24 Hours in Napa Valley, California

If you have a free day to spend in wine country, here's what you can do.

If you have an upcoming business trip to northern California, the idea of extending your stay and experiencing Napa Valley is a no brainer. I’ve done that several times. It’s less than 90 minutes from San Francisco and Oakland airports. And Napa Valley offers unique landscapes, amazing cuisine, boutique shops, spa resorts and wine education.

  • Beringer Caves Front Room Beringer Caves Front Room Courtesy image
  • Villagio Inn & Spa Pool Villagio Inn & Spa Pool Courtesy image
  • Artesa Winery Artesa Winery Courtesy of Visit Napa Valley
  • Villagio Spa Aqua Suite Villagio Spa Aqua Suite Courtesy image
  • Beringer Old Winery Retail Shop Beringer Old Winery Retail Shop Courtesy image
  • Mustards Grill Dining Room Mustards Grill Dining Room Courtesy image
  • V Marketplace in Yountville V Marketplace in Yountville Courtesy of Visit Napa Valley
  • Inside Mustards Grill Inside Mustards Grill Courtesy image
  • Gotts Roadside in St. Helena CA Gotts Roadside in St. Helena CA Courtesy image
  • Stags Leap Vineyards Stags Leap Vineyards Courtesy of Visit Napa Valley
  • V Marketplace Barrelroom Conference Image V Marketplace Barrelroom Conference Image Courtesy of Villagio Inn & Spa
  • Villagio Inn & Spa Lobby Villagio Inn & Spa Lobby Courtesy image
  • Wine Harvest in Napa Valley Wine Harvest in Napa Valley Courtesy of Visit Napa Valley
  • Robert Mondavi in the Vineyard Robert Mondavi in the Vineyard Courtesy image
  • Cindy Pawlcyns Garden Is More Like a Small Farm Cindy Pawlcyns Garden Is More Like a Small Farm Courtesy image
  • Summer Sunset in Napa Valley Summer Sunset in Napa Valley Courtesy of Visit Napa Valley
  • Villagio Inn & Spa King Guest Room Villagio Inn & Spa King Guest Room Courtesy image
  • Villagio Inn & Spa Fountain Villagio Inn & Spa Fountain Courtesy image
  • Vines at Mumm Napa Valley Vines at Mumm Napa Valley Courtesy image
  • Beringer Rhine House Beringer Rhine House Courtesy image
  • Villagio Inn & Spa Villagio Suite Villagio Inn & Spa Villagio Suite Courtesy image
  • Villagio Inn & Spa Vintage Estate Meeting Room Villagio Inn & Spa Vintage Estate Meeting Room Courtesy image
  • Mustards Grill in Napa California Mustards Grill in Napa California Courtesy image
  • Mumm Napa Valley Mumm Napa Valley Courtesy image
  • Robert Mondavi Sculpture Robert Mondavi Sculpture Courtesy image
  • Robert Mondavi First Year Barrels Robert Mondavi First Year Barrels Courtesy image
  • Ahi Burger at Gotts Roadside Ahi Burger at Gotts Roadside Courtesy image
  • Wine and the Vineyard View from Mumm Napas Terrace Wine and the Vineyard View from Mumm Napas Terrace Courtesy image
  • Mumm Napas Oak Terrace Mumm Napas Oak Terrace Courtesy image

Here’s how you make the most of 24 hours in wine country:

11:30 a.m. – Lunch at Gott’s Roadside, St. Helena

Even though your wine tasting for the day should only include a few small sips along the way, make sure you eat first. And St. Helena is an excellent spot for you to begin – at Gott’s Roadside. Everyone stops here. And it is exactly as the name implies: a roadside stand. But this is in Napa Valley, so you’re going to find California-casual American classics that were recognized by the James Beard Foundation in 2006.

Go ahead and order a burger – perhaps the ahi burger – and fries. Enjoy your lunch under an umbrella on an outdoor picnic table (and they have great milk shakes).

The Taylor family established the roadside stand along Main Street in 1949. While various others have leased the property from them over the years, the Gott brothers have been there since 1999.

1:00 p.m. – Taste and Learn About Wine

Napa Valley is one of the most well known wine regions in the world. It’s just 30 miles long and five miles wide. And while this may seem small, the geography is vastly different, allowing Napa Valley to have 16 different American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and more than 400 wineries. Now that’s where you can get a wine education. If it’s your first visit or if you haven’t been there in a while, choose one vineyard and take a tour (check their schedules before arriving):

