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17 Best Things to Do in Napa Valley, California

17 Best Things to Do in Napa Valley, California

Editorial Note: This article was originally published by Kyle Kroeger after a visit to the region and was recently reviewed and revised by Doug Weissman, a California native, along with a two-person editorial review. Read more about our editorial approach for more information.

Located in California wine country just north of San Francisco, Napa Valley is known for its beautiful rolling hills and local wines. With over 400 Napa Valley wineries, including the O’Brien Estate Winery, Hess Collection Winery, and Oakville Winery, it’s impossible to visit all of them in one trip.

The first commercial winery opened in Napa Valley in 1861; roughly 25 years later, there were more than 140 wineries in the area. Unfortunately, the growth halted in the early 20th Century with an infestation of grape phylloxera, destroying 80% of the area’s grape crops. To add insult to injury, Prohibition began in 1920, closing the wineries for 14 years.

Thankfully, vintners returned to the region after the repeal of Prohibition and established Beaulieu, Inglenook, Mondavi, and Louis Martini vineyards. And now, 90 years after the end of Prohibition, Napa Valley has become a premier destination for fine wine.

It’s almost impossible to think of Napa Valley without thinking about wine. And while plenty of wine tastings are available, a Napa Valley trip can also include a visit to natural hot springs, a trip to the French Laundry for gourmet food, or a spa treatment at one of many Napa Valley hotels.

Napa Valley is for wine lovers and those who like exploring art, playing golf, hiking outdoors, enjoying cultural festivals, shopping, and eating delicious food. Let this travel guide be your one-stop shop for everything about Napa Valley’s attractions to visit.

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmark – Castello di Amorosa
  • Park – Skyline Wilderness Park
  • Hiking trail – Napa Valley Vine Trail
  • Free activity – Napa Art Walk
  • Activity for kids – Connolly Ranch
  • Activity for adults – A Hot Air Balloon Ride from Yountville
  • Place to eat – The French Laundry
  • Place to stayInn on Randolph

Things to Do in Napa Valley, California

1. Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley Wine Train

Address: 1275 McKinstry St, Napa, CA 94559

While the Napa Valley Wine Train has operated since 1864, it didn’t begin as a gourmet dining service until 1989, which is what triggered this to be a go-to destination to take in the scenery of this historic region. Originally, the train was used to take tourists from San Francisco to the resort town of Calistoga.

The original Pullman railroad cars have been restored with luxury armchairs, brass accents, and mahogany paneling, evoking the spirit of early 20th-century rail travel. The Napa Valley Wine Train is one of the few historic passenger trains still active in the United States.

As a passenger on the train, you’ll receive gourmet food and world-class wine while watching the beautiful rolling hills of Napa Valley. The luxury train trip begins in downtown Napa and takes guests on a 3-hour, 36-mile trip through Napa Valley to St. Helena and back.

The train is a luxurious throwback to the early 20th Century, and the food is decadent. With four kitchens onboard, the chefs have mastered creating gourmet cuisine on an antique moving train. In addition to gourmet appetizers, have a glass of sauvignon blanc or cabernet sauvignon to celebrate.

While you may be tempted to leave the kids behind, the Napa Valley Wine Train actually welcomes children. However, if the kids don’t appreciate the gourmet cuisine, you can check out the Silverado car for a more kid-friendly menu. There are a few Wine Train tours worthy of your time. Here are a couple of our favorites!

If you want to rest your head close by after a long day, look at the beautiful B&B Inn on Randolph.

See Related: Day Trips from San Francisco

2. Castello di Amorosa Winery

Castello di Amorosa Winery and Vineyards
haveseen / Adobe Stock

Address: 4045 St Helena Hwy, Calistoga, CA 94515

In the middle of California’s wine country lies a medieval castle. Most people recognize the Castello di Amorosa Winery because of its royal-like setting, with a 13th-century-styled castle as the tasting room.

Although the winery may appear centuries old, Castello di Amorosa was built in 2007. The family-owned winery took over 15 years to build and used over 8,000 tons of stone.

In addition, the castle is built with almost one million antique bricks to give it a more authentic Tuscan appearance. The owners took just as much pride in the interior as the exterior, with over 200 boxes of old European furnishings shipped to Napa Valley.

This winery doesn’t just look like an authentic Tuscan castle- it has all the elements of a medieval masterpiece. When you visit, you’ll notice over 100 uniquely styled rooms. There is also an authentic torture chamber, so be wary not to skip your bill.

The owners built a legitimate moat and drawbridge with ramparts and five towers. In addition, you can enjoy their world-class wine while walking through their beautiful courtyard or loggia. As if this wine experience wasn’t unique enough, there are also stables and an armory.

