Good afternoon, everyone!! If you follow me on Instagram (@kayylaanicole), then you probably saw that I recently took a trip to Napa Valley, California! I’ve also mentioned it a couple times in previous blog posts and promised an in-depth travel guide, so here it is.
First of all, Napa is absolutely gorgeous and the weather is to die for, so if you haven’t been, I highly recommend putting it on your travel bucket list. My parents had been going for years for their anniversary each year. We went back as a family because they wanted to take my brother and I, who are wine lovers just like them. They showed us their favorite places they go to whenever they visit and we also checked out some new places. Napa is so much different than anywhere else in California, which is what I love. It’s a trip where you can stay inside the U.S., but still feel like you’re in Europe or somewhere super unique and beautiful. I live in Virginia where the humidity is usually 70%+, so it was really nice to experience the dry heat for a change.
So below I just go through what my family did on our trip to Napa Valley and what my suggestions would be for anyone looking to plan a trip to Napa. Also in the “what to wear,” section I shared some of my Instagram posts and linked to each item below.
Where to stay:
Where you stay really depends on a few things–what you want to see, how many people are going, and how you are getting to everywhere you plan to go. For instance, we had 6 people in our group and wanted an Airbnb or some sort so we could hangout in the house and all be together. We ended up staying at an amazing VRBO (same thing as Airbnb) in Sonoma. The house we stayed in had everything. It has a pool, a hot-tub, a fire pit area, a Bocci ball court, and a beautiful outdoor dinner table with lights strung all over the top canopy and all around the tress–it was truly breathtaking. The only negative thing about where we stayed (Sonoma) was how far away it was from the bigger city, Napa. It was about a 40 minute drive for us each day which is why I would recommend staying somewhere closer to Napa unless you just really want a private Airbnb of some sort like we had. With that being said, there are great restaurants and wineries near Sonoma, of course, but for the specific wineries and restaurants that we wanted to go to, most were in Napa, which, as I said before, was a decently lengthy drive for a vacation.
We also hired a private driver, so we weren’t the ones doing the driving each day, which is another thing to think about. I HIGHLY recommend looking into getting a driver. If you’re in Napa tasting wine all day, you definitely don’t want to worry about driving home afterwards. I know private drivers are expensive, but in the end it’ll be better than taking Uber everywhere you go or driving yourself.
What Wineries to go to:
Keep in mind that ANY and ALL of these private tastings we had were scheduled far in advance and most of them have some sort of “tasting fee” per person to be able to try 4-5 wines usually.
–Fontanella ($): Fontanella was the very first winery we went to on our trip. This is a family owned winery that is very simple, but still really beautiful. The staff there were so welcoming and friendly, they made you feel at home. They also had a precious little winery dog named Piper. Aside from all of that, the wine was also excellent and not WAY too expensive.
-JCB ($$$): This place is absolutely insane. My first thoughts waking in were that it would be awesome for a Bachelor or Bachelorette party in Napa. There are gold couches, leopard statues, an amazing pool, a “Red Room”, mannequins hanging upside down, and a ton of other stuff you could never imagine. If you love seeing things that are out of the box and just super interesting, go to JCB at Raymond. The wine also tastes amazing, but it is a little more expensive.
-Charter Oak ($$): Charter Oak is a winery that not many people know about. This is one of my parents absolute favorite stops because of one of the owners, Layla Fanucci, that hosts the tastings. Layla is also an absolutely INCREDIBLE artist–she has many exhibits in NYC and sells some of her larger paintings for more than $250,000. Really, you should check out her paintings. My fiancé and I bought a print of one of her paintings for around $50. Their winery is also their house, so it’s much different than most other wineries. You walk in and Layla’s artwork is just everywhere. Her son and his grandfather are the winemakers and they do an excellent job. The wine is just fabulous.
-Flanagan ($$): We went to Flanagan on the last day of our trip and I’m not sure what it was, but something about it was just super relaxing and a breath of fresh air. We sat outside with our wine tasting host, Elena, and just talked about life, tasted wine, and snacked on some yummy cheese and crackers. The wine was absolutely amazing–my fiancé and I ended up buying a bottle of their Chardonnay.
-Italics ($$$): Italics was a really fun tasting because it was inside of a wine cave. Wine caves are like the absolute best part of visiting wineries, so to have a tasting in one is pretty cool. I love seeing all of the barrels of wine and smelling the oak scent that fills the room because of the barrels. The wine at Italics was pretty good as well, but honestly what wine in Napa isn’t?
-Azur ($$): This is another family owned winery that I absolutely fell in love with. It gives off such hipster, trendy vibes and I love it. They specialize in a Rose wine that is sophisticated and not overly sweet like a lot of Roses. We loved it SO much that we got a large format bottle of it. If you’re in Napa, I’m telling you, Azur is one of my MUST-GO places. It was one of my absolutely favorites.
