For those of you who haven’t heard, Napa Valley is the ultimate destination for wining and dining. The region is a popular day trip from the San Francisco Bay Area, and for good reason. About one hour away is a world of amazing gastronomy, unforgettable wine experiences, and raw outdoor adventure. Whether you’re planning a special event with friends, planning a weekend trip with your significant other, or vacationing with the entire family, Napa Valley is your destination for a grand ol’ time.
Despite the fact that Napa Valley is a world-class wine region, there are actually a ton of other things to do here other than wine taste. I’m not a huge wine drinker myself, yet I still love coming to Napa Valley whenever I get the chance. The sunny weather, the relaxed atmosphere, the foodie culture, and the extremely friendly people keep me coming back multiple times a year.
And honestly, we are so blessed to be living in the Bay Area, with Napa Valley just 45 minutes away from where we live in Berkeley, CA! As we’ve been exploring Napa more and more over the recent months, we want to share with you all that we’ve discovered!
Aside from the hundreds of wineries within the Napa Valley, you can expect to find charming towns, top-notch quality restaurants, and a huge variety of B&B’s/resorts to lay your head for a night or two (there’s something for everyone, no matter what your budget is). Some of the valley’s quaint towns not to be missed include Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. You could literally spend an entire day just strolling and eating through these towns! If you’re in the mood for a little rest and relaxation, Napa Valley is also home to many of the best spas in California.
Families traveling with kids can also enjoy activities such as the Safari West wildlife compound and catching California’s Old Faithful Geyser spray its waters high up in the sky. To see Napa from a different perspective, you can hop onto horseback, hop on a wine train, or hop aboard a hot air balloon!
As you can see, there are so many exciting things to do in Napa Valley other than wine tasting. Continue reading to discover all that Napa Valley has to offer!
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BEST TIME TO VISIT NAPA VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
Overview of Napa Valley’s weather: Napa Valley’s Mediterranean climate provides near-perfect weather year-round. Evening temperatures can be 30 degrees cooler than in the day time, and daytime temperatures can vary as much as 10 degrees between the northern and southern portions of the valley.
You can visit anytime in the year without having to deal with harsh weather conditions, but our favorite times to visit include harvest season and in the wintertime.
Harvest Season: Late August to October
Thanks to relatively sunny weather year-round, California’s Napa Valley welcomes visitors throughout the year. You can come any time and still have a blast! But if you’re looking for that quintessential Napa Valley experience (wine grapes galore, sunny picnics, outdoor patio wine tastings, strolling around town in a sundress or shorts), then the best time to visit is during the harvest–in the late summer to early fall—around late August through October.
During this time, you’ll find vines filled with massive clusters of grapes and many sun-shiny days. The days are long and warm, sunny and the nights are cool and bearable.
One thing to note again is that this will be harvest season. As such, peak tourist season in Napa coincides with harvest season. While visiting during this time is ideal because of the great weather and abundance of activities to do, wineries are going to be much busier, there will be more traffic in the area, and you can expect to see higher rates for accommodations.
December to April
On the flip side, if crowds are not your thing, you’re in luck. The secret to avoiding crowds and getting the best service possible in Napa Valley is to visit during the low season. The valley’s low season runs from December to April.
Winter in Northern California can sometimes bring rain, but most of the time, the weather is mild with sunny days and temperatures in the 50s to low 70s. You’ll also find lower rates for accommodations and quieter wineries in the winter and early spring. Less foot traffic in and out of wineries means more attention and service to those that are there!
February is an especially great month to visit Napa Valley because yellow mustard flowers fill the vineyards, making for some really beautiful scenery even though the vines are bare. These mustard plants are planted as a natural fertilizer for the vines.
HOW TO GET TO NAPA VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
Now that you’ve made the decision to visit California’s wine country, the next big question is how to get there. What’s awesome about Napa Valley is that its location really isn’t too hard to get to.
Napa Valley is located near several airports:
- 70 miles from San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- 63 miles from Oakland International Airport (OAK)
- 75 miles from Sacramento International Airport (SMF)
- 94 miles from San Jose International Airport (SJC)
- 34 miles from Sonoma County Airport (STS)
Your best chances at finding cheaper flights would be to fly into SFO, OAK, or SJC.
