Showing posts with label Napa Valley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Napa Valley. Show all posts

Napa Valley Guide

Sep 24, 2022

I spent last weekend in Napa Valley, which is my favorite place to visit in our country. I think it was my sixth trip there, but with approximately 1,000 wineries between Napa and Sonoma there is always something new to see. Here's a guide if you're planning a trip!

Where to Stay

There are different towns throughout Napa Valley with a range of prices. I honestly don't have a preference. It really comes down to what kind of experience I'm looking to have on each trip. 

Napa-This is the southernmost town in the valley. Downtown is fun and walkable with restaurants, shopping and bars. It's the only place that has a nightlife. The rest of Napa is very quiet after the wineries close. Stay at a downtown hotel so you can walk right out your door without having to worry about driving at night. The downside to staying in Napa is that you don't get that rustic vineyard feel, and it's far from many of the wineries on the north side of the valley.

The Archer Hotel is beautiful and has an amazing rooftop bar. 

Archer's Rooftop with seating and a skyline view

There are also B&B options at beautiful restored Victorian homes and less expensive chain hotels if you are traveling on points.

Silverado Resort is nearby if you are looking for a resort vacation with golf, tennis and dining. I would prefer a resort if I am staying for more than a quick weekend. 

Yountville-This master planned community is a favorite of many people. It is very upscale, but has a small town feel. I like that I can walk right outside my door to shops and restaurants. It's also the most centrally located for visiting wineries. The downside is that it is very crowded and it's missing the vineyard feel since it's in a small town. There isn't a lot to do after dinner like there is in Napa as well. I have stayed in Yountville the most because of the location, the pretty walkable town, and it's home to my two favorite restaurants.

Best Things to Do in Yountville for Families - MiniTime

Bardessono is the most luxurious hotel in Yountville, but I have never stayed there. We were on a budget on our first trip to Napa, and stayed at the bed and breakfast, Maison Fleurie. I loved it! We did opt for a suite that was separate from the main inn for a more private experience. We have also stayed at Hotel Villagio. It was a bit of a splurge. It did have more amenities, more updated and very large rooms compared to our previous stay. There was a uniqueness that seemed to be missing. I felt like it was a typical large chain hotel, but much more expensive. There are many other hotel and VRBO options as well. 

St. Helena-The downtown isn't as large as Napa or as upscale as Yountville, but I love the quaintness of the small stores and cafes. I believe there is only one hotel in the town. Most people stay at the nearby luxurious resorts, such as Meadowood (below) or Alila. We stayed in St. Helena with friends at home we rented through Airbnb. The upside is the vineyard feel in St. Helena and beautiful resorts. The downside is having to drive to shops and restaurants unless you are dining on property. 

Meadowood Napa Valley Attains Triple Five-Star Status | Visit  CaliforniaMeadowood Napa Valley Attains Triple Five-Star Status

Calistoga-This is the one town I have not stayed in, but visited many times. It is on the far north end of the valley so it isn't the best location for wine tasting, but the landscape is beautiful and it is home to the most luxurious resorts in Napa Valley. Auberge du Soleil is the premier resort in Napa Valley. I had lunch there on one visit. The views were beautiful from the terrace, but I can't say I find that the steep prices are justified. However, many people rave about it. The town is small, and has a more local feel to it. Most people keep to the resorts that stay in Calistoga. I actually prefer Solage when I had lunch there, which is a sister property and a tad less expensive. There is also a Four Seasons now as well. I have only driven past it, but it looked impressive. I suppose I need to make a lunch reservation to check it out! 

Solage, Auberge Resorts Collection from $586. Calistoga Hotel Deals &  Reviews - KAYAK

Wineries to Visit

It is difficult to recommend wineries because there are some that are known for a certain type of wine, the views, the experience, the tours, etc. Plus, I still have so many that I haven't visited. I will just do smaller categories of places that I have been. 

Best Wine-Hall This is the only wine membership we have right now. It is hands down our favorite wine. However, it is known for cabernets so it may not be your favorite if you prefer white or sparkling. 

