Budget Travel Tips for Napa Valley, California

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The name Napa Valley creates romantic visions of rolling hills, endless vines, rustic architecture, and deep red wines, but for most people, it also means expensive. As one of California’s most beautiful and special regions, Napa Valley attracts visitors from all over the world and therefore is not geared toward budget travel. However, with a few tricks, you can definitely get more out of your travel experience for less and visit Napa Valley on a budget. See my 3-day itinerary and these guidebooks for more ideas: (click the image for a link to the book):


Budget travel tips for Napa Valley

When to go to Napa Valley:

The first time I stayed in Napa Valley, the concierge told me that I should come back in the winter when “prices are lower but service is double.” The valley’s low season is December-April. Winter in Northern California is the rainy season, but the weather can be mild, with sunny days and temperatures in the 50s, 60s, and even 70s. Spring starts early here, even in February with cold mornings and evenings but daytime temperatures often in the 70s.

February is a great month in Napa Valley because the yellow mustard plants fill the vineyards, making for beautiful views even though the vines don’t have leaves at that time of year. Weekends tend to be very busy in Napa Valley year-round but are quieter in the winter and early spring.

Accommodations in Napa Valley:

Staying in Napa Valley is expensive. The area’s luxury hotels and B&Bs enhance the travel experience here, so this may be the part worth splurging on. You can usually get a lower rate during low season, especially on weekdays. If you’re looking for deals, avoid September-November when hotels are packed with people ready to experience harvest, crush, and the Napa Valley Film Festival; however, that time of year is possibly my favorite in Northern California because of the beautiful weather and fall colors.

More tips: Search for special rates in Calistoga, where more budget-friendly options exist at small hotels and motels. Search for discount codes online, especially in the off-season. There are some lower-priced accommodations, such as Best Western and Travelodge, in Napa and nearby Fairfield. There are also camping facilities at the area’s state parks.

Wine Tasting in Napa Valley:

Wine tasting is a great way to connect with locals in Napa Valley. The tasting room managers are friendly and knowledgeable and ready to answer your questions about the area, what it’s like to live there, the grapes. Wine tasting in Napa Valley can be expensive, with most wineries charging at least $20 per flight. However, there are ways to taste wine and stick to your budget.

Wine tasting in Downtown Napa: Get a Wine Tasting Card:

This card is available at the Visitor Center, at the DoNapa website, or at any of the participating tasting rooms in in Downtown Napa. For $25, you get a card that is valid for one year and allows you to park your car and taste at 12 tasting rooms, all within walking distance of each other.

Napa meritage stay 016

Consider sharing a tasting: Many wineries will offer for you to share a tasting or won’t mind if you ask to do so.

Discounts for Napa Valley wine tasting: Get 2-for-1 tastings by checking out the array of coupons available at WineryFinderApp and Groupon, or by asking what deals are available at the Visitor Center. If you know someone who lives in the area, you can ask them to take you around and take advantage of the Napa Neighbors discounts.

Free tours in Napa Valley: Many wineries offer tours with their tasting fees. Frog’s Leap has a tour with its reasonable $20 tasting fee, and for $25, you can get an educational tour of wine making at the Robert Mondavi Winery.

Budget travel tips for Napa Valley

Envy Wines

Smaller wineries in Napa Valley: Some small or boutique wineries offer less expensive tastings and have a personal touch. For example, Envy Wines just outside Calistoga has great reds, a cozy tasting room, and tastings for $10-20.

Back Room Wines: A fantastic wine shop in Downtown Napa run by guys who really know their wines, tastings are just $10 and a cheese plate can be added. Tastings include wines from small, “off-the-grid” wineries that have been carefully chosen by the shop’s owners. Get to know the area better by trying their selection of “off-the-grid” wines (i.e. hard-to-find wines) and by connecting with the owners and other customers.

Napa General Store (next to Napa River Inn on the Downtown Napa riverfront): This shop, cafe, and wine tasting room features only carefully-chosen wines from small, lesser-known wineries. Tastings are $20 per flight of five wines.

Other activities in Napa Valley:

There are plenty of things to do in Napa Valley besides tasting wine. One is hitting the outdoors. One of the best characteristics of Napa Valley is its natural beauty, and its rolling hills and quaint roads provide many opportunities for exploration. You can bike the Silverado Trail. Biking is such a beautiful way to really see the area, and bikes are widely available for rent; just take precautions to stay safe on those small highways.