From any of these airports, the most convenient option will be to rent a car. Personally speaking, Napa Valley is hard to thoroughly explore without one.
Public transportation will be a much slower way to get to the Napa Valley. Furthermore, it wasn’t really designed for tourists who want to see various sights around the valley. For out-of-town visitors, the public transportation process can be pretty complicated, so you’re really better off renting a car and driving yourself or booking a guided tour. There are a few tour options you can consider at the bottom of this section.
Don’t want to rent a car? There are still some options for you.
Coming from San Francisco? If you are flying into San Francisco and staying in the Napa Valley, your hotel may offer a shuttle service from the airport. Alternatively, look into shuttle companies that service Napa Valley from San Francisco Airport (SFO) like Evans Transportation or California Wine Tours.
For visitors who prefer to travel by train, The Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) connects directly to the airport. You’ll need to take BART to San Francisco, then get to the San Francisco Ferry Building, where you’ll then board the Vallejo Ferry for a quick and scenic ride across the Bay. Once you’ve made it to the other side of the Bay and are in Vallejo, you can board the Napa Vine Route 11 shuttle to Downtown Napa. This trip has lots of transfer points and will take you approximately 2 hours (for comparison, driving from SF takes only about 1 hour and 15 minutes).
Coming from Oakland, CA or Sacramento, CA? There are various shuttle companies that offer transportation to and from Napa Valley. Consider Beau Wine Tours and Limo Services, Evans Airport Shuttle Service, or California Wine Tours–all of them offer transportation services to and from SFO, OAK, SMF, and STS.
These companies can also accommodate complete wine tours and day trips, perfect for travelers who have a few extra bucks to spare and want more private transportation around Napa Valley.
Coming from San Jose? Your best bet is to rent a car. The trip from San Jose to Napa will take approximately 1.5 hours of driving.
Don’t want to deal with transportation at all? Some of the most affordable guided options for Napa are full-day tours. Here are a few great Napa Valley tours you could join from SF–transportation is included, so you won’t need to worry about the hassle of getting there!
- San Francisco Super Saver: Muir Woods & Wine Country Full Day Tour – Tour provides two popular tours at one discount price, allowing you to see and taste the delights of Marin and Sonoma/Napa counties.
- Napa and Sonoma Wine Country Full-Day Tour from San Francisco – Escape to California’s famous wine country on this full-day tour from San Francisco. Taste regional varietals at multiple wineries in Napa/Sonoma, including both big-name and family-run estates. Learn about the winemaking process during guided tours of vineyards and barrel rooms, and savor the area’s gourmet foodie culture in Sonoma Square Plaza or Yountville (a foodie paradise).
A quick disclaimer on guided tours: though guided tours are usually the most affordable and hassle-free way to tour Napa Valley, you may be stuck in a tour group without any choice about where you go or when you stop (most of them are going to highlight wine and wine history). Still, it’s a decent way to get your bearings if you’re new to the area!
Lastly, if Sonoma is your final destination, renting a car is one of the better options.
MAP OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN NAPA VALLEY
BEST THINGS TO DO IN NAPA BESIDES DRINKING WINE
Alright, now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s get into the best things to do in Napa Valley besides wine!
OXBOW PUBLIC MARKET
If you’re looking for a wide variety of gourmet eats, head to Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. This 40,000-square-foot space is a foodie’s paradise! It’s filled with 21 vendors/merchants selling everything from fresh seafood to gourmet spices, and handcrafted goods to three-course meals.
Enjoy fresh oysters at Hog Island Oyster Bar, breakfast tacos at C Casa, or wood-fired pizza at Kitchen Door. After your meal, indulge in a cupcake or two, a few pieces of gourmet chocolate, or even a glass of wine, frozen rose, or beer! Follow that up with a stroll around the market, making sure to take in all the sights and smells of the gourmet culinary products offered.
