While the wine is the primary draw, it's not the only thing on offer for visitors. There's a thriving restaurant scene where top chefs apply their touch, from California to International, to their signature cuisine. For outdoors lovers, there's horseback riding, cycling, and kayaking. And there's and a rich arts and culture scene that includes fine arts, music, and theater.
We polled a handful of our innkeepers for their favorite Napa Valley locations. They told us their favorite places to get a great meal (beyond breakfast with them, of course) wander the vineyards, and take full advantage of California's glorious wine country.
When to visit
Wine tasting is available year round, so there's never a bad time to go to Napa. May is very popular, but peak season is during harvest and wine-making time, from August to November. Book well in advance – four to six months is very reasonable. And a heads up: high season traffic can be challenging – and a very good reason to choose a tour.
How to see the region
Let someone else drive
If you plan to spend the day tasting, it's a very good idea to leave the driving to someone else. That way, if you're particularly inspired by a bottle and want to indulge, you'll travel safely. Tours don't typically include tasting fees as charged by the wineries.
- Platypus Wine Tours takes small groups – 12 max – on full day tours that are different every time. Tours include a private lunch and they're not rushed; each winery stop may take up to an hour. These tours are an excellent introduction to Napa Valley, though repeat visitors are welcome to let the guides know where they've been if they want to go somewhere new – or return to personal favorites.
- Sommelier on Wheels creates custom tours with private tastings and other adventures; it's up to you if you'd like to add beer or coffee to your tour, or maybe something sporty like fishing or skeet shooting. Serious buyers are welcome to make their desires known and they'll get access to considerably more exclusive vintners.
- Perata Luxury Tours also tailors trips for wine buyers, booking private visits to either the vintner of your choice or making recommendations. They have a concierge service that – for an additional fee -- will make special arrangements on your behalf.
- The Napa Valley Wine Train offers several different types of tours – lunches with a winery stop, elegant dinner outings, and sunset rides on meticulously restored rail cars. The Wine Train takes food seriously, sourcing local, sustainable ingredients. Let them know when you book if you've got dietary restrictions.
Active travel adventures
Horseback, bicycle, or even by kayak, here are some great alternatives to seeing the valley from the seat of a car.
Cyclists on the Napa Valley Bike Tour
- Enjoy Napa Valley helps you get a whole new perspective on the region from the surface of the Napa River. Everything you need is included – kayaks, life vests, paddles – and all levels of fitness are welcome. You'll learn about the history and nature of the Napa Valley and, if you're lucky, you might see otters playing in the water.
- Napa Valley Bike Tours offers a whole range of options from half day guided tour to self guided options – they even have tours that take you through the vines. There are shorter rides for beginners or, for hardcore cyclists, recommended long ride routes. Lunch is included.
- Wine Country Trail Rides takes equestrians on 90 minute guided horseback adventures through Chalk Hill Estate's 1300 acre property. Little ones as young as seven are welcome if they've got an adult companion. There's a culinary option too, which includes wine tasting and small plates prepared from the Estate's organic produce.
You're here for the wine, right?
As the number of wineries in Napa Valley climbs closer to 500, it can be very hard to decide where to visit. Here are a few of our innkeepers' favorites. Heads up – many wineries offer tours and tastings by appointment only.
The wine cave at Schramsberg Vineyards
- Robert Sinskey wines reflect an attention to the entire ecosystem around the vines. The winery is organic and strives for minimal environmental impact. Stop in for a flight of wines perfectly paired with small plates.
- A tour of Jarvis Estate takes place in the wineries 45,000 square foot cave – and past the winery’s underground waterfall, a feature that helps maintain ideal humidity and temperatures.
- John Caldwell has made his home at Caldwell Vineyard since 1972. Caldwell’s winemaker, Marbue Marke, hails from Sierra Leone, and the winery is known for its independent spirit and style. Book your tasting well in advance.
- Clos du Val is one of Napa’s iconic wineries, a cornerstone of the Valley’s revitalization into a world class wine region. They focus on Napa-only wines and have a few tasting experience options, including private cabanas for groups of up to eight people.
- Founded by Giatano Regusci, Regusci Winery was a working farm for decades – there were cattle ranchlands, cheese making, and crops included walnuts and prunes. There are now 160 acres of vines.
