California, Travel Guide

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?

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

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.

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

Soaring above Wine Country: Hot Air Balloon Ride in Napa

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

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!

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

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.

a non wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

Photo via Flickr by Wally Gobetz/Edited exposure

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

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.

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

Photo via Flickr by Tristan Schmurr/Edited exposure

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

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.

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

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.

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

Photo via Flickr by Tim Berger

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

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!

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

a non-wine drinker's guide to Napa Valley

 

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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48 Comments

  1. Joy

    May 23, 2016 at 12:01 am

    A lot of this list is really good but I don’t understand why there’s all kinds of info about wine tasting and sampling wines. I thought it was a post for NON wine lovers. But otherwise good info!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      May 23, 2016 at 12:16 am

      Hi there Joy! Thanks for liking the list! That’s actually understandable that you said that since it did say it’s a guide for NON wine drinkers. My reason for adding the wine tasting is because of my personal experience. I’m not a wine lover (aside from the occasional sweet wine I drink when I feel like it) at all. But since I was in Napa Valley, I thought I might as well give it a try and see what the fuss is all about. I didn’t like most of the wines I tasted but I did enjoy the experience and learning about wine and how it’s made. And since traveling is all about learning and experiencing new things, I suggested for people to try it anyway. Who knows, maybe they might end up acquiring a taste for wine. 🙂

  2. Sally

    May 23, 2016 at 2:56 am

    Wow looks amazing! I love wine though so no issues for me there 😉

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      May 23, 2016 at 11:21 am

      Thanks Sally! That’s awesome then, you’ll fit right in in Napa!

  3. Amanda Williams

    May 23, 2016 at 4:05 am

    This is a great idea for a post. I went to Napa Valley with a boyfriend who didn’t drink wine and he was determined that it wasn’t for him before we even arrived! But the beautiful scenery, great hiking, and good food should be enough to tempt anyone!!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      May 23, 2016 at 11:31 am

      Thanks Amanda! Glad you agree. The beautiful scenery alone persuaded me to take a trip to Napa. Hope you can go back and see what else Napa has to offer.

  4. Sarah from Tales From a Fork

    May 23, 2016 at 4:14 am

    I love your different perspective on napa valley. My husband really wants to go but I’m not soo thrilled, and this post has made me more excited. Hot air balloon during the weekday for only $200! Bookmarking this just for that tip.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      May 23, 2016 at 11:33 am

      Thanks Sarah! My husband and I felt the same way about Napa. We weren’t sure if we should go but the hot air balloon ride and the beautiful scenery definitely persuaded us to take a chance on Napa. And it paid off! Hope you can visit soon. 🙂

  5. Nina

    May 23, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    I find it great to list options for non drinkers in this post. Personally i can see myself enjoying also the wine tours, the wine train looks interesting tour. If you liked Napa, when you come to Europe you should visit Karst region in Slovenia, very similar region!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      May 24, 2016 at 1:56 am

      Even though I’m not a wine drinker, I actually did enjoy the wine tours. Thanks for the suggestion Nina! I’ll definitely look into that. 🙂

  6. Voyager

    May 24, 2016 at 12:14 am

    Napa valley has so much to offer than just wine, it is a veritable treasure trove of natural sights and activities. I would love biking and exploring this lovely region.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      May 24, 2016 at 2:26 am

      Glad you agree! I know a lot of people that shy away from Napa because they think there’s nothing else to do there besides the obvious. Hopefully this article clears that up. 🙂

  7. Svetoslav Dimitrov

    May 24, 2016 at 12:26 am

    Great tips, Janna!

    I love all your photos – the balloon, the delectable food, the macaroons, and the wine… Oh!

