Napa Valley, California’s wine country, is a popular destination for visitors. Napa Valley is the ideal destination spot for those who want to indulge in restaurants, the weather, and the atmosphere. However, on my first visit, there were some things I wish I had known to help me plan better. This post is about the things to know before visiting Napa Valley to help you plan your trip!
Ready to start planning? See below for the what to know before visiting Napa Valley.
1. Napa Valley vs. Napa the Town
The first thing to note is Napa Valley is a region that encompasses many towns famous for wine tasting. Napa is the biggest town in Napa Valley but does not make up all of Napa Valley. See below for all the towns that make up Napa Valley and what makes each town unique!
Downtown Napa is a fun, walkable town filled with restaurants, tasting rooms, breweries, and shops! Unlike the other parts of the Napa region, you won’t find many large vineyards. While many overlook visiting downtown Napa, I think it’s worth visiting to walk around and explore.
About 10 miles north is Yountville. Yountville is my favorite town to visit in Napa Valley, and also a great walkable town. Here you can wine taste at the popular Domain Chandon, dress up, and walk around this cute town visiting popular restaurants.
Oakville is just a short distance from Yountville and in the center of Napa Valley. This small town is known for some of the best wines.
Continuing north from Oakville, Rutherford is another small town with famous wines and wineries.
About 10 miles from Rutherford is St. Helena. It also has many wineries, cute boutiques, and delicious restaurants.
Last, just 13 miles north of St. Helena, sitting at the northernmost part of Napa Valley, is Calistoga. Calistoga offers a different feel of relaxation with popular mineral pools and mud baths.
2. What about Sonoma Valley?
Sonoma Valley is a different region from Napa Valley. However, I recommend spending a day here, as it offers a different feel from Napa Valley. One that is more laid back and also cheaper options.
Like Napa Valley, there is Sonoma, the town, and Sonoma Valley, which also encompasses other towns.
3. Napa Valley can get expensive…but there are ways to help keep costs lower!
I love visiting Napa Valley, but it’s expensive. Your hotel stay, winery tours, and world-class restaurants are pricier. However, there are ways to make your trip budget-friendly. See below for some of my tips to keep costs down!
Instead of staying in Napa Valley, you can always keep up a little further out for cheaper accommodations. For example, American Canyon is just a short distance from downtown Napa and has excellent accommodation prices.
Hiring a private driver or taking a wine train can be costly to visit wineries. If you’re able to have a DD that uses their vehicle, it can help save on transportation costs!
Winery tastings and costs can increase over time, and some popular wine tastings and tours can be expensive. However, if there is an option, you can do a split tasting with a partner and split the cost of your wine tasting. There is also a wine passport, which can be cheaper if you’re interested in visiting the wineries offered there.
It can be tempting to want to partake in some of the luxurious activities in Napa Valley. From the wine train to hot air balloons, fine dining, and spas, these are all popular activities that everyone should experience. But if you’re on a budget, know there are other cheaper or accessible activities you can also do. On my visit, I’ll usually pick one activity to splurge on that I haven’t tried before.
4. Getting around Napa Valley
I highly recommend renting or taking your vehicle to visit Napa Valley. It is hard to rely on ride shares to get between towns.
And while the distance between the Napa Valley towns is a little, it can take some time to drive between them with traffic, and in some areas, only two lanes. That’s why I recommend spending each day exploring towns that are closer together or visiting wineries in the same place. Don’t try to make a reservation for a winery in Downtown Napa, St. Helena, and Calistoga on the same day. Instead, try sticking to one town.
5. What to wear
Napa is the perfect place to dress up with a flowy sundress, hat and dress cute. Depending on what time of year you go, you’ll most likely run into warm and sunny weather. Make sure to dress comfortably, though, as you’ll probably be doing a lot of standing and walking.
I always caution against dressing up your outfit with pointy heels. You’ll be walking around vineyards where your pointed heels can sink into or around towns where your feet can get tired quickly. Instead, I like to opt for cute tennis shoes, espadrilles, or wedges with my outfit, depending on what we want to do that day. This way, I can still dress up my outfit without running the risk of breaking a heel!
6. What is the Silverado Trail
The Silverado Trail runs along the eastern edge of Napa Valley for 29 miles, parallel to California State Route 29. This scenic route connects the two towns of Napa and Calistoga.
You can drive along this route for less car traffic, better scenery and visit wineries. If you like to bike, it’s a great route to bike as well.
7. There is more to Napa Valley than wineries.
One of the most important things to know before visiting Napa Valley is that there is more to Napa than wineries. Even if you are not a big wine drinker (like me), or an alcoholic drinker, there are plenty of other things to do, from restaurants, activities and just being in the Napa Valley atmosphere!
On one of my stays here, I enjoyed renting a bike and having an active day riding the trails in Napa Valley. There are many different scenic trails you can ride through and make other stops along the way.
8. Is there a best time to visit?
Napa Valley is known for having decent year-round weather. However, each season can have its pros for visiting them.
August-October is a popular time to visit as it’s harvest season. Many seasonal activities are going on during this time, and you can experience grape smashing. The weather is also great during this time, with warm days and cooler nights. However, you can expect prices and accommodations to be high, and you’ll want to book your stay and tours in advance.
November-February – This is the low season in Napa due to chillier weather and rain. However, prices are a lot cheaper. So if you don’t mind gloomier weather, it can help to go during this off-season.
March-May – The spring is another popular time to visit Napa Valley. The temperatures are cooler than in the fall, and you’ll experience spring blossoms and greenery.
June-July – Summer in Napa has long sunny days, warmer temperatures, and many tourists. So again, you’ll want to book accommodations and tours in advance as the summer brings high tourist traffic.
9. Book in advance
Napa Valley is a popular tourist destination; things can get booked quickly, especially during high seasons. From your plane tickets, accommodations, and activities, I recommend booking these items as soon as you know you can go.
Top-rated wineries and restaurants, these reservations can book up quickly, and you might need more time to get a reservation.
Make sure to take into account your accommodation location and tour times when it comes to reserving the items that you need.
10. Talk with the locals
I found many people in Napa to be friendly and helpful. But, then, it comes the relaxing and friendly vibe and atmosphere that Napa Valley gives off.
By talking with the locals, they could give us recommendations for wineries, restaurants, and tips that we would’ve never known browsing the internet. If you’re one not to make too many concrete plans for your trip, head to the winery or bar and talk with the locals to get their recommendations on what they enjoy eating and doing.