The Castello di Amorosa Winery is undoubtedly one of the most unique experiences in Napa Valley and is likely one of the top experiences in California’s wine country. Don’t hesitate to put this on your itinerary if you will do a Napa Valley trip.

Enjoy your wine tasting with a glass of a local Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon, and enjoy your medieval experience. Don’t want to worry about driving? Consider this small-group winery tour.

See Related: Most Exotic Places in California to Visit

3. Napa Valley Museum Yountville

Napa Valley Museum Yountville building
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 55 Presidents Circle Yountville, CA 94599

The Napa Valley Museum is centrally located between Napa and St. Helena in Yountville. It was established in 1972 by dedicated citizens who recognized that Napa was one of the few areas in California lacking a historical museum focusing on regional heritage.

When it first opened, the museum originally intended to preserve Vintage Hall in St. Helena. However, the museum’s mission grew to focus on Napa Valley’s culture, history, and environment.

After 26 years in St. Helena, the museum moved to Yountville, where a competition took place to design the new Napa Valley Museum. Berkley-based architects Fernau and Hartmann were awarded the job, using bold colors and a modern design.

The museum showcases the valley’s rich local history with exhibits about the contributions of Native Americans in addition to Italian, German, and Chinese immigrants. You can also learn about the valley’s unique geology, making it a premier wine destination. Local and regional artists also exhibit their photography, paintings, and sculptures.

The museum is a destination for adults and children, with interesting Napa Valley history and local art. Check the museum’s website for more information on hours and admission.

Want to stay close to the museum? Look at the Silverado Resort and Spa, an excellent family-friendly resort with a golf course and spa.

See Related: Museums in the US You Need to Visit

4. Robert Louis Stevenson Museum

Robert Louis Stevenson Museum Exhibit
Adrian W / TripAdvisor

Address: 1490 Library Ln, St Helena, CA 94574 

Opened in 1969, the museum was established to display and honor the works and life of beloved author Robert Louis Stevenson. A decade after its opening, the museum moved to the St. Helena Public Library Center, which has more space for its collections.

While the author never lived in Napa Valley, he and his wife honeymooned in the area in 1880, after which he wrote the Silverado Squatters travelogue. Today, visitors can see some of the remaining sites that Stevenson featured in his book.

The Robert Louis Stevenson Museum is fantastic for all ages, with information and exhibits about his famous books like Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The museum is dedicated to showing the life, the works, and the times of Robert Louis Stevenson. Although he lived a fairly short life, his collection of 21 books and various other writings have inspired generations of young readers.

The museum has free admission. However, if you have a large group and want to request a guided tour, go to the museum’s website for more information.

See Related: Things to Do in Santa Monica

5. di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art

Sculpture in di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 5200 Sonoma Hwy, Napa, CA 94559

The Di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art is much more than a museum. The Napa Valley museum spans 200 acres, with the freedom to explore, picnic, or relax under the shady trees. Many people like to walk the two-mile loop through the center, but a convenient shuttle is also available.

The museum includes two large indoor galleries with hundreds of contemporary art pieces. In addition to the galleries, the museum has an outdoor sculpture garden. Sculpture Meadow is a winding 1/3-mile trail with 34 sculptures on display.

Similarly, the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art has a Courtyard that houses 32 contemporary art pieces and a Lakeside section with 11 sculptures. Winery Lake is between the indoor galleries, aptly named for the Napa Valley area.

Admission grants self-guided access to the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. However, public tours are available Friday through Sunday at no additional cost. To purchase tickets ahead of time, visit the museum’s website.

See Related: Things to Do in Venice Beach

6. Napa River

Aerial View of Downtown Napa
John / Adobe Stock

Address: 500 Main St, Napa, CA 94559

Many people visiting Napa Valley for the first time don’t realize there is a river in the middle of the city. However, the Napa River is 50 miles long, traveling from San Pablo Bay to St. Helena. This often-overlooked river provides endless options for outdoor family fun in Napa Valley.

The Napa River is fantastic for stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking, with several companies offering guided tours and rentals. Local wildlife, such as otters, beavers, Great Blue Herons, and Snowy Egrets, can also be seen. If you are near the tidal section of the river, you may even see a porpoise!

With a few different options for river access, boating is also a popular choice on the river. Several trails wind around the river, including the Wetlands Edge Trail in American Canyon and the Oxbow Preserve.

Lastly, the Napa River is a great spot to fish if you hope to catch native species such as Chinook salmon, sturgeon, or trout. The best way to admire this gorgeous river is from the water itself. Rent a kayak and explore the river with a guided tour, or do a full-experience of kayaking, biking, and wine-tasting tour!

