Is wine the first thing that enters your head when you think of a weekend in Napa Valley? Well, there’s a good reason for that. Ever since the 1976 blind wine tasting event in France (portrayed in the film Bottleshock), the Napa Valley has blossomed into one of the top destinations in the world for wine lovers.
While it is undoubtedly true that wine tasting is a top reason for most people to visit the Napa Valley it is by no means the only reason. This beautiful piece of California is also home to top notch cuisine, an abundance of art galleries, live music and theater, opportunities to get out into nature and even adventure activities.
Things to do for a Weekend in Napa
Let’s start with the obvious: wine tasting. Napa Valley is heaven for wine lovers and you could literally spend months trying to visit every winery in the region. For this reason, we suggest you do some research and go armed with a bit of a game plan.
If you have a non-wine lover in your group (gasp!) then you may be well set with a designated driver for a self-guided tour. Start by making a list of specific wineries you want to visit or pick a small area to explore rather than drive around aimlessly losing precious tasting time. Then use Google Maps to plan a route and itinerary.
If you all want to taste then a tour is a much better option. There are plenty of companies to chose from, like Napa Valley Tours and Transportation, for example. Most tour companies will offer many different options depending on the size of your group, the type of wine you prefer, the style of experience you’re looking for as well as your budget.
Tip: You may be tempted to hit all the big names if it’s your first visit to Napa Valley. However, keep in mind that they will be the busiest wineries which means crowds and long waits. Our suggestion is to pick a couple of big names then add a few boutiques and off the beaten path wineries for a more relaxed and intimate experience. Also, for a real treat, seek out small-batch winemakers like Hesperian Wines whose focus is on quality over quantity.
You can’t go wine tasting on an empty stomach so it’s no surprise that the Napa Valley boasts hundreds of fabulous eateries. You will find almost every type of local and international cuisine served up in a variety of atmospheres.
From cute cafes to wine bars, from family-friendly to romantic restaurants, from food markets to farm to table vineyard dining, Napa Valley has it covered. The only thing you will struggle to find is a ton of fast-food chains, but isn’t that a good thing?
There are far too many restaurants to even begin to list in this overview post so we’ll save that for a more detailed post on Napa restaurants. But, we do suggest making a stop at the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. The market is full of edibles as beautiful as they’re delicious and it’s a fun way to do your own food tasting if you can’t decide on just one thing.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
There is nothing quite like watching the sunrise from a hot air balloon and Napa Valley is a perfect place to do it. Join Napa Valley Drifters for a surreal experience of floating peacefully above the vineyards as the sun rises in the sky to reveal the colors of the picturesque landscape below. Oh, and to top it off you will be able to cheer the new day with a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine.
Tip: When selecting a company for a hot air balloon ride it’s really important to make sure the pilots are certified and experienced for the area you are touring. Although we haven’t personally flown with Napa Valley Drifters they do have a very good reputation which is why we mention them here.
How about balancing all those wine and food calories with some exercise? The Napa Valley is flat and ideal for cycling. You can turn it into a wine tasting/cycle tour or just venture off down the smaller roads for some picturesque scenery.
Some of our favorite spots for cycling are around Calistoga, from Napa to Yountville and the peaceful Silverado Trail. There are plenty of places to rent a bike so no need to bring your own. Just pick up a winery map and get pedaling. If you’d rather join a guided group cycling tour there are several companies like Napa Valley Bike Tours who will take good care of you. They even have electric bikes if you’re not us for pedaling.
Tip: Check with your hotel before renting. Some places, like the River Terrace Inn, offer free use of bikes during your stay.
Ok, so we have good food, great wine, and beautiful scenery. What could we possibly add to this list to put the cherry on top of a weekend getaway to Napa Valley? How about a spa day?
Many of the luxury hotels in the area will have their own spas for guest usage. If you aren’t at one of those accommodations you can book in at a day spa-like the one at Calistoga Spa and Hot Springs. Here you can choose from an array of treatments including a relaxing mud bath.
Napa Valley Wine Train
The Napa Valley Wine Train may be the second most unique way to see the area (right after a hot air balloon ride.) You will travel on a vintage train along a 36-mile route between Napa and St Helena. Car interiors are designed using mahogany wood, brass and velvet making you feel like a glamorous golden age celebrity as you sip wine and watch the valley scenery go by.
The train runs twice a day and last 3 to 6 hours. There are options for a multi-course gourmet lunch or dinner, a half-day winery tour or a full-day winery tour.
Tip: As you might expect the Wine Train is a bit on the pricey side so we suggest looking for special sales and discounts.
Take a Class
Do you want to learn more about the wine and food of the Napa Valley? There are some great wine courses and culinary classes available. The Culinary Institute of America offers classes and courses for every skill level from beginner to advanced and they also have wine and beverage classes.
Tip: Take a peek at Visit Napa Valley’s website for some more suggestions on food and wine classes available.
Did you know you can kayak in the Napa Valley? Me neither but it’s now high on my list next time I visit. It seems that the Napa River is a favorite spot for kayakers and paddle boarders and there are several companies offering rentals and guided tours.
The guided tours will take you on a scenic paddle where you will learn about the waterways and wildlife as well as the history of the Napa Valley. These tours are suitable for all ages and levels. If you have some experience kayaking or paddleboarding then hourly or daily rentals allow you to choose your own adventure.
The Napa Valley is home to some amazing artists and so there is no shortage of opportunities to view their works. There are numerous art galleries in the valley’s towns which make great stops in between wine tasting. The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art is a favorite with self-guided and fully guided tours available.
Napa and Yountville also have their own Art Walks. There are sculptures and artworks scattered throughout the towns allowing visitors to explore at their leisure in the lovely Napa Valley fresh air. Just pick up a map or download a self-guided tour on your smartphone.
Music and Theater
If you’re looking for some evening entertainment there are some fun and unique options. The Uptown Theater was originally a movie house when it opened in 1937 but today it is an intimate venue for live acts like David Crosby and Peter Frampton.
Another popular spot for live acts is the Blue Note Napa. Here you can catch everything from music to comedy to Hawaiian shows.
For movies, nothing beats the 100+-year-old Cameo Cinema where they have a live intro before every movie taking you back to the Golden Age of theater.
Where to Stay in Napa Valley
The Napa Valley has many different options for accommodations. You can choose from romantic B&B’s and Inns, full-service hotels or luxury resorts with spas. There are even some budget chains where you can book a room for under $100 USD per night. In fact, there are so many choices that we can’t even scratch the surface in this post so we will just offer up a few tips.
Start by using a good booking site to get an idea of what’s available for your dates. We like to start with Hotels Combined because they compile all the large sites and their prices for your comparison. This way you can make sure you’re getting the best price.
Next, decide on your budget and preferred location. Booking sites like Hotels Combined make it easy to filter based on what your priorities are: budget, location, amenities etc.
When deciding on location keep in mind what you plan to do on your weekend getaway. For example, if you are looking for a peaceful, laid back retreat within easy distance to downtown Napa then somewhere like the River Terrace Inn will definitely make you happy. If a spa weekend is more what you’re after then look at somewhere like Calistoga Spa & Hot Springs.
If you flew into the valley and don’t rent a car then you may want to stay in downtown Napa or Yountville. This way you can walk to dinner and evening entertainment after you return from your day of wine tasting tours.
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Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.