Last week I put a throwback of our Napa trip last July on Instagram and had tons of feedback saying a travel guide would be helpful and I am more than happy to oblige! I could talk the hind legs off a donkey, as anyone who knows me would tell you, but I especially enjoy discussing wine. I want to be really clear…Napa in general and this blog post is for anyone. You drink nothing but Franzia? You have a place he– well…maybe not. JOKES! Seriously, if you just drink whatever you pick up in the grocery store aisle or if you have a local wine shop that you trust to source good, quality wine from boutique producers or anything in between, this blog post is for you.
Also, let’s be clear, I’ve only been to Napa twice – once for my bachelorette party and once with my husband and some bests – so I’m no Napa pro and it would take a long time to become one. I haven’t tasted at every winery in the region, but I’d like to meet someone who has because that is devotion. There are literally hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms.
So this post is based on my experiences, where I have been, what I would recommend, what I didn’t think was worth it, etc. Usually my format for travel guides is to give you the full itinerary, but I’m going to do this one a little differently.
Let’s get started!
Where To Stay
Last year we stayed at The Old World Inn which is a lovely bed and breakfast not too far from the main strip in Napa. It was the perfect location, the rooms were cozy and each one unique. We were able to book rooms right across from each other (we went with one other couple). And there’s a made-from-scratch breakfast with mimosa and coffee bar every morning with pastries to go! And bonus: they do complimentary evening wine tastings showcasing Napa producers. We were able to park our rental car right in front every day and never had issues with parking – to me, when traveling with a rental car, parking is extremely important to know about. Visit their website here: https://www.oldworldinn.com/en-us/our-hotel
I’ll be the first to tell you that we really loved staying at the Old World Inn, but there are definitely some places I would have loved to stay at had we booked further in advance. And here I will stop and tell you something very important: BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATIONS IN ADVANCE! It’s Napa. Things book so fast it’s not even funny. By the time we got around to book, the following hotels were completely booked. But they are 100% on my list to stay at during future trips.
Again, there are SO many foodie options in Napa and I wish I could just sample everything. I mean, let’s be real, I badger Adam all the time about buying a second house out in Napa that’s how much I love it. The Zillow real estate creeping is real. So please don’t take this as a comprehensive list. I would encourage you to look into other places and there’s so many I could list that I want to go to but haven’t had a chance yet. I’ll share my list of places I have been to that I loved with my whole heart and definitely think you should put on your list!
Long Meadow Ranch is a St. Helena winery estate with a restaurant that offers ingredients fresh from their farm and ranch. Executive Chef Stephen Barber really knows what he’s doing! I took such low quality photos the night we were there, so I pulled this one from VenueReport.com.
Auberge de Soleil could not be more beautiful. It’s an exquisite resort with a one Michelin star restaurant that was Napa’s first fine-dining establishment. The ambiance and environment cannot be matched. We were lucky enough to be seated on the back patio overlooking Napa and it was incredible. We had several courses of delicious food, ice cold martinis, champagne, etc. We left dinner on an absolute high that night and found ourselves in downtown Napa where one of the funniest and most outrageous nights ensued. The story is a good one involving a South African with a birthday and chickens on the loose, but there’s something to be said about just sharing those experiences with the ones who were there and then keeping them to yourself as a shared memory only those who were there could understand.
Bouchon Bistro is a Thomas Keller restaurant in Yountville and is also one Michelin star. We had lunch there on Bastille Day and it could not have been more perfect. Not only was the food, company, wine and atmosphere everything you’d want from a visit to Bouchon, but while we were there Thomas Keller himself made an appearance! Note: Thomas Keller is the man behind The French Laundry in Napa, a 3-star Michelin restaurant. The French Laundry was on my list to go to, but when I called to make reservations I was informed that the exact week we’d be there was when they would be closed for “summer break” – a two week break they take every year. I was heartbroken and still am. Touchy subject, y’all. Moving on.
Angele is down on the water, has a great ambiance and vibe to it and the food is, you guessed it, incredible. This was our dinner spot for Bastille Day and our last food experience on our trip in July. We tried such an array of different price points and locations on this trip. One day for lunch we literally pulled off the road at a random convenience store and had chicken salad sandwiches. But we did also indulge ourselves in food experiences which is something that both us and our traveling companions on this trip are happy to seek out and invest in.
And now for the part you’ve all been waiting for – THE WINE! I’m going to break this list up into two categories – must sees and probably skips.
V. Sattui is the very first winery I ever went to in Napa (s/o to Shannon for building the perfect itinerary for my Bachelorette) and not only is the wine exceptional and the tasting experience totally chill, but the grounds here are gorgeous. There’s a delicatessen attached to the winery with one of the most amazing selections of meats, cheese, wine, sauce, oils, etc that I’ve seen outside of France. When I went back to Napa in July, I took my friends here and we grabbed up a mess of food and wine from the deli and that’s what we took back to our B&B for our lazy charcuterie before dinner. I could not recommend V. Sattui more. Put it on your list!
Paraduxx is part of the Decoy family of wineries. It’s small, boutique, casual and perfect. It was the first stop on our trip in July. We had just linked up with our friends, drove to this winery, parked and then met up with my bestie Shannon who lives in California and was able to come out and meet up with us. Talk about my perfect day. Incredible friends and wine country? Come on. We had such a laid back tasting at Paraduxx. It was the perfect first stop on the trail that day.
