Your First Time To Napa Valley


Ready to take a wine lover’s trip to Napa Valley? We have the perfect itinerary planned for your first-time visit to some of the world’s best wineries.

It can be overwhelming trying to plan a visit to Napa for the first time, with the wide array of wineries to visit and trying to budget for tastings, food, and accommodations. We’ve got you covered with all you need to know for your first time to Napa Valley so you can plan a visit that is a smooth and enjoyable experience.

WHEN TO VISIT NAPA

August-October

  • Harvest season and peak tourist season
  • Most crowded
  • Highest prices
  • Rates lower near October
  • Can catch fall weather and picturesque leaves changing

March-May

  • Beautiful time to visit because spring is in full force
  • Not as much of a crowd
  • Slightly lower rates
  • Milder weather

December-February

  • Chilly
  • Not crowded
  • Lowest rates/most affordable time to visit
  • Can still catch festivals as they happen year-round

Also see our BLOG Post “When Is The Best Time To Visit Napa Valley

GETTING TO NAPA VALLEY

FLYING IN

  • Charles M. Schulz Airport – Sonoma County Airport, Santa Rosa (approx. 47 miles): smaller, regional airport consisting primarily of cheap flights from cities on the west coast and private charter flights
  • Oakland International Airport – Oakland, California (approx. 50 miles): smaller airport, about a 90-minute drive from Napa
  • San Francisco International Airport – San Francisco, California (approx. 57 miles): about 2 hours driving time away from Napa, this airport also includes options to travel to Napa by train or ferry

FERRY CRUISE

If traveling from the San Francisco International Airport, you have the option of arriving to beautiful wine country by the scenic San Francisco to Vallejo Bay Ferry. Catch your ride inside the Ferry Building which can be found on the Embarcadero waterfront, an easy Bay Area Rapid Transit ride from the SFO airport. The Transit center is one block away from the Ferry Terminal. Ferries take off 7 days a week, all year round. Once you have arrived, downtown Napa is just a short Uber or shuttle ride away.

AMTRACK

The Amtrak San Joaquins can be taken from the San Francisco Bay Area as well as the central valley. From either location, you’ll want to take the San Joaquins train to the Martinez station, then transferring onto the Amtrack Thruway Bus 7. You’ll arrive at the Soscol Gateway Transit Center in Napa, which is located right next to downtown Napa, Oxbow Public Market, the Napa Valley Wine Train, and more.

Also, check out our BLOG Post on “What Is The Best Way To Get To Napa Valley

WHERE TO STAY

Napa Valley is a sprawling area of California and is split into several different regions. Not all of them are ones you want to stay in, but the ones we suggest, especially with the following itinerary, are: Napa, Yountville and Calistoga.

Downtown Napa – walking distance to everything

  • Mix of all types of accommodations – chain hotels, local inns, charming B&B’s
  • Great for foodies and walking distance to tasting rooms
  • Close to Sonoma if you want to extend your itinerary
  • Convenient walking distance to many downtown tasting rooms
  • Will experience traffic during peak ours

Yountville – foodies with cars

  • Not many hotel chains
  • Can be pricier due to convenience
  • Great for AirBnB or VRBO stays
  • Quick drive to most wineries

Calistoga – budget friendly and low-key

  • Access to hot springs and mud baths
  • Rustic, old west town feel
  • Less expensive with less traffic
  • Far for those flying in/out of SFO or OAK airports
  • Not many food options (foodies beware)
  • Budget friendly
  • Ranches and Resorts
  •  

GETTING AROUND

As you can see from above, depending on where you stay will depend on what kind of transportation you will need. Staying in downtown Napa, you have access to plenty of tasting rooms within walking distance and are a short bike ride away from wineries that are further out.

If you decide to stay in Yountville or Calistoga, you’ll probably want to rent a vehicle to get around. This will give you the freedom to come and go to whichever wineries you please, versus attempting to rely on Ubers which will get expensive. Shuttles are available in many Calistoga and St. Helena hotels, so that eliminates the need to pay for travel if you’re willing to stay out farther away from downtown Napa. The town of Yountville has a free trolley service that operates every 30 minutes daily (Monday-Saturday 10:00am-11:00 pm, Sunday 10:00am-7:00 pm).

