Napa Valley. Known for world-renowned wineries, posh hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants, no other destination in America embodies aspirational wine travel like this sliver of northern California. One could drop thousands of dollars on an over-the top vacation here, but those on a budget can also sample its fruits. At its heart, Napa remains an agricultural community and nature preserve.
Along with airfare, lodging in Napa is a big expense, especially for a region with such demand. Visit during the off-season, winter through spring, to save dollars. Average rates can fall nearly 50 percent between October and May. With a little hunting, Yountville might be within reach, while downtown Napa becomes downright affordable.
Downtown Napa. To save a few bucks over Yountville and hotels surrounded by vineyards, stay in the city of Napa. Compare prices between the Napa Discovery Inn, Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Napa Valley and RiverPointe Napa Valley. The latter offers colorful cottages along the Napa River, configured with kitchenettes and patios that make them perfect for groups.
American Canyon. If you’re flexible on the address, consider American Canyon, which lies 10 miles south of Napa. What the town lacks in popularity, it makes up for in affordability. Reliable properties include the DoubleTree Hilton American Canyon and Fairfield Inn & Suites American Canyon.
Camping. Part of wine country’s allure is being outdoors. So, get closer to nature by sleeping in it. Book a tent site in the nearly 2,000-acre Bothe Napa Valley State Park, between St. Helena and Calistoga. You can also rent a “glamping” yurt or renovated historic cabin and wake up to a hike or swim. Alternatively, stay in Skyline Wilderness Park, nestled in the Valley’s foothills. The park offers conventional tent, horse and RV camping.
Tastings in Napa can be notoriously expensive. Purchase a Taste Napa Downtown card for $15. Good at 25 tasting rooms, the card includes 10 visits for half price, and all of the venues are within walking distance. Purchase online or at the Napa Welcome or Tourist Centers.
Another option is the Priority Wine Pass. For $59.99, this pass, accessible via smartphone app, get you 2-for-1 deals at many area tasting rooms, and saves around $25 or more at select stops like the Napa Wine Train and Beringer. Check local deals online to ensure they fit your expectations. There’s also the Winery Finder App to help track down tasting-room deals.
If you love a particular winery or group, tastings are often free to wine club members. You’ll commit to at least one shipment, but you can save up to $100 per couple for tastings.
Most people know about famed Chef Thomas Keller’s superb $17.50 boxed lunches at Addendum, but chatting up locals can yield great info on Napa’s unadvertised deals. Winemaker Alison Crowe of Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards, and Eduardo Dingler, wine columnist for the Napa Valley Register, offer their tips.
“In general, Napa has amazing happy hours and late-night dining specials,” says Crowe, “An easy way to save money is to eat earlier or later than the popular time between 6:30–8:30 pm.” While you wait, enjoy a sunset stroll along the Napa River or explore the Napa Art Walk.
Since almost every bar or restaurant offers discounted dining hours, Dingler says to call ahead. The following list includes recent deals. Offers subject to change.
Morimoto Napa: It’s easy to rack up a big bill at this well-known sushi spot. But keep the party going until 10 pm weekdays to enjoy 30% discount off the late-night menu and drinks until midnight on weekdays, and from 11 pm–1 am on weekends.
NapaSport Steakhouse and Sports Lounge: Sample discounted bar items from 3–6 pm. Hot dogs and pulled pork sliders come from high-end meat purveyor Snake River Farms and start at $4. Bottled beers and drafts are $4–$6.
Charlie Palmer Steak at the Archer Hotel: To locals like Crowe, Charlie Palmer delivers the gold standard in dining deals. Daily from 4–7 pm, wine, cocktails and bites are $7 and draft beers are $4.
Sky & Vine at the Archer Hotel: This rooftop bar offers a reverse happy hour Sunday to Thursday from 9 pm to close. Snacks are under $10, while wine and cocktails cost $9 and draft beers $5.
Miminashi: Ramen and fried rice are $15 during the last hour of service (Monday–Thursday, after 9 pm; Friday and Saturday after 10 pm and Sunday after 8:30 pm) plus pitchers of Asahi beer for $15.
Compline Wine Bar & Restaurant: Brainchild of Matt Stamp, a master sommelier, Compline serves a full menu until 11 pm, but also offers or a “family meal” (chef’s choice dish) with glass of wine for $20 from 9–11 pm.
Fumé Bistro: Good for a date night. A couple can enjoy a full meal with drinks for less than $100.
Napa Noodles: Enjoy a hip, fun vibe alongside “funky pan-Asian cuisine,” with an emphasis on noodle dishes like pho and ramen, and great wines by the glass.
Stanly Lane Smokehouse: A go-to spot for winemakers on a busy night. Order smoked meats for under $14 per pound to pair with salads, barbecue sauces and rolls. The adjacent deli serves huge sandwiches. Check the fridge for great beer and wine selections, and bring supplies for a DIY picnic.
Enjoy the “country” part of Napa and savor the gorgeous landscape. Hike the popular Oat Hill Mine Trail, just outside of Calistoga. Go bird watching or take a drive to scenic overlooks. “Window shop” at the weekend farmers markets or stroll quaint St. Helena.
Many dream of hot air balloon rides, but flights run close to $500 per person. Instead, see Napa from the water on a paddleboard for a fraction of the cost. Napa Valley Paddle offers rentals, lessons and tours. According to Crowe, “hot air balloons were so 1992.”