Build the Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

I love going to Napa Valley. It’s not just the wine; it’s also the mountains, architecture, gardens, and restaurants that draw me there. But for a day trip, Napa Valley is deceptively big. There are more than 400 wineries with tasting rooms, and the valley is not small–it’s about 30 miles long, and, especially in high season, there can be traffic, which can eat up precious time on a day trip.

Therefore, my usual preference for a Napa day trip is a leisurely day just in Downtown Napa, one that might include wine tasting in the city’s tasting rooms, an easy lunch and shopping in the Oxbow Public Market, a stroll along the riverfront, and perhaps biking on nearby trails or a drive to nearby wineries on the Silverado Trail. But when introducing someone to Napa Valley, a day trip of greater reach is certainly in order.

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

On a recent hot summer day, the six of us–us four plus two visiting in-laws–headed off in our borrowed Toyota Highlander for a full day in Napa Valley (find out why this is a perfect day trip vehicle below). Based on this day and many previous visits, I’ve compiled my suggestions for the perfect day trip in Napa Valley. And fortunately, with planning, it doesn’t have to be expensive.

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

Click the map for a Google Map of the places mentioned in this post.

 

There’s more here than you can do in one day, so mix and match to make an itinerary that fits your needs:

Morning wine tasting:

Late morning is a good time to start wine tasting because your palate is fresh and the wineries will be less crowded at this time of day. Tip: If you’re planning to stop at a big winery, try to get there as early as possible to avoid crowds.

Arrive in Napa Valley by 10:00 and drive north to the first winery of your choice. Avoid the construction and traffic of Highway 29 near St. Helena by taking the Silverado Trail. If you’re hungry on the way, stop at Model Bakery in St. Helena.

Decide what type of winery will be your first stop. If it’s your first time in Napa Valley, you may want to visit one of the big, show-stopping wineries and perhaps take a tour:

If you are up for a little history and beautiful gardens, try Robert MondaviBeringer or Chateau Montelana (pictured below; see the film “Bottleshock” for this winery’s story). These wineries have gardens and beautiful architecture to view, and you can choose to take a tour, experience a wine pairing, or just taste a flight. Cost: Tastings start around $25.

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

If you lean toward a smaller place, try Cliff Lede, where the wine is really good and the outdoor space is dotted with fine art:

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

If you enjoy art and architecture, try Clos Pegase:

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

If you visit Napa Valley with kids, try Castello di Amorosa, a 121,000-foot authentic-looking castle made from materials imported from Europe. Take the self-guided tour and end with wine tasting for adults, grape juice and coloring for the kids. Tip: My kids loved visiting Castello, but it gets crowded here! Arrive early and leave enough time (at least 90 minutes) to walk the grounds and explore inside. Cost: $25 per adult and $15 per child over 5 for the self-guided tour.

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My HappinessThe Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

A mid-day stop: Cairdean Estate

Cairdean Estate is unique in Napa Valley. It’s not just a winery. The estate “village” includes caves, tasting rooms, a high-end shop with unique items made by artisans, the restaurant The Farmer & the Fox (which received a Bib Gourmand award from Michelin, open only for dinner), and the bakery/cafe Buterscots.

Have lunch at Buterscots and then proceed to the tasting room, where you can sit at the bar or on one of the room’s cozy couches. Highlights here are the unoaked Chardonnay, either of their two very different Pinot Noirs, the 2012 Cabernet Franc, and the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, but in the summer, be sure to try the Haley Margaret white blend and Rosé. Cost: Lunch at Buterscots: $10-15 per person. Wine tasting: a flight of five costs $25.

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

Cairdean Estate has beautiful new caves, and cave tours begin on September 1.

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

The atmosphere at Buterscots is casual, and the food is light and fresh, just right for a day of tasting wine.

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

Optional lunch stop: Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena or Napa

There are many nice places to have lunch in Napa Valley, including Michelin starred restaurants, but I haven’t included them here because a day trip affords little time for a long meal. If you’re with kids, you should plan to stop at Gott’s Roadside, either in St. Helena or Downtown Napa. This roadside burger joint serves reliably good versions of classic diner food–burgers, salads, milkshakes, very good fish tacos, even an ahi burger, all using high-quality, locally sourced ingredients. Tip: At the St. Helena location, all seating is outdoors. Lines can be long at prime meal times. Cost: about $15 per person, less for kids.

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

Afternoon/evening stop: Downtown Napa

Oxbow Public Market

Oxbow Public Market is my favorite place to stop on the way out of town. I come here to buy gifts at the Olive Press and Anette’s Chocolates, try cheese and buy bread to take home, and have a sweet treat before hitting the road. My favorite treats are cupcakes from Kara’s Cupcakes and the beignets from Ca’ Momi, but there are so many good food options here: Three Twins Ice Cream, Eiko’s for Japanese, Ca’ Momi for Neapolitan pizza, Hog Island Oyster Co., and C Casa for tacos.