COST OF VISIT TO NAPA

For the most part, the largest expense in visiting Napa is lodging, which can range from around $99-$600 per night. Depending on where around the region you choose to stay, what type of lodging you choose and the time of year you decide to visit will all be determining factors in how expensive your trip is. (Also see “How Much Does It Cost To Visit Napa Valley“)

Staying in the center of Napa where you can still walk downtown to tasting rooms, shops and restaurants will save you on money you might spend renting a car, but will add to higher cost of lodging. If location is not as much of a concern, meaning you’re taking tours that offer transportation or are driving a vehicle, you may find cheaper lodging.

Lodging will be at its highest (and it will be most crowded) August through October. March through May will be a little less expensive and crowded, but like any other travels, going during the low season is your best bang for your buck. (Also see “Where To Stay In Napa Valley“)

If you enjoy the outdoors, Napa has a beautiful landscape to relish in, and there are several state parks and campgrounds nearby to stay in and save on lodging.

Typical wine tastings are around $25/person or wine tours are available for around $80-$199 per person and usually show you 2-4 wineries, including transportation and lunch.

YOUR THREE DAY ITINERARY TO NAPA VALLEY

DAY ONE

Frog’s Leap

Frog’s Leap: Located in Rutherford at the very center of Napa Valley, Frog’s Leap was founded by John Williams in 1981 and has been organically farming wines since 1988. Known for its red barn with a frog weather vane, it was originally a frog farm in the 1800s. They have a wide variety of wines from Cabernet Sauvignon (one of the wine’s the Napa region is known for), Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and several more. The winery is dog and kid friendly and waives one tasting fee for ever 6-bottles purchased.

Tastings:

  • Guided Tour & Tasting: $35/person, M-F 10:30 am and 2:30 pm, by appointment (recommended to book early as this tour is popular)
  • Signature Seated Tasting: $35/person, daily 10:00am-4:00pm, by appointment
  • Garden/Cellar Tasting: $25/person, F-Sun 10:00am-4:00pm, by appointment (very relaxing)

Lunch at Oakville Grocery

Located in St. Helena, Oakville Grocery is the oldest continually operating grocery store in California. Founded in 1881, this genera store that was serving pioneers over a century ago, focuses on sharing local, artisanal food (great for foodies!). This is a great place to stop for lunch, especially if you are a foodie and can appreciate their value of handcraft food products.

  • Open Sun-Th 7:00 am-5:00 pm, Fri-Sat 7:00 am-6:00 pm

Robert Biale Vineyards

Robert Biale: Located just on the outer edge of downtown Napa, this vineyard started in the 1940s where Biale and his mother sold eggs and other produce to locals. They used this to sell their homemade Zinfandel over their “party line”, rebelling against the prohibition. They used the code word “Black Chicken”, which really meant a bootleg bottle of their Zinfandel and is still the name of their flagship wine today. They offer over 20 wines such as their Vineyard Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, with some of them coming from vines that are over 130 years old.

Tastings:

  • Valley Vista Experience: $30/person, (on the back porch)
  • The Zinner Sanctum: $60/person, 24 hours in advance booking
  • Aldo’s House: $75/person, 72 hours in advance booking
  • Founders Tour: $50/person, every Friday at 10:00 am (walking tour great for small groups)

Conn Creek

Conn Creek: Located in St. Helena, Conn Creek started in 1973 as the first “green” winery building in Napa Valley. Their focus is on what Napa is known for Cabernet Sauvignon and different varieties of Bordeaux. What makes Conn Creek Winery unique is their Barrel Blending Experience, a captivating seminar where guests can taste barrel samples and blend their own bottle to take home. Not pet and children friendly.

Tastings:

  • Conn Creek Tasting Room: $25/person, daily 10:30am-4:30 pm (reservations for 6+)
  • Anthology Salon: $45/person, daily 11:00 am and 1:00 pm (up to 8 people)
  • Wine Tasting in the Garden: $25/person, Fri-Sun 10:30am-4:30 pm (Memorial Day-Labor Day Weekend)
  • Barrel Blending Winemaking Experience: $125/person, Sun-T, Th-Sat 10:30 am and 2:00 pm

DAY TWO

ZD Wines

ZD Wines: Located in Rutherford, ZD Wines was founded by the deLeuze family in the 1960s…. Although the Z and D can be found in the deLeuze last name, it most likely stands for “Zero Defects”, a common term used in engineering meaning without flaws. Norman deLeuze and Gin Zepponi, two engineers who founded ZD wines, first started experimenting with winemaking in ’69.

