Your Guide to Napa Valley on a Budget

  • Guides
  • by HANA-LEE SEDGWICK
  • on MARCH 15, 2021
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Courtesy of Bob McClenahan Photography
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Although Napa Valley has become increasingly synonymous with elevated (often costly) experiences, there are still plenty of ways to make the most of the area without spending a fortune. Our guide to experiencing Napa Valley on a budget includes some of the most charming destinations and activities for the budget-minded traveler, so whether you’re coming up from San Francisco for the day or flying in for a week long stay, you can go easy on the wallet without sacrificing the fun.

What to Do

Eat & Explore in Downtown Napa

Situated along the Napa River, downtown Napa is an extremely walkable destination filled with plenty of things to do on the cheap. We suggest heading to First Street Napa to peruse the many boutiques (yes, window shopping is allowed), then taking a leisurely stroll around town. Be sure to check out the sculptures along the Napa Art Walk as you wander the streets. This (free) urban exhibition of public artworks highlights the work of various artists throughout the West Coast. Grab a map at the Napa Valley Welcome Center, where you can also get more information on deals in the area, such as two-for-one tastings.

When hunger strikes, Napa has plenty of options where one can eat well while minding the budget. Don’t miss the Oxbow Public Market, a collection of artisan restaurants and shops in Napa, which offers something for every taste. For the budget-conscious, we love the breakfast items at Model Bakery, most of which are under $10, and you simply can’t beat a $12 lunch of a hamburger and fries from Gott’s. You can also find a variety of tasty tacos under $10 at C Casa, or even pick up a few cheeses from the Oxbow Cheese and Wine Merchant to pack for an afternoon picnic in the vineyards.
Oxbow Cheese and Wine Merchant, Courtesy of Oxbow Public Market
If you’ve indulged in some wine tasting at any of Napa’s urban tasting rooms (such as JaM Cellars or Mayacamas), we wouldn’t blame you if a grilled cheese is calling your name. In such a circumstance, check out Melted, a downtown sandwich shop specializing in ooey gooey grilled cheese sandwiches — most of which are priced under $12. Nearby, Bounty Hunter offers happy hour specials Monday through Friday, featuring such deals as a $14 BBQ sampler plate and $7 wines by the glass.

If you’re hungry for more budget-conscious food ideas, check out one of Napa’s food trucks. Offering everything from burgers and sandwiches to tacos and hot dogs, if you spot one while cruising around town, your taste buds (and your wallet) will surely thank you.

Go Wine Tasting

Though it will cost you a little bit upfront, Bay Area locals and those who visit Napa Valley often may want to consider purchasing a Covet Pass wine tasting pass. You’ll get complimentary tastings at a handful of Napa wineries (plus tastings in Sonoma County and Lake County!), which, at $150 per pass, is a great deal considering the regular wine tasting fees at these wineries will run you $30 – $50+ per person. It’s a fantastic way to save while you sip.

Not surprisingly, free wine tastings aren’t really a thing in Napa Valley (without some sort of wine pass, that is). There are, however, a few affordable wine tasting deals to be enjoyed in Wine Country, if you know where to look. For tastings of quality wine priced at $25 or less per person, check out Bennett Lane, a Calistoga winery known for their friendly service and highly rated blends, as well as Dutch Henry, a family-owned winery located along the picturesque Silverado Trail. In downtown Yountville, head to the charming tasting room and art gallery of Jessup Cellars, where a tasting of three wines will only set you back $20. Also worth trying is the family-owned Trefethen. Though a tasting will cost you $30 per person, the quality of the experience and their estate-grown wines make it feel like you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.
Courtesy of Beringer Vineyards
At the historic Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena, wine tastings start at $35 per person, but those simply looking for a glass of wine can take advantage of the weekend-only “stroll and sip” experience. Though not seated, this $15 offering allows you to walk around the beautiful gardens of this iconic 144-year-old estate, glass of wine in hand. By the glass offerings are also available at Clos Pegase winery in Calistoga, where glasses of wine start at $10 and can be sipped al fresco with views of the expansive estate and vineyards.

Budget-Friendly Insider Tip: For those flying out of the Sonoma County Airport (STS), San Francisco Int’l Airport (SFO), or Sacramento Int’l Airport (SMF) on Alaska Airlines, be sure to take advantage of their “Wine Flies Free” program. It’s an easy way to transport your wine purchases back home — all you need to do is pack your wine in a case box before heading to the airport.

Get Outdoors

With scenic vistas, lush forests, and rolling hills of vineyards, not to mention mild weather year-round, Napa Valley is a great place to spend some time outdoors. And luckily for those on a budget, many outdoor activities can be enjoyed at little to no cost.
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, Courtesy of Visit Calistoga
Napa Valley is home to a variety of parks with picnic facilities and hiking trails, most of which are free to use. Located just outside of St. Helena, Bothe-Napa Valley State Park offers hiking trails that wind through coastal redwoods and madrones, as well as picnic facilities under towering Douglas Firs. On the other side of the valley, near Rutherford, Moore Creek Park offers multi-use trails worth exploring — great for hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian use. It’s also a good place to spot some wildlife, as large mammals in the park are plentiful.

