Best Things To Do in Napa Valley
People come to Napa Valley to taste the grapes — plain and simple. With several hundred wineries to sample from and tour, you'll have to be selective. Large producers like the Robert Mondavi Winery draw big crowds with their name recognition. However, more intimate properties like the O'Brien Estate and Frog's Leap might be more enjoyable if you like personal attention and customized tours. When you tire of wine-tastings, di Rosa, an open-air art preserve, offers a refreshing alternative.
Updated October 30, 2018
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Owner and winemaker, John Williams, started as a dairy farmer in New York, but fell in love with winemaking and opened his own winery in 1981, known as Frog's Leap Winery. This country farm meets vineyard is the perfect place to enjoy great wine and company without the stuffiness sometimes found at wineries. Plus, Frog's Leap farms organically, so you're making healthy choices by the drinking wine – right?
Some say this winery offers the most relaxed and enjoyable tour-tasting in Napa Valley. Tour guides lead you through the fruit and vegetable gardens, the fermentation room, barrel room and the gorgeous farmhouse. Recent guests love leisurely savoring their wine while gazing at the gardens and Mayacamas Mountains from rocking chairs on the farmhouse porch. Guests also said that the occasional run-in with the jovial winemaker John Williams is always a treat.
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From planting to bottling, the entire wine-making process occurs on this relatively small plot of land (comprising 40 acres of vineyards, a winery and the owner's home). And by all accounts, the end result is a hit with visitors. Consider a wine tour at O'Brien Estate if you're looking for a relaxed, intimate atmosphere with personalized service.
Recent visitors raved about the tour guides, who share interesting and educational facts about the winery, but also give plenty of alone time to kick back, relax and savor the wine experience. Expect stunning views of Oak Knoll Appellation, plus a welcome glass of wine upon your arrival.
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In "The Silverado Squatters," Robert Louis Stevenson describes Schramsberg's founder Jacob Schram's "serious gusto" to produce incredible vintages that America and indeed the world had yet to taste. More than 150 years later, Schram's winery is still producing delectable wines, according to recent visitors. Tours led by friendly guides detail the property's history, the beautiful rows of vines and particularly, the winery caverns. Carved in the 19th-century, these caverns hold approximately 2.5 million bottles of precious wine.
Recent visitors said the winery tour is interesting — especially the historic caves — and worth the extra money. But many advise travelers to book their tour far in advance, as there are a limited number of spots and they tend to fill up fast. And, of course, many rave about the sparkling wine, the vineyard's specialty.
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Most wineries are a bore for children. Some don't even allow them to enter in the first place (see O'Brien Estate Winery). But that's not the case at the Castello di Amorosa winery. This time-warped 13th-century Tuscan castle mystifies visitors of all ages. If the allure of seeing a moat, a drawbridge — even a torture chamber — in Northern California is not enough, recent guests also vouch for the wine.
Past visitors describe Castello di Amorosa as a real-life fairy tale with the added bonus of incredible wine. Many also recommend the guided tour and tasting — instead of just the general admission — for the educational tour guides who do a great job at explaining how to properly taste wine. And if you're not into drinking wine, the architecture of the castle alone is worth a visit, as well as the beautiful scenery.
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Those who wish to avoid the crowds should head to Far Niente. The appointment-only tours are small and informational, leaving guests impressed by the knowledgeable and friendly guides. But the pristine grounds and fascinating wine caverns are the first highlights. The caves store hundreds of barrels of coveted wine (and span 40,000 square feet), while the 13 acres surrounding the winery are landscaped with thousands of colorful flowers (The azaleas are a particular point of pride). Also, Far Niente's Carriage House houses vintage cars and motorcycles. Every tour ends with an ample tasting of five vintages and a seasonal cheese pairing.
Recent Far Niente visitors raved about the extensive tour that showed not only the underground caves but the gardens and vintage automobiles too. Many also commented on the individualized attention that was given to each person and the well-versed tour guides. Learning how to properly pair wine and cheese is an added bonus.
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Some call it Napa's hidden gem or best-kept secret, others might call it a beautiful assortment of the bizarre. But di Rosa is truly an outdoor sculpture garden in California wine country. More than 2,000 works from more than 800 artists are scattered across 217 gorgeous acres and inside di Rosa's Gatehouse Gallery. Travelers find that a visit to di Rosa is an ideal break from the multitude of winery tours.
And even if you're not into art, you'll still enjoy strolling the premises and the beautiful scenery. Past visitors say the garden is filled with eccentric and interesting pieces, commenting particularly on the house filled with artifacts from different time periods. Many also recommend taking a guided tour to be able to see more of the grounds and gain some context behind certain pieces.
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The Napa Valley Wine Train is by and far one of Napa Valley's most interesting and convenient attractions for visitors. The train not only offers car-less visitors the opportunity to zip through 36 miles of scenic, vineyard-lined terrain, but it also acts as a restaurant, serving up gourmet meals paired with some of Napa's signature wine selections. And don't worry, this experience is in no way akin to modern Amtrak train travel. Here, you'll find restored, hundreds-year-old train cars that feature seductive, old-fashioned interiors including tufted velvet seating, mahogany paneling and etched glass partitions throughout. Plus there isn't one set seating area but a variety of lounges and dining rooms, including the Champagne Vista Dome, a dining car that features arched windows with panoramic views of the valley.
Where you end up on the train and for how long is all dependent on what kind of tour you book. The Napa Valley Wine Train offers loads of tours that range from just a ride on the train to a full day trip with stops at multiple vineyards. There's also a twilight tour and even a "Murder On the Orient Express"-inspired Murder Mystery dinner theatre package. Travelers tend to book train rides with no stops or packages that included stops at vineyards. Overall, recent passengers of the Napa Valley Wine Train reported loving their experience. While admittedly pricey, visitors found the food to be fantastic, service excellent and the views of the vineyards from the train simply breathtaking. Others, however, found the price to be too high for the amount of wine included in a package, so be prepared to shell out a little bit more if you're wanting multiple glasses of wine on the train.
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Most travelers don't venture to California wine country for untamed nature, but those who do will find bliss in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. This state park is famous for its seemingly untouched landscape as well as geography. The
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The Robert Mondavi Winery's art collection and calendar of musical performances are a strong indicator of its heavyweight status among California vineyards and wineries. You've even probably spotted the name "Robert Mondavi" on the shelf of your local grocery store. This Oakville winery was one of the first major Napa Valley producers to cater to visitors with a tourist experience. Guests receive a 90-minute explanation of how a large-scale, technologically advanced winery functions.
Recent visitors raved about the delectable cuisine and, of course, the wine, which were perfectly paired. But many said the success of their experience depended solely on their tour guide. Some had wonderful tour guides and in turn wonderful experiences, other said their tour guides were below par, which contributed to a lesser experience.
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