Napa Valley, California Travel Guide
Napa Valley Summary
- Mild temperatures all year round
- The country’s best wine is produced here
- Beautiful landscape, with wineries sprawling over rolling hills
- Outstanding cuisine that uses local, organic, fresh and seasonal ingredients
- Accommodation options for every budget
- Relaxed vibe
- Hundreds of wineries to choose from
- Plenty of attractions for non-drinkers -- including golf courses, shops and wonderful spas
- Hot-air balloon tours
- Crowded during high season
- Most wineries have tasting fees
- Few transportation options –- having a car is almost mandatory
- Can be very pricey
- Many hotels have a 2-night minimum stay policy
- Limited nightlife (the drinking here happens all day!)
- The closest airport is in Oakland, a 1-hour drive away
- Can sometimes feel a little snobbish
What It's Like
Napa is one of the world’s best wine-growing regions, with hundreds of wineries sprawling over rolling hills. Napa Valley, unlike its neighbor Sonoma Valley, can occasionally feel a little touristy (it's not uncommon to see a tour bus parked at a winery), and it also feels geared toward visitors with cash to spend -- so those with lighter wallets might feel a little out of place. But perhaps that's inevitable in the U.S.' best wine-tasting destination, where the most popular visitor activities are drinking, eating, shopping, and spa-going.
Hikers, non-drinkers, and eco-tourists can expect to have (almost) as much fun as wine experts, however -- Napa offers a wide range of attractions apart from wine tasting and fine dining. In fact, Napa Valley has the world’s busiest hot-air balloon tour industry, and is home to some of the most charming towns in California.
The beauty of Napa Valley is striking at any time of the year, but especially during the harvest season (September and October) and spring. It can get very busy during the summer months, so expect crowds.
Where To Stay
Though small in size, Napa Valley has several thousand hotel rooms available. Luxury inns and B&Bs are prevalent, and chain hotels are few. Nothing within the region is that far of a drive, and part of the fun of visiting this area is exploring, so it's hard to go too wrong when choosing an exact location.
- Napa is the seat of Napa County, and has the greatest number of hotels; it's possible to stay within walking distance of the downtown area's restaurants and shops.
- St. Helena -- about a 25-minute drive north of Napa -- is smaller, a little more scenic, and more conveniently located for visiting wineries.
- Yountville, about 12 minutes north of Napa, has some of the region's best restaurants, including Thomas Keller's famous French Laundry.
- Rutherford, about 17 minutes north of Napa, is tiny, but produces some of the region's best Cabernet Sauvignons, and is home to the ever-popular Rutherford Grill -- one of Napa's most popular dining spots, thanks in part to its BYOB, no corkage fee policy.
- Calistoga is casual and relaxed. Bargains are easier to find here than in neighboring towns, and its famous mud baths are definitely a plus.