Napa Valley came to the world's attention as a serious wine-producing region after the famous 1976 blind wine-tasting event, the Judgment at Paris portrayed in the film Bottle Shock, but long before that Californians knew it as a lovely place good for growing things.
The flat valley about 30 miles long and little more than a mile wide lies between two modest mountain ranges that define its boundaries and frame its views.
You can plan your Napa Valley day trip or weekend getaway using the resources below. If you've only got a day, try this day trip guide.
Why Should You Go? Will You Like Napa Valley?
Napa Valley is popular with anyone who likes food, and wine and people around the world have heard so much about it that they want to see it even if they're not connoisseurs.
Best Time to Go to Napa Valley
Every season in Napa has its pros and cons and the best one for your trip depends on your preferences and style. You can use the guide to Napa in spring, Napa in summer, Napa in fall, and Napa in winter to help make your decision.
For a glimpse of Napa's natural beauty and its many wineries, take a drive north on Silverado Trail from the town of Napa to Calistoga, then go back south on CA Hwy 29.
4 More Great Things to Do in Napa Valley
Taste the Wine: You could be in Napa Valley for months and not make it to every winery there. Some are more fun than others, so we've put together a list of the ones we like best.
Sample the Food: Good wine isn't Napa's only specialty. Stop in at Oakville Grocery on CA Hwy 29 north of Yountville or Dean & DeLucca south of St. Helena to browse some of their gourmet food products. Round Pond Estate produces their own olive oil, vinegars and citrus syrups and is especially fun to visit during the olive harvest. The Culinary Institute of America trains some of the country's best chefs, but they also offer food enthusiast programs. If you love kitchen gadgets, stop in at Steve's Hardware in downtown St. Helena.
Take the Kids: There's more for them to do than you might think and we've rounded up a handful of Napa's best family activities for you.
Get Muddy: At the northern end of Napa Valley, Calistoga is home to some very relaxing spas with soothing mud baths warmed by the local hot springs. Find one that suits you best.
Annual Events You Should Know About
- March: Napa Valley Marathon - closes Silverado Trail until early afternoon
- May: BottleRock Napa Valley - A 3-day festival featuring music, food, wine and brew
- July thru August: Music in the Vineyards, a Chamber Music Festival
- July: Festival Napa Valley, food and music festival
- November: Napa Valley Film Festival features independent films and top film industry guests. This festival also includes some of the culinary world's best chefs and of course an abundance of wine.
- December: Holiday Candlelight Tour features some of the town's most beautiful private homes.
Tips for Visiting Napa Valley
- Get your bearings before you go. Use this map to get an idea of where everything is.
- Stay sober enough to drive safely and enjoy what you try more using our wine-tasting strategies
- The busiest wineries may not offer the best experience. Often, they're overrun with busloads of visitors who all arrive at once, overwhelming the tasting room staff and leaving them exhausted.
- We know it's popular, but we don't recommend the Napa Wine Train for most visitors. Find out why.
- NASCAR races at raceway in Sonoma draw big crowds who create correspondingly big traffic jams around the intersection of CA Hwy 37 and CA Hwy 121. Check their schedule and if there's a big race on, get to Napa via I-80 north, Red Top Road and Jameson Canyon Road west through the town of American Canyon and north on CA Hwy 121/29.
Isn't It Romantic?
Hire a limo or tour company to take you on a private tour. Kick back in late afternoon at Ma(i)sonry in downtown Yountville to taste wines from their vintner's collective and enjoy the romantic outdoor patio. Snuggle in for the night at a cozy bed and breakfast - what could be more romantic?
Napa Valley has far too many excellent eateries for us to list here, so we'll just mention a few. Gott's Roadside just south of St. Helena was known as Taylor's Refresher for many years, but the name change hasn't changed its super-yummy burgers, wine list or decadent, individually-made, specialty milkshakes.
Oxbow Market in the town of Napa is a good place to experience a lot of local goodies all in one place.
Where to Stay
You can stay in any of the Napa Valley towns and travel easily to all of them. The most important thing is to plan ahead for this popular place, especially if your budget is limited. For the busier times of year (summer and during fall harvest), try to reserve your hotel 2 to 3 months in advance.
To find your perfect place to stay:
Where Is Napa Valley?
Napa Valley is located north of San Francisco, anchored by the town of Napa on the south and Calistoga on the north. It's about 30 miles between the two, which are connected by both CA Hwy 20 and the Silverado Trail. The Town of Napa is about 50 miles from San Francisco and 60 miles from Sacramento. Use this guide to find out all the ways you can get to Napa Valley from San Francisco.
The nearest airports are in San Francisco (SFO) and Oakland (OAK).