How to Visit Napa Valley While Saving Money And Tasting Better Wine
Whether you’re planning a day-trip or spending a few days in wine country, with a little insider help from us you can make the most of your time and save money on hotels, wine tastings and dining. With almost 25 years in Napa Valley, this literally is our stomping ground and we are here to give you the inside scoop.
When To Travel
Every season holds something different in Napa but the cheapest time to visit is the low season between December-March. Average temperatures are still mild ranging from 57 (high) to 39 (low) but you can also get lucky and hit 70 degree, sunny days like we have experienced this February. During February and March, the mustard also begins to bloom creating a thick, lush, yellow carpet of tiny flowers throughout the vineyards. (Can you say photo opp?) Plus, unlike Summer when you practically have to push your way to the tasting bar as if you are trying to order coffee in Italy, wineries are able to offer a more personalized tasting experience.
Sacramento (SMF), Oakland (OAK) or San Francisco (SFO) airports (in that order) are your best bets for cheap fares.. I’ve had great luck personally with Airfarewatchdog.com. You can sign up for alerts to the SF bay area and get notified of lowest fares. Another option to consider is Spirit Airlines. As America’s ulta low-cost airline, they might not provide on-board entertainment or drink service, but I’ll take the savings over free peanuts anytime.
If you plan on taking public transportation while you are in town, Evans provides airport service daily from $29 each trip. From OAK and SFO airports you can also take BART to the El Cerrito station and be picked up by a service such as Uber. (Uber covers the entire Bay Area and Napa Valley).
Location is everything if you want the cheapest rate. Avoid Yountville, St. Helena or Calistoga (save those towns for day trips) and hedge your bets on Napa. Better yet, if you don’t mind staying just outside of town, consider American Canyon, considered the “Gateway to Napa Valley”. This is where the WTN offices are located and if you make an appointment, we will give you a personalized, free wine tasting (and of course more insider tips) as you head into Napa Valley. Book ahead online or call us at 1-800-435-2225. There are very unique options available in this area so it really helps to talk with someone who has local knowledge.
I’ve endured a pretty shady hotel in Hawaii just to take advantage of a $500 airfare/package deal but for me, sitting poolside all-day was worth it. This section entirely depends on your personal comfort level so I have broken it up into two sections, “It Was Fine” and “Hey, It’s a Place For Me To Lay My Head”. Keep in mind that these are some of the cheapest rates in the Valley ranging from $80-$125 per night.
It Was Fine.
200 S Coombs, Napa, CA 94559
3360 Solano Ave., Napa, CA 94558
Hey, It’s a Place for Me to Lay My Head.
2640 Jefferson St., Napa, CA 94558
3380 Solano Avenue, Napa, CA 94558 (Formerly Napa Valley Redwood Inn)
Napa Valley is home to more than 125 exciting restaurants and has been awarded more Michelin stars per capita than any other wine region in the world. While it isn’t likely you will be visiting The French Laundry anytime soon (neither will we at an average cost of $1000 per person), the valley is still full of low-cost options that will provide you with Instagram-worthy food shots.
This quaint little brunch/lunch spot is situated overlooking the Napa River within the historic Hatt Building. We love it because it offers outdoor seating and a light and delicious menu. When you are finished, you can visit the shops nearby. Check out Sweetie Pies bakery or stop by Morimoto. You may just see Mr. Morimoto himself who is rumored to own a penthouse apartment above the restaurant overlooking the Napa River.
A gourmet waffle sandwich? Yep, you heard right. This tiny little hole-in-the-wall has made a big name for itself with locals. For $5-$10, you can get a sandwich served on a savory, white bread waffle with a side of tomato-basil soup for dipping. We recommend the “Pigs on a Wing” featuring black forest ham, gruyere, asiago and havarti cheese, baby arugula and chive aioli. Divine.
R&D is a new restaurant but owned by the same owners that own Rutherford Grill (see below). Located at the edge of town, we recommend bellying up to the outdoor bar (if it’s warm enough) and ordering some appetizers and cocktails during happy hour.
Oakville Grocery (Deli)
Technically located in Oakville just a mile or so up the road in Yountville, this little deli was founded in 1881 and is the oldest continually operating grocery store in California. WIth items like the 1881 Tuna Salad Sandwich and the Oakville Muffaletta, there is a good chance you’ll be back for seconds!
We love this spot for three reasons. Killer food, outdoor seating (with heat lamps) and best of all, NO CORKAGE FEE. Just note, there is usually a wait to get in. Avoid peak times and arrive with patience. The prime rib sandwich is legendary in these parts.
St. Helena easily prices itself out BUT, that doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy a Napa Valley experience here. We recommend picking up lunch at Sunshine Market (great deli, cheese and wine selection) and walking over to Crane Park. Not only is the park beautiful, but it is legal to consume wine there!
Another option is to grab lunch and head up to Rutherford Hill winery for a picnic. Located just below Auberge de Soleil, they have beautiful picnic grounds (without the premium you would have to pay at Auberge) and will graciously allow you to bring lunch in. Just don’t pop any wine here unless it is purchased on-premise.
First of all, a note on wine tasting. Most beginners make the mistake of underestimating how long a wine tasting takes as well as how long it takes to drive to the next winery, park, walk to the tasting room, etc. We recommend you choose 3-4 wineries per day. Make reservations if possible using VinoVisit.
The days of free wine tastings have long passed in Napa but, there are still a few that offer them today – especially if you have a connection like us. Call us at 1-800-435-2225 to get the hook up!
Despite local disbelief, Napa Valley’s public transportation system does service the upper-valley towns of St. Helena and Calistoga in addition to Napa. It may require you to arrange a pick-up but that’s a mild inconvenience to pay for $1 fares. The town of Yountville also runs a free open-air trolley service which is both romantic and convenient.
A Reminder to Be Safe
As always, please drive safe. In 2010, there were over 1.2 DUI arrests for every one hundred drivers in Napa Valley. However thrifty you are, a $50 Uber ride is always a better investment than the $10,000+ cost of a DUI.
Good luck on your adventure. We would love to hear your tips and experiences for future articles. Please feel free to comment here and leave your tips and recommendations!