Majorly Instagrammable estates, world-class culinary hotspots, a relatively mild year-round climate, luxury spas, and, duh, the wine. Obviously. Napa has it all and is a dream destination that we could never get enough of. Whether you’re traveling for a minimoon, bachelorette party, birthday celebration or just a weekend getaway, Napa is the ideal destination for any occasion and with any combination of travel partners. As obsessed as we are with Napa, it does take a little bit more planning and research than your average domestic weekend trip and isn’t one that we’d recommend doing on a tight budget—although it can be done. Read on for all of our tips, tricks, and recs for pulling off the perfect Napa trip. Cheers!
A NOTE ON COVID-19:
If you do choose to travel right now, it is important to do so as safely and responsibly as possible. A few notes about how Napa in particular is managing the pandemic.
Napa and Sonoma counties have a mask mandate in place, and a mask should be worn in all public areas, except when eating and drinking. This includes when walking outdoors any time that 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained. We would suggest continuing to wear your mask when your server comes to your table as well. Wearing a mask primarily protects the other person and it’s important to show your server the same respect and caution that they are showing you.
All restaurants and wineries must operate exclusively outside at this time. This may change your experience slightly. For example, you may not be able to partake in all of the standard tours, such as any cave experiences or barrel tastings, but you will still have a wonderful time! In addition, your host may be less hands-on than normal in terms of walking you through the wine making process, tasting notes, etc.
From our experience, hotels were thoroughly sanitized and housekeeping services did not take place during a stay to minimize the number of people entering and exiting a room. In addition, efforts are being made at some hotels to allow a few days between guest stays in a particular room.
Lastly, we are advocates for taking any additional precautions that you can prior to traveling. While we did not have any symptoms, we tested both before and after our trip and quarantined while awaiting results each time. We recognize that we could be asymptomatic carriers.
Between the compounded effects of both COVID-19 and the recent wildfires, Napa Valley’s businesses need our support more than ever, but please visit as responsibly as you can!
How To Get There
If you live in the Bay Area, Napa is the perfect weekend destination! If not, you’ll most likely be flying to get to Napa. With three local airports, you have a lot of options depending on what your priority is—ease or price. No matter which airport you fly into, though, expect a bit of a drive.
If you’re looking to get as close as possible to wine country, you’ll want to fly directly into Santa Rosa (Sonoma County Airport). Flights here are less frequent, more expensive, and depending on where you choose to stay in wine country, could still require a 20-40 mile drive. One bonus of this airport, though, is that you can check up to a case of wine for free when you’re flying home! Love that.
For the average traveler, you’ll want to fly into SFO (San Francisco International Airport). As one of the busiest airports in the country, you’ll have no problem finding flight options and a great flight deal. Hello, more money for wine tastings! From SFO, you have about a 1 hour drive into Napa. We’d recommend either renting a car or, if you’re celebrating a bachelorette, renting a limo or party bus for the ride. Pro Tip: If you’re landing earlier in the day and choose to rent a car, take the Golden Gate into Sausalito on your way to Napa and stop off for a bite to eat or glass of wine with killer views of SF and the Bay.
Lastly, Oakland is a third option for flying into Napa. Technically, Oakland is a little bit closer to Napa than SFO, but could be more challenging to find flight deals depending on where you’re coming from. We recommend setting flight alerts on Google Flights and Hopper for all three airports (Santa Rosa, San Francisco, and Oakland) and booking whichever comes back as the best value between price, arrival/departure times, and flight route.
Where To Stay
One of the most common misconceptions when planning a Napa trip is that you want to stay in Napa proper. When most people say they want to go to Napa, they are referring to Napa Valley or the entire wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties. It is a HUGE area, and choosing which town or area to stay in is so important to a successful and enjoyable trip. We’ll break down the options, high-level, below:
Napa – As the biggest town in Napa Valley, Napa is the most lively area that you could stay with restaurants and bars within walking distance of one another, most of the larger hotel chains (Westin, Embassy Suites, Marriott, etc.) and is a pretty centrally located spot for whatever you choose to do in the area. Plus, the Napa River is a pretty cute spot to walk along.
