Life needs a few more polka dots and picnics. Get all the local tips on where to have a wine country picnic in Napa Valley and just maybe, the best time of your life.
Picnics may have been around since the dawn of civilization and good news for all of us foodies and wine country travelers, hosting a picnic has only become easier. Traditionally a country picnic meant that Mom packed you a PB & J (or some other sandwich you absolutely hated when you were a kid) and was held in a boring park. Not in Napa Valley as we’re about to share with you the best-known secret picnic spots that will put your bad memories about picnics in the past as we’ll also share with you the best places to source your wine country noshing material.
For those that need the traditional picnic table, we have plenty of options for you. What we wanted to highlight is really two different locales to choose from, wineries and out in nature. Sure, like you, us locals picnic in parking lots (tail gate parties), parks, atop a vista or valley, under a shady tree, by rivers and streams, in backyards and of course, at our local wineries. In the urban setting, we have to get creative if we want to find a place to picnic, but in California wine country, the landscape sets the stage just right and all we have to do is bring the picnic spread.
Besides being an affordable alternative to dining in one of the world-class Napa Valley restaurants, the proverbial picnic gives us an opportunity to connect with the outdoors and let the daily stress of life fade away. I can’t remember who said it, but the saying “life needs a few more polka dots and picnics,” couldn’t be more true.
If your wine tasting in the Napa Valley, planning to picnic at one of the wineries which allow outside food is not only delicious (because the food and wine in Napa Valley are a foodie’s dream), picnicking is a great way to save time so you can hit more wineries! Just be sure that you check with the winery before dropping your spread as it’s courteous to buy a bottle or two and make sure there’s plenty of room for others to enjoy their picnic, too.
Best Local Markets and Delicatessens to Pick Up Your Picnic Provisions
10. Soda Canyon Store (Napa) If you plan on heading out for wine tastings along the Silverado Trail, this will be your stop for packing a picnic. This is a local market that offers made-to-order sandwiches, burritos and charming market full of everything you need for a picnic. Reasonably priced, they serve espresso in case you need a boost of energy as you wake up in Napa Valley wine country.
9. Genova Delicatessen (Napa) If you are staying in Napa, this a local’s favorite that you’ll need to checkout as it reminds me of the old delis in New York City or San Francisco. Offering a wide selection of made-to-order sandwiches, housemade pasta dishes, desserts and oh my, charcutier plates, you’ll be glad that you stopped in as the pricing is perfect for anyone on a limited budget. They also have espresso in case you need a pick me up before you head out for the day.
8. W F Giugni & Son (St. Helena) Also known to us locals as Giugni’s (jew-nees) for generations, this is a hole-in-the-wall with ultimate local charm. It’s also hard to describe since there’s so much going on with the decor and old advertisements hanging on the walls. There’s plenty of selection here to complete your picnic. In fact, you may have been waited on by one of the local vintners’ (and their kids) since many have worked here at one point as it’s a common place for kids to work while they attend St. Helena High School. Sandwiches are stuffed and reasonable (around $9 $10). Don’t forget to ask for the “Guigni Juice” as part of your sandwich order as you’ll love it.
7. Kelly’s Filling Station and Wine Shop in Yountville is an adorable place to get all you need for a picnic and more. They don’t have sandwiches, but they have really cute accessories, old-fashioned sodas, wine, chocolates and snacks. It’s worth stopping in because they have cool stuff that no one else has and great coffee. Locals tip: Kelly’s have incredible scones made daily at R&D Kitchen and hot Nathan’s hot dogs! Be careful, both are highly addictive. Locals convene here daily to chitchat and start their day. They don’t have a website, but you can find them on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/KellysFandP
6. Ranch Market (Napa) and Ranch Market Too in Yountville has anything and everything you would need. Locally owned and operated, Ranch is the only market in town (I’m talking about Yountville) and has a killer list of sandwiches as well as a full on regular market for supplies. https://www.ranchmarketsnapavalley.com/
5. The Model Bakery is always awesome and since they have two locations (Napa Oxbow and St. Helena), it doesn’t really matter where you are staying. Both offer almost the same menu with fresh baguttes or made-to-order sandwiches. Food is made daily (you can buy day old salads and sandwiches for a discount) and tastes like a dream. As close to Paris as you’ll get! The prices are reasonable and you get a lot for your money. They prepare anything from sandwiches, pizza, soups, pastries and cookies to fresh, locally sourced salads and coffee bar fare. You may have heard of Model Bakery through Oprah Winfrey, who decided a few years back that the Model Bakery English muffins were one of her favorite things. Stop by and be sure to take some home with you. You can’t go wrong at Model Bakery.
