Headed to Northern California and looking for the best Napa Valley itinerary?! Keep on reading – this (super) comprehensive post will help you plan the perfect weekend in Napa! Wine tastings included, of course!
Imagine sipping on glasses of pinot, rose, merlot, and cabernet. Admiring rolling hills covered with vineyards. Strolling through charming towns with tasting rooms on every corner. Indulging in some of the region’s best farm-to-table restaurants. Relaxing in mineral pools and soaking in mud baths.
If that sounds like your cup of tea (or wine, haha), you’ll love this world-famous wine region. Time to start planning your Napa Valley itinerary right away!
After living in the San Francisco Bay Area for almost 10 years now (!!!), we’ve been to Napa Valley more times than I can count. It’s only about an hour and a half north of us, so we find ourselves there pretty often! And despite visiting a dozen times, we’re still finding new things to do!
We love driving up for long weekends, taking day trips to Downtown Napa, and meeting up with out-of-town friends for wine tasting fun. I’ve even helped my sister plan a night there with her husband recently (and they had the best time).
So it’s kinda crazy that it took me this long to finally write this weekend in Napa itinerary for you all (facepalm)! Whoops! Better late than never! I guess after so many visits (and wine tastings, haha – all in the name of research, wink, wink), I feel super qualified to write this Napa Valley itinerary!
Weekend in Napa Valley Itinerary Logistics
Where is Napa Valley and How to Get There
First of all, where exactly is Napa Valley anyways?! The region is located in Northern California, only 50 miles or so north of San Francisco. It’s part of Napa County, bordering the popular Sonoma County (highly recommended for another weekend of wine!), and the relatively unknown counties of Solano, Lake, and Yolo.
It’s a narrow valley, nestled between two mountain ranges (the Mayacamas Mountains to the west and the Vaca Mountains to the east) – meaning so many great mountain views! I always forget about this, and am blown away each and every time I visit.
When you think of Napa, you’re probably thinking of Napa Valley. It’s kinda confusing – the name “Napa” is the name of the county, valley, and one of the towns. Super tricky!!!
Within Napa Valley you’ll find a few towns; the main ones being Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. There’s other smaller ones mixed in (Oakville, Rutherford, etc), but those four are the largest. And if you follow my Napa Valley itinerary, you’ll be visiting most if not all!
Driving to Napa Valley
Coming from the Bay Area or nearby county? Getting to Napa Valley is super easy!
From San Francisco: Many people visit Napa Valley from SF, and it makes sense. It’s only about an hour away! Napa is north of San Francisco, so take this opportunity to cross off another of my favorite activities – Battery Spencer (by far my favorite view of the Golden Gate Bridge)!
There’s 3 different routes with 3 different bridges, so choose whatever’s got the least traffic! We typically just follow Google Maps.
You’ll either be crossing the Golden Gate Bridge (via Highway 101) or the Bay Bridge (via Highway 80), and then possibly another to get into Vallejo (on the way to Napa). Regardless of which option you pick, it shouldn’t take longer than an hour and a half without traffic. But remember – this is the Bay Area we’re talking about… there’ll undoubtedly be some traffic. Leave early to avoid this!
Here’s some other popular spots in California to give you an idea of how far away they are from Napa Valley:
- From Santa Rosa: 45 miles (~1 hour)
- From Oakland: 50 miles (~45 minutes to an hour)
- From Sacramento: 60 miles (~1 to 1 ½ hours)
- From Half Moon Bay: 75 miles (1 ½ to 2 hours)
- From Santa Cruz: 115 miles (~2 to 2 ½ hours)
- From Monterey: 155 miles (~2 ½ to 3 hours)
- From Los Angeles: 400 miles (~6 hours, but expect tons of traffic getting out)
- From San Diego: 550 miles (~8 ½ hours)
Flying to Napa Valley
While there’s no commercial airport in Napa Valley itself, you’ve got your fair share of choices pretty close by! The Bay is super connected to tons of other major US cities, meaning you’ll likely be able to find nonstop flights no matter where you’re coming from.
Here are the airports closest to Napa Valley:
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO): SFO is the closest major international airport to Napa Valley – it’s only about 50 miles south. Expect the drive to take about 1 to 1 ½ hours depending on traffic and where in Napa Valley you’re staying. Make a quick pit stop at Battery Spencer for my favorite view of the Golden Gate Bridge on the way!
- Oakland International Airport (OAK): Oakland Airport is another option, about 55 miles from Napa Valley.
- Sacramento International Airport (SMF): Another great option, and only about 60 miles or so from Napa Valley!
- San Jose Mineta International Airport (SJC): The furthest from Napa Valley, but not terrible at about 85 miles. SJC is usually much quieter than busy SFO. Avoid rush hour or you’ll get stuck in tons of Bay Area traffic on the peninsula and in SF.
If you’re not planning to visit any of these spots and are solely flying in to see Napa, just choose whichever is cheapest! Regardless of which airport you fly into, you’ll wanna rent a car and drive the rest of the way.
Psst – you can also fly into Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport (STS), but it’ll be wildly more expensive than those listed above. The only commercial airline flying into STS is Alaska Airlines, so the majority of runways will be occupied by private planes and charters.
Public Transport to Napa Valley
There aren’t TONS of public transport options to Napa Valley, but there’s a slim few! I’d only really recommend taking public transport if you’ve got a private driver waiting for you in Napa since it’ll be difficult to get around to the wineries and different towns without one.
