It’s harvest season in Napa Valley – what better time of year to visit California’s beautiful wine country. The “crush” (when the grapes are picked) typically runs from late-August to October. As Bay Area locals, this is one of our our favorite times to play tourist for the day and drive up to Napa from San Francisco – it’s only about an hour north of the city, so it makes a great day trip.
With so many wineries and restaurants to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming which ones to visit, especially if you only have one day to see everything. Here are a few of our recommendations for a fun day of wine-tasting, touring, and eating your way through Napa Valley 🙂
Napa Valley – Fun One-Day Trip from San Francisco
We recommend that you get an early start so you can enjoy a full day of fun in Napa Valley.
Coffee & Pastries at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville
As you’re driving along Hwy 29, follow signs to Yountville – it’s one of our favorite Napa Valley destinations. Grab a table outside Bouchon Bakery (located on Washington St, adjacent to Bouchon bistro) – it’s Yountville’s most popular bakery, so don’t be surprised to see a line out the door. Guess we’re not the only ones who love their coffee, pastries, tarts, muffins, savory scones, and cookies (the shortbread just melts in your mouth). Quiche is good too, but don’t order it if you’re in a hurry – it takes a while to heat up. If you have any time to spare before heading out to your winery tour, walk around Yountville – it’s a charming little town.
Morning Wine-Tasting & Winery Tour at Silver Oak Cellars
From Yountville, it’s just a short drive to Silver Oak Cellars in Oakville, one of our favorite Napa Valley wineries. We recommend the one-hour “Silver Tour & Taste” – guided tours are informative and fun (it’s one of the few wineries where you can taste as you tour). And groups are limited in size to give visitors a personal touch. Spend time in the winery’s impressive Glass House Wine Library (pictured below) – it displays a collection of vintages dating back to the 1970s, including large format bottles. Tasting/Tour fees (well worth it compared to other wineries) includes a complimentary large Silver Oak wine glass. Note that reservations are required for all tours. Try to book well in advance, especially during the busy crush season.
Lunch at Brix in Napa Valley
After your winery tour, head over to Brix restaurant and gardens (just north of Yountville) – it’s one of the most beautiful settings in Napa Valley. Brix offers a daily changing farm-to-table menu of French inspired California cuisine, using the freshest seasonal ingredients – we can’t wait to go back again! If it’s featured on the menu, we highly recommend Brix’s Tempura Fried Green Beans with lemon-fines herb aioli as a shared appetizer – bet ya can’t eat just one! And their juicy Wood-Grilled Lamb Burger topped with French Feta and Pommes Frites is sensational.
During this time of year, you’ll definitely want to dine outdoors on the spacious patio, overlooking the gardens, vineyards and mountains – the view is breathtaking. And if you time it right (we lucked out during our last visit), you may even see the Napa Valley Wine Train as it passes by the restaurant.
Afternoon Wine-Tasting & Self-Guided Tour
After lunch, enjoy a scenic drive to Sterling Vineyards – just look for the bright white building, perched 300 feet above Calistoga (between Hwy 29 and the Silverado Trail). Sterling’s architecture was modeled after the beautiful Greek Island of Mykonos. What makes this winery so unique is that it can only be reached via an aerial gondola that carries visitors up the hill (if you have a fear of heights, just don’t look down!)
Sterling offers a progressive self-guided winery tour with five tastings (sip as you stroll). This self-paced tour is ideal for people who want a leisurely wine-tasting experience.
Wait until you see the magnificent panoramic views from Sterling’s main outdoor Terrace (from the Mayacamas and Vaca mountain ranges to the vineyards in between) – it’s absolutely breathtaking. Umbrella tables and misting fans keep visitors cool on hot sunny days – we could have stayed there for hours 🙂
Dinner in Napa Valley
After a day of wine-tasting, you can really work up an appetite – at least we did! After hearing a top San Francisco restaurant critic rave about Oenotri during our morning drive up to Napa, we called right away and managed to get an early dinner reservation in the restaurant’s outdoor courtyard.
Located on First Street in downtown Napa, Oenotri is one of Napa Valley’s most popular restaurants – and considered by some as one of the best Italian restaurants in the U.S. Their daily-changing menu, featuring Southern Italian specialities of Sicily, Campania, Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia lived up to our expectations. Crispy thin-crust pizzas and pastas are made fresh daily. Oenotri also offers a large selection of Napa, Sonoma and Italian red and white wines by the glass and bottle. Be sure to leave room for one of their delectable desserts. Buon Appetito!
Have fun on your one-day trip to Napa Valley. Just so you know, harvest season is also the busiest time of year, so be prepared for crowds... and traffic!
OPTION: Guided Wine Country Tour from San Francisco
– leave the driving to someone else!
Consider taking a Guided Wine Country Tour from San Francisco and leave the driving to someone else. Enjoy a fun day of wine-tasting (no need to worry about drinking and driving) as you visit a mix of boutique and large-scale wineries and learn how the wines are made. Whether you’re a first-time visitor to the Bay Area, a local who loves wine-tasting, or entertaining out-of-town guests/clients, a Guided Wine Country Tour takes all the hassle out of planning where to go and how to get there… not to mention all the traffic. And having a guide who is knowledgeable about San Francisco, Napa Valley, Sonoma, wineries and wines, is priceless.
What are some of your favorite Napa Valley wineries and restaurants?