Yountville to St. Helena – These towns are technically 10 miles apart (about 20 minutes), but for the ease of writing this guide, we’ll group these towns together (along with Oakville, Rutherford, and the other small towns between these two.) In our opinion, these towns are what people typically dream of or imagine when they think of wine country and visiting Napa. Slow-paced, romantic, a vineyard view from your room, etc. These towns are also where all of our favorite wineries and restaurants are located.
Calistoga – Calistoga is often considered the end (or beginning) of Napa Valley and offers a similar wine country feel to Yountville and St. Helena, but in a much quieter and relaxing way. Calistoga would be a perfect area to stay for a honeymoon or anniversary trip. Super charming, secluded, understated, and laidback.
Sonoma – Sonoma is technically in a completely different county, but we think it’s still worth mentioning when planning a Napa trip. Sonoma is, in our opinion, much less commercialized and touristy. Think of it like Napa’s laid-back little sister. Sonoma is an incredible place to visit and actually grows more grapes than Napa, and it’s a stunning area with some of the best Pinots in the world. We ultimately do prefer Napa Valley, but always say that Napa is not a trip to do on a tight budget. Sonoma can be a more affordable option for hotels, restaurants, tastings, and still a very fun place to visit.
There are so many insanely beautiful and luxurious hotels, resorts, and Airbnbs in the area. For the purpose of this guide, we would recommend Silverado Resort. While it’s not in the heart of any of Napa Valley’s towns, its location is central enough to allow you to plan activities in most of the spots around the valley. It’s an expansive and beautiful resort property with multiple pools, two golf courses, a spa, and plentiful restaurant options, all while being a surprisingly affordable option—by Napa standards, that is. For any Real Housewives super fans like us, the OC wives stayed at Silverado on their Napa trip (season 10, episode 3, to be exact). If it’s good enough for Heather Dubrow, it’s more than good enough for us.
How To Get Around
Unless you have a DD in your group (unlikely since you’re in wine country), we’d recommend hiring a driver for your day of wine tasting. Napa Valley is a huge area and the wineries stretch out along a highway, so walking just isn’t an option. Ubers and taxis are harder to come by and because Napa is a place where reservations are definitely required, you won’t want to waste any time between appointments waiting around for an Uber. If you’re traveling with a group, hiring a driver is actually very reasonable. Definitely plan ahead for this and don’t wait to figure it out upon arrival. Drinking and driving just isn’t the move.
Where To Eat
Our second favorite part of the guide! Napa Valley is a foodie mecca. So much work and research goes into pairing wine and food, so of course, in a world-famous wine region, there is no shortage of good food. Napa Valley is overflowing with some of the best chefs in the world ready to feed you after you’ve drunk your body weight in wine. It does, however, mean that many of the restaurants are at a slightly higher price point than you’re probably used to—we promise, they’re worth it!!
We recommend doing RH Wine Vault (yes, another of the highly Instagrammable concepts from Restoration Hardware) for pre-dinner drinks or wine tasting and then following up with dinner at Bistro Jeanty. They’re both in the heart of Yountville. RH Wine Vault has an incredibly Instagrammable aesthetic with string lights, outdoor couches, and a backdrop of a vine-covered building. Bistro Jeanty is all things French, and who doesn’t love some steak frites and cocktails with names like La Vie en Rose? You literally can’t go wrong, and they’re currently offering cocktails to go.
If you’re staying in Napa proper and love sushi, we’d recommend Morimoto in Napa. This will not be cheap, but it’s so worth it if you love sushi. You can sit inside or outside on the river, and the vibe is exactly what you want: very cool and modern. We’d stick with the sashimi and nigiri because the fish quality is so fresh. We’ve never had so much sushi delivered to us at once—a true dream. They also have great cocktails and an amazing wine list. There are a few locations around the world, so it’s not exclusive to Napa, but we still have to recommend it.