Local Tip: Don’t miss Happy Hour specials during weeknights and “Locals’ Night” every Tuesday, where the merchants offer special items for locals and visitors to enjoy.
If you’d like to learn more about what the Oxbow Public Market has to offer, check out my in-depth guide on the full Oxbow Public Market experience!
The Napa Valley is made up of nine towns, most notably Calistoga, Saint Helena, Yountville, and, of course, Napa. Each of these towns has its own unique charm and features, but downtown Napa is particularly fun and exciting! Back in 1817, Napa began with just a saloon and a general store. Today, the town has transformed into a great escape of gastronomy and relaxation.
Take a quick stroll down 1st Street and Main Street and you’ll immediately notice the variety of cute eateries, laidback tasting rooms, and gift shops. While you’re at it, stop and admire some of the historic buildings built in a variety of different architectural styles (Victorian, Spanish Colonial, and art deco). With shops and restaurants around every corner, you can spend a good few hours exploring just downtown Napa.
One of my favorite shops in the area? Napastäk Napa Valley! Walking into this gift store-wine bar-coffee shop hybrid is like walking into a dream. If you’re looking for cute souvenirs and gourmet snacks to take home, Napastäk is the place to go.
GRAB A DRINK AT SKY & VINE ROOFTOP BAR
If you’d rather skip wine tasting for the day, head to Sky & Vine for drinks and a bite to eat. You’ll get a really nice view of the city from the rooftop, perfect for those sunny afternoons and warmer nights. Their drinks may be on the pricier side, but hey, you’re paying for the ambiance! Their light bites, fries, and tots are great too.
To get in, simply enter through the main door of the Archer Hotel on First Street. Once inside, a front desk clerk can point you to the elevator that takes you to the rooftop bar. You do not need to be a guest at the hotel to drink or eat at Sky & Vine.
DO THE NAPA ART WALK
The Napa Art Walk is a City of Napa program designed to enhance public spaces and promote public art by inviting regional artists to exhibit their art in downtown Napa. All you have to do is walk the streets of downtown Napa and check out the sculptures that make up the Napa Art Walk. These art pieces change every 18 months and you can learn more about the ones on display via their official site.
WALK THE NAPA RIVERFRONT
The Napa Riverfront is a new addition to the city, making Napa that much more fun to explore. The waterfront promenade is the perfect place to take a late afternoon or post-dinner stroll. And not only can you stroll. but you can also eat and shop! The building hosts an eclectic mix of cafes, boutique shops, and restaurants including Napa General Store (local favorite establishment serving up breakfast/lunch and wine tastings), Morimoto Napa (Masaharu Morimoto is famous for being the star of Iron Chef), and Angele Restaurant & Bar (wine, cocktails, and French bistro fare).
If you visit Napa Valley with kids, they can run freely here without worrying about cars or oncoming traffic!
Local Tip: During the summer on Fridays, Napa City Nights features live entertainment at the Veterans Memorial Park Amphitheater, overlooking the Napa River. Entertainment runs from 6:30 – 10:00 pm.
BIKE THE VINE TRAIL
The Napa Valley Vine Trail is something that I’m personally really excited about. But, what’s so special about a bike path? Well, this isn’t just any old bike path–this is a paved trail reserved solely for bikers, walkers, and runners. Yes, no cars–no fearing for your life if you’re a novice biker! You can really live out your European countryside biking dreams on the Vine Trail. I know I certainly have these daydreams, especially when sunny days and warm weather come around!
Currently a work in progress, it runs from Kennedy Park in South Napa up to Yountville. Once the trail is complete, it will stretch from Vallejo’s Ferry to Calistoga, following along the existing Wine Train tracks and Hwy 29 North.
But wait, I haven’t even told you the best part about the Vine Trail. There are a handful of wineries situated right off the Vine Trail, meaning you could literally go winery-hopping by bike! And if you’re not drinking, it’ll still be very nice to walk around each of the property’s grounds. You will have to exit the bike path and ride some distance along local roads to access the wineries, but it’s easy, leisurely, and avoids the busier roadways. Rent a bike from Napa Valley Bike Tours (they have locations in Downtown Napa and Yountville) and enjoy the 25-mile round trip around the valley!
