How to Plan an Epic, Wine-Fueled Napa Valley Adventure

From natural hot springs to Michelin-rated restaurants and more, we’ve got 13 reasons why you need to make California’s Napa Valley your next weekend getaway.

California Brandy House
Photo courtesy of California Brandy House
Photo courtesy of California Brandy House

Just a short drive from San Francisco and Sacramento, Napa Valley represents California’s most prestigious wine region, boasting over 30 miles of lush, sloping hills and 16 distinct AVAs, or designated wine-growing regions. With an enviable Mediterranean climate that makes it a worthwhile destination year-round, Napa is renowned for producing exquisite wines—especially cabernet sauvignon—as well as being an early adopter of the farm-to-table movement, with a plethora of Michelin-starred fine dining options. Even amid escalating wildfire seasons, the area continues to demonstrate its commitment to producing noteworthy wines while preserving its stunning landscapes.

Nestled in the valley are a handful of small towns worth exploring, each with its own unique character. On the southern end of Napa County is American Canyon, the most laid back and adventure-oriented, with the American Canyon Wetlands Trail and plenty of bird-watching opportunities. The town of Napa offers a bustling downtown strip situated along the flowing Napa River, with plenty of tasting rooms, restaurants, art galleries, and shops to peruse. Further north lies Yountville, celebrated for its award-winning restaurant scene, as well as Oakville and Rutherford, two tiny towns located in the heart of “Cabernet Country.” Still north is the picturesque hamlet of St. Helena, with big-name wineries and contemporary art galleries along its downtown strip. Finally, you’ll reach the northernmost town of Calistoga, an ideal destination for recharging.

With so much to see, do, drink, and experience, planning a trip to Napa Valley can get overwhelming fast. But not to worry because we’ve done the legwork for you and compiled all of the must-try wineries, restaurants, and things to do across this iconic wine region. Cheers!

Napa Valley Wine Train
Napa Valley Wine Train

Take in the history (and plenty of wine) of Napa as you climb aboard this century-old railcar as it chugs down a historic, 150-year-old rail corridor that spans 35 miles between Downtown Napa, St. Helena and back. Originally built to take riders to Calistoga, the train now offers packages that range from The Legacy Experience, a six-hour journey complete with a three-hour rail tour of Napa Valley, four-course wine country-inspired meal, one-hour vineyard tasting and photo opportunities at the Napa Valley Sign, and one-hour tasting at Charles Krug and V. Sattui, to a Gourmet Lunch Express, Murder Mystery, Afternoon Tea, and more.


Relax and recharge in Calistoga

Drink enough wine and you will undoubtedly need to set aside some time to recuperate—not that you’ll need an excuse to pay a visit to one of Calistoga’s natural hot springs or local spas.

Indian Springs Resort is California’s oldest continuously operated mineral pool and spa, first opened in 1861, though it’s enjoyed its share of renovations since then, including the recent installation of a Halotherapy Himalayan Salt Room and new showers with full-spectrum infrared saunas in the mud rooms. Four thermal geysers provide mineral pools and special mud made from volcanic ash, including the Buddha Pond, a meditation pond where spa guests can relax before or after treatments.

Calistoga Spa Hot Springs
Calistoga Spa Hot Springs

Known as Calistoga’s original wellness retreat, Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort and Mineral Springs recently earned a remodel, making its cozy cottages, new spa garden, mud baths, and geothermal mineral pools all the more appealing. “The Works” is the treatment to try, involving a steamy mineral shower to prep, thermotherapy with volcanic ash, hydrotherapy in a private mineral whirlpool, a geothermal steam, a cold blanket wrap, and massage therapy. You might as well book a room—you won’t want to move for a while.

Housed within the art deco Mount View Hotel, True Spa offers massage therapies, aromatherapies, body scrubs and mud wraps, and facials, including a Lemon Matcha Mud Cocoon with a hydrating Lemon Verbena body scrub and a layering of matcha mud before the body is cocooned in a biodegradable wrap to open pores and allow ingredients to penetrate the skin deeply.

And in case you wanted to go on a day spa tripping adventure, there’s also the elegant Spa Solage, Calistoga Spa Hot Springs, Golden Haven Hot Springs, and the Baths at Roman Spa.