See Related: Things to Do in Lancaster

7. Napa Valley Vine Trail

Biking on the Napa Valley Vine Trail
Napa Valley Vine Trail / Facebook

Address: 3299 Claremont Way #4, Napa, CA 94558

You might think the Napa Valley Vine Trail is another chance for wine tasting, but it’s actually a hiking and biking trail. The trail will eventually be 47 miles, but only 12.5 miles have been completed between Yountville and Kennedy Park.

The idea behind the trail happened in 2008 when the Vine Trail Coalition was formed. The coalition aimed to connect Napa Valley from the Vallejo Ferry to Calistoga. Although the trail will connect the two cities physically, they also wanted to use the trail to connect the area culturally and artistically.

The trail will wind through the wine country from historic Vallejo (at the ferry terminal) to Calistoga (at the Silverado Trail and Highway 29). With its start in Vallejo, the coalition hopes to bring visitors from the San Francisco Bay area.

Divided into ten sections, the trail will be named according to the city or American Viticultural Area (AVA) it goes through. Some planned sections include American Canyon, St. Helena, and the City of Napa.

This trail is a fantastic option for people of all ages for walking, hiking, or biking in Napa Valley. The scenery is fantastic as you journey through the sprawling vines from town to town.

For more information on the trail, check out their website. Want to see the Vine Trail but not on foot? Rent an electric bike for extra fun!

See Related: Most Famous Landmarks in California to Visit

8. Napa Art Walk

Sculpture in Napa Art Walk
Napa Art Walk / Facebook

Address: 1000 Main St, Napa, CA 94559, United States

The Napa Art Walk is a self-guided art tour through downtown Napa. The biennial art walk is currently showcasing ten sculptures by seven artists. A jury of local artists and art instructors chose the regional artists.

The current theme is Play!, which means the sculptures are playful. This City of Napa program promotes public art downtown, allowing artists to sell their sculptures.

This art installation will change again in 2023, so it’s best to check out the current sculptures before they are removed. Grab a glass of your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc while you’re downtown, as there are several tasting rooms!

Need a little extra info or context during your walk? Download the free Otocast app to listen to the Art Walk audio tour. When you come upon a specific sculpture, you can learn more about it by selecting that piece on the app. The artists recorded most of the audio, giving it a personal touch.

See Related: Things to Do in Ojai

9. Calistoga Hot Springs

Calistoga Spa Hot Springs Pool
CalistogaSpa / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Address: 1006 Washington St, Calistoga, California, 94515

Calistoga Hot Springs is a unique spa and hotel retreat in Napa Valley. Enjoy 104-degree temperatures in the hotel’s healing mineral water pools with the mountains in the background. The four mineral pools are under a covered patio, offering relaxation, healing, and rejuvenation.

Many ancient civilizations found mineral hot springs to be a source of healing. Thousands of years later, the ancient beliefs still hold. At the source, the mineral water is elevated to a temperature of 180 degrees using geothermal forces. Still, it is cooled to just over 100 degrees for a less intense experience in the actual pools.

After your session in the hot spring spas, you can get a mud bath with volcanic ash and then a massage. This is a family-friendly experience, so don’t hesitate to bring the kids. It’s also one of the most romantic things to do in Napa. Just imagine yourself sipping a glass of Cabernet in a robe after a hot springs day…

Visit the hotel’s website to book your stay or get more information. Alternatively, check availability and reviews of nearby hotels on Booking.com.

See Related: Things to Do in Monterey

10. Napa Valley Fly Guides

Fly Fishing on the Yuba River, California
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: located on Putah Creek, the Yuba River, or the American River, Napa, CA

Although you’re in wine country, don’t think you’re limited to wine tours and wine tasting all day. Napa Valley Fly Guides is your go-to service for Fly fishing. Starting in 2013, the guide service has taken all levels of fly fishers out on guided excursions, including beginners who didn’t know a thing about fly fishing before their trip.

The guides are licensed and have extensive knowledge of the Northern California rivers. The most common locations include the American River (usually in April or May), the Yuba River, and Putah Creek. However, upon request, the guides will take you to other rivers.

They can accommodate you, whether by yourself or in a group. The guide service provides all related gear, including rods and reels.

If you don’t already own waders and boots, they offer a selection for rent at $25 per person. Fly fishing is a catch-and-release sport, so don’t plan on bringing your prized catch back to your vacation rental to cook.

Customers must purchase day fishing licenses at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Visit their website, Napa Valley Fly Guides, for more information.

