Budget / California / Napa / wine tasting

Napa on a Shoestring


Tasting some Jersey wine and tapping on a Jersey pier

It’s a great day for wine enthusiasts and tap dancers!  It’s both National Wine Day and Tap Dance Day.  Though I’ve learned from experience that it’s not a good idea to enjoy both at the same time…

Okay, bad jokes aside, it is also a week to celebrate the Napa Valley as it was 40 years ago (on May 24th) that a Napa wine ranked as the best red against a number of French wines at the Judgement of Paris.  This put Napa and California on the map as respectable wine making regions and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

(If you want to see a beautifully acted movie about this event check out 2008’s Bottle Shock with Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman.)


Photo credit to my best friend Jenny for capturing this award winning wine and the story!

This brings me to the subject of this post…  Napa Valley.  I couldn’t decide if I should write about how to do Napa on a shoestring or how to do it off the beaten track.  Both are such great subjects that I have had the pleasure of exploring as my hometown is less than two hours away.  I decided on shoestring as I think the cost of a trip there is one of the things that holds people back or frustrates them during a visit.  I need to start by saying this:  You will spend money while in Napa.  It can’t be avoided.  I can help you spend less but be prepared to shell out more than you might in other wine regions.

As for budgeting…  Part of what makes Napa an expensive destination point is its popularity.  Still it is well worth the visit, be it a day trip from San Francisco or a weekend trip.  With a little bit of planning and I hope a few of my tips you should be able to stay within budget

 ACCOMMODATIONS – Though we can make a day trip to Napa and the surrounding wine region, we have found that we can enjoy more of what the region has to offer if we stay overnight.  Unfortunately, affordable overnight accommodations are not easy to find.  Here are two suggestions to help with that:

  1. If you can, go on a day early in the week.  Hotels are cheaper then.
  2. Here’s our favorite place to stay.  It’s price has been steadily increasing but it’s still more affordable than most nearby accommodations.  Be sure to make a reservation: El Bonita Motel www.elbonita.com

WINE TASTING – Explore off the beaten IMG_9240
path.  I will get into this more in a later post but until then don’t be afraid to do your own exploring.  Many of the wineries along the main vein of the Napa Valley have had to start charging for tastings as so many folks come through just for the free wine.  The lesser known wineries charge less or nothing so they can grow their business.  Many of these wineries are just as good.  

When you do pay for a tasting, split one with a tasting partner.  Through the course of a tasting day this will greatly reduce your expenditure.

FOOD – Okay, sorry, you have to splurge on at least one meal per day or per trip.  There are so many restaurants in the Napa region that please the palate, many of which use fresh, local ingredients (which Northern California produces very well!) and they are worth the cost.  There are too many favorites for me to list here but if you would like a personal recommendation, please send me a message and I will get back to you within 48 hours.

On the flip side, as I often suggest, pack your own breakfast and lunches.  OR since dinner is often the most expensive meal of the day, splurge on lunch and then eat a pre-packed dinner.  (Sometimes I am so tired from our explorations that I can barely enjoy dinner…  If you are like me, this is not a bad option.)

HISTORIC SONOMA PLAZA – If you find IMG_0821yourself near the heart of Sonoma, stop by.  You can hang out in the park for free, visit the local general store for a free wine tasting, and take in a piece of history at the Mission San Francisco Sonoma (for a few dollars entry).  The Spanish Missions are a big part of California’s early history and a great example lies here.  www.missionscalifornia.com

BONUS TIP – If you find yourself down near Sonoma take advantage of the free wine tasting at Jacuzzi and the free olive oil tasting at The Olive Press.  Seriously.  I haven’t been able to try much of Jacuzzi’s wines as we often end up there while the tour busses are thereIMG_1497_2 (Hint – one of the wine experts recently told me that the tour busses come first thing in the morning and then after lunch.  If the timing stays the same, arriving between those times would be more enjoyable.)  And The Olive Press…  One of my favorite gems of the valley.  Delicious olive oils and vinegars in a variety of common and unexpected flavors.  (My mom yearly stuffs my stocking with their oils and I never mind figuring out how to pack these delights in my checked airplane luggage!)  The olive oil side is not as popular as the wine side of this tasting venue, making it easier to navigate.  And, oh, so delightful!  theolivepress.com / www.jacuzziwines.com




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