Explore Napa Valley like a local: 12 fun & awesome things to do

by Jyo

California is one of the most diverse places on Earth. We’re fortunate to have beaches, mountains, redwood forests & wineries alike. Napa Valley is Califonia’s world renowned wine country, a haven for wine lovers & gourmet foodies.

Napa does rack up a reputation for being snooty & snobby. Wine snobs will pooh-pooh certain wineries over others. Some gourmet restaurants have a wait time of several months, and a whopping price tag of $250 per person.

Say what? Some of us are just looking for booze & a good time with our friends, man.

But there are pockets of Napa that are fun, affordable & relaxing! Here’s a few insider tips & what us locals like to do on a weekend getaway to Napa:

Hangout at Oxbow Market

You can’t go wrong with the indoor farmer’s market-style Oxbow Market. My favorite spots here are: Gelato at Three twins (try the cardamom flavor gelato!), Annette’s chocolates (the tequila lime habanero brittle is insanely delicious), and Whole Spice — a world spice market, with herbs & spices used in French, Indian, Moroccan, Thai, Italian cooking. For brunch, try the tacos at C Casa (they have excellent vegan options) or the Kitchen Door.

Napa Wine Train

This is great idea for a date or anniversary celebration! Travel through Napa’s vineyards on an old school train, with coaches & compartments styled from the 1900s. You can pair with lunch/dinner or even wine flights. If you want a more fun activity, they also offer murder mystery game nights on the train.

Explore wineries
Napa gets a lot of flack for being pretentious & snooty, I won’t completely disagree. There’s a lot of wineries I’ve found to be overpriced; I love discovering the little hole in the wall places that leave you mind-blown. One of my personal favorites here is Hagan winery — it’s a tiny, cosy place with a backyard & corn rows. And oh, the Riesling & Gurwitzaminer are very, very good and <$25 for a bottle.

Other wineries I’ve found to be beautiful and and with good wine to justify the price tag are Cakebread winery, Domaine Carneros, Opus One & Robert Mondavi. These wineries are also adjacent to one another – make a day trip hopping between these wineries in Napa!

Hagen Heights Vineyard
1184 Hagen Road
Napa, California
USA 94558
Phone: (707) 226-2634

Domaine Carneros Winery
1240 Duhig Rd
Napa, CA 94559
Phone: +1 707-257-0101

Robert Mondavi Winery
7801 St Helena Hwy,
Oakville, CA
Phone: +1 888-766-6328

Cakebread Cellars
8300 St Helena Hwy,
Rutherford, CA
Phone: +1 800-588-0298

Opus One Winery
7900 St Helena Hwy,
Oakville, CA
Phone: +1 707-944-9442

Cool Architecture at Wineries

Part of the fun of going to Napa wineries is the beautiful scenery and stunning architecture. Here’s some of our favorite, coolest looking wineries in Napa — each has it’s own unique look. My absolute favorite of this list, is Castello Di Amorosa – a medieval castle winery.

Darioush Winery: Tall Pillars with greek-like architecture
Del Dotto Winery: Venetian estate & wine caves, favorited by the Kardashian family
Castello Di Amorosa: Castle Winery — the riesling, moscato and white wines are magnificent.
Beringer Winery: Napa valley’s oldest winery, with excellent Pinots & Malbecs.
Sterling Vineyards: The only winery with a gondola, their ‘Malvaisa Bianca’ Rosé is outstanding.
Chateau Montelena Winery
Silverado Vineyards: Hilltop views not to be missed

Take a mud bath in Calistoga
Calistoga is known for it’s hot springs and mineral baths; taking a mud bath in Calistoga is worth the experience! I’ll level with you & tell you I personally did not enjoying getting mud in ahem places one should not have mud & I found it too hot! Friends I went with, loved it — definitely worth the try.

Stay in a Spa or Resort in St. Helena or Calistoga
Great for a special occasion celebration or a mini-getaway. A personal favorite is Indian Springs resort.

Biking by vineyards
Meandering through the vineyards & valley in a bike, early in the morning is truly magical. You can even lock your bike by wineries and hop one place to another. I will warn you about heat in the summer though! We had to chuck our Malvasia Bianca from Sterling vineyards, because the heat ruined it during our biking 🙁

Stop by on the way back to take in Golden Gate Bridge
If driving south on your return, you’re bound to see the golden gate bridge. Stop by the vista point, past Sausalito for pictures.

Dining at a fancy pants restaurant, like French Laundry
If you’re feeling like splurging, like REALLY splurging… I’m talking spending $250/person for a mega level splurge, there are gourmet restaurants that cater to this, French Laundry in particular. I personally can’t recommend any, because I can’t justify the expense myself. I’ll save that for my next plane ticket, thank you very much!

Music festivals
During summer, Napa valley hosts several music festivals & concerts — Napa Bottle Rock & Jazz festival is one of the most popular. During harvest season, some wineries will host concerts & musical performances from artists like Ed Sheeran, Lifehouse etc.

Napa by Hot Air Balloon
What better way to see the valley than through hot air balloon? Described as a nature walk in the sky, this is a once in a lifetime experience. These tours start early though – 4:30 AM early. You’ll be treated to sunrise, amidst other floating hot air balloons and valley views below. Explore tour options here.

Explore neighboring Sonoma
For more low key, less expensive wineries, head on over to neighboring Sonoma!

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