A Perfect Plan to Napa California
With Napa Valley starting to open back up, we felt it was time to share with all how to plan a trip to Napa Valley wine county.
Whether you are looking for an amazing day trip or an overnight escape we'll go over how to plan a day in Napa meet your needs.
How to Spend a Day in Napa Valley (A Perfect Guide)
Start your day around 9 or 10am.
When you arrive to the Napa region start on Highway 29 and drive right past Napa and head towards Yountville.
You will see a Napa Valley sign on the left side of the highway that a lot of people stop and take photos at- you'll want to skip this sign and continue down the road. There's another one on the way to Calistoga that has fewer people stopping allowing you to get an uninterrupted photo.
Once at Yountville you will want to stop at Bistro Jeanty (click the link for a reservation) for a nice, filling, french lunch before continuing with what Napa Valley has to offer. The interior of the restaurant is a kitsch play on a french farmhouse. The patio is also nice under the shaded awning.
The dishes that you need to get are Pâté de Campagne Maison (Country style pâté with cornichons), Escargots (Snails in a garlic butter sauce), Moules au Vin Rouge (Mussels, steamed in red wine with grilled bread) and if they are serving it a Croque Madam (A glorified ham sandwich with an egg on top). This is plenty of food for at least two people. But save some room for desert next door. Bistro Jeanty does offer some great choices on wine at reasonable prices. It's best to get one or two glasses at the most with your meal.
After your hearty lunch walk next door to Bouchon Bakery. No reservation is needed here, all you need to do is wait in the line. After your wait, pick up a French macaron (our favorite is the pistachio and rasberry) and possibly a fresh fruit tart if your stomach doesn't explode.
After all that food make your way down to the northern end of Napa valley- Calistoga. Along the way there are some great places to stop and take photos. A few of our favorites are The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, Peju Winery, Del Dotto Estate Winery and Caves, Clos Pegase Winery, and Castillo Di Amarosa.
Make Castillo Di Amarosa your first winery that you visit in the day. The crowds tend to get larger in the afternoon and you'll want to start with a light wine first. Do yourself a favor and try their famous La Fantasia in the underground tasting room. This tasting will take around an hour, possibly more depending on how long you stop to take photos at the castle.
After you bought your Fantasia head back south towards Napa. This is the part when you'll see the other Napa sign on the left side of the road. You could stop before getting to the Castello Di Amarosa but with the wine calling your name you'll want to do it afterwards.
Making your way south and head to the next winery- either Duckhorn Vineyard or Hall Wines. Both are great wineries and should both be enjoyed. After your tasting at Castello di Amarosa depending if you were drinking the wines instead of tasting (yes there is a difference) two wineries might be your max for the day. Three wineries tend to be our ultimate max and that's with A LOT of pacing.
After trying what Duckhorn or Hall wines (Both need reservations- click on the links to make yours) have to offer, either a nice Chardonay at Duckhorn or a light red at Hall this might be the time for a break. Either a food or a hotel break(if you are staying in the area).
If looking for a break for food there's nothing better than Gott's Roadside(although if you ate everything that we suggested at Bistro Jeanty then i'm not sure how you could. But by far their best burger is the California Burger (Fried egg, Cowgirl Creamery’s Wagon Wheel cheese, Zoe’s bacon, arugula, balsamic onions & mayo on a toasted sesame brioche bun.)
If you decided to stay in town(then this is the best time to take a break before heading to the last winery of the day.
Wineries typically close around 4pm so if you have been pacing yourself you should make it to Frogs Leap winery by 3:30 or the 4pm cutoff. Reservations are needed-again click the link.
Now that you are fully engulfed in the wine culture that is Napa valley if you are leaving for the day you could grab a bite at Gott's or you could make your way back to the hotel for a quick rest.
If you did decide to spend the night more options may arise. Are you in the mood for 3 star Michelin French experience? Fine American dining? BBQ? Depending on what mood you're in Napa Valley has what you crave.
Planning What/When to Go
As Napa wine region aficionados we try to get over to this wonderful escape every few months for the ambiance- if not just for the food. We've visited numerous wineries, tried countless restaurants, and stayed at multiple lodgings and we identified our favorite spots along the way.
What you need to reserve in advance-
What you need to bring-
Appropriate clothes(tank tops and flip flops at the wineries generally don't fly)
The Napa wine region isn't actually Napa, California. It encompasses all the way north to Calistoga down to Napa which is about 27 miles of wine region fun.
