The summer months are an ever-popular time to visit Napa Valley. The weather is warm, professionals cash-in on vacation days, and Northern California is abuzz with activity. However, Summer is also synonymous with crowds. In order to avoid long lines, swarms of tourists at the tasting bars, and higher hotel rates, the best time to tour the area is, in fact, Fall. Fall is “crush” time in Napa Valley. Meaning, you’ll truly get to see a winery in action as the grapes are harvested. Not to mention the landscape is awash with the warm glow of Autumn sunlight and the vistas are a spectacular sight to behold. True wine aficionados and those looking to purchase the finest wines often visit the California Wine Country during shoulder season
In addition to the truly beautiful scenery and activity, this small pocket of Northern California boasts some of the world’s best wine and food to ever tickle your tongue. Not only known for its grapes, the excellent soil and weather conditions make fertile ground for nuts, olives, and other fruit. And there’s no better time to experience all this rich soil’s bounty than at harvest time.
However, wine will no doubt be forefront on your mind when planning an autumnal adventure to Napa, Sonoma, and Calistoga. We don’t blame you. There are a multitude of wineries to explore! Because there are so many to choose from, and no one likes to worry about driving while wine tasting, booking a wine tour can take the stress out of planning. In fact, one of the most common complaints we come across from our guests is dealing with the frustration of identifying the wineries that best meet their wine profile and budget
For the first time visitor, you may want to visit some larger, famous wineries. Think: those heralded by Travel Channel or Food Network that more seasoned Napa Valley tourists may shoo you away from. With thinned out crowds, Fall is a great time to incorporate these stops. Honestly, leaving one or two of these famed spots off your list would be like visiting San Francisco without taking time for the Golden Gate Bridge!
- Domaine Chandon – This is a great location to start your day as it features the sparkling wine – champagne – and is a great introduction to Napa. Do you really want to sip a bold red first thing in the morning? If you happen to arrive early enough you will have a chance to see the hot air balloons launch from their very own launching pad. If we have included Domaine Chandon as your very first stop consider asking for a little bakery break at Bouchon. Bouchon is the brainchild of Thomas Keller and home to the most delectable pastries.
- Castello di Amorosa – You may be wondering, what’s a full scale Medieval castle doing in Napa? This is no fake, it’s authentic down to the very last detail. A two hour tour takes you through the castle and it’s secret passageways down to the dungeon. This is one of the few wineries we freely recommend for parties visiting with children. The gift shop is amazing and just outside the castle your kiddos will enjoy the chickens living and roosting on-location.
But of course, even first time visitors should feel encouraged to make some stops off the beaten path and truly take in some boutique wineries as well.
- Regusci – With views straight out of the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”, you’ll find farm hands harvesting olives out of the trees, animals roaming, and a beautiful stone building from the 1800’s. This is a great stop for olive oil lovers.
- Hall – You’ll recognize how unique this stop is as soon as you spot the handblown glass ornaments hanging from the ceiling, reminiscent of giant drops of red wine. This winery also features a super friendly staff, picnic area and a photo booth. Particularly attractive in the fall as the crowds diminish.
- Arista– Off-the-beaten path this winery offers absolutely beautiful Pinots. The grounds are open to have your very own picnic and we are ready to make it happen. Just let us know and we will reserve their Japanese garden which by the way is the perfect place for a marriage proposal.
For a break from the grape; don’t miss the amazing attractions, restaurants, and spas found nestled along the valley at all three of these fantastic destinations.
Enjoy lunch at Ca’ Momi in the Oxbow Public Market. Specializing in authentic Italian food, this restaurant features a cozy atmosphere and a filling menu. Order up a Neapolitan pizza, paninis, or a delicious organic pastry like the bigne with chocolate and sea salt. Of course there are many other dining options but a stop at the market is a must for any travel bucket list
Then walk off a few of those well-deserved calories by sauntering along the Napa Art Walk. Walk the streets of downtown Napa and enjoy stops at sculptures along the way. This fun outdoor display of Northern California’s talented artists changes every 18 months.
Hike a trail at Armstrong Redwoods Reserve. The park has short, flat loops that meander through the famous towering trees so even those just looking for some relaxed natural rejuvenation can enjoy the trails. If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, tackle the uphill ridges or hike a few extra miles to the adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area.
Once you’ve gotten your fair share of the great outdoors, head into Healdsburg, located in Sonoma County, for a night of patio hopping in the crisp Autumn air. Check out margaritas at upscale Mexican restaurant Mateo’s, brick oven pizza and bocce at Campo Fina, and tapas at Bravas Bar.
When you stop in Calistoga, you HAVE to try a mud bath or massage at one of the many famous local spas. Relax and rejuvenate with healing body treatments. Indulge your senses with feel-good therapies to alleviate those tired muscles. Many of these spas feature unique bath houses where you can experience a mud bath with a volcanic ash mud harvested locally.
Now that you’re totally blissed out, it’s time to turn back the clock at the Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga. The museum offers a place to see glimpses of Calistoga’s past with dioramas of what the town looked like in the 1860’s. You can also check out an old-fashioned kitchen, blacksmith shop, and turn of the century parlor all located in an original Brannan Cottage. It’s like truly stepping back in time.
Feeling overwhelmed by all the options? Want to discover by allocation-only wineries to take your personal cellar to the next level? At Napa Private Tours we are ready to customize an itinerary that includes iconic wineries and incorporates the newest and trendiest experiences. Our concierge, in tandem with our team of highly trained drivers with a culinary & wine-making background are ready to do what it takes to deliver a perfect California Wine Country Experience