Want to feel like you’re in Venice while you’re in Napa? Go to Del Dotto. We took this one step beyond just a tasting and did a wine cave tour. It was 100% not a mistake. Honestly I lost count of how many wines we tasted, but they give you breadsticks and pizza afterwards because ya know…abundance of wine + empty stomach + more wineries to go to after = yikes. I have to say, this estate is one of the most instagrammable locations in Napa. We brought back a bottle of Port from Del Dotto that we have yet to open, but are very much looking forward to getting that bad boy out soon to toast our new house with the friends we experienced the port with in Napa.
sidenote: if you go to multiple wineries in a day, which you will, it’s hilarious to look back on the progression of smiles in pictures. You start off so fresh and then just get downright goofy. Looking back on these makes me smile every single time because its just such tangible reminders of how much fun we had on this trip.
I went to AO on both my bachelorette trip and this last one in July. Not only do I love the wine, but it’s just such an intimate boutique winery that pays attention to small details in their production and it’s clear in the taste of their wine. Crisp. Delicious.
Ok, listen, I cannot say enough good things about Chappellet. It would be a mistake to not go here on your next trip. We still have bottles in our wine fridge from the order we made that day. After our tour and sit-down tasting in a cozy nook of barrels, we immediately filled out the form and ordered a pretty large shipment. Our friends became wine club members that day and honestly we wish we had. And probably will next time we go. Their wine is all delicious, but fascinating enough for a girl who loves dry reds…I loved Chappellet’s Chardonnay. Oh. My. Yummy.
Sterling is a pretty cool estate and being that it’s elevated, you get really great views of the valley below. But as for the wine, I didn’t like any of it. However, to be fair, my palate might be different from yours so take that for what it’s worth.
If you’ve seen the movie Bottle Shock, then you’ve heard of Chateau Montelena. They won best Chardonnay at the Paris Wine Tasting competition in 1976 – a huge feat for a new world winery. This is why we were so excited to go. And I’ll be honest, not only is the estate gorgeous beyond belief but the wine was also spectacular. However, I’ve put it on my naughty list for a reason. The day we went, we loved it so much that we signed up to be wine club members, gave them our card information to charge us for our first shipment and then went home and eagerly awaited our box of Montelena wines. But it never came. Finally by November, I called them and inquired. Turns out the woman who took our card information and wine club sign-up sheet never actually filed it. I was told it’d probably been thrown away. As angry as I was, I still really wanted that wine, so I signed up again over the phone. But the shipment never came. So I called to inquire. I was told that they were still waiting to get approved to ship to Oklahoma since our laws had recently changed. Well, okay, that’s plausible. Except for that we’d already received shipments of wine from two other wineries so why was this one so behind even getting approved to ship? I decided to wait patiently. Finally in January I got a call that the shipment was ready. I asked, and paid, for overnight shipping since they called on a Thursday and we were going out of country that weekend. Overnighting the wine would ensure that I would be at the house to sign for it and then could store it in our wine fridge so it wouldn’t change temperatures and therefore change the taste of our wine. But Friday came and went and I never got my wine. With no other option, we left the country for our vacation. When we got back, I immediately went to the location where my email said our box had been held since it was unable to be delivered. BUT GUYS – it had been sent back to California. I was seething. They had not shipped it overnight like they said they would. It hadn’t arrived until after Monday the next week and then it wasn’t even held for us. It was sent back to them. I sent a strongly worded e-mail and cancelled any affiliation with them + demanded a refund. It was a horrible experience and I cannot in good conscience recommend any patronage of this winery, y’all. But, like, here’s some pictures because they’re cute haha.
Overall we just weren’t impressed with Darioush. The wine tasting experience could not have been more impersonal and unattentive. The wine was nothing to write home about. However, I will say, the estate itself is beautiful. It’s the only Persian winery in Napa and man there’s details in everything your eyes land on while you’re there. So they’ve got that going for them. I also believe their wine is available in some Trader Joe’s.
And now we’ve (finally, I’m sure you’re relieved) come to the end of the Napa Travel Guide! I’m also pretty sure my evening will consist of drinking some of that Chappellet wine we still have and convincing Adam to take me back. There’s also a few more things I want to add to this post and if you’re still hanging in there reading this, God bless you. I love you.
Napa Travel Tips
I recommend renting a car as the wine trail is pretty long and there’s a lot of different parts of Napa/Sonoma so it can be spread out and if you’ve curated an itinerary of specific places you can guarantee they will not be by each other. Having a car was super helpful.
If you plan on going to more than 3 wineries in a day or over-indulging, Napa has Uber and they are literally everywhere. But there’s also a lot of police patrols because obviously drinking and driving is an issue when people are tasting and not realizing how much is going in their system. So rent a car, but get an Uber if you think you’ll be hitting up more than 3 wineries. There’s also companies you can hire to drive you everywhere the whole time if you don’t want to rent a car and drive yourself.
Just like you would book your accommodation and your dinner reservations in advance, you also need to book your tastings in advance. There are a lot of wineries that only take advance reservation.
Most wineries charge for tastings. Average cost is $20 per person but can go up from there depending on what room/setting you want for your tasting, if you want a tour, if you go to the wine caves, etc. Definitely do your research on the wineries you want to visit so you can build each experience into your budget and have no surprises.
If you are wanting a more budget-conscious trip, no worries. There are plenty of wineries that offer free tastings. You can find lists of them online and most hotels/resorts/B&Bs will also provide you with that list.
A Final Note
If you’ve read my 20 Things To Know About Thessali post, then you’ve read how I feel about wine and I won’t reiterate here but to me, wine is very special, traditional, and represents a beautiful communion and representation of God’s wonder, creation and cultivation of land. If you’re looking for something to teach you more about wine before you book your trip, I highly recommend watching the Somm documentaries. It would be incredibly difficult to watch those and not find yourself just as in love with wine as I am.
I hope this inspires you to visit Napa and now that I’m dying to go back – please drop your favorite wineries in the comments if you’ve been so I can add them to my list for next time!