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Practicing yoga under the stars, snagging the world’s best English muffins in St. Helena, hiking in the Mayacamas, bathing in famously healing Calistoga mud, and savoring fried chicken in Yountville — there are so many things to love about Napa Valley and none of the aforementioned even revolve around the juice. Wine tasting notwithstanding, there are unlimited reasons to spend time in Napa, and more compelling arguments seem to pop up weekly.
Take the buzzy late April opening of Stanly Ranch, Auberge Resorts Collection, which is as much a wine country resort as it is a working ranch offering singular nature adventures plus extreme wellness rituals and hacks.
Here, we break down prime times to visit, as well as some of the best wineries in Napa Valley to complete your trip.
When it comes to good weather in Napa Valley, spring is ideal. The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and the vines are waking up after winter. This glorious moment is known as bud break, when the vines glow in a neon green hue with fresh new leaves. You can expect warm days and cooler nights during lush April and May, plus a comfortable amount of fellow visitors.
Crush season, from mid-August through October, is also lovely. This early fall annual grape harvest period is marked by vines heavy with juicy fruit — about as photogenic as it gets — and it’s an exciting time to be in the middle of the action as vintners begin making magic. The weather is near perfect, and while it can still get quite hot during the day, temperatures drop after the sun sets. The best rule of thumb when packing for a Napa trip during any month of the year is to bring layers.
One of the sleepier seasons is mid-fall to spring, a.k.a. cabernet season, which follows the Napa Valley harvest and is when the wineries release their new cabs. For those in the know, it’s a favorite time to be in the valley. During this stretch, hotel rates are at their lowest — more specifically, the best prices are usually found from November to mid-February, and midweek. There’s also more access to winemakers, and reservations at sought-after Michelin-starred restaurants like Bottega Napa Valley and La Toque are more attainable.
The Winter in the Wineries Passport ($60/person) is a great deal, spanning early December to early February, and it includes free tastings at 14 wineries plus complimentary corkage at certain restaurants and discounts at some Calistoga hotels, spas, and shops. Napa Valley Restaurant Week is another draw, featuring delectable discounts at coveted restaurants for 10 days in late January.
During mustard season in February and March, the vibrant yellow cover crop explodes into tiny blooms that carpet vineyards throughout the valley. It’s an attractive time to visit as well because these months tend to be quiet, relaxed, and less busy, with good rates at hotels.
Historically, the most popular time to visit Napa has been spring through summertime, coinciding with school breaks and typical American vacation months. Memorial Day through August are known for long, warm days and cool nights, in addition to an incredibly stacked calendar of live music concerts at wineries and other outdoor venues around the valley. Don’t expect to find much in the way of deals during this time, and be sure to plan far in advance for dining and tasting reservations. The same goes during harvest in early fall, when there’s lots of activity at all the wineries and fermentation aromas waft across the valley.
Even with so much happening in Napa Valley, let’s be honest, the wine is the main event. For the best experience, plan ahead. The pre-COVID trend of making advance bookings for tastings and winery tours took hold during the pandemic, and it’s now required or highly encouraged almost everywhere. It also assures you the most personalized, private, and enriching experience — say, for example, while touring the vineyard and winemaking facilities at Elusa Winery on the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Napa Valley grounds.
One of the newest musts in the area is Faust, housed in an 1878 Victorian house reimagined as Faust Haus, a bold tasting space and escape where things feel a bit different from old-school wine country. The same goes for Ashes & Diamonds, which puts a cool mid-century spin on Napa aesthetics and pours regal cabernets. Its owner, Kashy Khaledi, is the son of Darioush founder Darioush Khaledi, whose beloved Silverado Trail winery offers a mouthwatering spring pairing menu that showcases ambitious, unique vinos made in the Bordeaux style.
Other favorites include LeBron James’ obsession, Mayacamas Vineyards, where experiences meld spectacular scenery with history in their rebuilt Estate Hospitality Center, and Cliff Lede Vineyards in the Stags Leap District, where music and art are intertwined with the winemaking process (see blocks named for favorite rock songs and albums).
You can’t go wrong with quintessential Napa stalwarts such as award-winning Hall Napa Valley, Chardonnay fave Cakebread Cellars, picturesque Chateau Montelena, and grand Domaine Carneros — a must-stop for bubbly in the vein of Champagne Taittinger.
In downtown Napa, Levendi has a new indoor-outdoor tasting room offering 96-point cabernet sauvignons, while JaM Cellars’ tasting room moonlights as a recording studio, so you can expect state-of-the-art sound while you sip. If staying in St. Helena, the “Little Book of Big Experiences” wine passport ($75) offers $800 worth of private tastings, food and wine pairings, and samplings of rare-batch wines all in the classic wine country town.
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