The Model Bakery
The Model Bakery

Once an annual segment on her since-concluded daytime talk show, Oprah Winfrey has since been releasing a list of her favorite things—usually timed with the holiday season—in her monthly O Magazine. With three locations in Yountville, St. Helena, and Napa, Model Bakery earned this prestigious designation in 2016 and 2021, with Oprah saying, “I dare you to find a better English muffin than these!” We agree, whether you decide to order it toasted with house-made strawberry jam on the side or as a breakfast sandwich with white cheddar, scrambled eggs, and bacon. As a bonus, Model Bakery now ships their famous English muffins nationwide via Goldbelly.

Just because your vacation is centered around wine doesn’t mean you have to be stationary the entire time. Cyclists can ride on flat easy roads while taking in vineyard views with Getaway Adventures, which hosts a variety of wine country tours across Napa and Sonoma Valley, with multi-day bike tours available. The Calistoga Bike and Wine Tour is an all-day excursion that spans 12 miles and makes stops at wineries like Chateau Montelena, Bennett Lane, Envy, Summers, August Briggs, Frank Family, Twomey, T Vine, and Clos Pegase, among others. A hybrid bike and helmet, unlimited water, and a picnic lunch are included in the tour—tasting fees are an additional cost.

If you prefer to take yourself on a self-guided tour of the valley, there are plenty of bike rental options. Get a taste of the Napa Valley Vine Trail with a 12.5-mile ride that takes you past Napa Valley Museum, St. Clair Brown Winery & Brewery, and other popular spots between Napa and Yountville. Still under construction, the walking and biking trail system will span 47 miles between Vallejo and Calistoga when it's completed.

The French Laundry
The French Laundry

Just as a reminder, the Michelin guide was first developed by the tire company in 1900, as a way of encouraging road travel, and thus, tire sales. More than a century after the first guide was released, it’s now a veritable ranking system of the best restaurants and chefs around the world, with more than a few standouts in the Napa region.

Snag a reservation at legendary The French Laundry if you can, and you’ll be treated to a gastronomic journey that pairs local seasonal ingredients with refined French technique and ends with a box of handmade chocolates. But just in case that doesn’t pan out, try your luck at Thomas Keller’s pared-down Bouchon Bistro or La Toque, another French standout with Michelin cred, plus a lengthy wine list. Intimate, 25-seat Kenzo offers a Japanese kaiseki experience where courses are artfully designed and timed—try to get a seat at the chef’s counter, where you can chat with the chefs and watch as they compose your meal. 

With a name that translates to “Inn of the Sun” and a setting among 33 acres of olive groves, you’ll quickly see why Auberge du Soleil’s Mediterranean-inflected restaurant catapulted Napa’s fine dining scene when it opened four decades ago.

With locations across San Francisco, you may already be familiar with Gott’s Roadside, a no-frills burger stand that champions local ingredients. The popular eatery has wine country locations in St. Helena and at Napa’s Oxbow Public Market; the perfect option when you need something substantial to soak up that mid-morning wine tasting. You can’t go wrong with any of the burgers, but we especially love the Western Bacon Blue Ring with beer-battered onion rings and Point Reyes crumbled blue cheese, and the Green Chile Cheeseburger with Anaheim green chiles and a charred jalapeno mayo spread. Finish it off with a hand-spun milkshake or Root Beer Float.

Okay, so you’re not going to witness the dramatic eruptions that Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Geyser yields, but you can still head down to Calistoga to see spectacular sprays up to 60-feet-tall, happening every 15 to 30 minutes—or more frequently if there’s been recent rainfall. While you’re there, take a stroll through the Old Faithful Gardens, where you can admire native plants and a tranquil mineral water fountain, then visit Old Faithful Animal Farm to pet Tennessee fainting goats, Jacob’s Four-Horn Sheep, and Guard Llamas. You can also learn more about how geysers work at the nearby geology museum.

Courtesy of Alila Napa Valley

Book a luxurious stay

There’s no shortage of indulgent resorts fit for living like royalty, all across Napa Valley. Set on a historic working ranch on the southern edge of Napa, Stanly Ranch Auberge Resorts Collection opened in April 2022 with 135 cottages and guest rooms, and a focus on wellness that includes meditative morning walks through the vineyards and bike rides along the Napa River, plus other immersive retreat experiences.

