As a huge wine lover, Napa Valley is heaven on earth! The valley is huge, however, and it’s nearly impossible to explore it all in a weekend, or even a week. If you only have a few days, I highly recommend you focus on one area, like St. Helena which is located in Upper Napa Valley (or “Up Valley” as the locals call it). Up Valley has a relaxed, small-town vibe but offers much more including incredible wineries and world-class cuisine. I’m excited to share my travel guide to St. Helena to help you plan the perfect getaway!
When to Visit
St. Helena is a year-round destination as each season offers a unique experience. Harvest season (August-October) is the most popular time to visit as the valley comes alive with the excitement of harvest and many wineries offer special experiences. It’s also the most expensive time to visit. I personally like visiting in spring or early summer when the weather is mild, the vines are leafing and fields are blossoming with wildflowers. During winter the vines are barren but the Valley is much less crowded and you will find the best deals. It’s also the perfect time to visit a spa or cozy up to the fire with a glass of wine.
Getting to St. Helena
There are three airports nearby…Oakland, San Francisco, and Sacramento. The drive from the airport will take around an hour and a half to two hours depending on traffic. The drive from Los Angeles will take around 6 hours.
Where to Stay
Wine Country Inn and Cottages
Located just minutes from downtown and all the best wineries, Wine Country Inn and Cottages delivers the quintessential wine country experience with spectacular vineyard views. Accommodations include 5 quaint cottages, 4 spacious suites, and 20 cozy guestrooms. The rooms are luxurious and comfortable with high-quality bedding and feature a private deck or patio. We stayed in a Vineyard View King Cottage which featured a raised bedroom area, living room with fireplace, HUGE bathroom with soaking tub, and large patio overlooking the vineyards. The property offers a swimming pool and hot-tub and each morning a hot country breakfast is delivered to your room.
Where to Eat
Gott’s is a popular roadside café and a must stop for a casual lunch or dinner. You will generally find a long line of guests waiting to get there hands on one of their yummy burgers. They also serve beer and wine.
Pizzeria Tra Vigne
It’s not hard to see why Pizzeria Tra Vigne was voted the #1 Pizza in Napa Valley. Their wood-fired sourdough pizzas are mouth-watering and their Mozzarella al Minuto (Napa’s famous fresh mozzarella) is one of the best things I’ve ever tried. They also offer a good selection of wine, beer and specialty cocktails.
Cook St. Helena
A favorite amongst the locals, Cook St. Helena features locally sourced Northern Italian cuisine and an excellent wine selection. The atmosphere is chic and cozy and the perfect spot to grab lunch or dinner.
If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, book the “Wine and Dine Experience” at Peju Winery. You will spend a romantic evening in the vineyard enjoying a private four course meal paired with exceptional wines. It was truly magical.
Where to Wine Taste
Clif Family Winery
The Clif Family Enoteca offers amazing wine and food tasting experiences in a beautiful space overlooking Napa Valley’s iconic Mayacamas Mountain Range. Enjoy an intimate fireside experience in the cooler months or relax on the outdoor terrace with beautiful vineyard views during the warmer months. I highly recommend starting your day with the Presto Gusto Tasting. You will sample a flight of Howell Mountain’s finest wines featured alongside exceptionally crafted brunch-inspired morning pairings. The Presto Gusto is offered daily at 10am and costs $100/person. Reservations are required.
Castello di Amorosa
Located minutes away in Calistoga, Castello di Amorosa is an authentically-styled Medieval Tuscan castle in the middle of wine country. I recommend the Diamond Estate Tour & Reserve Wine Tasting, which includes a tour of the production area, underground cellars, torture chamber, armory, and the spectacular Grand Barrel Room. After the tour, you get a sampling of five current release reserve and small production wines. The tour last approximately 2 hours and costs $70/person. Reservations are required.
Just down the street from Castello di Amarosa is the historic Schramsberg vineyard. Schramsberg is best known for the 34,000 square foot caves that house their aging sparkling. The caves are truly spectacular and a shouldn’t be missed! I recommend the Cave Tour with Traditional Tasting which includes a tour of the caves followed by a tasting of four Schramsberg sparkling wines and one Davies Vineyards red wine. The tour last approximately 75 minutes and costs $70/person. Reservations are required.
Family-owned in Napa Valley since 1906, Ballentine Vineyards represents four generations of history and operates as a farm-to-bottle winery. I recommend the Explorer’s Tasting where you will enjoy small production wines with a picturesque backdrop of Mount St. Helena. The tasting last approximately 60 minutes and costs $40. Reservations are required.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Duckhorn wine so I always try to visit when in Napa. You can stroll through the beautiful gardens and enjoy award-winning wines on the wrap-around veranda. The Portfolio Tasting lasts approximately 60 minutes and costs $50. Reservations are required.
The Sequoia Grove tasting room is located beneath a grove of beautiful Sequoia trees in a historic barn that was built in 1908. I recommend the “Taste for Cabernet Wine & Food Experience” where you will enjoy top-tier single-vineyard and reserve red wines alongside four culinary delights. The tasting last approximately 90 minutes and costs $125/person. Reservations are required.
If you are a wine lover like me, Napa Valley is definitely a bucket list destination and I hope you find this travel guide to St. Helena helpful in planning the perfect wine country getaway!