Napa 101: First Timer's Trip Agenda | Local Wally's Napa Tourist Guide
Visit the BEST of Napa in a day, from big name wineries to local's favorite restaurants, all planned out for you stop by stop, perfect for first timers! Local Wally's Napa Tourist Guide is the #1 trusted source for unbiased info on Napa.
First Timer's Winery Guide: Napa 101
First Timer's Napa Trip Agenda
First time visitors to Napa Valley often feel overwhelmed planning a trip to wine country. With hundreds of wineries and dozens of world class restaurants, which ones do you choose to squeeze into a weekend trip? Trust that guy at work to help guide you? You don't even trust him with your stapler!
Instead, let me show you the best Napa wineries to visit, the best places to eat, and the best winery tours. Forget about doing tons of research, instead use my Napa 101 cheat sheet, a stop by stop agenda that takes you to all of the highlights, perfect for first timers who want to see the big name and iconic wineries that helped make Napa famous.
Day One sticks mainly to Highway 29, the main road, and Day Two (Napa 102) explores the Silverado Trail.
Stop 1: Good Morning, Yountville
9:00: Start Your Wine Tasting Day with a Great Cup of Coffee
Set that alarm clock to get you to Yountville bright and early and head straight to Bouchon Bakery where you'll find a great coffee bar and delightful pastries. Bouchon, of course, is owned by Thomas Keller, the chef behind The French Laundry. Dinner there will set you back $310 per person but at Bouchon Bakery an authentic French macaroon is but a few dollars, a delicious taste of the Keller magic. A table in the morning sun with a bag of pastries, cup of coffee, a perfect start to your day.
Take a short 5 minute walk north to The French Laundry where you can take your photo in front of the sign. Imagine how impressed your friends will be when they get your next Christmas card.
Stop 2: Domaine Chandon
10:00: Sparking Wines at a Beautifully Landscaped Winery
Right up the street from Yountville is Domaine Chandon, a beautiful winery with sparkling wines. Get there right when they open at 10AM to order a flight of champagne. While the outside terrace is tempting I suggest you stick to the bar where you can chat with the server to start your wine education. If you're serious about remembering what you like when you get home you might want to bring a notepad to take some notes. Trust me, you will not remember anything by the end of the day!
If you are coming with a large group of 10 or more note that Domaine Chandon is one of the few wineries that will welcome your group - as long as you make reservations. This place gets busy so come as early as they open.
Stop 3: Robert Mondavi
11:00: Make Reservations for a Basic Tour at an Iconic Winery
Well meaning friends are going to tell you to skip Mondavi, calling it commercial or touristy, but that's crazy talk. Step through the famous archway and you'll be enveloped in Napa history, Mondavi being one of the first wineries to offer tours and tastings. And that's exactly what you should do, tour and taste at Napa's best basic wine tour.
The basic walking tour happens on the hour and requires no reservations but you should upgrade to the reserve tour where you'll go from vines to wines in 90 minutes. This tour requires reservations which means you'll be away from the sometimes huge crowds of walk-in first timers trying to push their way to the front of the bar. Make reservations for the tour.
Stop 4: Inglenook Winery Napa
1:00: Grab Lunch at the Bistro at Francis Ford Coppola's Winery
Inglenook has a long and interesting history. Started in 1879 by a wine loving sea captain, it produced some of the finest wines in the world until 1964 when it was unceremoniously sold to United Vintners who quickly dropped the quality in favor of the jug wine. Fast forward a few decades and Francis Ford Coppola from Hollywood fame buys Inglenook and starts the return to its former glory.
You might think you're in Europe when you visit, a beautiful chateau with plenty of free exhibits to see. Outside is a bistro where you can get bread, cheese, meats and a nice moderately priced bottle of wine. Grab one of the tables and enjoy your light lunch with some first class people watching.
Stop 5: Grgich Hills Estates
2:00: Visit a Small, Unpretentious Winery
If you've seen the movie Bottle Shock or have read up on the 1976 Judgement of Paris wine tastings, the event that put Napa on the map by beating out the French, then you might have heard of a wine maker named Mike Grgich. He was the one who made the winning chardonnay as the wine maker at Chateau Montelena. He soon thereafter opened his own winery which has been synonymous with the best wines in Napa.
Unlike many of the newer tasting rooms which are huge and modern, Grgich's tasting room is a complete throwback to the 70's. I like that and I think you will too. If you want to really experience Grgich Hills then make a reservation for their 45 minute walking tour, everyday at 2:00.
Stop 6: Beringer Vineyards
3:30: The Legendary Cave Tours
One of Napa's original wineries, Beringer Vineyards offers lush landscaping and historic architecture along with a variety of tasting experiences. Those wanting to experience everything Napa has to offer should opt for the Legendary Cave Tour, a 30 minute walk through the tunnels and Old Winery while sampling 3 of their wines. More serious wine lovers will enjoy the reserve tastings in the Rhine House, the beautiful historic home where the Beringer brothers lived. Reservations required.
And for those of you who totally forgot to make reservations you can taste with the walk-in crowd. There are often discount coupons for their tastings so email me and I'll check if I have one I can send you.
Stop 7: Yountville Tasting Rooms
5:00: Want to do One More? Then Make it a Good One!
Most wineries close by 430 or 5 and stop taking visitors at least 15 minutes before closing. But don't worry, if you want to cap off a fun day of wine tasting with, well, more wine tasting then head to Yountville where you'll find a handful of great tasting rooms all within walking distance.
My favorites are Jessup Cellars (half art gallery, half wine tasting room), Ma(i)sonry (eclectic to say the least, some retail along with wine and a killer patio), Silver Trident (requires reservations but you taste while sitting on expensive Ralph Lauren furniture), and Cornerstone (just plain nice people there). Park your car and walk and when you're done you can go right to dinner there as Yountville has more than its fair share of top notch restaurants.
Stop 8: Dinner Options
What's for Dinner in Napa?
Rutherford Grill: No corkage fee so bring in one of your bottles you bought today and order a grilled artichoke with a rack of ribs. Lively, fun, with an intoxicating smokey aroma that will long linger in your memory. Top pick!
Mustards Grill: Closer to Yountville is Mustards Grill, an upscale "truck stop diner" that looks nothing like a any truck stop you've ever been to. Upscale comfort foods,
Redd Wood and Ciccio are two that locals favor, both moderately priced. Bistro Jeanty, Bottega, Bouchon, Ad Hoc, Hurley's, all worthy contenders in Yountville.
For more dining ideas to go my complete dining guide.