The Ultimate Napa Valley Vacation

United States » Napa

By Sarah Johnson

We will help you eat and drink your way through Napa Valley, which is the only way to do it.

Quick Hits Too busy to read it all? We have some highlights here

  • Eat...

    dinner at Redd

  • Lunch...

    Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch or Gott's Roadside (if you need a burger fix)

  • Breakfast...

    Model Bakery in St. Helena

  • Sleep...

    at the Hotel Yountville

  • Splurge...

    a driver to take you around to all the wineries for the day

  • Visit...

    Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley which is a tasting room and art gallery

  • See...

    the hot air balloons rising in the morning around Napa

  • Shop...

    in St. Helena and shop for wine at all the wineries

  • Tip...

    Check out the Oakville Grocery, for a picnic sandwich or some tasty nibbles

My Happy Place

Napa Valley is a beautiful stretch of farm land located an hour north of San Francisco and it is one of the most incredible and unique places in the world. The climate is one of the things that sticks out to you when you get to Napa, as it is very hot during the day, and very cool at night. This actually is one of the reasons its so great for growing grapes! The large differences in temperature "stress" the grapes and result in some of the best vino in the world.

The history of Napa is also very interesting, as it has survived many threats to its existience from prohbition to grape killing parasites. Despite these obstacles, it competes as one of the best wine producing areas in the world. In fact, Napa really got on the map when a couple of its top wineries beat out the french in the "Judgement of Paris", a blind tasting event that shocked the wine world and solidified Napa's position as one of the best wine countries around.

My husband and I got married in Napa Valley in 2015 and as you can imagine the place is near and dear to my heart. We got to spend a lot of time out there planning the wedding and found some incredible restaurants, markets, shops, local watering holes and of course, wineries. I want to share with you a little bit of the magic that we experience out there.

Getting There

Napa is about an hour and a half (depending on the traffic) from the San Francisco International airport, and it is a lovely, easy drive. I would highly recommend checking our Silvercar for a car rental, as you need a car to get around Napa. Silvercar offers a fleet of silver Audi A4s that are perfect (and somehow less expensive than a honda civic from hertz) for cruising around in style in Napa.

Where To Start

If you like wine, and I do, then you want to plan way ahead in terms of the wineries you go to. The busiest times of year are around the harvests which happen in May and October, but regardless the time of the year, there are some wineries where you will need to make a reservation. Here is a link to a great map with a lot of top wineries in Napa. It can be overwhelming, but we will try to help by walking you through some of our favorites.

The Must See Drink

There are some famous wineries in Napa that are touristy, but the wine is good and they are definitely worth visiting. Chateau Montelena (which was one of the wineries in the "Judgement of Paris" mentioned above) is an old building that looks like a castle which has a beautiful japanese garden attached to it. Their wines are delicious and the entire experience here is very special. Plumpjack is a much smaller winery that has a really cute little garden, and delicious wines. Clos Pegase is another must visit, with a huge tasting room and beautiful garden. Robert Sinskey is another great winery with a fun old tasting room, and again, incredible wines (we are on their wine list!). Etude, which is located right by Downtown Napa is one of our favorite wines, which alone makes it worth the visit.

Finally, the absolute must see, is Ma(i)sonry in Yountville. Maisonry is a cute little house right in Yountville that has a fantastic outdoor area and the best wine tasting I have ever done (three times). They have relationships with a bunch of top wine producers and their staff are truly expert at figuring out how to blow your mind with wine suggestions. 

You can't go wrong with many of the wineries in Napa, sometimes we would just walk into places off the street and that was just as fun as the reservations we had. We have more info on the wineries above and also some other great spots we found.

The Hotels

Perfect Couples Vacation

Napa Valley is one of the most romantic destinations around, but you can't go wrong whether you are planning a couples vacation or a trip with friends. There are a wide array of options, but if you are going to visit around harvest or "crush" as it is referred to, be prepared to pay top dollar. The places below are our favorites, but there are also some affordable options like the Sunburst in Calistoga and then the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs.

Auberge du Soleil

The "Creme De La Creme" of Napa hotels, Auberge redefines luxury and opulence to a whole new level. The setting of this hotel up on a hill looks out over the beautiful valley below and makes for a stunning setting. The hotel staff are incredibly friendly, the restaurants top notch and the rooms beautiful (ours came with a fireplace). All the amenities you could want, this hotel is truly special.