See Related: Things to Do in Pleasanton

11. Oxbow Public Market

Inside the Oxbow Public Market

Address: 610 1st St, Napa, CA 94559 

Located in downtown Napa, the Oxbow Public Market is a 40,000-square-foot destination for delicious food and wine. The marketplace features local farmers, artisan cafes, and local food vendors. Oxbow Public Market focuses on sustainably produced vegetables, fruits, and high-quality products.

Local red wine vinegar, olive oil, or other homemade goods might be found at this downtown Napa marketplace. You can sit outdoors along the river while eating wild Atlantic cod and drinking a glass of Pinot Noir. Visiting Napa Valley is an amazing experience with many wining and dining options, but the Oxbow Public Market is a great place to support local farmers and artisans.

Lastly, a few wine-tasting tours begin at Oxbow Market, so why not start with fresh food and shopping before heading out on a wine tour? Our recommended favorite is an open-air trolley tour, similar to the trolleys of San Francisco.

See Related: Best Vacation Rentals in California

12. Historic Napa Mill

Address: 500 Main Street, Napa, CA 94559

When you visit Napa Valley, the options for entertainment and fun are so endless that they can be overwhelming. If you’re looking for one lodging, shopping, and dining place, Historic Napa Mill is it. Located in downtown Napa, the Napa Mill is close to everything.

Stay at the Napa River Inn, a four-star Michelin hotel with only 66 rooms. Accommodations are comfortable and relaxing with the right amount of luxury.

Shopping includes Napa Valley souvenirs, local gifts like olive oil and red wine vinegar, wine, and locally-made chocolates. Dining options at the Napa Mill include Angèle, a French country restaurant, and Celadon’s Restaurant, a place for comfort food from around the world.

The convenience of the Historic Napa Mill makes it an extra delight, with restaurants and shops right next to luxurious accommodations. In the middle of it all lies a beautiful mosaic fountain attempting to capture Napa Valley’s history, both good and bad.

See Related: Things to Do in Lodi

13. Napa Valley Opera House

Napa Valley Opera House Building
Prayitno / Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Address: 1030 Main St, Napa, CA 94559

When the Napa Valley Opera House opened in 1880, Napa only had around 5,000 residents. However, the theatre thrived with various musicals and a variety of acts. Before it closed in 1914, the theater featured John Philip Sousa and his brass band, heavyweight boxer “Boston Strong Boy” John L. Sullivan, and author Jack London.

Unfortunately, the decline of vaudeville and damage from the San Francisco earthquake caused the opera house to close in 1914. Over the next seventy years, the theater’s space was used for various commercial offices. In 1973, the opera house’s building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1985, a non-profit group was formed to gather donations to restore the former opera house building. Local vintner Robert Mondavi and his wife Margrit donated over $2 million toward the project, hoping to spur other large donations.

After the fundraising effort was complete and the Napa Opera House was restored, its grand re-opening was on August 1, 2003, with a special performance by Rita Moreno. While the venue does not yet have any planned events, a visit to see the historic architecture of the building is well worth the trip.

See Related: Vacation Planning Templates for Your Next Trip

14. Connolly Ranch

Connolly Ranch
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 3141 Browns Valley Road, Napa, CA 94558

Connolly Ranch is one of the best attractions in Napa for a family-friendly outing. Children can learn about natural science and stewardship with the ranch’s chickens, ducks, miniature horses, sheep, and donkeys.

The ranch also aims to use their farm-fresh eggs in Farm-to-Table cooking projects and use fiber from the goats and sheep for all sorts of crafts. Children particularly love the outdoor play space in the educational garden, where they can explore roly pollies, worms, and lizards.

The ranch also prides itself on its “wild spaces,” where visitors can hike through a live oak habitat, meditate with Grandmother Oak, or learn about waterfowl at the Duck Pond. It’s fun to bring a picnic and enjoy the natural beauty in their natural play space, the Grove. After lunch, kids (and adults) can learn woodcraft skills at the Village while fort building!

The Ranch offers weekend and annual events as well as a virtual classroom. Are your kids interested in exploring nature at a Saturday camp while in Napa? Check out their website for information on events and open farm times.

See Related: Things to Do in Ridgecrest

15. Go on a Hot Air Balloon Ride!

Hot Air Balloon Flying Over Napa Valley

Address: Vintners Golf Club, 7901 Solano Ave, Yountville, CA 94599, USA

What better way to view this glorious part of the world than from a bird’s eye view? Trick question, there just isn’t!

One of the most life-changing experiences that made me fall in love with travel is the hot air balloon flight I took over Napa Valley right after college. Snapping pics and gawking at the rolling hills and countless vineyards is utterly spellbinding.