Best time to visit- At the end of summer(Mid/late September), or at the beginning of Summer (May). At the end of the summer months the weather isn't as hot (although hot generally means 83 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the evening.) Before the summer months the grapes on the vine tend to be more full and the image of vineyards that you picture really come alive. In spring the wildflowers start blossoming and a very nice yellow ambiance takes over the vineyards leading to some great photos.
Like a typical prime destination the weekends are generally busier than the weekdays. The only issue is that some wineries are closed on the weekdays, most tend to be open on the weekends to draw a larger crowds.
Napa Prices- You will get sticker shocks when you go to Napa wine region. Tastings can range from a "reasonable" $25 per person tasting all the way up to $140 for a general tasting. This is not someplace that you might find something cheaper around the corner. They tend to make tastings expensive because the area is expensive. Just something to think about.
Although some wineries and locations mention that they are kid friendly, taking children to the wineries (and by children this ultimately means those under 21 here) is generally not advisable. Yes the wineries are beautiful to walk around, take photos, and enjoy; but some of the locations policies do not allow children into the tasting rooms and ultimately might make your trip less enjoyable.
Wineries obviously offer perks to wine members. These perks can range from free tastings, exclusive events, and better sitting areas. So when you head over to a winery, unless you are a wine member(which you can do right at the winery if you like it enough) most likely you won't be sitting in a comfortable chair enjoying your wine in peace overlooking the vineyard. Most likely you'll be standing next to a long table next to others in a general tasting.
Choosing the Wineries
Wine preferences(palates) vary so differently from person to person. These recommendations for wineries are based on the atmosphere as well as the diverseness of the offered wines.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic all open wineries are now requiring reservations.
The winery we've enjoyed the most-
Castello Di Amorosa(one of the few wineries that GENERALLY don't require a reservation for general tastings) but for more unique experiences such as visiting the cellars, and the dungeon you will generally need to make a reservation in advance. Around 2-3 weeks in advance to get something on a specific day and hour that you want. This location is the best for everyone we've found. They aren't too posh and pomp about being a winery in Napa, the location is absolutely amazing-one of the only castles in California, and the wine is actually really good. The wine is of the Italian variety so they focus on red wine, but what they really excel at is their sweet wine. La Fantasia (Frizzante style rose), Simpatica (Riesling) are a few of the best wines we've had in Napa.
If that doesn't peak your interest here's more wineries with great wine -
If you want to eat something after your tasting Del Dotto Estates Winery & Caves offers (for a price of $80 per person) a tour of their caves as well as food after your exploration.
The Go-To Restaurants
Bistro Jeanty- We're reluctant to share this place with others because we know it'll make getting reservations harder. But this is by far THE place to go to for the most authentic French bistro cuisine that we've had in all of the bay area. Apart from going to France to get our French bistro fix, Bistro Jeanty offers great small plates, appetizers, and mains that taste as authentic to a France as you can get. We tend not to get the main plate (or if we overindulge we just share one main) as we can't get enough of all their amazing appetizers.
Bouchon Bakery- While Bouchon is a nice restaurant to enjoy a dinner at (a little more upscale than Bistro Jeanty) the food has more of a American mix (while still being French) and just doesn't quite make it to Jeanty's level. However Bouchon Bakery is where you need to visit to get a quick bread or desert before your travels around the wineries. With the same bread and pastries served at the famous French Laundry- Bouchon Bakery is a little slice of excellence one can eat without spending the $1,000 price tag at TFL right next door.
French Laundry- One of the few 3 star Michelin restaurants in the world, The French Laundry or TFL for short is the epitome of fine dining in the Napa region. We don't have much to say about this restaurant as we haven't ponied up the dough yet, but one day we'll be able to share what a $1000 meal means.
Gott's Roadside- And now for those not interested in fine French dining here's an amazing burger stop along the wine road for everyone to enjoy some specialty burgers. No reservations are needed but the monstrous lines dictate when you get your order. It is worth the wait, imagine In & Out meets California bougie and you get Gott's.
The Place to Stay
Again nothing in Napa valley is cheap. With the MINIMUM week night stay in the area going around $150-$250 you won't be staying long at these pricey locations.
The trick is to stay in downtown Napa if you want to keep the costs down- it's a 20 minute drive from the aforementioned areas to see but if you don't care about a view of the vineyards then this is a practical choice.
Our choices in Napa would be
On a time we decided to splurge and decided we wanted to wake up with the vineyards we decided to stay at Harvest Inn in Saint Helena ,during a weekday, and the price was around $259(it was quite a steal at the time). This is a very romantic resort with a fireplace in every room and with a lot of rooms overlooking the vast vineyard right behind the Inn it was a great experience that you should consider.