First time to Napa Valley and have no idea where to begin? You have come to the right place because I have been in your shoes. It can be overwhelming. Your head is spinning with all of these decisions that you need to make. However, I am here to help with my first time to Napa Valley itinerary, the ultimate guide to visiting Napa Valley.
This guide will include what you need to know before booking wine tastings, a checklist for a day trip itinerary, and tips on making the most out of your Napa Valley experience.
The average cost for a basic wine tasting in Napa Valley is $40 per person. That easily adds up when you visit multiple wineries in a weekend.
If you want to save money on wine tasting and use it elsewhere like towards accommodations, restaurants, and tours- Priority Wine Pass can cut your tasting fees in half! Literally.
They offer 2 for 1 tastings at participating wineries. So you only need one pass per couple! It’s a pretty incredible deal!
* My readers get the Wine Pass at a discounted rate. Make sure to use the coupon code TTWT to get the best deal!
Napa Valley is one of my favorite destinations to visit on earth! Every time we go, I fall more and more in love with this place. Lucky for me, I moved to Oakland 5 years ago, which is only an hour’s drive away from Napa Valley.
Since moving here, we have been fortunate to have visited Napa on numerous occasions, probably more times than I should admit. We have done the day trips, stayed the night, brought our out-of-town friends, and even our parents. So we have seen many different sides and ways to explore Napa Valley.
Continue reading, for our tips and knowledge that I wish I knew before planning our first few Napa trips.
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
Napa Valley Map
For your first time in Napa Valley, one of the important things that you need to know is the geography of Napa Valley. In the beginning, this confused the heck out of me, so let me help simplify it for you.
When you are googling “Best Napa Valley Wineries”, you should know that there is a difference between Napa and Napa Valley the region.
The Napa Valley region consists of 5 main major towns across 30 miles. Each town in Napa Valley differs from one another, especially in the type of wine they produce. A big mistake people make when visiting Napa is planning to visit wineries without reviewing a map of Napa Valley.
Napa Valley Regions: A Little about Each Location
The largest town in Napa Valley. Downtown Napa and the surrounding area have a little bit of everything, including luxury lodging, paved bike trails, walks along Napa River, paddle boarding, nightlife, and of course, a ton of wineries and tasting rooms to visit. Napa is the closest region to San Francisco.
The chicest location in Napa Valley. If you are looking for luxury with upscale accommodations and restaurants, Yountville is the town for you. It is where you can find the famous, but very expensive, Michelin Starr restaurant, French Laundry. Also, many other world-class restaurants.
Also known as Napa Valleys Main Street. A charming wine country town with many boutique shops, galleries, and luxurious resorts.
It’s an easy-going and relaxed town in Napa Valley. Calistoga is noted for its geothermal hot springs, making it the perfect location to book a day at the spa.
Know Before You Go: When you are planning your first trip to Napa Valley, choose the winery at the farthest point first and work your way back. It will save you time from driving back and forth. Or another idea is to make reservations in the same town to avoid driving more than 10 minutes to each winery.
What is The Best Time of Year to Visit Napa Valley
To be completely honest, I cannot think of a time when it is not a good idea to go wine tasting in Napa Valley. However, when planning your trip to Napa, it is helpful to know the different Napa Valley seasons to know what to expect.
Napa Valley Seasons
Even though most people from out of state do not think California has seasons, we do. Here is the breakdown of each season in Napa Valley, California.
Spring Time In Napa
My favorite time of year to visit Napa Valley. 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.
Summers in Napa
Temperatures start to rise, and you will encounter many hot days in the 80s-90s. Prices for lodging also increase, and wine tastings reservations will begin to fill up. The end of summer is also the start of the harvest season when grapes are at their peak ripeness.
Fall Time in Napa AKA Harvest Season
The majority of fall is harvest season, which is also considered Napa Valley’s peak season. Harvest season is between August to October and is when you are going to find a lot of fun festivals 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. If you are planning on traveling between these dates, make sure to book stay and reservations months in advance.
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.
Winter in Napa The Budget Friendly Month
It does get chilly in Napa Valley in the winter. You will experience temperatures around the 40’s to 50’s and some rainy days throughout the winter months. Do not let that deter you from visiting. During the wintertime, you will find fewer crowds, off-season hotel rates, and get to taste delicious wine. That is still considered a win for me.
