You don't need to be a wine lover to adore Napa, but it sure helps. This stunning valley in Northern California has become the one of the world's greatest wine destination, with over 400 wineries producing a huge range of wine varieties.
Travel with friends and rent a limousine to see the best wineries in style. Join the Napa Wine Train and sip wine in a restored Pullman car, rent bikes and blend exercise and tasting excursions or just find a secluded spot in the mountains and enjoy an idyllic picnic.
When you've had enough wine, you can watch opera performances, catch a classical concert, attend cookery classes or play some golf. In other words, even if you don't love wine, there are more than enough attractions to make Napa hard to resist.
Every year, more than 3 million people travel to the Napa Valley to visit the more than 400 wineries. Whether you love white, red or rosé, you have a taste for Pinot Noir or Merlot varieties, Napa will have a vintage to satisfy your taste buds.
Napa is a stunning location, with the Napa River snaking through a scenic valley and miles of walking or horse riding trails available for visitors to explore. If you want to get away from it all, nowhere beats Napa.
Napa offers much more than just wine. In fact, it's also a cultural center, with an opera house and symphony orchestra. Visit during the Napa Valley Festival in July to blend wine, food and music in one seductive package.
Food is another major attraction in Napa. There are high-quality Michelin starred restaurants like the Norman Rose Cafe along with superb budget eateries like the Asian Cafe. You can even take cooking classes from the professionals at the Culinary Institute of America in Yountville.
Napa is an easy place to get outside and enjoy yourself. If golf is your passion, courses like Chardonnay provide a tough test. Napa Valley Bike Tours covers the best wineries via pedal power, while the mountains are always inviting for hiking fans.
An off-shoot of the V. Sattui Winery, the Castello di Amorosa captures the authentic taste of 13th-century Tuscany, including a castle built using genuine construction techniques from the period and stunning architectural details. It covers 121,000 square feet, and includes a moat and drawbridge, towers along the wall, and even a torture chamber with a 300-year-old iron maiden torture device. Along with tours of the castle and grounds, there is an extensive wine cellar with tasting rooms, and wines for sale that cannot be purchased anywhere else.
A maker of fine sparkling wines, the Schramsberg Vineyards offers tours and tastings which must be reserved in advance due to permit requirements. Dating back to the 19th century, this vineyard was started by the German winemaker Jacob Schram. The vineyard was later renovated by Jack and Jamie Davies, who founded Schramsberg Vineyards to produce sparking wines. Along with tasting the delicious bubbling wines produced using traditional methods and Davies Vineyards wines, which include Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, there is a fascinating 125 year-old system of caves to tour and explore. Tours can also incorporate a gourmet meal for a 'full-bodied' experience.
The Napa Valley Wine Train combines a gourmet fine dining restaurant with a tour through the scenic Napa Valley in vintage rail cars. As the antique train runs along 25 miles of tracks, visitors dine on a multi-course meal paired with wine selections. Along with enjoying the scenery, there are stops at the major wineries along the way. The interior of the train features plush upholstery, mahogany paneling, and brass accents in an authentic recreation of early 20th-century luxury train travel. Various tour options are available.
One of the most celebrated wineries in California boasting an international reputation, the Robert Mondavi Winery offers tours and tastings with a range of options that include evening walking tours, wine and food pairings, and full lunch or dinner made with fresh, local ingredients. Guided bicycle tours are available to the To Kalon Vineyard, renowned for producing fine Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. There is also a calendar of events year-round, including live music and arts performances, and more.
Named after the famous author, the Robert Louis Stevenson park is a forested state park that is also a designated California Historical Landmark. It is possible to hike 5 miles west through the park to Mount Saint Helena, with stunning views of the Bay Area available from the summit. Alternatively, a trail leading east takes hikers to below the rugged peaks of the Palisade Group, which reaches 14,000 feet in height. The park is only open during daylight hours, and note there are no bathroom facilities in the park, so be prepared to rough it!
Fall is the best time to visit Napa. Between September and November, the weather is gorgeous, with reliable sunshine and comfortable temperatures, the fields are busy with the harvest and towns like St Helena stage their major annual festivals, providing child-friendly activities like petting zoos and music. The leaves also start to change in late September, adding a beautiful visual spectacle.
