Here today with my updated Napa/Sonoma guide! If you’re planning a trip to wine country: spoiler alert–you will never want to leave!
This was my second trip to Napa and first time in Sonoma, this time with my two best friends Kate and Melissa. I was so excited to go back and check out some new places (as well as return to one absolute favorite!) Kate is a member at most of the wineries we went to, so we got most tastings for free. (This is important intel, because tastings can be expensive and add up quickly! Definitely ask around your friend group to see if anyone is a member at any wineries, because they can also gift guests their tastings, too!)
(If it seems like this post is skipping around a lot, it’s because half of it is written after my first trip with Neal last year, and the other half is written after this year’s trip with my girlfriends. Bear with me. 😂)
And a little background on our FIRST trip…
My first time in Napa was last year with Neal, we bid on and won a Napa stay/tasting package at a charity auction years ago and needed to redeem it by 2022. The package came with flights, a hotel stay, winery tour/tasting, and a private driver for one day. (This is important context to have and you’ll see why a bit later, ha!)
All cards on the table: I have to say, as someone who LOVES wine but isn’t exactly a wine expert or a wine snob, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Napa has always been on my bucket list (thus, why we bid on this package at the auction in the first place), but, I will say, as someone who can’t tell the difference between a $200 bottle of wine and a $30 bottle of wine, I was secretly wondering if we’d feel judged or looked down upon for not being “real wine people.”
Well, I’m so happy to report that our experience could not have been more wonderful–we have never met more lovely people than the ones we met in Napa. Everyone is so how excited to teach you about wine, so passionate about the region, and we felt so welcomed. You always hear about the wine–which of course, is lovely–but what really wowed us were the people and the FOOD. (THE FOOOOD!)
I will say the second time around, our focus was really more on the wineries, and our food experiences were less exciting than the first time I went–but all those details and more in my updated guide below!
Long story short, Napa and Sonoma are wonderful, and I cannot recommend a trip enough.
Weekend in Napa/Sonoma guide
Other Napa locals to follow for great recommendations:
Please bear in mind, I am no expert. I highly recommend checking out my friend Danielle’s Napa Guides for a local’s perspective and a much more extensive list!
You all also recommended I check out Ashley Kane’s wine country guides (another local) and they were also helpful! (Granted we couldn’t get into any of her reccos because I didn’t make reservations far enough in advance, but next time I’ll definitely check out her favorite spots!)
Okay, now, onto my Napa trip recap, tips, reccos and more!
Let’s talk cost:
First thing’s first, I cannot in good conscience discuss a weekend in Napa without first telling you that it is, in fact, expensive. I know a lot of people do bachelorette parties here but I cannot fathom how or why.
It’s not uncommon for tastings to cost $100 per person (not all, but some!)–and you will want to do about 2-3 tastings per day. (I mention this later on in the post, but my friend is a member at many of these, so our tasting fees were waived, which saved us all about $500 per person on our last trip!)
More costs to consider: to be safe and truly enjoy yourself AND your wine experience, I think hiring a driver is a really good idea– which again, isn’t cheap–rightfully so. Plan on paying for a rental car and Ubers because everything is very spread out. Hotels are also pretty expensive, but will vary based on the area you’re in. (Sonoma is definitely less expensive than Napa, so highly recommend comparing lodging between the two! Additionally, Calistoga can be a bit more affordable bc it’s pretty far north and not quite as centrally located!)
My friend Danielle is a Napa local and has a great blog post on how you CAN do Napa on a budget! I haven’t been to any of the places she listed, but definitely trust her reccos!
That being said, in my opinion it is absolutely money well-spent. It’s a place I want to go back to again and again. It’s beautiful, the people are wonderful, and I think it’s pretty much impossible to have a bad time here! I just want to be upfront about the costs, because we didn’t know how pricey it could be the first time we went!
Rent the convertible!