Best Views-Silverado The views from the patio are amazing, and the wine was really good without being too expensive. The winery is very laidback and has an old world feel. I would normally say Sterling has the best views, but it is closed for the year due to renovations. 

Silverado Vineyards - St. Helena

Best Patio-Alpha Omega This is where you want to go and hang out when the weather is too nice to be inside. The wine is amazing, too. It has an upscale and contemporary vibe compared to many old world wineries. I also have to mention Chandon for their patio as well. We had a cheese tray and a bottle of their sparkling wine here, and it was so nice. 

Most Unique Experience-Castello di Amorosa This is the Disneyland of wineries. I feel like it needs to be experienced once. There is a ton of wine offered. I found a couple that I really liked, but most were just okay. I wouldn't say that I would go back unless we were people who had never been, but it was a fun experience that was worth it. 

Napa Valley Castle Castello di Amorosa Aerial video HD - YouTube

Best Tour-Robert Mondavi I have been on a lot of wine tours, and I can't say that I enjoy them. I'd rather just sit in a pretty spot and enjoy the wine. However, this tour was really interesting, informative and fun. It's good for both those new and old to wine tasting.

Best Outdoor Experience-Cakebread If you have farm to table dreams this is the place for you. I loved walking around the gardens and drinking wine among the vineyards. I like that they have a big variety of wine, and it's really good without being too expensive.

Best Gardens-Frog's Leap This modern farmhouse winery is beautiful and laidback, but I was most impressed with the gardens. I didn't care for the wine, but most people love it so don't take my word for it.

Best Sparkling Wine-Domaine Carneros The winery is just as wonderful as the wines. Sit outdoors if possible because the views are beautiful. There's also an optional caviar and sparkling wine pairing. 

Domaine Carneros - Napa, CA - Party Venue

Best Cave Experience-Del Dotto Do this tour the day you are only visiting one winery because they will get you drunk! It is a very cool experience to walk around the caves and tasting straight out of the barrel. 

Visit Us - Del Dotto Vineyards

If I had to pick from the list for a first weekend visit, it would be Hall, Cakebread, Del Dotto and Domaine Carneros in that order. Then Robert Mondavi for the tour if you have time. You can only visit so many wineries! On our full days here we only visit two. Pre-covid walk-ins were welcome, but now you will need reservations. 

Wineries that are on my list to visit-Opus One, Spottswoode, Faust, Inglenook, Beaulieu, Heitz, Stony Hill, Joseph Phelps, Quintessa, Louis M. Martini, Storybook. I need more trips!

Where to Eat-I would love to say go to French Laundry because it's the best. However, it is very hard to get into, very expensive and for very refined palettes. Plus, I have never been there! It is the premier restaurant in Napa Valley. Maybe one day we will have dinner here. We usually have breakfast at our hotel, a light lunch so we don't fall asleep, and then a nice dinner.


My favorite thing to do is make a lunch reservation at the best hotels so I can check them out. Who knew I would just be eh about Auberge du Soleil? The patio at Solage was so nice on a previous trip, and I can't wait to go back there. It's my favorite for sure.

On this trip we did a food pairing at a Sonoma winery, St. Francis. I read that it was voted the best restaurant in Sonoma, and we could do a wine pairing with light bites for a very reasonable price. It was the highlight of our trip! The patio overlooking the vineyard was such a beautiful setting, the wine was good and the food was amazing. This is my second pick. 

Expressions of Sonoma - Wine and Food Experiences at St. Francis Winery &  Vineyards

I also read that Tra Vigne was voted the best pizza in Napa Valley. Well, we had to try it. It was really good and so were the truffle fries that had as a starter.

My husband's favorite place is Gott's Roadside for hamburgers. He saw it on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network and was immediately obsessed with going there. It's still his favorite. 


My absolute favorite restaurant is Bottega in Yountville. I used to watch Michael Chiarello on the The Food Network and some of his recipes were my favorites. He always talked about his restaurant Bottega so it was first on the list when we went to Napa. We had dinner again there this trip. The cocktails are great and the short rib is my favorite. 

My second favorite restaurant is the French restaurant Bistro Jeanty that's also in Yountville. This is my husband's favorite. We always get the coq au vin. 

