Napa Valley is one of the best known destinations in the country as a weekend getaway for wine lovers.
The name Napa Valley refers to the entire valley region, which includes the cities of Napa, Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville, and American Canyon. These cities are home to around 300 vineyards, receiving over 5 million visitors every year.
Some travelers choose to add a weekend in Napa Valley to their San Francisco vacation, to get away from the busy city and relax at a bed and breakfast, get pampered at the spa, sample the local wines, eat fine foods, and live like royalty for a few days.
Most visitors head to Napa Valley during the summer, when it can be overcrowded, especially on weekends when many Californians choose to visit for a day trip. The pleasant weather and beauty of the changing seasons from September to October are also busy times to visit, because of the fall harvest. Off-season prices will be much cheaper, and places will be much less busy, but the weather can be rainy and cold at times.
Napa Valley is a fairly remote weekend getaway spot, located a long distance from each of these airports, so having a car is recommended.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
Oakland International Airport (OAK)
San Jose International Airport (SJC)
Sacramento International Airport (SMF)
Ferry from SF - Visitors traveling from San Francisco to Napa Valley without a car can take the ferry from San Francisco, which departs from the San Francisco Ferry Building once every morning, and returns in the early evening.
Having a car is usually necessary for a trip to Napa Valley, as distances between destinations can be fairly long. Walking and biking is possible in some areas, and is generally reserved for a leisurely recreation rather than a mode of transportation, though there are certainly exceptions.
The Napa Valley Wine Train is one of the most popular attractions in Napa Valley. As the train travels to a few wineries for tastings, passengers enjoy views of the beautiful scenery while they eat lunch or dinner.
Shopping, Dining, and Lodging
Napa Valley has plenty of shopping opportunities, including outlets, boutiques, and antique shops. The Napa Premium Outlets is an outlet mall with high-end shops, and St. Helena also has an outlet mall called St. Helena Premium Outlets. St. Helena's Main Street is the prime shopping location in the valley, featuring mostly boutiques for high-end and unique purchases.
Some of California's finest restaurants are located in the Napa Valley. Notably, French Laundry, a Michelin rated restaurant, is considered one of the best restaurants in the country. Located in Yountville, the chef is world renowned, but the prices match the ratings, even without wine. Next to French Laundry, and run by the same chef, is the less expensive (but still expensive) Bouchon is a French restaurant and cafe.
Resorts or bed and breakfasts are the main types of accommodations in Napa Valley, and they can be found in each of the towns. Lower cost options are the budget hotels like Best Western.
Wineries -The many wineries of the Napa Valley often offer tours, classes, and of course, tastings. In Napa Valley, wineries often charge $5 to $10 for the tasting, which includes a few different wines.
- Popular wineries in Napa Valley include:
- Robert Mondavi
- Grgich Hills Winery
- Valley First
- Domaine Chandon
- Pride Mountain Vineyards
Taste Napa Downtown - A wine card, Taste Napa Downtown costs $20, and is good for wine tastings at 10 tasting rooms downtown.
While wine tasting is the number one reason for a visit to Napa Valley, a variety of other activities have much to add to the experience.
Hot air balloon rides - A common activity in Napa Valley, hot air balloon rides usually depart early in the morning, so riders get a great view of the sunrise over the valley.
Calistoga Spa Hot Springs - Take a swim in the mineral waters of the natural hot springs, which are said to have medicinal benefits. Alternatively, soak in a mud bath from a spring filled with volcanic ash and peat, or enjoy massages and other spa treatments.
Outdoor recreational activities, including biking, hiking, horseback riding, boating, fishing, and golfing can also be found in or nearby Napa Valley.
For the most part, Napa Valley nightlife involves a quiet night, relaxing by the fire in a private room before drifting off to sleep, with the help of some wine, of course. But there are a few options for going out late at night, like Uva, a bar with live jazz music, which has the right ambiance for the perfect end to a day spent wine tasting in Napa Valley. Another option is the Calistoga Inn, which has its own brewery and bar with live music every night, though beer might not be the first thought on a trip to Napa Valley.