Tip: Parking is free in Downtown Napa, and there’s plenty of parking at Oxbow.

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

Before leaving, we always have a sweet treat at Kara’s Cupcakes in the Oxbow Public Market and buy a few minis to take home.

Day Trip to Napa | This Is My Happiness.com

Day Trip to Napa | This Is My Happiness.com

I always save time to wander a bit in Dowtown Napa. The city is always changing–there are new restaurants and tasting rooms opening all the time. The Napa Art Walk is a self-guided walk past outdoor sculptures made by regional artists (the lineup changes every year or so).

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

I like to walk the Napa Riverfront, passing the Napa River Inn and Angele, stopping in the Napa General Store, and continuing along the river past Morimoto and Fish Story to the riverfront park. I stop to peek into Liken Gallery and Morimoto. Tip: If you’re with kids, they can run along the riverfront without worries since it’s closed to traffic and get a treat at Frati Gelato Cafe.

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

The Perfect Day Trip to Napa Valley | This Is My Happiness

Evening: 

If you want to wait out evening traffic before going home, Downtown Napa has plenty of dinner options. Oenotri, Morimoto, Eiko’s, Tarla Grill, and Carpe Diem are all good choices, but Grace’s Table is my favorite restaurant in Napa. The food, inspired by France, Italy, and the Americas, is excellent, and the atmosphere is nice without being pretentious. Stop in for Happy Hour Monday-Friday 3:00-6:00 for drinks and small plates or stay for dinner.

Downtown Napa also has many good wine tasting rooms, so if you’re up for another wine tasting, you can’t go wrong with Vintner’s Collective (where only carefully chosen wines from small Napa Valley wineries are poured) and John Anthony Vineyards (wow, the Cabernets!). Cost: $15 or more for wine tasting.

What would you recommend for a day trip to Napa Valley? For more ideas, check out my 3-day guide to Napa Valley on Amazon.

Tags

14 Comments

  • Tamara says:

    I love how you have everything laid out so well to make planning simple!! I’ve been to a few of these stops but still have so much more to explore in Napa. Thanks for the tips, I will definitely be saving it for our next trip!
    Tamara recently posted..8 Reasons to Visit England’s North Country with KidsMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thank you. I try to make it easy for people to grab ideas from the posts. There is so much in Napa–I still discover new places there every time I visit.

  • Rachel says:

    I love Napa! We were only able to spend a day and a half, so there’s still plenty more to see/do! My favorite was the Il Pranzo Lunch at Round Pond. Pricey, but worth every penny!
    Rachel recently posted..Work Like A Dog DayMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      Thanks for the tip. There are still many restaurants in Napa Valley that I need to try one day.

  • Andi says:

    Napa is only 45 minutes away from my home, my hubby and I love to go to the Oxbow Market for Oysters at Hog Island even though there is the one in the Ferry Building which is closer, we love Oxbow!
    Andi recently posted..San Francisco Profiles – San Francisco’s Hayes Valley with VictoriaMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      And the market is always changing–every time I go there, there’s a new restaurant or shop.

  • We haven’t been to Napa in a while. Your gorgeous pictures are totally inspiring me to plan another trip.
    Lois Alter Mark recently posted..mitsubishi mirageMy Profile

  • Murissa says:

    Lovely! Pricey tastings compared to the Okanagan! It ranges from $2 – $20 here with the average at $7. $20 would be for top shelf wines AND a tour of the facilities.
    So many wineries to choose from. Despite being in Canada I am a frequent drinker of Beringer.
    Murissa recently posted..ArtSmart: Art As Seen From the WaterMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      The prices in Napa Valley seem high to me, too. In other parts of Northern CA, wine tastings can be $10. However, things have been changing over the last few years. Some places where tastings were free or only $5 are now charging close to $20.

  • You’ve def given us more places we need to check out next time we’re up in Napa! 🙂 We’ve done most of the well known places. I need to try more food up there too!
    Esther of Local Adventurer recently posted..Your Complete Guide on Where and How to Donate HairMy Profile

    • Jenna says:

      There are still many places I would like to try, too, and it’s hard to keep up with the food there. So much to try!

  • PDR says:

    Hi Jenna,

    I know I am probably asking you for more info than you care to give out but I’ll take a shot. We are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and going to NAPA for 3 days. Monday-Wednesday or Thursday in October. I am trying to find a hotel and a place that would work with me to surprise my husband with a simple vow renewal/dinner(preferably outside). Our 3 adult children and 1 year old granddaughter will be with us. Any advice or recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you.

    • Jenna says:

      How nice! That sounds like a wonderful trip. I don’t know about a good place to have such an event, but I’d venture to guess that many places in Napa could do that since they are used to accommodating all kinds of events, big and small. Carneros Inn is certainly a favorite. I would suggest contacting the Visit Napa Valley Welcome Center and asking them for advice: http://www.visitnapavalley.com/welcome_centers.htm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge