Napa Valley has been on our bucket list for a while now and as we’ve become avid wine drinkers, Jared’s 31st birthday felt like the perfect time to go. We’re typically east coast travelers but we were excited at the chance to go to California for a few days. It can definitely be overwhelming as you start planning with so many wineries to go to so here are our recommendations for your first time to Napa Valley Itinerary.
First Time to Napa Valley Itinerary
Day 1 (Sunday) – Travel Day
Lunch in San Francisco
Relax by the pool
Chateau St. Jean at 3
Check-in and freshen up at 5
Dinner at Salt and Stone
There are a few ways to to get the Napa Valley area you can fly into Santa Rosa, which is super common but since San Fransisco is only about an hour away and a direct flight, we decided to fly into San Francisco rent a car and take advantage of some sightseeing on the way. And when in California we decided to rent a Tesla to complete the Cali vibes!
We grabbed brunch at The Dorian in Cow Hollow and then headed across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was pretty foggy the day we arrived so we didn’t stop for photos and headed straight to Sonoma/Napa Valley.
Everyone we talked to said Napa Valley was far too snooty and glam and that Sonoma was where it was at. So we booked the cutest hotel called the Kenwood Inn and Spa, which was the ultimate romantic getaway. Each room felt like a suite and was very private complete with a sound system, fireplace, private patio, etc. Kenwood Inn and Spa also had complimentary breakfast and complimentary happy hours every day from local wineries. They had a spa, hot tub, pool, and fire pits, truly I couldn’t have asked for a better hotel.
Check-in wasn’t until 4 so we relaxed by the pool for a bit after a long travel day and then headed down the street to a little market to grab some snacks and water before our first tasting at Chateau St. Jean. I am going to be completely honest, our experience at Chateau St. Jean was subpar. The grounds were beautiful but the crowd was not quite what I expected and the wine/service was average. It was a great one to start with but I don’t know if it would make it on my list of recommendations.
After our first tasting, we checked in, freshened up, and then headed to dinner at Salt + Stone which was just down the road from the hotel. Since it was day 1 we wanted to keep things fairly simple and close together. Salt + Stone’s food was delicious and the pricing was fair but again I had higher expectations for the atmosphere.
Day 2 (Monday) – Napa Valley
Stopped at Oakville Grocery
Despite what everyone told us we knew we couldn’t come all this way without checking out Napa Valley. We planned to spend the first full day in Napa Valley and knock out some of our must-stop vineyards. We started the day off bright and early at Faust. The experience at Faust compared to Chateau St. Jean was NIGHT and DAY! The service was phenomenal, it was quiet, everyone respected everyone’s tastings, and the view was breathtaking, truly fantastic all around. Along with our tasting, they provided some light bites to eat of some pimento cheese, hummus, and nuts, which was a nice switch up from the typical charcuterie board.
The branding, storytelling, venue, everything was so thought out. Every detail had been covered and made for an outstanding experience. We ended up joining the membership here because we loved the wine and we loved the brand. This would be my number 1 must-stop add for your first time in Napa Valley itinerary.
Following Fasut, we went to Duckhorn. Duckhown is definitely a little more mainstream so they also had all of the details covered. They had a gorgeous property where we sat on a porch and were able to really take our time tasting. The service here was also great, I think 80% of the tasting is really determined by the person helping you. For us, we want to know all of the details about the wine, how and where it’s made, the history, etc.
Our rule of thumb was 2 tastings per day, especially since we were driving we wanted to take our time to enjoy, not be rushed, and also not get sloppy. I would recommend 2.5 hours per tasting especially if you want to grab an extra glass and hang out. We also found that even though the tasting might be set to 4 wines, but 9 times out of 10 if they had bottles open they would let you try them.
After Duckhorn, we stopped by Oakville Grocery to grab a cookie. We had heard their chocolate chip cookies were to die for and let me just tell you they were the best cookie I’ve ever had!
We then headed over to Chandon. Chandon was not offering tastings on Mondays but you could buy by the glass. We got a glass found a shady spot and hung out there for a long. I personally thought was really cool to see the tasting grounds for a large-scale wine like Chandon. I don’t know if I’d recommend a tasting but grabbing a glass and hanging out was perfect before dinner.
Since we had just been snacking on charcuterie boards and cookies we were ready for dinner. Jared snagged a reservation at Bouchon which is the same chef, Chef Thomas, as the famous French Laundry. The French Laundry is about $450 per person which was outside of our budget so visiting their sister restaurant was the perfect solution. Reservations can be tricky so make sure you plan ahead.
After dinner, we headed back to Sonoma enjoyed some time in the hot tub and headed to bed.
