Around 4.7 million people visit Napa Valley every year. And it’s not just the delectable taste of its wines; Napa Valley is known for its mesmerizing landscape as well. What attracts all these visitors to the valley, however, is a centuries-old story of an underdog, that began by challenging and consequently besting the king of established wines.
Before Napa, France was the undisputed champion of wines in the world. And no one dared to challenge its authority. But the seeds of rebellion were being sown, new perspectives were being nurtured, and this led to the establishment of Napa’s first commercial winery – the Charles Krug Winery in 1861. With the first taste of success, the number of commercial wineries in the area grew. And by the end of the 19th century, there were already about 140 wineries milking out some of the finest wines in the once-virgin valley. Today, if you walk down the rugged green path of Napa’s history, you can still see the wineries of Chateau Montelena, Far Niente, Mayacamas, Beaulieu, and Beringer.
Even though Napa Valley was still a rookie in the wine world, America had taken notice of its new-found darling. Commercial architecture was gaining prominence in the country at this time. The vintners at the Valley knew that this meant that soon, the grapevines and the open space would give way to high skyscrapers. This encouraged them to fight for and subsequently enact the nation’s first Agriculture Preserve in 1968. The beautiful curves of Napa Valley would never be threatened by the concrete of urbanization. So today, as you lie in the bosom of nature while languidly taking a sip of Napa’s finest wine, you know whom to thank.
But a century had passed trying to perfect the delicate flavor of wines and still the results were not up-to-mark. France was still the undisputed king and the sophisticated wine world looked at Napa Valley as an unwanted outsider, a temerarious rookie that could not match up to French finery. Till 1976. This was the year that placed Napa Valley firmly on the map of the wine world. At the Paris Wine Tasting that year, Napa Valley won first place with not one, but two fresh wines, a Napa Valley Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
This incident has put Napa on the map and since then, the valley has been recognized as one of the finest wine producing regions of the world. Walk down the auburn valley at sunset, taking in the sweet fragrance of the grapes. Watch the farmers hard at work as you admire the sunrise over the hills. Take a nap at the heavy boughs and be reminded of life’s blissful moments. And of course, don’t forget the numerous wine tastings at some of the finest wineries of the Valley.
Napa Valley Map
Napa Valley Facts
- The earliest inhabitants of Napa Valley were Patwin Native Americans with some traces of Wappo tribes. The diet of these tribes included bread from California buckeye kernels, earthworms, grasshoppers, wild roots, acorns, and small animals.
- Robert Louis Stevenson captured the living style of people living in the Valley in the later part of 19th century in his book, “The Silverado Squatters.”
- In the 1850s, Napa Valley became a prolific center for mineral mining, which included silver and quicksilver.
- The first commercial winery of the county was opened by John Patchett in 1859. Charles Krug worked for him for two years before opening his own winery in the valley at St. Helena in 1861.
- Napa is home to a lot of endangered flora, which include the Contra Costa Goldfields and Tiburon Indian paintbrush.
Where is Napa Valley?
Napa Valley is located in Northern California, about 60 miles west of Sacramento and 50 miles to the northeast of San Francisco Bay Area. It is about 30 miles long and 5 miles across at its widest point.
The nearest international airports are at Sacramento, San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco. Cars and limos are easily available on rent from the San Francisco airport to Napa Valley. The trip is an-hour-and-a-half long via the Golden Gate Bridge to Route 37.
Best Time To Visit Napa Valley
With a Mediterranean climate, summers at Napa vary between warm to hot temperatures with cool nights and very little rain. Mild winters are characterized by occasional showers, with sunny, bright days, and frost. But snow is uncommon.
The high season for tourism is Fall when the grapes are harvested and the whole valley becomes yellowish orange, the color of grape leaves. Even though September is a bit warm, temperatures cool down by October and November.
In winter, the valley becomes green again followed by pink and white blossoms in spring. Winter and spring are usually the low seasons for tourism, so you can reserve the best hotel and restaurant seats during this time, and also easily pass for a local.
Napa Valley Sightseeing
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
Napa Valley Wine Train – One of the best tours of the valley, the Napa Valley Wine Train transports its passengers in a vintage Pullman dining car or a Vista Dome car from the early 1900s, stopping at a few wineries for tours and serving lunch or dinner on the train. Tours during daylight hours offer great views of the scenic valley.
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.
More about Napa Valley
What are the coordinates of the Napa Valley?
38.3867° N, 122.3500° W
Which are the interesting places to visit in the state of California?
Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park, Hearst Castle, Golden Gate Bridge, Universal Studios Hollywood, San Diego Zoo, and Joshua Tree National Park.