The Ultimate First Time to Napa Valley Itinerary

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Looking to plan the ultimate first time to Napa Valley itinerary and have no idea where to begin?

I get it, I have been in your shoes. Planning a trip to Napa Valley can feel very overwhelming.

There are over 400 wineries to choose from, tons of restaurants and accommodations, and your head is spinning with all of these decisions that you need to make. However, I am here to help.

I moved to the Bay Area in 2017 and Napa Valley quickly became one of my favorite destinations to visit on earth! Every time we go, I fall more and more in love with this place.

I am so excited to share with you all of my insider tips that I wish i knew before our first visit, to help you plan an unforgettable Napa Valley itinerary.

Let’s dive in!

💰 Want to Save $$ Wine Tasting

If you are looking to save money on wine tasting, the Priority Wine Pass offers incredible discounts, including their famous 2-for-1 tastings at select wineries that can cut your tastings in half. 
* Plus for the best deal, my readers can get an extra discount with the code TTWT.

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    First Time to Napa Valley Itinerary

    First things first, I want to share with you an itinerary that I think is perfect for your first visit to Napa Valley. It includes a few of the more popular and iconic wineries in Napa, I have added tips on where to eat throughout the day.

    Keep reading after the itinerary, you will find many more planning tips and top recommendations of where to stay.

    Stop 1: Breakfast at Bouchon Bakery

    croissant at bouchon bakery
    A yummy croissant from Bouchon Bakery in Yountville

    My best piece of advice for a first timer in Napa Valley is to start early and with a full belly! Begin your day of exploring and wine tasting with a stop for some delicious pastries at the famous Bouchon Bakery.

    Located in the town of Yountville, Bouchon is a French-style bakery by worldwide acclaimed chef, Thomas Keller. As you walk through the door you’re greeted by the heavenly smells of freshly baked goods and a cozy ambiance.

    A favorite of mine are their delicious croissants. They are so buttery and flaky, and are definitely worth the wait. We also always order a box of macaroons to share.

    Bouchon Bakery is a very popular spot in Napa and there is always a line out of the door. What we usually do to avoid waiting in a long line is to order ahead of time from their website so we can skip the line when we arrive.

    bouchon bakery
    Delicious macaroons from Bouchon Bakery

    Stop 2: Castello di Amoroso

    🚗 Bouchon Bakery to Castello di Amoroso: approximately a 25 minute drive

    Castello di Amorosa

    Castello di Amorosa is a medieval-style Tuscan castle in Napa Valley. It is complete with a drawbridge, secret passageways, a torture chamber, and tasting rooms.

    I suggest booking their Diamond Estate Tour & Wine Tasting, it is a guided tour of the castle with the sampling of 5 wines. I have done this tour four times and we still love it! The grounds are beautiful and will definitely wow you on your first time in Napa Valley. 

    If you have a sweet tooth like I do, we also like to add the chocolate upgrade, which pairs three handmade Belgian chocolates with your tasting.

    Stop 3: Sterling Vineyards

    🚗 Castello di Amoroso to Sterling Vineyards: approximately a 2 minute drive

    Views from sterling vineyards
    Stunning views from the top of Sterling Vineyards

    I am so excited to share with you that Sterling Vineyards has FINALLY reopened. It has been closed for over 3 years for renovations but they have opened their doors again for wine tastings and tours in the fall of 2023.

    Sterling Vineyards is perched on a hilltop with panoramic views of its beautiful vineyards. This winery is known throughout Napa Valley for its ionic aerial gondola.

    To reach the top for your wine tasting, you have to take an aerial tram, which provides stunning views as you slowly make your way to the estate.

    Stop 4: V. Sattui Winery

    🚗 Sterling Vineyards to V. Sattui Winery: approximately a 15-minute drive

    V. Sattui Winery in Napa Valley

    Located in St Helena, V. Sattui is one of our favorite wineries to visit in Napa Valley for lunch. Tip, the best way to enjoy V. Sattui is to NOT do a tasting here, but instead, order food from their artisan deli and buy a bottle of wine to sip on while you eat our lunch at their picnic tables.

    V Sattui’s Deli has everything you would need for the perfect picnic, and their food is always so delicious. Their 2 ½ acres of beautiful picnic grounds provide plenty of room for you to sit back and enjoy the vineyard views. 

    V Sattui is unique because most of the wineries in Napa Valley do not offer food. If they do, it’s usually a food pairing with a tasting that can get pretty expensive.

    Stop 5: Stroll Downtown Napa

    If it is your first time visiting Napa Valley then a trip to downtown Napa is a must! You could easily spend the whole day here, it is the largest town in Napa Valley and is usually bustling with people and a vibrant atmosphere.

    Downtown Napa and the surrounding area have a little bit of everything, including paved bike trails, walks along Napa River, paddle boarding, restaurants, nightlife, and of course, a ton of wineries and tasting rooms.

