As some of you may know my first trip to Napa was totally impromptu. Let’s just say that in the end, we had to pull off the side of the road and sleep in the car because we could not find a vacancy. This was partially due to our complete lack of planning on our part concurring the same weekend as BottleRock. Here I’m going to try to help navigate where to stay in the valley and the pros and cons of each geographic area. (Oh yeah, BottleRock is May 24-26, 2019 so plan accordingly.)
Where should you stay in Napa CA? There are four major areas to find lodging in the valley: American Canyon, Napa, Yountville, and Calistoga.
Below I am going to outline the pros and cons of each region in terms of location, activities, food, and the potential for traffic. Hopefully, this information will help you determine which area best suits your needs during your upcoming trip to Napa Valley. The list below details the pros and cons of each town from south to north along CA-29.
American Canyon CA:
- The pros-one thing you may notice in a cursory search for accommodations is that all of the tried and true hotel chains are not present in Napa proper. However, they are available in American Canyon. Here you will find the Holiday Inn, Fairfield, Marriot, and Best Western, making it a budget-friendly option. One travel agency quoted me a 300$ per night savings when looking at lodging options between American Canyon and further up the valley. Which is serious money to a freelance writer/ wino. (I would just leave with more bottles so it would be a wash.)
- Cons- There are probably some locals or seasoned Napa visitors who are reading this and yelling ‘NOOOOOOOO it’s not Napa!” at the computer. With complete transparency and brutal honesty, it is a suburb and has all the drawbacks one associates with a suburb: traffic and it can be uninspiring. As for the traffic (and there will be traffic) you can expect to experience traffic on CA-29 around 10:00 am going north and then again when everyone is headed back around 5:00 pm. If you know this in advance you can try to avoid the worst of it. As for the cuteness factor, it’s not quite as charming as Napa but if you go in knowing that there is a tradeoff, you won’t be disappointed.
Summary: It really is a cost/benefit analysis on whether or not American Canyon is the right choice for you. If you are looking for a romantic getaway with vineyard views this maybe not the best option. However, if you are looking to free up more of your budget for wine/tastings/food/activities it could be a good option for you.
- Pros- As you work your way north you improve your commute into wine country. A huge plus is that you are staying in a beautiful location with improved access to great food and some chain hotels are available (Springhill, Westin, Marriot etc.). In Napa, you start to get a great mix of local hotels, inns, and B&Bs to choose from depending on the charm factor you are looking for. Conveniently, there are more than a dozen tasting rooms located in Napa. Plus if you plan to make a trip to Sonoma part of the experience, Napa is probably the closest in proximity.
- Cons- In Napa proper, you are still a little south of the main bulk of wineries so there will be some traffic on your way to and from wineries at peak hours.
Summary: Napa is a foodie mecca with great access to activities and is within walking distance to tasting rooms. Additionally, Sonoma is a relatively short distance away.
- Pros- Yountville is centrally located with great access to wineries and dining options. The improved traffic conditions and charm of the area make this a great place to set up your home base while visiting Napa. You are a quick drive to most wineries and Sonoma wineries are within a reasonable distance if you are looking for a break from Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Cons- Not many hotel chain options and there is an increase in price due to the increase in convenience. Here we recommend looking into AirB&B or VRBO options as a good way to combat some of the increased expense. A quick review of AirB&B showed some really cute places for completely reasonable prices.
Summary: Yountville is more centrally located so the time spent traveling is reduced. It has an abundance of great food and things to do but can be more expensive.
- Pros- The access to geothermal hot springs is a major plus to staying in Calistoga. Many people say that Calistoga has more of small-town rustic vibe than Napa. Think low key old west town with pretty spectacular views. Because the town is located north of Napa Valley it tends to be a less expensive place to stay with the added benefit of less traffic. If you want to visit Healdsburg, the Russian River, Dry Creek, or the Alexander Valley as well as the upper Napa Valley, then Calistoga would be a better choice.
- Cons- You are north of the valley so if you are flying out of San Fransisco International (SFO) Airport or Oakland International Airport (OAK) your trip will be about 40 min longer. Calistoga does not have a wide variety of food options, (see our article on eating in Calistoga) so if you are a foodie head to Napa. If you want to visit Sonoma, Calistoga is a little bit a trek but doable (45min-1hr)
Summary: Calistoga is a budget-friendly option that is conveniently located north of the major traffic areas. As an added plus they are known for their geothermal hot springs and small-town charm.
In all truth, there is not “bad” option when choosing an area to stay during your visit to Napa Valley. Everything is within driving distance, with the added benefit that there are wineries conveniently interspersed throughout the drive. I don’t know about you but the idea of “traffic” and “commute” is made a little more palatable when I know that you can stop and enjoy a wine tasting at any point during the trip (you can’t do that in LA or Atlanta). All it takes is a little planning and you can experience all of the positives each town has to offer.
You kind of half to view Napa Valley as the geographical version of brussel sprouts- when served by itself it can be an unpleasant experience but if you add bacon your opinion changes. It’s all about perspective, bacon and wine people.
Jokes aside, it really depends on the type of experience you are looking for and your budget. If you are looking for a foodie experience- Napa and Yountville are great. If you are a broke wine writer-American Canyon or Calistoga are for you. Does the idea of a low key-rustic weekend with mud baths interest you- Calistoga is your place. Do you want walking access to lots of activities- Napa is probably your best bet.
I hope you find the summary of pros and cons I outlined above helpful in planning your next trip to Napa.
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