If you’d rather take a bike tour and pair it with some wine tastings, check out this Napa Valley Wine Tasting Bike Tour. The biking tour takes you to two wineries where you’ll taste and learn about each winery’s production methods, and finishes by the early afternoon, leaving you free to explore Napa on your own.
TAKE A HISTORIC KAYAK TOUR
Experience the Napa Valley’s natural beauty and long-standing history on a fun and memorable kayak tour. With this unique historic kayak tour, you’ll have an informative local guide leading the way and revealing the fascinating history of the area. As you paddle down the valley’s waterways, you’ll see lots of birds, some rare animal species, and historic buildings that were damaged in the 2014 earthquake.
VISIT WINERIES THAT OFFER MORE THAN WINE
Even if you’re not interested in wine tasting, there are many wineries within Napa Valley that feature more than wine! If you have a mixed group with a few members who want to drink and others who do not, then I recommend visiting wineries with that extra flair.
For example, some of the larger wineries have beautiful outdoor gardens and grounds with art sculptures, statues, water fountains, and more. Castello di Amorosa is a great option, where you’ll be able to tour an Italian-style castle while others in your group wine taste. Want to get a taste of what a Victorian mansion looked like? Head to Spring Mountain Vineyards or Beringer Vineyards. At Sterling Vineyards, you can tour the grand property and even take in panoramic views from an aerial tram.
And if art is more your style, head to Artesa, Clos Pegase, HALL, Hess Collection, or Mumm Napa Valley. These guys are among the many wineries that include public art.
V. Sattui is my personal favorite, simply because they have such an amazing, shaded picnic area, perfect for lounging, sunbathing, and enjoying a meal. If you haven’t noticed yet, I love being in the sun; it brings me such joy!
Other wineries may also have restaurants, food and wine pairings, or educational tours about winemaking that might appeal to non-drinkers.
And if you’re worried about getting kicked out, don’t. Most wineries don’t mind if you wander and relax for a bit, even if you’re not doing a tasting. Unless the winery is “by appointment only”, you won’t have to worry about getting shooed off the property for enjoying their grounds.
EAT A MEAL OR TWO IN YOUNTVILLE, CA
We all know Napa is known for wine, but did you also know that this region is a world-class foodie destination too? Let’s talk about Yountville, CA. Yountville, located about 15 minutes away from downtown Napa, is considered the “Culinary Capital” of the Napa Valley. Imagine eating the freshest ingredients all year round, with each farm-to-table meal so good it will melt even the hearts of the toughest food critics.
This town boasts some of the finest restaurants in the nation, including world-renowned French Laundry, a 3-Michelin Star restaurant by Thomas Keller. French Laundry has attracted fine-dining gastronomers for decades and is still going strong to this day. Good luck getting reservations! (You need to book at least 2 to 4 months in advance for the best chance of getting a table.)
If you can’t manage a reservation at French Laundry or shelling out $400-$500 for a meal is just not in your cards (don’t worry, they’re not in mine either), there are a few other dining options you should consider in Yountville! A few of these include:
Thomas Keller’s more affordable restaurant, Ad Hoc, is my personal favorite. On any given day, you can expect a completely different four-course menu. The meal is meant to be family-style (and a lot more casual than some of the other restaurants here) and shared among the table.
On the day we went, Ad Hoc was serving up pork chops as the main course. We’re not really pork chop people, so we also ordered a side of their famous fried chicken. The entire meal was absolutely delicious and super filling. We had way too much food to take home! Just be wary that the price listed on the menu is per person ($56 per person at the time of writing; we thought it was $56 for the entire “family-style” meal. Not the case!).
EXPLORE THE SHOPS AT V MARKETPLACE
While in Yountville, stroll through The Shops at V Marketplace, featuring upscale boutiques, fine art galleries, and various restaurants. There’s a very large wine store there, which is great for hunting down that perfect bottle of wine to bring home.
Grab some fancy chocolates at Kollar Chocolates on your way out!