Getting to Napa/Sonoma:
We flew into SFO both times and rented a car and drove to Napa/Sonoma. It’s a very easy beautiful drive and takes about 1.5 hours depending on where you’re staying. You could also fly into Oakland for an even faster/easier trip! You will want to rent a car to get to and from the airport and also to have for driving around.
For car rental, I highly recommend renting through Turo–which is like AirBnB, but for cars! It’s cheaper, you get way cooler cars, and it’s way easier–no waiting in a rental car line. You pick the car up in short term parking at SFO and return it to the same place. We rented this Bronco convertible and it was SO. MUCH. FUN. Absolute highlight of the trip! It’s also super easy to add other approved drivers as well–they just have to make a Turo account.
If you get carsick: Definitely come prepared with some motion sickness bands. Some of the roads are super windy! Also–if you hire a driver, let them know you’re prone to motion sickness. There are apparently TWO routes to get between Napa and Sonoma. One is super windy and the other is not–Kate learned this the hard way once and her driver took them the windy way and…it didn’t go well. Luckily, Denise reassured us there was a different way to take, and we were totally fine!
Tips on planning your trip:
Napa valley is HUGE. I would recommend planning your days, wineries, and restaurants with geographic location in mind! For example, you don’t want to book back to back tastings at a winery in Calistoga followed by another close to downtown Napa. Try and group all the places you want to hit for the most efficient use of your time. If you plan to do both Napa and Sonoma, dedicate one day to each. Also, they’re close enough that I wouldn’t recommend moving locations. Just stay in one place and then you won’t waste time moving from one hotel to another.
Highly recommend hiring Denise as your driver in wine country!
Renting a car vs. hired driver vs. Uber:
I think it’s definitely necessary to rent a car to get to and from the airport as the valley is huge–but I also highly recommend hiring a driver to take you around when tasting.
Our first trip, we had a driver one day (it was part of our package and we didn’t arrange it, so I apologize as I totally forgot to get his information)–but Rose Wine tours was also recommended by Ivan at Repris (more on them below) if you want a black car service!
Another driver recommendation I have from our second trip, if you don’t want to hire a black car but want to hire a driver (it’s a bit less expensive this way!) is to hire Denise! She drives your own car and she is so lovely! She’s a local and knows so much about the wineries, region, and she’s just fun to hang out with!
Whether or not you can Uber to different wineries really depends on which wineries you’re going to and where you’re staying. Many are right off the main drag which makes ubering a snap–and others are really far up in the hills where you don’t even get reception, much less could ever get an Uber.
Our first trip, we also took Ubers from the hotel near downtown Napa to dinner every night and we also took them to and from dinner staying near Sonoma on our second trip. Typically you’ll be fine ubering to and from restaurants, it’s just some of the wineries that can be remote and spread out!
On wine tastings:
All wineries will require reservations ahead of time and many of them book up very far in advance. Make your reservations early!
A word to the wise, tastings are expensive. They range in price from one winery to another (and Napa vs Sonoma) but in my experience they can start around $60 per person and can go up to $150 per person. Some include small bites/charcuterie, others don’t. Tasting fees are typically waved if you purchase a certain amount of bottles or join a winery’s wine club. (There is usually a soft pitch at the end to do so.)
Tastings are also free to members (who usually get a certain allotment per year)–so if you have any friends who have been to Napa/Sonoma, ask around to see if they’re members and if they’re willing to transfer tastings to you!
Keep in mind that you can also ask to split wine tastings between two people, which is much more manageable if you’ll be driving yourself (and also WAY more affordable!)
How big of a group to go to Napa with?
This is a personal opinion, but I think Napa/Sonoma is best with two to 4 people. Things add up so quickly and it’s just a lot harder to manage so many reservations, logistics, etc with a bigger group! Again, just my personal opinion!
How many wineries per day?
It depends on the kind of experience you want! I would stick to two per day if you want to go at a leisurely pace, take your time, and have plenty of time for a longer sit-down lunch. Also, keep in mind, again, that Napa is very spread out. It can take some time to get from one winery to the other depending on where you’re going.
