Photo Source: Artesa Winery
If you haven't visited Napa Valley before, it can be a little overwhelming for some. From miles of wineries, seemingly endless restaurant choices, and lodging options that can range from budget to over-the-top luxury, planning the perfect vacation to Napa Valley can at first seem daunting. How do you know where to go, where to stay, and what restaurants are the best?
Here are a few tips to get you started on your way to planning the perfect Napa Valley vacation.
Choosing the Right Season
If you don't mind busy tasting rooms and higher-priced hotels, it's not bad to visit Napa during peak periods like crush season, when the wineries harvest the grapes. There is no shortage of things to do, whether it's special crush events, dinners, or barrel tastings.
If you prefer a more low key wine experience, consider visiting during winter. The vines are dormant and the valley won't be as scenic, but it's still beautiful. The weather is cool, the hotels less expensive and you won't be elbow-to-elbow in many of the tasting rooms.
Where to Stay
When considering the Napa Valley as a whole, you'll find that it's quite large and driving back and forth can take a long time, especially during weekends with a lot of traffic. If you're certain you want to visit one specific area of the Napa Valley, look for lodging in that area. It's not ideal to stay south of Napa itself if you're planning all your visits up north in Calistoga.
Planning Your Winery Visits
While most Napa Valley wineries take walk-in visitors, some of the more boutique wineries and specialty producers may require reservations. If you pick up a Napa Valley guide from any winery or most hotels, it will tell you which ones are open for walk-in tastings, which accept no visitors and which require a reservation.
Those that require reservations can be booked up well in advance, so don't expect to always pick up the phone as you're driving down the highway and be able to to get in.
When you're visiting a winery, strike up a conversation with the tasting room staff. Ask for recommendations - often times they have discount tickets, can make reservations or will recommend a lesser-known spot you might not have heard of otherwise.
Despite the fact that most people visit Napa Valley for the wine, there are some cool sites that don't involve drinking any wine.
Some wineries have incredible grounds worth exploring from art exhibits to medieval artifacts. Some personal favorites include Castello di Amoroso and Clos Pegase. Napa is also home to a number of hiking and biking trails. There are guided tours, or you can venture out on many of the trails on your own.
If you're looking for some relaxation and pampering, you can book a special mud treatment in Calistoga, famed for its natural hot springs. If you're into gastronomy, consider a cooking class or farmer's market visit. Be sure to check out downtown Napa's Oxbow Market, a fun place to pick up everything from locally produced olive oils to renowned cheeses from the coastal areas of Northern California.
If you're hoping to hit one of Napa Valleys better-known restaurants, you'll need to plan in advance. Especially during peak times, reservations at many popular Napa Valley restaurants may be hard to come by. If you're planning far enough ahead, book your table as soon as you have your dates.
Always have a designated driver if you're exploring Napa Valley by car and plan to do any wine tasting. Other options are a private driver, organized tour, or the Napa Wine Train. If you plan to have wine with dinner, find out what the rate for a taxi back and forth would be. Your Roam Right travel policy won't cover any losses that arise as a result of alcohol use, so plan in advance!
Have you been to Napa Valley? What did you do there?
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