How Much Does it Cost to go to Napa Valley: What to Expect
Wine Tasting Prices
Before you start planning your first time in Napa Valley, the steep prices are one thing you should be aware of. There is a hefty price tag that comes with wine tasting in Napa Valley.
An average wine tasting will usually run you at $35 to $50. 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 become a wine club member.
All wine clubs are not the same. I write more about that below. Either way, you are going to be spending some serious cash.
Some wineries, such as Sutter Home, offer free tastings, but my advice is don’t do it. You can buy Sutter Home at Wine & Spirits in Philadelphia. Napa Valley offers many incredible local wineries and wines that you will not find at a grocery store.
How to Save Money on Wine Tasting
It is actually possible to save money when booking your wine tastings in Napa Valley. As I stated above Napa Valley is not cheap, so we like to save anywhere we can.
The Priority Wine Pass offers you discounts at many of the participating wineries and experiences in Napa Valley.
The Priority Wine Pass has a long list of wineries in Napa Valley for you to choose from; a few of our favorites on 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!
The Priority Wine Pass
Besides providing discounts at numerous wineries in Napa Valley, the Priority Wine Pass also offers savings on popular tours in Napa Valley. You can receive discounts on Napa Valley Bike Tours, the Napa Valley Wine Train, and wine cave tours.
Wino like myself? Priority Wine Pass is not just for Napa Valley but can also earn you savings at many other popular wine tasting destinations. Such as Sonoma, Paso Robles, Livermore, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Santa Cruz, Ventura, Oregon, Washington, and more.
✅ 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 2023: All You Need to Know
Cost of Hotels and Airbnbs in Napa Valley
There are so many luxurious resorts and boutique hotels in Napa Valley, but they are pricey! For example, staying at a hotel chain like the Best Western will cost you around $285 a night. Airbnb is not the cheaper option either. Most of the time, I find the houses located too far away from Napa Valley to be worth it.
Ways to avoid these high prices are by day trips to Napa, booking lodging months in advance, staying in accommodations outside of Napa Valley, or visiting during the week. To get the best prices at hotels, book 3-4 months in advance. If you decide to book last minute, you will be paying the price.
Napa Valley is enormous, I have been there many times, and I still feel like I have so much to see, do, drink, and eat when I’m there. However, if you are on a limited schedule, Napa Valley can be done as a day trip. We do it all of the time.
If you are fortunate to have more time to spend in Napa Valley, I suggest four days and 3 nights. That is the perfect amount of time to experience and get a good taste of Napa.
Traveling or Living in the San Francisco Bay Area?
Find some other awesome day trips and itineraries in Northern California.
Half Moon Bay: Less than an hour from San Francisco, it is the perfect day trip away from the city. Located on the gorgeous northern California coast.
Jack London Square: Oaklands version of Fisherman’s Wharf. Located on the Bay near Downtown Oakland. Great spot for excellent restaurants, beautiful views, and the best farmer’s market in Oakland,
You Need to Make Reservations for Wine Tasting in Advance
In the past, reservations were not always necessary to get a wine tasting. However, within the last two years, all wineries require a reservation.
If your party is more than six people, I suggest calling the winery to ask for availability. Or you could book two separate reservations. Once you decide that you are going to Napa Valley, you should immediately book your wine tastings, especially if it’s for a weekend.
Most popular wineries, such as Stags Leap, are always booked months out. If you can, visiting mid-week will always give you more available reservations at the wineries.
What to Wear in Napa Valley
Definitely, a question I had so many times. If you are not sure what to wear wine tasting in Napa Valley. Don’t worry! I got you covered!
I created an entire guide where you can find tips on what to wear wine tasting during any season, what not to wear when visiting wineries and a packing checklist. This guide will provide you with plenty of winery outfit ideas so you can be prepared for your own fabulous trip to Wine Country.
How Many Wineries Should You Visit in One Day in Napa
Depending on the crowd, I usually book 2 to 3 wine tastings in a day. 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.
Know before you go: If you are looking for wine tastings after 5:00 pm, the tasting rooms in Downtown Napa usually stay open later in the day.
Since it’s your first time in Napa Valley, let me explain the number of wine tastings, and what you think would work for you.