On our second trip, we did three our first day and it was totally manageable, but we did a quick lunch of sandwiches and ate them at one of the wineries! It really just depends on the kind of experience you’d like to have. If you have two days, you may do one day of three and one day of two.
Can you wine taste in Sonoma and Napa on the same day?
Could you? Yes. Would you have very much fun? Probably not. That would require a LOT of time spent driving in the car. Like I mentioned above, make sure to look at the map and plan out your days by geographic location.
On restaurant reservations:
If you have specific places you know you want to hit, I definitely recommend making reservations if there are certain places you’re dying to go. If you want to wing it, my recommendation is to eat late and aim to snag seats at the bar!
On where to stay:
Okay, stick with me. A bit of a story here.
So, our first time visiting, we stayed at the Meritage (again, part of the package so we didn’t choose it ourselves or look that much into it ahead of time other than a quick glance on google). I was debating sharing the name of the hotel at all (I really don’t like publicly talking poorly about any business!) in the end I thought it was best to share as I know many readers here look for similar things as we do when it comes to hotel experiences AND it does have good reviews on google, so I wanted to be able to save any of you from potential disappointment. OR maybe it’s exactly what you’re looking for!? Everyone is different!
Here’s the short of it: it was not our style and we would not stay there again, but it was FINE. It was clean, it was a convenient location, it’s lovely that they have their own vineyard in the back of the hotel. However, we typically prefer a small boutique hotel experience and this hotel was by contrast a huge sprawling corporate-feeling complex. It also is in need of some updating. It is very family/kids-oriented and would be a great place to stay with kids. (Although I personally would not choose Napa as a vacation destination with kids–but to each their own!) I would say it feels like a very big all-inclusive resort that is not all inclusive.
In my (admittedly not exhaustive search) it looks like other boutique hotels are much more expensive, so again, my preference would be to look for an Air BnB/VRBO or Napa does have some really cute B&B’s/Inns! (This website has a great list it looks like!?)
The second trip, we stayed at…
If you’re looking for a super affordable 2 bedroom spot to stay in an easy location to see both Napa and Sonoma (it’s not far from Healdsburg) this is a good spot! It’s clean, the beds were comfy, and the grounds are beautiful! Best of all, they have two very cute very friendly cats who will be your new best friends. It’s not fancy, but you don’t spend a ton of time at the house anyway, and we opted for an affordable place to stay so we could spend our money elsewhere!
What to wear:
I would say “cute California casual” when it comes to packing your outfits. I actually rented most of my outfits both times I went–the first time I wore a lot of breezy tops rented from Nuuly with white pants loafers. The second trip, I rented mostly dresses from Rent the Runway! (Long story short, I really loved both!)
You’ll definitely want comfortable walking shoes during the day–no stilettos because you’ll likely be walking around vineyards. (I wore my Rothy’s drivers both days!) Jeans are great at night as well. I wore my Loeffler Randall sandals to dinner all three nights. Temps will get chilly at night–so bring a jacket and if you plan to lounge outside after dinner, long pants like leggings!
One final thing:
You can see all these reccos saved in the Out of Office App–so go follow me over there @jesskeys! If you are planning any trip anytime soon (foreign or domestic) then it’s a must-download. All you have to do is head to my profile, click on “trips” and then click “Napa” and you can copy and paste my whole list of reccos!
Restaurants in Napa:
Bistro Don Giovanni:
Based on their location, this is a fantastic place to stop for an indulgent leisurely lunch on your way into Napa or out of Napa (assuming you’re flying in/out of Oakland or SFO!) Would also be great for dinner.
An Italian bistro with a beautiful back patio overlooking the vineyards. They make a spritz or Negroni to kick off your meal! Start with their roasted beet, Hericot Vert and Gorgonzola salad! For entrees, their roasted chicken was maybe the best chicken we’ve ever had and their homemade pesto pasta was incredibly fresh and delicious. They also have a great wine list.
