My name is Wendy and I have lived near Napa for the past six years.
Napa can best be described in these five words:
- Retreat; and
Women should consider visiting Napa because it’s the ideal getaway vacation. Spectacular views, scrumptious food, award-winning wines, relaxing and rejuvenating spas, gourmet cooking classes…and so much more.
Girlfriends and couples alike will be pleased.
Whether you watch the world beneath you as you silently soar across the vineyards in a hot air balloon, shop for one-of-a-kind antiques, wander through special art collections while sipping on a glass of ruby red cabernet, or relax at the end of the day with a massage before dinner under the stars, Napa has it all…
Things to do in Napa
How do you get to Napa?
The Napa Valley is served by five airports of varying distances.
San Francisco International, Oakland International, Sacramento International are all about 1 ½ hours driving time.
Santa Rosa Airport is about 35 minutes away.
Napa County airport is for private planes only. You may drive, take a shuttle, or rent a limo.
What’s the best way to get around Napa?
There is public bus transportation within Napa and to the closer surrounding cities.
If you plan on visiting wineries, it is a good idea to hire a driver or rent a limo.
There are many bikers as the bike paths are clearly marked and are everywhere.
Walking around downtown is easy, with many places to stop and enjoy a beverage or shop.
What’s the best time to visit Napa?
Anytime! Each season brings its own unique flavor to Napa Valley. Color is everywhere.
- Spring brings the brilliant, yellow mustard which grows in the vineyards and fields.
- Summer is probably the busiest for tourists. Vines are growing, their bright green leaves showcase the tiny buds. Downtown Napa is busy with concerts and festivals on many weekends.
- Fall colors are everywhere – from vineyards to trees on the hillsides. Fall is also busy with harvest time for winemakers. If you have never seen a grape harvest, this is the time for you.
- Winter brings a slower and more laid back pace. Days can be cloudy or sunny or both. You’ll probably get more attention at a winery as there are fewer tourists.
What are the different areas of Napa?
Downtown Napa is where you will find most shops, many restaurants, and interesting buildings along the Napa River.
Outside of downtown, you will find wineries, spas and retreats, cooking class venues, the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), more great restaurants, art collections, bike tours, and more. Also, outside downtown are the Premium Outlets for shopping.
What should women pack?
No matter what time of year, pack layers. Even in the heat of summer, mornings can be cool and foggy. Days can be hot and sunny. Evenings drop again in temperature.
Dress comfortable and casual. Jeans are appropriate and so are nice outfits. You’ll probably see it all here.
If you know you’re headed to a Michelin Five Star restaurant, dress it up a little.
What is the most common misconception about Napa?
Napa is famous as a wine region, but don’t think of it as ‘just a wine region’.
While it’s true that Napa is famous for world class wines, you can have a world class vacation or getaway even if wine isn’t your thing. How does a culinary adventure sound, or a special olive oil tasting with the owner of an olive farm, or a round of golf at beautiful course, or checking out art at several galleries, or hiking or biking in the Valley, or relaxing in a private mud bath?
There are many activities to fit most everyone’s tastes.
Is there a gender divide?
Women are involved in all aspects of Napa and its culture. You will find women winemakers, farmers, art gallery owners, artists, chefs, restaurant owners, and more throughout the whole valley.
Women travelers can expect to see women working, wearing jeans and boots as they check their vines or wearing chef’s whites as they come from the kitchen of their restaurant to greet people.
At the same time travelers can find women proudly displaying the latest artist’s work in their plush gallery.
Are there any culture shocks?
If you aren’t used to seeing dogs come and go into just about every establishment, this might take you by surprise. It’s a very dog friendly atmosphere and that includes most restaurants.
What are three things every woman must do in NAPA?
- Eat at the best restaurant you can afford. You won’t be disappointed.
- Take a cooking class or watch a cooking demonstration.
- Taste the amazing and world-class wines.
What is one of the most over-rated things to do in Napa?
Visiting the big name, tourist laden wineries…unless they happen to make your favorite wine.
What’s the most traditional meal woman should try in Napa?
Traditional meals in Napa involve seasonal foods. With this is mind, many top restaurants change their menus to match the seasons and the foods available.
If you are here in January through March, eat Dungeness crab. It’s freshly caught and so delicious. Strawberries are in season March through November. And asparagus and artichokes are very popular vegetables in California.
Because of the longer growing season here and close by, chefs take advantage of fresh, seasonal foods. Embrace that.
What’s your favorite restaurant and bar?
With so many wonderful choices it will be hard for you to find a favorite before you leave. Try some of these:
- Often you’ll dine with the locals at Fume Bistro
- The Napa General Store offers casual dining on the riverfront
- The Oxbow Market offers a wide variety from homemade pizzas to burgers to artisanal cheeses
- Fish Story provides sustainable seafood from coast to coast
- UVA’s Italian menu is authentic and delicious
- The Thomas rooftop bar is a great spot to have a before or after dinner drink
- Back Room Wines is a great place to try different samples of wine
- Celadon offers fantastic food, wines, atmosphere
Take a drive up the Valley to Yountville, St. Helena, or Calistoga for even more wonderful choices.
Where’s the best photo opportunity in Napa?
Depending on the season, photo ops can be found everywhere, even alongside the road.
- If the mustard is in bloom, stop and snap a photo of the neon yellow fields.
- Take a shot of the perfectly aligned vineyard rows and rows as they go from the valley floor up the mountain side.
- On a foggy summer morning, snap a shot of the fog as it rolls across the mountain tops and dips into the valley floor.
Where’s the best place to go shopping?
You can find small one-of-a-kind shops downtown Napa or you can head to the Premium Outlet Malls on the edge of Napa.
The best souvenir is wine which most wineries will ship directly to your home.
What’s the best outdoor activity in Napa?
Hiking, walking, and biking are all great activities in Napa. They are easy to do and fun to get out and enjoy the weather and sites.
Or just sit at a sidewalk café and sip a cocktail or glass of wine.
What’s the best indoor activity in Napa?
Eating and wine tasting. Or relaxing in your own private spa!
How do you get off the tourist trail?
The best way to get off the tourist trail is to come during a slower time of year (e.g. winter).
Having said that, if you’re here when it’s busy, plan and schedule those ‘must do’ activities in advance.
For me, I take some time for a short, easy walk through a park. When I want to taste wines, I head to lesser known places and relax as the owner tells me about his day of picking persimmons and marinating fresh strawberries in aged balsamic vinegar.
What other advice can you give women visiting Napa?
Plan ahead, but don’t over plan. Leave some time in your day for those unexpected adventures or lazy activities.
Ask the locals about suggestions for dinner, their favorite wineries, where to taste olive oil, and the best place to watch the sunset. Everyone here is friendly and willing to share.
Any other thoughts?
Come alone, come with girlfriends, come with your husband, and come with friends. It really doesn’t matter. You will have a great time!
What did you think about this city guide?
Join the discussion and leave your comments, tips, and personal experiences in the comments below.
Wendy and her husband enjoy traveling all over the world, sampling great wines, tasting wonderful food, and learning to cook interesting food.
Originally from the Midwest, Wendy moved here six years ago. Wendy is a travel writer, author, magazine editor, travel blogger, and grandmother to three amazing grandchildren. Follow Wendy and her travel blog at travelsandescapes.blogspot.com.