Two wine tastings are considered a calm day, for three wine tastings you will need to keep an eye on the clock, and for four tastings you may feel a little rushed between wineries.
I highly suggest getting an early start on your day, no matter how many wine tastings you decide to do. It is the best way to relax and enjoy Napa without squeezing in all of your wine tastings in a short period of time.
For more tips you can visit my post: How many wineries can you visit in a day in Napa Valley
How Much Time Do You Need at Each Winery
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. It can ruin the Napa Valley experience if you are rushing through your wine tastings.
How to Easily Book Your Wine Tastings
Using one of these websites can provide you with a list of wineries and their available tastings for the day. If this is one of your first times in Napa Valley, you may find it easier to make reservations on CellarPass or Tock instead of individually looking at each winery’s website for availability.
How to Get to Napa Valley
The best and most efficient way to get to Napa Valley would be by car. If you are traveling from out of town, consider renting a car for transportation.
Which Airport Do You Fly Into For Napa Valley
- 70 miles from San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
- 63 miles from Oakland International Airport (OAK)
- 75 miles from Sacramento International Airport (SMF)
- 94 miles from San Jose International Airport (SJC)
- 34 miles from Sonoma County Airport (STS)
How to Get Around Napa
If you are traveling for a limited time, do not depend on Uber in Napa Valley as your main source of transportation. You do not want to be wasting precious time waiting around for your Uber or Lyft to arrive.
Also, most wineries only allow a 15 minute grace period for your wine tasting reservations. If you plan on Ubering around, there are limited shared cars in Napa Valley prices could be high on a busy weekend.
Hire A Private Driver
To me, this is the way to go when visiting Napa Valley. 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.
Napa Valley Wine Train
If you are looking for a unique and different way to see Napa Valley, Downtown Napa offers a Napa Wine Train. It’s a fun option for a group to do on their first time visiting Napa Valley. They provide various experiences and packages.
You can ride the rails and experience sweeping views of Napa Valley with a gourmet multi-course meal on their two-story Vista Dome. Or extend your journey and add on a wine tasting and tour at two well-known wineries in Napa Valley.
Other Options for Getting Around Napa Valley
For more options for getting around Napa, you can visit my post Is There Uber in Napa: How to Get Around Napa Valley.
Discover Some of the Best Restaurants in Napa Valley
Besides tasting world-class wine, Napa Valley also offers an incredible array of Michelin Starr restaurants. To name a few popular ones:
- French Laundry $$$$ French cuisine
- Auberge du Soleil $$$$ French cuisine
- Buchon $$$ French cuisine (same chef as French Laundry)
- Kenzo $$$ Japanese cuisine
However, do not feel pressured into booking a meal at an expensive Michelin Starr restaurant because you do not need to break the bank to get a good meal in Napa.
Farm to Table Restaurants in Napa Valley
Why does everyone rave about the restaurants in Napa? It is because Napa Valley is big on farm-to-table. If you are unfamiliar with the term, farm to table is when the food served at the restaurant comes directly from a local farm.
The restaurant will only cook with fresh and locally grown ingredients, which also includes their meat as well. They will source their meat directly from a farm, rather than a distribution company.
Oxbow Public Market
Located in Downtown Napa, the Oxbow Public Market is an incredible marketplace where you can find artisan cafes, local food vendors, and organic produce.
Insiders Tip: Plan your Lunch at Napa Valley in Advance
Since wineries are only open between 10a to 5p, we usually like to eat our lunches while we are wine tasting. Many people do not know this, but most wineries do not serve food.
Some will have a charcuterie board with cheese and crackers, but with a busy day filled with multiple wine tastings, you are going to need food with a little more substance.
Know before you go: Book a wine tasting at a winery that serves food from around noon to 1:30 pm. Or you can also do is buy sandwiches at one of the many local delis and bring your lunch to your afternoon wine tasting. Keep reading, I have provided some suggestions below.
Napa Valley Wine Club Membership: What Does That Usually Entail
Every winery has its own unique wine club membership that they offer to you at the end of your wine tasting. Do not feel forced into signing up.
Being a wine club member comes with some perks at the winery, such as free wine tastings, discounted prices, access to events throughout the year, and more. Yes, you technically sign up for free.
