Do you have a list of your Top Five favorite vacations? Or maybe your Top Ten? My husband and I just returned from Napa Valley a couple of weeks ago, and it’s definitely up there as one of my favorites. We went with a group of couples, to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of our friends, while also celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary (in November). It was one of those trips that exceeded any sort of expectation I could have had. We knew some of the couples, but not all of them, but we all got along beautifully, and created some wonderful shared memories that I will always treasure. I thought it would be fun to share where we went and what we did, and would love to hear if you’ve been to Napa, and what your favorite things were. The great thing about a trip to Napa Valley is that you could make the trip multiple times and have a different experience every time. Plus, you can walk away with great inspiration on outdoor living.
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I need string lights hanging from two big trees in my backyard, don’t you?
Tips and Suggestions
I’m no travel expert by any stretch, but here are a few things that are worth noting if you’re planning a trip to Napa:
- Schedule your wine tastings ahead of time. By scheduling beforehand, you don’t have to worry about the winery being booked or busy if you show up on the fly. We did stop by some additional wineries to hang out, but scheduling a tour proved to be more challenging.
- Go for the more expensive tastings. Our tastings varied in price from $55-$75 per person. The more expensive ones always proved to be better on this trip. We had a great personalized tour with a funny and knowledgeable guide, we had food to try with the wines, etc… The less expensive ones fell short by comparison. That said, one formal wine tour a day was good. The first day we did two formal tours, which was fun, but you need to pace yourself on these things you know. The other days there was just one tour/activity in a day, which left plenty of time for venturing out and doing different things.
- Invest in help to plan your trip. We had the good fortune of having a former corporate event planner help plan this event, and her work was invaluable. She found great accommodations and activities for the trip that would have been more difficult to arrange on our own.
- We were there from a Thursday – Monday, which was just the right amount of time for a trip like this.
- If you’re traveling with a group, be flexible. Going into this trip, we all knew that there were times that we would be together, and other times that people would go their separate ways, and that was perfect. We planned the tastings ahead of time, and there was a group dinner one night, but no one felt like they were running on a strict itinerary of activities, and that was fabulous
Our first stop on our winery tour was at Del Dotto Vineyards. This was one of the more expensive tours, but our guide had a witty, dry sense of humor while also educating us on how their wine was made. We had tastings right out of the barrels, and you could really appreciate the differences in them as a result. (Not to mention, it was nice and cool down there when it was roaring hot outside). I felt like I really learned something coming out of this tour. The location was stunning, and the wine was impressive as well.
I love that you have the option of grabbing a little card if you like a particular wine (since they do tend to blur together after awhile).
Stunning gardens and scenery here too. I would love to do a family photo shoot somewhere out here!
Grgich Hills was the second tour that we did, on the same day as the Del Dotto tour. This one involved a “grape stomp” for our group, as well as a tasting. To be honest, this tour felt a little more haphazard (and the whole group agreed on this). We didn’t get the same in depth tour and information behind the wines like we did at Del Dotto, which was kind of disappointing since the bar was set pretty high. The grape stomp made for some fun photo ops, but the entire event was outside (and again, it was hot), so taking a potty break inside was a welcome respite. They were also a little stingy about giving an additional tasting of another wine (and not necessarily for the entire group), so that kind of left a bad taste in our mouths, so to speak.
Quixote Winery is a smaller winery compared to some of the others that we visited, but I loved hearing the story behind the winery and how personal the experience was at our tasting. It’s funny, the aesthetics of the winery facility itself weren’t necessarily my style, but hearing the story of how it was built, and the meaning behind the different materials used and the design inspiration made it very compelling. But the grounds of the vineyard were breathtaking.
I walked away from this tasting as not only more knowledgeable about wine, but also about cheese. They gave us a pairing of cheeses with the different wines, and I really appreciated them a lot more as a result (and spent a lot more money on cheese at the grocery store when we got home). Our guide was really fun and knowledgeable and we really had a blast here. I discovered wines that I had never really given a chance in the past (i.e., their Malbec was fantastic!). I’m definitely more of a white wine drinker by nature, but I do enjoy red wines if they’re the right ones for me, if that makes any sense. And I discovered some great rosé wines as well! Consider smaller wineries if you visit Napa – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The highlight of the trip was the dinner celebration that the birthday girl and her husband organized and funded, as a thank you to all of us for coming on the trip. They rented a cottage behind the Brix restaurant that was just off the hook, amazing. We all kept looking at each other in awe at the scenery, the setting, the joy of the moment, saying things like, “Whose life is this? This isn’t my life. I don’t live like this.” Or, “I feel like I’m living somebody else’s best life right now.” That kind of sums it up. This trip was about living. It was about the experience. We all commented on what a good day it was. A truly good day. Photos just don’t do it justice.
And even a good photo of me and my hubby.
But what a fantastic group! I would do it again in a heartbeat, and it’s left me thinking that I want to do something like this for my 50th. What a great experience and great memories that we will always remember.
One more thing, if you do go to Napa, and you enjoy wine (and perhaps, buy a lot of wine), instead of shipping it home, pick up one of these wine luggage carriers. We bought one at one of the wineries, and were able to check it like a regular suitcase and bring it home for less than what it would have cost to ship. It’s all packed the same way as it would be if it was shipped. Our wine arrived safe and sound. Brilliant!
This is just some of the highlights of our trip, we did more but I don’t want to overwhelm you with all of my photos. I feel like I’m turning into a dad with his slide projector after a family vacation, so I’ll cut it off here. Have you been to Napa? Did you have a favorite winery? Please share – I would love to go back!