Hotel Yountville

Possibly our favorite hotel, the Hotel Yountville perfectly balances luxury with cozy at this fantastic property. Although its not as breathtaking or as beautiful as Auberge, the rooms at this hotel are awesome . The four post bed, with fireplace and big soaking tub in the middle of the room made it one of the coolest hotel rooms we have ever stayed in. It felt like home and incredibly fancy all at the same time. Yountville is also a perfect location to see the whole of Napa Valley, which is an added bonus of staying here.

Solage Calistoga

Solage is a five minute walk from downtown Calistoga and its a fantastic and beautiful property. Its proximity to Calistoga is a big plus, and its onsite restaurant is amazing. The pool is also very cool, and the rooms here feel like private villas.

The Food

So Much Food, So Little Time

If food is your thing, then Napa is your place. Every meal we had was a culinary masterpiece and it was impossible to stay "on diet", Napa has several famous restaurants, many of which we tried out, and eveywhere we went we were consistently impressed. Similar to the wineries, make sure you make reservations before as many of the top restaurants are packed all year round.

Auberge du Soleil

Spectacular views and an amazing seasonal French-California menu at this fancy restaurant at Auberge du Soleil. They have a more casual restaurant on site as well and a place to grab a cocktail before dinner.

Redd

Elegant Californian cuisine with Asian accents served either inside or on their lovely patio which has a fireplace. This restaurant is beloved by locals and tourist alike and is one of your favorite spots for dinner in the valley.

Solbar

Amazing for lunch and dinner - we have had some fantastic meals at Solbar. Diner inside or out both are beautiful and they offer a "healthy menu" and a "not healthy menu". Go not healthy.

Gott's Roadside

Grab a picnic table and order some burgers, fries and maybe a beer then enjoy this awesome spot. Super old school burger joint, its the perfect place for a lazy afternoon.

Tra Vigne

A relaxed Italian restaurant with a lovely garden serving the most incredible hand pulled mozzarella ever, an array of delicious appetizer and entrees along with delicious wood-fired pizzas. A great family friendly spot for lunch and dinner.

Bouchon

A fantastic french bistro in Yountville, that is one of our favorite spots to stop in for lunch. Great bakery next door for coffee and breakfast treats. Pro-Tip: A great spot for lunch after wine tasting at Ma(i)sonry.

Oakville Grocery

Great gourmet market with prepared food, sandwiches, meats and cheeses. Perfect for provisioning for a picnic or stop for a bit to eat.

Model Bakery

Get a breakfast sandwich on an english muffin or any of their delicious pastries. This place smells so good it almost hurts walking buy and not getting something delicious.

Must See

Wineries! Though if wine isn't your thing Napa Valley offers an array of other activities. 

Plumpjack

We love Plump and this has only been one of my favorite wineries to visit. The wines are all incredible and I love the laid back atmosphere as you taste and relax outside as well as the beautiful grounds.

Ma(i)sonry

An amazing winery collective and contemporary art gallery, featuring private boutique wine tastings in a beautiful wine country setting! Reservations are needed for this incredible wine tasting experience.

Hot Air Balloon Ride

The picture says it all, check out http://nvaloft.com/ for more details.

Cade Winery

The views alone are enough reason to visit this gorgeous winery. The winery is also LEED Gold–certified winery. They have a lovely outdoor area where you can enjoy some of their incredible wines.

Etude Winery

Incredible winery with some of the most delicious wines in a beautiful setting. Great intimate experience and their Pinot Noir is amazing.

Robert Sinskey

Organic Winery known for their delicious reds served in a lovely tasting room with small bites to eat.

Frog's Leap

Frog's Leap is one of California's most iconic wineries and is also dedicated to organic farming and sustainable living.

Hall Winery

Love this winery and the perfect place after to sit out on their porch or walk the grounds while enjoying some wine. We even used their private room for a wine tasting during our wedding weekend for all our friends

Newton Vineyard

Great wines, beautiful English Garden and a lovely spot to visit.

Domaine Chandon Winery

Domaine Chandon is a landmark winery and an excellent first stop in the Valley or in the morning! We did an amazing sparkling wine tasting and the grounds of the winery are stunning. You could easily pass the time walking around the property, sipping bubbly or indulging in some of their delicious looking food. You are able to purchase different wine flights here or buy the bottle and find a spot outside to enjoy the sparkling wines.

Domaine Carneros

We love to make this our first stop to have some bubbly after leaving San Fransisco bound for the Valley. Founded by the noble family behind Champagne Taittinger, they found this parcel of land in 1987 and thus began Domaine Carneros.

Clos Pegase

Contemporary winery with beautifully maintained grounds and delicious wine.

Must Drink

Goose and Gander

Delicious cocktails and in the winter head to the cozy bar downstairs

Archetype

great brunch scene. great drinks