Local Tip: Yountville is also home to Music In The Park, a summer series event featuring food trucks and live tunes every Sunday evening (from 5 – 7pm).
VISIT THE NAPA FARMERS MARKET
If you’re visiting the Napa Valley, there’s no better opportunity to sample wine-country life at its most casual form. If you’re a short-term visitor staying at a hotel, you probably don’t need to buy a haul of fresh produce. But don’t let that stop you — there’s so much more to buy and do at the Napa Farmers Market. In addition to fresh produce, meats, and seafood, you can also expect a variety of handmade gift items, prepared foods, clothing, fragrances, jewelry, and more on sale.
Make sure to stop by for a nice coffee and pastry, listen to some live music, and pick up supplies for your picnic later. Plus you’ll be supporting local artisans and the local economy! The Napa Farmers Market takes place at the Napa Valley Expo year-round, every Saturday from 8:30 am until 1:00 pm.
PACK A PICNIC
If you are on a tight budget and still want to eat luxuriously in Napa, try stocking up on some gourmet picnic foods at any one of the markets/grocers in the area. In Napa, it doesn’t take a lot to pack an upscale picnic–you’ll find that lots of markets sell meats, cheeses, and wines! Take your food haul to any of the public parks and enjoy!
My top recommendation for picnic goods? V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena on Highway 29. Here, you’ll be able to try some cheeses before buying, choose a jam or spread to go along with it, and grab a fresh loaf of bread for your picnic. Alternatively, you can order one of their gourmet sandwiches for a more complete meal. There is a huge outdoor picnic area where you can eat your lunch or, on special days, grab some finger-lickin’-good BBQ.
You can also head to Peju in Rutherford for all your picnic needs (pictured below). Not only do they have an excellent shop with meats and cheeses, but they also serve up BBQ in the warmer months! Look at that view, beckoning you to enjoy the outdoors!
OLIVE OIL TASTING
In addition to the endless acres of vineyards, Napa Valley is also home to several olive oil producers. Did you know that the area produces some of the best olive oil (and balsamic vinegar) in the country?
Lucky for us, many are open to the public for tastings, including Round Pond Estate, Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Co., and Long Meadow Ranch. There are also a few storefronts in Downtown Napa that offer free olive oil tasting, as well as The Olive Press in the Oxbow Public Market.
GRAB A BURGER AT GOTT’S
Gott’s Roadside is another quintessential Napa Valley experience that you can’t miss! Whether you’re a Bay Area/Napa local or a tourist, you won’t regret grabbing a burger and a shake at Gott’s. All their locations have outdoor patios, which makes them the ideal spots to grab a bite to eat on a warm day.
Everything will be good here and there will almost always be a line–but it moves fast. Gott’s serves up some of the yummiest hotdogs, onion rings, hand-spun shakes, and cheeseburgers the Bay has to offer.
BRUNCH AT FARMSTEAD AT LONGMEADOW RANCH
I absolutely love everything about Farmstead (their food, their property, and what they stand for). Not only is their food amazingly fresh and delicious, but the lively atmosphere is unbeatable.
They have such picturesque outdoor seating areas, so no matter where you get seated, you’ll be able to enjoy your surroundings. If you head here for dinner, the outdoor patio gets lit up with lights among the trees–just like the ones you see in romantic movies!
Here’s a sample of all the things we’ve eaten at Farmstead in the past. Every single dish was buonissmo.
It doesn’t matter what you get here, everything will be delicious. I am itching to go back ASAP!
EXPLORE ST HELENA’S MAIN STREET
If you’re looking to soak in more of that wine country atmosphere, head to St. Helena’s Main Street. My recommendation would be to make a brunch reservation at Farmstead Restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch, then walk off some of that meal by taking a stroll on Main Street.
Don’t miss Woodhouse Chocolate, featuring a wide variety of chocolate bars and barks, notably one of the best chocolate shops in Napa Valley! My favorite buys at Woodhouse? The cookies and cream chocolate bar and the potato chip milk chocolate bar.
Local Tip: If you happen to be in Napa Valley on a Thursday, check and see if St. Helena’s Summer Concert Series is on. The concerts take place on select Thursdays at Lyman Park.
