Another frequently received email to WineCountryGetaways.com asks: “How can I avoid the crowds when we visit the Napa Valley?” We have an easy answer for that one: go during the week, during the months of December to February. Of course that is not the answer travelers are looking for, so with this article we give it our best shot suggesting a few ways for avoiding crowds on the weekends or on the weekdays during high season.
Most of the tasting rooms open between 10 and 11am. I know that sounds a little early to start drinking wine, but you will find fewer visitors in the tasting room before the noon hour. We always bring spit cups so we really can sample wine without getting a morning buzz on. Check this post on Why You Should Spit.
Hit the crossroads
The crossroads are the roads that stretch across the Valley floor from Highway 29 to the Silverado Trail. Start with Oak Knoll Avenue just north of Napa on Highway 29 and then zigzag across the Valley. Many of the tasting rooms are somewhat hidden on these crossroads, like the wineries on Big Ranch Road which crosses Oak Knoll Avenue. Explore!
Avoid Highway 29
Instead of driving from Napa to Calistoga on Highway 29, take the Silverado Trail on the eastside of the Valley. There are many wineries along the Silverado Trail, and this will help you avoid the heavy traffic caused by stop lights on HWY 29. Be forewarned that during the week the Silverado Trail is like the Indy 500. This is the way the locals travel to and from work and they very much do not like the slowpoke driver on their private “freeway.”
Go to appointment-only wineries
Many wineries on the Napa Valley floor are supposedly open by appointment only, but usually that is in name only. All you need to do is call or go inside to see if they will let you in. County ordinances have required this for the newer wineries in the Valley. Don’t feel intimidated by the appointment-only winery. You probably will end up having more fun than at a crowded tasting room open to the public without an appointment.
Go to wineries north of Calistoga
There are several wineries just north of the town of Calistoga. This is where the Napa Valley ends, and after that is Knights Valley. We have a set of wineries to choose from under our Calistoga Wine Trails. More visitors spend time in the central part of the Napa Valley than at the very northern end of Calistoga.
Try the mountain wineries
There are Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, Pritchard Hill and others to explore. Some of these wineries are high-end and require a definite appointment, so plan ahead and reserve a spot. We like Smith-Madrone, Buehler Vineyards, Amizetta Vineyards, and Chapellet in these mountain hideaways.
Maybe some of you veteran travelers to the Napa Valley have other strategies for avoiding the madness of the Napa Valley during high season. Please tell us how you avoid the crowds.
Good advice! It’s also worth noting that even though some tasting rooms have signs which say “By appointment only” many are in fact equally happy to allow walk-ins. Not all of them, but if everywhere else is slammed it’s worth trying. A smile can often get you in the door.
Very good advice on the “By Appointment Only” wineries.
Agreed! My favorite time to visit Napa Valley is late February. The weather is a little warmer, the mustard is still out and you have the place to yourself. One thing I find fun is spending the day in one area tasting and dining, that way I can spend more time relaxing and less time on the road. Another rule of thumb, if you are planning to drive, is to schedule everything so you can avoid left turns, especially on 29, good luck with that on a Saturday. On a recent visit I was recommend to Lisa at Meditrina Concierge, she planned our whole trip and we rarely ran into traffic or crowds. If you are wondering what to do or looking for new places you should give her a call she was great to work with. http://meditrinaconcierge.com/
Joe K says
Good call on bringing in the spit cups.
Yes, more visitors to tasting room should considering the spit cup solution.
Thanks so much for the great post! I’ve been planning my first Napa vacation and I totally hadn’t thought about crowds, etc. I’ve been doing some research on Napa wineries and PlumpJack seems to have a few great options, plus they take appointments.
Plumpjack is a good choice but the wineries are on the expensive side.
Thanks for these ideas. We will be in Napa Valley this weekend and will start early as you suggest.
This is great advice for wine tasters! I think the only thing I would add is to avoid any winery with tour buses or limos parked in front
That is a very good point. Thanks for contributing your comment.