10 Warnings For Visitors to Napa Valley

Napa Valley WarningVisiting Napa Valley? Coming to “Wine Country” to soak up some of that good life? Heading our way for a relaxing getaway. Good! We are very pleased you are coming, can’t wait to see you and promise to put our best foot forward for you.

However, I do want to offer 10 warnings to those coming to Napa Valley for a quick vacation, particularly those who have never been here before. It’s not about scaring you away because,  believe me, we do want you to come here. It’s just about trying to adjust your expectations.

1. Napa Valley Is Going To Cost More Than You Expect
Whether its your room, food, fuel or the nick nack you buy as a souvenir, it’s going to cost more than what you expect. In fact, at some point during your visit, you are going to come to a dead stop, look at your significant other, put on that look incredulity you wear so well and say, “Really????!!” while looking at the price of something. Be prepared. It’s not an exception. It’s the rule.

2. It’s Gonna Be Cold
Pay no attention to daytime temperatures. You are going to be cold at night, even in the middle of summer. That beautiful 90 degree day you enjoyed while strolling the lovely boutiques in Saint Helena after lunch is gong to turn into 64 degrees by the time you finish dinner. Be prepared. And be prepared for us here to respond to your remark of surprise with, “The grapes love the cool evenings!”

3. There Is No Nightlife Here
It’s one of the most famous travel destinations in the world. The rich and famous live here and visit here often. Movies are made here and they write about this place in thick magazines that look like catalogs. But don’t expect a night life to accompany our status as world-class destination. This isn’t Paris. This isn’t Miami. This isn’t New Orleans. This isn’t Cancun. What you have here, essentially, is a farming community. The only thing there is to do at night is eat, and you probably need to sit down by 9pm.

4. You Are Going To Gain a Few Pounds
Some have argued that there is more great food and great restaurants per capita in Napa Valley than any other place in the world. I would not know how to argue against that proposition. You really do need to do yourself a favor, lose five or so pounds before coming here,  and be prepared to add it back on from the eating and drinking. If you go to Vegas, you have a “gambling fund”. If you go to the beach, you leave room for a tan. You need a poundage fund when you come to Napa Valley.

5. Your Kids Are Not Going To Like It Here
There is nothing here. Literally nothing here for vacationing kids in Napa Valley that is going to distract or entertain them for more than a few minutes.

6. You Are Going To Think We Are Wine Snobs if You Don’t Love Wine (and we don’t care)
We are going to throw around foreign words like “Terroir”. We are going to make odd faces when we sip on a wine. The wine will spend probably what seems like way too much time in our mouth before we swallow it. We are going to describe what we taste out loud. We are going to be flabbergasted at what a great deal this $50 bottle of Cabernet is. If this sort of thing seems like the work of people way too obsessed with grape juice and the acts of snobs, they you just aren’t going to “get” us. Roll with it. You are in WineLand and this what we do. We aren’t snobs. We are…..well, yes, we are wine snobs.

7. Wine Drinking Leads to Inebriation
If you drink a certain amount of wine, you will feel it. Be prepared. I know. Who’d a thunk it? If you are conscientious, you won’t get drunk. But I promise you that the one of the results of visiting wineries and tasting wine is that the alcohol will make you tired. The fact is, by the time you get back to your room around 4pm or 5pm, you will be tired. Big Tip: Make late reservations for dinner so you have time to nap.

8. Wine Tasting is Expensive
We are going to charge you between $20 and $50 per person to belly up to our tasting bars and taste our wine….at each winery. Why? Because we can. Now, our bars are beautiful. Some of them have very comfy chairs, other have beautiful views. Others are secluded and you’ll feel very content while there. But it’s going to cost you.

9. Yeah, We’ve Got Traffic Here in Paradise
It’s particularly bad on Highway 29 when you are heading north into Saint Helena during the summer and fall months when all of you are here. You are going to sit in your cars, inch along and it’s going to take extra time to get where you want to go. But consider this. Most of the time when you inch along in your car, you look around and see concrete, billboards for cheap attorneys, miles of ticky tacky subdivisions and signs of social decay all around you. Here in Napa Valley, you get to stare out your window at rows of vineyards, wineries, beautiful hillsides and famous restaurants you’ve only read about. It’s not that bad.

10. Bring a Car
There simply is no way to visit Napa Valley without a car. Public transportation is dismal. The “Wine Train” is for eating, not traveling. Either have a car or a driver at your beck and call.

Welcome to Napa Valley!

38 Responses

  1. Spencer - July 30, 2013

    I can’t help but think that #5 is aimed at me!! We were on a family vacation last month and I thoought I could sneak in a visit to 1 or 2 of my favorite wineries while visting friends in Napa. One of those wineries was Failla. Kathy was hosting me and my wife for a tasting that quickly went a bit south thanks to some issues with our kids (we had lined up some entertainment that would keep them occupied for 30 min, but at the last minute, it didn’t work). Kathy was INCREDIBLY accomodating and understanding and wonderful, and it wasn’t a total loss (at least I got to taste the wine while my wife wrangled the kids) but bottom line is, kids and wine tastings just don’t mix. Lesson learned.