Nearby, Carneros Resort offers cottages and luxury homes equipped with fenced yards and gardens, outdoor showers, and soaking tubs that make you feel like a glamorous local. Complimentary bikes are available for exploring and there are even separate pools for adults and families with kids. Sunday movie nights are hosted on the vineyard lawn, complete with blankets, Adirondack chairs, and complimentary popcorn.

Boutique resort Alila Napa Valley opened in March 2021 in St. Helena, offering 68 guest rooms with features like outdoor fireplaces and views of rolling vineyards. Helmed by Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino, Acacia House is a restaurant housed in a restored Georgian farmhouse that specializes in seasonal fare and features herbs and vegetables from the resort garden. There’s also a convenient footbridge that makes it easy to pop over to neighboring Beringer Vineyards—the oldest continuously operated winery in Napa Valley—for a tasting.

Go glamping in wine country

Maybe you want to balance out your glam Napa stay by roughing it outdoors—or maybe you just want to save a few bucks on accommodations to spend more on wine. Whatever the reason, Napa Valley offers a few scaled-back camping opportunities. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park has 45 campsites for tents and RVs, as well as 10 yurts and restored historic cabins, plus hiking trails and a swimming pool, while Skyline Wilderness Park offers tent, RV, and horse camping.

Napa Valley Balloons, Inc.
Napa Valley Balloons, Inc.

Check out vineyard views from a hot air balloon

Napa offers plenty of outdoor adventures from hiking to biking to visiting national landmarks, but nothing compares to a bird’s eye view of the sun rising over the valley from a hot air balloon ride. Make a reservation with Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. or Napa Valley Aloft Balloons, both of which depart from Yountville and offer 45-minute to hour-long balloon rides over the expansive wine region. Napa Valley Aloft Balloons offers an optional post-flight champagne breakfast for $28 per person and Napa Valley Balloons offers a wine package that includes a wine tour in addition to your flight.

Catch a concert or festival

Outside of cheese and charcuterie, you can’t beat a live concert or music festival when it comes to ideal wine pairings. Thankfully, Napa offers plenty of opportunities to take in this art form with a glass in hand.

The annual Festival Napa Valley brings world-class performances to a gorgeous Napa setting, offering ten days of music, food, and wine from July 15 to July 24.

Jazz lovers will want to grab tickets for the Blue Note Jazz Festival, taking place at Charles Krug Winery from July 29–31, with performances by artist-in-residence Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Maxwell, and more, including wine tastings and a VIP experience with the Napa Valley Wine Train, which will be parked at the grounds every day of the festival.

Listen to the classic sounds of Beethoven, Brahms, and other chamber musicians during Music in the Vineyards, an annual festival curated by the Napa Valley Chamber of Music that takes place at various Napa vineyards, estates, and private residences from August 3 to August 21. This year’s programming celebrates women and BIPOC musicians who are traditionally overlooked in the industry.

No one is arguing Napa Valley as a premiere wine destination, but did you know that it’s also one of the best places to try California brandy? It makes sense—why wouldn’t these award-winning grapes also lend themselves to producing high-end brandies?

As it turns out, California has a history of making brandy that predates the state’s wine industry. You can learn more about the history and try a tasting flight with California brandies at the California Brandy House in Downtown Napa.

Prisoner Wine
Photo courtesy of Prisoner Wine

Visit more wineries

And just in case you needed even more wine recommendations for Napa, let us direct your attention towards historic, family-owned Spottswoode Estate, a pioneer in organic wine; Brown Estate, Napa Valley's first Black-owned estate winery; The Prisoner Wine Company, which blends the state’s best and most unusual varieties; Baldacci Family Vineyards, where you can expand your viticulture and enology education with the Behind the Cellar Door experience; Conn Creek, Raymond Vineyards, and Judd’s Hill, where you can learn the basics of blending and create a custom blend to take home; and Somerston Estate, where you can roam 1,682 acres of unspoiled terrain during a tour and tasting.

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Danielle Dorsey is the West Coast Editor at Thrillist.