Hiking in Napa Valley is another popular activity, especially around Calistoga; Oat Hill Mine Road just outside Calistoga is popular among locals. You can find out more about hiking trails here. Outdoor activities also include kayaking the Napa River (you can start in the city of Napa), hot air ballooning, boating and hiking at Lake Berryessa, and viewing the geyser in Calistoga.

Budget travel tips for Napa Valley

Hiking just outside the city of Napa on the grounds of the Meritage Resort & Spa

Downtown Napa has a strong sense of community that is easy to see during the city’s many free festivals and outdoor events. Look for seasonal festivities at the Do Napa website. A popular local event that allows you to try some of the area’s best food is the Culinary Crawl–only $30 for advance tickets.

The Napa farmers’ market takes place next to Oxbow Public Market every Tuesday and Saturday 8:00-12:30 starting in May. Oxbow also has “Local’s Night” every Tuesday at 5:00 when the merchants offer special items for local residents and visitors to enjoy.

oxbow public market: where to eat in Napa for less

Spas in Napa Valley: The area is also known for its spas, and not all are expensive. Calistoga offers a wealth of spa treatments. The town sits on top of hot springs, and the healing waters are used in bath soaking treatments, mud baths, and more at places like the Roman Spa in Calistoga, where basic treatments begin around $70.

Budget travel tips for Napa Valley

Calistoga is known for its hot springs

Budget Options for Food in Napa Valley:

The food in Napa Valley is excellent, and there are plenty of places to eat that don’t cost too much.

Oxbow Public Market is my favorite place to get reasonably-priced food, from tacos and sliders to delicious, authentic Neapolitan pizza. You can sit down for a meal, pick up fresh produce, or get dessert at this foodie’s haven. The cheese shop inside Oxbow and Model Bakery, just around the corner, make a great place to pick up picnic supplies.

where to eat less expensive Napa Valley

Grace’s Table: One of the best restaurants in Downtown Napa, if not in the whole valley, Grace’s Table has Happy Hour with small plates at low prices in the late afternoon.

Budget travel tips for Napa Valley, California

Small plates at Grace’s Table for Happy Hour

Gott’s Roadside: With two locations, one in Downtown Napa next to Oxbow Public Market and one on Hwy 29 near St. Helena, Gott’s serves traditional American diner food that everyone raves about. The fish tacos and sweet potato fries are excellent!

Tra Vigne: The pizzas, salads, and pastas are delicious, the outdoor seating is nice, the location on Hwy 29 is convenient, and the prices are reasonable.

Model Bakery: With locations in Downtown Napa behind Oxbow Public Market and in St. Helena, Model Bakery is a great place to pick up fresh bread (baked twice daily) or a sandwich for an easy lunch or picnic.

V. Sattui: This winery has a deli with a large variety of easy food to take out, from sandwiches to salads and picnic supplies. There is a huge outdoor picnic area where you can eat your lunch or, on special days, grab fresh BBQ.

budget tips for Napa Valley

By following these tips, Napa Valley can become an approachable, affordable getaway. The area is so beautiful and such an important part of California’s wine culture that it really shouldn’t be missed. By making a little extra effort in planning, you can find ways to make your budget go farther and have a great visit in Napa Valley on a budget.

Do you have budget travel tips for Napa Valley? Please share!


P.S. Much more about Napa Valley:

And more blog posts about Napa Valley:

Build the Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley

The Napa Wine Train

30 Things to Do in Napa Valley

Where to See Art in Napa Valley

A Romantic Getaway in Napa Valley

Winter in the Wine Country

Napa Valley in the Fall

21 Comments

  • Leigh says:

    You’ve pulled together some great budget ideas for Napa. I think heading there in February when the mustard is blooming sounds wonderful. Reading the post makes me wish a visit to Napa was easier to do for me. My husband and I spent 10 days biking the area in 2010 and had a really good time.
    Leigh recently posted..A Day From Hell on the Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa National ParkMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks, Leigh. I love hearing that you spent 10 days in that area. It is really worth a long stay (instead of the 1-2 days that many people devote to it). I’m sure you’d love it in February.

  • Joan Bartos says:

    Wonderful post! I just want to point out that unfortunately, Bistro Sabor has closed.

