Of the New World wine regions, Napa Valley is considered one of the finest. Therefore, it’s a must-visit for any wine lover. It’s a premier destination for millions of Americans and world travelers alike who want to get a taste of what the California valley has to offer — in both wine and sights.
It’s no secret that Californians have a dynamic approach to business — and their approach to wine (and wine country) is no different. They’re not going to shy away from experimenting with new marketing plans or methods of producing wine. Napa Valley also has a number of unique wine tours and innovative wineries to check out. So many, in fact, that you’d have a hard time visiting them all even with an extended trip. But that’s no reason not to try!
Below, I’ll outline my preferred route for driving through Napa Valley, highlighting all of the must-see landmarks and best places to stop along the way.
Before You Start
We suggest you pick up a wine tasting pass like the Priority Wine Pass. This will give you access to discounts at hundreds of Napa Valley tasting rooms.
The Napa Valley spans about 30 miles and is made up of six towns, with Calistoga in the North and Napa in the South. So, no matter which direction you’re coming from — be it San Francisco, Sacramento or Mendocino — you’ll be able to navigate the area pretty easily. Just be sure to keep traffic in mind when you plan your trip. Use Google Maps (or a real-time maps app equivalent) to ensure that you’re on the fastest route possible. Then, once you get to the valley, you can slow down and enjoy the scenery.
Start in the South, at Napa
The best way to travel through Napa Valley is to start in the south and work your way north. You should start by checking out downtown Napa off of Route 29. Here you’ll find plenty of shopping, restaurants, wine bars, and even the Napa Valley Opera House. Depending on when you arrive, you may want to stay downtown for the night, enjoying a fine meal and a good night’s sleep before heading off to explore the rest of the valley.
Take the Scenic Route
From downtown Napa, head east on Route 121 for a nice, scenic drive through the foothills. This will turn into Monticello Road, and veer north not long after. Along this road, you’ll see the Monticello Rocks, a nature preserve, and Old Man Rock, which is — you guessed it — a giant rock that resembles an old man. To continue the loop around the valley, you’ll want to turn left onto Route 128 (Capell Valley Road), which will come out on the Silverado Trail, right in the heart of Napa Valley. Before you hit the Silverado Trail, check out Lake Hennessey and the Napa County Regional Park for some breathtaking views. This is a great place to hike, kayak, or simply relax.
Take the Silverado Trail
Once you’ve hit the Silverado Trail, continue heading north towards Calistoga. This road will provide you with beautiful views of vineyards, and it usually sees less traffic than Route 29 (128).
Take a Detour to St. Helena
From the Silverado Trail, turn left onto Pope St. and make your way into St. Helena for the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. A visit to the museum of this imaginative author will be sure to add some education and inspiration to your trip. This would also be a great time to grab a bite to eat. From St. Helena, you’ll get onto Route 128 and head north towards Calistoga.
While you are there, check out some of the best St. Helena wineries.
End Your Trip in Calistoga
It won’t take long at all to get to Calistoga from St. Helena. Why not end your trip at one of the many spas in the area? Or, if you’re still feeling adventurous, head to the Oat Hill Mine Trail for a challenging hike through the gorgeous, rocky terrain. If you’re sick of hiking but still want an adventure, schedule an early-morning hot air balloon with Calistoga Balloons.
With this basic driving route in mind, feel free to branch out and add detours to some of the Calistoga wineries you’re curious about. After all, did you really go to Napa Valley if you didn’t go on a wine tour?