Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

First-time visitors to the Napa Valley are often bewildered or overwhelmed. When should we go, where should we stay and dine, and most often which wineries are the best ones to visit? Let’s tackle these dilemmas one at a time.

Napa Valley Wine Route Planning

Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

When should you visit the Napa Valley?

In my book, anytime is a good time to visit the Napa Valley. No matter what time of the year, the Napa Valley has something special to offer the wine country traveler. In winter it is the mustard, the cover crops, and the bare rows of vines that delight. Spring brings bud break and wildflowers. Summer brings the warm weather and full growth to the vines. Fall means harvest of the grapes followed by the fantastic autumn colors in the vineyards. Yes indeed, any time of the year in the Napa Valley is a good time to visit.

image of calistoga

Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga

Where should you stay and dine?

The main towns for lodging are Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. We like each town; they all offer something different in lodging and dining. We recommend you lodge within walking distance of dining. When you can walk to restaurants there are no worries about drinking and driving. In Calistoga, there is a free shuttle that runs most of the year. It will bring visitors to restaurants, wineries, and shopping and then pick you up when you are done. There are three cab companies in the Napa Valley, so taking a cab is a great option if you cannot walk to a restaurant. Yountville has the most-noted restaurant scene with five Michelin star restaurants, all within a few blocks of one another. Check our list of recommended restaurants for Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga.

image of bottega

One of Yountville’s many fine restaurants

Which are the best wineries to visit?

We recommend that visitors to the Napa Valley Wine Trails visit between 3 to 5 wineries in one full day. More than that and you will miss something and mostly likely imbibe too much of the good life. There are over 400 wineries to visit in the Napa Valley and, if you are visiting the max of ten wineries in a two-day excursion, how does one seriously decide on which of these 400 wineries are the most enjoyable to visit?

image of clos pegase

Clos Pegase

You can visit the best wineries in two different ways. One way is to follow one of our ready-made wine trails. Or you can mix-or-match the wineries within our Napa Valley wine trails. A second way is to head over to our Winery Finder and search for tasting rooms and wineries according to your likes and dislikes. The winery finder will enable you to select the best wineries to visit by various criteria. If you want boutique wineries that are family owned and have a picnic area, the winery finder narrows down the choices for you. It is a very handy tool for the first-time visitor or ones who visit the Napa Valley every few years.

Lastly we encourage you to watch this informative short video on Napa Valley Travel Tips.

Sunburst Calistoga: The Poor Man’s Solage

The Sunburst Calistoga Hotel

A couple of weeks ago we decided to spend an overnight in the Napa Valley. It happened to be the same time as the Napa Film Festival activities, and almost all the lodging in the Valley was booked. Since we travel so often to the wine country, and tend to spend most of the day visiting wineries and exploring the valley, we are always looking for budget lodging. If you are spending little time in your room, all you need is comfort, cleanliness, and safety.

room view sunburst calistoga

Our room at the Sunburst Calistoga

Our friends at the Stevenson Manor suggested we try the Sunburst Calistoga. They said it was their new sister property. We booked a room that was available and off we went to the Napa Valley. After a day’s worth of activities visiting wineries, we headed to Calistoga to find the Sunburst. Where is this place? Well, it is on the outskirts of the town on Lincoln Avenue. As soon as we saw it we realized that this place had previously been a huge eyesore. It looked like a slum, run down and unkempt. Now the place has been completely redone. Each room has been remodeled and decorated with very bright colors and light. The Sunburst Calistoga opened in August of 2013.

The interesting thing about the Sunburst Calistoga is that it is almost a stone’s throw away from the Solage Calistoga. The Sunburst is on Lincoln Avenue and just over the Napa River on the Silverado Trail is the Solage Calistoga. Room rates for the Solage will start about $600 whereas the typical Sunburst room will be $230 on weekends. I like giving the Sunburst the name “The Poor Man’s Solage.” Each room at the Sunburst Calistoga has a flat screen TV, a mini fridge, a single-cup coffee maker and free Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi sent a very strong signal to our room, which was about as far away as possible from the motel office. I liked that very much. The stay at the Sunburst includes a small continental breakfast in the Lobby.

view of motel rooms sunburst

Solage Calistoga is across the way

The rooms are comfortable and, of course since it is new, the entire room was immaculate. There are also a hot tub and swimming pools that receive waters from the famous geothermal wells of Calistoga. The other amenity that we very much appreciate, and one that is available at all Calistoga lodging, is the shuttle service to local restaurants and wineries. We called and within ten minutes the shuttle picked us up at the Sunburst Office and delivered us to Brannan’s restaurant. When we were done dining, we called and were returned safely to our abode.

pool at Sunburst Calistoga

Warm mineral pool

We found a couple of things we did not care for at Sunburst. Janelle thought it was a little too isolated and had a motel feel to it. Another weird thing was the atrocious warning sign at the pool entrance. Perhaps it is the new code that warrants such an extreme warning. It is so outrageous that I for one would not want to step into that pool. You need to see for yourself. Maybe the powers that be will take that sign down before you visit.

