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Planning your Napa Valley Itinerary?
I’ve got you covered with this guide to the perfect Napa Valley itinerary! Napa Valley is rich with fabulous food, scenery, and of course, wine! If you’re planning a weekend in Napa, it can be tough to figure out how to fit everything in to your Napa itinerary, so here’s the lowdown on exactly how to plan your days for an amazing first time in Napa Valley. I’ll show you how to plan a Napa Valley wine trip that you’ll remember forever. And if you’re interested in checking out the area further, you’ll love my guide to the best wine tasting in Sonoma.
- Planning A Trip to Napa Valley
- Where to Stay in Napa
- The Perfect Napa Valley Itinerary
- Napa Valley Itinerary Map
- Napa Valley Travel Tips
- What To Pack for Napa Valley
- Frequently Asked Questions About Planning a Trip to Napa Valley
My long weekend in Napa Valley a few weeks ago was a dream. Sweet sunny days, lazy poolside afternoons, and so much food and wine I barely fit into my jeans on the way home. In other words: a perfect trip.
It definitely didn’t start out that way. Planning the perfect Napa Valley itinerary took some work, so I’m here to help you plan your trip based on everything I learned! If you’re spending a weekend in Napa Valley, this guide will walk you through exactly what to do every step of the way.
Planning A Trip to Napa Valley
When I started planning our trip to Napa, I was completely OVERWHELMED. So many wineries, so many restaurants, so many towns, and everyone I talked to either told me to go/stay/eat/drink somewhere different than the person before, or advised me to just “drink what I like”.
Well….I just like drinking wine.
Truthfully, I’m not super picky. I mean…I can taste the difference between boxed wine and “good” wine, but that’s about it. What can I say, I have a Midwestern palette.
But there were So. Many. Options. Where to stay, what to eat, what to drink, what to do.
So finally, I sat down with someone I know who has been to Napa a zillion times and who is usually spot-on in terms of recommendations. He pretty much planned most of the trip, and put together an amazing Napa itinerary. True to form, everywhere he recommended was fantastic.
So I wanted to pay it forward in this post in case anyone else out there experiences Napa planning anxiety! Here’s a little peek into our long weekend Napa Valley itinerary to keep in your back pocket for inspiration the next time you’re headed to wine country.
Pro Travel Tip: These days, travel can be more uncertain than ever. Check for any COVID-related restrictions at your destination, and never travel without travel insurance! I recommend SafetyWing, because they have flexible + affordable insurance plans, and also cover COVID-related impacts on your trip (not all companies do)!
Where to Stay in Napa
One of the first things to figure out when planning your Napa itinerary is where to stay. Be ready for PLENTY of options!
Napa Valley is home to some incredible resorts. There are so many that it can honestly be difficult to pick the best hotel or vacation rental. And what’s even more of a challenge is deciding what area in Napa Valley to stay.
Yountville is a Perfect Home Base
For this Napa Valley itinerary, I recommend staying in Yountville. Staying in Yountville is the perfect choice for your first time in Napa for a few reasons.
First, Yountville is very central to the entire Napa Valley region. You can easily head north to Saint Helena or Calistoga, or south to Carneros and downtown Napa.
Secondly, there are SO MANY wonderful restaurants in Yountville. This quaint town is home to all kinds of amazing places to eat: from Michelin-starred fine dining to casual-but-delicious wood fired pizza.
Finally, Yountville is quite walkable. If you decide to go without wheels for the day (not a bad idea in wine country!), you can easily visit plenty of wineries, tasting rooms, shops and restaurants.
The Best Places to Stay in Yountville
If you’re sold on staying in Yountville, here are my top picks for hotels:
Best overall: Hotel Yountville. Once you check into the Hotel Yountville, you should understand that you will probably never want to check out. The gorgeous outdoor pool, cozy fireplaces, and complimentary bicycles leave you wanting for nothing during your stay.