Close to downtown Napa, Alston Park is a popular park for dog owners to roam, thanks to an off-leash dog area, but there’s also an easy 2.7-mile trail loop that beckons with beautiful wildflowers along the way.

Also worth exploring is Calistoga’s Petrified Forest, a preserved ancient forest of fossilized redwood trees. Walk along the trails to explore this unique outdoor exhibition as you learn more about the excavation of the trees and the petrification process. Admission is $12 per adult, $6 per child (though kids under 6 are free).

For a leisurely outdoor experience on two wheels, take advantage of hourly hybrid bike rentals (which will run you about $15 per hour or $40 – $45 per day) from places like St. Helena Cyclery or Enjoy Napa Valley. Spend the day biking along the 12.5-mile car-free bike path known as the Vine Trail or plan to venture along the scenic Silverado Trail, home to many of Napa’s most famous wineries.

Where to Stay

Luxury resorts and well-appointed boutique hotels abound in Napa Valley, but they often come with a hefty price tag. Luckily, when you need a comfortable place to stay that won’t eat up the bulk of your vacation budget, regardless of whether you’re visiting in summer or in the off-season, there are a few good options to consider.

The historic Calistoga Inn, Restaurant and Brewery in Calistoga features 17 clean and comfortable second-floor rooms, each outfitted with a queen bed and private sink. Guest rooms share common restrooms and shower facilities down the hall, which contributes to the Inn’s affordability, but the convenient location in the heart of town more than makes up for it. Plus, you’ll be steps from the Inn’s own restaurant and brewery, complete with expansive patio and regular live music.
Calistoga Inn, Restaurant & Brewery, Courtesy of Calistoga Inn
Nearby in Calistoga, UpValley Inn & Hot Springs is an easy place to escape to without breaking the bank. Offering rustic, yet modern decor, a sauna and steam room, plus its own natural mineral hot springs pool and hot tub, you’ll be feeling the R&R vibes for a lot less than other Calistoga hot springs resorts.

In Napa, the Best Western PLUS Inn at the Vines offers great value in a convenient location just a five-minute drive south of downtown Napa. The furnishings are classic and comfortable, while amenities such as an outdoor pool, on-site restaurant, and gym add to its appeal. For something a bit more deluxe in Napa, check out the Silverado Resort and Spa. Though not technically a “budget” accommodation, the resort’s numerous amenities, including golf, tennis, a spa, and on-site dining, make a stay feel like a true vacation, while reasonably priced rooms make it a more accessible destination than other resorts in Wine Country.

Budget-Friendly Insider Tip: Want to stay at the Silverado Resort for less? Use our special promo link and you’ll get 25% off the best available room rate and a $50 resort credit. And be sure to check out all of our Napa Valley lodging deals for discounted rates and special perks like complimentary bottles of wine and spa credits.

Other Tips For the Budget-Conscious

It may sound obvious, but planning your trip to Napa in the off-season months or even mid-week during high season can usually help you cut costs. Not only do hotels tend to offer better rates, but restaurants will generally be less crowded, so you’ll up your chances of snagging a spot during the coveted happy hour.

It’d be a shame to come to Napa Valley and not enjoy a great bottle of wine with a good meal. While many restaurants pride themselves on their fantastic wine lists (and for good reason), we realize that not everyone can afford to splurge on wine and food in one sitting. Good news for those on a budget: many Napa restaurants will allow you to bring your own bottle and pay a corkage fee. Of course, corkage fees and regulations vary by restaurant, so be sure to check with each restaurant in advance.

Lastly, many Napa Valley wineries offer picnic facilities on-site to enjoy during a tasting or with the purchase of a bottle of wine. While some wineries have picnic provisions available for purchase, others will actually allow you to bring your own food. Due to COVID-19, bringing your own picnic may be restricted, but it’s definitely worth looking into as a picnic among the vineyards is a great way to experience Wine Country.
Courtesy of Bob McClenahan Photography
While Napa lures with luxe hotels and high-end experiences, it’s not necessary to spend a fortune to have a wonderful experience. There are plenty of authentic and budget-friendly experiences waiting to be had in Wine Country, and with a little planning and creativity, a visit to Napa Valley on a budget just may lead to the most memorable vacation yet.

Things to do in Downtown Napa: A Traveler’s Guide

8 Must-Stay Hotels in Napa


Author

Hana-Lee Sedgwick

Hana-Lee Sedgwick is a writer and editor based in her hometown of Santa Barbara, California. A Certified Specialist of Wine and Sommelier, Hana-Lee specializes in all things wine, food, and travel, and her work regularly appears in publications such as The Tasting Panel, Edible, and Food & Home. Whether for work or play, she never tires of exploring California wine country. Follow her on Instagram at @wanderandwine or visit her blog, wanderandwine.com.

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