The Best Things To Do During a Trip To Napa Valley, According to Local Winemakers
Skip that “Sideways”-inspired schedule and fill your next Napa trip with these expert tips.
Napa Valley, aka the adult version of Disneyland for wine aficionados, is best known as a travel destination that’s ideal for experiencing California’s greatest grapes. (I mean, it is the holy grail of Cabernet Sauvignon, right?) But while enjoying fine wine is undeniably the highlight of the Napa experience, there’s plenty of other activities to indulge in when you’re not touring wineries.
“I always recommend having a basic plan in place and making reservations in advance,” says Matt Crafton, head winemaker at Chateau Montelena. “Most wineries, hotels, and restaurants are small and they may not be able to accommodate you on short notice. So book well ahead if there’s something you absolutely want to see or do. Just don’t overcommit or overschedule. Stick with two to three wineries per day and fill the gaps as they come up.”
Grab a Drink at Goose and Gander in St. Helena
“To unwind, I really like the basement bar at Goose and Gander in St. Helena,” says Crafton. “They have the best Old-Fashioned around and the feel is just dive-y enough.” Aside from the basement bar, the restaurant itself has an extensive wine list that features a local winemakers, as well as stellar cocktails. Get the standout G&G Burger or a nice, juicy steak–both perfect pairings for a quality Napa Cab, or Pinot Noir.
Dine in Downtown Napa
“Downtown Napa is really thriving, and while visitors are coming to Napa Valley for wine tastings and vineyard tours, they find themselves exploring the restaurants and downtown nightlife,” says Joe Wagner, winemaker at Böen. “At the end of my day, my favorite thing to do is split a few bottles of Böen Pinot Noir with friends at the bar at Avow Restaurant, which just recently opened in July.”
Take a Sky-High Balloon Ride
If you and your significant other would like to share some unparalleled views of the Napa Valley together, this experience is definitely worth looking into, says Elizabeth DeLouise-Gant, head winemaker at Conn Creek Vineyards. Calistoga Balloons are the only company providing flights in the northern part of the Napa Valley. Expect to see Mt. St. Helena, the tallest mountain in the valley, Palisade Cliffs, California Old Faithful Geyser and the Petrified Forest. You’ll also float over famous vineyards such as Chateau Montelena, Sterling, Castello di Amorosa and Charles Krug to name a few.
Stay at the Solage Auberge Resort
The Solage Auberge Resort in Calistoga has a farm-fresh restaurant, Solbar, with an unbeatable brunch menu,” says Wagner. “The resort is a great Napa Valley getaway spot, and after brunch you can take a soak in the mineral pools at the spa.” Not a bad way to close out your wine-drenched Napa trip.
Get Stuffed At Oxbow Market
“It’s patently difficult to find a bad meal here,” says Crafton. “I have little kids so we tend to frequent places like the Oxbow Market in Napa that offer plenty of food choices along with a lively atmosphere. Calistoga embodies easy-going, small town charm and offers an excellent variety of cuisines as well.”
Indulge In a ‘Private’ Tasting at Joseph Phelps Vineyards
“A visit to Joseph Phelps Vineyards for the Insignia Retrospective experience is really an opportunity to taste through the history of this wine in a semi-private library setting,” says Ashley Hepworth, winemaker at Joseph Phelps Vineyards. “I also like that guests are invited to visit the barrel room for a tasting of an aging Insignia straight from the barrel. It solidifies the past, present and future aspect of our winemaking.” Make sure to book your visit ahead of time, and keep in mind that this luxe tasting is priced at $275 per person.
Explore the Town of Yountville
“[In Yountville, you’ll find that] Michelin-starred restaurants, award-winning tasting rooms, world-class art, fine accommodations, and incredible natural surroundings are all within walking distance,” according to Yountville’s town website. Whether or not you decide to book your stay in this charming Napa Valley town, it’s worth visiting for the wide range of casual activities available. “My family loves to pick up macaroons from the bakery or a gelato on a sunny day,” says Marcus Notaro, winemaker Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
Rent Bikes and Pedal Along the Napa River
According to Napa Valley Bike Tour’s website, “With two full-service bike rental shop locations and a full range of high-quality Specialized brand hybrid, tandem, carbon-fiber road bikes, electric bikes and kids’ bike rental options, Napa Valley Bike Tours & Rentals is unrivaled when it comes to the level of services we offer.” Make your way from Yountville up north, all the way to downtown Napa to experience the beautiful views of the valley, while ending up at a local eatery or tasting room, James Hall, founder of winery Patz & Hall, recommends. Sometimes, you’ve gotta #EarnYourBooze.
Go Hiking in Skyline Park
For the adventurous souls, Skyline Park has 25 miles of paths for hiking or biking. Ride the park’s multi-use main gravel road and most multi-use single track trails as well. If biking if your jam, the trails are also shared with hikers and equestrians, and most trails in the park require intermediate to advanced mountain biking skills, so this is only for experienced bikers, according to Hall. But when in Napa, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a wine-and-cheese fueled picnic, especially when you’re sharing it with someone special.