Best Home-away-from-home: The Estate Yountville. Guests at The Estate truly feel at home with complimentary breakfasts, a welcome glass of wine, and even a winery partnership program offering guests discounts on tastings at participating vineyards.
Best romantic escape: Maison Fleurie. If you’re looking for the charm of a B&B with the amenities of a boutique hotel, you’ll love Maison Fleurie. The gorgeous garden setting is incomparable, and with only 13 rooms, each guest is treated like family.
The Perfect Napa Valley Itinerary
Now that you’ve got your Napa accommodations figured out, let’s get to planning!
For this 3 day Napa Valley itinerary, you’ll visit some of Napa’s most charming towns, taste the area’s best local wines, and soak up the culture of being in wine country.
This guide is the perfect plan for how to spend a long weekend in Napa!
Pro tip: before you head to Napa, get yourself one of these. Less than ten bucks and I promise you’ll need it on your weekend in Napa!
All set? Here we go…
Napa Itinerary Day 1: Hotel Yountville, Bouchon, Bubbly & Bottega
Start off the day with brunch at Bouchon Bistro and come hungry. The fried chicken and waffles are OMG amazing, and if you have room for the cheese plate – do it.
Yountville Boutiques + Domaine Chandon
Walk off brunch by strolling through the shops in adorable downtown Yountville and then walk over to Domaine Chandon for some sparking wine tasting to toast the beginning of an awesome weekend.
For the afternoon, head back to the hotel to grab their free bikes and take an afternoon ride along the bike path that runs right through Yountville.
If you’re in the mood for a snack, return your bikes and head up to Oakville Grocery, located just north of the downtown Yountville area.
This gourmet grocery store is a Napa Valley institution. Founded in 1881, it is the oldest continually operating grocery store in California.
It’s the perfect place to pick up picnic fare, snacks, or even wine by the bottle. If you’re in the mood to do more wine tasting, you can sample a number of different local wines….on tap!
Once you’re ready for dinner, head to Bottega for some delicious Italian food.
If you’re not tired after dinner, the bar at Bottega is a lot of fun late-night. Otherwise, call it a night and prepare for another day of indulgence ahead!
Napa Valley Itinerary Day 2: Bring on The Food & Wine
For the second day of your weekend in Napa, you’ll visit some of the area’s most charming vineyards, and – you guessed it – sample some more delicious food.
Start your day at Bouchon Bakery – located right next to the Bouchon restaurant itself and home to delicious pastries and also caffeine (the breakfast of champions).
Frog’s Leap Winery
After breakfast, drive north to Frog’s Leap, one of the most adorable family-owned wineries I’ve ever visited.
During your visit, you can enjoy tasting their wines on their back porch overlooking their garden and stroll through the barns that house their barrels.
If he’s around, you can also say hi to John, the owner, who’s probably keepin’ in real by grilling lunch for everyone and hanging out with his dog Abbie. Check out his story and get a glimpse of his personality here – it’ll make you love their wine even more.
Rustic setting at Frog’s Leap
Sky full of stars: a pretty peek into one of the barns
Roll out the barrels!
John, the owner of Frog’s Leap, grillin’ up a storm
Inside the Frog’s Leap farmhouse
Walk off lunch with a wander through town and stop at Woodhouse Chocolate for a chocolate or two. YUM.
Culinary Institute of America
For a really unique foodie experience in St Helena, you can also enjoy a meal at the Culinary Institute of America.
Located on the campus, the Gatehouse Restaurant showcases the work of the institute’s students once they have completed two years of training. The menus are seasonal and absolutely delicious!
If you’re in the mood for more of a casual lunch, check out Gott’s Roadside. It doesn’t get any better than a Gott’s famous cheeseburger, but if you’re looking for something healthier they have great salads, too.
Nickel & Nickel
For the afternoon, head back south to Nickel & Nickel for a tour and tasting. This is one of the best tours in Napa and they’ll take you down into their wine caves that run below the property.
