How to Spend a Day in Napa Valley, California
At certain times of the year in Napa Valley, you can literally smell grapes in the air. For wine lovers, the place almost seems magical.
This is where some of the world’s best wines are made and showcased, but it’s much more than that. These scenic hills in northern California are warm and inviting. The people who live and work here are friendly, and they seem happy to share their little slice of heaven.
Wine reigns supreme, but cuisine runs a close second. Combine them with Napa Valley’s unique beauty, and you have an intoxicating blend.
So, pace yourself as you join us on a day tour of one of the world’s greatest wine destinations.
Let’s take the tour!
The History of Napa Valley
About an hour’s drive to the north from San Francisco, Napa Valley is actually a string of small communities. Part of Napa County, the area itself is roughly 30 miles long and just five miles wide. The communities within the valley include Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville, and Napa.
They’re lined up in a row along HIghway 29 and are connected by a common purpose.
The population of the entire county is estimated at just under 137,000. The area initially saw silver mining activity in the 1850s, along with various agricultural pursuits. Later in the 20th Century, winemaking enterprises were firmly established and have boomed astronomically in recent decades.
Many experts point to a specific landmark event in 1976 as a major catalyst for California wines. They became stars on the world stage with an unexpected victory at the Judgment of Paris blind tasting event. Today, there are hundreds of hillside vineyards and wineries in Napa Valley.
As a result, many of its other businesses have seen great success, including its vibrant restaurant scene.
Mild weather is critical to grape growing, and it additionally plays into Napa Valley’s success in tourism. Specifically, it’s not too hot, and it cools down at night. Spring and summer are popular times to visit, but so is the fall during harvest time.
Morning in Napa Valley
Get Fueled Up at Boon Fly Café
Address: 4048 Sonoma Hwy, Napa, CA 94559
Menu options: The signature items here are the fresh-made donuts, but there’s much more to sample. Favorites include the Boon Fly Benedict, Green Eggs and Ham, and the popular breakfast burritos with your choice of ingredients.
Reasons to love it: It has a contemporary roadhouse feel, and it’s on the historic Carneros resort property at the valley’s southern end. Boon Fly Café is a fun, casual indoor/outdoor setting and a popular gathering spot for locals. Look for the modern building that looks like a red barn.
Work Off Those Donuts
Hike or Bike the Napa Valley Vine Trail. Napa’s an active community, too. Find your place in line and enjoy the scenery from here up to Yountville.
So far, the trail covers 12.5 miles, but eventually, it will be almost four times that length. The trails are level and paved and dog-friendly, too. This work-in-progress is a great way to get off the main road and view the gorgeous terrain.
A nice place to start is Kennedy Park in downtown Napa. Here, the trail runs parallel to the Napa River. You can get a good look at native plants and birds such as herons and egrets at the water’s edge.
Know Before You Go: Check out your route ahead of time and download the Vine Trail app.
Afternoon in Napa Valley
Recharge at Gott’s Roadside
Address: 933 Main St., CA-29, St. Helena, CA 94574
Menu Options: In Napa Valley, even the cheeseburgers have a healthier feel to them. The patties are made from Niman Ranch beef, and they’re dressed up with garnishes such as fresh, locally grown arugula and balsamic onions.
The veggie menu runs deep, too, and includes a Crispy Tofu sandwich that’ll make you forget about fried chicken.
Reasons to love it: Gott’s Roadside has been stopping traffic for over 20 years, but the location itself has an even longer history. In short, it’s a historic drive-up burger shack that set out to reinvent itself for modern palate. Mission accomplished.
Take a Ride at Balloons Above the Valley
There’s no better way to get the lay of the land, so to speak, than to take to the air. Hop aboard a hot air balloon to get a bird’s eye view of the lush, rolling countryside.
You might actually see the neighboring Sonoma County in the distance.
Balloons Above the Valley has some competitors, but you’ll be in good hands with them. They’ve had smooth ups and downs for almost 45 years and are consistently voted top in town.
The balloons can handle parties of up to six people, and complimentary coffee and pastries are served.
Pro Tip: It’s a good idea to make reservations before you go.
Begin Your Wine Tour at Silverado Vineyards
The Miller family grew grapes for other wineries for years before deciding to produce their own fine wines. Today, their iconic mission-style estate vineyard in Yountville has grown to include 600 acres.
Join Silverado for a tasting on the hilltop patio. Sniff and sip an array of Silverado wines while you learn about fermentation, aging, and other important winemaking steps.
You can expect to sample varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese. Tasting sessions last 45 minutes and are for guests 21 and older.
Keep in Mind: Reservations are required.
Evening in Napa Valley
Dine at Bistro Don Giovanni
Address: 4110 Howard Ln, Napa, CA 94558
Menu Options: Savor some traditional Italian dishes with a local accent. Freshly baked bread accompanies wood-roasted meats and garden-fresh vegetables.
Popular dishes include Mamma Concetta’s Meatballs, Strozzapreti Bolognese, and Pollo Alla Diavola. Diners also rave about the fresh flavors of the Beet & Haricot Verts salad with avocado, fennel, and Roquefort vinaigrette.
Other reasons to love it: Whether indoors at the fireside or outside by the fountain, this classic bistro feels as comforting as its menu. Dishes are executed with precision and passion.
The restaurant’s bar is known for its creative cocktails as well as an extensive wine list.
Drinks at Cadet Wine & Beer Bar
Address: 930 Franklin St., Napa, CA 94559
Drink Options: Yes, they serve up local wines as well as others from around the world. There are several hundred wines on hand and more than 20 Champagnes. You can also grab a beer in a can, including craft beers from the area.
Reasons to love it: Cadet is a cozy modern hotspot with creative and youthful energy. Music lovers congregate here – but for vinyl, not live bands. When you buy a bottle, you get to pick a record for the turntable.
Take a Stroll Around Skyline Wilderness Park
The beauty of Napa Valley doesn’t shut down at night. At Skyline Wilderness Trail, there are 25 miles of primitive trails in the heart of town. Most wine tourists have gone in for the night, so it’s a wonderful time to enjoy nature’s sights and sounds.
There are 850 acres to discover, but don’t venture off too far – have just a little sip of Napa at night. You might even hear some wild turkeys gobble!
Stay at Steele Canyon Campground
Address: 1605 Steele Canyon Rd., Napa, CA 94558
About the Park: On the banks of nearby Lake Berryessa, Steel Canyon Campground offers dry camping facilities for RVs and tents. (It also has large multi-use sites for a combination of the two.) There is no running water.
Fire rings, picnic tables, and portable toilets are the only amenities on site.
Why you’ll love staying here: The campground is fairly close to the attractions in Napa Valley but far enough away to offer a secluded experience.
Most sites are right on the lake, and there’s a boat launch. There is also a marina and a general store.
A Day in Napa Valley
You don’t have to love wine to enjoy a visit to Napa Valley, California, but it certainly helps. With its mix of intimate inns, rustic restaurants, and breathtaking landscapes, this famed wine region has something for everyone.
Slow down because there’s a lot to take in. You’ll find the people of Napa Valley are as serious about their food as they are about their world-class wines.
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