Napa was named the number one most expensive travel destination in the United States by USA Today in 2018, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from planning a girl’s trip to Napa Valley on a budget! We did it and you can too, keep reading for the budget guide to Napa Valley.
Our girls’ group traveled from Seattle (my sister and I) and Chicago (my best friend and her sister). While you can fly into the nearby Sonoma County (Santa Rosa), which is a little over 30 miles away, but flights are cheaper from most destinations into San Francisco International Airport. Flying into Oakland International and Sacramento International Airports are also similar distances from Napa Valley.
Flying into San Francisco will give you the added bonus of being able to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge (if you never have, it’s a must-do!) or the Bay Bridge (that connects San Francisco to Oakland). We also spent two nights in San Francisco (none of us had been before either!) before heading to Napa.
San Francisco is roughly an hour away from Napa Valley (traffic permitting), so you can start your adventure with a short road trip from the bay to wine country! If you’re coming straight from the airport, add an extra half hour onto your travel time (and more time if you are coming during commuting hours). I drove the 2018 Toyota C-HR, which seated all four of us comfortably and fit our four suitcases perfectly in the trunk (something I typically worry about but didn’t need to with the C-HR!).
Where to stay
If you are looking to save money, check out Airbnb! We stayed through Airbnb at the Vino Bello Resort, which is a Wyndham property. We had a studio room with two double beds and a kitchenette, which came to $202 with fees for one night but my friend used my $40 off code to book the room so it came to $162 ($40.50 a person) for the night. Use my Airbnb discount code to get $40 off your first reservation!
The room was nice with a small balcony overlooking one of the pools, a parking lot, and vineyards up on a hill. The beds were very comfortable, albeit a little small. The property was well maintained and offers complimentary shuttle service to and from downtown Napa.
Budget tip: If possible, stay on a Sunday or weekday for cheaper rates. We stayed on a Sunday night!
Napa Valley is one of the world’s most famous wine regions, so it’s no surprise that you’re going to do a little (or a lot) of wine tasting. Napa Valley consists of several towns spanning 30 miles in length and 5 miles in width. With over 500 wineries in Napa Valley, it can be overwhelming to navigate, especially as a first timer. There’s a lot of ground to cover and if you are drinking, you shouldn’t be driving.
We booked our designated driver and guide through My Napa Valley Driver. For $45 an hour, Chris (the owner), or one of his employees will not only drive but also guide you through Napa Valley (or Sonoma). They can also customize your itinerary and book your tasting appointments, so we didn’t have to worry about anything but enjoying ourselves. Some companies charge extra for creating an itinerary (up to $100) but this is included with My Napa Valley Driver. If you don’t have a car of your own or a rental car, Chris can also set you up with a rental car.
I spoke with Chris on the phone just five days before our trip to tell him about our preferences. I told him it was our first time in Napa and we only had one day to wine taste, so we wanted to visit a variety of different wineries that are budget friendly (there are some crazy expensive wineries in Napa, the kind that people who own private jets would visit). My boyfriend Matt has a friend who works in the wine industry so he set us up with a couple tasting appointments as well, and Chris coordinated the appointments my friend made with his own appointments for us to seamlessly organize a full day.
Napa Valley Wine Tasting Info/Tips:
- Most wineries open at 10am and close at 5pm, although some close earlier (as early as 3pm) and others stay open later (7pm, 8pm, or 9pm), so get an early start to maximize your time.
- Three to four wineries/tasting rooms is a recommended amount in a day to have a relaxing day and without feeling too rushed.
- Hire a driver if you’re drinking! We highly recommend My Napa Valley Driver as they take care of your itinerary and go above and beyond the duties of a designated driver.
The Perfect One Day Wine Tasting Itinerary
We had the most wonderful day wine tasting, so I’ve shared our itinerary below (I wouldn’t change a thing!).
Inglenook Winery – 1991 St Helena Hwy, Rutherford, CA
Start your wine tasting at Inglenook Winery. The property has a grand entrance that made us giddy to enter. A reservation is required and you have to check in a visitor center so they can grant you access through the fancy wrought iron gates. The long driveway is lined with trees and leads to a modest yellow house adjacent to the enormous and ivy-covered chateau. We had a reservation for an 11am Heritage tasting, which is $45 a person.
Inglenook is full of history, the chateau that houses the tasting room was completed in 1887. The current owner, Francis Ford Coppola (best known as the director of the film the Godfather) purchased the property with his wife Eleanor in 1975. The second and third floors boast museum memorabilia from the GodFather and other films Coppola directed and produced.
After finishing the tasting, check out the infinity caves at Inglenook winery, where wine ages in barrels. We strolled on the beautiful French inspired grounds, with gorgeous pathways and fountains.
Sherwin Family Vineyards – 4060 Spring Mountain Rd, St Helena, CA
Head up into the mountains to get a different vantage point of Napa Valley. Sherwin Family Vineyards is on top of Spring Mountain. The property is so lush, green and blooming with flowers. The patio overlooks vineyards and a small lake with a fountain, surrounded by trees and more mountains in the distance. We had a 1pm tasting and had a picnic lunch afterward. The tasting fee is $55 that can be waived by purchasing $100 of wine.
