This post shows you a Napa Valley day trip with a route map and photos. We spent a sunny day driving around the scenic Napa Valley, California and visited top wineries tasting their best wines. Here are my top picks for a Napa Valley day trip.
Napa Valley is a beautiful stretch of valley north of San Francisco and home to about 300-400 wineries. A day trip to this beautiful valley should be included in any trip to San Francisco.
Napa Valley: How did it begin?
Missionaries from Europe planted the first grapes here and later more cuttings were imported from Europe. Napa Valley beacme the first place on the New Continent where European wines were produced.
The Napa and Sonoma Valleys are sheltered by coastal ranges and the climate is much warmer than on the coast which makes them a good wine producing area.
Today the Napa Valley is America’s most famous wine region. The most reputable wines here are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay but most other wines used in America can be found somewhere in the valley.
What is the Napa Valley like? First a map so you know the location.
Napa Valley Day Trip on the Map
Napa Valley is about 120 km northeast of San Francisco and driving time from San Francisco is a bit more than an hour except during peak traffic times.
The valley itself is about 50 km (30 Miles) long. There are small towns like St. Helena, Yountville and Calistoga next to each other and the biggest city is Napa.
Napa is the capital of the valley with its population 80 000. It looks like a typical American city, clean and pretty and historic houses here and there.
A very pretty place in Napa was the river bank walking area and the quiet side streets next to it.
Ways of Touring the Napa Valley
Napa Valley Train
Alan Shepp’s mosaic fountain in Napa reflects Napa Valley and its importance in the American West. One of his works of art presents a train. Today the Napa Valley Wine Train looks different, it’s an old-model train but not like the one in the mosaics.
You can use the historic train for touring the valley and dining a multiple course meal at the same time. The train starts at Napa and goes to St. Helena and the journey takes something like three hours. Here’s more information on the train:
You can find this beautiful mosaic fountain that tells about the history of Napa on the Riverbend Plaza.
Napa Valley Trolley
Alternatively, if you don’t think driving and wine tasting is the perfect combination, you can take a Napa Valley Wine Trolley tour.
The trolley looks like a San Francisco cable car and takes you to a number of wineries during the day. If you got interested, here’s the link:
We wanted to see as much as possible in one day and toured the valley by car.
There are two parallel north-south roads through the length of Napa Valley, the busier main road Highway 29 to the west and the more quiet Silverado Trail to the east. The roads are not far apart so you can switch between them as often you want.
We took the Silverado Trail up from Napa and the Highway 29 back from Calistoga.
Silverado Trail is less traveled, it is more like a small country road with more curves and less traffic. The road offers pretty views to vineyards on both sides of it, almost all the way from Napa to Calistoga.
Silverado Trail Wineries
We stopped at wineries, examined their gardens and vineyards and talked with the owners. Most wineries offer wine tasting but only until 5 p.m. and there is a small fee for that, about 10 to 20 dollars. For the fee you can taste three to six wines and it sometimes includes a souvenir glass.
This is the gate of the European-owned Mumm Winery. Mumm is well-known for their fresh sparkling wines.
Close to Mumm, Rutherford Hill is a hillside winery with pretty buildings, a picnic area and great views to the Napa Valley. We didn’t taste their wines, just walked around and enjoyed the atmosphere. The wines must be good though since they are aged in long caves that are carved in to the hillsides.
You can even make a cave tour at Rutherford. Some more photos on this winery that is a short drive uphill from the Silverado trail:
Sterling winery in Calistoga lies on a high rocky hill and overlooks the vineyards and the valley below. The winery building is whitewashed and built in Greek style.
Here you can take a marked self-guided tour and taste different Sterling wines at your own pace. At each stop the staff tells you about history, wine production and wines. Five or six wines are offered on the tour stating from this Sauvignon Blanc that became my absolute favourite.
To begin the winery tour you take a gondola up the hill. It’s like a ski lift, but unlike in ski slopes the lift used both ways, up and down. On the way up you can see a pretty park with a pond and fountains.
And this is the last tasting point, a wide terrace with chairs and tables and great views to the surrounding valley.
