1. Don’t only visit in the summer.Crowds thin during other times of the year, and each season offers its own benefits, particularly early fall — the vineyard foliage is stunning.
2. Don’t feel like you have to buy a bottle.If you don’t want to make a purchase after tasting the selection, don’t feel bad. But if you like what you tasted, keep in mind that that most places will waive the tasting fee if you buy just one bottle.
3. Don’t just taste wine.Many wine country restaurants have exceptional craft cocktails, like Goose & Gander in St. Helena. There’s also the Napa Valley Distillery at Oxbow, if you’d rather buy something to take home.
4. Don’t forget the beer.Wine Country is home to some amazing craft beer. Visit Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, Bear Republic in Healdsburg, Anderson Valley Brewing in Boonville or Lagunitas in Petaluma, just to name four.
5. Know your bakeries.Skip the lines at other better-known bakeries and get your calorie fill at the Model Bakery in St. Helena instead.
6. Don’t think that you have to leave the kids at home.Some wineries are family friendly. Francis Ford Coppola has a pool and bocce court, while Honig doles out coloring supplies, Goldfish crackers and apple juice to young visitors. Castello di Amorosa is a castle with a replicated dungeon and torture chamber, and it has lots of animals.
7. Don’t wing it.Make tasting reservations well in advance. It may cost a little more, but the experience is worth it. It’s much nicer to sit around a table with a few people instead of trying to elbow your way to a bar.
8. Explore Napa the fast way.The Sonoma Plaza is lovely, but the drive to the square can be brutally slow. If you prefer to go farther but faster, skip Sonoma and head straight to Calistoga and wander down Highway 29, which becomes a quaint little main street.
9. Don’t just limit yourself to Napa.Napa Valley is home to many world-class wineries, but the Bay Area has many great wine country areas within driving distance to explore. Expand your horizons to the Anderson Valley, Sonoma, Healdsburg, or the Santa Cruz Mountains, just to name a few.
10. You don’t have to stay overnight to get a full-day spa experience.At Indian Springs in Calistoga, book a massage, facial or other treatment, and spend the day luxuriating in the naturally warm mineral pool.
11. Know the right delis.Oakville Grocery has good sandwiches, snacks and charm, but the wait can be insane on a nice day. Stop into Napa proper and get some deli sandwiches from Genova Delicatessen before heading into the Valley.
12. Explore the area’s natural beauty by bike or foot.Burn off some of those wine calories by riding a bike through the towns. Many bike shops rent bikes for the day, or if you’re staying in a smaller inn, inquire if they have any you can use. Or take a hike. There are many gorgeous trails — easy, moderate and tough — all around wine country.
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