    Some of my favorite places to visit in downtown Napa are Model Bakery for their famous English Muffins, Oxbow Market to pick up local cheeses, meat and fish, organic produce, tasty cupcakes, and more.

    I also really like Fatted Calf, which is a high-end butcher, they offer grass fed beef, house-cured meats, and sandwiches. We’ll stop here to pick up something to make for dinner.

    Tip: Downtown Napa is the closest region to San Francisco. So if you are only in for the day, we usually like to stop here first on our way home to grab some goodies at the Oxbow Market.

    Stop 6: Dinner at Brix Restaurant & Garden’s

    For your first time in Napa Valley, Brix is the perfect restaurant to enjoy dinner with a view. Brix is a farm-to-table California fare restaurant. The food is so yummy, and a lot of their vegetables and herbs come directly from their lush gardens.

    However, the best part about Brix is their outdoor patio oasis. You have upfront views of their gardens, vineyard, and stunning mountain views. After dinner spend time wandering through the beautiful gardens. I highly suggest you sit outside and make your reservations right before sunset.

    Where to Stay in Napa Valley

    The Napa Valley region consists of 4 main major towns – Napa, Yountville, St Helena, and Calistoga.

    Each town in Napa Valley differs from one another, in personality, things to do, and the type of wine they produce. For your first time in Napa Valley, I suggest that you stay in either downtown Napa or St Helena. Downtown Napa offers more nightlife and things to do. Whereas St Helena is laid back and closer to a lot more wineries.

    The Archer Hotel Napa: Located in the heart of downtown Napa, The Archer Hotel is a popular option for accommodation in Napa Valley. It is in a walkable location where you will be footsteps from the Oxbow Market, numerous restaurants, and tasting rooms. They also have a great rooftop bar and restaurant.

    Check rates and availability at The Archer Hotel here

    The Harvest Inn: Another highly recommended hotel in Napa Valley is the charming Harvest Inn. If you are looking to wake up to vineyard views, then this is the spot for you.

    Nestled amidst lush vineyards, picturesque botanical gardens, and the captivating allure of a redwood forest in St. Helena, the Harvest Inn promises an unparalleled wine-country escape. I suggest booking the Vineyard Room for your stay.

    Check rates and availability at The Harvest Inn here

    How to Get to Napa Valley

    How to get to napa valley

    Napa Valley is located near numerous airports, the closest airport is Sonoma County Airport – Charles M. Schultz (STS), about an hour drive to downtown Napa.

    However, there are several other international airports to choose from as well, including San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK), Sacramento International Airport (SMF), and San Jose International Airport (SJC).

    The best and most efficient way to get to Napa Valley would be by car. If you are traveling from out of town, I recommend renting a car for transportation. 

    You can book a private shuttle or car to take you to Napa Valley. Another option would be by shared car, Uber/Lyft, which I typically don’t recommend. Unless you schedule one in advance, prices fluctuate or drivers may cancel your reservation.

    Public transit is also possible, but there is no direct option. So you would need to do a combination of train, ferry, bus, or BART. And it could take 3 hours or so to get to Napa Valley.

    Getting Around Napa Valley 

    Getting around Napa Valley to the wineries your best options are to either drive, Uber, or hire a private driver.

    Uber is available in Napa Valley. However, if you have a full day of wine-tasting reservations or are visiting some of the wineries in the mountains in a remote area, do not depend on Uber in Napa Valley as your main source of transportation.

    You do not want to waste time waiting around for your Uber or Lyft to arrive, especially when most wineries only allow a 15-minute grace period for your wine-tasting reservations.

    Hire A Private Driver

    To me, this is the way to go when visiting Napa Valley. We did this on our last trip to Napa with a group of friends and had so much fun!

    Hiring a private driver gives you the flexibility of planning your own itinerary of wineries. Also, it allows everyone from your party to have fun and participate in the wine tasting without worrying about driving later.

    This custom and private 6-hour tour through Napa Valley will include pick up from your downtown Napa hotel and stops at 2 to 3 different wineries of your choice.

    Plan a private Napa Valley wine tour for 6 people here

     What is The Best Time of Year to Visit Napa Valley

    beautiful wild mustard fields in Napa Valley
    Wild mustard fields during the spring in Napa Valley

    In my experience, I think the best time of year to visit Napa Valley is in the spring. The wildflowers have swept over the lush green hillsides. The weather is absolutely perfect, warm sunny days in the mid-70s and chilly nights. Not the most popular time of year, so you are still able to book last-minute wine tastings.

    Napa’s peak tourist season is during Harvest Season which is from August through October. During this time there are a lot fun festivals, grape stomping, and events at the wineries surrounding harvest season.

    However, this also means that you are going to see more crowds and higher prices for accommodations.