If you’re on your honeymoon or truly ready to ball out, The French Laundry is a must. We’ve never had the chance to eat here, but it is often regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world. A multiple course fixed menu with wine pairings for every course and each person has his/her own waiter. What we can only imagine to be a once in a lifetime experience.
Other wine country favorites include:
The Bistro at Auberge du Soleil – Perfect way to break up your day of wine tasting if you’re in the Rutherford/Yountville area. We could never afford to actually stay here, so lunching is the perfect alternative to get all of the chic French vibes at a fraction of the cost.
Farmstead Restaurant – A farm-to-table concept that somehow blends Southern comfort food with a signature light, fresh California flair.
Goose & Gander – A St. Helena staple famous for its burger and cocktails, as well as a signature Sunday brunch. Brunch runs from 11am-3pm, though, so it usually cuts into our wine tasting schedule. It’s a great option if brunch is your last plan on your way out of town on Sunday!
Ad Hoc & Addendum – Neighboring restaurants from Thomas Keller. Ad Hoc serves a renowned family style meal that changes daily. Addendum is famed for its legendary upscale fried chicken.
Oxbow Public Market – Centrally located near Napa proper, this is a great stop for groups with a variety of tastes or dietary needs. It’s an easy, casual spot to grab everything from Hog Island oysters to banh mi to pasta—with drinks, of course.
Where To Drink
Napa is all about the wine, so now let’s get to the good stuff! There are so many wineries in Napa Valley that you could visit every weekend for a year and still not hit them all. Here are our favorites to get good wine and a good ambience.
Del Dotto is one of those wineries that’s a can’t-miss. They have three tasting rooms, which makes it an easy stop no matter where you’re staying, but currently, only the Piazza is open due to COVID. You may recognize it from a recent KUWTK episode—Kylie’s first wine-tasting trip—but we’ve loved it before we were influenced by our favorite family. We highly recommend the barrel tasting (if you’re there during non-COVID times, you’ll actually get to taste from the barrel in their wine cellar). The tasting is $80 for 9 wines and includes a wood-fired pizza and tomato appetizer—a must to avoid getting white girl wasted.
For a casual lunch stop where you can still wine taste, V Sattui is a must. They offer a number of different types of wine tastings, and their marketplace and deli is full of yummy bites for lunch. Instead of doing a wine tasting here, you could also grab a few bottles from their marketplace and enjoy a picnic lunch. Honestly, the wine here is good (I mean, it’s Napa), but not out of this world. We stop here on every Napa visit though, because the food is good, easy, and convenient, and you don’t have to stop your wine tasting fun.
We are champagne and sparkling wine lovers, but, regardless, we always recommend the first tasting stop of your day to be for a sparkling tasting flight. We love wine, but 10am still feels a little aggressive to start exploring some bold cabs. Domaine Carneros is our favorite stop for this (you’ll feel like you’re actually in Champagne, France with the incredible tasting room) or Mumm Napa if you’re looking to taste some champagne that’s exclusive to the winery, and not what you’ll find at your local grocery store. For a bougier champagne experience, we recommend Schramsberg. Domaine Chandon is another option for sparkling that is super popular, but if you’re choosing between one or two options, it wouldn’t be our top choice.
For anyone staying in Sonoma, SIGH. is a must stop when you’re done with wine tastings, but not ready to end your day of drinking. A highly Instagrammable champagne bar. They’re currently set up in Sonoma Square due to COVID and offer a variety of frozen cocktails, their usual champagne offerings, as well as apps.
Other wine country faves:
HALL Wines – A must for any cab lovers in particular
Inglenook – Stunning property owned by Francis Ford Coppola
Castello di Amorosa – A literal castle
Artesa – Stunning, expansive views of Napa
Opus One – Luxurious experience, but with a somewhat more formal, exclusive vibe. Would not recommend this one for a bachelorette party.
Stag’s Leap – Iconic spot in Napa Valley that some would say put the region on the map in terms of international acclaim and respect.