There are many opportunities and operators to choose from when looking for the right balloon flight. This hot air balloon tour in Yountville offers hot drinks (or even booze!) to accompany the stellar views!

See Related: Vacation Destinations for Couples

16. Skyline Wilderness Park

Trail in Skyline Wilderness Park

Address: 2201 Imola Ave, Napa, CA 94559

As you will have no doubt figured out by now, with almost constantly perfect weather and gorgeous landscapes, Napa Valley is best enjoyed outdoors. Few places can embody this better than Skyline Wilderness Park in Napa.

Great pains have been taken to preserve the natural surroundings of this stunning expanse. Consequently, there is a small entry fee (with annual passes available too). But it’s well worth it!

There are around 25 miles worth of hiking and biking trails to explore and rolling green spaces to enjoy all outdoor activities, including bird watching, fishing, and picnicking.

There’s also a stunning 18-hole disc golf course, as well as several sites to go camping and pitch a tent or park your RV. You can even test your aim at the Silverado Archery Club! It’s worth noting that while you can drive through the park and even enjoy horseback riding, dogs are not permitted.

See Related: Things to Do in Healdsburg

17. The French Laundry

Address: 6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

The French Laundry almost needs no introduction – but I will do it anyway because this renowned restaurant is simply fabulous and one of the most sought-after fine-dining restaurants in the country.

Chef Thomas Keller sources the best produce Napa Valley can provide (including many wines) to create mouthwatering meals and expert wine pairings. Thanks to his hard work and vision, this globally famous restaurant holds not one or two but three(!) Michelin Stars.

Interested yet? The French Laundry serves two tasting menus daily in a charming farmhouse setting amidst beautiful surroundings. Reservations are essential!

See Related: Where To Stay In Napa Valley

Tours in Napa Valley

1. Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley Including Lunch Top Recommendation

Welcome to the Sonoma Valley Wine Trolley! Join us for a unique wine country experience aboard our historic trolley. Our full-day tour takes you through Sonoma’s picturesque winemaking region, with stops at three different wineries.

2. San Francisco: Small-Group Sonoma Wine Tour with Tastings

Looking for an intimate and unique wine-tasting experience in Sonoma Valley? Our San Francisco: Small-Group Sonoma Wine Tour is perfect for you! You'll visit three carefully-selected boutique wineries, enjoy tastings at each one, and learn about the history of California wine.

3. Wine Country Hot-Air Balloon Ride from Yountville, CA

Looking for an unforgettable way to see Napa Valley? A hot-air balloon ride from Yountville is the perfect way to take in the stunning scenery of Wine Country. You’ll float above the vineyards, following ideal weather patterns for an unparalleled view of the area.

How to Get Around Napa Valley

Panoramic Napa Valley vineyards with rolling hills and blue skies
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Napa Valley has plenty of transportation options, but you’ll find that it’s also a pedestrian and bike-friendly town. While many hotels offer free bike rentals, bike rental companies such as Fat Tire Bike Rentals, Napa Valley Bike Shop, and Napa Valley eBikes exist.

Some companies will even deliver bikes to your hotel, Airbnb, or vacation rental on Vrbo. This map of the key trails and surrounding towns might be helpful when traveling around Napa Valley by bike.

The Vine is the fixed-route bus system in Napa County. Daily routes go the length of Napa Valley and go to the Vallejo Ferry terminal. The Napa Valley Transportation Authority website includes additional transportation options in Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, and the American Canyon.

You can rent through Enterprise and Alamo if you want the flexibility of having your car, which will also give you a chance to enjoy a number of the iconic scenic drives in the region. It’s a good idea to get it sorted with a platform such as RentalCars.com, as you’ll get multiple rental car companies’ pricing in one dashboard.

If you’re looking to take a tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled automatic rickshaw, to explore the wineries of Napa Valley, contact Laces and Limos for information. If you have a large group, you may consider a private shuttle for transportation, including We Drive, Apex Limousine, or Napa Tours and Chauffeur.

See Related: Northern California vs Southern California

FAQ

What is Napa Valley known for?

Although Napa Valley is primarily known as a wine destination, its hot springs are a great way to relax after a long day of hiking or wine tours. There are many hot springs in the area, including Indian Springs and Calistoga Springs.  

Is Napa Valley worth visiting?

Absolutely! Napa Valley is a premier destination for wine tasting at Round Pond Estate and for dining at gourmet restaurants like The French Laundry. For a casual experience, have lunch at Hog Island Oyster Bar at Oxbow Market for fresh oysters and seafood.

Head home from visiting Napa Valley with fresh olive oil and maybe even a piece of fine art from local artists. So yes, please visit Napa Valley.

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