4. Cal-Mart Specialty Grocery and Deli (Calistoga) is another specialty market that has anything you could want for a picnic. I like to do one-stop shopping and this is the place to do it, if you are all the way up valley. Besides being a grocery store, they have a full deli, cheese section and hot and cold food bar. They also carry a lot of specialty items and cool stuff that you don’t usually see at a normal Cal-Mart. Great sandwiches and friendly staff.
3. JCB Atelier Fine Foods (Yountville) Created by the curious mind of Jean-Charles Boisset, this is located right next to the JCB Tasting Room in Yountville. Here you can get cheese & charcutier plates or create your own cheese board. They also offer a fine selection of caviars, foie gras, pate and prosciutto from around the globe to make your mouth water and your picnic complete. If you plan ahead, they can put together a complete “hamper” that you can pickup and head out to your picnic destination.
2. Sunshine Foods Market is a local favorite and while it may be a little bit expensive, it’s locally owned. I shop there every day and I feel better knowing that my dollars and cents are going to into the pockets of a local purveyor over a corporation. I don’t think its expensive because the quality and friendly service are right on par. Besides, the family that own sunshine are constantly giving back to the community projects, events and athletic teams. They have a high end deli, cheese section, salad bar, soup bar, sushi station and hot food station (not on Sundays). You can find products at Sunshine Foods that no one else in the valley has. Sunshine is our local gem.
1. Oakville Grocery (Oakville) is a historical mercantile store (built in 1881) that now has an incredible selection of food, condiments, and merchandise. Recently purchased by Jean-Charles Boisset and Gina Gallo, there is now a wine country museum that you can visit on site. It’s fabulous! The grounds offer picnic tables, green grass, corn hole and a wood burning pizza oven. You can buy your picnic stuff and eat there or take it to one of the wineries listed below. It gets super busy by lunchtime, so be prepared to wait. If you want to get ahead of the crowds, you can order online or call in your order - they open at 6:30AM. I must warn you however, Oakville Grocery is pricy! For example, hummus is $18 per pound and most sandwiches are between $14 and $18 dollars. If you don’t mind the expense, you will love it here and return over and over again. Locals and visitors flock here like it’s nobody’s business.
Wineries & Tasting Rooms to Picnic
A lot of the wineries do not allow outside food, so don’t assume that you can bring your picnic just anywhere, or you will be tailgate picnicking (which isn’t that bad, by the way). While some wineries do have an all-inclusive picnic experience you can have on site, a handful will let you bring in your own goods, provided you buy some wine and/or do a tasting. What it comes down to really, is permitting. Not all wineries are permitted by the county to provide the picnic option. This is a difficult and almost-impossible permit to get, so be sure to say “thanks” when enjoying one of these properties. And to help you find your ultimate wine country picnic spot, I have vetted a fantastic list of wineries and park settings that will welcome you (and your picnic basket) with open arms. Happy picnicking!
10. Honig Vineyard is owned and mostly operated by a quintessential Napa wine country family. And those that work there that aren’t family are considered family, too That kind gesture will also be extended to you as a guest! Fully aligned with the life of the vineyard, you will love the simple setting nestled under umbrellas with vineyard views. Talk about a stunning wine country setting. The other day when I was there, I found seven quail eggs, watched the hunting hawks and became entranced by the jackrabbits bouncing through the vineyard rows. What a magical little wildlife refuge It was then that I realized that Honig Vineyard hallowed ground, is filled with a hearty and vibrant zest for life. Your picnic will be simple and relaxed, just how it should be. After you eat, you will taste honest wines made with soul.