  • Beringer Vineyards, St. Helena
    Beringer’s history dates back to 1868, and they have two different wine tours: the 30-minute “Legacy Cave Tour” and the 60-minute “Taste of Beringer Tour.” The “legacy” tour takes you exclusively into the cave, where you’ll learn about Beringer’s history and get a chance to taste three wines. The “taste” tour includes the cave experience (including a cabernet tasting), but you will also learn about the winemaking process, explore the old winery and go through the historic tunnels. You then go to the Rhine House for a sit-down, hosted tasting and learn about pairings. Beringer has three gift shops (one of the largest selections among wineries in Napa).
  • Mumm Napa, Rutherford
    Mumm hosts hourly tours that offer an in-depth look at Mumm Napa’s state-of-the-art equipment and how they follow the traditional wine making techniques of its French heritage to create its sparkling wines (combining chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes). You can also just relax in the winery’s tasting room – which is more like a café with indoor and outdoor seating options and breathtaking views. The estate also houses two large art exhibition spaces: the Main Galley, showing rotating collections of world-class fine art photography, and the Private Collection Gallery, featuring more than two dozen signed works of famed photographer Ansel Adams.
  • Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville
    Mondavi is the classic choice for wine tours in Napa Valley, and the first vineyard I ever visited. They offer several different tours that range between 30 and 90-minutes. If you want to up the ante on your wine tasting skills, their “Signature Tour and Tasting,” led by a wine specialist, lasts 90-minutes and includes a walk through the historic To Kalon Vineyard and cellars and concludes with a guided wine tasting. Mondavi’s “Excusive Cellar” tour is a private seated tasting of four reserve wines with a cheese and charcuterie accompaniment. Regardless of the tour you choose, you’ll definitely leave with a better appreciation for swirling, aeration and how to taste throughout your palette.

As wineries go, a few of my other favorites where I have visited include Artesa (a Spanish-owned winery with amazing 360 degree views of Carneros), Clos Pegase (blends elements of architecture into the winery, and has an amazing cave) and Domaine Carneros (known for its sparkling wines and pinot noirs, and the winery is inspired by an 18th century French chateau).

You have scores of great choices. It’s my understanding that Schramsberg Vineyards also has one of the better wine tastings (by appointment only), so I may visit there at a future time. And newer ones are showing up all the time. Just the other day I visited my neighborhood wine shop and they were hosting a tasting of Materra, a small winery opened by a Midwesterner (and the Sauvignon Blanc was crisp and refreshing).

And there’s a reasonably good chance that you have already enjoyed many different Napa Valley wines at home or on the road. If that’s the case, maybe you’ll want to visit one of their tasting rooms instead.

3:00 p.m. – Shop at Culinary Institute of America, St. Helena

After your tasting, you’ll only have a short amount of time to get to one or two shops to buy gifts for someone else or possibly yourself. Go to Spice Islands Marketplace at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone. It’s on the smaller side, but they have wine glasses, cutting boards, apparel and tools.

They carry cooking tools by Rosle, such as tongs, spatulas, measuring spoons, measuring cups, etc. You’ll find spices by Spice House and vinegars from local companies such as Sparrow Lane and Katz. And then there’s their own line: the CIA Master Collection. It includes tools, towels, linens and more. Plus, you have a lot of choices to bring back something from the kids’ section, too.

The CIA has excellent views of Napa Valley and was originally built as a winery. Today, it is home to one of the most inspiring culinary campuses in the country. It’s perched about a mile above St. Helena’s small strip of downtown shops – where you’ll find art, clothing, shoes and even a couple wine stores.

4:00 p.m. – Check-In at Villagio Inn & Spa, Yountville

Located in Yountville (a lovely, little town in the heart of Napa Valley), this 4-star hotel has a Tuscan-theme and Mediterranean-style gardens throughout the property. The hotel is setup like a countryside village in Tuscany – designed with two-story buildings that are clustered and have cobblestone walkways and beautiful landscaping. Its iconic fountain flows through the center main walkway. It has a pool and whirlpool that is accessible to all guests 24-hours a day, and I have used both later in the evening.

Villagio has 112 guest rooms (including 26 suites). Each room has a fireplace, a private patio or balcony with sitting area, down comforters and a complimentary bottle of wine waiting for you upon arrival (a great way to end your night).

Breakfast is also covered as part of your stay. Villagio sets up an omelet station in their lobby as well as a buffet inside their restaurant. One of the most memorable aspects from my stay there was that they have complimentary lemonade and iced tea on the property (Villagio also offers complimentary high tea for guests between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.).

Connected to Villagio is V Marketplace 1870. It has several specialty shops where you can find art, apparel, jewelry, wine (and tastings), chocolate, hats and more (a great spot to add in some quick shopping between your schedule). On the other side of V Marketplace is Vintage Inn, a 5-star, French country-style resort that has 80 rooms, including four villas (renovated in March 2015 and Villagio’s sister property).

5:00 p.m. – Get a Treatment at Spa Villagio 

Wellness is an important part of your “me-time,” and this spa incorporates the hotel’s Italian-theme and has five private spa suites. Head there in your robe or use their changing facilities (separate for men and women), but arrive 45 minutes early to enjoy the lemon grass steam room, dry sauna, outdoor hydrotherapy tubs and/or the indoor lounge before your treatment.

