Growing up in Sonoma/Napa Valley I never quite understood the magic of this beautiful region until I left. Now I count down the months until I can go “home” again! Since it is such a popular area to visit, I get questions about the area all the time, so below you will find my all-in-one guide to Napa: where to wine taste, where to eat, what to do, where to stay, and what to wear. I hope it is helpful on your next trip to the Valley.
-WHERE TO WINE TASTE-
V.Sattui – The best value of any place I have been so far. I believe it was around $15 for 6 wines of our choice. In addition to all their wines, their tasting room also had a market with foods and local goods. The grounds has a large picnic area, so I recommend going across the street to Dean and Deluca, grabbing a sandwich (the Italian is bomb!) and then coming here to eat and do your tasting.
This is technically in St. Helena, just 10 minutes outside of Napa.
Artesa – Amazing view and really cool architecture/artwork.
Stag’s Leap – The first place I ever tasted after my 21st birthday! 🙂 The grounds here are so pretty, be sure to enjoy a glass outdoors!
If you’ve seen Bottleshock, Stag’s Leap was the winner in the red category of that infamous competition!
Alpha Omega – My sister’s favorite! I’ve never been but she takes all her visitors here!
Mumm – Mumm specializes in sparkling wines, otherwise known as champagne; that makes it a little different than the other wineries in town so it’s a really fun stop. Plus, the grounds are absolutely gorgeous and their coasters have really witty quotes on them – always loved that detail.
Domaine Carneros – I’ve actually never made it here but always meant to since I passed it every day on the way to school – it is right on your way over the mountain from Sonoma to Napa. They do some sparkling wines in addition to the traditional still wines. It is a little pricier than other places, but I think the view alone would make up for it!
Two questions I got recently regarding tastings:
Do you need a reservation?
While not all tasting rooms require a reservation, I would say most places in Napa do. Plus, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Simply call the winery and ask!
How much time should we set aside for our tasting?
There are a few factors to consider, namely if you have a reservation, how busy it is, and how many wines you are tasting, but I would say around an hour (though you can definitely drag it out longer with conversation or a picnic lunch). However, be sure to keep in mind how long it might take to get from one winery to another. Most wineries in Napa are either on or close to Silverado Trail so they are in close proximity, but you’ll want to factor that in (the “one hour” advice doesn’t include travel time).
-WHERE TO EAT-
Grace’s Table – One of our favorite spots downtown! I’ve never had anything bad here. If the Oso Buco is on the menu when you go, GET IT!
Allegria – This used to be an old bank that was refurbished into a restaurant. Really good, the bread pudding is amazing!
Bistro Don Giovanni – Exceptional Italian food in a great atmosphere. Large restaurant but whenever I’ve gone it’s been very full (a good sign!) so be sure to make a reservation.
Gott’s Roadside – If you are in the mood for burgers, this is the place to go! There are two locations, one in Napa right across the river from downtown, and one in St. Helena. The best burgers and they even have some fun ones like a Ahi Tuna burger if you aren’t feeling the meat, and of course an extensive wine list because it’s Napa haha. Also, their ranch is to-die-for good.
Uva Trattoria – One of our family favorites! Italian cuisine in a really homey ambiance. The walls are covered in photographs and they often have live music.
Azzurro – Back in high school we used to go here all the time and get their “manciatas” which is essentially a pizza crust with a huge salad on top so you can either fold it and eat like a sandwich or just eat it like a salad – it is so good!
Oxbow Public Market – A bunch of restaurants under one roof, this is a great spot if you want to taste test multiple places or if the people in your group are feeling different things. Similar idea to the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
Mustards Grill – A fancy take on down-home classics. Located on the road up to St. Helena.
Brix – Another one on the road up to St. Helena. Farm to table. Also amazing!
Villa Corona – If you are feeling Mexican, this is my all-time favorite in Napa! There are a two locations, one in Napa and one in St. Helena. The one in St. Helena is right on the main street, while the one in Napa is off the freeway not really close to anything you would be touring, but definitely worth it! It’s great authentic, no-frills Mexican food. My order? The super burrito, wet.
Rutherford Grill – Upscale American classics. Really beautiful outdoor seating area!
The French Laundry – Because you can’t make a Napa travel guide and not include it. If you want to be able to say you’re in the elite group that has dined at TFL, make a reservation at least 6 months in advance and be prepared to spend more than a month’s rent. I’ve heard it really is worth it!
-WHAT ELSE TO DO-
Downtown – Located right on the water, you can walk the riverfront, pop into boutiques (Cakeplate is always a fave!) and specialty shops, and grab a bite to eat. In addition, some of the restaurants I mentioned above are located downtown: Uva, Azzuro, Grace’s Table, Allegria, and Angele.
Hot Air Balloon Ride – Awake early and start your day in the air! I’ve heard amazing reviews from friends and travelers who have done this, it has been on my bucket list for years. What better way to truly take in the valley than from above? There are a multitude of companies you can ride through, but I’ve heard great reviews about this one.
-WHERE TO STAY-
Andaz – Located in the heart of downtown, this will put you walking distance to tons of restaurants and bars and only a short drive from most wineries.
Carneros Inn – Carneros Inn is a collection of cottages rather than just hotel rooms. Each one is so charming! In addition, there is a beautiful pool on the property with a stunning view. While located more on the edge of town, it is only about a 15 minute drive to most wineries.
AirBnB – Personally, I think the best way to experience Napa Valley would be to rent a home and “play pretend” 😉 Hotel prices are pretty steep in Napa, even the standard Marriot room will put you back a few hundred, so in addition to being the most authentic experience, an AirBnB might just be the most cost-efficient as well.
-WHAT TO WEAR-
Style in the valley is fairly casual, but always presentable. A romper, dress, or shorts and loose top are all great options. You won’t see people in heels, definitely stick to comfortable sandals or wedges. Most importantly, be sure to bring a scarf or light jacket anywhere in the evening.
Mornings are typically cool, afternoons are sunny and warm, and once the sun goes down in the evening it gets very chilly. Friends always comes back shocked at how cold it got at night – so you’ve been forewarned, don’t make that mistake!
If you are in need of any more specific suggestions or recommendations, feel free to reach out – I am always happy to help!