A road trip through Napa Valley is more than just a scenic mountain drive. It combines splendid views with plentiful wine, good food, interesting history, and a bit of adventure.

    Here are some of the must-visit towns in Napa that you’d normally pass on a road trip through the beautiful Wine Country. They’re home to hundreds of wineries, some dating back to the 1800s. Each town is unique with its own sets of sights and appeals – be it for the wine enthusiast, travelling families, the photographer, the foodie, or the outdoorsy type.

    1

    Napa

    The main town for enjoying the Napa Valley

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    Napa is the main town in Napa Valley where most won’t miss on their road trips through California’s famous wine region. Here you’ll find bits of the former trade hub’s heyday in its preserved historic buildings, especially in downtown, among all the modern facilities from accommodation to dining and shopping and nightlife.

    Hit Oxford Public Market for a multisensory experience or stroll between Main Street and 1st Street for Downtown Napa’s all-in-one offerings. It’s where you can find most of the stylish boutiques, galleries, and wine-tasting rooms. The great outdoors isn’t too far away – adventures like kayaking and gondola rides await by the namesake river that runs through the middle of town.

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    2

    Yountville

    A small Napa Valley town that’s big on Michelin stars

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    Yountville lies in the middle of a string of towns within the Napa Valley wine region. Best known for its high concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants, those on road trips through Napa Valley mark the town high on their list for among Napa’s top wine and dining experiences.

    Culinary hot spots in Yountville are well-varied. Top names include The French Laundry for great contemporary cuisine, Bouchon for classic French, Ciccio and Bottega for Italian, and La Calenda for Mexican. Of course, wine tasting opportunities abound. The scenic road trip through Yountville also treats you to some of the prettiest architecture in the entire valley.

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    photo by Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0) modified

    3

    Oakville

    A modern-day hamlet home to family vineyards and stylish wine cellars

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    Oakville is a small town that most would likely pass and overlook on their Napa Valley road trips, en route between Rutherford and Yountville. Even so, it’s worth a stop along Highway 29 where you can find small boutique wineries – some having some of the best Cabernet in Napa Valley to offer.

    Lining the St. Helena Highway are a selection of top Napa wineries that call Oakville home, such as Robert Mondavi, Opus One, and Cakebread Cellars. Turning south into Oakville Grade Road leads you to more pretty wine estates and further southwest into Sonoma. Not driving? You can always hop on the Napa Valley Wine Train for a memorable ride through the wine region with Oakville as among the stops.

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    photo by Prayitno (CC BY 2.0) modified

    4

    Rutherford

    Home to some of Napa’s best wineries

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    Rutherford is one of the highlight towns in Napa, home to some of the top wineries in the region and is designated as an American Viticultural Area on its own. Oenologists, and wine lovers in general, would mark it as a top visit on their road trip itinerary.

    Among the notable names calling Rutherford home is Inglenook, a grand wine estate that dates back to 1879 and is now owned by Francis Ford Coppola. There are also the historic Beaulieu Vineyard, Round Pond Estate, and the Rutherford Hill Winery where you can taste their legendary wine with spectacular views of the Valley.

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    photo by Steven Damron (CC BY 2.0) modified

    5

    St. Helena

    A small town rich on Napa Valley history

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    St. Helena is a charming town with a downtown main street lined with pretty shops, galleries, and cafés set in historic buildings. Just a short trip outside town are some of Napa Valley’s most historic wineries, including Beringer Vineyard – considered the oldest continually operating winery in the Valley.

    St. Helena is also cool for families with older kids on a road trip, as a stop at Robert Louis Stevenson Museum can be fun and inspiring. It’s filled with around 11,000 personal belongings of the author of the coming-of-age adventure novel, Treasure Island. Looking for a sweat with a rewarding view? Hike Mount St. Helena for the outlook over the San Francisco Bay Area.

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    6

    Calistoga

    Natural wonders, golfing, and notable California wine icons

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    Calistoga is a small town in the northern area of Napa Valley where you can experience a mix of natural attractions, history, and of course, great wine. Just northwest of town is California’s Old Faithful geyser which regularly blows off steam in intervals, together with hot springs and mud baths.

    For historical sights, look out for the medieval-style Castello di Amorosa. Wine lovers shouldn’t miss Chateau Montelena, one of the top Napa Valley wineries known for its triumph at the historic Judgment of Paris in 1976.

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    photo by Grendelkhan (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    7

    Angwin

    A rustic and serene town with wineries and hiking trails

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    Angwin is a small town at the foot of the wine-growing slopes of Howell Mountain. It’s just across the road from Pacific Union College and was named after Edwin Angwin who bought 200 acres on the slopes back in 1875 to build a resort. 

    The region offers great hikes through trails past grapevines and across rocky trails leading to Linda Falls or the Las Posadas Trailhead. Though you won’t find any restaurants or places to stay in Angwin, many wineries ring the town, such as Howell Mountain Vineyards, Arkenstone Vineyards, Neal Family Vineyards, and CADE Estate Winery. The uphill drive is worth taking for the scenery alone, occasionally with small pilot training planes flying overhead from the nearby Angwin-Parrett Field.

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    photo by Sharon Hahn Darlin (CC BY 2.0) modified

    8

    American Canyon

    Nature and modern pleasures on Napa Valley’s southern end

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    American Canyon, formerly known as Napa Junction, serves as an in-between base for Napa Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. The city is home to great accommodation options as well as plenty of spots for family fun.

    About 20 minutes’ drive south of Downtown Napa, the city has plenty of parks and open spaces where families can picnic while the kids let off some steam in the playgrounds. Nature isn’t far away – the Newell Open Space preserve is an accessible area where you can take a short hike through lush ranch land with wildflowers and grazing cattle. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo and the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield are just a short drive out.

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    photo by Cullen328 (CC BY 3.0) modified

    9

    Deer Park

    A tiny town off the Silverado Trail

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    Deer Park and Sanitarium are 2 small towns in Napa ringed by lush vineyards, just north along a road off the scenic Silverado Trail. Just north of St. Helena, many take Deer Park Road for the steady and pleasant mountain drive through one of Napa Valley’s sub-appellations.

    Besides numerous wineries, the area is home to some historical sites. Check out the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park with its mill that dates back to 1846, or the historic Victorian house of Elmshaven at 125 Glass Mountain Lane, where author and early Adventist, Ellen G. White, lived in the 1900s.

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    photo by WineCountry Media (CC BY 2.0) modified

    10

    Sonoma

    The heart of Napa’s neighbouring county and sister wine region

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    Sonoma is a favoured base for road trippers venturing into the famous neighbouring Napa and Sonoma wine regions. This is true even for those who have Downtown Napa on their itinerary since the ride through Wine Country from outside Napa Valley itself is a highlight for most.

    Downtown Sonoma treats you to a charming mix of historical sites and modern pleasures with its array of shops and art galleries surrounding the colonial-era Sonoma Plaza. Families with kids in tow can head to Sonoma TrainTown Railroad with its onsite petting zoo and ¼-scale locomotives that will take them on rides through a mini town.

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    Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveller

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