Let me start by saying, Napa is insanely gorgeous. The entire time we were driving around I kept on thinking I was in the Italian countryside. I am all about European travel but I will tell you what, there are so many beautiful places in the US that are much shorter plane rides and don’t require a passport. I honestly wish we had one more day in Napa. We stayed for two and I think three is the magic number. So let’s get right into this Napa Travel Guide. Also, it was raining a lot when we were there…..so please don’t mind my interesting hair in these pictures.
We flew into San Francisco. I wish we had a direct flight but since we have status with Delta, the connection is always through Atlanta with flying out of Florida. Our flight was at 5:20 am out of the city. Insane but with the time difference, we landed in San Fran at 10:45am and had an entire day to spend there. We slept on the plane. We used Sixt which is my favorite company when I need to rent a car. A convertible for California is a must, only if you packed light. Without traffic, Napa is a little over an hour out of San Francisco. I used Waze which is my favorite driving app. It takes you the fastest way to avoid traffic. Just trust it if it takes you off the highway through a questionable part of town. It will get you there I promise.
We stayed in Downtown Napa at the Embassy Suites. Beautiful hotel, large rooms which includes breakfast daily and a cocktail hour with apps at night. Mid range affordable. I liked the swans in the pond by the room. I will say it wasn’t walkable to downtown. It was close but you still had to drive. The downtown scene definitely is not lively after 10pm. Lots of day drinking leads to people passing out early. If/when we go back, I would recommend staying in Yountville. However, the hotels are a lot pricier there but you can walk to restaurants and the town is adorably quaint. If you have 3 months ahead to book and a couple hundred to spend, The French Laundry is supposedly a once in a lifetime dining experience. Yountville is also closer to all the wineries on 29. I will also note, in Napa there are plenty of CVS’s, Walgreens and grocery stores. If you forgot anything, toiletries etc, you can get them out there no problem.
Our favorite meal of the entire trip was at the Conservatory at Greystone in the Culinary Institute. It was a seven course meal and totally affordable if you don’t do the wine pairings with it (honestly after drinking wine all day, all I wanted was just food). I am still dreaming about the popcorn ice cream. It was the perfect salty/sweet mix. The other noteworthy restaurant with the best views of Napa was at Auberge Du Soleil. You pretty much have to scale a mountain but you cannot beat these views.
There are too many wineries to even try to recap. Here is my honest opinion for you. You have a favorite wine right? Start there. I personally love Cakebread so that was top of our list. The tour we took was pretty informal, I wish we would have signed up for the Reserve tour. We did get a few reserve classes snuck in for us once they heard we were celebrating our one year. If you can get ahold of the Dancing Bear 2012 cab, I highly recommend it.
Opus One is a total splurge but for a reason. After tasting the 2010, Mark and I seriously looked at each other and both said “what have we been drinking before this?“. If you can swing it, I highly recommend it. You have to make that reservation early, like we did 2 months early.
I loved Frog’s Leap. It is an organic winery a little bit off the beaten path. The grounds are straight out of the Italian countryside. They don’t use any pesticides and have no water systems. The grapes are in their own elements to survive. That is a great tour. I highly recommend you go there for a true wine education.
My other top favorite was Alpha Omega. This was the last stop of our day and I’m so glad we went there. It was the best experience. We walked in without a reservation and saddled up to the bar for a tasting. Steve was helping us and I’m not joking, every single thing we tried was better than the first. He even walked us into the barrel rooms and was ciphering off wine from barrels that have not even been bottled yet. He made Napa for us. If you bought a bottle, the tasting was free. Well that was a no brainer. I insist you stop there, you will not regret it.
Robert Mondavi is always an experience, we stopped by for Chandon for champagne. Mumms is always amazing for a champagne start to your day. V. Sattui has a great market to get sandwiches and then sit outside for a picnic. You really can’t go wrong with any of the wineries up and down 29. I would tell you make a reservation for the wineries that you want to go to and then just wing it for the other ones. The informal stopbys ended up being our favorite stops of the trip.
Buy the wine box at the wineries. It comes in either 6, 8 or 12. Then you buy the wines you want and then ship it back on the plane. We get free checked bags on Delta, therefore it was free to send it back. It gets really pricey to start shipping back individual bottles from each winery. We bought a few from Frogs Leap, Opus One, Cakebread and Alpha Omega and shipped it back in the box. It arrived no problem. I initially thought it was a scam but it was a good deal! I believe the box was $12!
Have a game plan before stepping into the winery. These wineries main goals are for you to sign up for their wine clubs. I had to tell Mark many times, “let’s think about it” and when you leave the environment and step out into the air you go “wow I almost just spent a thousand dollars to get wine yearly” yikes. It is exciting and you think you’re going to save all this money but in reality it’s too much. Just get a few bottles that you like and be on your way. Don’t get sucked into the yearlong expensive commitment. Especially for us, we don’t live close enough to enjoy all the benefits. We can’t come up for the weekend for exclusive dinner tastings or pop up enough for the waived fee tastings. Also, if you really love the wine, you can get home and order it the same way if you were there. There is no advantage to doing it at the exact same time. The only one that worked for was Opus One which they have their Overture which is their more “affordable” bottle. You could only order it there from the winery but now you can order it when you get home. So that is my words of wisdom, refrain from the clubs unless you live close enough to really enjoy it.
Last point I will mention. Don’t drive drunk. Take Uber or Lyft. Arrange a limo for your group. We made sure to only do a few wineries and then eat and maybe do one more. If you aren’t drunk, I guarantee you the person next to you on the road is, so just be careful. The first day we were there, someone backed into our car in the parking lot and he was clearly inebriated. The local police are not the best to deal with since it was private property. Just be smart and make arrangements. There is apparently a wine train that brings you around as well if you want to check that out.
I absolutely adored Napa and recommend it to anyone who wants a relaxing and fun weekend away. I would love to go back during the harvest but I can only imagine how busy that would be. I liked going in February due to the limited crowds and it wasn’t too hot. I just wish it didn’t rain one day! If you have any questions about this Napa Travel Guide please feel free to shoot me an email or drop a comment.