They are very focused on practices that are eco-friendly and organic farming – even being home to owl boxes, chickens, organic gardens, and honey bees on their farms. They are open daily from 10:00 am-4:00 pm and, originally starting with a focus on Pinot Noir, they now also focus on Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tastings

  • Vineyard View: $115/person, by appointment
  • Eco Vineyard: $85/person, by appointment
  • Library Selection: by appointment
  • UnWind Tasting: $40/person, appointment preferred

V Sattui

V Sattui: Located in St. Helena, this is the perfect next stop for a tasting and lunch. Vittorio and Katerina Sattui started their winery in 1885, but quickly shut down because of the Prohibition, reopening in 1976 by Vittorio’s great-grandson Dario. The winery has gone through several name changes and expansions of land, leading V Sattui to win many awards and keep the family passion of Vittorio alive throughout many generations. The focus of V Sattui is on a small lot, high-quality wines using sustainable and organic vineyard practices.

You can also plan to visit the Artisan Deli & Marketplace while you visit and grab everything you need for a feast of a picnic. Panini’s, salads, pasta, 200 different cheeses, house-made charcuterie and desserts are all available to nosh on while enjoying the 2 acres of shaded grounds and Napa Scenery. They also have an underground Barrel Room you can eat lunch in during rainy days while enjoying the aromas of aging wine.

Tastings

  • Marketplace Tasting: $20/person, daily 9:00 am-5:00 pm
  • Reserve Tower Tasting: $40/person, Fri-Sun 10:00 am-4:00 pm, reservation required
  • Terrace Tasting: $45/person, reopening Spring of 2019, reservation required

Frank’s Family Vineyard

Franks Family Vineyward: Located in Calistoga and originally Larkmead Winery, built in 1884, this winery was taken over by Hanns Kornell in 1958 where he introduced the method of making champagne to California. For several decades the winery only produced sparkling wine until it became Frank Family Vineyards in 1992. Frank’s Family owns four separate vineyards, each named after their grandchildren and favorite neighbors.

Tastings take place in the family’s original 1930s pale yellow Craftsman home, where you’ll taste single-vineyard reserve wines only available from the winery. They offer a Reserve Collection, Bubbles Collection, and Napa Valley Collection, all with a diverse range of wines. When visiting for a tasting, make sure to ask for the patio for the best experience.

Tastings

  • Today’s Tasting: $40/person, daily 10:00 am-5:00 pm, reservations required Fri-Sun
  • The Elevated Experience: $85/person, daily 10:00 am-5:00 pm, reservation required

DAY THREE

Chateau Montelena Winery

Chateau Montelena: Located in Calistoga, this hillside winery and castle overlooks a Chinese garden, lake, and vineyards that sprawl out to the bottom of Mount Saint Helena. Chateau Montelena began in 1886 by Alfred Tubbs as the seventh largest winery in Napa. It was shut down during the Prohibition, like many others, and was harvested again in 1933 after the repeal of the Prohibition.

When Chapin Tubbs, Alfred’s grandson, passed in 1947, the winery was not functioning for two decades. It was sold in 1958 to the Franks, originally from Hong Kong, who were inspired to landscape the grounds in a way that reflected the Chinese gardens of his homeland, now known as Jade Lake. Chateau Montelena had a revival once again in the 1970’s when Jim Barrett replanted the vineyard and brought in modern winemaking equipment.

Finally, in 1972, wines were made for the first time. Chateau Montelena “put Napa on the map” after participating in a blind tasting test called “The Judgement of Paris” in 1976, making California known for some of the world’s finest wines. Chateau Montelena was even portrayed in the 2008 film Bottle Shock, which reenacts the events of the winery’s Chardonnay winning over French wine.