  2. Gale - July 30, 2013

    #5- There area few things for kids to do. Segway Napa is a fun activity for parents and kids. Best way to see any town. There is also bike riding, paddle boarding and kayaks. Guided hikes in the hills. The castle is a good tour to bring kids- and a lot like Sterling.

  3. Tom Wark - July 30, 2013

    Not a bad list at all. However, if you are looking to entertain kids, I’m not sure going to Napa Valley is the best way to do it. The alternatives are many and better. Still, that Segway thing….pretty cool.

  4. Tom Wark - July 30, 2013


    My girl Kathy is the BEST!!! Thanks for giving her kudos. I’ll make sure she reads this.

  5. Justine - July 30, 2013

    #3 has a spelling error: “What you have here, essentially, if a farming community.” If should be IS.

  6. Scott - July 30, 2013

    First, Justine must be new here

    Second, a visit to Murphys for winetasting shares only numbers 7 and 10. Just sayin’

    • El Jefe - July 30, 2013

      Yup. Murphys and Calaveras County is the wine destination that has things for your kids (and dogs) to do!

  7. Kathy - July 30, 2013

    #2 is always the most shocking – even more so than #1 and #8. You can fix #1 and #8. You can’t fix the weather (note to climate deniers).

  8. Sarah - July 30, 2013

    I laughed so much at #4. This was how I felt about my trip to Italy too. All that wine and food has to go somewhere. Perhaps something as shocking as the cost of the trip and tastings is the cost of the gym membership needed afterwards!

  9. Don Clemens - July 30, 2013

    All true! Even when I lived there, I had to check myself when squiring friends around the valley. There’s a reason we used to call it “Disneyland North”.

  10. Don Clemens - July 30, 2013

    Oh – and the “Disneyland North” reference was NOT about entertaining kids!

  11. Bill McIver - July 30, 2013

    I tell visiting friends and family who want a guided tour of the wine country, that I’ll take them to Sonoma, but if they just have to see Napa Valley, they have to do it without me.

  12. Aaron - July 30, 2013

    Over in Cordelia (i know it is a few minutes away depending on where you are staying) is Jump Highway for the kids (as well as Scandia Fun Center). Jump Highway is not that expensive and it will boil off some of that youthful energy. Another attraction just a little farther down the road from Jump Highway is the Jelly Belly Factory (which gives tours). Also you could try Safari West north of Calistoga or The Bale Grist Mill in St. Helena. The mill us usually running most weekends during the summer. There are some nice trails to hike.

  13. Carl - July 30, 2013

    You gave all the reasons why we like to visit Paso Robles.

  14. Doug Wilder - July 30, 2013

    My parents brought my brother and I to Napa and Sonoma wineries fairly regularly in the 60s. I was never bored but then again, look what I ended up doing 🙂

  15. Tom Wark - July 30, 2013

    Doug…..Your current profession indeed explains a lot. 🙂

  16. Hardy - July 30, 2013

    #11 Do not rent bikes and then try to ride them to wineries on 29 or the Silverado Trail.

  17. Tom Wark - July 30, 2013

    Hardy, its this something you’ve come to conclude based on personal experience?

    I think the warning would be formulated this way: If you try to take a bicycle down highway 29, you are unlike to survive without injury.

  18. Allison Simpson - July 30, 2013

    LOL Tom, funny post. But I’d like to share real data from a 2012 visitor study Visit Napa Valley conducted to ensure potential visitors get balanced information:
    1. 93% of visitors liked their experience so much, they indicated they are likely or very likely to return in the next year. The average visitor made 2.8 trips in the last 12 months.
    2. Most liked aspects of Napa Valley are scenic beauty (37%) and wine (35%). Top activities include wine tasting (82%), dining in restaurants (77%), shopping (54%), and nightlife did make the list at 12%. Have you been to Downtown Napa recently? There’s definitely a nightlife scene!
    3. When asked what would enhance their experience, only 4.2% said traffic reduction. But even so, our towns and County government are working on improving transportation options, including on-demand shuttles that are free to guests in Calistoga and St. Helena.
    4. And a note on our cool nights — I love them! It’s great sleeping weather, snuggled beneath a down duvet, with the fresh, clean, cool air wafting in the open windows.
    Cheers, Allison Simpson, Visit Napa Valley

  19. Tom Wark - July 30, 2013


    AWESOME response! I love the cool nights too. The only thing I’d take exception to is the characterization of a “nightlife” in Downtown Napa. Really, there’s only an “Eating Scene”. True you’ve got Silos, The Opera House and the Uptown. But it’s really not much of a “scene”.

