After you’ve decided where to go tasting in Napa, the other half of the battle is planning your itinerary for each day you’re in the valley. With many wineries closing around 4 or 4:30, it can be difficult to fit all of your favorite spots into one day. I often hear of many visitors trying to squeeze 4 wineries in one day which is honestly not ideal; I would recommend visiting 2, maybe 3 wineries in one day. This allows you to actually relax and absorb all of the wine, scenery, and most importantly information that your guide is sharing with you! There is nothing worse for a wine educator than when guests come in late from another appointment and rush through their tasting. It’s not fair to the person hosting your experience, and you’re not doing yourself any favors by cutting your time short at any of these beautiful wineries.
So how do you make the most of your vacation? As a rough outline, this is how you can set yourself up for success:
Breakfast or brunch
Napa is a marathon not a sprint so it’s important to get something in your system before that first tasting (which might be as early as 10 am). If is this the case and you don’t have time for a big sit down brunch, The Model Bakery (both in Saint Helena and Napa at the Oxbow Market) offer great grab-and-go breakfast options. They have a breakfast sandwich for everyone as well as an expansive selection of pastries and coffee for something lighter. I suggest calling ahead because the line gets crazy on weekends.
If you do have the time to eat a relaxed breakfast, here are a few options:
- Sky and Vine rooftop bar Sunday Brunch
- AVOW (brunch on weekends)
- The Napa General Store
- Ad Hoc
- The Boon Fly Café in Carneros
- Auberge du Soleil
- Farmstead Saint Helena
I suggest allowing a minimum of 90 minutes at your first winery. Tastings are usually an hour to an hour-fifteen and between buying wine and getting to and from the property your first experience tends to be closer to 2 hours. *As a rule of thumb in general, leave plenty of time between tastings for travel. It can take up to an hour to get from Calistoga to Napa and you want to consider time it takes to call Ubers as well.
If you didn’t have time to eat anything before your tastings started I would highly recommend budgeting at least an hour and a half for lunch. There are so many amazing restaurants in Napa and it would be really unfortunate to miss a chance to visit a few of them for lunch during your stay. Here are a few that I love:
- Mustards Grill
- R+D Kitchen
- Farmstead Saint Helena
- Bouchon (also easier to get a reservation for lunch vs. dinner!)
- RH Yountville (also check out the RH Wine Vault)
- For something quicker – Oakville Grocery in Oakville has artisan sandwiches, cheeseboards and grab-and-go options, and Sunshine Market in Saint Helena has a deli counter with great sandwiches as well
By this time it’s probably around 2 or 3pm. If this is your last appointment of the day before dinner you can really relax and take your time.
Option for in between winery #2 and dinner: downtown tasting room
Downtown Napa has a plethora of awesome little tasting rooms that often get overlooked when people plan trips here. There is Alpha Omega, Brown, Mayacamas, and Vineyard 29 to name a few. I love these tasting rooms because they give you a way to try these producers’ wines that you may not otherwise have gotten to try because their wineries are quite hard to get appointments at. Another added bonus is the tasting rooms often offer flights of their wines for a fraction of the winery’s tasting price. If you have a dinner reservation in downtown Napa, these tasting rooms are a great way to experience more of Napa and kill some time in between reservations.
If you’ve made it to dinner, congratulations! Kidding kind of. There are so many incredible options for dinner in Napa and I will be doing a separate post on just that. Here are a few suggestions for now:
- Cole’s Chop House – best steakhouse in Napa in a historic and lively building
- Angèle – French-inspired cuisine along the Napa Riverfront
- Los Agaves – NEW in Napa! Upscale Mexican cuisine with a brightly decorated interior and great drinks
- Bistro Jeanty – also French cuisine, my personal favorite and very authentic
- Brasswood Saint Helena – beautiful restaurant that also has a winemaking facility
- Bouchon – a Thomas Keller classic, French cuisine in Yountville
- Celadon – trendy and chic atmosphere in downtown Napa with a delicious menu
- La Calenda – Chef Thomas Keller’s take on Mexican cuisine, very fun environment with great food of course
- Goose & Gander – A Saint Helena staple with a great ambiance and delicious food