How to spend a perfect weekend in Napa Valley

May 10, 22
How to spend a perfect weekend in Napa Valley

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Located just a short jaunt from San Francisco, Napa Valley and California’s wine country make for a perfect weekend getaway from the city for wine-lovers and neophytes alike. While these narrow valleys hold enough wineries and restaurants to keep you busy for some time, we’ve crafted an itinerary that will give you a perfect two-day taste of Napa Valley’s uniquely rich flavors. 

Grape vines in Napa extending to a vanishing point, with a tree in the background; weekend in Napa
Just a short trip from San Francisco, Napa Valley's delights can be sampled within a weekend © YinYang / Getty Images

Saturday

Morning

Start off your day in downtown Napa by carb-loading at Sweetie Pies Bakery, a darling little spot on the main drag known for its tasty pastries and cakes. The blackberry cheesecake danish impresses, as do the flaky croissants and heaping breakfast sandwiches. Good news for gluten-free folks: there are options for you, too.

After you’ve filled your belly, get your day started with some bubbly at Domaine Carneros, a stately hilltop winery inspired by the chateaus of France. The views from the winery’s patio sweep across verdant fields full of grapevines and the dramatic staircase at the entrance is Instagram gold. While Domaine makes all types of wine, the sparkling varieties are standouts – if you’re doing a tasting, the sparkling menu option focuses on these wines in all their glory. Reservations are required, and tastings run from $35.

A collection of people sit at tables under umbrellas near a fountain; weekend in Napap
The views from Domaine Carneros extend for miles © Bailey Freeman / Lonely Planet

Afternoon

After taking in all things French and fancy, switch gears and head to homey Truchard Winery, a small, family-run operation where you may run into the owners themselves as they tend to the grounds. Tastings take place in the winery’s 'wine cave' and have a personal, tailored vibe; the chardonnay and cabernet franc are highlights. The tour and tasting together cost $40, and on Saturdays only run until noon. Advanced reservations are required.

You’re two tastings down and it’s time for some grub: head to Oxbox Public Market in downtown Napa to sample local eats ranging from tacos to sushi to pizza. Chow down on the riverside deck before snagging some fixings for a picnic from Oxbow Wine & Cheese Merchant (more on that later).

If you’ve got a little extra time, make your way to one of Del Dotto Winery’s three locations, the closest to Napa being the Historic Winery and Caves. While the cave tour is relatively standard, numerous barrel tastings of high-quality wines set it apart. Barrel tasting tours run $75, though they do offer a more budget-friendly bar tasting for $45. Advanced reservations are required.

Evening

While technically in Sonoma, Gundlach-Bundschu is a short hop from Napa and makes for the perfect evening stop after a long, lovely day of tasting wine in the sun. Pack up the aforementioned picnic and head to this sprawling property established by Bavarian immigrant Jacob Gundlach in 1858. Book a tasting for the Vista Courtyard ($30), a pleasant spot dotted with olive trees that overlook the property’s pond – don’t miss out on the Gewürztraminer. Tastings run until 5:30pm on the weekends during the summer. The winery also hosts evening events at its outdoor amphitheater.

Sunday

Morning

Take the 45-minute drive straight to the top of the valley for a truly Napa experience: the mud baths and mineral baths of Calistoga. This leafy town is located on an area known for its hot springs and volcanic ash (thanks to nearby Mt St Helena), and spas all over town offer luxurious services featuring this geological anomaly. Indian Springs Resort is Calistoga’s (and California’s) oldest continuously running spa, and the dreamy digs are an iconic place to spend some quality me-time. If you’re looking for a slightly more budget-friendly option (and your 'weekend' happens to fall during the week), the Baths at Roman Spaoffer a 2-for-1 deal on Tuesdays.

The walls of Castello di Amorosa next to a flower bush, with a blue sky overhead, perfect weather for a weekend in Napa
Castello di Amorosa's castle was built from stones imported from Italy © Bailey Freeman / Lonely Planet

Afternoon

After relaxing in all the volcanic mud you can handle, clean off and head to your first wine-tasting of the day (because it’s 5 o’clock somewhere and you’re on vacation!). Just down the road from Calistoga is Castello di Amorosa, a 13th-century-style castle and winery painstakingly recreated with stone shipped from Italy and using traditional construction methods. The tour discusses the construction of the castle (complete with torture chamber) and the production of the winery’s Italian-inspired wines, and the tasting takes place under the castle in atmospheric stone rooms with vaulted ceilings. Favorites include the merlot and the old-vine zinfandel. Tastings alone are $30 and walk-ins are welcome; tasting and tour combos run $45 and reservations are highly recommended.

Once you’ve had your fill, head to St Helena to grab some eats at The Charter Oak, brought to you by three-Michelin-starred chef Christopher Kostow (the man behind well-known Meadowood) and chef Katianna Hong. Despite their lofty credentials, the chefs have made their food approachable (and easier on the wallet) at this spacious family-style restaurant that revels in simple dishes made with the highest attention. Food is seasonal and locally grown, and wines hail from Napa – check the rotating menus before you go.

Two women descend stairs toward Rutherford's door; weekend in Napa
Inspired by a Swiss chalet, Rutherford Hill Winery was built from railroad ties © Bailey Freeman / Lonely Planet

Once you’ve sampled all the culinary delights to be had at The Charter Oak, make your way to Rutherford Hill Winery, a striking Swiss chalet-inspired winery built out of railway ties from the deconstructed Napa Valley railways. The tour here is especially fun in that it gives you a quick tutorial on how to be a sommelier, a cool opportunity for wine newbies to learn how to taste and identify wines once they're back home. If you’re lucky, the tasting may include a sip of their limited-run EPISODE wine, a scrumptious Bordeaux blend. If you’ve got time to spare, book a table in their Oak Grove picnic area, which serves up beautiful views of the valley below.

Looking to squeeze in one more tasting? We recommend two different wineries, depending on what you’re looking for. If you want a relaxed, atmospheric tasting, head to Frog’s Leap Winery to sip wine on its farmhouse porch surrounded by lush vegetable and flower gardens; wines here tend to be a bit more acidic and fruit-forward, and the staff largely leaves you to enjoy your tasting. If you’re looking for knowledgeable, detailed explanations of wine, albeit without the ambience, head to Peju Winery to try their bold selection – we enjoyed the Province blend and the cabernet sauvignon.

An overhead shot of a pork shoulder with brussels sprouts; weekend in Napa
A pork shoulder from Bistro Jeanty © Bailey Freeman / Lonely Planet

Evening

Make your way down the valley to cozy Yountville for dinner; there are tons of eating options here, including the iconic French Laundry and Napa original Mustard’s Grill, so you’re free to take your pick. We also loved friendly Bistro Jeanty, which serves up truly perfect French staples; don’t miss the unbelievably tender pork shoulder or the tomato bisque topped with crumbly puff pastry.

At this point your tongue might need a break from all that fermented grape juice, so head to downtown Napa for some palate-cleansing suds from Tannery Bend Beerworks to round out your evening. Bright, hoppy beers are the name of the game here, a perfect balance with the rich wines you’ve been drinking all day.

Top Tip

This is a big one, folks – be responsible while you enjoy your tour through wine country. Designated drivers are the way to go, but if you don’t have one, plenty of driving services are available to make sure you get to each destination safely. If all else fails, drive shares like Uber and Lyft are plentiful.

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