how to be a tourist in napa valley

how to be a tourist in napa valley

May 2021 was the first time I’ve traveled on a plane since before the pandemic. It was for my good friend, Yan’s bachelorette party. The plan was to fly from JFK to SFO, pick up our rental car and drive the 2 hours to Napa Valley, which with Thursday afternoon traffic was more like 3 hours. The plane was actually packed. It was almost as if everything was back to normal, but with face masks. Luckily everyone around me (who I saw) was wearing them properly.

We spent two days in Napa and then drove back to San Francisco on Saturday to spend the day there, and catch our flight back to NYC early Sunday morning. Even though we didn’t have that much time there, I still feel like we accomplished a lot (especially for a bachelorette)! So if you ever find yourself in Napa, you must:

1. DRINK SOME WINE

I think this one is a pretty obvious one but there are SO many different wineries to choose from. Since we had a group of six, combined with the fact that we booked pretty late (maybe about a month before travel), and it was still during the pandemic (right before California was supposed to open everything up mid-June), most wineries in proximity to our AirBnB were already booked. A lot of wineries also only offered wine tastings but we were looking for one that included tours too. Luckily, my friend, Jenn found Cakebread Cellars, and they were available! 

2. TAKE A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE

This was truly such an awesome experience! It is totally worth the early wake up time. Meeting time was 5:30 AM and most companies will say it’s a sunrise balloon ride, but by the time you meet up, sign waivers, and drive to the fields, the sun is already up. When you’re up there, it really does feel like you’re just floating on air. We did Balloons Above the Valley, which was about a 45-minute flight time and the views are incredible, as may have guessed. I did start feeling a little bit motion-sickness towards the end, so this is definitely not for everyone. Make sure to dress warmly. The hot air does help a lot though!

3. EAT SOME GOOD FOOD

There are a lot of good restaurants (and some not so good ones of course) but since Napa is located by lots of farmland, there is no shortage of fresh farm to table ingredients. There are also quite a few Michelin-starred restaurants. Although not Michelin-starred, my group really enjoyed most of the dishes we ordered at Napa Valley Bistro. (start from top left, clockwise – pan-seared sea scallops, blue corn tortilla-encrusted halibut, chinese chicken salad with seared tuna, filet mignon, wild mushroom flatbread)

4. SHOP AND EAT AT OXBOW PUBLIC MARKET

This market opened in 2007. It’s not anything spectacular but it’s something to do. They do have some really good oysters at Hog Island though.

Bonus – there’s also the wine train that everyone talks about but unfortunately, this was all booked up by the time we had decided to go to Napa Valley. That being said, if your heart is set on this, definitely book early!

Napa was a really cool experience. I like drinking wine but I am no connoisseur. I can see why people who love wine would visit often, but I think this was a one and done for me.

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