SEE CALIFORNIA’S OLD FAITHFUL IN CALISTOGA
The small city of Calistoga is best known for its regularly erupting geyser, Old Faithful. A quick fun fact: The other two geysers with the “Old Faithful” title are in Wyoming and New Zealand—how awesome is it that California has one to call our own?
Every 30 minutes, you can catch a glimpse of the erupting steam and water that sprays approximately 60 to 90 feet in the air.
If you are interested in more of the geological history of the valley you can also visit the Petrified Forest in Calistoga.
TAKE A MUD BATH IN CALISTOGA
Aside from Old Faithful Of California, Calistoga’s geothermal activity also makes it one of the best places in the country to receive a luxurious, mineral mud treatment. As such, there are a number of spas and resorts that offer massages, mud baths, pools, and relaxing soaks in hot mineral water. If you’re looking for a little bit of pampering (self-care, couple’s retreat, or girl’s day out) Calistoga is the place to go.
A mud bath typically lasts 10 to 15 minutes and is followed by a shower, a session in a steam room, and a towel down. The whole process is extremely relaxing and can take up to 2 hours. Not a bad way to spend your time in Napa, if I do say so myself!
If you’re down to try a mud bath for yourself, check out spots like Golden Haven Hot Springs and Calistoga Spa Hot Springs.
TAKE A COOKING CLASS OR FOOD TOUR
CIA at Copia is a must-see attraction in Napa. One of its biggest draws is its variety of cooking demonstrations and hands-on cooking classes. If you love to cook or if you are interested in learning how to cook the CIA at Copia has a class for you. Learn new skills with a half-day cooking class, try out a wine and food-paring session or a cocktail-making class, or take the History of Napa Valley in 8 Glasses as an intro to your wine tasting exploration. All classes are led by expert chefs, so you know you’re getting top-quality education.
Two other things not to be missed: The Restaurant at CIA Copia (featuring a farm-driven food menu) and The Store at CIA Copia (offering a range of specialty kitchen and home goods).
And if you are more interested in just eating delicious foods of Napa Valley, book a walking culinary tour with Gourmet Food and Wine Tours to learn and taste all that Napa has to offer! Culinary tours are a great way to learn some history and eat some delicious food while you’re at it.
DINE ON THE NAPA VALLEY WINE TRAIN
The Napa Valley Wine Train is an extremely popular way to relax and enjoy some of Napa Valley’s finest foods! The Wine Train is such a unique experience–where else do you get to eat while enjoying the scenery from restored antique train cars? Admission to the Wine Train means you’ll get to hop aboard the antique railway cars and enjoy a three-hour fine dining meal while you take in the Napa Valley views. Some noteworthy sights along the way include St. Helena, Oakville, Yountville, Rutherford, and Napa.
The Napa Valley Wine Train has both dinner and lunch options and is a truly unforgettable experience in Napa Valley. It’s not exactly cheap, but so luxurious and so worth it! And just so you know, ironically, wine is actually not included unless you opt for a special package.
GO ON A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE
If you’re planning an epic Napa Valley vacation with very special people for a very special event, then this is the perfect activity for you. Discover vineyards, mountains, and city panoramas from the sky on a hot air balloon ride! This is such a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I really can’t think of a better reason to get up at the crack of dawn. Your efforts to get up in the early morning will pay off in bounds when you catch your first glimpse of the entire valley from the Vaca Mountains to the Mayacamas Mountains (and everything in between).
There are lots of ballooning companies to choose from, but this hot air balloon tour comes very highly rated.
HIKE AT BOTHE-NAPA VALLEY STATE PARK
With various state parks and local trails surrounded by vineyard views, there are tons of hiking adventures available for all skill levels. In my opinion, Bothe-Napa Valley State Park stands out from the rest. This 2,000-acre park is the perfect escape into nature. The park offers camping, picnicking, swimming, and more than 10 miles of hiking trails that go through stands of coastal redwoods as well as other local trees. There is a $10 entrance fee.
