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Why Go to Napa Valley

After a visit to Napa Valley in the 1880s, writer Robert Louis Stevenson pronounced, "Wine is bottled poetry." You'll see this quote as you pass the area's landmark sign on Highway 29. Unfortunately, Stevenson was referring to French wine — what Napa vintners should aspire to. But as the film "Bottle Shock" documents, California wineries have since risen to the level of their European predecessors. Now, both connoisseurs and amateurs savor the respected vintages from Napa.

With its rise in the wine industry, Napa Valley has also become a vacation hot spot. The tiered hillsides, wine caverns and illustrious estates make for stellar scenery, and top-class hotels are taking note. Scattered between the vineyards, sumptuous resorts cater to every indulgence — golfing, spa pampering, gourmet dining, you name it. A trip to California wine country is made unforgettable by not only the life-changing Cabernet, but also the intoxicating natural setting. And if you can afford it, you'll be back for more.

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Napa Valley Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit Napa is August through October or March through May. Napa's peak tourist season corresponds with the region's harvest season (August through October). During this busy time, expect crowds and high prices for just about everything, especially accommodations. If you catch the tail end of the harvest season, you'll enjoy the area's beautiful autumn weather, complete with changing leaves and the chance of lower hotel rates. March through May, when spring is in full bloom and the summer rush has yet to arrive, is another prime time to visit. If you're looking to save a few bucks and don't mind chillier weather, a trip between December and February will likely be less crowded and more affordable. Plus, there's a number of food festivals that take place during this time, including the Napa Truffle Festival. Regardless of when you plan your Napa vacation, you'll find plenty to do, as wineries don't experience seasonal closures and festivals are held year-round.

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What You Need to Know

  • Leave the Kids at Home Because the region practically runs on wine, Napa Valley is not very kid-friendly. Many wineries even forbid children from coming onto the premises. Do your kids and yourself a favor, and hire a babysitter.
  • How to Get Around You'll need a car in Napa, which means you'll also need a designated driver to safely visit multiple wineries on the same day. Enrolling in a Napa Valley tour that includes shuttle service to several vineyards is a good option, but you'll usually encounter crowds. There is no easy answer, but whatever you choose, be safe and abide by the law.
  • Tis the Season While summer is the most popular time to visit, winter might be the best for you and your pocketbook. Plus, you'll encounter the festive decorations and special room rates that many Napa visitors don't get to enjoy.

How to Save Money in Napa Valley

  • Visit in the off-season Plan a Napa vacation in either the winter or spring when hotel deals are at their cheapest. 
  • Tour the wineries on two wheels instead of four You can cut costs in half by choosing a bike instead of a fancy limo. Plus, you'll get some exercise along the way.
  • Avoid the weekends And the crowds by visiting Monday through Thursday. Hotels are known to increase their prices for weekend travelers. 

What to Eat

If you love food, then you'll love Napa. And thanks to its array of award-winning restaurants, you'll have no trouble finding delectable international cuisine to pair with your incredible wine. After all, properly pairing food and wine is extremely important, especially in California wine country. But expect to spend big bucks when it comes to dining in Napa, as the majority of restaurants offer fine dining. You'll have your pick of menus, but La Toque, Morimoto Napa and Angèle are all highly regarded (and Michelin star recipients). If you're looking for something more casual that won't break the bank, Genova Delicatessen and Ravioli Factory is a great Italian option.

And consider heading directly outside of Napa to some of the surrounding towns and restaurants, where you'll find equally as yummy dishes, sometimes even at lower prices. The French Laundry or Bistro Jeanty are located in Yountville and both Michelin star award-winning restaurants serving French cuisine, beloved by locals and visitors alike. While Farmstead at Long Meadows Ranch and Tra Vigne serve locally sourced dishes in neighboring St. Helena. 

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Getting Around Napa Valley

The best way to get around Napa Valley is by car. Many of Napa's wineries and vineyards are spread out among the 30-mile-long, 5-mile-wide valley, making getting to and from the area's more remote wine establishments a challenge without your own set of wheels. However, if you plan on sticking around Napa and its downtown area, getting around Napa without a car is possible. The Vine Transit, the valley's bus transportation, offers lines throughout central Napa as well as a bus service that takes you all the way to Vallejo, where you can catch the ferry to San Francisco.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Oakland International Airport (OAK) are the closest international airports to Napa Valley, both sitting about 60 miles south. Sonoma County Airport (STS) is the nearest regional airport, sitting about 30 miles northwest of Napa. You can find rental cars at the airports or in central Napa, specifically along the Napa-Vallejo Highway. If you plan to drive from vineyard to vineyard, you should have a designated driver ready. Taxis, ride-hailing services, such as Lyft and Uber, and private chauffeurs are available in the Napa region, just bear in mind that utilizing these services for your wine adventures will cost you. Consider joining a public organized wine tour, such as the popular Napa Valley Wine Train, to avoid the high cost. For more information on tours, check out the Visit Napa Valley website.

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