If you’re looking to continue the wine theme with your spa experience, “grapes” are integrated into the “Illuminating and Oxygenating” facial (50-minutes) as well as the “Tranquility” body treatment (100-minutes).

If you prefer a massage but you don’t get them frequently, stick with the basics: The “Wellness” massage is a relaxing, full-body, European-style massage that is similar to a Swedish massage.

Spa Villagio offers signature treatments, massages, body treatments, facials, and manicures and pedicures. They use a mixture of products, depending on skin condition and preference. These include Eminence Skin Care (all natural) and organic products.

7:00 p.m. – Dine at Mustards Grill, Napa

Napa Valley has some of the best dining you’ll find. Go for new American cuisine at Mustards, a restaurant that has an extensive wine selection – more than 800. The professional wait staff can suggest a wine pairing for your meal. Mustards has a cozy yet comfortable atmosphere (think dark wood with checkered marble floors).

The menu reflects a mix of options from their wood burning grill and oven, such as fresh fish, house smoked duck, Mongolian pork chop (very popular), lamb and burgers, as well as seasonal dishes. You’ll receive a hearty portion, but Mustards is also one of those restaurants where you’ll want to indulge in a dessert, too (the lemon-lime tart is popular).

Cindy Pawlcyn is one of the leading names in the culinary scene in Napa Valley, and she established Mustards Grill more than 30 years ago (opened in 1983). She has been creating her dishes using her own organic garden that’s just outside the restaurant for years – long before it became popular elsewhere. She doubled the production of the garden in 2015, so it’s now more like a farm. Locals even stop by to pick up their produce to go, and they have a farm stand on the weekends in the summer.

9:00 p.m. – Enjoy Nightlife in Napa Valley

While you can always find one or two places that are open late, Napa Valley tends to close earlier (10 p.m. or 11 p.m.). If you’d like to end the night with a little bit of entertainment, you need to stay on schedule (and check times because they vary).

One idea is to listen to live music at Silo’s in Napa. It’s an intimate club with seating around the stage. Depending on the night, their shows include blues, jazz, rock, reggae or Motown (Wednesday through Saturday). Silo’s has been described as an intimate hideaway. I’d like to check them out on my next visit to Napa.

Or relax back in Yountville and go to chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega Napa Valley (I definitely want to get there, too). What’s even better is that it’s an easy walk from Villagio. Famous for its regional Italian cuisine, the restaurant’s interior is rustic and refined. But the bar is also lively, plus there’s an outdoor covered terrazzo with 40 seats.

9 a.m. – Get Macaroons and Brownies to Go at Bouchon Bakery, Yountville

After your breakfast at the hotel, you’ll want to buy some pastries and breads to bring home with you (or for your plane ride). Chef Thomas Keller opened his first Bouchon Bakery in Yountville in 2003 to provide his other restaurants – The French and Bouchon Bistro – with fresh, one-of-a-kind breads.

Bouchon Bakery is a boulangerie (one that focuses on breads), but it quickly established its own reputation and also specializes in traditional French desserts (based on Keller’s memories from when he was in France). You’ll find pastries, tarts, cookies, juices, espresso drinks, coffees and more.

The macaroons and the brownie are both legendary. It’s a short walk from the hotel and a great way to end your time in Yountville before you leave.

What would you do with a free day in Napa Valley? Share your experience with us.

Looking for more ideas? Go to Visit Napa Valley.

Rob is editor of Business Travel Destinations. He reviews international destinations for meetings and events -- where business travelers go, the hotels where they stay and their lifestyle preferences on the road. Rob was previously the event planning guide for About.com (owned by The New York Times Company) from 2007 - 2011. His articles also appear in business travel publications and travel sites internationally.

19 comments

  1. Free day in the Napa Valley?
    Spend it outdoors exploring small family wineries by bike, along the backroads of either Calistoga or Carneros area
    Easy routes, we’ll visit 4 wineries, have a great lunch, and van support is always nearby 10 to 3:30 Other options include kayaking or hiking getawayadventures.com

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  7. Good article Rob.

    I hired a car and travelled to Yountville, via Yosemite and San Francisco last month. I stayed at the luxurious Yountville Hotel (would definitely recommend it). By coincidence we we were there when the annual Yountville Parade took place and it left me with many happy memories. Definitely going back.

    1. Rob Hard

      Thanks, Malcolm. Did you have any favorite stops in town?

      For those who are curious, Yountville holds its annual Youtnville Days Parade and Festival each year (first weekend in October, I believe). Go to yountville.com to check details. They hold many events throughout the year.

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    1. Rob Hard

      For those curious, Schramsberg is known for its sparkling wines (I need to check them out on my next visit):

      http://www.schramsberg.com

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