The Napa Valley area of California is just 30 miles long and five miles wide. But thanks to a Mediterranean climate, the area’s home to more than 400 wineries and vineyards, making Napa Valley one of the world’s premiere wine regions. If you go there, you’ll want to make the most of your trip. And as you plan your itinerary, an important question might come to mind: When should I go? What’s the best time to visit Napa Valley?
The good news is that with everything the valley has to offer, there’s really no bad time to visit Napa Valley. As for the best time, the answer depends on what you want to do when you get there. Because you’ll find much more to in Napa Valley do than tour vineyards, chat with winemakers, and sip award-winning wines while enjoying breathtaking valley views. How does a hot air balloon ride sound? Or a luxury spa stay? Maybe you’d enjoy pairing that wine with some handcrafted cheese. Or you’d like to check out a brewery or distillery between vineyards. You might go for some mountain biking or trail hiking. You can catch a performance at a local music venue, visit a wildlife sanctuary, or maybe do some lake fishing. There are, literally, hundreds of options.
Feeling a little overwhelmed? No worries. Let’s take a look at the possibilities, and see how they map onto the seasons of the year. One note: whenever you visit Napa Valley, plan to dress in layers. Even in the summertime, the temperature can vary widely between morning and evening.
Visit Napa Valley in Winter to Avoid the Crowds
While the Napa Valley area is renowned for its sunshine and mild weather, in winter the temps dip into the fifties and forties, and rain becomes more frequent. Combined with post-harvest slowdowns at the wineries, this means venues and attractions are less crowded, and lodging prices are more affordable. This makes the November-February low season the best time to visit Napa Valley on a budget. And don’t worry, you’ll still find plenty to do. Highlights during this time of year include the Napa Valley Film Festival in November. Bring your appetite to Napa Valley Restaurant Week, ten days in January when the valley’s world-class restaurants offer special deals and dining experiences. Winter in Napa is also known as “cabernet season,” so you can expect your winery visits to include tasty samples of some newly-debuted cabs.
Visit in Spring to Enjoy the Scenery
Once winter gives way to spring, Napa Valley sees an explosion of color and greenery as flowers bloom and foliage pops. The daytime temperatures warm up, and the sunlight hours lengthen, but the invasion of summer vacationers is still months away. And that means this is a great time to explore Napa Valley’s outdoor wonders. Not to be missed: the area’s eye-popping blooms of wild mustard flowers, which carpet the fields of Napa in swaths of yellow. They also nourish the vineyard soil and attract beneficial insects. This so-called “best-kept secret” peaks in late February and continues through March. Another spring sensation is the month-long Arts in April festival, offering a panoply of art gatherings and cultural events. Hiking and biking trails are relatively uncrowded this time of year, so have at it. But while you’re out and about, do be prepared for temperature drops and spring rain.
Visit in Summer for Good Times in the Sunshine
As the calendar turns to May, Napa Valley’s rainy weather gives way to summer sun. The growing season begins in earnest. Also growing: the number of visitors to the area, so you’ll need to do your homework, plan in advance, and make reservations for a successful visit during this busy time. With that accomplished, you’ll find out why so many vacationers consider this the best time of year to visit Napa Valley. The beautiful weather and gorgeous landscape support a mind-boggling array of events and diversions. Picnics and outdoor dining make idyllic add-ons to your winery visits. Musical events abound, including the season-opening BottleRock Nappa Valley festival in May, the Napa Valley Jazz Getaway in June, July’s Blue Note Jazz Festival, and the summer-long St. Helena Summer Concert Series.
Looking to relax? Try the mineral springs and mud baths of Calistoga. Or explore the full splendor of Napa’s natural wonders, like the Bothe-Napa Valley and Sugarloaf Ridge state parks. And if you’re really looking to get away from it all, spend some time in a hot air balloon and view the valley from an unforgettable perspective.
Visit Napa Valley During Harvest Season for a Peak Wine Experience
Wine tasting and vineyard tours are de rigueur for any Napa Valley visit. But the August-October harvest season is when visitors get to see winemakers working in high gear. (In case you’re wondering, harvesters pick grapes for sparkling wines first. Then come the white wine grapes, and the red varieties tend to be harvested last. But some grapes are left on the vine into December to produce more sugars.) As in the summer, you can expect crowds, so plan ahead.
Along with watching the winery teams bring in this year’s harvest, you can get in on the action. Attend a grape stomp—yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. Or help out at a hands-on harvest. Or book an immersive winery visit and learn to blend and bottle your own custom wine. Since outdoor temperatures remain mild, some hiking or biking will bring you up close and personal with spectacular fall foliage. Just be sure to save some energy for the evening, so you can get dolled up and dance the night away at a harvest ball.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/TraceRouda
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