    This wasn’t a post to disparage Napa. Just to prepare travelers here if they have expectations they shouldn’t.

    Again, AWESOME comment!

    • Allison Simpson - July 30, 2013

      No worries Tom. And I guess the definition of “scene” is being applied subjectively by both of us. How about if we agree that there’s plenty to do in the evenings in the Napa Valley if you’re interested in food, wine, arts, and fun. Plus, it’s such a scenic place. 🙂

  20. Tom Wark - July 30, 2013

    I’m with you Allison. In fact, I’m living proof.

  21. Jim Caudill - July 30, 2013

    We had a large group last week that rented bikes in San Francisco, rode the ferry to Vallejo, then rode those rental bikes up to Hess (took them two hours, pretty good time). Amazing.

  22. Tom Wark - July 30, 2013

    WOW…..that’s somebody who desperately want to visit Hess, Jim.

  23. Kerry - July 30, 2013

    You would think it had nothing but negative attributes. It’s also gorgeous scenery reminiscent of Tuscany, the people are friendly, there are cute towns, great food and drink, and if you go at the right time of year, fabulous jazz.

  24. Chicago Pinot - July 30, 2013

    Tom, maybe you haven’t realized it, but you definitely have the makings of a series here. Maybe without the snark from now on but “10 Things to Know About Sonoma/Paso/Monterrey”, etc would definitely be worth reading!

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  26. Paul Franson - July 31, 2013


    You’re out of date. There’s plenty of nightlife in Napa. In the last six months, there’s more and more music, and Empire, 1313, Morimoto, Andaz, Carpe Diem and Zuzu are hopping. La Condesa in St. Helena has music and is busy and Calistoga in is reopening, too.

    I’d replace it with: Don’t drink and drive, especially in St. Helena. We all take it seriously, but there are only so many cats stuck in trees so the cops have little else to do there but bag tourists.

    You can also read my weekly NapaLife and the NapaLife Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley for 360 pages of guidance… Email me for a sample of NapaLife: [email protected].

  27. Allie - July 31, 2013

    Sooooo true!!! Very nicely put! The bringing children and babies while wine tasting is baffling to me. Every parent thinks their child is the exception BUT THEY ARE NOT! I’ve seen parents try to prop their baby on the tasting bar and have them almost fall, parents just sit there as their child is wailing in the tasting room. Napa is Adult Disneyland, not Disneyland. Trust me, tasting rooms look at you as questionable parents when you take your kids out to watch you consume alcohol. Even if you are only tasting. Your welcome!

  28. Christina - July 31, 2013

    Tom, I would suggest you check out Suisun Valley the next time you visit Napa. The tasting fees are cheap ($5.00) and the wine is delicious! It has a rustic wine country feel that is only 15 minutes over the hill from Napa (closer than Sonoma and other wine regions). We are known for out Petite Sirah.

    If you do end up out this way please feel free to email me! We would love to host you at the winery!

  29. Avwine - July 31, 2013

    Hey, if you have to bring the kids and they won’t sit quietly on the bench outside the tasting room, but instead create ‘their own space’ at the tasting bar and provide adults around them with ‘enchanting creative moments’ DO buy a bottle on the way out. Or, if the wine really stinks (from your point of view) drop a nice tip on the bar. Marks you as a civilized person. Also, if you hit 10 wineries in a day, please try and sober up before you sit down in a local restaurant. Nothing like dehydrated, drunk folks at the table next to you complaining that nobody is nice to them, the food dosen’t ‘have flavor’ and finally ‘I’m going to Yelp this dump so bad…’ The nadir: packs of 10 or more. All drunk and loud. Stay on the damn bus.

  30. Rich Reader - August 1, 2013

    64 degrees is a cold evening?

    For nightlife, there is the Uptown. Seriously, dude! Tomorrow night Jeff Bridges and the Abiders performed. Don’t forget the Opera House, either. A few good music venues are to be found in Saint Helena and Calistoga. Besides, you need to get up early to go hot air ballooning.

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  34. Elizabeth - August 14, 2014

    Love, love, love it!

    Been to Nape 3 times and all of the above is true. Of course we live in Southern Ca. so the expense of Napa was no surprise.

    We loved the food and the wine tasting but we just had fun riding bikes from winery to winery and enjoying the countryside.

    If you go to Napa go there to relax and enjoy. After all isn’t that what good food and fine wine is all about?

  35. Tara Michaels - November 7, 2017

    You definitely sound like snobs. I think I will check out Martha’s Vineyard in Boston instead for my late spring vacation 2018. I know they are snobs as well but at least the chances of becoming a CRISPY CRITTER are less than Wine and wild fire country. Really how arrogant to not give a shit about your tourist.

    • Tom Wark - November 7, 2017

      Dear Tara,

      The fires are out and the rains are starting to come. You’d be safe.

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