Here’s two great options for public transport:
- San Francisco Bay Ferry: From the San Francisco Ferry Building (accessible via BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit – from SFO), take the San Francisco/Vallejo Bay Ferry to Vallejo. Walk the block to the Vallejo Transit Center, then use the VINE Transit bus into Napa Valley.
- Amtrak San Joaquins: From the Bay Area or Central Valley, take the Amtrak San Joaquins train to the Martinez station and transfer onto Amtrak Thruway Bus Route 7. Get off just 3 stops later at the Soscol Gateway Transit Center in Napa, right near Oxbow Public Market and the Napa Valley Wine Train.
Can I see Napa as a day trip from San Francisco?
Certainly! Visiting San Francisco (and don’t have much extra time) or live in the Bay Area? You can totally take a day trip to Napa Valley! Luckily Napa is so easily accessible from the rest of the bay, and you can really do so much in a day if you leave early enough.
Have just a day? Stroll Downtown Napa and choose 2 nearby wineries or so. Leave the ones further north for when you’ve got more time. Or book yourself on a guided day trip to Napa from San Francisco – zero stress and you can drink all the wine you want without worrying about a driver!
A few great day trip options:
- Full-Day Napa and Sonoma Valley Wine Tour from San Francisco: Fine wines and the beautiful scenery of both Napa and Sonoma, plus an extra stop for views of the Golden Gate Bridge! Tastings at 3 boutique wineries are included with time to wander through the beautiful vineyards!
- Redwoods of Muir Woods and Napa Valley Combo Day Trip: Short on time? See the stunning tall trees of Muir Woods and go wine tasting in Napa all in the same day! Two of my favorites in Northern California!
- Half Day Wine Country Excursion with Tastings: Perfect if you’ve only got 2 or 3 days in San Francisco and don’t want to dedicate a full day to Napa. You’ll visit two wineries and still have the full morning free to explore the city.
How to Get Around Napa Valley
Yay, you’re spending the weekend in Napa! As mentioned before, Napa Valley isn’t just one main area – there’s lots of towns to visit with plenty of vineyards and wineries in between.
Napa Valley stretches for about 30 miles (from north to south), so you need a reliable way to get from place to place. A lot of people don’t realize this and miss out on oh so much because they don’t venture north of Downtown Napa.
You’ll wanna think about the geographical location of the wineries you’re picking to ensure you’re not zigzagging around (and wasting precious time tasting!).
Driving around Napa
Driving is the most popular way to get around Napa Valley. We love the flexibility having our own car gives us, and we can easily zip from winery to winery and town to town.
It’s important to note that there’s one main road that takes you through the valley – California State Route 29. It runs from the town of Napa (the southern end) to Calistoga (the northern end). This means there’ll undoubtedly be some traffic – plan for extra time in your Napa itinerary and you’ll be fine!
Okay, I guess there’s kinda two if you count the Silverado Trail, another major road that runs parallel to Route 29 with tons more wineries and vineyards.
Safety: This is one of the world’s best wine regions – you’re here to go wine tasting and have a good time! With that being said, always, always, always plan a designated driver for your group. If you’re visiting a few wineries a day and are visiting Napa Valley with a few friends, you can switch DD’s from day to day. Or there’s always a private driver (more info below).
Hire a Private Driver
Sounds super luxurious right?! Having a driver take you around to different vineyards and wineries?! How fun!!!
Definitely the way to go if everyone in your party plans to drink and you don’t want to have to worry about transportation. Most private drivers let you choose up to 3 or 4 wineries (or they can give you recs depending on your preferences), and include pick-up/drop-off services. Really, it makes the day super easy and stress-free.
And honestly, it’s not even that expensive! This private tour (with private driver) of Napa Valley is ~$400, but that includes transport for 5 hours and up to 8 people – really not that pricey when you think about it. Great for a group of friends and/or a few couples!
Honestly, I wouldn’t rely on ride shares to get you around Napa Valley. There’s not tons of cars in the valley, and you may be waiting quite a bit to get from winery to winery. Don’t waste precious time during your weekend in Napa.
But remember – if you don’t have a DD or private driver, Uber/Lyft may be the way to go. Safety first, ALWAYS. Even if you have to wait longer than expected.
Walking around Napa
Once you’re in town (remember — there’s quite a few), you can walk around the main streets and head to tasting rooms, restaurants, and cafes.
Note you cannot walk to vineyards from town; you’ll need a car or private driver for that. But you can totally spend a whole day exploring a town or two by walking!
Public Transportation in Napa
I was pleasantly surprised to learn just how much public transit Napa has! And some are completely free!
VINE Transit: This is a bus system in the County of Napa, with routes that run the entire length of the valley (from Napa all the way up to Calistoga) plus down to the Vallejo Ferry terminal. Check out bus routes here.
Shuttles: There’s a few shuttles in the valley that provide on-demand service within their respective city limits. I’ve honestly never heard of anything else like this, and think it’s so cool! Extra important when you were planning to drive… but can’t anymore.
No shame – this is Napa!!! Enjoy the wine! Remember, safety first! Don’t be shy – this is why the shuttles are here! Different towns have different shuttles; make sure you call the right one! Most arrive within 15-30 minutes and are super low-cost.
