Planning a trip to Napa Valley, California?
We just got back from an amazing weekend getaway drinking wine, eating great food and lounging around in a cozy cabin next to campfire. I did a lot or research for my Napa Valley trip and it was really difficult to narrow down which wineries to visit and what to do during my visit.
The biggest thing is that everything is pretty spread out, so you have to be a bit strategic about hitting everything in the same area at the same time.
Here’s a look at my itinerary if you’re planning your own trip to Napa Valley + Sonoma Valley, California:
Getting There – Paul and I opted to make the 6 hour drive to Napa Valley by car from Los Angeles. We ended up stopping in Dublin, CA at around the 5 hour mark of our drive for dinner. It’s a big suburb with a shiny, new Whole Foods Market if you’re trying to eat something healthy on the road before you overdo it on ALL the wine + cheese on your upcoming trip. If you’re feeling sushi, Amakara is a good one to check out or go for Pho at Pho Saigon Garden. Dublin also has a huge shopping mall nearby to stretch your legs AKA get your shop on.
Winery Tours + Restaurant Reservations – One very big lesson I learned while planning my Napa Valley trip is that winery tours, special tastings/pairings and restaurant reservations all book up very quickly. So make your itinerary at least a MONTH or more in advance and start booking your reservations for all the places you want to hit on your trip to avoid any disappointment.
Things To Do in Napa Valley
Since everything in Napa Valley is pretty spread out, I tried to group things that were close together without having us running back and forth across wine country.
Tour a BIG Winery – We started our day in Napa Valley by booking into The Robert Mondavi Signature Tour (90 min, $35), which is a great big winery tour. This location produces close to 3.5 million bottles annually and it was fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at this recognized brand. You can read more about my visit to Robert Mondavi Winery in my post here.
Eat Fried Chicken – After our tour we made a quick 10 minute drive to Yountville for a Picnic Lunch at Addendum, a sort of backyard picnic space behind Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller. $16.50 got me three juicy pieces of their famous fried chicken, 2 sides – potato & macaroni salad and a piece of honey cornbread.
Holy crap. Paul exclaimed that this was the BEST fried chicken he has ever had. The meat inside was super juicy and the skin incredibly crispy. We also tried their pork ribs which had a wonderful smoky flavour and a nice dry rub. But the chicken is the star here. Order online to skip the line and park yourself at one of their picnic tables for a hearty lunch.
Taste Sparkling Wine – Right around the corner from Addendum is Domaine Chandon, a lovely place to taste sparkling wine on their pretty outdoor terrace. We did the Classic Tasting which included 3 samples for $20 and relaxed in the Muskoka chairs overlooking the vineyard.
Stroll Around Yountville – After Chandon we drove about 5 minutes back to explore Yountville. V Marketplace has a lovely collection of local shops and a pretty outdoor garden. Make sure to stop into Kollar Chocolates to pick up a little treat.
Eat A LOT of Pastries – We also dropped by Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery across the street for a coffee and pastry. Try the TKO – a homemade Oreo cookies that’s my all-time fave. This is also a great opportunity to pick up a freshly baked baguette or some bread for a future winery picnic.
Shop Local! – Once we were done with Yountville, we hopped back in our car and drove 20 minutes into the heart of Napa Valley and directly to Oxbow Public Market to stock up on picnic items to enjoy for lunch the next day.
Paul bought some artisanal bitters from Napa Valley Distillery and we spent some time checking out the little shops. Make sure to taste al the olive oils and balsamic vinegars at The Olive Press. I bought a small bottle of their award-winning Artisan Blend to use on my salad and I do love an edible souvenir!
After the market, we made a quick 5-minute drive over to Downtown Napa to do some exploring over there. If you love all things vintage, pop on over to 2nd Avenue to visit Antiques on Second and also The Roost for some great home pieces. We also had a lot of fun exploring all the little shops along the riverfront at The Napa Mill. Stop into Sweetie Pie’s for a mini-cake for dessert later.
Have an Amazing Dinner – For dinner we picked a well-recommended Italian restaurant on 1st Street called Oenotri. We ordered a Margherita Pizza, Sauteed Kale with Garlic and Tomatoes and Corn Passato, but the REAL star of the show had to be there homemade pasta that’s made daily. Paul and I opted for Bucatini All’Amatriciana and the pasta was just perfectly al dente with a flavourful tomato sauce.
Where to Stay
Go Glamping – The prices for a hotel room in Napa Valley and Sonoma were pretty pricey – though the location would’ve made our drives a bit shorter. Paul and I opted to go the glamping route and booked ourselves into a Deluxe Cabin complete with a kitchenette, private washroom and bedroom at this KOA Campground in Petaluma (about 30-45 minutes away from Napa + Sonoma).
This was an AWESOME choice and I can’t believe how much I enjoyed myself. After a long day of driving and wine tasting, we settled into our cozy cabin, roasted marshmallows over a campfire and spent a lot of time hanging on our porch outside.
Having a kitchen also meant we were able to cook our own breakfasts, pack lunches and snacks and even cook dinner. I also loved getting a ‘camping’ experience from our wine country getaway. I’ll be writing more about my stay in another blog post next week – so stay tuned!
Things to Do Outside of Napa Valley
Go for a Swim – When I initially made our itinerary, I had us running from winery to winery and that truly wasn’t going to be a relaxing vacation. I highly recommend that you book in a day at Francis Ford Coppola Winery where you can lie by the pool on a day pass ($35) and sip wine all day in the sun. This was one of our favourite places on our trip and about 35 minutes from Petaluma in Sonoma County.
We also took their Bottling Tour ($20, 1 hour) which gave us a look at their process, a bit of history on the winery and four tastings. There’s also a museum devoted to Coppola’s work, a great little gift shop and an Italian restaurant on-site. It’s like Disneyland for adults.
See the Redwoods – We decided to take one morning to drive about an hour to The Armstrong Redwoods in the Russian River Valley to get a little closer to nature and see the magnificient trees. Wear your hiking clothes, pack sunscreen, snacks and water.
There is a lovely beginner Pioneer Nature Trail that is 1.5 miles long, paved and highlights some of the oldest trees in the forest. The trail is flat, shaded and very easy for families. A visitor’s centre and restrooms can be found in the parking lot. There are also lots of picnic areas if you wanted to stay a bit longer.
Drink Champagne – After our little nature walk, we jetted off to Korbel Champagne Cellars (about 10 minutes away) for some sparkling rose and a lovely lunch on their outdoor terrace. Their cafe features sandwiches & salads made-to-order, a delicatessen and LOTS of champagne to sip on. I was incredibly happy and pleasantly surprised about how good the food was.
Time for Beer! – After sipping champagne and so much winey throughout the weekend, a visit to Lagunitas Brewery was in order. We took the tour, which was one of the funniest and most entertaining of our trip. Lagunitas is a serious weekend day drinking spot. I couldn’t believe how busy it was! So go early to avoid the line-ups for beer. If you have all day, spend it grazing on their patio with live music and a few tasters.
So this is just the tip of the iceberg for all things in Napa Valley, Sonoma and beyond. I didn’t get to do everything I wanted, but that just means another trip is in order! If you’re still not sure where to go, consider a Napa Food Tour.
Have you been to Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley? Do you have any recommendations of favourite wineries, restaurants or hotels to share with us?