The Napa Valley is all about wine, food, pampering and enjoying the good life. In fact, it was wine, specifically cabernet sauvignon, that put Napa Valley on the tourist map. The year was 1976 when a California cab wowed French wine tasters, a tale told with a twist in the film “Bottle Shock.” For the next few decades, visitors bound for northern California wine country passed right by the city of Napa en route to the now renowned Napa Valley tasting rooms and trendy restaurants up the road in Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Enter the 21st century. The city of Napa has come a long way, and quickly. The downtown section perches on the banks of the Napa River and boasts a scenic waterfront promenade. There you’ll find boutique shops, a luxury inn built in a historic mill, an intriguing new marketplace, and a mix of casual cafes and fine restaurants.
The Perfect Napa Weekend
Day One: This is your day to experience the local wine and food scene without having to drive out of the city of Napa. Instead, you’ll be riding on a train and a boat. Head to the train station for a short introduction to wine and wine tasting. Then it’s all aboard the Wine Train. Your rail trip includes a delicious luncheon with scrolling views of many of the vineyards that made the valley world-famous. Once the train returns to Napa, go for a stroll along the river walk, or see the sights from the river during an electric boat tour. For your evening entertainment, go downtown for dinner followed by a show at the Opera House.
Day Two: Enjoy breakfast at your inn or in a cozy cafe before hitting the wine trail. Throughout the Napa Valley and neighboring Sonoma County, visitor centers at individual wineries welcome travelers. For an overview of the wine making process, pick at least one winery and join its informative guided tour. Because each winery has its own story to tell, it’s worth taking more than one tour. After the tour (not a requirement), you can sample featured wines in the tasting room, usually for a fee of $10 – $20. Take a break from the tasting rooms to wander through the boutique shops lining Main Street in St. Helena. Note the antique street lights brought from San Francisco’s 1915 Pan-Pacific Expo. Foodies will want to browse the aisles at Dean & DeLuca, a high-end specialty foods market located at the southern edge of town.
Day Three: Early risers can book a hot-air balloon ride and float over the valley at sunrise. Or you may choose to sleep in before totally unwinding with a Calistoga mud bath (it’s partly volcanic ash) and a dip in a soothing mineral pool. Option three is a relaxing massage at a resort or day spa. After lunch at a restaurant that has caught your eye, drive south along the Silverado Trail. The scenic road is dotted with renowned wineries. Today, you may want to sample a sparkling wine and raise a glass to toast your Napa getaway.
Learn more about this itinerary with our Napa Attractions.
–written by Ginger Dingus; updated by Sean Bestor