – planning a Napa Valley wine-tasting trip needs to make your bucket list.
You can see clips from our time in Napa Valley and our entire California Coast roadtrip in this short 3 minute video
Best Things to Do in Napa Valley
Obviously, since Napa Valley is known for its esteemed wine country, I’m sure you can guess what the top thing on this list is. But while Napa Valley is best known for its wines, there are many other things you can do to fill the gaps between wine tasting! This list will break down a few of the best things to do in Napa Valley.
1. Experience Wine Tastings at the Region’s Famous Vineyards
I know that this is obvious, but I wanted to take the chance to give a little background to this. Drinking wine is one thing, but appreciating wine is another. The things they’ve managed to do in Napa Valley are nothing short of incredible – just Google the Judgement of Paris in 1976 and you’ll see what I mean. It’s one of the top 100 most influential events in American history!
Each vineyard is unique and has its own story, style, vibe, and specialty. We visited vineyards with visual flair, like the Persian palace at Darioush and the Italian castle at Castello di Amorosa. We visited vineyards with rich histories, like the long-standing Chateau Montelena.
In addition, we visited vineyards that produce such good wine like Promontory that they don’t even need to care what their facilities look like, yet they’re still breathtaking. We visited Melka Estates which showed us farming techniques and Caymus, which just sat us in chairs and let us drink nice wine on the porch.
While this might be unnecessary detail, what I mean to express is that no two vineyards are the same, and visiting as many as you can will broaden your perspective and understanding while really giving you a fun trip.
2. Admire the Scenery from Above in a Hot-Air Balloon
The rolling hills and mountains of Napa Valley are stunning from every angle. One angle that many people really love to view them from is above!
Napa Valley is famous for its hot air balloon rides as they provide some of the best views of any hot air balloon ride in the world. In fact, most sources say Napa Valley is one of the top 5 places in the world to go for a hot air balloon ride!
We didn’t have the opportunity to go on one, as Angel was pregnant. If it weren’t for that, though, we absolutely would have done it.
The hot air balloons in Napa Valley tend to leave bright and early so that you can see the sunrise from way up high. Some of them even offer a champagne-fueled breakfast at their facilities after you land. If you have the time, this is a must-do!
3. Swim at Boutique Hotel Pools
Many of the people going to Napa Valley are looking for a very luxurious retreat, and the hotels in the area have certainly stepped up to meet that demand. Throughout the entire valley, you can find very high-end boutique hotels that are a treat just to see.
While staying at these upper-echelon accommodations is outside of most peoples’ budgets, grabbing a drink and spending a day by the pool is much more affordable. If you’re looking for the best of the best – like the place the Kardashians stay – head to Auberge du Soleil in St. Helena. After your swim, maybe you can book a spa treatment, too!
4. Walk the Streets of St. Helena and Napa
While most of the little “towns” in Napa Valley don’t actually have a main drag with sidewalks and shops, St. Helena and Napa are two of the exceptions. St. Helena is pretty much the very center of Napa Valley, while Napa is situated right at the bottom.
In both towns, you can find adorable boutique shops including chocolatiers, designers, artisans, coffee roasters, and more. We recommend grabbing some chocolate at Woodhouse Chocolate in St. Helena and pairing it with some coffee from Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company!
How to Get to Napa Valley
Getting to Napa Valley is relatively straightforward but there will be a few steps involved. While many destinations that I write about are very conveniently located near an airport, some just aren’t. Some of the best places we’ve been – like the Atlantic Island of Ilha Grande in Brazil and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, for example – require a bit of a drive but are fully worth the time and effort.
If you’re not already located in Northern California, you’ll need to get there. The two best places to look for flights are either Sacramento (SMF) or anywhere in the bay area, including San Francisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK), and San Jose (SJC). Depending which one you choose, you’ll wind up anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours away from the heart of Napa Valley.
From the airport, I highly recommend that you rent a car for the duration of your trip. It’s the easiest way to get to the valley and the easiest way to get around once you’re there.
If you choose to rent a car, simply put the directions into your favorite navigation app and hit the road! The landscapes are beautiful and it is a very easy, leisurely drive.
If you are unable or unwilling to rent a car, your next best option would be to take a shuttle to the valley from the airport. There are buses and shuttles to Napa Valley from San Francisco and Sacramento, and to find the most recent schedules and options your best bet is to give it a quick Google search.
Your final option would be to sign up for an organized Napa Valley wine-tasting tour group, which would pick you up at the airport and handle your transportation the rest of the way. More on that next.
How to Get Around Napa Valley
RENTAL CAR | CHAUFFER | TOUR
Getting around the valley is definitely something that should factor into your decision of how to get to Napa Valley in the first place. Public transportation isn’t really a thing as the valley is sparsely populated and very spread out.
Also, if you begin to head north in the valley and stray any more than 15 minutes from the town of Napa, Uber won’t really be available either. We made this mistake and were forced to pay $50 for a 5-minute taxi ride!
Hands down, in my opinion, the best and most budget-friendly way to get around Napa Valley is with your own car. Renting a car at the airport is the easiest way to get to Napa Valley as well as the easiest way to get around Napa Valley.
From top to bottom, or Calistoga to Napa, Napa Valley is only about 50 minutes long and very car-friendly. The only downside to driving your own car is that you will need to make sure someone is the designated driver!
If you don’t want to rent a car and have a bit more money to burn, booking a chauffeur or organized tour for your trip are also great options. This gets rid of the need to pick who is the designated driver, and often this can alleviate a lot of headaches if you’re not looking to tailor-make your Napa Valley itinerary.
Many people just want to go taste wine and don’t really care where, and that’s fine! Others, like us, had a list of places we really wanted to visit. In either case, organizing a driver of some sort is your next best option but will cost significantly more than a rental car.
What to Wear in Napa Valley
I mentioned earlier that every vineyard is different. As a result, the recommended attire varies a bit with each vineyard, too.
For guys, this means dress pants and shoes, a collared shirt, and an optional jacket. For gals, this could be a sundress, a skirt and top, dress pants, etc. There is no need for a suit or ballgown, but also I’d avoid being too casual.
Even if they won’t kick you off the premises or refuse your entry, I guarantee they’ll treat you better if you dress up a little bit. Even the finest vineyards don’t expect a suit and tie, but bringing a blazer along is probably a good idea.
Final Tips for Planning Your Napa Valley Wine-Tasting Trip
That’s all we have for you about planning your Napa Valley wine-tasting trip! Hopefully, this Napa Valley Travel Guide helps you to plan the perfect wine-tasting trip in Northern California.
If you’re planning a trip to Napa Valley, Comment below! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have.