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      May 24, 2016 at 2:19 am

      Thanks Svet for liking the photos and appreciating the tips I shared here. 🙂

  8. Inez

    May 26, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    There are is so much MORE to see and fo in the Napa Valley than wine tasting. Just exploring the area and outer areas cannot be done in one trip. My IG proves this (ms_inez). Lol

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      May 26, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      So true! I’m glad you agree. I have yet to check out the outer areas you speak of. Hopefully I’ll be back soon. 🙂

  9. Richard Hellwege

    May 26, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Going again in September from St Louis. Plan on hiking, eating at Gott’s, Mustards, Bistro Jeanty. Did wine train – dome car is a must. Taking in Heildsberg along the way. Would like to know favorite trails off of 29.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      May 26, 2016 at 4:11 pm

      Awesome Richard! Hope you have a great time exploring Napa. 🙂

  10. Deborah Todd

    May 26, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    I live here and am not much of a wine drinker. I would suggest hiking and picnicking in the parks you mentioned. Also, there is often good entertainment here including a vibrant theater community : check out CalistogaTheaterCompany. com. Shows at the Lincoln Theater, the Uptown, etc. There is a good museum on the grounds of the Veteran’s Home in Yountville. While in Calistoga go swimming at their wonderful community pool or get a spa treatment/ massage/ and pool experience in the geyser waters. There is a geyser at the north end of the valley that is pretty neat also.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      May 26, 2016 at 10:03 pm

      Thanks for the suggestions Deborah! I didn’t know they have a theater community there. Sounds like a great way to spend a night out after all the wine tastings. And whoa a geyser in California? That IS pretty neat! 🙂

  11. Carmen's Luxury Travel

    May 28, 2016 at 12:34 am

    This is such a great guide and hot air balloon looks incredible. I absolutely love your photos! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      May 30, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      Thanks Carmen! Glad you liked the guide and the photos. 🙂

  12. Kerri

    May 28, 2016 at 1:09 am

    Stunning location and there is clearly so much to do here whether you are a drinker or not. Like so many of the wineries in Australia that I am familiar with, they follow a similar path. So much to do other than wine taste. As for me, I’m rather partial to wine tasting so would love the wine flight card and would definitely be in there tasting. The bike rides and the train rides would be something I would do also.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 7, 2016 at 11:08 pm

      That’s awesome, I didn’t know they have wineries in Australia. What kind of activities they have there aside from wine tasting? I’m curious to know. The wine card is definitely a great deal and it’s very convenient way for people to go wine tasting.

  13. Sabrina Barbante

    May 28, 2016 at 1:41 am

    Wowowo, as an Italian wine drinker and lover, I love to discover other places where grapes and wineyards are so stunning! In this pics I’d say it’s even much better than Tuscany. To see it all from above must have been such a great experience! LOVE IT

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 7, 2016 at 11:11 pm

      Oh wow really? Better than Tuscany? Hmm. That’s very good for Napa then haha! Yes it was amazing to see unparalleled views of Napa. You should check it out too Sabrina!

  14. Meg Jerrard

    May 28, 2016 at 6:47 am

    MIke and I aren’t big wine drinkers either, though we didn’t pass up the opportunity when driving through California to visit Napa Valley. Loved our visit to Castello di Amorosa, and your photos have brought back some wonderful memories. Totally agree that exploring the castle is worth the entrance fee in it’s own right – we had a really fabulous day 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 8, 2016 at 12:41 am

      It’s great that there’s alternative activities for people who aren’t big wine drinkers like us. Castello was beautiful and was definitely worth the fee. I did enjoy the wine tasting and found out that I’ll always be a dessert wine type of gal. 😀

  15. mark wyld

    May 28, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    looks like an amazing region to visit and one certainly worth visiting. Its very picturesque. The hot air balloon trip looks amazing it must be something to do with wine regions. They do these just near Melbourne Australia in the Yarra valley which is a big wine region as well.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 8, 2016 at 12:50 am

      Yeah I read from one of the comments here that Australia has a really nice wine region too. That’s fascinating! Definitely unexpected. Would love to see it in person.