Tips & Tricks For Planning A Successful Trip
Plan ahead!! Napa is absolutely a place that requires advanced planning. Make reservations for all the wineries and restaurants that you plan to visit. You may be able to just walk into some of the tasting rooms at the end of your day, but for the actual wineries and acclaimed restaurants, you absolutely need reservations and we’d recommend starting to book at least a month out.
MyMaps will be your best friend. When you first decide to plan a trip to Napa, you will be inundated with opinions and recommendations. There are just so many stellar spots. In the last two years alone, we’ve spent 13 days total in Napa and still feel like we’ve just scratched the surface. As you begin to compile all of your recs, plot them all on a map. See where things seem to naturally group together location-wise and plan each day around that. The towns can take a significant amount of time to travel between and, if you’re on a tight schedule, you will want to minimize your driving time.
Be realistic. We are obsessed with wine tasting and there are certainly some destinations in the country where it’s possible to squeeze six or seven tastings into a day if you’re ambitious. Napa is not one of those places. We wouldn’t recommend more than four tastings in a day. Most wineries open for tastings at 11 (10 if it’s sparkling wine) and most start their last tastings at 3:30 or 4. Plan for each tasting to last 60-90 minutes.
Budget accordingly! As we’ve mentioned several times, Napa is not a great place to do on a budget. Accommodations can be pricey, there are many world-renowned (aka expensive) restaurants, and the tastings are not cheap. Most of our previous wine tasting experiences were for tastings ranging from $15-30 with the tasting waived with the purchase of one bottle. In Napa, however, the average tasting fee is about $60 with some going well over $100, and the tastings are waived with the purchase of upwards of six bottles or joining a wine club. You can absolutely still visit Napa or Sonoma and find spots for less, but just know that it may not be the full wine country experience that you’ve imagined.
Perfect First Time Itinerary
Friday, Day 1
If you land in the morning/afternoon, drive over the Golden Gate + stop for lunch in Sausalito on your way to wine country.
If you land in the late afternoon/evening, head straight to RH Wine Vault for a tasting
Dinner at Bistro Jeanty
Cocktails to go + check into The Silverado Resort (or your accommodation of choice)
Saturday, Day 2
Breakfast at Bouchon Bakery (Expect a line here, but it’s worth it! You can easily take your food to go, so waiting to order is the longest part here).
Champagne Tasting at Mumm Napa (If you want to get in as many tastings as possible, book your tasting as soon as they open!)
Tasting at HALL Wines (You’ll have to skip this one if your champagne tasting starts any later than 10AM)
Lunch + Tasting at V Sattui
Tasting at Piazza Del Dotto
After changing and freshening up, grab pre-dinner cocktails at Sky & Vine Rooftop. If you’re running late, be sure to stop here after dinner!
Dinner at Morimoto
Sunday, Day 3 – Option A if you’re heading home on Sunday/just doing a weekend trip!
Brunch – Napa is famous for their Sunday brunches. We’d recommend: Goose & Gander, Brix, or Auberge du Soleil depending on which is closest to where you’re staying!
Champagne Tasting at Domaine Carneros
Late lunch in Sausalito if you didn’t get the chance to stop on your way into town
Sunday, Day 3 – Option B if you have an extra day to spend in Napa Valley!
With an extra day in Napa, you’ll have time to explore Calistoga, an area many people miss on their trips!
Brunch at Sam’s Social Club
Champagne Tasting at Schramsberg
Tasting at Castello di Amorosa
Late lunch from Oakville Grocery on your way out of Calistoga – Easy to go sandwiches, apps, etc.
Pool time at Silverado Resort (Napa has pleasant, sunny weather most of the year)
(Tasting at Stags’ Leap Winery if you’d rather do another tasting or are visiting in a cooler time of year!)
Dinner and drinks at Ad Hoc
Monday, Optional Day 4
Late breakfast at Grace’s Table
Drive back to San Francisco and fly home
If you have a late flight, this would be the perfect day for the spa!
Images: Michael Warwick / Shutterstock; Giphy (2)