Visit Napa Valley on a Budget

Let’s be honest, Napa Valley isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind when we think of budget travel. The good news? It is possible to visit this beautiful region of California without causing a major blow to your wallet. With these simple tips, you can rest assured knowing you’re getting the most bang for your buck in wine country. Napa Valley, California is known around the world because of the many vineyards and wineries. It’s the perfect adult escape when you want to enjoy California wine.

Top Wineries

Perhaps one of the best things to do in Napa Valley is to explore the wineries. There are approximately 400 wineries throughout this area, ensuring that you’re able to find a wine to fall in love with. If you decide to venture over to Sonoma Valley, the total number of wineries goes up to around 600.

There are value-priced and high-end wines alike in Napa. This allows you to find a wine that will fit your budget. Something to consider, too, is that there are small “boutique” wineries that have limited numbers of bottles, which may also affect the price.

A few of the best wineries to visit are listed below:

  • Luna Vineyards
  • Opus One
  • Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
  • Inglenook Winery
  • Monticello Vineyards

You can do a lot of research online prior to visiting Napa Valley so that you know what wineries you want to visit. A winery map will make it easier for you to decide where you want to go, too. Many of the wineries are quite spread out along the coast, making it difficult to hit more than a handful each day.

Many of the wineries are family-owned and operated. They are warm and welcoming, inviting you to taste their wines. Additionally, you will have the opportunity to buy the bottles on site. Some of the wineries don’t sell to stores, which means that buying them at the winery is the only opportunity to get a bottle of anything that you have sampled.

Taking advantage of the different wine tours will also make it easier for you to see the area and taste wine. Various connoisseurs will teach you how to sample the wine in order to maximize the tasting. An added benefit of going on a tour is that you won’t have to worry about a designated driver. Depending on when you visit, you may also get to participate in grape stomping. This is typically offered at various vineyards throughout the months of August, September, and October. Grgich Hills Estate is one of the vineyards that invite people to step into a barrel of grapes.

1. Choose the right season to visit

Most people flee to Napa during summer, which means huge crowds and high room rates. Harvest season in early fall is also extremely busy; however, if you decide to visit then (who could blame you? It’s stunning!), opt for November as it’s less crowded. Spring is an ideal time to visit, as the valley comes alive with sun and breezy afternoons and the vines are just beginning to sprout. More importantly, the crowds are slim to none so you’ll have a better chance of having an intimate experience at each winery, which could mean more heavy-handed pours.

Vines in early April
Vines in early April

2. Don’t splurge on accommodations

While I’m a huge fan of beautiful hotels, Napa is not the place to splurge on lodging. Besides, the only time you’ll be in your room is to sleep. Look into small hotels and motels for budget-friendly rates, and use resources like Airbnb and the Hotel Tonight app, which sells unsold rooms for heavily discounted rates the day of.

3. Take advantage of discounts

Two-for-one tasting deals are everywhere in Napa! You can get your hands on coupons by asking your hotel concierge, using apps like Winery Finder or Yelp, or visiting the Napa Valley Welcome Center. Overall, try to stick to $10 and $15 tastings, and only splurge on one or two.

4. Have a picnic

While the restaurants in wine country are delicious, you’re probably there for the wine and the scenery, so don’t get sucked into spending all of your money on an expensive meal. Instead, pop into Dean & Deluca (a high end grocery store in St. Helena) for sandwiches and eat them at a winery with beautiful grounds such as Chateau Montelena in Calistoga. They’re pretty huge, so you can even get away with splitting one with a friend! Also, keep in mind that most wineries offer something to nibble on like crackers and cheese with tastings.

5. Skip the tour

If you’ve never been to Napa, I highly suggest taking a full tour. However, limit yourself to one as they can be extremely pricey. During standard tastings, the staff will usually give you a brief history of the property anyway, and most wineries will let you explore the grounds on your own. If you do decide to take a tour to start your day, I recommend Robert Mondavi– the first winery I’ve ever visited. The moderately priced $25 tour includes an in-depth history, a walk through the barrel room and vineyards, instruction on how to properly taste wine (which is helpful to know before you taste wine all day!), and a full tasting paired with cheese and crackers in the tasting room.

Barrel room at Robert Mondavi
Barrel room at Robert Mondavi

6. Take home a bottle of wine

Most wineries waive tasting fees if you purchase a bottle of wine. Yes, this does mean dishing out some extra cash. But in the end, you’re getting your hands on an expensive bottle of wine for less than half of what it retails for. Score!

7. Take your time

One of the biggest mistakes first-timers make when visiting Napa is trying to squeeze in too many wineries in one day. Sure, they’re all beautiful. But you might as well take your time and enjoy each property, which in turn will save you money.

Other Thing to Do

Don’t assume that the only thing you can do in Napa Valley is to drink wine. There are a variety of spas, allowing you to engage in massages, mud baths, and mineral baths. You may also want to take a culinary class, allowing you to learn how to cook some delicious cuisine of the area.

You can find plenty of other activities, too, depending on when you visit:

  • Hot air ballooning
  • Shows at theatres
  • Golf at one of the many courses
  • Boutique shopping
  • Festivals

Where to Eat

Many wineries have restaurants on site. You will also find that there are quite a few renowned chefs who have chosen to call wine country their home.

Bottega Napa Valley Located at 6525 Washington Street in Yountville, the restaurant is a high-end, farm-to-table Italian restaurant. TV celebrity chef Michael Chiarello owns the restaurant.

The Grill at Silverado Resort & Spa The al fresco dining provides the view of one of the top golf courses in the world. It can be found at 1600 Atlas Peak Road in Napa.

The Restaurant at CIA Copia Seasonally-inspired dishes are served here alongside handcrafted cocktails. You can find it at 500 First Street in Napa.

Napkins Bar & Grill Located in the heart of downtown Napa at 1001 2nd Street, the restaurant is known for American cuisine as well as a weekend brunch.

Where to Stay

You will find that there are a lot of accommodations throughout Napa Valley.

You may want to consider some of the different bed-and-breakfast in the area as a more intimate option. Guesthouses often provide exquisite views and you can dine with the other guests each morning. Discover some of the top bed and breakfast inns here.

There are a few hotels to consider as well.

  • Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa, (averages $199 per night) 3425 Solano Avenue Napa, CA 94558
  • The Westin Versasa Napa, (averages $239 per night) 1314 McKinstry Street Napa, CA 94559
  • Bardessano, a 5-star hotel, (averages $650 per night) 6526 Yount Street Yountville, CA 94599
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