    November is the perfect time to plan a weekend getaway to Napa Valley. You will experience a slower-paced Napa with fewer crowds and cheaper accommodations.

    During the wintertime, there can be chilly and rainy weather. However, you will find fewer crowds, off-season hotel rates, and still get to taste delicious wine!

    How Many Days Do You Need in Napa Valley

    To get the most out of your Napa Valley experience, I suggest four days and 3 nights in wine country. This is the perfect amount of time to get a good taste of Napa’s world-renowned wineries, Michelin-starred restaurants, and boutique shopping without feeling rushed.

    However, if you are on a limited schedule, Napa Valley can be done as a day trip. We do it all of the time!

    Tips for Your First Time in Napa Valley Itinerary

    How Many Wineries Should You Visit in One Day in Napa

    First time to Napa Valley guide

    To fully experience and enjoy each winery, you should only visit two to three wineries in a day in Napa Valley. Two to three wine tastings in one day will allow you to take your time at each winery without rushing from one to the next.

    Wine tastings typically start at 10 am and most wineries close their doors at 5:00 pm, so the last tasting they will do is around 3:30 pm to 4:00 pm. 

    Plan on spending an hour and a half at each winery, and with that in mind, book each wine tasting two hours apart. This will give you plenty of time at each winery.

    Tip: If you are looking for wine tastings after 5:00 pm, the tasting rooms in Downtown Napa usually stay open later in the day. 

    Wine Tasting Reservations

    How many wineries should you visit in a day in napa valley

    Wine tasting reservations at all wineries are required, especially on the weekends.

    Most wineries cap their online reservations at 6 people. If your party is more than six people, I suggest calling the winery to ask for availability. Sometimes they can accommodate.

    How to Easily Book Your Wine Tastings

    You can book your reservation through the wineries website. Or, most not all, wineries usually CellarPass or Tock for their wine-tasting reservations.

    Using one of these websites can provide you with a list of wineries and their available tastings for the day. You may find it easier to make reservations on CellarPass or Tock instead of individually looking at each winery’s website for availability. 

    Do You Tip When Wine Tasting: What is the Etiquette?

    For a wine tasting, tips are not expected, but they are, of course, appreciated. We always tip when we do a wine tasting or wine tasting tour. You will quickly notice that many of the staff working at the wineries are very passionate about their job and the wines they serve.

    They will go out of their way to ensure that you are having a great time, answer all of your questions, and frequently will give you a free tasting of one of their favorite wines. If you received exceptional service and enjoyed your wine tasting, tipping your server or sommelier is greatly encouraged.

    Wine Tasting Prices

    How much do wine tastings cost in napa valley

    As it is your first time to Napa Valley, you may be surprised by the prices of wine tastings. An average wine tasting will usually run you at $40 to $50 per person. However, it is not unusual to see tastings range between $75 to $100 or even more.

    If you do three tastings a day, it starts to add up. Some wineries will waive tasting fees if you purchase a couple of bottles or even more likely when you become a wine club member.

    If you are looking to save some money on wine tasting, a great option is the Priority Wine Pass.

    Priority Wine Pass

    The Priority Wine Pass offers you discounts at many of the participating wineries and experiences in Napa Valley.

    They have a long list of wineries in Napa Valley and other regions in California for you to choose from; a few of our favorites there are Hall Wines, V. Sautti, and Black Stallion. The pass is good for three days, and after just one day of wine tasting, you can easily make that money back.

    Especially, if you take advantage of their 2-for-1 tasting. Whereat participating wineries, you can get one tasting for free with the Priority Wine Pass. Pretty amazing deal!

    * My readers get the Wine Pass at a discounted rate. Make sure to use the coupon code TTWT to get the best deal!

    To save money on your wine tastings get your Priority Pass here

    Want to learn more about the Priority Wine Pass? Priority Wine Pass Is it Worth It: All You Need to Know

    In Conclusion: First Time to Napa Valley

    Napa Valley is a one-of-a-kind location! If you have the opportunity to visit, I think you should absolutely do it! When you drive through the rolling hills of vineyards and the quaint towns of Napa Valley, you feel like you have been teleported to Europe.

    The wine is some of the best in the entire world, and if you don’t consider yourself a “wine person” you will still leave Napa with a great experience. There is so much to learn in Napa with winemaking. You will eat fabulous food, drink the best wine, and take in gorgeous views of vineyards.

    I hope you have found this itinerary and guide to your first time in Napa Valley helpful in planning your trip!

    More Napa Valley Guides on TTWT

    For more Napa Valley advice and tips to help you plan your trip, see one of my guides below.

    ✔️Is There Uber in Napa: How to Get Around Napa Valley
    ✔️How Many Days Do You Need in Napa Valley?
    ✔️Napa Day Trip: 6 Unique Itineraries

    ✔️Closest Airport to Napa Valley Wineries & Top Tips for Getting There