If you intend to fly into the Napa Valley, you have a number of airports to choose from. Local airports with connections to cities across the USA include Sacramento, San Francisco and Oakland, all of which offer shuttle buses, taxis and car rental outlets to get you to your destination. An Evans Airport Shuttle bus from San Francisco or Oakland will cost $40 for adults and $30 for children, and taxis from all of the airports will cost about $50-60.
Napa does not have an Amtrak station, but it isn't far from Sacramento or San Francisco. Both cities are connected by daily Caltrain services to Los Angeles and other regional destinations. Oakland's Jack London Station is also on intercity Amtrak routes, including the Capitol Corridor and Coast Starlight.
Napa is easy to get to by car. If you are coming from the northwest or the Bay Area, take Highway 101, 37 or 121. Those coming from eastern locations can take I-80 and then switch to Highway 12.
The best way to reach Napa by bus is to take scheduled Greyhound or Megabus services to Sacramento or San Francisco, and then switch to Evans Bus services into the Valley itself. Evans operates buses to both Vallejo and Napa, so all parts of the wine region are covered.
Visitors to Napa can choose between modern family hotels, resorts and cosy B&Bs, which provide an intimate, more romantic alternative. Excellent local hotels include the Embassy Suites, which is located in acres of rolling parkland, and the Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa on Solano Avenue. For a cosier option, try the Napa Inn, the tiny Poetry Inn (with just three rooms, so book fast) and the peaceful Candlelight Inn.
The City of Napa – The urban center of the Napa Valley, Napa is an elegant Californian city that is walkable, safe and close to some of the world's greatest wineries. Catch a performance at the city's Opera House, shop for organic produce at Oxbow Market or dine at luxury restaurants on the Napa River Waterfront. It's the perfect base for a week of wine tasting.
Vichy Springs – Home to a resort hotel of the same name, Vichy Springs is a couple of miles north of Napa and slightly higher up the mountain slopes. Along with the nearby wineries, the great attraction of Vichy Springs is its thermal springs, which have been visited by celebrities like Mark Twain, Jack London and Teddy Roosevelt.
Yountville – Known as the gourmet dining capital of the Valley, Yountville boasts some exceptional restaurants. It's also home to the Culinary Institute of America, where you can mix your wine tours with cookery classes before seeing how the professionals do it at eateries like Bistro Jeanty and Ad Hoc.
There is public transportation in the Napa Valley, but it's generally not the easiest way to skip between wineries. If you need to travel between towns, the Vine bus service costs $1.60 for a single fare and $6.50 for a day pass (children ride for $0.50 each).
Taxis are a good way to get around the Valley, but can be costly. For example, companies like Napa Red Cab charge $3 per mile for 1-4 passengers and more for larger groups. A cheaper option for groups could be booking limousine cabs by the day or hour. Expect to pay around $70 per hour if that's how you choose to get around. However, the cheapest way to get around is UberX taxis. With a base fare of $2 and rate of $1.15 per mile after that, Uber is a handy way to see the wineries without paying over the odds.
Renting a vehicle of your own is the most convenient way to see the Napa Valley. Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise all have branches in Napa City, and you can pick up vehicles at the airports when you arrive. Expect to pay around $30-40 per day.
Unless you are intending to shop for premium wine, Napa isn't one of America's great shopping destinations. However, you will find a wide range of stores at Napa Premium Outlets on Factory Stores Drive and it's a great place to find big discounts on designer labels like Polo, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger.
If you are staying in Napa City, the best place to shop for fruit, vegetables and foods like cheese or preserves is the Oxbow Farmers Market. However, prices there aren't cheap. If you are looking to stay within a budget, check out local supermarkets the Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, Lucky, Walmart or Whole Foods. In general, Napa is an expensive place to live and stay, with food prices higher than nearby San Francisco.
Wine may be the star attraction in Napa, but it's closely followed by gourmet food. If you are looking for the finest food in the Valley, head to Michelin-starred eateries like the Norman Rose Tavern and Grace's Table or other highly-rated bistros like FARM. But there are great mid-range places to eat as well, including tapas restaurants like Zuzu, the Asia Cafe on Main Street and Mexican options like Taqueria Las Palmas.