Exploring the Napa Valley for the First Time

Planning a weekend in Napa can be quite the overwhelming task for anyone. And if this is your maiden voyage to wine country, your head is likely to be spinning faster than you can pour yourself a glass of vintage Bordeaux. But don’t let a seemingly endless array of options get you down. Planning your first trip to the Napa Valley should be a fun experience – and with a little know-how, it can also be a breeze.

When to Visit the Napa Valley

There really isn’t a bad time to visit Napa Valley. The weather is mild and the wineries are open year round. But a true oenophile will want to visit during the autumn harvest. This is when the grapes are picked to ensure optimal sugar levels. If you visit during the fall, you’ll also be able to take in some fall foliage. The valley is truly a beautiful place at any time of year, but it’s especially breathtaking when blanketed in a vibrant array of colors. Fall is probably the best time for photographers and anyone else who wants to see amazing views.

But if you’re looking for a deal, visit during the down season. The months of January through March are a little slower in the Napa Valley, so you should be able to get a great deal on lodging.

Where to Start Planning Your Trip

Before you get too overwhelmed, know that the Napa Valley only spans 30 miles from north to south. You may not be able to visit every winery in one weekend, but that’s okay. With a little planning, you can have a very full and unforgettable trip. The towns of Calistoga and Napa anchor the valley from the north and south. Map out your trip, including winery visits, spa days, etc. and decide where you will stay from there. You may even want to stay in different parts of the valley on different days to get the most out of your time there.

Neighborhood Guide

If you’re looking for a bargain, you may be tempted by exceptionally low rates in out-of-the-way locations. Just know that you aren’t likely to be near anything you’ve traveled to see. If you want to be in the midst of all the action, stay in one of four Napa neighborhoods: Downtown Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Rutherford and Calistoga.

Wineries to Visit

When you tell friends you’re finally making the trek to the wine country, you’ll probably be bombarded with advice from seasoned travelers. Many will tell you to avoid the “touristy” spots, but remember there’s a reason why these are hot spots. Here is a list of Napa Valley wineries we recommend.

Tasting Room Tips

One of the greatest things about wine country is that it’s difficult to find a bad glass of wine. The area is known for variety, from rich Cabs to silky Chardonnays, you’re sure to find what your palate desires. You’ll likely taste about five wines at each winery, so rely on the spittoon when you feel it’s necessary – especially if you’re driving. There’s no need to tip at the tasting room, but everyone is happy when you make a purchase (although, this is not necessary either).