Ben and I both love wine. We drink it regularly at dinner time, and both prefer red (white or rosé is acceptable in the summer time if I need to cool down!). So naturally, a trip to Napa was in our future. We visited in July and had an amazing time. It truly is a dream! Lush vineyards, amazing scenery, great weather and the food, omg the food! Some of the best I’ve had in my life. So I created this Napa travel guide in case you want to visit Napa one day. It will go over where to stay, how to structure your days, where to eat, and our favorite wineries! We’ll also give you the itinerary that we came up with, so you can just copy that if you’re not in the mood to research; it’s all done for you!
So here it is, your Napa travel guide and 4 day itinerary!
GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND
Coming from Vancouver, we flew into the San Francisco airport and rented a car. From the airport, it’s about an hour and a half drive to Napa Valley. I think renting a car is really the best way to get to Napa and get around while you’re in Napa. Sure, you could probably take a shuttle or bus from the airport to Napa and Uber from your hotel to wineries and restaurants, but a car is a lot more convenient, so that’s what we opted for.
You also don’t have to worry about your driver drinking too much because Napa is so expensive that you’ll probably only go to two wineries per day (more on that later).
WHERE TO STAY
Napa is a valley made up of many sub-appellations (as explained by the sommelier at Etude winery). I like to think of the sub-appellations as smaller areas that make up the valley. Major ones include Los Carneros in the south, Yountville, Oakville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. To drive from the south of the valley to the northern-most part of the valley takes about 45 minutes, which, when you think of it, isn’t that long. You can stay anywhere in the valley and in any of the sub-appellations. Staying in the city of Napa itself is also an option, but personally, I think places like St. Helena and Calistoga would be better to stay in since they are further up valley and have nicer views. I’m all about those views!
Staying further up valley doesn’t mean that you’re far away from the action, either! There’s one main road leading from the south to the north of the valley and there’s wineries all along the main road.
We ended up staying at an AirBnB in Calistoga and loved the location! The AirBnB had an amazing view, and was a short driving distance to some amazing wineries. Staying in St. Helena would be a good option too. It’s a really cute town with lots of character and little shops and restaurants. I wouldn’t mind staying there next time we go back!
HOW TO STRUCTURE YOUR DAY
Something to keep in mind when planning your trip is that Napa is beautiful, but it’s expensive. I mean, very expensive. I would still recommend going, but structuring your days smartly. To give you an idea, a wine tasting (which includes small samples of 5-6 different types of wine, probably equaling one glass of wine total) will cost anywhere from $30-$75 USD.
Now, you can put this money from the tasting toward buying bottles of wine, but we didn’t do this because we only brought carry-on luggage. But even if we had brought checked luggage, I would’ve been worried about the wine bottles breaking in the luggage. Shipping to Canada also seemed a little complicated, so we opted to not buy any wine. So getting back to the price of a tasting, if you take an average of $50 USD per person per tasting, you will end up spending $200 USD per day on 2 wine tastings for 2 people. It adds up. Quickly.
So I would recommend going to max 2 wineries per day in Napa and just enjoy your experience at these tastings. Don’t rush through them. The scenery at most of the wineries is beautiful and to be enjoyed.
Our days went something like this: breakfast at our AirBnB, wine tasting number one around 11, lunch at a restaurant, wine tasting number 2, back to the AirBnB to rest and freshen up, dinner out at a nice restaurant. That’s it! Simple, but you get to enjoy Napa without going overboard.
WINE TASTINGS- TO RESERVE OR NOT TO RESERVE?
This is a question we had before traveling to Napa, and we ended up making reservations at most wineries we went to. Especially if you’re there over a weekend, you definitely need to make a reservation, or you might not get in. Most wineries will have set wines that they are serving for the day, with outdoor and indoor spaces, which you can choose to your liking.
Ok, I think I’ve covered the basics, so on to our 4-day Napa (and a bit of Sonoma/Healdsburg! itinerary)
NAPA VALLEY 4-DAY ITINERARY
We flew into San Francisco quite early in the morning, picked up our rental car and drove to Napa Valley.
We got to Napa in the early afternoon, and grabbed lunch at the Boon Fly Cafe in the Carneros region of Napa. The Boon Fly Cafe is situated in a building that resembles a red barn and the food is delicious. It’s what you think of when you think California- a casual vibe with a great local wine selection and bistro-style food. I had an amazing chicken sandwich there. They also had Etude wines on the menu, which was our next destination.
