How to Find (or avoid) Disneyland Napa
Napa Valley has many personalities but the one that seems to stick these days is that Napa Valley has become “just like Disneyland”. Depending on who is saying it this is either a compiment (“It’s so fun - and there’s wine!!”) or disparagement (“Auggh, the crowds, the cost, the traffic!”). A lot of well meaning guidebooks focus on one or the other, discounting the alternatives, but that’s not right. It depends on what kind of experience you are looking for - a lively party Napa, or a more romantic and quiet one. And both can be had on the same weekend if you know where to look.
Is Sonoma Better? Oh, Stop It!
Right after the Disneyland comparison you will often hear how Napa is spoiled and Sonoma is the place to be. I totally disagree with this. I love Sonoma (check our SonomaTouristGuide.com) but the idea that Napa is somehow spoiled or ruined is just not true. Napa has over 400 wineries and over 300 of them now require reservations. Making reservations is a form of crowd control and unlike Disneyland where limiting the number of visitors at Star Wars Galaxy Edge still means monster crowds, a reservation in Napa means you get your own slot, your own space, your own private or semi-private experience - away from the masses. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Some people will want the Disneyland excitement of Napa, the massive wineries, the mega tasting rooms, and there’s nothing wrong with that! So here are my top picks for the most popular, the most Disneyland-esque wineries in Napa.
The Best Napa Wineries for the Disneyland Experience
If you are coming to Napa for the first time, if you are hanging with friends just looking for a weekend getaway, if you just want to drink wine versus tasting wine to buy, then these wineries will be right up your alley.
CASTELLO DI AMOROSA - THE NAPA CASTLE: This is insane, an actual full size castle built in the same manner as they would have built a castle back in the middle ages. Everything is authentically recreated, right down to the dungeon and hand painted frescoes. The basic tasting experience gets you in through the front doors but the tours will take you deep into the castle, a Game of Thrones sort of experience that can’t help but impress. TIP: Come early as they close the doors once they hit their daily number of visitors.
V. SATTUI WINERY: If the exterior of V. Sattui looks a bit like the Napa castle it’s no surprise - the same person owns both. V. Sattui is the picnic spot in Napa, a full deli inside, an expansive picnic area outside, and always a lively crowd.
DARIOUSH WINERY: A Persian palace exterior, a trendy Las Vegas feel to the interior, Darioush Winery certainly stands out. You expect to see Lara Croft jumping from column to column with a machine gun strapped to her back. You have to see this one, you really do!
DEL DOTTO VINEYARDS AND WINE CAVES: Adventure into the wine caves where you’ve be surrounded by barrels and barrel tastings! With three locations in Napa Valley pick the cave that suits your personality - go rustic in the historic caves handpicked out of the rocky mountainside, or go total Las Vegas in their over the top Italian caves surrounded by marble and intricate tiles. It’s all fun, do all three!
HALL ST HELENA: When I first started visiting Hall Winery it has a tiny tasting bar about the size as the one in my kitchen. That all changed with a remodel that increased the size of the tasting room to what seems like Marriott Ballroom dimensions. And that adds to the lively party feel to this “no reservations required” experience. Head outside to see the vineyards for a breather.
STERLING VINEYARDS: With a tram ride that takes you to the picturesque hilltop winery, you have to do Sterling! What? Tram ride? That’s right, just like the old Skyway ride at Disneyland. But unlike Disneyland where the tram just went back and forth, the Sterling tram takes you to wine tasting and killer views of the valley.
WANT A DISCOUNT ON THE TRAM? Just email me and I’ll send you a totally free promo code for $10 off per person on the tram ride and tasting experience. Free. I mean that.
Want to Avoid the Disneyland Experience? Visit these Napa Wineries!
If you want a quieter Napa experience then get your phone out and make reservations at the following wineries, all of them my personal favorites.
AXR NAPA VALLEY: It’s a bit hard to find, tucked away near Beringer (wait, add Beringer to your Disneyland experience!) but will feel like a totally different world. This is a private tour and tasting where you’ll take a walk into the redwoods with a glass of wine, visit a fairy circle (you will see, it’s cool), and then head in for a tour, maybe a sip from the barrels, and some of Napa’s best wines. 90 minutes, you’ll savor each one.
SWANSON VINEYARDS: You’ll swear you’ve stumbled into the French countryside when you pull into Swanson Vineyards. The outdoor area is just charming with rustic tables next to the vineyards. Inside the Sip Shoppe is perhaps the most enchanting and whimsical tasting room I have ever seen - it was co-designed by the late Kate Spade. Private tastings, very fun and casual, romantic as can be. Sip here all afternoon, you’ll be very happy.
MAXVILLE LAKE WINERY: Don’t let the 15 minute drive off the Silverado Trail sway you from visiting Maxville Lake Winery. It’s one of the most beautiful modern wineries in Napa, one that no one seems to know about. A reservation here usually means you have the entire winery to yourself, including the outdoor area that’s perfect for a picnic with a view of the lake. Tours of the caves, barrel tastings, they are open to whatever sort of experience you want.
KRUPP BROTHERS WINERY: The gates swing open and you drive the narrow road to what appears to be a genuine Italian villa, stone buildings with a view of the vineyards and small lake. It’s a hidden gem, not to be confused with their downtown tasting room. Make reservations here and you will forget all about the castle.
REGUSCI WINERY: A historic stone winery, one of Napa’s oldest, in a romantic setting that looks straight out of the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Come during harvest and you’ll even see them shaking the olive trees in front. Reservations required means the tasting room never gets that crowded and their staff is one of the friendliest in the valley. Highly recommended, and their wines are top rated.
I Wouldn’t Be Local Wally if I Didn’t Tell You About Discounts!
Many of Napa’s wineries offer discounts, including some listed in this article. You can always reach out to me and I’ll help you personally pick wineries, either Disneyland or not, and show you the best deals. Or search yourself on this complete list of Napa deals. You will need a Priority Wine Pass to get the deals but remember you only need ONE for every two people. The pass is $39.99 if you use this link to get it with my discount.
And you can always email me of you have questions! I am one guy doing this with the simple goal of making sure that you have the best time in Napa. I don’t charge for free advice (that’s why it’s free!) so go ahead and ask.