- In addition to their multiple award winning cabernets, Round Pond Estate produces small batch olive oil from imported Mediterranean olive trees. There are several onsite dining options including a farm to table Sunday brunch.
- Historic Schramsberg is one of the valleys oldest wineries, Jacob Schram; a German immigrant began producing wine here in 1862. Schramsberg sparkling wines are still aged in the 34,000 square feet network of caves built by Chinese laborers in the early days of the winery.
- Mumm Napa follows the tradition of French champagne maker GH Mumm. Tastings and tours include access to the gallery where there's a spectacular collection of Ansel Adams photographs.
- Crocker Starr produces limited edition wines and hosts by appointment tastings and tours at their restored 1918 farmhouse. This St. Helena winery has been in operation since 1870 – with a break for prohibition -- and under the Crocker Starr name since 1997.
- If you'd like to do more than taste wine, Conn Creek offers blending classes – you'll go home with a bottle of your very own custom blend.
- At family owned Delectus Winery, eighth generation winemaker Gerhard Reisacher produces big, bold red wines. Small staff means the owners sometimes work the tasting room, giving you a personalized, friendly experience.
- While wine is the cornerstone at Long Meadow Ranch, there's also organic produce, grass fed lamb and beer, and olive oil. There are farm-to-table meals, a weekend farmer's market, and a summer concert series.
Chef preparing a meal at Angele Restaurant
Wine country draws epicures from around the world – after all, there's an art to pairing the right food with the right bottle of wine. Napa Valley dining options are abundant. While there's a focus in using locally produced ingredients, cuisine here is international. As with wine tasting, it's always best to make a reservation. Some restaurants do allow you to bring your own bottles, but there's a corkage fee.
- Oentori: Rustic Italian, handmade pasta, wood fired pizza, and house made salumi. Some of the items on the menu were started from seed in the restaurant's four acre culinary garden.
- Angele Restaurant and Bar: Riverfront dining in a restored 1890s ship chandlery. French country style cuisine, house cocktails, and decadent desserts.
- Ad Lib (Thomas Keller) won't be around forever. It was designed as a temporary restaurant on the grounds of the Royal Oak Resort. Classic American food by iconic chef Thomas Keller using top notch ingredients.
- Azzurro Pizzeria: One of Napa's favorite pizza places. Antipasti, salads, and "manciatas" – a smaller round of baked dough filled with a salad and eaten like a sandwich. Casual without compromising on food.
- Norman Rose Tavern: Pub food with beer and wine. Great burgers, dogs, fish and chips, all prepared with regionally sourced ingredients. Family friendly.
- Atlas Social: Bistro style plates of internationally inspired cuisine in a casual environment. Fresh, local, and unpretentious.
- Ristorante Allegria: Italian meets California cuisine in this elegant restaurant in 1916 bank building. Outdoor patio dining and a full bar.
- Napa Valley Bistro: Classic, seasonal American food in a casual environment. Steak, seafood, pasta. While there's beer and wine, of course, there's also an interesting selection of non-alcoholic concoctions.
Notes from our innkeepers
Kevin and Lorri Walsh run Hennessey House B&B, where even the granola is made from scratch. The inn is walking distance from downtown tasting rooms and more than 30 restaurants. They recommend hot air ballooning over the vineyards – it's a great way to see Napa's beautiful landscape. And for night life, take in a night of comedy or live music at the beautifully restored Uptown Theatre.
At the Milliken Creek Inn & Spa, five star luxury in a hideaway property with 12 detail focused suites. Breakfast is when you want it, either in your room or on the terrace. The property has easy access to the Silverado trail, a 29 mile winery lined route that runs parallel to the Valley. Innkeeper Missy Parras can give you a comprehensive list of suggested wineries and activity providers for the region, tailored by your preferences for scenic properties, in-depth tours, broader interests that might include farm to table dining options... you name it.
Cedar Gables Inn innkeepers Ken and Susie serve a three course gourmet breakfast in their expansive 1892 mansion. It's a little counter-intuitive, but they recommend the larger wineries, many have tours that don't require reservations and you'll get to see pictures of Napa in the 1800's.
