Are you thinking of planning a day trip out to Napa? It’s easy enough to do from San Francisco, Oakland or Sacramento. However, with over 300 wineries to choose from, and typically only a 6 hour window to visit (most wineries are open 10:30 AM – 4:30 PM), you’ll have to be very selective in choosing your wineries. Realistically you’ll only really be able to see three to four during your day, so you’ll want to choose those that will provide the best wine country experience.
For more information on how to choose which wineries to visit and general information for planning a day to wine country, see my post on “Planning a Day in Wine Country.” However, if you are looking for a specific itinerary to get the most out of your day along with some insight on what to expect from your visits, you are in the right place! Here are my recommendations for a fun-filled day in wine country.
For my first visit to California wine country, I decided to visit Napa Valley, as it seemed to be a bit more manageable for planning a day trip on short notice. I had hoped to visit four wineries, but it worked out that three wineries was enough to fill up my day. Sadly, it left no time to stop at any of the charming towns along the way. I chose three wineries: Sterling Vineyards for its views, Robert Mondavi Winery for its educational tour and tasting, and Domaine Chandon for its sparkling wine. I figured my three selections would offer me three unique experiences.
My good planning paid off, as I had an incredibly enjoyable day sipping fine wines, taking in beautiful scenery, and learning about wine, winemaking and tasting; I even made some new friends along the way. I would highly recommend this itinerary for your visit to Napa, and I would recommend visiting the region in May for beautiful weather in the valley, no crowds at the wineries, and little traffic along Route 29.
Let’s Get Sipping!!
You have two options when it comes to starting your day: either drive all the way north to Sterling Vineyards as your first stop and making your way down the valley to your last stop, Domaine Chandon, or do it somewhat in reverse, with your first visit in the south at Domaine Chandon. It depends on whether or not you want to do a tour of a sparkling wine winery in the morning, or if you prefer to just do a “champagne tasting” at the end of your day. Domaine Chandon only offers two tours a day at 10:30AM or 3:00PM. If you are going to fit a tour in with my suggested itinerary, you can only do so at 10:30AM. I skipped the tour and opted for a tasting at the end of the day. The tasting bar alone is a great experience.
I decided to drive straight to Sterling Vineyards and make my way south through the day. I started my journey out of San Francisco at 8:45AM, crossing the Bay Bridge and traveling I-80E to Napa Valley via Oakland. I arrived in the region about an hour later. Another 30 minutes later after traveling along Route 29, the main artery through Napa Valley, I arrived at Sterling Vineyards just south of the town of Calistoga. Keep in mind, driving on Route 29 tends to slow you down, as the speed limit changes more often than the weather, going from 55mph to 45mph to 35mph back up to 65mph within just a few miles. I was told by some locals that the police monitor for speed all along this route, so you’ll definitely want to stay within the limit. Route 29 also cuts right through the main street of St. Helena, so you’ll hit a lot of stop-and-go traffic going through that charming town. However, there’s no need to rush along Route 29, as it’s a beautiful drive through wine country passing vineyards and small towns, and I’ve allowed enough time to enjoy all three wineries in my itinerary including the travel time between each of them.
STERLING VINEYARDS, 1111 Dunaweal Lane Calistoga, CA 94515, (800) 726-6136
Hours: M-F: 10:30 – 4:30; S-S 10:00 – 5:00 Reservations not required, Self-guided tour
What to expect: Mediterranean-style architecture, a tram ride, and stunning views
Sterling Vineyards sits just south of the town of Calistoga. What is really unique about this winery is that it is not situated on the valley floor like the other wineries you’ll visit, but rather it is perched on the side of a mountain about 300 feet above Calistoga. This vantage point offers visitors a panoramic view of Napa Valley that does not disappoint! This visit is all about the views and the tastings. See my review of Sterling Vineyards for more information.
ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY, 7801 St Helena Hwy, Napa, CA 94574, (888) 766-6328
Hours: Daily, 10:00 – 5:00 Reservations required for a tour with sit down tasting; No reservations required for tasting at the cafe
What to expect: Educational wine tasting and tour, and a walk through the vineyards
The Robert Mondavi Winery sits right off of Route 29 about 30 minutes south of the Sterling Vineyards, and 20 minutes south of the charming town, St. Helena. It offers one of the most comprehensive tours and sit down wine tastings in Napa Valley. Here you’ll have a wine tasting that includes limited production, special release and reserve wines. See my review of the Robert Mondavi Winery for more information.
DOMAINE CHANDON, 1 California Dr, Yountville, CA 94599, (888) 242-6366
Hours: Daily, 10:00 – 5:00 Reservations required for a tour with tasting; No reservations required for tasting at the Tasting Lounge
What to expect: Learn about and taste sparkling wines.
About 10 minutes south of Robert Mondavi Winery, you’ll come to the Domaine Chandon winery in Yountville. Here you’ll learn about the birth of the bubbles and see how sparkling wine is made. There is very nice tasting lounge where you can buy a bottle and sit out on the terrace to enjoy it, which seems to be a very popular way to end a day in wine country. See my review of of the Domaine Chandon winery for more information.
Have you been to Napa Valley just for a day? Which wineries would you recommend? Share in the comments below.