Day 3 (Tuesday) – Sonoma
Jacuzzi Family Winery
Mary’s Pizza Shack
Day 3 was focused on Sonoma, we started the day off at Matanza’s Creek. We had an 11 AM reservation and it was very peaceful and quiet. Unlike Napa, Sonoma was definitely more laid-back and rustic. We enjoyed Matanza’s Creek and their grounds were stunning with beautiful lavender fields and tons of places to explore and relax in peace. I was also very impressed by their selection of aged wines and their price of them. They definitely felt like they had the best deals. Service was fine, but not exceptional, I think the grounds are really what made this place stand out.
From there, we headed to Jacuzzi Family Winery. This was probably the most disappointing winery of all. It had so much potential with Italian-inspired grounds and architecture but their tastings happened in a room that was basically a bar when they had a beautiful patio. The wines were honestly trash and the service was not good either. Our server did not seem knowledgeable and didn’t really seem to care. Overall it was such a letdown.
The next day we had planned to visit Cline Family Cellars and Viansa, owned by the same people as Jacuzzi. Since our experience was so terrible about halfway through the tasting I told Jared “This might be crazy but what if we cancel all of our tastings tomorrow and go back to Napa”. I just knew we’d leave saying “I wish we would have spent more time in Napa”. Jared was game so we quickly pivoted our reservations and were lucky enough to snag some great vineyards, swap around dinner reservations and we were good to go.
After Jacuzzi, we hung out by the pool, reading and relaxing before dinner. We had initially planned to Glen Ellen Star for dinner but since we moved things around we moved it to the next day and I wanted something super casual. We had been eating fancy food and I craving some casual. We ended up going to Mary’s Pizza Shack and it was exactly what we needed! We sat outside enjoyed some pizza and were able to just take it easy!
Day 4 (Wednesday) – Scrapped Sonoma went back to Napa
Gotts for lunch
Glen Ellen Star
The first day we were in Napa we drove past Prisoner Wine Company and Jared said he wish we could go there. They had a 10 AM opening we were able to snag and it could not have been more perfect! The place was empty and our server, Roberto, was so knowledgeable and so accommodating. We were able to pick exactly where we wanted to sit and had signed up to taste 4-5 wines and I think we left trying 9-10 we tasted just about everything on the menu. Similar to Faust, the branding, storytelling, details, and everything had been thought through extensively. This is definitely a more modern winery but I would say this was my number 2 choice of the trip followed by Faust.
From Prisoner Wine Company, we stopped at Gotts Roadside which we had driven by previously. This is a roadside diner known for its burgers and milkshakes. Just what you need after trying 10 wines!! 10 out of 10 recommend Gotts!
From there, we headed to Stags’ Leap. An interesting note about Stags’ Leap there are actually two different wineries named Stags’ Leap, one is Stags’ Leap and the other is Stag’s Leap. They give you a breakdown of the history of the apostrophe and to be honest, we thought we were signing up for Stag’s Leap, not Stags’ Leap, however, our experience turned out amazing. We had the perfect porch view, enjoyed some charcuterie, and also got to taste numerous wines. Our server also took around giving us a mini tour and taking tons of photos of us… my kind of girl!
After Stags’ Leap we headed back to the hotel, took a nap and then went to dinner at Glen Ellen Star. Glen Ellen Star is a Michelin Star restaurant with limited seating and you can only make a reservation about 2 weeks in advance but I HIGHLY recommend it. When booking on OpenTable you can book the Chef’s Table and this was such a cool experience. These chefs preparing the food are mesmerizing and it was amazing to watch them work and literally cook your order right in front of you. I’m not a huge French cuisine girl so I actually would recommend this over Bouchon.
Day 5 (Thursday) – Travel Day
Drive to San Franscico
Golden Gate Bridge View Point
In and Out
Check-out was at 10 and our flight was around 3 so we headed to San Fran pretty early because we wanted to make a few stops. The first stop was a Golden Gate Bridge View Point. This was the perfect photo location and really cool to see it up so high.
We then headed to The Painted Ladies, because as a Full House fan, this was a must-do! We didn’t stay long and I will say be careful parking around there because I’ve headed some horror stories.
We then wanted a bite to eat before flying out and what’s more Californian than going to In and Out? There was one right by the airport which was filled with travelers but it was perfect to kill some time and grab a bite before heading back to Houston.
We loved our time in Napa Valley and I am so glad we stuck with our gut and changed the plans around. Everyone is so different and for us, we loved Napa Valley, but others might prefer Sonoma. I think the time of year we went also played a big part because it was pretty calm and slow. Peak season is August through October. Roberto at Prisoner told us this is because this is when grapes are picked however, you can’t really see the grapes being picked because it happens at night so to avoid the hustle and crowds I’d definitely recommend the May time period to visit!