Napa Valley Travel Guide
Napa Valley Travel Guide
One doesn’t need to be a wine connoisseur to enjoy a trip to Napa Valley, the jewel of Northern California. With seemingly endless verdant hills, vineyards as far as the eye can see, and just about anything you could wish for in the surrounding cities, Napa Valley is the perfect place for that road trip destination, second honeymoon, or wine-tasting adventure.
Just a short jaunt north of the San Francisco Bay Area, Napa Valley is one of the world’s most well-known wine-growing regions. In fact, Napa Valley’s tourism department is determined to make Napa Valley not only the most well-known, but also the greatest wine country experience in the entire world.
Napa Valley is indeed famous for its wines and picturesque scenery, however it is also famous for being a fantastic draw for tourism within the state of California. A certain vibe exists here, a carefree, affluent, clean, and vibrant flavor, if you will. Whether you love wine or could do without it, Napa Valley is worth a visit for the vistas and atmosphere alone. There isn’t another place quite like Napa Valley in the entire country. Be sure to put this travel destination on your bucket list and settle in to learn more about this rich and lush landscape.
About Napa Valley
Did you know Napa Valley has more than 400 wineries? This famous wine region is most known for its exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon, not to mention its Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Franc. Vineyard after vineyard line these hills, and most wineries allow tours and wine tasting where you’re not only allowed to sip the wine, you might also be lucky enough to speak with the winemaker. The golden California sun makes the Napa Valley experience almost otherworldly as it not only bathes you with its warm glow, but also the glorious countryside with its thousands of trellises as far as the eye can see. Napa Valley draws tourists not only for the wine but for the amazing views and stunning scenery as well.
This premier valley is all of thirty miles long and only a handful of miles wide, however, it provides the ideal conditions for all kinds of wine grape varieties. Within the valley are several microclimates and rich soils that allow for superb growth and excellent flavor. The secret of Napa Valley’s success lies in its dry, Mediterranean climate, of which only a choice 2% of the world enjoys. This climate ensures a quality that is above and beyond other wineries outside of Napa Valley, while also keeping a smooth consistency throughout the vintages (thus pleasing the regulars).
Even though Napa Valley is known the world over for its exceptional wines and warm, beautiful climate, it is a very small winegrowing region. To give a reference, Bordeaux is six times larger in planted acreage. But perhaps that’s part of this region’s charm, that a patch of land so small could produce wine so fabulous. Even more, roughly 95% of wineries in Napa Valley are family owned, which means no corporations or conveyer-belt factories have strong-armed their way into this quaint and quiet countryside. What you get in your glass is the product of a hard—but fruitful—labor of love in every single bottle you buy.
Cities in Napa Valley
Napa - As you begin your journey through wine country, you’ll come to the largest city within Napa Valley, Napa itself. If you’re in the mood for shopping, there’s plenty to see and buy on First Street, along with eateries and bars that will tantalize your taste buds. If you love being on the water, take out your kayak or your paddle board and float on down the Napa River, not only for an amazing day on the water, but for fantastic city vistas as well. The Oxbow Public Market Bar is the perfect place to grab some food, but if you want to try some local wine or beer on tap (also local!) come on down to the Cadet Beer & Wine Bar.
St. Helena - St. Helena’s history can be traced back to the 19th century. It is a quaint and charming town perfect for tourists looking to peruse its shops, highly-rated restaurants, and even its art galleries—all on St. Helena’s Main Street. Before you spend the day tasting wine, you might want to head over to Model Bakery for some delicious breakfast pastries. St. Helena is proud to call Beringer and Crocker & Starr wineries her own, but is also home to well over a hundred various wineries. If you’re interested in fabulous food, St. Helena has a Michelin star restaurant, the Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, which offers a view of Napa Valley that will take your breath away.
Yountville - Speaking of Michelin star restaurants in Napa Valley, did you know Yountville has more per capita than other cities around the country? For that very reason, Yountville is called Napa Valley’s “culinary capital.” If you’re looking for something fun, exciting, one-of-a-kind, and bucket-list worthy, book a hot air balloon ride at sunrise that floats up and over the valley. If you’re an art lover, check out Yountville’s art walk and discover various art from all over the world. Begin the day with gourmet treats from Bouchon Bakery and book a romantic dinner at the world-renowned French Laundry restaurant to experience some of the most delicious food you’ve ever eaten.
Calistoga - This northernmost town of Napa Valley might as well be a cheery small town from Europe for all the charm it has to offer. Calistoga exudes relaxation with decadence, such as healing mud baths and geothermal hot springs. Shopping can be found down Lincoln Avenue, and if you’re hungry on your excursion, swing through Lovina, a delicious restaurant that boasts farm to table service. Calistoga’s Farmer’s market is your one-stop shop for local produce and is open on weekends year round. If you’d like to pamper yourself, consider Dr. Wilkinson’s Wellness Resort for a much-needed day at the spa.
Sonoma - While Sonoma isn’t in Napa Valley proper, it is the pinnacle of Sonoma Valley and only twenty five minutes away from Napa—well worth the visit if you’re in the neighborhood. Sonoma is known for the adobe buildings that line its historic downtown plaza, as well as other tourist attractions such as its art galleries and museums. Local shops are perfect for souvenir shopping, and if you’re not tired of wine tasting (who is?) Sonoma offers well over thirty tasting rooms to expand your wine horizons. Local restaurants include Folktable, which offers a delectable brunch, or Layla, a restaurant with a stunning outdoor patio that serves Mediterranean fare.
