How to Visit Napa on a Budget
By Megan Macnee
The Napa Valley is a world class destination and a great thing about Sacramento is we are just over an hour away. That means you can head over and spend a day in the wine country whenever you want. We have so many choices for wine country but sometimes Napa is still worth the trip.
The problem with Napa is it’s far too easy to blow a bunch of money. It’s easy to spend $150 on just a day trip and that won’t even include bringing home some wine. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way.
This July, I visited once with private group tastings, a catered lunch and a driver. The next time I crammed five friends into a car, packed a picnic and enjoyed the day. Both times I visited two wineries, both were wonderful days but on one day I spent $150 and the other I spent $10.
Splurging in Napa can be fun but it doesn’t always have to be that way. A few tips for the visits when you want to avoid blowing your budget in wine country but you still want to take a wine country day trip.
Don’t – Go with a group of 7 people or more.
Instead – Keep your group to 4 to 6 people. You’d be surprised how few wineries will accept parties of seven or more. If they do it’s by appointment only and your tasting fee will be a minimum of $15, more than for a smaller group. Some of these will be private tastings but sometimes it’s just a more expensive taste at the wine bar.
When you travel with a smaller group you have more flexibility in your schedule and you can enjoy some of the more affordable options in Napa.
Don’t – Pay $30 plus for a walk up tasting.
Instead – Visit your friend’s wine club locations where you can taste for free. In Sacramento, you’re bound to have a few wino friends with wine club memberships in Napa. Grab one or two of them as a part of your group and your group can taste for free. Most wineries give members four free tastings, some (like my club Rutherford Ranch) give you six! Even if you have a few extras you can split a tasting or split the cost.
Also, you normally get additional perks whether it’s a private area, specialized tasting or even the ability to bring in your own food.
Or, join a club yourself! If you like a vineyards wine and the vibe, it’s a great way to skip tasting fees. Most places will waive them when you sign up and give you a significant discount on wine. You’ll only have to commit to the cost of wine on future shipments. (Tip – Check how long you have to commit when you sign up, sometimes there is no minimum but it can be up to a year).
Don’t – Order a fancy meal at a winery or splurge at a restaurant for lunch.
Instead – Pack your own picnic lunch and eat it at a beautiful winery. Even if you’re not a chef grab some cheese, meats and bread, a few salads from Trader Joe’s or the Co-Op and a small dessert and you can have an amazing lunch for $5-10 a person. You can quickly pull together a delicious lunch that everyone around you will be jealous of.
There are amazing places to eat in Napa but few are affordable. Make sure if you are eating out you’re going somewhere worth it, otherwise pack your own. (Tip – Check that the winery allows outside food, a lot do, but some have restrictions).
Don’t – Try and squeeze in a ton of places where you continue to pay tasting fees.
Instead – Pick one spot and buy a bottle to split instead of spending tons on tasting fees. At $30 plus a tasting, it’s very easy to blow a ton by just visiting a few different wineries. It’s a great way to see the area but often it’s just as enjoyable to find one or two and spend a good chunk of time there.
Find one spot, try the tasting, then grab a bottle and enjoy relaxing on a beautiful patio since there are so many to choose from. Or even skip the tasting and just buy a bottle or two. You get more wine and if you have a few people you can save money and still try a few.
Don’t – Go in the middle of tourist season – summer & harvest.
Instead – Visit from late October to March. The perk to living so close to Napa is we can visit whenever we want. We also know that Fall and Winter are some of the best times to explore since it can be 60 degrees and sunny but not too hot. July in Napa is almost as brutal as it is here in Sacramento.
Especially, if you’re planning on staying the night avoid the high season. There are nights in the summer where the Best Western can cost more than $300 a night. On the other hand, you can get last minute deals in the winter that are only $100 a night at four-star properties.
California is filled with so many tantalizing wine countries and to be honest, Napa isn’t my favorite. At the same time, it’s fun place to explore with friends and a great place to take visiting friends and family. Napa continues to get better and better when you get to know the area and you learn how to enjoy it without blowing your budget.
Do you have any tips for how to explore Napa on a budget?