At least once a week I get asked about where to go and what to do in Napa from people online who are planning a visit. So I put together this ever-changing (mobile phone friendly) guide to visiting Napa Valley. Pretty soon I'll have a Foursquare and/or Forkly guide, along with ongoing updates. Check back frequently to see added content.
Anywhere you see a Forkly photo, click the name of the venue at the bottom of the photo to see where it's located on the map.
General Suggestions and Observations
Try to cluster places you want to visit together. In other words, don’t try to drive all over the valley and visit a winery in Calistoga, then drive to St. Helena then back down to Stag’s Leap. Save your self drive time by doing the south part of the valley one day, and the north part another day.
Plan on 3-4 winery visits at the most. The visits will always take longer than you think. Trying to cram 5 or more winery visits into the day is not likely once you add in drive time and stops for food, photos or other breaks.
Allow time for discovery in your itinerary. There’s so much to see and do that I can’t possibly fit it all in here. Leave your schedule loose so you can find your own hidden gems.
Traffic gets bad on Hwy 29 in the afternoon, especially around St. Helena. You’ve been warned. Silverado Trail runs parallel, and it’s a prettier drive.
Tasting rooms are not there for you to get drunk. They’re there for you to learn a bit about the winery and their wines. The people behind the bar are incredibly patient people who have to deal with some real challenging high maintenance visitors. Don’t be one of them. In fact, tipping the person behind the bar is a common courtesy if they showed you a good time.
There’s not bad time of year to visit.
Napa is approximately 30 miles long top to bottom (Calistoga to Carneros), and about 5 miles wide at its widest point. It’s about an hour and a half from the Golden Gate bridge give or take.
Some wineries take reservations. Some don’t. You can call, or better yet, tweet ahead of time to find out.
Tasting fees. We all hate ‘em but they’re a necessity because in the old days bus loads of people would show up wanting to get drunk for free. Wineries had to come up with a way to circumvent this behavior. It doesn’t take much to get your fee waived, sometimes if you buy something or tweet them ahead they might waive yours.
Large groups over 4-6 people need to call ahead. Most wineries can accommodate, but don’t just show up and then get upset when the winery can’t give the best experience.
The Napa Valley Wine Train is a fun way to see the valley. I've ridden it 5 times since moving here and love it each time. You can enjoy good food and good wine while chugging along through vineyards.
SOUTH NAPA VALLEY
Lodging — South Napa Valley
Napa Marriott - Downtown Napa has been growing, but Napa Marriott is actually located in a better spot right off Hwy 29. Their newly remodeled lobby and restaurant, along with enough powerful free wifi to power a small city make this a prime spot to stay, especially if you like racking up Marriott points. They've got this chorizo breakfast item and a chorizo burger that's pretty good. But the chickpea fries are off the hook.
Food — South Napa Valley
Celedon - This sister restaurant to Cole’s Chophouse is a Napa favorite. The outdoor seating lets cool breezes in, but keeps bugs out. The food is awesome and relatively priced similar to the rest of the valley. Every time I come in, Chef Cole comes over and says hi. Lots of good pork products on the menu, which is nice.
Angele - Next to Celedon in downtown Napa, located on the river. Angele is a French inspired spot with plenty of good wine and food options. Haven’t had a bad experience here.
Oenotri - Sometimes it’s good to go against the grain. Oenotri is an Italian Countryside themed restaurant with an awesome chef and awesome sommelier. The menu offers reasonably priced dishes along with a 25 wines for $25 list. One of our favorite restaurants in Napa.
Norman Rose Tavern - Downtown Napa next door to Oenotri. Great place for a cold beer and some sliders.
Bistro Sabor - When you want a break from the usual California faire, Bistro Sabor serves up unpretentious dishes inspired by Ariel Ceja’s mexican heritage. He’s a member of the Ceja winery family, with deep roots in Napa Valley.