Local Tip: Come after the rains to see the creek fully flowing; don’t forget to bring a blanket and a picnic!
SEE LINDA FALLS
Linda Falls, just north of St. Helena in the small town of Angwin, is one of Napa Valley’s best-kept secrets. The falls are just a short hike from the trailhead and deliver gorgeous views, especially after recent rainfall. During the rainy season, you’ll find that the water comes rushing over the falls and drops 50 feet. During the dry season, the falls slow down to a trickle, but it’s still a beautiful spot nonetheless.
ENJOY THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Napa Valley is home to some other amazing hikes that allow you to get away from the wine and truly experience the outdoor magic of the valley. If you are looking for a butt-busting challenge, head to Calistoga and take on the Oathill Mine Trail, a 7-mile out and back hike that gains almost 2,000 feet.
If you are looking for something a little more relaxed, take a leisurely hike around Lake Hennessey, or head to Westwood Hills Park for three miles of trails through beautiful groves of oak trees and grassy meadows, as well as expansive views of the city.
If you’d rather enjoy the scenery from your car, take a scenic drive along the Silverado Trail, making sure to stop and picnic at one of the numerous parks. More on this below.
And don’t forget about the Petrified Forest in Calistoga! Walk these trails to witness the splendor of petrified redwood trees that date back to the Pliocene Epoch (3.4 million years ago). The park offers guided tours Wednesday-Sunday (free with admission) and self-guided tours all day long. Admission for adults is $12.
DRIVE OR BIKE THE SILVERADO TRAIL
Constructed in 1852 as the first permanent road linking the 30ish miles between Napa and Calistoga, the Silverado Trail is a scenic alternative to Highway 29. You can either drive along this scenic route or rent a bike and ride the whole way through!
Prestigious wineries on Silverado Trail include Joseph Phelps, ZD Wines, and Signorello Winery. Another plus for Cab enthusiasts: the famous Stags Leap District collection of wineries (Napa Valley’s neighborhood for world-class Cabernet Sauvignon and other big-bodied reds) is located here.
Local Tip: This drive is especially beautiful during golden hour; you’ll get magical views right before the sun sets!
SHOP AT THE NAPA PREMIUM OUTLETS
Take a break from all the eating and outdoor adventuring with a little bit of retail therapy! Napa Premium Outlets is located minutes away from Downtown Napa and features a number of name-brand outlet stores, including Adidas, Cole Haan, Coach, Kate Spade, J. Crew, Michael Kors, Nike, Pendleton, and Gap.
Not the most impressive outlet in the Bay Area, but there are still decent options here (I’d recommend Vacaville Premium Outlets instead).
DAY TRIP TO SONOMA AND SONOMA COUNTY
One of the coolest things about comparing Napa Valley and Sonoma County is that, even though they are a stone’s throw away from each other, each area has its own completely unique feel. While Napa is the more established and higher-end of the two, Sonoma is the more spirited yet laid-back region. It’s the largest county in wine country, and what you’ll find is that there are more intimate, family-run start-up wineries here. Things also tend to cost a lot less here than in the Napa Valley.
A few of my favorite spots to explore include Downtown Sonoma (has a charming historic plaza, gourmet restaurants, and walkable charm), Healdsburg (another super clean and picturesque town with many great restaurants and shops), and Guerneville (a rustic town where river tubing is a popular pastime).
Though Safari West is located in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, it’s such a fun and jam-packed activity that I just had to list it! And it really isn’t too far from the Napa Valley. Safari West truly is one of the rare spots where you can come the closest to Africa without actually going there. You can explore the Sonoma Serengeti on an African wildlife safari during the day, and lay your head to rest in a luxury tent with the animals as your neighbors!
Yes, you can actually spend the night here (full-on glamping with the animals)! I’m stating it now–this is going to be the year where I finally cross this adventure off my bucket list. I’m determined.
At Safari West, there are over 400-acres of wilderness waiting to be explored and over 900 animals spanning 90 different species roaming around the massive enclosures. A few species you can expect to see include giraffes, grey rhinos, ostriches, flamingos, zebras, tortoises, and antelopes. If you’re traveling with family, definitely don’t miss this spot! And if you can afford it, consider spending the night for an unforgettable glamping experience.