- Calistoga Shuttle: Call (707) 963-4229 to schedule a pick-up. Cost: Free for lodging guests.
- St. Helena Shuttle: Call (707) 963-3007 to schedule a pick-up. Cost: $1
- The Yountville Trolley: Call (707) 944-1234 or (707) 312-1509 after 7:00 p.m. This trolley is completely free thanks to the generous support from the Town of Yountville.
When to Plan your Napa Valley Itinerary
In all honesty, there’s never a horrible time to visit Napa Valley. Each season has its pros and cons, and after visiting multiple times of year, there’s probably not a time I’d say no to visiting. I do however favor fall a bit – seeing those leaves change color is absolutely spectacular! Especially since we don’t get much fall color in the Bay Area (okay fine, a little).
Spring (March to May) – Growing Season
This is an absolutely gorgeous time to plan your Napa Valley itinerary. The weather is mild (warm, sunny days and cool nights), there’s wildflowers on the hillsides, and the landscape is vibrant and green. So picturesque and beautiful, especially with the blossoming trees!
In terms of grapes and leaves, this is when the buds start to bloom and grapevines begin to produce new shoots and leaves.
Summer (June to August) – Peak Tourist Season
Summer in Napa Valley gets HOT, with temps peaking in the high 80s/low 90s. Always make sure to stay hydrated and drink lots of water – especially when wine’s involved! Expect much larger crowds this time of year, especially on the weekends, and definitely make your winery reservations at least a few weeks in advance.
Pro Tip: Late summer is when the grapes are at their peak ripeness so you’ll get to see them in all their glory. This is the very start of the harvest season!
Fall (September to November) – Harvest Season
Autumn is a special time in Napa Valley – as it’s when the grapes are harvested! This is known as “crush”, typically occurring in September and October. Some vineyards even allow visitors to stomp on grapes – I crushed some grapes (with my feet!) at Sterling Vineyards a few years ago and it was such silly, yet messy fun.
There’s also a decent amount of fall foliage here, with the vineyards turning brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow (my favorite!!!!). The weather is still very pleasant, with warm days and cooler nights. We sat by the fire at our hotel in Calistoga one night and roasted marshmallows – what could be better than that?! The best time to plan your Napa Valley itinerary in my opinion.
However, there’s a major caveat to that statement. WILDFIRES. And unfortunately, wildfire season is very real around here. The entire region and its vegetation gets extremely dry – a combination of intense winds, high temps, and reduced rainfall calls for disaster.
The last major fire (in Fall 2020) caused extensive damage that took years and millions of dollars to rebuild. Some hotels were burned to a crisp, and acres and acres of vineyards were destroyed (thankfully no injuries or deaths were reported). I had never heard of “fire season” until moving to California, and it unfortunately seems to be getting worse every year.
Just something to keep in mind if you’re planning your weekend in Napa during September or October.
Winter (December to February) – Off Season
Looking for way less crowds and cheaper prices? Welcome to winter in Napa Valley! Yes, the weather is cooler and it can be rainy, but the valley is much quieter and there’s no traffic. Plus, it’s the perfect time for wine tastings by the fire and relaxing spa getaways (there’s plenty of those here!).
Note that some wineries may have reduced hours or even be closed for renovations – always check in advance before visiting.
Where to Stay in Napa Valley
Deciding where to stay in Napa Valley is actually pretty tricky. First of all, there’s multiple towns to choose from, and secondly, there’s a huge range of accommodation options, from luxury resorts and boutique hotels to charming bed and breakfasts.
The area is way more spread out than most visitors realize — plan in advance (you don’t wanna be zipping around back and forth). They’re all slightly different with different vibes, so I highly encourage you to visit a few!
Here are the main towns in Napa Valley, plus recommended hotels!
Downtown Napa, or “Napa” (or the Town of Napa), which most locals use, is the closest to San Francisco out of all the towns and the largest. It’s known for its late 1800s and early 1900s architecture, a cute riverfront promenade (with shops and restaurants), and boasts the Oxbow Public Market (a farmers market and cheese shop) and the Napa Valley Wine Train.
It’s a bit more touristy than the other towns in the region, and further from wineries and vineyards deeper into the valley. But it’s a great introduction to the area, with so much going on.
- Andaz Napa: Super modern and chic, and super true to the brand. Especially the soaking tub in the room.
- R Inn Napa: My sister stayed here when she visited Napa, and it’s got such a cozy, homey feel with some modern eclectic touches.
- The George Napa: A new-ish 9-room luxury boutique inn a few blocks from downtown. An elegant home away from home – complete with homemade breakfast and historical charm.
Yountville is small and picturesque, with tons of gourmet dining and world-renowned restaurants, some even with Michelin stars! It’s ain’t called the culinary capital of Napa Valley for no reason (there’s Ad Hoc, Bouchon Bistro and Bakery, and French Laundry here). There’s art galleries, boutique shops, and tons of charming streets to wander.
St. Helena feels more boutiquey and upscale, and it’s home to many high-end wineries, boutique shops, and art galleries. Both are great options for your Napa Valley itinerary, especially because they’re located in the middle of the valley, making it easy to get everywhere!
Calistoga: Ohhh… I love the vibes here in Calistoga. It’s kinda a mix of Napa and Sonoma; much more laid back and less pretentious (aka less stuffy) than other towns in the valley. It’s famous for its hot springs and mud baths, and the Old Faithful Geyser and Petrified Forest. Stay here if you want a small-town atmosphere with tons of wellness (read: SPA!) opportunities.