However, there usually is a price point that you have to spend on wine or fulfill shipments of wine each year. For example, I belong to a wine club in Sonoma that requires me to buy six bottles of wine of my choosing three times a year.
Or another wine club to join that is easier to fulfill is at is Castell di Amoroso. You can make a one-time purchase of 12 bottles or spend $500 and be a wine club member for the year.
A Wine Club is the perfect option for you if you plan on traveling to Napa more than once a year or your state allows wine shipments. Otherwise, it may not be worth it for you to join.
Do You Tip When Wine Tasting: What is the Etiquette?
For a wine tasting, tips are not expected, but they are, of course, appreciated. 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 from one of their favorite wines. If you received exceptional service and enjoyed your wine tasting, tipping your server or sommelier is greatly encouraged.
A First Timer’s Guide to Napa Valley: How to Plan a One-day Itinerary Checklist
- Plan two to three wineries a day
- Wineries open at 10 am and close at 5 pm
- Make Reservations in advance
- Book 2 hours between each reservation
- Geographical locations are key when planning your itinerary
- Select a winery that serves food around lunchtime:
- V. Sattui: At their Artisan Deli and Marketplace, they offer a selection of sandwiches, salads, and pasta dishes for the perfect picnic. On weekends they offer a BBQ and food truck
- Piazza Del Dotto Winery & Caves: wood-fired pizzas are served at the end of one of their cave experiences and barrel tastings.
- Cakebread Cellars: Wine and food pairing $75 per person
- Robert Mondavi: Vineyard to table lunch $150 per person
- If you would like to continue wine tasting after 5 pm, consider visiting a tasting room located in one of the downtown areas. Tasting rooms tend to stay open later.
- Pack sandwiches from a local deli and bring them to your wine tasting (if outside food is allowed at the winery)
- Oakville Grocery
- Oxbow Public Market
- To end your day of wine tasting, book a reservation at one of the amazing restaurants in Napa Valley.
- Other options include picking up dinner at Oxbow Market or buy some delicious meat to cook on your own at Fatted Calf. Fatted Calf is also in Downtown Napa and is a high-end butcher. A little bit on the pricier side, however, their selection of meat is outstanding.
Oxbow Public Market
Pros and Cons of Visiting Napa Valley
As always, I like to provide pros and cons list at the end of my posts to give you an honest review of the location.
Pros of Visiting 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.
Napa Valley can be done as a day trip from San Francisco. If you only have a couple of days visiting The Bay Area, you should place Napa Valley high on your list of things to do. I promise you will not regret it!
Cons of Napa Valley
The biggest con of Napa Valley is the price. Since this location is world-renowned, the tastings and lodging do come with a higher price tag than some other wine tasting areas in California.
However, I do think it is worth the splurge to visit Napa Valley. It’s an incredible experience that you will not regret spending a little extra money on.
Wine Country Planning Guide
🗓 What is the best time to visit? Wine tasting in California is always a good idea! However, my personal favorite time to visit wine country is in the spring. ☀️
You will have gorgeous weather, fewer crowds, wildflowers blooming, and more affordable accommodations.
🚗 Should I rent a car? Yes, if you plan on staying more than a night in Napa or Sonoma, I suggest you rent a car.
✔️ Compare the best rate for car rentals in California here
🏨 What’s the best way to book my accommodation? When visiting wine country I prefer to book hotels over Airbnb and VRBO. This is because a lot of the shared homes are too far from the wineries and they are usually pretty expensive.
Booking is a reliable site to book at thousands of hotels in California. They also have a great and flexible cancellation policy for no extra fee.
🧳 What do I pack for wine country? My go to outfit for wine tasting is a flowy dress and comfortable shoes. Find my FREE guide for What to Wear (And Not Wear) Wine Tasting in California
💸 Budgeting for your trip to California As you will quickly find out wine tasting ain’t cheap- especially in Napa Valley. Save some money and book discounted wine tastings and experiences with Priority Wine Pass.
Save even more with my coupon code TTWT!! 🤑 With my Travel Today Work Tomorrow exclusive deal you can save an extra $20 on a yearly Priority Pass.
✈️ Booking your flight to California As you know, visiting California can be pricey! Another great money saving tip for wine country is to look for the best rate for flights on Skyscanner