5 First-Timer Tips for Visiting Napa Valley

Making the move to the west coast meant many things: warmer year-round weather, more expensive rent and, of course, easy access to Napa Valley and Sonoma County. When I lived in New York I really didn’t take advantage of nearby day trips and I didn’t want the same thing to be true of San Francisco. In the last year, I’ve made it to Napa three times and while I’m certainly no expert, I’ve rounded up a few tips that have helped me make the most of my getaway.

1) Get an early start (and enjoy the view)

I’m not advocating early morning day-drinking but I do recommend getting an early start, especially if you’re only there for a day. Many travelers opt for car rentals, since they offer more flexibility in terms of planning. If you do rent a car, make sure to get insurance because you just never know. For our last trip, my in-laws were in town so we decided to hire a driver for the day. They are from Argentina so obviously, none of us wanted to be the designated driver. I suggest taking the scenic route and stopping for photos at the viewpoint stop-off near the Golden Gate Bridge. You can also take a peek at the colorful floating houses in Sausalito.

Weekend Travel Guide to Napa Valley

2) Theme your trip (or set realistic goals)

There are over 400 wineries in Napa and Sonoma so visiting all of them is impossible. With so much variety, your jaunt through the country can suddenly become overwhelming, which is why setting realistic goals is so important. If you’re really into wines, it’s a good idea to express that to your travel partner so that you can narrow down your winery options. If, like me, you simply enjoy drinking wine in general, your itinerary can be more free-flow. Because of the type of weather conditions in Napa, many wineries grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay varieties. That said, there is a popular winery that specializes in Champagne-style sparkling, too.

5 First-Timer Tips for Visiting Napa Valley

3) Work with the weather

Northern California in winter is definitely warmer than it is on the east coast but that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows. The good thing about Napa is that many of the attractions (i.e. the wineries) are indoors. Sure, it would be nice to have a picnic outside in the vineyards but the weather may or may not permit that. Typically, there’s a lot of fog in the morning as your leave San Francisco but the deeper you drive into Napa and Sonoma, the more sunshine prevails. If you tend to get cold easily like I do, bring a sweater and maybe even a hat. During winter, bring an umbrella in case you suddenly get the urge to frolic through the vineyards.

Top vineyards in Napa Valley

4) Pace yourself

This is probably the #1 tip in my book. Why? Well, for one thing you’re drinking wine most of the day and wine tends to make people sleepy. On our most recent trip, I didn’t have time for breakfast so at our first tasting, I ate an entire pack of breadsticks. If you’re on a budget and/or are trying to cram a lot of wineries into one day, bring some snacks along for the ride. After two tastings, if you haven’t eaten anything, take a breather and get some food into your system. There are also some really nice restaurants in downtown Napa and, my personal favorite, St. Helena. Many wineries also have picnic tables for visitors, making for a pretty fantastic wine and cheese spread.

Travel tips for Napa and Sonoma

5) Have a good attitude

Remember when I said that Napa isn’t always sunshine and rainbows? Well, sometimes it is! Last month, despite some pretty ominous-looking rain clouds, we had a double rainbow chasing us on our journey. The only other time I’ve seen a double rainbow was in Dominica, so I was extremely grateful of our scenic backdrop. Like most things in life, it’s all about how you view a situation. Aside from our rainbow friend, it did rain a lot and the weather was not great. This is when having a good attitude comes in handy. In my opinion, a weekend in the vineyards is less about the picturesque views (although there are many of them) and more about the company you keep.

California rainbows

*This post is in collaboration with theZebra.com. All opinions are my own. 

Have you visited a winery in Napa or elsewhere? Tell me in the comments below!

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Hi! I’m Megan,

a Scorpio sun and Libra moon who left her job in the music industry to travel and write full-time. Since then, i´ve explored more than 60 countries in the hopes that you will, too.

The world is made of magic and so are you!


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