OTHER EVENTS IN NAPA VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
- Napa Truffle Festival (January)
- Napa Valley Restaurant Week – discounted menus at some of the area’s top restaurants (late January)
- Yountville International Short Film Festival (February)
- Napa Valley Marathon (March)
- Kendall-Jackson’s farm-to-table dinner series – open-air feasts held at the Kendall-Jackson Estate gardens (early May)
- BottleRock – music festival held each year in Napa (late May)
- Festival Napa Valley (mid-late July)
- Music in the Vineyards (August)
- Sonoma Harvest Music Festival (late September)
- The Napa Valley Film Festival (November)
- Calistoga Holiday Parade (December)
- Winter in the Wineries Passport (early December to early February)
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS FOR NAPA VALLEY, CA
- July is usually the hottest month, with an average high of 83°F (28°C). January is the coldest month, with an average high of 57°F (14°C).
- Traffic can clog up Napa Valley’s highways pretty quickly during peak season. If you don’t want to waste time sitting in traffic, get an early start or go during the low season.
- Wine tasting in Napa Valley can be expensive, and you can expect most wineries to charge at least $35 per flight. However, there are ways to taste wine and stick to your budget. Go wine tasting in Downtown Napa for cheaper tastings (get the Downtown Napa Wine Tasting Card at the Welcome Center for $15, get 50% off at tasting rooms), get the Priority Wine Pass ($40-60 for 400+ wine tasting deals, the best deal here in my opinion), or travel in the winter and opt for the Winter in the Wineries Passport ($60, free tastings at 15+ Calistoga wineries). Tastings are also much cheaper in Sonoma.
- Consider sharing a tasting to save money. Many wineries will offer for you to share a tasting or won’t mind if you ask to do so.
- While most wineries take walk-ins, many are by appointment only. Always check a winery’s website before you actually head there.
- Missed the chance to lock in lunch or dinner reservations? Eat at Gott’s or at Oxbow Public Market. The Oxbow Market is my favorite place to get reasonably-priced food, dessert, and beer.
- Oxbow Public Market also has Happy Hour specials Monday-Thursday evenings and “Locals’ Night” every Tuesday, where merchants offer special items for locals to enjoy.
- On a nice sunny day, consider bringing a picnic lunch with you on your exploration. You’ll be able to save money and enjoy it among the vineyards around you.
- Dressing up for your Napa trip? Make sure you wear the right shoes. Leave the stilettos at home. If you still want to look cute, consider stacked heels or wedges, and be mindful of open-toed shoes (there could be lots of gravel you’ll walk on throughout the valley).
- Bring a packable, lightweight jacket. The temperature cools down quickly, even on warm, sunny days. Something that will protect you from rain will be even better, like this packable windbreaker by Columbia.
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST FOR NAPA VALLEY, CA
- License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
- Roadside Emergency Kit | If you’re renting a car, you never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
- Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road trip, but especially in California Wine Country. How else are you going to keep your meats and cheese cool for your picnic? A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more. If you’re looking for the best cooler technology out there, the Yeti Portable Cooler is top of the line, with ColdCell Insulation that offers superior cold-holding compared to other soft coolers.
- Swiss Army Knife | A multi-tool is great to have in any car, regardless of if you’re going on a road trip or not. It can be useful in so many situations! There have been so many instances where I’ve needed to cut something or open up hard-to-open packaging while away from home, and this has been a lifesaver.
- First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk! Note: This is not the same as the roadside emergency kit.
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Puffy Jacket | If you’re traveling in the fall or wintertime, you’re going to need layers in the valley, which tends to get windy in certain areas. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of adventuring! For protection against potential rain, opt for a packable rain jacket that also serves as a windbreaker.
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Osprey Daylite Daypack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Sunhat | Sun protection is key for any California destination. You’re in fancy Napa Valley, so embrace the ritziness and keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat!
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike or bike ride but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures… the last thing you want is to be driving along with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!