Napa Valley, in the Bay Area in California, is one of the main wine growing regions of the United States of America and one of the major wine regions of the world. It is also known for its gourmet restaurants, cafes, and spa-treatment centers.
Cities and towns
From north to south the main locales are:
Napa Valley, a world famous wine area, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in California. More than five million visitors come each year, often overcrowding the roadways on summer weekends. Peak times are the summer months and the harvest "crush" during September and October. Napa Valley is home to more than two hundred wineries. With wine as a focus, great dining naturally emerged to complement it. The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena supplies a steady stream of well-trained chefs, supplementing the already prestigious chefs drawn by Napa Valley's reputation and locale.
The nearest international airports are in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and Sacramento. San Francisco is the largest airport of the group presented. Here, a traveler arriving at San Francisco Airport can easily rent a car or reserve a limo to take them to Napa Valley. The trip is about an hour and a half long over the Golden Gate Bridge to scenic Route 1.
Napa County Airport (APC) is a smaller airport in Napa, just west of the intersection of Broadway St. and Lincoln Highway. Air charter companies including Napa Jet Center and Air Charter Advisors offer direct flights with aircraft rentals ranging from economical single & twin engines props to luxury Gulfstream and business jets.
From San Francisco:
Highway 101 North over the Golden Gate Bridge, to Highway 37;
Highway 37 East towards Vallejo/Napa, to Highway 121;
Highway 121 North towards Napa to Highway 29 North.
Use Highway 29 or Silverado Trail to see the valley. They run north-south along the valley.
- Wine country bus or limousine tours are available from San Francisco or from Napa Valley towns.
- Napa can be reached by shuttle providers in San Francisco.
- Bike riding is a popular activity in the valley, and great way to see the scenery it has to offer. There are also opportunities to cycle in the vineyards
- Walking is also enjoyed by the locals, in one of many parks, trails, and paths on expensive property.
- Napa County Transportation Planning Agency (NCTPA), Phone: +1 707 259-8631. Bus transportation throughout the Valley and within towns. Locals and tourists lacking their own vehicle may also enjoy waiting hours at a time for a bus, which more often than not will include a stop and break for another bus. Visitors who plan to use the public transit system should factor in about half day for travel within the valley.
There are many other leisure activities in Napa Valley to complement fine dining and wine tours. If you are an early riser, you can take a hot air balloon ride. There is also horseback riding, boating, fishing, gliding, golfing, bicycling and spa treatments.
- Bathe in the hot springs and/or have a mud bath in Calistoga.
- Balloon flights - All Napa Valley hot air balloon companies launch just after dawn when the winds are at their calmest and the temperatures are the coolest. Flights typically last about one hour, but including check-in, balloon inflation, the flight, pack-up, and transportation back from the landing site, you should plan for at least three hours. Some companies also offer a sit-down breakfast afterwards.
- Golf - There are 10 golf courses located at towns throughout the valley.
Wine Tours and tasting are the main reason why people go to Napa Valley. To see how their favorite wine is made from stem to bottle is often the pasion the drives people to Napa. People may go to Napa valley to taste wines before they invest in them.
The thing about wine, of course, is that it has a synergy with food; they enhance each other. Accordingly, food is elevated here. There are many excellent chefs in this area and many great dining facilities, ranging from the world-famous French Laundry in Yountville to tiny grocery stores that serve gourmet sandwiches.
The Valley and its wines beg to be brought on a picnic. It might just be the best way to have lunch. Some wineries cater to picnickers, notably V. Sattui has a nice picnic area and even a deli, but they don't want picnickers tying up their limited parking. Some encourage picnics, but only by reservation.
Most wineries offer tastings and/or tours of their products. The form this takes varies greatly. The largest, most well known wineries such as Mondavi and Beringer are open daily with large hosting facilities, guided tours of the operation and reserve rooms for tasting select, more expensive wines. The many smaller wineries may offer tastings only by appointment, but your tour or tasting may be conducted by the owner. Most vineyards charge a small fee for the tastings, especially at the more popular vineyards, perhaps $5–$10. Winery tours are generally very interesting and informative. Reserve room tastings provide an opportunity to sample expensive wines without having to spend a larger amount for a bottle. Sometimes the tasting fee can be applied to the cost of a bottle purchased.
Popular Large Wineries
- Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena
- Grgich Hills Cellar, in Rutherford
- Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville
- V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena
- Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga
- The Hess Collection Winery in Napa
- Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga
Napa Valley enjoys very low crime rates and is generally considered to be a relatively safe part of California. Emergency response (police, fire, and paramedics) can be reached by dialing 911.
Note that California's drunk driving laws are extremely strict and accidents happen often on Highway 29 right after the wineries close around 6PM. Designate or hire a driver and be safe.
- - Although its wineries may not be as famous as those in the Napa Valley, Napa County's western neighbor is actually the largest wine producer in California Wine Country and home to over 250 wineries. More than seven million visitors each year explore the county's open spaces and beautiful coastline, including the big trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve and the seaside town of Bodega Bay where Alfred Hitchcock's thriller The Birds was filmed. For those interested in early California history, Fort Ross is a state historic site that preserves a fur trading outpost that was operated by Russia from 1812-1841.
- - Rural Lake County lies north of Napa County and is named after Clear Lake, a body of water that is believed to be 2.5 million years old and thus the oldest lake in North America. The lake is sometimes called the "Bass Capital of the West", and its 100 miles of shoreline offer ample opportunity for fishing, boating, swimming and birdwatching. The county is also home to the Clear Lake Volcanic Field, a region that includes lava domes, cinder cones, the 4,305 foot tall volcano Mount Konocti, and the world's largest geothermal field with more than twenty geothermal power plants.
- - With extensive farmlands, Napa County's northeastern neighbor offers numerous opportunities for agritourism: farmer's markets are held regularly, organic farms offer tours and the opportunity to pick your own produce, and more than 35 wineries can be found in the county. The college town of Davis is home to California's third-largest state university and boasts the highest number of bikes per capita in the USA, a statistic that led the US Bicycling Hall of Fame to move to the town in 2010.
- - Located to the southeast of Napa County, Solano County is far more rural than the other Bay Area counties, and includes significant portions of the California Delta, as well as parts of San Pablo Bay. Two of the county's cities served as early state capitals: Vallejo was the capital in 1852 and again in 1853, while Benicia served as the capital from February 1853 until February 1854; today Benicia Capitol State Historic Park provides the opportunity for visitors to explore the Capitol building from that era.
- - Napa County's neighbor across the Bay to the south is a primarily residential county that offers a vast array of food, shopping, and lodging options for Bay Area visitors. The landscape is dominated by Mount Diablo, a peak that provides excellent hiking opportunities and, on clear days, summit views that stretch for well over 100 miles in all directions. Other attractions include the John Muir Historic Site in Martinez, the estate of Nobel winning playwright Eugene O'Neill in Danville, and a WWII shipyard, now a national historic site, in Richmond.
- - The heart of the Bay Area, famous for its scenic beauty and unique culture.
- - Visitors to Napa County's neighbor to the southwest can see migrating gray whales while strolling the wind-swept beaches of Point Reyes National Seashore, take in the views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands, or soak in the majesty of the redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument. The county's tiny towns are full of character, and include the artistic enclave of Sausalito, as well as Bolinas, whose reclusive residents are notorious for removing any road sign that points the way into their town.