Bistro Jeanty – Yountville, CA –

I can't say the other restaurants I've been to for dinner are worth recommending. I do want to visit Celadon, PRESS, and Bistro Don Giovanni. Actually, there are about ten more, but these are the top three I want to try. 

Things to Do (other than wine tasting)

Bike Rides-There are miles of biking trails to take in the scenery. There are biking tour groups you can join for a ride or a ride with visits to wineries. I do plan on going on a bike ride on our next trip, but a very short one without a group. 

Partners - RAD Napa, Rail Arts District

Wine Train-This sounds like a nightmare to me if I'm honest, but many people love it. There are different packages that include meals and tastings. 

Hot Air Balloons-One of my favorite things to do is to see the hot air balloons from the ground. They start at dawn so you have to be up early. Maybe one day I'll be brave enough to try this. 

earth-day-napa-hot-air-balloon » BALLOONS ABOVE THE VALLEY

Cooking Class-I read about cooking classes offered at the culinary institute in St. Helena, but couldn't fit it into this trip. I definitely need to make time on our next trip. 

Spa-Most of the larger resorts have spas if you need a break from wine tasting. 

Golf & Tennis-Silverado Resort holds a PGA tournament (actually while we were there last weekend) and they also have tennis. There are several other golf courses in the area. 

Shop-The towns of St. Helena, Yountville and Napa all have cute stores. There's also an outlet mall in Napa if you didn't bring something appropriate to wear for the weather. 

What to Wear

Napa Valley is very casual! Most people are wearing jeans and comfortable shoes to the wineries. If you are going to go on tours you may end up walking in the grass or gravel pathways. However, you can dress up a little if you like. I wore casual midi dresses with sandals. It was cool in the mornings and evenings so I took sweaters and jackets to wear over my dresses. Don't forget sunglasses and sunscreen since you will be outside at least some of the time. A few people wore hats, but most likely you will be in the shade once you are sitting down for a tasting. Some people dress up for dinner and some do not. It also depends on where you have reservations. I would definitely dress up for French Laundry. 

I didn't take a photo of my second dress there, but I did when I wore it out to dinner when we got back home. It's on sale right now! Click on the "Shop my Instagram" tab for the link to either outfit. 

My husband wore jeans and shorts with button down shirts. He just rolled the sleeves up in the afternoons and wore a pullover when it was cool. He wore loafers, but sneakers are fine too. 

When to Visit Napa Valley

The winter months are less expensive and not as busy. Harvest season is always busy and the most expensive. Summers are typically mild, but there can be triple digit heat. The weekend before we were there it was well over 100 degrees, but thankfully it was nice when we arrived. I think spring was my favorite season, but I have not been in the winter. 

Also, look for any events occurring before you plan your trip. There is always something going on every weekend. There was a black tie Harvest Ball the weekend we were there at V.Sattui winery. We almost went, but decided we wanted a laidback vacation instead. There are also member only events at wineries. You can always join before you get there if you really want to go to the event. 

How to Save Money

Sonoma is typically less expensive than Napa when it comes to lodging, restaurants and wineries. You may also want to consider renting a home if you have a large party. We found it was a lot less expensive when we went with a group of friends. However, there are affordable hotel options in Napa Valley. Bed and Breakfasts are less expensive, and they are everywhere. We almost always have breakfast included wherever we stay. It's one less meal to pay for, as well as convenient. Plan your meals in advance so you know what you're spending. We opted for a food and wine pairing in Sonoma this trip that was the same price as a tasting at other wineries. 

Read Reviews/Buy a Bottle First-
Some wineries are very expensive to visit. I look at reviews from visitors and will even try a bottle of wine first. There are only so many wineries you can visit in a trip so you want to make them count. Plus, it's disappointing to spend so much money on a winery that isn't very good. 