Nickel & Nickel makes an amazing Cabernet Sauvignon wine. The wine is spendy but all the more reason why it’s fun to taste.
Beautiful buildings at Nickel & Nickel
So pretty and peaceful on the back patio
Napa Itinerary Day 3: Darioush & More Bubbly
If you can manage to eat more in the morning (then I know we’ll be friends), grab more pastries and coffee from Bouchon Bakery (once you start, you can’t stop).
READ MORE: The Perfect San Francisco Itinerary for a 3 day trip
For the last day of your weekend in Napa Valley, you’re headed south. Drive to Darioush, a winery on the Silverado Trail with the most striking and dramatic architecture you will see anywhere in Napa.
Yes, you will probably think you’re arriving at a theme park when you show up. Taste the wines at the bar and then wander around the main area – where you can buy the wine (obvs) as well as other cute little gifts.
Afterwards, head further south over to the Carneros region, the jumping off point for most visitors to Sonoma County. For your first stop, check out Domaine Carneros to taste a flight of sparking wines.
Domaine Carneros is another impressive sight to see and it’s easy to spend a few hours hanging out on the patio with a cheese plate and lotsa bubbly.
Flight of sparkling wines + cheese is about all it takes to make me happy
View from the patio at Domaine Carneros
Beautiful Domaine Carneros
If you feel like doing some more exploring, head next to the downtown area in the city of Napa.
Located just next to the Napa River, downtown Napa is home to a number of tasting rooms, art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. Here, everything is within walking distance, so it’s easy to jump from one tasting room to the next, or just stroll along the riverfront.
Oxbow Public Market
A great stop in downtown Napa is Oxbow Public Market. Similar to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, Oxbow Public Market is home to over 20 individual artisanal vendors. It’s a lively spot that’s really fun to explore.
Dinner in Yountville
Next, head back to your hotel. If you’ve got time before dinner, catch some rays at the pool before getting cleaned up to go and enjoy dinner at one of Yountville’s amazing restaurants.
I couldn’t write a blog post about the perfect Napa Valley itinerary without mentioning the French Laundry.
One of several Michelin-starred restaurants in the Napa Valley area, the French Laundry is perhaps the most famous. Chef Thomas Keller’s classic French techniques amplify the season’s finest ingredients to make for the meal of a lifetime.
If you want to include the French Laundry as part of your Napa itinerary, start planning as soon as you can! Bookings are released on the first of the month for the following month ahead.
If you want to experience chef Thomas Keller’s talents without the French Laundry price tag, check out Ad Hoc, another Yountville favorite.
Ad Hoc features casual, family-style dining with a 4-course menu that rotates daily. I still dream of the fried chicken at Ad Hoc!
Napa Valley Itinerary Map
I’ve put together all of the recommended stops on my Napa itinerary in a map. I hope this helps with your trip planning!
Napa Valley Travel Tips
To help with your Napa trip planning, here are a few important tips to keep in mind. These are all of the things I wish I had known in advance before I visited Napa!
Share Wine Tastings
If you’re going to Napa, you might want to consider sharing wine tastings…and entrees! All of the wine and food adds up FAST and if you’re like me, you’ll want to sample everything and not miss out because you’re full.
If you make the mistake of not doing this, you will likely end up full (and over-served, not that I’m judging) before you want to be!
Anywhere you do a tasting or wine pairing, there will be a container to pour out the wine after you taste it, so never hesitate to do that – many people do.
Wine Tastings vs. Winery Tours in Napa
Many of the wineries in Napa have multiple options for visiting: wine tastings, vineyard tours, tastings with cheese, tastings with lunch, etc.
You’ll decide what’s right for your trip but here’s my best advice: one winery or vineyard tour per trip to Napa is probably enough. Tours are really interesting, so they’re worth doing once. However, they are also expensive and can get repetitive if you take more than one.
