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FIND OUT HOW EASY IT IS TO PLAN YOUR FIRST TRIP TO NAPA!
Just mention that you're planning a trip to Napa Valley at work and see what happens. All of a sudden people who you have never met start climbing out of their cubicles to give you their opinions on what to do, what wineries to go to, where to eat. But wait - you wouldn't trust these people with your stapler, so why trust them with your vacation plans? Let's face it - they're idiots!
Luckily for you, planning a trip to Napa isn't as daunting as it might at first seem - IF you follow these three easy steps to planning the Best First Timers Trip to Napa Valley.
TIP: Everyone wants discount coupons these days, and who can blame them with most wineries charging at least $10 per person and some charging $20! A good place to find both Napa and Sonoma wine tasting coupons is
right here OR now there is an app with all the coupons right here!
STEP ONE: WHEN TO VISIT NAPA VALLEY
Everyone wants to come to Napa in Summer, but Summer brings crowds that will remind you of Christmas at Costco. Unless you like standing in lines, fighting for a spot at the tasting bar, and sky high hotel rates, avoid Summer.
The best time to visit Napa is Fall, meaning Sept to October. This is "crush" time when they harvest the grapes. You want to see a winery in action, you come in Fall. November is also nice because the weather is still good but the crowds and rates have dropped. The second best time is Spring when the mustard plants are all in bloom. This is a "gotta see it to believe it", but everywhere you look you'll see brilliant bright mustard plants with eyepopping color! It's like you stepped into a HD Plasma TV and someone turned the colors on full blast! There will be no grapes on the vines, but you hardly notice
So tip number one to first time visitors is to pick the right season to visit. Again, Fall or Spring are best.
STEP TWO: FIND A HOTEL IN THE RIGHT PART OF TOWN
If you've searched for a hotel on the internet, you might have noticed that you can find some INCREDIBLE VALUES! Holy Cheapskate, Batman, an $89 room in Napa? Well, you'd better think twice before clicking the button because I'm here to tell you that nearly all of the super cheap hotels that look too good to be true are... too good to be true! Most of these are far, far away from the real Napa. Healdsberg? American Canyon? Fairfield? Forgetaboutit! Don't be fooled by cheap rates!
So here's the lowdown. There are basically only 4 areas you want to stay at, and they are:
DOWNTOWN NAPA: Cool and trendy old town, lots of terrific restaurants and usually the least expensive place to stay. Traveler's favorites? River Terrace Inn, Embassy Suites, and believe it or not, the Best Western Elm House Inn. For Bed and Breakfast lovers, Napa Inn passes the test with flying colors.
YOUNTVILLE: This is prime real estate, a quaint town located within walking distance to some of the very best restaurants in town, including famous French Laundry, Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty, Hurley's, Redds, the list goes on. Best places? Villagio is #1, Vintage Inn is #2, Yountville Inn is #3. You might also like the Napa Lodge, but it's a step down in class. It is, however, located right in a vineyard.
ST HELENA AND RUTHERFORD: If you were looking for hotels that are destinations in themselves, this is it. Big bucks, but worth it. Resorts are Auberge du Soleil and Meadowood. For a bit less cash, Harvest Inn is a top pick, and for something really different, go boutique at Rancho Caymus.
CALISTOGA: At the north tip of Napa Valley is a town made famous for their mud baths. Dr. Wilkerson is the motel that started it all, but there are other higher end options now, such as super pricey Calistoga Ranch.
Always start your hotel check with Vintage Inn and Villagio in Yountville. Sure, they can get expensive during high season, but if you ever find them in the $225 range, grab it! And if you're trying to save some cash, River Terrace Inn is very respectable. It's not quite as nice as Vintage Inn, but the outdoor patio is wonderful for starting your day, especially since they have complimentary breakfast (and coffee).
STEP THREE: WHAT WINERIES TO VISIT?
That's what you'll hear again and again from all of the so-called Napa Valley wine experts. They'll shoo you away from the well known wineries, calling them tourist traps or saying that they're too commercial. But that would be like going to San Francisco and NOT seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, or going to Paris and skipping out on the Eiffel Tower. First timers coming to Napa need to see the big iconic wineries, the ones that made Napa famous. TIP - Napa Valley wineries are getting busier and busier, be sure
to book/reserve your winer tasting date & time in advance so that
you dont get turned away from your favorite winery. Especially food
& wine pairings and other sit down tastings are getting sold out due
to space limitations and permit requirements.
But don't get me wrong - there are plenty of friendly boutique wineries that should also make your list. But whatever you do, have a plan before you go! Pick 3 to 4 wineries you want to visit each day, and allow time for one tour.
THE BEST BIG NAPA VALLEY WINERIES FOR FIRST TIME VISITORS
TIP: Visiting wineries can get really expensive, so share your tastings. Don't worry, it's perfectly acceptable. And don't forget to take notes on what you liked or didn't like at the various wineries as it's surprisingly easy to be totally confused by the end of the day!
ANOTHER TIP: Look for two for one coupons before you go - There's a bunch of free coupons on this Napa on a Budget page. And when you are in smaller boutiques, always ask what other wineries they recommend as they sometimes will provide you with a free tasting referral card. Sweeet!
STEP FOUR: WHERE TO EAT IN NAPA
Napa is known for their great food almost as much as their wines. You'll find everything here from fantastic gourmet burgers at Taylor's Refresher to $1,000 dinner for two at The French Laundry - and everything in-between. Whatever you do, don't get lazy after a day of winetasting and end up at a chain restaurant or, worse yet, fast food! You're in Napa, the center of the universe for good wine and good food, so get out there and experience Napa dining. Dressy or casual, expensive or budget, there are plenty of options.
There are so many good restaurants, too many to list, but here is the short list of Good Eats in Napa.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS.... AND SHORT ANSWERS!