Note that it’s the furthest from San Francisco and deeper into the valley, so you’ll be driving a bit more if you decide to stay here.
- Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs: Oh so trendy and so fun, with a unique retro vibe. The pool area is so hip and happening, and we loved hanging out on the grass eating our meal from House of Better (their on-site restaurant) and playing lawn games while watching the sunset (open to everyone!). Don’t miss a rejuvenating massage, mud bath, and/or the mineral springs! On my list to stay next time!
- Calistoga Motor Lodge & Spa: Recently renovated with lots of pops of color and a great spa and mineral pool area! Reminded me a bit of Palm Springs. We loved roasting marshmallows by the fire at night! It’s usually less expensive than other hotels in the area, and they’re super dog friendly – perfect for us since we brought Kona along! Look out for the amusing armadillo art pieces on the hotel walls, haha. Such a quirky design!
Regardless of where you stay, ask if your hotel has any partnerships with any nearby wineries. Free or reduced tastings, anyone?! Our hotel on our last visit (Calistoga Motor Lodge) was affiliated with 3 wineries, meaning we got some free tastings and saved over $75!
Other Important FAQs about Visiting Napa Valley
How many wineries should I visit in a day? I say max 3. Two if you wanna spend more time in town and have a more relaxed day. Each tasting takes a minimum of 1 to 1 ½ hours or so, and always give yourself extra time to wander the winery grounds and explore.
Up for more wine? You can always go to a tasting room in town later on.
Do I need reservations for tasting at the vineyards? Yup, you certainly do! Ever since the pandemic, most wineries and vineyards are reservation-only. Meaning you can’t just stroll up and expect a tasting.
Plan in advance the tours and tastings you wanna do – it’ll make your entire weekend in Napa way less stressful, and you’ll be able to make sure you choose a variety of smaller, family run vineyards and those larger, more popular hotspots!
Can I wander wineries/vineyards without a reservation? Really depends on the vineyard – you used to be able to stroll up to most and walk around sans-reservations. Nowadays, some won’t even let you onto the property without a reservation.
Always call in advance before heading over so you don’t waste any time on your Napa Valley itinerary. I know for a fact Chateau Montelena lets visitors walk around, while Castello di Amorosa most definitely does not (although they used to).
How to decide which wineries/vineyards to visit? With over 400 wineries, it’s always SUCH a hard decision! There’s small boutique spots, to large, well-known sprawling estates. Pick a mix of well-known wineries and a few smaller, family-run ones (where you typically get more personalized service).
How much do wine tastings cost? Napa ain’t cheap, y’all! Most tastings run about $30-$75, with some upwards of $100+. This is why I strongly urge you to do your research and pick vineyards that have your preferred type of wine – all those tastings really add up!
Looking for cheaper wine tastings? Consider going to nearby Sonoma instead (it’s much more chill over there), or a few hours south to Paso Robles near the Central Coast.
Is Napa worth a visit if I don’t drink? That’s totally up to you of course! While the area is renowned for its picturesque vineyards, wineries, and wine production, there’s really so much to do in Napa besides drink! I’m honestly not the biggest wine fan (don’t @ me!), and I still enjoy coming up to Napa every year or so.
There’s a huge culinary scene (with several Michelin-starred restaurants), beautiful wineries to check out, mud baths and mineral waters to soak in (true story!), and you can even float above the vineyards in a hot air balloon in Napa!
What makes Napa Valley so great for wine?! It’s climate and geography!!! Napa Valley’s got a Mediterranean climate (warm, dry summers and mild winters), which is absolutely perfect for grape growing!
The mountains provide protection and shield the valley from excessive rainfall – while maintaining the dry, sunny conditions that grapes thrive in.
How long to stay in Napa? I personally think 3 days in Napa is perfect if it’s your first time to the region. There’s enough to keep you busy for over a week, but our bodies can only handle so much wine! Since we live so close we typically go for a day or two.
Can I bring my dog to wineries/tasting rooms? Unfortunately, most wineries do not allow pets. We found this out the old-fashioned way – by trying to take Kona wine tasting with us, haha. Didn’t pan out too well, but we clearly didn’t do our research in advance.
Thankfully, there’s a few wineries that do allow dogs! We find the wineries in Sonoma to be much more dog friendly.
Napa vs Sonoma: While Napa is more glam-worthy, Sonoma is more spread out and expansive (at almost double the size of Napa!), with a much more chill vibe. Sonoma’s kinda like the gloriously laid-back sister of nearby Napa Valley, and we love it! If you’ve got the time, I highly encourage you to visit both – even if you pop by Sonoma for the day from Napa!
Long Weekend in Napa Valley Itinerary
I’m calling this a weekend itinerary to Napa Valley, since most people nearby visit on Saturday and Sunday (we typically do!).
BUT — if you’re coming from further away (and planning to combine San Francisco and/or a longer California road trip with Napa), I’d aim to visit Napa Valley during the week. It’ll be far less crowded and the traffic won’t be as horrendous. Plus, you’ll get way more personalized service at the wineries and definitely some hotel discounts.
Notes about this weekend in Napa itinerary:
This Napa Valley itinerary plans for 3 full days in the region, and starts on the morning of Day 1. If you’re planning to arrive the afternoon of Day 1 (maybe your drive is a bit further?), no worries!
You can easily adjust the itinerary by taking out a winery (or two, if you don’t have tons of time). Or, you can simply swap out the wineries/vineyards on Day 1 for tasting rooms in town instead.
The wineries I recommend are solely that – recommendations. Considering there’s over 400 wineries, tasting rooms, and vineyards, there’s way too many for me to list and know about! Feel free to do some research!
Especially if you have a preference for certain types of wines and/or are looking for a specific experience (food/wine pairings, cave tours, grape stomping, etc). There’s tons of resources out there with tons of information – I’m not gonna pretend to know every single winery.
Make restaurant recommendations in advance. If you know there’s a particular restaurant you wanna try, I’m begging you to make reservations, at least a few weeks in advance. Some of the more popular spots get booked up weeks if not months ahead of time. Do your homework; Napa really is a culinary gem, perfect for all you foodies out there.
Okay, phew! Enough with all the chatter – let’s get this Napa itinerary started!
Napa Valley Itinerary Day 1: Downtown Napa
We’re starting this Napa Valley itinerary in Downtown Napa since you’re probably coming from the San Francisco Bay Area. Downtown Napa is technically on the way to the other towns in Napa Valley, so it just makes sense to stop here first before heading to your hotel for the night elsewhere.
Morning: Arrive, Breakfast, and Napa Riverfront
Welcome to the world-famous wine region of Napa Valley! I’d aim to arrive in Downtown Napa around 9 or 10am or so – that gives you a whole day to enjoy the town and even check out a winery/tasting room or two.
Breakfast at Winston’s Cafe and Bakery: First up, breakfast! If you’re planning to check out some wineries today, make sure you fuel up! Don’t go wine tasting on an empty stomach! Locals and visitors love Winston’s, with its blend of Filipino & East coast influences. Not only is the food delicious, but the presentation is beautiful as well (and we know I love pretty plates and airy spaces)!
Walk along the Napa River: Even though Napa isn’t on the California coast, you can still have a relaxing stroll by the water. The Napa River is over 55 miles long, and there’s a really pretty section of it right by Downtown Napa.
The region spent over 20 years revitalizing and updating it’s Riverfront Promenade area, and there’s now lots of trendy shops, restaurants, and cafes. Grab a coffee/iced tea from Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company and get in your steps before all the wine!
Early Afternoon: Options!
Option #1: Wineries/Tasting Rooms and Lunch
Wineries: Time for the main event of the day – wine tasting! I mean, this is a Napa Valley itinerary, isn’t it?! Makes sense to start your weekend in Napa off on the right start.
Depending on how much time you have and what your preference is, you can either visit a few tasting rooms in town, or head over to 1-2 nearby wineries. Or, do both!
Here’s a few favorite wineries near Downtown Napa:
- Domaine Carneros: If you love champagne, you need to add this spot to your Napa itinerary. They specialize in both still and sparkling wines, and the entire estate and formal gardens are absolutely gorgeous – inspired by a chateau in France! Super photogenic with scenic views of the vineyards. Psst – get the charcuterie plate; it’s phenomenal. And book outside seating at the back of the building for the best views!
- Artesa: Modern architecture lovers, you need to add this winery to your Napa Valley itinerary. There’s fountains, art, and even an infinity pool overlooking the vineyards. Sit outside on the terrace for great vibes and views!
- Black Cat Vineyard: While I haven’t been to this spot myself, I’ve heard such good things! It’s not as well known as the other vineyards, and it’s known for being super personal, private, and interactive. And get this – the founder, Tracey Reichow, was one of the first women to work the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Complete 180, haha!
If you’re looking for tasting rooms in town instead, check out:
- The Studio by Feast it Forward: A multi-winery tasting room for California wineries without their own tasting rooms, meaning the wines change every so often. A great spot to visit if you wanna try a whole bunch!
- Be Bubbly: A new-ish champagne and sparkling wine lounge with high-end small-plates like caviar, foie gras, French country pate, and grilled cheesy toast bites! Plus a delicious prosciutto cheese plate featuring Mt. Tam’s finest – Cowgirl Creamery.
- JaM Cellars: One of the most well-known tasting rooms in Downtown Napa, AND they’ve got weekly JamSessions (Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights). Makes sense since they’re technically a music studio as well!
- Wine Girl Napa Valley: Super trendy and instagrammable, with chic interiors and plush cushy seating. The perfect spot for bachelorette parties and girls weekends! I’ve been to the location in Scottsdale, Arizona and it was such a fun time!
All of these tasting rooms are within walking distance, so you can hit up a few without worrying about your car! It’s impossible for me to list them all (there’s dozens!), so be sure to peruse this list for more tasting rooms!
Lunch at Oxbow Public Market: This lively marketplace is one of the most popular spots in Downtown Napa, and I can totally see why! It’s full of so much fresh produce, a few farm-to-table restaurants, and a full on cheese shop. Kinda like the Ferry Building in San Francisco!
There’s Ritual Coffee Roasters (always a long line in the AM), Hog Island Oyster (a trendy oyster bar, with its original location in Point Reyes), Kara’s Cupcakes, Loveski Deli, and so much more. We loved snacking on some Italian meats from Fatted Calf (right outside). You can even pick up a few things from different vendors and have a DIY picnic nearby.
Psst – Gott’s Roadside is literally right next door if you’re feeling classic diner vibes with an elevated menu instead. I can never say no to garlic fries and a California burger. It’s popular so expect a wait, but the food comes out surprisingly fast.
Option #2: Napa Valley Wine Train
If you’re planning to hop on the Napa Valley Wine Train, you’ll do so in Downtown Napa! What is it exactly?! A vintage train with gourmet dining experiences that travels through the vineyards of Napa! We haven’t done this ourselves just yet, but friends in the area tell me it’s definitely worth it!
You’ll of course need to drastically alter the first day of your Napa itinerary – it’s a three-hour, 36-mile round-trip journey from Downtown Napa to St. Helena and back. Quite the commitment and experience! But hey – what’s better than sipping some bubbly while watching the sweeping views of the valley pass by?!
There’s a few different experiences, and I’ve got my eye on both the Afternoon Tea and Vista Dome Lunch.
Late Afternoon/Night: Dinner and Napa Valley Gondola
You’ll need to drive over since it’s definitely not within walking distance, but it’s only a few minutes from downtown and parking is super easy (the mural is located in a large lot).
Sky and Vine Rooftop Bar: Come here before dinner for some crafty cocktails overlooking the valley! There’s even a few drinks on tap! Located on the roof of the Archer Hotel in Downtown Napa – it gets busy, so make a reservation (especially if you’re visiting on the weekend!).
There’s also a secret whisky bar with a large whiskey collection that’s reservation-only, so get on it if you wanna sip some of the good stuff by the stone fireplace.
Dinner in Downtown Napa (or closer to your hotel): The culinary scene has gotten way out of hand in the best way possible – there’s everything you could possibly want here! Think fine dining, world-class cuisine from Michelin-starred chefs, and even more casual, flavorful bites. A few DoNapa favorites:
- Oenotri: If you’re craving some fresh pasta and woodfired pizzas, this is your spot. Some of the best southern-Italian cuisine I’ve had in a while outside of Italy. I’m still dreaming about that creamy pesto I had!
- Cole’s Chop House: We walked by Cole’s and were instantly drawn to the menu. It’s primarily a steakhouse, with some other fun additions. Like a lobster and shrimp puff pastry bisque that I really wanna try. It’s also a bourbon bar – something my husband would totally approve of, haha.
Napa Valley Gondola at sunset: This is a new-ish addition to Downtown Napa, and perfect if you’re spending the weekend in Napa with your significant other.
You’ll ride down the Napa River in an authentic gondola (brought all the way from Italy!), and your gondolier will sing you songs and answer all your questions about Napa Valley. Psst – bring your own wine and cups, it’s BYOW(ine)!
While I haven’t done this activity myself, my sister and her husband raved about it! Such a romantic hour on the river, learning about the history of Napa while watching the sunset snuggled up in a blanket.
A bit closer than Venice, Italy of course, haha. Although arguably a tad different!
I really only recommend this if you’re staying in Downtown Napa, so you don’t get back too late. Especially if you’re planning to join in on tomorrow’s early morning activity…
Weekend in Napa Day 2: Yountville and Oakville/Rutherford
Today’s Napa Valley itinerary starts off with a bucket list experience (you won’t believe you can do this in Napa), then some more wine tasting of course! Whatever you do, promise me you’ll grab a chocolate almond croissant from Buchon – by far the best bakery in all of Napa!
Morning: Hot Air Balloon Ride (!!!) and Breakfast
Hot Air Balloon Ride Over the Valley
Now for one of the most epic experiences on this Napa Valley itinerary – a hot air balloon ride above the Napa Valley vineyards! Just imagine floating above the perfectly aligned rows of grapes and the spectacular landscape – all between 1,000 and 3,000 feet above the valley floor!
Yes, it’ll undoubtedly be an early-morning wake up call, but well worth it in my opinion! Especially if you’ve never been in a hot air balloon before.
You can say I have a thing for hot air balloon rides – I’ve ridden them in Mexico City above the pyramids of Teotihuacan, in Tanzania on a balloon safari over hippos (!!!), in Scottsdale, Arizona above a landscape full of cacti, and of course, now in Napa Valley!
Our experience was nothing short of amazing – the balloon ride was so smooth and I honestly never knew if we were drifting or going up or down. The panoramic views were inspiring; I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the balloons in the distance and the vineyards down below. Plus, we ended with a champagne brunch – what could be better?!
We rode with Napa Valley Aloft, and felt super safe and secure at all times. Sure, it’s probably the most expensive activity on this Napa Valley itinerary, but SUCH a bucket list activity. You’ll launch from the heart of Yountville, and the company even does hotel pick ups from nearby (there’s optional shuttles for everyone else).
Breakfast at Bouchon Bakery or Bistro in Yountville
If a hot air balloon isn’t your idea of fun (hey, a fear of heights is no joke!), then make your way over to Bouchon instead.
There’s both a casual, take-away bakery, or a sit-down bistro to choose from. We typically grab a few pastries from the bakery, and sit outside under the umbrellas sipping our coffees. Try some macarons, a chocolate almond croissant (our favorite), a peanut butter cookie (filled with the most delicious peanut butter filling), a lemon meringue tart, and a salted caramel latte. Actually, everything we’ve ever tried we quickly devoured, haha.
There’ll most definitely be a long line – I think we waited almost a half hour on our last visit. But I promise you it’s ALWAYS worth the wait. I mean, it’s a Michelin-star bakery, what do you expect?!
