If you are studying English at CISL San Francisco, you are in luck: not only do you get to live and study in one of the coolest cities in the world, you are also a short road trip away from the nation’s most popular wine region. Napa is known for its beautiful rolling hills, impressive wineries, and robust wines, but it is also a great place for outdoor sports, dining, and music. Grab your keys and pack an overnight bag: we are going on a road trip to Napa!
Napa is just an hour away from San Francisco, and the drive is a beautiful one. You can choose to take the I-80 East, US-101, or I-680 North out of San Francisco: it is great to have these options so that you can avoid traffic if you leave during commute hours.
What is there to do once you get to Napa Valley? The possibilities are endless! We will start, of course, with the wine . . .
Wine Tasting in Napa
Wine Tasting Tips
First things first: if you are wine tasting, make SURE that you have a designated driver!!
Some groups methodically plan their wine tastings, and many other groups choose to drive and stop at whichever wineries look appealing. This can be very fun and spontaneous, but keep in mind that many wineries–especially the very large and the very small–only provide tastings if you make a reservation. It might be a good idea to book one or two tastings and then try to fit in a few more in between your scheduled visits.
Many people get carried away when planning their visit to Napa and try to schedule too many wineries into one day. Remember that with wine tasting, it is quality or quantity. Each of the wineries is beautiful, and chances are that you and your friends will find one that you love and want to stay there for a while to try the wines and enjoy the landscaped gardens or beautifully designed tasting room. It is also good to keep in mind that you can only drink so much wine in one day: a visit to 5 or 6 wineries is simply too much drinking, so try and keep it to 2 or 3 visits in a day.
Wine Tasting Options
When it comes to wine tasting in the Napa Valley, you have several options. Renting a car and having a designated driver is one option; another is the Wine Train, which takes you on a three-hour tour of Napa. There are also many tour companies that provide bus or limo tours: the company Napa Valley Wine Country Tours provides private guided tours, limo tours, and party bus excursions. Your budget and the number of people in your party will determine which type of wine tasting is best for you.
Wine Tasting Highlights
A unique wine tasting experience is at Sterling, where you ride a sky cab to get to the winery. Guests have impressive views of the Napa Valley: a memorable experience!
Art lovers should check out Hess Winery, which holds the owner’s art collection. Art and wine? How refined!
Movie lovers should definitely schedule a visit to Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The director-turned-winemaker has an impressive collection of Hollywood-related memorabilia, including his collection of Oscar awards.
V. Sattui, voted the best winery in the Napa Valley, is a can’t-miss experience. The winery has a deli with delicious sandwiches, salads, and cheeses, and guests are encouraged to picnic underneath the large pine trees outside the tasting room. V. Sattui’s award-winning (and affordable!) wines are not sold outside the winery, which makes them extra special.
If you are not a fan of wine, don’t worry: there are plenty of things to do in Napa Valley that are not related to wine!
The rolling hills of Napa Valley are not only great for growing grapes . . . they are also fun to bike along! Bicyclists from around the world come to bike in the Napa Valley. Check out Napa Valley Bike Tours for rental prices and routes.
In addition to having miles and miles of vineyards, the Napa Valley is also home to the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, which has great hiking trails. The mountains throughout the Napa Valley provide plenty of exercise (and rewarding views once you reach the top). Napa Hiking has a great map of the area and all of its hikes.
The Russian River cuts through the Napa Valley and is a great place for canoeing. Check out our post on Canoeing the Russian River for information on canoe rentals, picnic areas, and tour companies.
Napa is a small town, but because of its booming wine industry, it is also a cultural hub. The Napa Valley Symphony and the Napa Valley Opera House are beautiful buildings with impressive lists of productions; the small-scale Uptown Theatre is also a great place to see shows, and its art-deco design is a bonus to the experience.
Calistoga, which is situated near Napa, is known for its mineral water and has many spas. It is a great place to spend a relaxing day getting a massage, taking a mud bath, or soaking in its mineral waters. The city of Calistoga also has a geyser called “Old Faithful” that erupts every 40 minutes.
Have you been to the Napa Valley? Share your pictures and your experiences with us on the CISL Facebook page! We would like to wish all of our students a fun, safe trip to the wine capital of the States!
Cover photo from St. Francis. Photos from Sterling Vineyards, Jarvis, Sterling, V. Sattui, and Napa Valley Bike Tours.