Napa County is without doubt the best-known, most visited wine region in California, if not the United States. From rural beginnings, it has developed into a wine-lover’s idyll, a delightful, visitor-friendly place, combining charming towns and villages, vineyard covered plains and hillsides, and enticing places to stay and eat. While some bemoan the development of a “Disneyland” like atmosphere with vineyards competing to see who can build the most spectacular facility, the quality of its wines, and the underlying charm and beauty of the region remain a strong attraction.
Napa is an easy area to find whatever you seek, and explore at your leisure without the fear of getting lost. The primary north-south route, Highway 29, is often congested with heavy traffic, so unless you are visiting the towns that straddle it, its best to use the less heavily traveled Silverado Trail where the wineries are much more interesting anyway.
The gateway to the region is the San Francisco Bay Area. Two major airports serve the destination, San Francisco and Oakland, on opposite sides of the Bay. After landing, pick up a rental car and head north, along the east or west shore of the San Pablo Bay, until you reach the town of Napa, at the southern end of the Napa Valley.
When to Visit
Napa County is at its best during the late summer and early fall. This is harvest time when there is much activity in the vineyards and wineries. With crush going on the aroma of wine is in the air. Many wineries have special harvest tours that allow you to watch the grapes coming in and see them being crushed. These tours are usually by reservation only, so it is advisable to call ahead of time. Most of April through October boasts glorious days of sunshine which makes this period ideal for exploring the Napa Valley.
Town of Napa
An old California town with a colorful past, Napa was founded in 1847. Napa is a riverside city with a rich heritage of Victorian architecture. You can get a self-guided walking tour from the Napa Valley Conference and Visitor’s Bureau and explore the restored downtown district. Napa is also known for its fine restaurants, prestigious wines, and luxury hotels.
Yountville was named after George Calvert Yount who planted the first grapevines in Napa Valley. The Yountville appellation covers 3,500 acres, 2,200 of which are planted in vines by 43 growers and six wineries. The town is renowned for its restaurants and celebrity chefs, all within walking distance of well-appointed hotels and luxury inns. Just shortly up Route 29 are the twin towns of Oakville and Rutherford where some of the best Cabernet Sauvignons come from. The wines from here are said to have the “Rutherford dust,” a cigar box aroma.
A town which took its name from Mount St. Helena, its Main Street is the nucleus of the town with its 19th century buildings filled with interesting shops, galleries and restaurants. Park and just stroll up and down this stretch of Napa Valley’s main highway.
This town is located at the northern end of Napa Valley. It is notable for its warm hot springs where in the past local Native American tribes would come for their healing properties. Today it is a destination for its spas and mud baths. The town’s name comes from a blending of California and Saratoga, the famous New York resort. Within walking distance from the spas is its historic downtown with first class restaurants, shops and galleries. A visit here is a wonderful addition to any wine country trip.