"While the large wineries produce massive volumes of reasonably priced wine, they also produce superb high end, limited quantity wine that you can only purchase at the winery. But making time for the smaller wineries is valuable too. Sometimes you'll sit on the owner's front porch for two hours and taste and talk."
The Inn on Randolph has rooms in their historic 1860's Victorian or separate cottages, all of them updated with spa tubs, fireplaces, and heated floors. Innkeeper Karen Lynch will provide you with maps to nearby hiking trails, from moderate to advanced.
"If you'd prefer a calmer time of year, book in January or February, when the weather is a cooler and the vines are dormant. It's a cozy time in Napa, when you get a real small town feel – and a good time to try the more exclusive wineries and restaurants it's a quieter time of the year."
The Inn on First was the first certified green B&B in Northern California. The property uses environmentally friendly construction and practices to keep their impact to a minimum, but this does not mean skimping on extras like house made truffles and Mumm sparkling wine for all guests.
Innkeepers Jamie and Jim want your visit to be unforgettable. "Take a balloon ride and experience the majesty of the Napa Valley from a bird's eye view. On a clear day you can see all the way to San Francisco. For land lovers who don't like the heights, visit Artesa Winery for fabulous art and great views.
A stay at McClelland Priest B&B Inn includes a tasting of Ahnfeldt Wines, made by innkeeper Bruce Ahnfeldt. Partner Celeste Carducci opened the inn in the mid-80s. She offers gourmet two-course breakfasts, a menu of spa treatments and fitness activities, and intimate, all suite rooms – with one in the carriage house for added privacy.
In the greater wine country
"Contrary to belief, we're also Beer Country -- with three of the region's top craft breweries within a half hour drive. Hopmonk carries a few of these gems on tap, right across from our inn," says Brian Montanez, innkeeper for the Inn at Sonoma. Brian also says that Sonoma is giving Napa a run for its money on the wine front. Ask for his favorites. A tip, too – Bottlerock (a music festival that runs May 27-29) and Nascar Weekend in June are both hot tickets and make for high prices.
With its arcaded porch and box molding ceilings, the Brannan Cottage Inn in Calistoga showcases the finest in restored Victorian architecture combined with modern style and amenities. Innkeeper Eden Umble recommends the famous Calistoga hot springs.
"We love sending our guests to Baths at Roman Spa. Everyone needs to try a mud bath at least once; it's incredibly relaxing and kind of amazing the way it melts your tension you didn't even know you had. And you feel like a kid squishing the mud between your toes. It's heavenly."
An inn that's regularly mentioned in Michelin and other prestigious travel guides, Gaige House is one of the best places to stay in Sonoma Valley. General Manager Rachel Retterer suggests not only visiting the wineries, but also hiking at Jack London State Park or walking through the Zen inspired botanical gardens at Quarryhill. If you find yourself in Glen Ellen looking for some local flavor, Jack London Saloon where local characters and winemakers visit after a long day's work.
Things to do in Napa Valley
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- Black Rock Inn
- Brannan Cottage Inn
- Cedar Gables Inn
- Hennessey House
- Inn at Sonoma
- Inn on Randolph
- The Inn on First
- The McClelland-Priest B&B
- Milliken Creek Inn & Spa
- See all Wine Country inns »
- Enjoy Napa Valey
- Napa Valley Bike Tours & Rentals
- Napa Valley Wine Train
- Perata Luxury Tours
- Platypus Wine Tours
- Sommelier on Wheels
- Wine Country Trail Rides
- Ad Lib
- Atlas Social
- Azzurro Pizzeria E Enoteca
- Napa Valley Bistro
- Norman Rose Tavern
- Ristorante Allegria
- Baths Roman Spa
- Cooks and Books and Corks
- Jack London State Park
- Quarryhill Botanical Garden
- The Uptown Theater
- Arrowood Vineyards & Winery
- Artesa Vineyards & Winery
- Caldwell Vineyard Winery
- Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards
- Clos Du Val
- Conn Creek Winery
- Crocker & Starr Wines
- Delectus Winery
- Far Niente
- Jarvis Winery
- Imagery Estate Winery
- Long Meadow Ranch
- Mumm Napa
- Regusci Winery
- Repris Winery
- Robert Hunter Winery
- Robert Sinskey Vineyards
- Round Pond Estate
- Schramsberg Vineyards