  16. Adonis Villanueva

    May 28, 2016 at 11:55 pm

    I spent many a days exploring Napa valley. I call Sacramento my home and Napa is just a short jaunt away. Check out the Devil’s Punchbowl hike, it’s got a nice waterfall and generally a pleasant trail 🙂

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 7, 2016 at 11:04 pm

      Oh that’s nice, just a short drive to Napa. I’ve heard about Devil’s Punchbowl. I’ll definitely check it out next time I visit. Thanks for the tip!

  17. Vicki Louise

    May 29, 2016 at 4:19 am

    Hot air ballooning, yummy food (and the wine!) – what more could you want.. well I would love to go on the wine train, it looks amazing!! Great tips!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 7, 2016 at 11:02 pm

      Right?? Those 3 alone should persuade someone to visit Napa. Thanks so much Vicki! 🙂

  18. Mary

    May 29, 2016 at 10:52 am

    This is great information. I don;t know much about being a non drinker but I do like to explore beyond just wine so this will come in handy as I’m planning a trip there soon. Looks so beautiful and since I adore wine as well seems like a great spot to visit.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 7, 2016 at 11:00 pm

      That’s great to know. Hope you enjoy doing some or all of the activities listed here. You’ll definitely enjoy visiting Napa Valley! Have fun Mary!

  19. Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren

    May 29, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Oh yummmmmm. Pulled pork sandwiches are my weakness. Your photos are really beautiful. I love castles so you’ve basically convinced me 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 7, 2016 at 10:56 pm

      That’s awesome! High five for liking pulled pork sandwiches. Thank you Lauren for liking the photos. And I’m really glad I convinced you. That makes me super happy! 🙂

  20. Natalie Deduck

    May 29, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Great tips Janna!!
    I love wine, so that reason enough to visit Napa Valley. But the hot air ballon and the bike expedition add some extra fun and adventure to this amazing place!! Love it! Didn’t know they hot ballon flight there, one more destination to put on my list!

    Cheers,

    Nat

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 7, 2016 at 10:54 pm

      Thanks Natalie!! The bike ride and hot air balloon ride would be my top 2 as well. Its definitely a great alternative to visiting wineries all day. 🙂

  21. Jenna

    May 29, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    Great list–I love wineries, but it’s nice to include some different activities in the mix as well. While all the possibilities sound fun, I think cruising by hike and the hot air balloon would be my favorite!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 7, 2016 at 10:52 pm

      Thanks Jenna for liking the list. Those two would be my top 2 as well! I love bike rides and hot air balloon rides are awesome!

  22. Rachel Pearson

    May 30, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    Such great alternatives to see and do, I would LOVE to take a balloon ride at sunrise, it sounds magical! Also I am obsessed with castles, so Castello di Amorosa would definitely be on my list!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      June 7, 2016 at 10:51 pm

      You’re definitely not alone Rachel. A bunch of people would love to do the balloon ride at sunrise. If you love castles, you should definitely visit Castello di Amorosa. It’s not as grand as some of the castles in Europe I’m sure but it’s charming and beautiful inside. 🙂

  23. Rhianon

    November 22, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Looks like you had a great time! Napa is amazing. One of my favorite things to do there is take a kayaking tour. It’s a great way to get a different perspective of the Napa Valley. I totally recommend https://enjoy-napa-valley.com/ for a tour company- they’re awesome.

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      December 10, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      I did have an amazing time! I’d love to go back and visit again someday. I’ve never done a kayaking tour. Maybe on my next visit I’ll try that!

  24. Vacations with Mom

    December 6, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    Really great suggestions! I was just talking to my mom today about going to Napa for her birthday and I’m going to share with her a bunch of items from your list. Thanks!

    1. Janna C.

      Janna C.

      December 10, 2016 at 4:44 pm

      Thank you! Glad you like my suggestions. I’m sure your mom will love the ideas I have here. Hope you guys have a great time in Napa! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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