Join the Winery for a Free Tasting-
Also, join a winery as a member to get your tasting waived. Not all wineries do this, but most of them do. Check out their webpage to find out all of the information about becoming a member first. Wine clubs can be a slippery slope if you aren't careful. Find out the cancellation policy first. Most of them allow you to join for free and only need to have one shipment delivered before you can cancel. Make sure the wine tasting/tour is waived for members. Many offer special tastings and experiences in member only areas as well. Another perk is that many allow you to have a number of friends and family taste/tour for free. Some don't even require you to be there when they visit. Ask your friends and family if they are members anywhere first. If you are headed to Napa with a group (I don't recommend more than 4-6 people for reservation reasons), join the clubs separately and get those tastings waived. You can also split the wine shipment. Most allow you to switch out the bottles so everyone can get their favorite. Also, ask about the shipping cost. High shipping costs were a problem when we first started visiting the wineries, but most shipping fees are about $20 now. If the information isn't on the website you can always call the winery directly to ask questions before you join. 

How we Joined and Saved This Trip-
We joined Nickel & Nickel/Far Niente before we went this trip. They are two different wineries owned by the same company. When you join one, you join both. Their tastings were sold out (except an expensive tour at Nickel & Nickel), but we could get in if we are members since they have different tasting sections at Far Niente and one spot left on the pricey tour. If we visited both wineries without being members it would have cost $400 for my husband and me ($100/each per winery). Actually, it would have cost more because the tour was well over $100 a person. One shipment of wine (four bottles) was a little less than $400 after switching out one expensive bottle. It was a no brainer to join first. We decided if we didn't like it then we would cancel the membership. It turns out we do not like the wine that much so we did just that when we got home. Our first shipment was mailed the day after we joined so we fulfilled that stipulation of having to get a shipment in before being able to cancel. In retrospect, we should have tried the wine first. We did have a fun experience so not all was lost. 

You can also join many wineries while you are visiting and get your tastings waived. We did this at Hall. It was our second time joining. The first time we cancelled because we were getting too much wine. We realized they now have a two bottle shipment per quarter club. We got our $40 tastings per person waived. That more than paid for one of the two bottles we will receive. However, we aren't going to cancel this one since we like the wine so much and we get unlimited free tastings. My husband now has somewhere to go for free when he travels there for work. We also learned that only one bottle is produced for mass distribution so we have to be members to get our favorite wine. 

Our cost for this Trip (Just hotel and airfare)-$60
We have a United Airlines credit card that we put almost every expense on to earn airline miles. We even have most of our bills automatically charged to the card. My airfare was $20 because I upgraded my seat so I didn't have to sit by the bathrooms in the back row. We booked last minute so there weren't a lot of options left for the free seats. My husband was already there for work so we didn't have to pay for his ticket. He travels a lot for work and almost always gets upgraded to first class because he's a United member. That's another perk of sticking to one airline. 

We have another card for hotels that includes a large group of hotels (IHG). Since we have more airline miles than we know what to do with, we started using this card recently for most purchases. Plus, we got several nights free for signing up. We paid $40 for parking at the hotel and got the room free. Oh, and because we have the card they gave us a free bottle of Raymond wine and other minor gifts. We earned points for staying as well. 

I just want to be completely transparent about how we afford to travel because I know most people aren't aware of how to use points, or how much money they can really save you. I want everyone to be able to travel! Our airline costs to Europe have always been free as well. I recommend looking up The Points Guy to see what cards will work for you if you are interested in learning more information. I only know what worked for us at the time of signing up and there could be even better offers right now. 

Feel free to ask me any questions about Napa if you are planning a visit, or leave your own recommendations as well!

I'm back from California!

Jun 3, 2013

My husband and I had such a great time, and I still can't believe we experienced so much in six days as I look over our photos. We spent most of our time in Napa Valley since I have wanted to go there for years after reading a magazine article about a family who owned a winery there. They were pictured celebrating harvest with a picnic in their vineyard and the scenery took my breath away. I saved that article for years, but it disappeared somewhere when I moved into this house. Since I rarely take trips without the kids, I was starting to wonder if I'd ever visit Napa and put it on the back burner until some friends of ours mentioned they were going to get married near wine country and my husband just happened to have business out there at the same time. I had no reason to wait any longer!

My husband has been to Napa Valley before and suggested we stay in Yountville instead of the town of Napa. I wasn't too sure about it, but I trusted him on this one and I'm so glad I did. Yountville is the most picturesque town with the best restaurants and everything is in walking distance. I wish I could describe how wonderful this town smells too because of the honeysuckle planted everywhere. I'm going to be planting it at my house as soon as possible!

Our B&B, Maison Fleurie

I've never stayed at a bed and breakfast before, but I just loved the French country appeal of this place. Our room was not in the main hotel like most B&Bs, but in a cottage on the property. It was nice to have the privacy without sacrificing the charm. And, that it just happened to back up to Bouchon Bakery was nice, too.

Street View of the Town

Cute, cute homes...


We had dinner here our first night because I fell in love with the exterior. Thankfully, the food was great, too. It was just like being in a Paris cafe.

There were some seriously swanky people chowing down on pizza here. I have always wondered what kind of place women wear their Louboutins to and I finally found out. Here! I'd be afraid to wear them out of the house if I ever owned a pair.

Casual dining...because sometimes a girl just needs a hamburger.

Now, on to the entire reason we came to Napa. The wine, of course! There are so many wineries and I had no idea where to start so we decided to take a wine tour our first full day. I wanted to be careful and have a designated driver even though I had no plans to get snockered. We were picked up in a limo along with three other couples for a full day of wine tastings. I only requested one place in the hopes it would be on the list. I shouldn't have worried because the other couples never requested any particular wineries, so our first stop was the one I chose, Castello di Amorosa.

That's a real stone castle. I thought it might be a faux castle with concrete etched out to look like stone when I saw pictures of it since we're in California. But, our driver said it was a real castle in Europe that was taken apart and put back together here.

Can you believe they don't do weddings here?! Talk about missing a great opportunity for income.

Going down to the dungeon for wine tasting. The man pouring the wine was hysterical. He asked where everyone was from with the same response in an Italian accent,"Oh, we ship there, very cheap." It really was the best wine we had on the trip and we will be buying more from their website since you can't find it in stores. If you go to Napa Valley, definitely put this one on your list.

Remember my dream of a picnic in a vineyard? Well, I can now check that one off my list. I knew lunch was included on our tour, but I didn't think it would be just like I imagined it.

I had so much fun with my wine tour cohorts. The couple on the left is also from Texas and were so funny. The Australians on the right are our new friends and we went out the next night to dinner and a food and wine festival downtown with them. The couple across from us are from NYC. They were quiet, but really nice. I'm sure they were thinking what the heck did we get ourselves into with loud Texans and Australians, lol.

More wineries

We toured eight wineries all together. Five of those were on the wine tour. Yes, five wineries in one day! My husband and I learned to share a tasting after the first one. I also skipped out of a couple because I didn't want to be laid out on the floor of the limo since that wasn't the look I was going for. ;)


I have so many photos of the landscape and vineyards. I just couldn't stop taking pictures! I have a ton of the hot air balloons, too. We chased these down in the car one morning so I could take pictures. You know how some kids won't leave Disney without seeing their favorite character? I wouldn't leave Napa without seeing hot air balloons. My husband was meh about it, but indulged me at 7am to follow them.

We decided to stay an extra day instead of going to San Francisco so we booked a hotel in the town of Napa. Check out this amazing view from our balcony.

It was so nice to lay out by the pool after two days of wine tasting. I think that's the perfect number of days to spend in Napa Valley or you'll be broke with a hurt liver if you stay longer.

We also headed down to San Francisco, Monterey/Carmel, and finally to our friends' wedding near San Luis Obispo.

Big Basin Redwood Park


Carmel-I took this picture with a point and shoot camera so you can only imagine what it looked like in person.

I fell in love with the storybook homes in Carmel-by-the-Sea. I didn't get a chance to take pictures, but I found some photos of the homes there.

Aren't they cute? Most are perched on a hill overlooking the ocean, too.

Sorry, for the long post. Everything was so picturesque that I just kept taking photos. It was a great trip, but I'm so happy to be home and see my kids, puppy, and enjoy my own house. Now, if I just had a view of a vineyard or ocean...