I visited San Francisco and Sonoma in 2015 and I was excited to return to the Bay Area. I’ve only visited San Francisco twice for weekend trips, so in my mind, it’s a magical place with so many noteworthy foodie options. This time around, the goal of our friend Dan’s 40th birthday trip was to explore Napa Valley and its wineries.
This post serves as a recap of our trip and I’ll give additional options along the way! I’ve also updated my Sonoma Travel Guide post if you want to learn more about Sonoma.
Why Visit Napa
For the wine! There are more than 375 wineries in one of the world’s celebrated wine regions. Cheers!
Best Time to Visit Napa
The best time to visit Napa is August through October, though this is also the peak tourist season. Spring – March through May – is also an ideal time.
Napa vs Sonoma
Having visited both places now, I can confirm that I prefer laid-back Sonoma for visiting wineries, but Napa has wineries on incredible estates. It’s all fairly close, so you could easily visit wineries in both places in one trip like we did.
Napa Valley Fires
Before our trip, we were anxiously watching the fires. It is a devastating annual occurrence caused by climate change. When fires are active in the area, businesses and roads can close and the surrounding area can be affected by thick smoke. Wildfires typically happen from May through October.
How Long to Stay in Napa?
Our trip was five days, and we stayed three full days. We did one full day of winery tastings (four wineries) and visited one winery another day. This was more than enough time for us, but if you’re a wine enthusiast, there is plenty of wine to enjoy! For a longer trip, I recommend combining your trip with some sightseeing in San Francisco and some outdoor activities around the Bay Area.
Getting To Napa
San Francisco, where you’ll likely land is about an hour and 20 minutes from Napa. You could take a day trip with a tour coming from San Francisco, but renting a car may be the easiest and most affordable way to get around San Francisco and to/from Napa. It’s an easy drive, though you may encounter some traffic in San Francisco.
Getting Around Napa
While Napa, the town, is about 18 square miles, the Napa Valley includes the towns of Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville, and American Canyon.
We rented a mini-van to get around. It was about $300 for the five-day trip and fit seven people. With needing to drive from San Francisco to Napa and driving to/from restaurants and wineries, it makes the most sense. Parking is easy and free in Napa.
See the winery section below to learn more about tour options.
Where to Stay in Napa
I haven’t told you one big detail until now – we actually stayed in Sonoma. We were a group of seven people looking for an affordable option with four bedrooms, and we found that in a house in Sonoma. There were more affordable house options in Sonoma than in Napa. We also considered the cancellation policy, amenities (hot tub), and the surrounding area. Since the house was right off Sonoma Square, it was perfect for walking to the grocery store and nearby restaurants and shops. Here’s the house we stayed in – Casa La Paloma. The house had a huge kitchen/living room area and a big backyard.
I recommend deciding which wineries you want to visit and what else you want to do to help pick where you stay. The farthest Napa winery from the house was about a 45-minute drive and most things in Napa were a 20-30-minute drive.
If you would like to stay in Napa, here are some options:
- The Meritage Resort and Spa (4-star hotel)
- Silverado Resort (4-star hotel)
- The Cottages of Napa Valley (B&B)
- Churchill Manor (B&B)
- Downtown Napa House with a Hot Tub (Rental)
- Simple Downtown Napa House (Rental)
I recommend looking at more options on Vrbo and Airbnb!
Where to Drink Wine in Napa Valley
Because of COVID, wineries required advance reservations. This made our day feel like we hurried from one place to another so that we could make it to four wineries. It wasn’t ideal but we still enjoyed the day. Some of the wineries have beautiful grounds to explore, so be sure to allow time to do that if you’re interested. Also, wineries have moved their tastings outside, so you’ll likely be seated with your party to enjoy the grounds. Since the tastings are outside, you might not be able to see the indoor tasting rooms and buildings. Be sure to review a winery’s website for the most current information.
Winery Costs: The cost per person ranged from $30-40 for a three or four-flight tasting to $75-95 for a four to six-flight tasting.
Birthday Boy Dan is a fan of reds, so that was our focus for this trip. He also chose the wineries we visited for the experience and the views. I’ll give a few notes about the wineries we visited.
The most beautiful winery we visited, the grounds are incredible! The drive into the winery is so picturesque. Pricing: $80 for a flight of five wines
This was the least fancy winery we visited. I loved the little sweet treat we got. Pricing: $40 for a single vineyard flight of four wines
We didn’t see much of this winery (we had a table near the entrance), but we had a great view of the vineyards on the mountain. Pricing: $40 for a flight of three wines with snacks
Inglenook has a long history and you might know this winery as the Coppola winery. The buildings are very cool to walk through. Pricing: $60 for a flight of four wines with cheese pairing
Here are some other noteworthy Napa wineries to consider:
- Robert Mondavi Winery – the one you might know by name
- Nickel and Nickel – for single-vineyard wine
- Domaine Chandon or Domaine Carneros – if you like sparkling wine
- HALL Napa Valley – wine with an impressive art sculpture collection
If you’re looking for a tour option:
- Napa Valley Wine Train
- West Wine Tours
- You could also rent a bus with a driver to follow your itinerary. Check out Wine Tour Drivers and We Drive.
What to Do in Napa Besides Wineries
In case you don’t want to spend every day drinking wine or if you want some variety, here are some fun things to do in Napa besides drinking wine!
- Napa Valley Bike Tours
- Mud Baths in Calistoga
- Napa Valley Paddle
- Hot Air Balloon Ride with Napa Valley Balloons, Balloons Above the Valley, or Napa Valley Aloft
- The Grape Escape Room
- Brewery: Stone Brewing Napa
- Distillery: Napa Valley Distillery
- Self-Guided Tour of the Rail Arts District
- Bottlerock Napa Valley Festival
- Hike at Robert Louis Stevenson State Park or Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
- Shop in Downtown Napa
Where to Eat in Napa
There are plenty of delicious and award-winning options for restaurants in the Napa area. Here are a few we enjoyed.
Great food hall with a lot of restaurant choices, including Hog Island Oyster Bar, The Fatted Calf, and Kara’s Cupcakes. Fieldwork Brewing Company is available for beer and there are several wine shops nearby.
A place to stop for pizza and gourmet sandwiches
If you can’t make it to The French Laundry, try Chef Keller’s other establishments
For more suggestions, look at this Eater list or the Napa Valley website.
5-Day Napa Itinerary
We had a very leisurely schedule and one full day of wineries. Here’s our itinerary for some ideas to plan your trip.
- Thursday: arrive at SFO at noon, stop at Golden Gate Observation Deck, hike Muir Woods, arrive at Sonoma house around 6pm, Dinner
- Friday: Lunch at Oxbow Market, wine tasting at 3 Sticks (Sonoma), dinner at The French Laundry
- Saturday: Winery tastings at 10 am and 11:30 am, lunch at Oakville Grocery, winery tastings at 2 pm and 3:15 pm, order take-out for dinner
- Sunday: Day trip to nature or other activities – see list above
- Monday: Drive back to SF and fly out in the morning
For wine enthusiasts in the U.S., Napa is a must-visit! Your trip can be as laid-back or exploratory as you make it, and you’ll never be in want of really good food and drinks. I would go back!