Napa is a booming wine region, serving up some of the top wines in the world. The rolling hills and sunny skies make the region a picturesque spot for a quick getaway. And while wine is the main attraction, there's plenty to the region worth exploring- all just a two-hour drive north of San Francisco.
Throughout the valley there are a number of towns filled with quaint shops, Michelin-starred restaurants, luxurious hotels, and unique spa experiences. And with over 400 wineries in the region, Napa Valley is definitely a destination worth revisiting again and again. So whether you're looking for a romantic retreat, a getaway with friends, or a trip for the family, there's something for everyone to enjoy. Here, are a few of the best things Napa Valley has to offer.
Best Time to Go
The tourist season in Napa is from August to October, which corresponds with the annual grape harvest. Unfortunately, this is when prices are at their highest and travelers should expect wait times and the need for reservations when out exploring. Late spring is a great alternative because the weather is just as nice and crowds are more manageable. And in late May, the area hosts the annual three-day-long BottleRock festival featuring some of the world's top musicians, attracting crowds of over 100,000.
In the summer, temperatures can get very hot during the day, but there are plenty of wineries to explore where you will find air conditioned tasting rooms or a seat on a covered patio. The area also hosts its annual Napa Wine Fest each July, and showcases some of the region's top wineries, plus others from surrounding wine regions like Sonoma and Lake Mendocino.
Napa Valley really gets into the holiday spirit during the late fall and early winter months. Crowds are at their lowest, and so are rates. The temperatures can be a little chilly, but that's nothing that a glass of wine or two can't fix.
Things to Know
Due to the region's large area, it's best to explore by car (just make sure to have a designated driver while visiting wineries). While there's public transportation available, it's easiest to go at your own pace instead of navigating bus routes or paying for a taxi. And while temperatures can peak in the 90s during the summer months, the nights can get surprisingly cold, dropping as much as 40 degrees in a single day. So it's best to pack a variety of outfits to make sure you're comfortable at all times.
How to Get Around
Amtrak takes travelers from the Bay Area straight to the heart of downtown Napa. The ride takes anywhere from two to three hours, depending on whether you're leaving from Emeryville or Salesforce Plaza. Napa Valley's public bus system is called The Vine and runs from El Cerrito Del Norte all the way up to Calistoga. There are a few taxi services in Napa that can easily be arranged for quick pickup and drop offs wherever you need to be and Uber and Lyft also operate in the area. Napa Valley has plenty of private car and limousine options too, perfect for those who don't want to worry about getting around if they're out wine tasting. There are even tour operators who will take you to various attractions and tastings with a guide that shares some Napa history along the way.
Things to Do
If you're looking to mix up your tasting experience, then California Brandy House is worth the visit. The property opened in 2020 in the heart of downtown Napa and offers a host of premium brandys, all of which can be sampled on-site. You can also get your bottles personally engraved as a thoughtful souvenir. If you're looking for a different perspective on Napa, why not take it all in from above? Napa Valley Balloons takes visitors on a once-in-a-lifetime trip high above the picturesque rolling hills and vineyards, offering stunning views as far as the Bay Area. And better yet, you take off at sunrise for your hour-long trip, so you still have the rest of your day for tastings. If you love trains, step back in time on the Napa Valley Wine Train. The restored 20th-century train travels 36 miles round-trip, all the way to St. Helena and back. Guests will enjoy a five-star meal, accompanied by the region's finest wines, of course. You could also explore the area by bike with Napa Valley Bike Tours. This company is situated at the center of dozens of wineries that branch out from the town's center along quiet country roads.
There are over 400 wineries in Napa Valley alone, so narrowing down the list can be difficult. Here are a few favorites to get your list started. Mayacamas Vineyard is tucked away in the Mayacamas mountains and offers stunning views of the valley and all the way up to the Bay Area. With plenty of outdoor seating and great wine and cheese pairings, Ashes & Diamonds Winery is a good option for a laid back afternoon. For a more boutique winery experience, compared to all of the mega wineries in town, head to B Cellar Winery. The team specifically crafted their menu to perfectly complement each of their vintages. And better yet, you can enjoy your tasting on their covered outdoor patio taking in the sights of the surrounding vineyards.
You'll find plenty of shopping in the Napa Valley area. Set on First Street in downtown Napa, the Oxbow Public Market is a 40,000-square-foot marketplace with food vendors, cafes, and produce from local farmers. After a long afternoon of exploring, be sure to grab a cup of coffee from one of the cafes and relax on the outdoor patio overlooking the Napa River. The Spice Islands Marketplace is a must for any culinary fanatic. With over 1,700 cookbook titles, cookware, bakeware, and kitchen tools available, you should be sure to leave plenty of extra room in your bag. Next door, you'll find the Ghirardelli Chocolate Discovery Center, where you'll learn the ins and outs of chocolate making. First Street Napa offers a collection of restaurants, shops, and tasting rooms and is centered right in the heart of downtown Napa. Located just across from the Archer Hotel, First Street is where you'll find over 40 businesses, all within walking distance of one another. Food lovers will feel right at home at Napastak, a culinary boutique in the center of downtown Napa. The owners have crafted a unique shopping destination for foodies — selling everything from jams and jellies to olive oils, mustards, and wines.
Neighborhoods to Know
While there are several towns scattered around the Napa Valley, a few stand out with great dining, hotels, and things to do. Downtown Napa is where you'll find much of the action and is the first stop for those coming up from the Bay Area. First Street is at the heart of it all with great restaurants, tasting rooms, and boutiques. Surrounding the commercial area you'll find tree-lined streets filled with quaint preserved Victorian homes. Yountville is another town filled with great restaurants, shops, and galleries. The town provides many opportunities to get out into nature, whether that's hiking trails, biking to and from wineries, or taking a hot air balloon ride over the valley. St. Helena is a charming town filled with shops and restaurants that line its Main Street. Home to The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, visitors can watch cooking demonstrations or sample some wines from the on-site Christian Brothers Winery. Calistoga is the final stop for those making their way through Napa Valley, and it's the perfect spot to unwind before heading back to reality. The area's mineral-rich waters have led to the town becoming a wellness destination with a number of spas that feature natural spring pools. Once fully relaxed, visitors can peruse the shops, restaurants, and tasting rooms that line Lincoln Avenue.
The weather in Napa Valley fluctuates pretty drastically from sunup to sundown, so it's best to pack a mix of cold-weather and warm-weather outfits. The area averages 27 inches of rainfall per year, mostly during the winter months from December through March. Fire season, which runs from June through November, has hit the region really hard in the past few years with record-setting fires in 2017 and 2020. The combination of high temperatures with low rainfall makes the region susceptible to fires.
Napa Valley has definitely become a vacation hot spot and one of the top things to do in California. The tiered hillsides, wine caverns, and beautiful estates make for amazing scenery. Scattered between the vineyards, luxurious resorts cater to every indulgence – golfing, spa pampering, gourmet dining- you name it. A trip to California wine country is an unforgettable vacation.