An Insider's Guide to Napa Valley

July 6th, 2015 @ 08:00am Megan Eileen McDonough Napa Valley and Beyond 0

Exploration of Napa Valley’s picturesque vineyards is a must for any visitor to northern California, but with 400 wineries and tasting rooms combined (600 counting Sonoma), knowing where to start isn’t always easy. Whether in town for a day or an entire week, here are some helpful tips for planning a stress-free and wine-heavy Napa Valley getaway.

Get your bearings and be prepared

Napa Valley offers much more than a day-trip from San Francisco: With hundreds of wineries and countless photo-ops, you might feel like there’s never enough time. Depending on when you visit, expect crowds and potentially long waits for particularly popular tours. Not sure exactly where to start? Download the free Visit Napa Valley mobile app for recommendations on where to stay, which wineries to visit and the best restaurants in town. Users can even make reservations via the application and unlock special offers. Perhaps best of all, there’s an interactive map that displays exactly where each venue is located, thus simplifying driving directions.

Plan ahead but be spontaneous too

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to nail down the details. If your visit falls on a particularly hot day, opt to visit wineries in the northern areas like Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga first, making your way south later in the day. Although it might seem counterintuitive, the southern portion of the valley actually has cool breezes in the afternoon. Similarly, if the sky is clear, consider stopping above the valley floor for panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay. Even if the weather isn’t a deal-breaker, it’s still a good idea to start your day early, especially if you are aiming to visit several different wineries within a short timespan.

Getting around

While some wineries are within walking distance of one another (within the town of Napa, 18 tasting rooms welcome guests), most travelers opt for car rentals, drivers or guided tours. Bike and car rentals allow for more freedom, but if you don't have a designated driver, consider using Uber or Lyft for on-demand rides. Rates are reasonable, and you're likely to find a local driver with insider tips. If on a budget, there are various bus tours available that stop at selected wineries. That being said, Napa is effortlessly romantic so indulging in a bit of luxury might be the way to go. Several companies, including Pure Luxury Transportation and Beau Wine Tours & Limousine Service offer personalized transportation.

Where to stay

Deciding where to stay can be as ambitious as narrowing down your winery list.  Boutique hotels boast unique decor reflective of the area. For travelers valuing a sense of place, home rentals are a safe bet. A quick search on Airbnb yields a variety of housing options, from humble tree houses and cozy barn lofts to poolside cottages and spacious villas. If location is the main priority, consider booking a hotel in downtown Napa where restaurants and shops are within walking distance. For a truly unique experience, book a night at the refurbished Napa Valley Railway Inn, where each suite is designed inside a converted 100-year-old train car.

Choose your tour(s) wisely

There’s no shortage of tours in Napa Valley but choose wisely. Many wineries offer several options for exploring their grounds and wines. For example, Peju offers both private tours and themed tastings. For something a bit more immersive, their Peju Fromage private wine tasting with artisan cheeses is tough to top. To appreciate Napa Valley's beauty to the fullest, splurge on a hot air balloon sunrise tour. You'll have to wake up early and arrive 30 minutes before takeoff, but it’s well worth the extra effort. It can be chilly in the morning, especially at higher altitudes, so dress in layers. In general, most wineries don’t require patrons to make reservations unless you are part of a big group. This allows for flexibility in your schedule, which comes in handy.

Stay hydrated and eat!

This might be a no-brainer, but it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Bring a water bottle (or two) along with you or ask for water during each tasting. Tours that combine both wine and food, like Peju’s cheese offerings, are a smart way to enjoy the best of both worlds. Likewise, satisfy your sweet tooth with handmade chocolates at Anette's Chocolates in downtown Napa or at Woodhouse Chocolate in St. Helena. Napa Valley also has an impressive farm-to-table food scene showcasing local produce and seasonal herbs and spices. To stock up on groceries or simply enjoy lunch on the patio, head to Oakville Grocery in Healdsburg.

 

Enjoy all the varietals that Peju, a family-owned winery in Napa Valley, California, has to offer. We invite you to explore our website for more information about experiencing our wines and events.

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