There’s actually another location in Las Vegas (which we’ve gone to a bunch), but the one here in Yountville is the original.
Afternoon: Wineries/Vineyards and Lunch
Time for more wine tasting! I recommend picking 2-3 wineries/vineyards, and having a relaxing afternoon at those. You don’t wanna cram too many in, and honestly, after a while, you’ll get confused where you went, haha. Especially if you’re drinking at them all! Plus, the tasting fees do add up, with each tasting costing about $45-90, depending on what you choose of course.
If you’re not a wine connoisseur, the tastings will all begin to blend together, especially after your first few flights. I choose my vineyards and wineries not only by wine selection, but by views, experiences, and overall distinctness.
Here’s a few in the Yountville and Oakville/Rutherford area to choose from:
- CHANDON: Sparkling wine and champagne, anyone?! With beautiful grounds and a light bite menu (with macarons I might add!), it’s a great stop. I especially love how you can just walk in and sip a few glasses – something that’s kinda unheard of now in Napa. (Yountville)
- Silverado Vineyards: This winery specializes in small production, estate-grown wines, and is situated on top of a hill that looks right over the Stags Leap District. Make sure to request a table on the back patio – it’s absolutely stunning! They’re also got some add-ons like a caviar pairing, cheese and charcuterie boards, and my favorite – a chocolate bonbon pairing! (Yountville)
- Quixote Winery: Looking for something a tad different? Head to Quixote – the architecture is super unique and boutique with a stained glass entrance and custom stone steps – kinda reminds me of buildings found in Barcelona! It’s right off the Silverado Trail, and perfect if you like big, bold wines. They even have a s’mores and cabernet tasting; something I’ve never seen before! (Yountville)
- Far Niente Winery: I haven’t been here myself (yet!), but my friends who have tell me it’s such a special place with such a long history. Be sure to book a tour of the property to visit the historic caves (from 1883!) and learn about the estate. Tastings are done in a lovely garden setting, with a pond and lots of flowers nearby. Come if you enjoy rich and full wines! (Oakville)
- Peju: With its pinkish buildings and perfectly polished landscapes, I don’t think Peju could be any more cute and sophisticated all at once. You’ll want to make a reservation at multiple tasting rooms, which are both unique and gorgeous (some even with stained glass), especially if bigger, bolder reds are your preferred choice of wine (they have excellent ones here). We just came for the ambiance and scenery (and koi pond!), but I’ve heard fantastic things about their wine selections. (Rutherford)
- Mumm Napa: Life is better with bubbles! Another excellent spot for some sparkling wines and champagne – there’s a wide variety and the outdoor tasting patio overlooks their beautiful grounds. (Rutherford)
Welcome to Napa Valley Sign
While you’re on the main road, stop by the Welcome to Napa Valley sign! It’s a quick stop and a must on any Napa Valley itinerary! There’s sometimes a short line for photos, but everyone’s respectful and it moves pretty fast.
A Few Lunch/Dinner Options
If you’re not having a food and wine pairing at one of the wineries, you’ll 100% need to stop for lunch between wine tastings! You can either do something quick (if you wanna get back to the vineyards ASAP), or book something a bit more special.
This area’s got a lot of great restaurants (many fine dining!), so I recommend planning in advance and making a reservation if you’ve got your eye (stomach!) on something in particular!
- Ad Hoc/Addendum: Two words. Buttermilk fried chicken. Okay, fine, that’s three, haha. A famous Thomas Keller restaurant, and great if you want Michelin level food without paying the price tag. Note that they’ve got different hours depending on the day of the week. Addendum is behind the restaurant – a great spot for a super casual lunch of chicken and waffles to-go.
- RH Yountville: Go for the glitz and glam, stay for the burrata and truffle fries. Admittedly the menu’s pretty small, but the chic vibe and elegant atmosphere are so fun. So many chandeliers and even a fireplace. Great for a special occasion or chic girls lunch!
- The French Laundry: A true bucket-list experience by world-renowned Chef Thomas Keller. I’d save this one for a super special occasion as dinner here is a major investment (about $500 per person – yes, quite the expensive meal!). Note that this spot is only open for dinner, and you need to make reservations months in advance.
Looking for something a bit more casual? Check out Oakville Grocery for artisanal sandwiches, La Calenda for upscale Mexican flavors, and Mini Model for delicious, baked goods.
Napa Itinerary Day 3: St. Helena and Calistoga
On your last day of your long weekend in Napa, take things a bit slower. Have a long, leisurely breakfast, hop over to another winery (or two, or three!), and end the day with a mineral-rich mud bath in Calistoga!
Breakfast in Calistoga
- Sam’s Social Club: Hip and trendy in the Indian Springs Hotel, with a full brunch menu of benedicts, avocado toast, and their “egg in the hole” brioche. Psst – no dogs allowed, even on their outdoor patio. We made a reservation and noted we were bringing Kona, and found out when we got there he wasn’t allowed in. I was so bummed – mostly because I wanted an order of their famous churros oh so badly! Next time!
- Café Sarafornia: No frills and super casual, right in downtown Calistoga. They’ve got all your typical breakfast fixins’, and my huevos rancheros were absolutely delicious.
