WHEW! I’m really catching up on all these travel guides, y’all! (See last week’s right here!)
Here today with my Napa guide! If you’re planning a trip to wine country: spoiler alert–you will never want to leave!
If you missed it the first time, some background: We bid on and won a Napa stay/tasting package at a charity auction years ago and needed to redeem it this year. 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 is not 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 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!)
So, long story short, Napa is wonderful, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Weekend in Napa Guide
Other Napa locals to follow for great recommendations:
Please bear in mind, I am a Napa newbie, so all things are from a “first timer” perspective. 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!
Getting to Napa:
We flew into SFO and rented a car and drove to Napa. It’s a very easy beautiful drive and only takes about an hour. You could also fly into Oakland for an even faster/easier trip! Personally I would recommend renting a car as Napa is very spread out and ubering isn’t always possible. (Not to mention it would get very expensive!)
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.
Renting a car vs. hired driver vs. Uber:
I think it was necessary to rent a car, but we also had a driver one day (it was part of our package) and that was also WONDERFUL. A quick google search leads me to believe a hired driver starts around $50 per hour–if you really want to relax and not worry about your wine intake, I personally think this is a worthy cost if you’re willing to splurge.
Whether or not you can Uber to different wineries really depends on which wineries you’re going to. 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. We also took Ubers from the hotel to dinner every night and that was very easy and all of our drivers were SO nice and gave us the best pointers!
On wine tastings:
Pretty much all wineries will require reservations ahead of time and many of them book up far in advance. Make your reservations early! (That being said, we didn’t, however–it all worked out perfectly as we probably wouldn’t have gone to Amizetta if our first choices hadn’t been booked, and it was far and away our favorite!)
Keep in mind that you can also split wine tastings between two people, which is much more manageable if you’ll be driving yourself (and also WAY more affordable!)
How many wineries per day:
Personally I would stick to two per day if you want to go at a leisurely pace, take your time, enjoy yourself, and have plenty of time for 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.
We were very tired after hitting two wineries per day, but I know people who like to do three in order to see as much as possible. I guess it depends on how much you like wine, and the level of activity you like.
On restaurant reservations:
If you have specific places you know you want to hit, I definitely recommend making reservations. Reservations are required everywhere for wine tastings, so those are a must, and plan as far ahead as you can, especially at smaller vineyards. As far as restaurant reservations go, we made one dinner reservation, which I’m glad we did (Bistro Jeanty) and left the rest up to chance. It worked out for us as we often like to eat late and we like eating at the bar.
On where to stay:
Okay, stick with me. A bit of a story here.
So, 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. (This is why I am starting to use Out of Office more and more because the Google reviews were quite misleading.)
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!?)
What to wear:
I would say “cute California casual” when it comes to packing your outfits. I wore a lot of breezy tops that I rented from Nuuly with white pants and jeans and loafers. You’ll want comfortable walking shoes during the day for sure. (I wore my Rothy’s drivers both days!) Jeans are completely fine at night as well. I wore my Loeffler Randall sandals to dinner all three nights. Temps can get chilly at night (at least when we were there in February) so definitely check the weather bring a jacket. (Working on a packing list post separately–stay tuned on that!)
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.
We grabbed coffee at The Station before hitting our first winery
Wineries in Napa:
I think this can definitely be considered one of the big “tourist attraction” type vineyards, however, that being said, it was a great place to kick off our trip. Not only do 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.
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 will transport you straight to Italy. (And also look like you’re going to meet the Volturi??) Its a TRIP. Go. 10/10 entertainment with some great wine.
Uber: very Uber friendly, right off the main drag in St Helena and next to The Station. (However we drove ourselves around that day!)
What we wore: I wore a floral top, white wide leg pants and loafers for a day of wine tasting. Neal wore shorts and a cute hoodie.
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!
What we wore: casual! I wore a floral top and white pants, loafers. Neal wore a cute hoody, shorts.
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!
Saved the best for last. Our favorite vineyard we visited in Napa–no question. Off the beaten path (you’ll need to drive yourself 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. They only do 6 reservations per day, so reach out as far in advance as possible! Shockingly, our favorite wine of theirs was their merlot. (We have never been merlot people). There was only one other couple there when we were, and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. We can’t wait to come back!
More Napa Reccos:
There are SO MANY amazing reccos from you all in the comments of this post! Dive in there for *hundreds* more recommendations!