What to Do in Napa Valley
We have mentioned hot air balloon rides already, but they’re truly worth a second mention. Not only is it an experience you don’t have every day, soaring into the skies above Napa Valley will give you one of the most breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Vineyards going on for miles as well as countless rolling hills in varying shades of green—make the time to experience this luxury if you ever find yourself in the neighborhood. If you’re a little more adventurous why not try a helicopter ride, or better yet, paragliding? You’ll find both options available to you as well.
Go on the Napa Art Walk through the town of Napa. Come and wander streets to take in various sculptures made by local California sculptors as well as a few international artists as well. The Napa Art Walk rotates every two years and only the best pieces are showcased after being chosen by a jury.
The Napa Valley Wine Train is also an exciting choice, leaving from the depot in Napa to tour the entire valley. This thirty-six mile train ride explores the surrounding vineyards and takes you through exciting locales within the valley. The train’s restored Pullman cars are a huge draw with tourists, with plush furniture and lush interiors. Both lunch and dinner are served on the train with standard American fare, and the train itself enjoys a rich history as the tour itself dates back to the early 1900’s.
For one of the most well-known and beloved wineries in all of Napa Valley, you might consider visiting the O’Brien Estate Winery. This winery is touted as one of the best in the entire state of California, yet its vineyard only spreads across forty acres of land. Even so, this small but mighty winery is one of the most renowned in the region.
The Napa Valley Museum might get your attention if you’re a history buff, with its three galleries to enjoy. The Main Gallery showcases traveling exhibitions, as well as West Coast premiers and world premiers. The History Gallery is what you’d expect with thousands of artifacts displayed to properly tell the tale of Napa Valley through the decades. The Spotlight Gallery gives a voice to local and regional artists whose art embodies the culture of wine country. Depending on the time of year you visit, check in with the museum, as many different traveling exhibitions and date-specific programs are hosted here.
The city of Napa has more to offer with the Napa Valley Opera House. Built in 1879, this building has been renovated several times over the years and is the best place in the valley for the performing arts. In fact, this opera house is known in the region as a premier California venue. The opera house also offers a restaurant on the first floor known as the Blue Note Napa. This restaurant serves nothing but the best gourmet food and beverages and hosts several live jazz performers on their stage, including the likes of Michael Bublé and Chris Botti.
If you want to take some time to become one with nature, consider a visit to Skyline Wilderness Park. If you’re a hiker, there are twenty-five miles of trails and over 850 acres of raw land to enjoy. Trails here wind around all kinds of scenery, from oak trees to grasslands and from steep hills to flat land, you’re in for a treat at the park. Napa Valley is breathtaking in its own right but Skyline Wilderness Park takes the beauty of nature to a whole new level. Along with hiking, you can enjoy biking, horseback riding, disc golf, or find out if you’re any good at archery. If you’re a camper, you can camp here too.
If you want to tour a castle that’s true to history (yet built within the past few decades), check out the Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga. Built by Dario Sattui, this Tuscan-style castle has 107 rooms, was built with authentic antique bricks from palaces in Hapsburg, and is surprisingly accurate to the 13th century time period Sattui wanted to emulate. His building project began in the ‘90’s and continued for 12 years before finally being completed and becoming one of the most iconic tourist attractions of Napa Valley.
If you love the water, a boat trip down the Napa River might be in order. Paddleboarding and kayaking are popular on the river, and if you want to enjoy a river tour, you can do that too. For less adventurous visitors, a stroll along the river will suffice, and you may do so along the riverfront via a hiking trail.
Did you know Napa Valley has a geyser? Named “California’s Old Faithful,” the valley’s geyser is located in Calistoga and erupts roughly every 45 minutes. Of course that can vary according to rainfall and the season you happen to visit. The geyser was accidentally created by a settler in the 19th century in an attempt to drill a well. Unfortunately, the man perished after striking a pocket of natural steam, which in turn, opened the geyser. The rest, as they say, is history.
Your Vineyard Adventure
Napa Valley is one of the most unique tourist destinations in the world. For a relatively small patch of land, it produces some of the finest wines in the world. For any wine connoisseur, Napa Valley is a must-visit location at least once in their lives. Not only for the wine, but also for the scenery, the sweeping vineyard vistas, the touring train, the amazing history, the fabulous food, and not to mention the fantastic hot air balloons. A vacation to Napa Valley’s wine country is not one you’ll soon forget.
Pack for perfect weather—and perfect wine—and have the perfect time of your life touring wineries and vineyards, paddling down the Napa River, or even wandering through an authentic 13-century (yet modern) castle! Even if you don’t care much for wine, there is plenty to see, do, and enjoy here, including a whole host of Michelin starred restaurants that are to die for.
Napa Valley is worth a visit for the views alone, as hill upon hill is bedecked with thousands of trellises for a sight rarely seen by city eyes. Learn the history of the region, the varying stories of family-owned wineries through the years, and the secrets of the wine-making trade. Any wine you could possibly imagine is offered in the region, and if you don’t love wine when you arrive, you’ll be sure to love wine once you take your leave. Buy a few bottles for you or as gifts for friends and family and you’ll continue to enjoy your trip to Napa Valley long after you’ve gone home.