Uber: not off the beaten path so Uber very doable depending on where you’re staying/going.
*FYI, it’s next door to Ashes and Diamonds winery which we didn’t get to for a tasting but wanted to! Would be a convenient choice to do the two one right after the other for wine tasting and lunch!
Don Giovanni also made a fantastic spritz if you need a break from wine!
Fantastic tapas and Spanish food. (The setting kind of reminds you of the restaurant where Uncle Jaimie proposed to Aurelia!) We didn’t make a reso and they were totally booked out, but we arrived at about 8pm and put our name in for the bar and went next door to their sister restaurant for a drink! We only had to wait 30 minutes for bar seats. I highly recommend this route because sitting at the bar was a treat. Our bartender, Connor, was awesome and had fantastic recommendations and even did a little wine paring/tasting for us. We got the Paella, Olives, Ceviche, Tortilla and hanger steak. All phenomenal.
**In downtown Napa, so very Uber friendly, and nice because you can bar hop before or after.
We ate at the bar at Zuzu and it was so much fun. The food was fantastic and so was the service!
Some of the most delicious French food I’ve had (including France!) This place is romantic, unpretentious and unstuffy. If you love great rustic food but don’t want the fussiness, this is your jam. The steak frites were incredible, as was the beef bourgignon. Don’t miss the French onion soup or the Salade Lyonnaise. We on the patio and it was perfectly toasty, but the back dining room has a fire place that would be cozy, too! Absolutely make reservations!
This was an easy Uber as it’s in Yountville!
The bar at Bistro Jeanty
Steak Frites and the Beef Bourguignon (which was a special) were both to die for
The patio at Bistro Jeanty
A great spot for casual burgers! We had the burger and ahi burger, fries, and get a side of their chili cheese sauce! (Readers also love the chicken sandwich!) Their frosé was delicious! Note there are two Gott’s locations, one in St. Helena and one closer to downtown Napa! They have a big lawn and lots of picnic tables.
Tip: the line is like Disneyland, but it moves fairly quickly. Plan for a 30 min wait at peak times—but you can call ahead, which is highly recommended!
The burger at Gott’s was delicious. (Make sure to get a side of chili cheese sauce for the fries!)
If you need a quick convenient spot for lunch near St. Helena, you will LOVE this place. One of the few places we found to stop on a whim without a wait. Fantastic sandwiches, and a great place to pickup picnic supplies (their cheeses and meats are to die for—look for the truffle brie), purchase gifts and goodies to bring home, or grab a cup of coffee for a pick me up. Also have a wood fire pizza oven. They have a casual back patio if you’d like to eat there as well.
The cheese selection at Oakville Grocery is dreamy
Oakville Grocery is a great spot for a quick lunch between wineries and has a cute back patio where you can eat!
A great place for quick breakfast Sammy and coffee, or a healthy lunch (they have great sounding grain bowls!) If you are in too much of a hurry for Model bakery down the street, or you’re running too late to wait at Gott’s, try this place instead. So cute, quick, in a converted gas station with picnic tables outside. They also have fantastic sandwiches you can pick up for lunch and eat at one of the vineyards during a tasting! I am still DREAMING about their chicken caesar focaccia, which our driver, Denise turned us onto. Honestly, I’m not a big caesar gal, but TRUST. Don’t skip it. We ordered three different sandwiches to split and all wish we’d all just ordered our own chicken caesar. 😂
The Station is so cute for breakfast, coffee, or lunch!
Wineries in Napa Valley:
Here’s everywhere we’ve been in no particular order:
The first winery we went to on our first trip. We likely wouldn’t have picked it ourselves if it hadn’t been part of the package we won only because we typically gravitate toward the small, family owned wineries and I think this can definitely be considered one of the big “tourist attraction” type vineyards, however, that being said, it was FUN.