1313 Main - This is a newer spot to find its way into the fabric of downtown Napa. 1313 Main is more of a wine tasting bar with a wide range of wines from California as well as from overseas. Their space is divided into some unique "rooms" from the speakeasy in the front of the house to the private tasting loung in the back.
Oxbow Market - This place is like Disneyland for foodies. Lots and lots of purveyors of fine food items along with some really good restaurants like Pica Pica (Brazilian food), Hog Island Oysters, C Casa Taqueria and Oxbow Cheese Merchant among others.
Model Bakery - Like Gott’s, their other location is in St. Helena. Great for breakfast.
Boon Fly Cafe - Way down in the south part of Napa on Hwy 121. Boon Fly is located in this weird little location that feels like somebody squooshed it together. But the breakfast items are worth checking out on your way into the valley. My favorite is the warm chocolate chip cookie.
Bounty Hunter - BBQ done right. Great wine selection too. Bounty Hunter is located in downtown Napa, which makes it convenient, but finding a seat can be a challenge at times, especially for large groups.
Gott’s Roadside - Located next to the Oxbow Market. This is the other Napa location for Gott’s. The other is in St. Helena.
Redd - Surrounded by world-class dining establishments owned by celebrity chefs in Yountville, Redd holds its own. Chef Richard Reddington has some of the best pork and seafood dishes in the valley, along with a stellar wine list. I took my wife here for her birthday and we loved it. Sit in the bar area if you can or maybe outside on the patio. Redd is an awesome restaurant with awesome food.
Redd Wood - This new hot spot is right by French Laundry in Yountville. The Redd Wood room is Redd's second restaurant featuring a more casual italian menu.
Ad Hoc - This is the sister restaurant to French Laundry with a fixed price comfort food theme. You basically all get the day's menu. If you can make it there on a Monday night for fried chicken you'll be in heaven. People line up out the door for that one.
Wineries Worth Discovering — South Napa Valley
Domaine Carneros - On the way into Napa as you drive on Hwy 121 you’ll see a winery on the side of the road that looks like a Chateau. That’s Domaine Carneros, owned by the Tattinger house in Champagne, France. They make some of the best bubbles in the states as well as some still wine bargains like their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Photo opps and the views are spectacular. Great as a first stop or last stop of the day.
Pine Ridge - This is a total touristy place but that's okay. It's a unique experience as the winery is built into caves going into the hillside that's covered with vines. They have a wide range of wines at various price points from the Chenin Blanc-Viogner (a steal at $11) to the upper range of Cabernet's. Mrs. B likes their selection of Chardonnay's, including the Dijon Clone.
Silverado - I proposed to my wife here.
Cuvaison - Like buttery Chardonnay? Across the street from Domaine Carneros is Cuvaison. They make my wife’s favorite Chardonnay in the valley, the S-Block. They also have stunning views and are surrounded by 360-degrees of vines.
MID NAPA VALLEY
Food — Mid Napa Valley
La Luna Taqueria - This is the place locals go for lunch. La Luna is a market located down the street from BV and Rutherford Grill on Rutherford Road. For a few bucks, you can have some delicious tacos, huge burritos or tasty tortas. It’s one of the more affordable lunches you can have in Napa without the show.
Alex Italian - A little higher end dining, but enjoyable.
Dean and Deluca - Their breakfast and lunch sandwich’s are delicious. And they have some of the best coffee in the valley. The turkey pesto sandwich is the #1 selling sku in the whole place. Not a bad option if you want a quality lunch but don’t want to sit down. Prices are moderate (lunch will set you back about $10-$15 a person for sandwich and drink). Seating inside is non-existent so take it to go or eat outside next to the fountain. Oh yeah, they have naughty baked goods that you can't resist.
Rutherford Grill - These guys are blessed with a prime location. Keep that in mind when it’s lunch time because they fill up fast. The French Dip might very well be one of the top 3 dishes in the whole valley. Portions are huge, so sharing isn’t hard to do. Also, the grilled artichoke appetizer will be a favorite even for meat eaters.