    As one who lives in Napa, I’d suggest Alexis Bakery (ABC) and Napa Valley Roasting Company as places to get a treat and meet locals. And another way to beat the high cost of dining out is to eat lunch at the restaurant that is most expensive and then have a dinner at a less expensive restaurant.
    A very fun and relaxing thing to do is just to visit each town in the valley and walk around downtown.
    If you bring your dog with you, go to Alston Park in Napa. There are on-leash and off-leash areas and again, it’s a good way to meet locals.
    Please don’t ride bikes on Silverado Trail unless you’re with a large group. We’ve had a lot of people killed there in the last few years. Unfortunately, the mix of locals (who view the trail as their private autobahn) and tourists (who tend to drive slowly) create very unsafe conditions on the Trail. Highway 29 is safer and is also quite scenic.

    And lastly, consider Air BnB as a way to find reasonably priced accommodations.

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you so much for all your suggestions! I have been to ABC and had the most delicious lemon ricotta pancakes with a blueberry sauce. Oh, yum.

    • Nancy says:

      Joan, since you are local, I was drawn to your comment. My husband and I will be in Napa from December 14 to 20th. We are traveling on a “budget.” Are you aware of any events during that week ) in napa or surrounding area? Also, do you recommend making reservations at wineries before we go, or to play it by ear.

  • Renuka says:

    Now I know I have to refer to this if and when I visit the beautiful Napa valley. Thanks!
    Renuka recently posted..Photo Contest – Capture The Colour 2013My Profile

  • Jennifer says:

    I love Oxbow Public Market! You’ve put together some great tips for visiting Napa on a budget.
    Jennifer recently posted..A Picture of Russian Peasant Life #gAdvRussiaMy Profile

  • Monique says:

    I agree with your reader about the silverado trail as dangerous, it truly feels like an autobahn for the locals! I’m glad I don’t see oakville grocery on the list because it is outrageous now, $5 for a muffin, etc. I’m sad because it was always a stop for me In napa. Last time there, a stroll in Calistoga, a visit to Clos pegase for outdoor Art viewing (cost zero) and then a splurge in st Helena at their wonderful truffle shop ( one truffle is enough, but savor it!). The sights are worth a million dollars in itself.

    • Jenna says:

      So true. Just being there is enough. I also like Clos Pegase for a nice walk around.
      I haven’t been to Oakville grocery yet. It’s on my list of things that i want to do there, but I will be aware of the too-high prices.
      And thanks for chiming in about the Silverado Trail. Too bad there isn’t a better (safer) place for cyclists to enjoy the natural beauty of Napa Valley.

  • Great advice. Napa can be such an expensive place to visit, especially with the great restaurants there. This is helpful for the next visit.
    Lance | Trips By Lance recently posted..Balloon Fiesta InspirationMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      You’re right, the restaurants can really dig into a budget, but there are plenty of not-too-expensive choices (based on what’s considered expensive in California).

  • Charu says:

    When we went to the Hamptons we rented a VRBO apartment for the weekend and went wine tasting to the neighborhood vineyards and it was actually economical. I don’t suggest hotels, I suggest rentals in this ritzy area
    Charu recently posted..Glamping in a Yurt in the CatskillsMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Yes, in some places, a rental can be more economical than a hotel. We always get rentals in San Francisco, and even though the rentals are also pricey (that’s just how the city is), the amount of space and having a kitchen makes it worth it and probably cheaper than a hotel.

  • Lucky for us we didn’t have to worry about hotels when we visited. We definitely would have liked to do more and enjoy the spas but I guess we are ultra-budget people. Here was our experience there.
    http://marriedwithmaps.com/2015/10/25/napa-sutter-home-and-castello-di-amorosa/

    • Jenna says:

      The hotels in the Napa area are very expensive, so it’s nice that you didn’t have to worry about hotels.

  • Catherine Hernandez says:

    Where was this scenic quaint brick house taken. So European looking.

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Catherine,

      The tiny brick house at the top is at Castello di Amoroso winery, and the larger one about half way down in this article is the V. Sattui winery.

  • Catherine says:

    Thank you!

  • Rhianon says:

    Another thing to do in Napa Valley that’s really fun and won’t break the bank is to go on a kayaking tour. There’s lots of companies that do them in Napa, but my favorite is https://enjoy-napa-valley.com/ – they’re great! They also offer a historical tour that’s really cool.

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