Word to the wise: they give you a TON of wine (the locals call it “Del Blotto” because you can easily get fuzzy at the end) but our tour guide was really awesome and the tour was super informative and interactive. Overall, likely easy to get a reso, super conveniently located, and a good time.
The history of the family who owns it is fascinating and the setting looks like the Versace Mansion. Every material used to build it was imported from Italy down to the cobblestones (repurposed from streets of Rome?!) and the Venetian glass chandeliers. The wine caves are so cool and will transport you straight to Italy. (And also look like you’re going to meet the Volturi??)
Uber: very Uber friendly, right off the main drag in St Helena and next to The Station.
The wine caves at Del Dotto instantly transport you to Italy
We loved our experience at Frank family! Its a beautiful vineyard that feels laid back and homey with lots of picnic tables on the lawn next to a chic patio, and Tony was an amazing host. Known to have great Chardonnay (and I hate Chardonnay!)
Uber: This was a bit of a drive for us as it’s up in Calistoga so it just depends on where you’re staying! Not too far off the main road though so I think it would be fairly easy to Uber if you’re staying nearby. We drove here after Del Dotto and Gott’s and ended the day here!
Picnic tables at Frank Family
Known as “Duckhorn’s little sister” — this gorgeous spot was recommended if we wanted a Duckhorn experience but a smaller, quieter locale. Known for their interesting reds. Also convenient to St. Helena—(you could probably Uber here no problem!)
The terrace at Paraduxx is beautiful!
We saved the best for last–our final vineyard on our first trip and by far our favorite. I just returned back with my girlfriends and can assure that it stayed amongst my top favorite after visiting a second time!
I would call the experience and estate high-end, yet laid back and unpretentious. Off the beaten path (you’ll need to drive yourself, although the road is pretty treacherous so I wouldn’t recommend if you plan on having even a sip of wine–or arrange a car service—you won’t get an Uber to pick you up out here!) but it’s absolutely stunning and arguably the best view in Napa due to the fact that it’s so high up overlooking the lake. This is SMALL family owned and run vineyard, and a well-kept secret (although it’s definitely gaining recognition!)
They only do few reservations per day, so reach out as far in advance as possible! (And they’re doing some construction so they’re only available on the weekends right now.) They just opened a stunning new tasting area even further up the hill for their members and it’s breathtaking. (So if you want to join, ask if they can take you up there!)
Everything about Amizetta is a treat. (And I haven’t even mentioned their wine–which, by the way, is phenomenal and some of our favorite! Surprisingly, one of my favorite varietals of theirs is the merlot!)
above: the views at Amizetta will take your breath away
I would say this is one of the more high-end wineries we visited in terms of the wines themselves, and the setting. If you’re a chardonnay lover, this is what they’re famous for here! You can do a couple different types of tastings–the most casual tasting is at their outdoor bar (which we opted for) but you can see all the options on their website–some include a winery + cave tour but ours did not.
A lot of their wines are pretty pricy, but their less expensive label Bella Union only runs $30-something per bottle and we LOVED their rosé! (We ordered a case to ship home!) We also really enjoyed our experience with Curt, who was really fun and taught us a lot about the wines!
Above: Far Niente’s beautiful property
An organic, woman-owned winery, I highly recommend a trip to Tres Sabores.
While some wineries in Napa can feel a little posh, uppity, and even corporate–Tres Sabores is the exact opposite.
It’s the most beautiful laid back farm–you’ll be greeted by a sweet Golden Retriever named Cava, you can enjoy your picnic lunch at one of their tables during a tasting, you’ll love her (surprisingly!) affordable wines that start at just $38–and best of all, you’ll love Julie’s– the owner and winemaker–story.