After Boon Fly, we headed to Etude wines (in the Carneros as well) and did a wine tasting outside on their patio. We did not make a reservation at Etude, and since it was a Friday, this was ok. Etude is known for their Pinot Noirs, and they were delicious. We really enjoyed our experience there.
On our way to our AirBnB, we stopped in at Robert Mondavi winery, and ordered one glass of wine each, and sat on their patio. We felt we had to see Robert Mondavi because it’s one of the bigger and more established wineries in Napa.
We then drove up the valley to Calistoga and checked into our AirBnb. We rested a bit and freshened up, and headed out to dinner. We didn’t know where to go to dinner that night, so our AirBnb host recommended a restaurant in the area (one of the advantages of staying in an AirBnB!). We headed to Brasswood, her recommended restaurant and OMG it was amazing. Easily one of the highlights of the trip and the best food (in my opinion) of the trip.
Even though the name may not sound like it, is an Italian-inspired restaurant, with many Italian items with a fresh westcoast spin to them. Everything we had was delicious! You definitely have to get the fresh house-made mozzarella with fresh tomatoes and bread. It’s not on the menu, but our AirBnB host told us about it so we ordered it. The dish tasted like one I would have in Italy. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Their pasta is made fresh in house, and all of it sounded delicious. Brasswood also has a winery and bakery, which were closed when we went. We didn’t have time to return to the winery and bakery when they were open, but it’s a good reason to travel back to Napa right?
We got up, had breakfast at out AriBnB, then headed to Duckhorn Vineyards. The winery has a classic, old-world vibe to it, and the grounds are beautiful. These were easily some of the best wines we tried on our trip. Ben’s favorite was the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
We then drove over to Farmstead at the Long Meadow Ranch for lunch, and sat outside on the patio. Once again, the food was amazing. We took some time to walk around the ranch, and have a coffee at the outdoor cafe.
Winery number two for the day was Alpha Omega. I would recommend doing your tasting outside, because the view is amazing! I could’ve stayed there all day.
We went back to our AirBnB to relax and get ready for dinner. Then we drove to Yountville to Bouchon. This was Ben’s pick, and our first Michelin star restaurant! The food of course, was delectable. It’s classic french fare and satisfies all of your cravings and taste buds.
We took a break from Napa on day 3 and headed to Sonoma Valley. Our first stop was the Chateau St. Jean winery, and one of the funnest tastings of the trip. The grounds are beautiful, with lush greenery growing everywhere. I found Sonoma to be less expensive than Napa (at least the two wineries we went to were!). A tasting a Chateau St. Jean was $30 and it included a nice tasting plate complete with cheese, crackers, fruit and chocolate. One of Ben’s top wine picks also came from here: the Cinq Cepages which is a rich, full-bodied wine with 95 points!
We always would take time to walk around a winery’s grounds, and while we were exploring Chateau St. Jean’s grounds, we discovered a bocce court! Of course we had to stop and play a few games 🙂
We then headed to St. Francis Winery. We did not make a reservation for a tasting here, but were able to stand at the tasting bar and sample a few wines. We then sat outside on their patio and relaxed, and just enjoyed (a common theme for this trip!).
After St. Francis, we drove to the small town of Healdsburg. The town is so cute with tons of character. We enjoyed it immensely. There’s tons of cute shops to peruse, and tasting rooms. We headed to lunch at Campo Fina where we sat on their back patio and enjoyed a few aperol spritzes and pizza.
We also checked out Shed, which is a cool concept. It’s part grocery, part cafe. part restaurant, part homeware store. I found the most beautiful plates there that I plan to use in a few upcoming photo shoots. Definitely a place to check out, even if it’s just for a coffee.
We went to Chalkboard for dinner, where their housemade pasta is amazing.
Our last day in Napa. We checked out of our AirBnB and headed south to the city of Napa because we felt we should see it before we go. We stopped in at the Oxbow public market, which is a much smaller version of the Granville Island public market. We then walked around Napa a bit and enjoyed the town.
We then headed to the airport where we made a quick stop in San Francisco and explored Fillmore street a bit.
Overall, it was a great trip! I hope you find this travel guide and itinerary helpful.
Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below, or end up going to any of the places I recommended!