Tastings

  • Taste of Montelena bar tasting: $30/person, daily 9:30 am-4:00 pm
  • The Barrett Dream: $95/person, 10:00 am and 2:00 pm
  • Library Tasting: $60/person, M-F 2:00pm, Sat-Sun 10:00am and 2:00pm
  • Estate Tour: $50/person, M-F 10:00 am
  • San Francisco Tasting Room: $30/person, 1:00 pm-8:00 pm
  • Vineyard Tour: $60/person, M-F 10:00 am

Yountville Deli

Yountville Deli: Open 6:00 am-3:00 pm daily, Yountville Deli is the perfect stop for a quick and refreshing lunch before carrying on with your third day of touring Napa’s best wineries. Sure, there are plenty of fabulous, amazing restaurants in the area, but Yountville Deli is the perfect casual lunch that is still high quality. They pride themselves on fresh ingredients and offer build-your-own and specialty sandwiches, pasta salad, and box lunches. Order at the deli counter or online.

Castello di Amorosa

Located in Calistoga, Castello di Amorosa came about when fourth generation winemaker Dario Sattui of the V. Sattui Vineyard decided to build a 13th century Tuscan Castle. Why? He grew up in the family’s winery dreaming of reviving it as it had been shut down due to the prohibition. This, along with his passion for medieval architecture is what inspired the building of the castle. Construction began in 1994 and opened to the public in 2007 after 15 years of construction.

The castle spans over 3 acres including 107 rooms, a moat, drawbridge, five towers, courtyards, an armory, and even a torture chamber. The focus here is on classically structured Italian-style wines that showcase the climate and terrain of each vineyard site the family has. It is through a balance of traditional approaches and modern techniques that make the Castello di Amorosa wines well-balanced and unique in flavor.

Tastings

  • Standard Tasting: $30/person, daily 10:00 am-5:00pm (winter), 9:30 am-6:00 pm (March-October), children allowed for $20
  • Guided Tour and Premium Tasting: $45/person, $45/person, reservations recommended
  • Diamond Estate Tour and Reserve Wine Tasting: $60/person, adults only, up to 12 guests
  • Cheese and Wine Pairing Tour: $75/person, reservations recommended
  • Royal Food and Wine Pairing Tour: $95/person, reservations required (one of “Wine Country’s Best” by Fodor’s Travel)

Beringer Winery

Located in St. Helena, Beringer is California’s oldest, continually operating winery. It has been Napa’s benchmark producer since 1876 and could be considered an American icon. The vineyards opened in 1879 and Frederick Beringer began construction in 1883 of the Rhine House mansion, which was recreated in honor of the family’s home along the Rhine River. This winery was one of the first to promote wine tourism by hosting public tours after the prohibition’s repeal, allowing the winery to be on the leading edge of the wine industry, even still today.

Tastings

  • Old Winery Tasting Room: $25/person, S un-Thu 10:30 am-4:30 pm, Fri-Sat 10:30 am-5 pm
  • Legacy Cave Tours: $30/person, daily
  • Reserve Tasting Bar in the Rhine House: $40/person, daily (walk-ins welcome until 4:45 pm)
  • Taste of Beringer Tour: $55/person, 10:30 am, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm, reservations required
  • A Sweet Escapade: $65/person, daily 4:00 pm
  • Rhine House Private Seated Tasting: $75/person, reservations required
  • Library Tasting: $125/person, reservations required

RELATED QUESTIONS

What else is there to do in Napa besides wine tastings?

Yes, if you find yourself ‘all wined out’, there are other options for activities in Napa. Take a bike ride outside of town and view the amazing landscape of this region. There are a number of art studios and art walks in Napa to enjoy, along with innovative, culinary experiences to try such as chocolate making and olive oil tasting.

What is the weather like in Napa during tourist season?

Even if you decide to visit Napa during the low season (winter), the weather is generally pretty mild. You shouldn’t run into too much rain or weather that goes below the mid-’50s. August through October tends to be in the low to high 70s, March through May around the mid-’60s to low 70s

Are there tickets or tours available to purchase winery tours at several locations?

Yes, companies such as Cellarpass offer bulk ticketing or Passports that, for a one-time fee, give you complimentary tastings to a long list of Napa wineries.  

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