-Amizetta ($$): Amizetta is another one of my absolute favorites. The view is one of the best we saw in Napa by far. Our wine tasting host, Rosco, and the owner, Spencer, were both so nice and inviting. We were running a bit late when we arrived, but they still made us feel important and tried to make the best out of what time we did have. Not to mention the wine tasted great. I will absolutely be returned to Amizetta if I ever go to Napa again.
-Francis Ford Coppola ($): Francis Ford Coppola is the winery owned by the famous American movie director. This one is a good one to go to if you want to spend the whole day and just have relaxing fun. They have a huge pool where you can rent cabanas for the entire day. They also have really inexpensive wine, which is nice, and a great restaurant on site. We ate at the restaurant and the food was really yummy.
-Ovid ($$$$): Ovid was by far the most expensive place we went to and we only got to taste about 3 wines. The view at Ovid was gorgeous, but if you’re not looking to drop a pretty penny on wines, I wouldn’t suggest going to Ovid.
-Palmaz ($$$): Palmaz is a really cool place to visit. The owner, Julio Palmaz, is the inventor of the heart stint, so really the winery is something he created just for fun on the side. The entire family lives on the property close by to the winery. The technology they have here is absolutely unbelievable. The property is giant and the wine is pretty good and not as expensive as you would think, which is always a plus.
What to eat:
-Cindy’s: We stopped here for lunch one day and the food was perfect for what we were looking for. The waiter insisted on me getting the fried chicken “Korean style,” which was unlike anything I’d had before, but it was really, really good. I highly recommend Cindy’s!
-Farmstead: This was probably my favorite restaurant we went to the entire time we were on our trip. We stopped here for lunch and I fell in love with the place. The atmosphere was so nice and the property was really beautiful, too. But the food was TO DIE FOR. Everything every single one of us had was amazing. I had a grass-fed burger with an egg on it and I know it sounds simple, but truly, it was the best burger I’ve ever eaten and I really think that was just because of how fresh and clean the meat was. Definitely make this place a priority if you’re visiting Napa.
-Celedon: Again, Celedon was another lunch place we visited. They had a really good special of shrimp and bacon fried rice dish when we went, which is what I got. It was really good and something I couldn’t really get anywhere near where I live.
-Press: Press is a restaurant my parents usually love, but when we went this time we were underwhelmed. The food was okay, but we just felt like it wasn’t worth the prices they charged. The one thing we did get there that we loved was a bacon sampler. I mean, really, if you are a bacon lover like my family, you can imagine how big of a “hit” this was with us.
-Salt & Stone: We decided to go to Salt & Stone because it was a little closer to where we were staying than a lot of the other restaurants we had in mind. It is a fairly new restaurant, so they still have a few kinks they need to work out such as timing and service, but as far as the food goes, it was excellent.
-El Dorado: This was the last restaurant we visited for dinner on our trip and it was one of our favorites. Everything tasted amazing and the drinks were really well made, too. I got a veggie risotto here and I swear it was one of the best risottos I’ve tasted and it’s pretty hard to completely master the right consistency of a risotto, so I was impressed.
-In home chef Ania: This was probably my absolute favorite dinner we had. My dad scheduled a private chef, Ania, to come in and cook at our VRBO house one night and I am SO glad he did. Literally everything she made was phenomenal. She did a three course meal and even cooked a quiche for us to eat the next morning. You can find her at Ania’s Table on Thumbtack.
What to wear:
I usually wore a cute dress or a skirt with a nice top to wineries. A lot of the wineries are really trendy and some are upscale, so you definitely want to look put together. We would always go back each night before dinner to change. Depending on where you’re going for dinner, you can dress in a simpler dress and sandals, or you can dress your outfit up with some nice heels–there are really no rules here. Here are some photos of what I wore each day while visiting wineries:
Shirt: Target | Pants: Nordstrom | Hat: Urban Outfitters
Dress: Showpo | Bag: Princess Polly | Watch: Michael Kors | Necklace: Baublebar | Shoes: Nordstrom
Shirt: Nordstrom | Skirt: Express | Bag: Urban Outfitters | Wedges: Marc Fisher-Nordstrom | Necklace: J. Crew
Shirt: Free People | Skirt: American Eagle | Bag: Princess Polly | Shoes: Marc Fisher-Nordstrom | Hat: Urban Outfitters | Sunglasses: Quay
-PLAN AHEAD. This is not a trip you can plan in a month. You really need to decide which places you want to visit while in Napa and start planning as soon as you can.
-Think about transportation. Whether you want to rent a car, Uber most places, or get a private driver, you need to figure out the plan beforehand.
-Bring water everywhere you go. Wine can really dehydrate you so it’s important to always have a source of water with you. This is another plus of having a private driver because they always had a full case of cold waters to hand out in between wineries.
-Take as many pictures as possible. If you have a nicer camera, bring it. It’s such an incredible place, you’re going to want to look back on all the different places you visited.
Thank you all SO MUCH for reading this guide to visiting the beautiful Napa Valley, CA! Happy travels!