Eating, drinking, and tasting are the most popular Napa Valley activities, but there's plenty to do beyond the glass and plate. From the great outdoors to spa treatments, a wide variety of pursuits caters to interests across the spectrum. And though some activities are pricey, there are also just as many affordable ones that embody the spirit of the good life.
There are almost 400 wineries in the valley, and many are open to the public. Some wine tastings are free, but more and more wineries are now charging tasting fees (often around $5 or $10 for a set of multiple samples). In addition to tastings, many wineries offer tours, barrel tastings, and other behind-the-scenes peeks into wine making. NapaValley.com's featured winery list is a good place to start researching, and Napa Valley Vintners has a useful list as well. A trip to the bookstore (online or off) should yield a number of Napa Valley guidebooks with more information and advice about individual wineries.
With so many wineries, knowing where to start can be overwhelming; however, Copia, a wine, food, and arts center in Napa, offers context for food and wine appreciation, and can be a good place to begin a wine country excursion. In general, there are a number of strategies for choosing wineries: some people choose solely by wine type, while others are drawn to innovative architecture, art collections, picnic areas, or destination restaurants.
Napa is home to a number of nationally acclaimed restaurants and celebrity chefs. Eating, like everything else in the Napa Valley, can get pricey, but reading up on restaurants beforehand can be the key to fine dining within a particular budget. Opentable.com blends Napa and Sonoma restaurants in its Wine Country category, and offers compilations of reviews (to find them, click through on a specific restaurant and look on the left). Zagat also has a California wine country guide that offers ratings, average prices, and selections of diners' comments.
In addition to restaurants, the valley is also dotted with specialty groceries and delis that offer gourmet supplies for picnics or impromptu tailgate parties. Oakville Grocery, Dean & DeLuca, Bouchon Bakery, and V. Sattui are a few of the favorite supply stops. Parks such as Bothe-Napa Valley State Park in the valley and Robert Louis Stevenson State Park up the hill from Calistoga host picnickers, as do many of the valley's wineries. To find wineries open for picnicking, look for listings marked with an orange box on NapaValley.com.
Beyond wine and food
Eating and drinking aside, there's plenty to do in the Napa Valley. In addition to art galleries in the valley's cities, art enthusiasts will find a unique indoor-outdoor presentation of art at the Di Rosa Preserve, and impressive private collections at wineries such as the Hess Collection and Clos Pegase.
Hot air balloon excursions, golf, hiking in the parks, and biking in the valley offer excuses to enjoy the outdoors. During the summer months, venues such as Copia, Robert Mondavi Winery, and Sterling Vineyards host outdoor evening events, and year-round, the Lincoln Theater and Napa Valley Opera House have performances. Visitors who don't want to stray too far from the eating and drinking theme can find cooking and wine tasting classes at venues around the valley. And spa treatments and mud baths are the big draw throughout the valley, but especially in Calistoga.
There are plenty of other activities as well, including farm visits and olive oil mill tours. Visit the Napa Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information and Winecountry.com for Napa Valley discounts and specials.
And, when in wine country, don't forget about Sonoma, Napa's laid-back neighbor to the west. It's just over the hill from Napa and offers more wineries, historical sites, and perhaps best of all, miles of Pacific coastline.