There is ample outdoor seating, with giant umbrellas and awnings for shade. There’s also a bocce ball court for anyone who would like to play games.
You get an all-American vibe when passing the bald eagle statue and giant American flag wine bottles in the front entrance. Sherwin Family Winery is the only company in the United States with Federal approval to place the image of the American Flag on an alcohol label.
Whitehall Lane Tasting Room – 563 Saint Helena Highway South, St Helena, CA
For a modern feel, head to Whitehall Lane Tasting Room. You can taste any four wines for $25. The tasting room is designed for standing only and there is a bar and bar tables without stools. We did not have a specific reservation time but arrived around 4 pm.
They have a great 2016 Syrah Rosé that is very affordable at $24 a bottle and we purchased a couple bottles to enjoy at our hotel later.
Welcome to Napa Valley Sign – 7598-, 7602 St Helena Hwy, Napa, CA
Don’t forget to stop at the Napa Valley sign! Because if you came to Napa and you didn’t get a picture here, did you really even go to Napa? 😉
JCB Tasting Salon – 6505 Washington St, Yountville, CA
JCB Tasting Salon is the perfect end-of-the-day stop. It is open later than most wineries and tasting rooms (until 7pm Sunday through Thursday and 9pm on Friday & Saturday). It is fabulously French, oh so luxurious, and over-the-top, in the best way. There is a sparkling tasting flight available for $30.
When Chris from My Napa Valley Driver asked us if we wanted to go to one more stop and we all said yes, he told us he knew the perfect place. We didn’t have a reservation but he managed to get us in after only a short 5-minute wait. We sat out on the patio as we waited, enjoying the warm evening weather and the outrageous red lip chairs.
Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar (Rooftop at the Archer Hotel) – 1260 1st St, Napa, CA
After dinner in downtown Napa, we finished our night by heading to the rooftop bar at the Archer Hotel for a drink. We were told there is typically a giant Jenga game on the roof but apparently, a VIP guest requested it for his room, so we weren’t able to play.
Budget Tip: If you’re visiting Sunday through Thursday after 9pm, don’t miss the happy hour specials! House wine (red, white, rose and sparkling) is available for $9 as well as select cocktails. Draught beer is $5 and there is a food menu with discounted small bites.
Where to eat
Alexis Baking Company – 1517 3rd St, Napa, CA
Hours: Mon-Fri 7am-3pm, Sat 7:30-3pm, Sun 8am-2pm
Recommended for: Breakfast, brunch, or lunch
Start your day with food in your belly (and coffee in your veins for the caffeine-addicted) at Alexis Baking Company! It’s the perfect place to eat before a long day of wine tasting or before you hit the road back to San Francisco (or where ever you are flying home from).
For something sweet, order the lemony ricotta pancakes with seasonal fruit ($14.95), which are a crowd favorite. For something savory, get the huevos rancheros ($13.95), which we were blown away by (one of the best huevos rancheros dishes I’ve ever had!). Depending on your appetite, you can split a dish with a travel companion (or get both and split, which is what my sister and I did).
Dean & DeLuca – 607 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA
Recommended for: Picnic supplies (sandwiches, snacks, cheese, sweets, etc.)
Hours: Sun-Thurs 7am-7pm, Fri & Sat 7am-8pm
Dean & DeLuca offers fresh produce, gourmet sandwiches, a bakery, and a wide assortment of cheese and charcuterie. They offer many in-store samples that we enjoyed several while we waited for our sandwiches to be made.
Budget travel tip: Pick up sandwiches for your trip for a picnic (we ate them at our second winery stop of the day). Of course, you can always pick up sandwiches or make your own at a regular grocery store too. Luckily My Napa Valley Driver had an assortment of food and drinks to snack on and stay hydrated throughout the day.
On your way home
On your way back to San Francisco to catch your flight home (if you’re flying out of SFO), pull over at the last exit on Highway 101 before the Golden Gate Bridge (exit 442) to enjoy spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge at Marin Headlands.
There are a few parking lots where you can pull over and admire the Golden Gate Bridge. You can park and walk to get the gorgeous view below.
Tip: Don’t be discouraged if you cannot see the Golden Gate Bridge because the fog (named Karl by locals) is blocking it because it can move rapidly. When we first parked, we could barely and occasionally see the bridge, but by the time we reached the viewpoint the fog had moved so we had a gorgeous view (shown below). We were even able to see across to San Francisco’s skyline and Alcatraz.
As a heads up, there is an $8 electronic toll to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, but not to cross it leaving San Francisco towards Napa Valley. The experience is worth the toll if you’ve never driven across it and if you have four people in your car it is only $2 a person.
Have you been to Napa Valley? Share your favorite wineries below! Planning a trip to Napa Valley? Feel free to reach out with questions in the comments!
*In full transparency to our readers, we partnered with Toyota USA and My Napa Valley Driver (separately) for this blog post. We do not make commission off any of the links included in this post. We did, however, receive free products/services. We only collaborate with companies we love and hope you’ll love too!