The small photo on the left shows another tasting point where a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon was offered.
And the view! So pretty, you can see vineyards, the valley and the green wooded hills surrounding the valley.
And here are the happy wine tasters. We gave a toast to all our friends back at home! Why?
The day we visited the Napa Valley happened to be the First of May eve that is an extraordinary day at home in Finland. People go home from work earlier and have a party with their family and friends and taste sparkling wine. The First of May is our spring carnival. A carnival of university students, academics, laborers, all of us!
Spring in California is a great time as well. The vineyards get green after the winter and everything is in flower. It’s the beginning of the summer!
Clos Pegase Winery
Clos Pegase Winery is almost next door to Sterling Vineyard. It is housed in a huge postmodern building and they have an art collection. This winery offers free tours and it’s said the wine is very good.
Since we only had one day in Napa Valley we were forced to skip much of the tasting. We rushed to the geyser.
Old Faithful Geyser
The Old Faithful Geyser spurts hot water into the sky every 30 minutes or so. The water comes from an underground river.
The Geyser has been doing that for ages. In fact it did it now even more often, every 10 minutes. There had been a rainy period in the winter and lots of water was available to spray around in the air.
The Old Faithful Geyser of California is one of the three faithful geysers in the world. They have earned the title because of their regularity. The others are Yellowstone and Rotorua, New Zealand.
The Geyser has always been one of the most photographed places in California. Today it has been made a family attraction with fainting goats, llamas, picnic areas and so on.
In the hills west of the Napa Valley is the Petrified Forest where trees have turned into stone. In this place you can see the largest petrified trees in the world.
Millions of years ago the trees were turned to stone by a volcanic eruption. The whole forest was covered by ash and mud and gradually the wood was replaced by silica.
This huge coastal redwood is called the Queen. It was buried at the age of 2000 years after which it has been petrified for 3,4 Million years, really!
Here is another tree that loos more like a stone than a tree.
You can hike in the Petrified Forest. At the end of the track you can see an ash fall area. Cooled volcanic ash has floated and covered the trees. At distance you can see a volcano.
The Petrified Forest was an educative experience and hiking the track took us about an hour. From here you return to the Napa Valley the same road you came or you can continue along the road to the Sonoma Valley.
Beringer is the oldest and probably the most beautiful winery in Napa. They have operated since 1876 and Beringer is on the register of National Historic Places. The place is so pretty…
This is the wine shop were you can taste world-famous Beringer wines, or you can sit outdoors and taste if you like.
They also offer a tour to their long wine tunnels carved in the hillside.
In this Rhine House you can sit on the porch or in the garden and have a flight of reserve wines.
Above some photos of the pretty garden and a group of wine tasters we met here.
Below you can see the porch that continues through all four sides of the old house. Not crowded since we were visiting on a weekday. If you want more people, come here on a weekend.
Here is one more Beringer Estate building behind the trees:
V Sattui Vineyard
V. Sattui Vineyard is another old winery. It’s easy to find. It’s almost in the center of St. Helena and by the main road.
The roots of the family are from Italy. That’s why the buildings look so Italian.
You can choose from different tasting options and use the outdoor picnic grounds. They have a gourmet deli where you can buy your picnic and enjoy it outdoors.
Wine tasting itself is indoors in the bar and the waiter told us their wines are sold only at the winery. This is their Cabernet Sauvignon that was my favourite.
V. Sattui looks like a very active winery. They arrange both public events and private occasions. Lots of people in small and large groups were visiting when we were here and a wedding going on in the castle.
You can read more about this winery on the V. Sattui website.
End of the Napa Valley Day Trip
Our Napa Valley day trip ends at V. Sattui. We have to start driving back to San Francisco to get there in time. The day was great fun and I’m happy we did this. We saw and learned a great deal and we know there is a lot we didn’t see.
If some time in the future there’s a chance to visit the Napa Valley again I would like to stay longer, visit more winerie, enjoy small restaurants in the towns – and try one or two of the hot springs that exist in the area.
If you want to read more on the Napa Valley here’s the official website: Visit Napa Valley