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

by Jyo

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

Napa does rack up a reputation for being snooty & snobby, a lot of wine snobs will pooh-pooh certain wineries over others; some gourmet restaurants here 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

Fabulous hangout spot in downtown Napa, 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. Needless to say I love this store! There’s a ton of cute little shops, bars & cafes. You cannot go wrong with brunch at the excellent 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 disagree with this assessment. 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. Equally good is Cakebread winery. I prefer the wineries in Calistoga (more on that below) and Sonoma (also below).

Hagan Winery Cakebread Winery

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; I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the wines here (overpriced & IMHO, not as great), going here is more of an experience.

Darioush Winery (for it’s tall pillars & greek architecture)
Del Dotto Winery
Castello Di Amorosa — Castle Winery — the riesling, moscato and white wines in general are really good here.
Behringer Winery (excellent Pinots & Malbecs)
Sterling Vineyards (has a gondola) — they have a rare rose, (xx), which is excellent.
Domaine Carneros
Chateau Montelena Winery
Silverado Vineyards
Opus One

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! Now 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! But friends I went with, loved it — give it try and see how you feel!

Stay in a Spa or Resort in St. Helena or Calistoga
Great for a special occasion celebration (we’ve celebrated an anniversary here) or a mini-getaway. A personal favorite is Indian Springs resort. I’ve also heard good things about …

Biking by vineyards
It’s well worth renting a bike and meandering through the vineyards & valley. You can even lock your bike by wineries and hop one place to another. I will warn you about heat in the summer! We bought a wine bottle we ended up chucking, cuz 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 — some of the best views are on the way into the city, especially through Robin Williams tunnel. 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 are the most popular. During harvest season as well, some wineries will host concerts & musical performances from artists like Ed Sheeran, Lifehouse etc. Check wineries (xx) for listings.

Napa Annual Hot Air Balloon festival
Every July 4th weekend, Napa hosts this fantabulous hot air balloon festival. Arrive super early though! Like 4:30 AM early. It’s a beautiful to see all the hot air balloons in the sky, with the valley views below.

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

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