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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Napa on the cheap

Yeah, I know, this blog has "Sonoma" in the title,  but Napa is just over the hill.   I mean it's not like I'm giving recommendations for your Mexican vacation ...

Geography

Some parts of Napa Valley are more expensive just because they are cute.  This would be Yountville and St. Helena so most anything you do there is bound to cost a more, especially the lodging and often the restaurants.  At opposite ends of the valley the towns of Napa and Calistoga will generally be less expensive.  The town of Napa has lots of options for rooms and restaurants.   Some folks will stay outside of Napa Valley, maybe an hours drive or more, to save money, but I wouldn't want the long drive after wine tasting or after dinner at night.

Calistoga

Wine tasting

There are a very few wineries still offering free tastings.  There are a few more that will at least refund your tasting fee if you purchase.  Napa websites that will give you (hopefully) up-to-date information are napavintners.com and napavalley.com, or you can Google something like "napa valley free tasting."  Last I knew August Briggs and Heitz had complimentary tastings.

Typically Napa Valley wineries charge about $20/each for a tasting so if you and a significant other are spending a few days this will get into real money.   At these places you should plan on sharing a tasting.  There are several tasting rooms in the five-to-ten dollar range. Look for 2-for-1 wine tasting coupons online. Do your homework before you go and you'll save money.

As far as I know Clos Pegase and Mumm have the only free guided winery tours.

But Yountville is much cuter
Eating

There are lots of expensive restaurants that will be happy to charge the two of you in excess of $100 for a meal.  It's nice to do this once in a while, but 200 bucks a day to eat gets into real money after a couple days.
There are diner-type establishments like Gotts (aka Taylors Refresher) or Busters BBQ where two people can eat for $25 or less.  Tra Vigne's pizza kitchen is reasonable.  My favorite moderately priced restaurants are the Rutherford Grill and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen (though it's been awhile since I've been to either).

Or for lunch pick up a sandwich or some bread and cheese at a market and have a picnic if the weather is cooperating.

Sleeping

I have nothing specific to recommend as I've never stayed overnight in Napa Valley, but the town of Napa will be your best bet.  Another option is over the hill in Santa Rosa (about a half hour drive from Calistoga at the north end of Napa Valley).   The bigger towns of Napa and Santa Rosa offer more choices so they will have better prices.

Other stuff

Hiking - For the adventurous there's Robert Louis Stevenson Park north of the valley. For easier hikes there's Bothe-Napa State Park in the valley and Napa Valley Skyline Park to the south.

Wineries where you can see art for free:
  • Clos Pegase - Architecture and the owner's private art collection.
  • Hess - Art collection
  • Mumm - Usually has a photography display.
The town of Napa has various events such as farmers' markets and street fairs.

Sonoma County

Of course, if you don't like Napa prices you'll find almost everything less expensive in Sonoma.   Free wine tastings are not as common as they once were, but most wineries are five or ten dollars and will refund your fee with a purchase.  Plus you'll find the wines are generally less expensive.

A couple good resources for exploring Sonoma County are wineroad.com and sonomavalleywine.com.