Tres Sabores is her actual home property–where she raised her kids. She was already a successful winemaker (co-founder of Frog’s Leap) when she and her husband divorced in the 90’s. She decided to strike out on her own with her own vineyard–right on her own property–with the goal that it would forever remain a small production winery with a focus on organic and sustainable farming practices. Her passion for gardening also shows, so don’t miss the chance to roam around the property and admire the flowers, lemon and olive trees, (and see the sheep, too!)
Another cool thing I love about Tres Sabores: the labels! Each label is a different piece of art she’s collected from her travels (she also pays royalties to each artist!)
Tip: If you’re short on time for lunch, pick up sandwiches from The Station (don’t miss the chicken caesar focaccia!) or Oakville Grocer to eat here!
Above: Tres Sabores. (Sweet good girl, Cava!)
Wineries in/near Sonoma:
Speaking of amazing woman-owned wineries, if you’re planning a day in Sonoma, really, truly, don’t miss Capo Creek.
We arranged a multi-course lunch pairing and wine tasting and it was one of the highlights of the trip (probably tied with the Bronco convertible. 😜)
The owner and head winemaker, Mary, has the coolest background. She had a highly successful career as a doctor (and mom of 6!) in Chicago. And got into winemaking because she wanted a hobby that had nothing to do with work or kids–and she saw a brochure for an online winemaking class and the rest was history. She has a pretty incredible life story which you’ll want to hear all about–but I won’t spoil it–she’ll have to tell you herself!
Aside from being the head winemaker, she’s also a self-taught chef.
I can’t recommend her VIP Chef’s table tasting lunch enough (you must do the one hosted by Mary!)–not only is her food impeccable but no detail is left to chance. From her beautiful vintage dishes and floral napkins to her thoughtful menu, gorgeous grounds, delicious wine, impeccably decorated wine cave and best of all–her company–you will have a wonderful experience here. We were lamenting that we wished Mary had a house on her grounds we could rent from her because next time we come back, we just want to hang out with her the whole time!
Also–can someone please get married here and invite me!? She was telling us they’d had a wedding there the night before and I can only imagine how amazing it was!
If I were to rank every winery we’ve been to on the wine tasting experience alone, Repris would be the winner.
This was the first winery we hit on our second trip (the day we got into town) and it was the perfect choice. You get a little bit of everything here–a beautiful vineyard tour to learn about the terroir and history of the property, a tour of their giant rock cave, and then you end in their tasting room with a gorgeous charcuterie spread (it’s pretty common to serve small nibbles at tastings–but this was like, an absolutely EPIC charcuterie spread! We were so excited about it that none of us even took any pictures of it! 😆)
Ivan, our host, was wonderful. And I loved that he recommended different bites with different wines to bring out the flavors–it was so delicious. In my opinion, Repris also wins my favorite cab and cab blend. (Which is saying a LOT!) The experience is sophisticated, but casual at the same time. 10/10.
Had the best time at Repris–thanks Ivan for being such a great host!
If I could choose one word to describe the vibe at Christopher Creek it would be “FUN.” Not going to lie–so much fun that I hardly have ANY photos of it. 🤦🏻♀️
The owners are really cool, laid-back guys that know what they’re talking about and it feels like you’re tasting wine with friends. No uppity vibes in here. You get to go into their production room and see some cool behind-the-scenes, and do your tasting next to their pool overlooking vineyards as far as the eye can see. Their tastings also start at $30 a person, which is awesome. Another cool thing about Christopher Creek is that they own vineyards and CASTLE in Italy (which you can go visit! 😍) but this also means they have some pretty fantastic Italian varietals in addition to the more typical ones you’d find in Sonoma–Cabs, Pinot, Zins, Rosé, etc! As an Italian wine lover, I was very excited about this.
Another cool thing: Members can also use their pool! (Again, Kate was a member, so we took full advantage and brought our suits. But if you think anyone in your party might join their wine club, might be worth bringing your suits along to take advantage?)
More Napa & Sonoma Reccos:
There are SO MANY amazing reccos from you all in the comments of this post! Dive in there for *hundreds* more recommendations!