Gott’s Roadside - The roadside ‘50s style hamburger stand is alive and well. Gott’s is a favorite destination and a moderately priced option for lunch. I say moderately because you’ll get all the classic burger stand options, but with a twist. All the food is sourced fresh locally. The burger meat comes from a high quality ranch. The herbs come from the garden out back. Shakes are $6 which is ridiculous but the sweet potato fries will make up for it. It was called Taylor’s Refresher for decades so don’t be confused by the Taylor’s sign that’s still out front.
Wineries Worth Discovering — Mid Napa Valley
Flora Springs - One of the more modern tasting rooms is Flora Springs located next to Dean and Deluca. It’s more like a hipster NYC bar than it is a winery, but that’s okay. You’ll be treated to a wide range of wines
*Corison - This isn’t a tourist trap and doesn’t get mentioned on many people’s lists when thinking of where to go in Napa. It’s very laid back at Corison, and if you’re lucky you’ll get to meet Hardy Wallace or Cathy Corison. Corison gets an asterisks because they have (in my opinion) one of the best Cabernet Sauvignon’s in Napa. If you’re going to buy Napa wine, consider adding Corison to your cellar. Thank me later.
Caymus - Caymus is a legendary producer in Napa offering a wide range of wines from a wide range of labels. You’ll need to call ahead to make an appointment here but, when you do you’ll probably get to taste some Mer Soleil Chardonnay, Belle Glos Pinot Noir as well as the famous Caymus Cab.
Round Pond - Probably the coolest patio upstairs with amazing views of the valley in all directions. We had a fun time there, and it may not be as busy as other places.
NORTH NAPA VALLEY
Lodging — North Napa Valley
Solage - It’s pricey. I’m not gonna lie, but it’s a destination you go to when you want pampering.
Food — North Napa Valley
Busters BBQ - Busters is a local favorite. Again, if you don’t want to spend a lot, but get a tasty meal, Buster’s is the place. It started out as a 100 sq. ft. building but they’ve since added on. The spicy BBQ is really spicy. No really. The menu is pretty basic BBQ stuff—Tri-Tip, Half Chickens, Ribs and Pork Tenderloin with the usual sides.
Model Bakery - Awesome for breakfast. You’ll find Model Bakery baked goods on the menus of other local restaurants for good reason. For example, Gott’s Roadside uses Model Bakery buns on their burgers and sandwich’s. I love their breakfast sandwich on their english muffins. Yum!
SolBar at Solage - This place is one of my favorites in all of California. They just won a Michelin star for the third year in a row for good reason. The outdoor seating area is awesome. The wine list is awesome. The sliders with 10-hour braised onions and thick cut bacon are awesome. SolBar is a LEEDS certified building that feels both open and spacious as well as modern and rustic.
Jolé - Lesser known but worth discovering if you’re in Calistoga. This is a good place to consider for dinner.
Wineries Worth Discovering — North Napa Valley
Cuvaison - This is their other tasting room aside from the one down south in Carneros. Check out Cuvaison’s range of Chardonnay’s and Pinot Noirs in a hipster, modern tasting room.
Castello di Amorosa - What an impressive project this sister property to V. Sattui is! Although it’s a bit of a tourist trap, it’s a very cool unique experience. This is the closest thing to a real castle with an actual moat, torture chamber and dungeon. The attention to detail is impeccable. There’s a wide range of wines available to try and purchase. You’ll feel like they’re trying to milk every last cent out of you there, and they could be a bit less aggressive about it in my opinion but the castle is something worth doing at least once when visiting Napa.
Schramsburg - Probably the best sparkling wine producer in California with a rich history. If you do the tour you’ll have a chance to tour the caves and see how sparkling wine is made in the traditional method, including technique by their master riddler. That’s the guy who goes through and rotates each bottle little by little until all the secondary ferment has moved into the neck of the bottle. He does this over and over on thousands of bottles every day.
Vincent Arroyo - This is a lesser known producer off the beaten trail. Vincent Arroyo makes a stellar Petit Sirah and has a warm feel.