- Sam’s General Store: This is definitely our favorite spot for a light bite and some coffee in Calistoga. Tons of charm in a historic property – sit outside under an umbrella in the shade with your latte or cold brew and something sweet!
- Fleetwood Restaurant: Located at Calistoga Motor Lodge, this casual spot’s got smoothies, breakfast sandwiches, chilaquiles, eggs your way, and french toast. A little bit of everything!
More Tastings at Wineries and Vineyards
Again, I’d only choose two for wine tastings, especially if you’re doing a mud bath or mineral springs soak later on this afternoon.
- V. Sattui: This is the place for a picnic lunch when checking out the vineyards! If you’re visiting in the spring, summer, or fall, keep an eye out for their Barbeque, Wood-Fired Pizzas & Mozzarella Bar. An order of the jalapeños shouldn’t be missed. If bbq food doesn’t tickle your fancy, head to the Marketplace (on V. Sattui grounds), where you’ll find a large array of meats, cheeses, and other deli items. Bring your bottle of wine to the picnic tables and you’re good to go!
- Sterling: The main draw of Sterling is that you need to take a gondola up the hill to even get there! While it’s only a 5 minute ride, the views are absolutely remarkable, especially in the fall when the colors are changing. You can even stomp grapes in a wine barrel here as well (special activity – book in advance). A one-of-a-kind experience for sure.
- Chateau Montelena: I LOVE THIS SPOT. I mean, there’s an ivy-covered stone chateau and lakes and ponds with resident swans. You’re allowed to wander around the (stunning!) property without a reservation AND all the staff are all so kind and helpful. I randomly showed up and they were so accommodating – gave me a map, let me look inside all the rooms (there’s some interesting history there), and made me feel totally welcome even though I wasn’t spending a dime, haha.
- Castello di Amorosa: A winery inspired by a medieval castle in Tuscany?! Sign me up! Sure, it’s pretty touristy and honestly a bit gaudy, but the views are great and they’ve got really good wines – all Italian-inspired. There’s even goats, emus, and peacocks roaming the property! We used to love coming here to wander around the castle, see the animals, and go for a stroll, but that’s not possible anymore unless you’re signed up for a tasting. You’re not even allowed to drive to the property grounds without a reservation.
- Tank Garage Winery: By far one of our best finds in downtown Calistoga! Upon first glance you’ll think the winery is an old vintage gas station, but nope, just a quirky tasting room! The tasting was so chilled out and fun – the wine labels are so unique and we were able to pick whatever types of wine we wanted to taste. Take a peek in the back club room – the Prohibition rebellion feeling and rock n’ roll style decor is so different from any other winery I’ve been to! If you’re staying at the Calistoga Motor Lodge, make sure you tell them – you’ll get the tasting for completely free. They even welcomed our pup with open arms (super refreshing since most won’t allow dogs at all).
- Davis Estates: This sustainable property specializes in culinary offerings, like food and wine pairings (they’ve got an indoor pizza oven!), with gorgeous views out to the valley. Make sure to sit on the outdoor terrace – there’s sweeping panoramic views of the northern Napa Valley, including a 50-foot “new-antique” windmill. The estate is family owned and operated, and it shows! We chatted with the staff for a while and they were so helpful, giving food and winery recommendations for Napa. Highly recommend adding one of their experiences to your Napa Valley itinerary – don’t miss the 11,000 square feet of caves!
I’ve also got Quintessa Winery (ohhh the architecture!), Beringer Vineyards, and Markham Vineyards on my Napa bucket list for next time.
Late Lunch in St. Helena or Calistoga
Just like on Day 2 of this Napa Valley itinerary, you’re gonna need to refuel throughout the day! Especially if you’re visiting a few wineries!
And luckily, there’s loads of great spots nearby, including the original Gott’s Roadside, House of Better at Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort, The Station (we made a quick stop here for some cold drinks), Calistoga Inn Restaurant and Brewery, Lovina, and The Restaurant (Michelin star!).
Old Faithful Geyser of California
Next up on this Napa Valley itinerary – the small, scenic geyser in Calistoga. It’s got mixed reviews, so honestly not an absolute must, but hey, you can decide!
I heard it’s kinda expensive for what it is – currently $15 to wait for the geyser that goes off once every 30-40 minutes or so. And there’s not tons else to do on the property besides see some goats. Your choice! I’d personally rather spend that money on an extra tasting.
Mud Bath and/or Mineral Pools in Calistoga
End the last day of your Napa Valley itinerary with a good soak – in either a bath full of mud (yup!), or relaxing in a mineral pool (or two!). Two things that Calistoga is oh so famous for!
Wait – a mud bath?! What in the world?! I know what you’re thinking – what’s a mud bath and why would I even think about sitting in one?! Imagine sitting in a bathtub full of warm squishy mud, with mud between your toes, all over your body and face, and um, quite everywhere you can think of, haha. Just like Louis Litt from Suits did all the time, haha.
Don’t worry – the mud’s got special properties (the area has tons of geothermal activity after all) and is great for detoxifying, has many anti–inflammatory benefits, and even helps skin conditions like eczema and rosacea. It’s technically a spa treatment, and you’ll find them offered at plenty around town.
Check out Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort, Spa Talisa at Four Seasons Resort, MoonAcre Spa, Golden Haven Hot Springs Spa, and Spa Solage.
So there ya have it – the perfect weekend in Napa Valley itinerary! Are you headed off to wine country soon?!