Napa Valley Vacation Plan | FAQs | Local Wally's Napa Tourist Guide
Napa Valley Vacation Cheat Sheet, the Frequently Asked Questions for planning your wine tasting trip by Local Wally, Napa's local guy expert.
Napa Valley's Frequently Asked Questions
Tips to Planning a Napa Valley Vacation
Mention you're going to Napa at work and watch the cubicles empty as the people crowd around you with their advice. Do this, don't do that, you must eat here, oh no, that place is terrible! When it comes to Napa even people who've only visited once sound like experts but think about it. You don't trust these people to return your stapler, why are you trusting them with your vacation?
Better to trust Local Wally, the guy who has been giving away free, unbiased advice on Napa for over 10 years. Unlike other "concierge" services who recommend the places to give them kickbacks or other websites who only recommend their advertisers, my advice is real, honest, unbiased, and based on my own experiences. And remember, if you have a question that I didn't answer you can email me directly and I'll get right back to you - for free!
1. When is the Best Time to Visit Napa?
MOST POPULAR: Summer is when most tourists visit- and when Napa is most packed. Make restaurant reservations far in advance and book a lot of tours or private tastings to get away from the crowds. Avoid the big name wineries unless you like crowds and instead go to the smaller boutiques.
MOST INTERESTING: Fall is when the grapes are harvested and crushed. The smell of ripe fruit is in the air and it's great fun to see the fruit being made into wine. If you want the romance of Napa, this is the time to come. It's also one of the most expensive times to come.
MOST LIKELY TO GET RAIN: November through March is the rainy season, but the least expensive time to visit. Rain and wine tasting go pretty well together if you have the right attitude and room rates are so cheap that you can afford that room with a fireplace in it.
MOST MUSTARDY: In Spring the vineyards are overflowing with mustard plants, the weather lovely, and the crowds thin, making this a great time to visit. Those on a budget should aim for a Springtime visit.
2. What are the Best Napa Wineries to Visit for a First Timer?
If you figure you can only stop in at 5 wineries per day then picking which ones can be a daunting task. For first timers I recommend you pick one big name like Mondavi, Beringer or Inglenook, but fill in the rest of the day with lessor known wineries where you'll get more attention and often better wines. The big name wineries are fun and iconic but Napa is still a farm town at heart with real people, not corporations, making wines from their hearts. I've put all of the iconic wineries in my Napa 101: Highway 29 and Napa 102: The Silverado Trail sections, good places to start in choosing the best wineries to visit.
3. Where can I Get Free Wine, Napa Winery Coupons and Wine Tasting Discounts?
Get ready for sticker shock - Napa wine tasting is expensive and the days of free wine or cheap "you keep the glass" tastings are over. In fact, most of the coupons have dried up. But don't worry, there is a way to still do Napa on a Budget. Just get the Wine Pass and turn the clock back to 1995 where two for one tastings, free wine and discounts were the norm. I brokered a deal with the owner of the Wine Pass to sell it to my readers for the lowest price guaranteed, just $39.99. You only need one per couple and it's good for a year and good in both Napa and Sonoma. If you figure most wineries are now charging $25 per person to taste you can see how the card will pay for itself. Get the card, use the promo code localwally, and I'll even help you pick out the best budget Napa wineries to visit - for free. There are a number of competing offers out there but trust me, the Priority Wine Pass is the best one.
4. Where is the Best Place to Stay in Napa?
DOWNTOWN NAPA: Pick downtown Napa if you want more moderate priced hotels within walking distance to restaurants and nightlife. Downtown has become a true destination with it's small town charm. Top picks include the River Terrace Inn (best moderate), Westin Verasa (best resort style hotel), Embassy Suites (best free breakfast), and Napa Inn (best Bed and Breakfast).
YOUNTVILLE: Quintessential Napa, if you can afford it book a hotel in Yountville. Upscale country charm surrounded by greenery and fine restaurants. Top picks include the Vintage Inn and Villagio (sister hotels with big rooms, spa tubs, fireplaces) and for the romantic, Miliken Creek.
ST HELENA: Mid Napa Valley, there are top notch resorts surrounded by vineyards in St. Helena's surrounding areas. Top picks include Meadowood Resort, Auberge du Soliel, and Harvest Inn.
CALISTOGA: Home to mud baths, motels, and elegant resorts. Solage is the top of the line resort, Dr. Wilkenson's Spa and Resort is the original mud bath experience.
Remember, you can book your hotel through me with the lowest price guaranteed! I've also included TripAdvisor reviews in my hotel section which allows you to check availability and book a room.
4. Should I Hire a Driver When Wine Tasting in Napa?
Drinking and driving is never a good idea, though it might seem like one when you see so many people in Napa leaving wineries and jumping into their rentals. The truth is that there is a lot of driving under the influence around Napa but very few DUI checkpoints. Of course, that doesn't make it safe and a DUI means trading that resort bed for a jail cot - not Local Wally approved!
Perhaps that's why so many people are hiring drivers to drive their rentals or going on pre-set tours. I posted my favorite driving services here but whoever you hire make sure they have the proper insurance to override your rental policy. You can also hire a driver who picks you up in a luxury vehicle - Barry from Why Spit is my favorite, a great guy who knows Napa - tell him I sent you for a bit of extra VIP service.
Couples will love being driven around by Jamie from the Priority Wine Pass. She has a special offer to my readers where she'll drive you around to the best two for one wineries and comp you a bottle of Schramsberg champagne at the end, a sweet deal. Email Jamie directly for availability and info.
If you decide to chuck it all and just let someone do all the driving and planning then book a tour with Platypus - my favorite small group tour company. Tell them Local Wally referred you, please!
5. Where Should I Eat in Napa?
It's hard to find bad food in Napa but there are a few iconic and local favorites that should hit your radar.
- Mustard's Grill: One of my all time favorites, it's upscale comfort foods all done up in a way that embodies Napa cuisine. If I had to pick one place to recommend this is it.
- Rutherford Grill: Yes it's a chain but it's so good that locals flock to the bar where you can order off the full menu and open that bottle you brought with no corkage fee. The grilled artichoke is worth it alone but can't argue with the Wagu Steak and Enchilada combo or the fork tender ribs, so good.
- Bouchon and Ad Hoc: Two of Thomas Keller's restaurants, Bouchon is a French bistro setting and very noisy and bustling, just like the real thing. Ad Hoc is "family" dining, though this really means everything is served family style and everyone, and I mean everyone in the restaurant, gets the same thing. Both excellent foodie experiences.
- Bistro Jeanty: Romantic French restaurant, locals love it, the pastry topped tomato soup is insanely good.
- Ciccio and Redd Wood: Two newcomers to the scene, casual food with the same high Napa standards, highly recommended.
- Bounty Hunter: A wine bar with BBQ, their beer can chicken is legendary.
More to come.... Thanks For Your Patience!