The Closest Airports to Napa
The closest airports to Napa are Sacramento, Santa Rose, and Oakland. From any of those airports, you will need to rent a car to get to Napa. You can also fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO), although the drive to Napa is a bit further.
Personally, I prefer to fly into Sacramento because there is far less city traffic than you will find when flying into Oakland.
Santa Rosa is also a good option, although there are fewer direct flights from Santa Rosa to other U.S. cities.
Visit 2 or 3 Wineries per Day
As you’re planning your Napa trip, build some downtime into your schedule. Two or three wineries per day is PLENTY.
One of my favorite afternoons in Napa was the day I spent lazing by the pool for a few hours. It’s a great place to just relax and take a slow pace instead of racing from one place to the next.
Make Tasting Appointments in Advance
As you’re planning your time in Napa, make sure that you make tasting appointments ahead of time, especially if you’re with a large group. At many places, appointments are required.
How to Pack Wine in Your Checked Luggage
Looking for the best way to get your wine home? It is often cheaper to check your luggage on a flight than it is to ship home from a winery!
You can safely pack wine bottles in your checked bags using these WineSkin bags. I love them because they’re lightweight and will protect your wine (and your clothes!) while saving you money.
What To Pack for Napa Valley
If you’re wondering what to wear for wine tasting in Napa Valley, I’ve got you covered!
Napa is pretty casual, with a few exceptions of restaurants where you wouldn’t look out of place dressed up. I wore sundresses and maxidresses during the day, and jeans and a nicer top to dinners.
No matter the season, it cools off at night so definitely bring a sweater or jacket if you’ll be out and about at night (which you should be)!
Frequently Asked Questions About Planning a Trip to Napa Valley
If you’re planning a trip to Napa, I’m sure you have plenty of questions on your mind. Here are some of the questions I get asked most often by friends who are going to Napa for the weekend:
What is the best time to visit Napa Valley?
Good news: the best time to visit Napa is whenever you can! Seriously, though, there’s not really a BAD time of year to visit Napa.
It’s true that the weather in the winter months can bring a lot of rain, and that it can get quite hot in the valley during July and August. But if you’re ok with braving “extreme” weather (the California version, anyway), then you’ll enjoy Napa no matter when you visit.
If you have the ability to choose any time of year to visit Napa, I would suggest May or June, or the harvest time of September or October. These months will give you the best chance of ideal weather, so that you can enjoy all that Napa has to offer.
Is it worth doing the Napa Valley Wine Train?
I get this question a lot. And I’ve got to be honest with my answer. Truthfully, it really depends. I can’t really go out of my way to recommend that you SHOULD try the Napa Wine Train, because I haven’t done it myself.
Personally, I think your time in Napa is better spent visiting individual wineries, trying out different tasting rooms, and taking a self-guided tour or one of the vineyard tours. The winery experiences are truly what make Napa unique!
That said, there are plenty of visitors to Napa who want all of the details to be taken care of ahead of time – and I can’t blame them! If you’re looking for a turnkey experience, then yes, by all means, check out the wine train!
Can you visit Napa as a day trip from San Francisco?
Yes, you can absolutely visit Napa as a day trip from San Francisco. Napa is only 45 – 60 minutes from the city. Just head over the Golden Gate Bridge and keep going north!
As you plan your day trip to Napa, keep in mind that the area is quite spread out, and that there can be a lot of traffic, especially on the weekends.
If you decide to visit Napa as a day trip from San Francisco, you might be better off sticking to the more southern regions of the valley, such as Carneros, downtown Napa, Yountville, Oakville and Stag’s Leap. You’ll spend less time driving and more time enjoying the wines!
There You Have it – The Perfect Napa Valley Itinerary!
If you have more time in Northern California, I highly recommend this 3 day Yosemite itinerary for a taste of one of the most beautiful places in the state!
Need More Packing Tips?
For more packing tips, I’ve rounded up My Best Packing Tips for Women.
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