Napa Valley is one of the most popular wine regions in the world – no doubt due to the area’s extensive marketing and continued rollout of new attractions and ways to explore and enjoy the area. You can visit here 10 times and have a different experience each time, because there’s so much to do. Here are 10 tips for making the most of the trip.
1. Consider letting someone else drive. Drink without the worry – let someone else drive. The Napa Valley Wine Train is one great option, or you can have a van-driven tour out from San Francisco to enjoy the day hassle-free. Having a tour means you have less options for exploring on your own, but perhaps a safer journey.
2. Set your budget expectations appropriately. Unlike elsewhere in the world, most Napa wineries charge for their tastings. Some (not many) will give you the money back if you buy wine. It’s unfortunately the cost of being here in pricey California.
3. Explore some of the other towns in the area. There’s more than just Napa in the valley. Petaluma is an interesting town with some nice restaurants (wine pairing, anyone?) How about Sonoma too?
4. Spend the night. There is some really charming boutique accommodation up in this area that can be had for a very reasonable price, especially when you look at the eye-watering cost of hotels in San Francisco these days.
5. Make your own picnic. My favourite Napa experience (I’ve been a few times) is packing a picnic lunch from the grocery – most of these big California stores have everything you need – then doing some tastings, picking 2 wines and enjoying a picnic lunch. Many wineries have seating areas and are more than happy to let you stay awhile, especially if you’re enjoying their wine. Don’t forget the corkscrew!
6. You don’t have to drink wine to enjoy Napa. How about a balloon ride or a couple rounds of golf?
7. Don’t be in a rush. Traffic can be a monster to get out of San Francisco (over the Golden Gate bridge), and you can really drive yourself to death out here. Take your time and give yourself a lots of time to explore. You never know what you might stumble upon en route.
8. Avoid the weekends. They’re the busiest, both at the wineries as well as higher hotel rates. Explore the city for the weekend and use the weekdays for your Napa time – it’s much more enjoyable without the crowds.
9. Plan for the weather. Napa is almost always much warmer than in San Francisco. But bring a jacket if you plan on doing a tour of any wine cellars, which can be downright chilly, especially if you’re in nothing but shorts and t-shirts.
10. Know how much wine you can take home. Remember, there are a lot of restrictions for shipping wine even within the US, and if you plan on taking it with you, be mindful of duty limits and overloading your luggage with breakable wine. A couple of bottles is fine, but a case can be a real hassle. Make sure you pick up some bubble wrap or insulation to make sure you don’t end up with wine-soaked clothes.
Photo credits: Lyn Gateley
Posted : Monday, July 2nd, 2012 at 10:00
Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Seattle, Washington. When not soaking up the Pacific Northwest lifestyle or enjoying life on the road, he is spending time hanging out on his own travel lifestyle magazine, Sharing Travel Experiences.