A Non-Wine Drinker’s Guide to Napa Valley
Most people travel to Napa Valley for the obvious reason, to go wine tasting. Home to over 500 wineries, Napa Valley’s perfect climate and soil makes it one of the premier places to sample some of the best wines in the world. But what happens when you’re a non-wine drinker? Do you just avoid Napa Valley altogether? Or do you take a chance and explore what the world famous wine country has to offer?
Earlier this year, I spent my birthday in San Francisco with my family and my husband, James. Even though I’ve been to San Francisco numerous times, I’ve never really felt the itch to drive to Napa Valley despite only being an hour drive away. Since James and I are not big wine drinkers, we didn’t think we had any business going there. What do you do anyway when you visit one of the world’s leading wine growing regions besides drink wine? Nothing, right? Or so we thought..
Ride a hot air balloon
While the rest of Napa sleeps, head to Yountville and go on a peaceful hot air balloon ride. Soar above vineyards and enjoy unobstructed bird’s-eye views of wine country below while watching the sun rise across picturesque mountains. Read more about my experience by clicking this LINK.
Insider tip: Napa Valley Aloft is currently offering a weekday special $200 balloon ride.
Feast on yummy food
Napa is not only known for their wines but also for their delicious food so narrowing down the best places to eat is not an easy task. But since I like you guys, I already did it for you. This mouthwatering pulled pork sandwich – that I devoured – can be found at Bounty Hunter Wine Bar and Smokin’ BBQ in Downtown Napa. For dessert, there’s really no need to look far because Bouchon Bakery’s (in Yountville) tasty treats will surely satisfy your cravings. Other notable restaurants to try in Napa: Hog Island Oyster Company, Solbar, Boon Fly Cafe, Farmstead, Market, Cole’s Chop House and Thomas Keller’s culinary gems, The French Laundry & Ad hoc.
Insider tip: Order a side of the jalapeño cornbread from Bounty Hunter. It’s so moist and flavorful, you won’t regret getting it!
Stroll through Downtown Napa & visit Oxbow Public Market
Downtown Napa is charming to say the least. With gourmet food, shopping boutiques, wine tasting rooms and nightlife within walking distance, Napa’s downtown area is the place to be. After you meander around Napa River Trail, head to the vibrant Oxbow Public Market where visitors and locals gather to share their love for food and wine. Here you will find a smorgasbord of treats such as organic goods, produce, chocolates, pastries, wine & cheese. Anything you might need for a picnic, you can definitely find it here.
Insider tip: Purchase the Downtown Napa Wine Tasting Card for $30 and sample wines at 8 different tasting rooms and wine bars. Using your card, your initial tasting is only $10 cents! The best part? You can park your car for free and walk to multiple tasting rooms. It’s a safe and convenient way to go wine tasting.
Photo via Flickr by Wally Gobetz/Edited exposure
Cruise around Napa on a bike
Pedal your way through the valley and take in the scenic views while getting in shape. This is definitely one of the unique ways to experience Napa Valley. You can either rent your own bike and do a self-guided tour of the wineries or you can go with a tour guide so you don’t get lost along the way. Some companies have tour packages where you can visit 3-5 wineries and it also includes a catered picnic lunch.
Insider tip: The Silverado trail is one of the popular bike trails in the area that offers 30 miles of picturesque views of rolling hills, vineyards and farm fields.
Photo via Flickr by Tristan Schmurr/Edited exposure
Photo via Flickr by Andre P. Meyer-Vitali/Edited exposure
Board the Napa Valley Wine Train
Journey back in time and hop on a restored 20th century Pullman rail car. While the train traverses through the valley, dig into the freshly made three-course gourmet meal prepared by their very own culinary team. The train ride will definitely give you a strong rush of nostalgia.
Insider tip: Although a bit pricier than the others, the Vista Dome Car dining experience is worth it! It has limited seating which offers a more intimate experience.
Photo from Napa Valley Wine Train website
Go on a nature hike
Admire Napa’s raw beauty further by going on a nature hike. It’s undoubtedly one of the adventurous ways to explore the valley. Notable hiking trails to try are: Bothe Napa Valley State Park, Kennedy Park, Moore Creek Park, Robert Louis Stevenson State Park and Skyline Wilderness Park.
Photo via Flickr by Tim Berger
Photo via Flickr by Eugene Kim
Explore a Tuscan castle and sample (or not) wines
Just because you don’t drink wine, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. Although I’m not a big wine drinker and only drink dessert wines occasionally, that didn’t stop me from visiting Castello di Amorosa, a 13th-century Tuscan castle and winery located in Calistoga. We purchased the guided tour and premium wine tasting for $40 per person and that includes a guided tour of the castle, barrel tasting and tasting of 5 of their premium wines in one of their private tasting bars. Tours are approximately 1-2 hours in length. I didn’t like most of the wines I tasted but I did enjoy the experience and learning about the how wine is made.
Insider tip: Tasting wine 101: Swirl, Smell and Sip. Remember: Don’t drink and drive!
Have you been to Napa Valley? What’s your favorite thing to do there besides drink wine?
Let me know in the comment section below.
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