If you’re looking for budget lodging in Calistoga, give the Sunburst a look!

Calistoga’s new logo

Napa Valley News

Calistoga’s new logo and slogan

We just learned that the Napa Valley Tourism Improvement District Committee and the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce have collaborated on adapting a brand new logo and slogan for Calistoga. What do think about this?


I am not worried in the least that Calistoga is going to change. The logo and motto may be new, but Calistoga remains very much like it was the first time we visited in the mid 1960’s. We like Calistoga the way it is now. We travel up and down the Valley, but most often we hang out in Calistoga for these reasons. Primarily, it is more laid back, less chic and swanky than the rest of the Napa Valley. Lodging and restaurants are overall less expensive. Although the logo is very fancy and the motto “Make Napa Valley Yours” is inviting, I’m almost sure that Calistoga will remain the same good old-fashioned town, and be a constant reminder of what the Napa Valley was like before it became a popular wine country destination. I sure hope so!

Here is a very short video showing you our favorite spots in Calistoga.

Napa Valley Harvest Begins

Can you believe that the very first grapes are being harvested as of August 1st? These are Pinot Noir grapes used for sparkling wines. The winery harvesting is Mumm Napa and others are sure to follow soon. Word has it that, as of the beginning of August, the grapes are ripening one week to 10 days earlier than the norm. If warm weather continues, this could be one of the earliest harvests on record. Get your cameras ready and head to the Napa Valley and witness one of the most spectacular moments in the year of the grape.

Pinot Noir for sparkling wine

Pinot Noir for sparkling wine

Family Winemakers’ Tasting at Fort Mason offering 20% discount

This is one of my favorites of the large wine tasting events open to the public. You get a chance to meet many winemakers and wine owners, and the event seems to be more civilized than some of the other ones that we attend. Patrons seem to be more serious about discovering new wines and less about seeing how fast and hard they can toss down a taste of wine. The cost of the tickets varies but if you put in the access code “wine10,” you will get a 20% discount off the ticket price. The event takes place August 17th-18th at the Fort Mason Center. Check the Family Winemakers’ Website for ticket information.

Meritage Resort Update

The Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa has just opened a brand new deck in its hillside vineyards. The deck and pre-function area are designed for events of up to 200 ranging from destination weddings to corporate/group wine receptions without ever having to leave the resort. Check it out at the Meritage Resort Website

Napa Valley winter trip

Napa valley in winter. Trip to tasting roomShould you consider a Napa Valley winter trip in December or January? Napa Valley during these two months is undoubtedly the quietest time in this spectacular wine country. As one long-time Napa Valley resident once mentioned to me, “Winter is how the Valley used to be during the entire year long ago.” If you really want to get away, this is the time to be in the Napa Valley. It’s beautiful, serene, and most of all relaxing. Here are a few things to do in December and January in the Napa Valley. [Read more...]

Why we like Calistoga Wine Country

Visitors to the Napa Valley often wonder what town in the Valley they should choose as a base while planning a wine vacation. “What town is the most fun?” we are often asked. Fun meaning good places to lodge, many choices for dining, boutique shopping, and of course wineries and tasting rooms to visit. The four major towns from south to north are Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Janelle and I have stayed in each town many times over our years of adventures in the Napa Valley. Each town has something unique and delightful to offer. But if we had to make a choice as to which one was our favorite town, we would have to go with Calistoga.

I don’t think Calistoga has changed much since I was a young boy. My parents would vacation in Clear Lake and we would always stop in Calistoga for a snack on the way to our Lake County camping spot. On our first trip together Janelle and I stayed at Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort, which today looks exactly the same as it did some 40 years ago. A trip down Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga is a trip down Napa Valley’s memory lane.

Calistoga has always been, and we hope will always be, a laid-back town. The pace in Calistoga is less hectic and the shops and eateries a little more down-to-earth. It is definitely a quaint environment. We visit each December for Pauper’s Night at the Calistoga Inn. The natives come in droves and sing and party to Christmas cheer. It is an experience you won’t get in any other town in the Napa Valley. Unfortunately, the Calistoga Inn had a fire a couple of months ago and will not re-open for several months. I’m afraid there will not be a Pauper’s Night at the Inn this December. [Read more...]

Calistoga – Really Getting Away in the Napa Valley

As spring approaches, we begin to think about a beautiful and peaceful wine country getaway. But if you choose the Napa area for your getaway, then things may not be as serene as you would like. The city of Napa now has a whole influx of new hotels and restaurants drawing tourists to the downtown area. Tyler Florence and Iron Chef Miyamoto have new restaurants packing in the crowds. Yountville is busy with its six Michelin-rated restaurants, fashionable shops, hotels and tasting rooms. Traffic squeezes as you approach St. Helena on Highway 29 and getting through St. Helena can be like a nightmare morning commute to work. But there is a quiet place in the Napa Valley much unchanged over time. That place is the historic town of Calistoga, at the very northern end of the Valley. It is here where you can find delightful things to do at a much slower pace.

Calistoga's Lincoln Avenue

[Read more...]