9. Rutherford Hill Winery is such a popular place to picnic that they require a $75 fee when you make your reservation. Don’t worry, you can apply the fee towards wine purchases. Grab a couple of chilled bottles of Rosé or Sauvignon Blanc as they’ll pair perfectly with your picnic nosh. The setting- unique as you’ll have almost a 180-dgree view of Napa Valley at about 500 feet elevation The picnic grove is a romantic setting that will be found nowhere else and is nothing short of fabulous. You will feel like it’s money well spent. If you have ever heard of the famous sunset view at Auberge du Soleil Resort in Rutherford, then you will get an idea of the extraordinary view I am talking about as Rutherford Hill is located just a little bit further up the road from Auberge. Situated on one of the best vantage points in the Napa Valley, everything about Rutherford Hill is makes for the perfect wine country picnic setting.
8. Charles Krug Winery is a true testament to the legacy of the founding families that put Napa Valley on the map for world-class wine. It’s imperative that you visit Charles Krug (even if you don’t have a picnic). Founded in 1882, people have tasted wine here longer than almost any other winery (Inglenook and Beringer may be close). Regardless, just go. You can picnic in the sprawling grounds or get food on site and eat indoors or out. In the summer they fire up their pizza oven and its lovely. While there aren’t hilltop views, the setting is like a grand manor garden. Every day the Napa Valley Wine Train pulls in and its cool to see an operating restored vintage train while you sip on some of the best wines around. Charles Krug is really stepping up with new and interesting experiences for visitors and locals. They have stand up comedy, lectures and a sunset cinema series. Like I said earlier, just go.
7. AXR Napa Valley exclusively for club members, located just a couple of miles past downtown St. Helena is hands down, one of the best places to have a picnic on Napa Valley’s west side. Why? Because AXR is my favorite! It’s magical to sit in the shady Redwood Grove and enjoy a wine country picnic. Redwoods, native to California are stunning trees to begin with- and provide the ultimate shade for your picnic as it can get pretty hot in Napa Valley in July through early October. Add some AXR estate wine, local artisan cheeses and charcutier along with your closest friends, you’ll have all the ingredients for an epic adventure in St. Helena. You will need to let the reservationist know at the time of your booking, that you want to have a picnic as many book up the Redwood Grove months in advance. If you can score a picnic at AXR, consider yourself very fortunate.
6. Freemark Abbey is one of those places that might not look like much from the outside, but once you go in, you will wonder why you hadn’t dropped in sooner. Surprisingly, Freemark Abbey is 130 years strong and the folks there are passionate about what they do and will go to every measure to make sure you are having a fantastic experience. Before you taste, you can eat outside on one of the terraces and your wine educator will bring you out a taste of wine to get you going. Centrally located in the valley, almost across the street from the famous Culinary Art Institute at Greystone, making Freemark Abbey a convenient place to have lunch and discover some Napa Valley wines you’ve probably never tasted before.
5. Rombauer Vineyards, situated on a hill overlooking the valley is stunning from the moment you turn off from the Silverado Trail. The terraced landscaping and breathtaking views will make all your Instagram shots look amazing! Buy a bottle of wine (hopefully Chardonnay) and park yourself at the picnic tables for a delightful lunch. Always a hotspot for young and old, Rombauer is a classic venue that shines like a star.
4. Dutch Henry Winery located along the picturesque Silverado Trail is a favorite pick for people of all ages. Enjoy the shaded picnic tables under the trees, rally some friends and enjoy a friendly game of bocce ball. Missing your pooch or cat? The vineyards dogs and cats are always happy to join your party as you nosh on your hand-picked picnic selections. Super casual, yet elegant. The setting and wines will dazzle you, just like they do with everyone else that finds this hidden gem. Every time I go there, I am reminded of the important things in life; laughter, love and wine!
3. Frank Family Vineyards is a classic place to stop and get away from the bigger wineries in Napa Valley. I’m not sure why, but Frank Family Vineyards reminds me of a place Huckleberry Finn might have gone had he lived in California. It just may be since the owner, Rich Frank, was a former president at Disney Studios. His world travel running Disney inspired him to own a winery and give it some character and it shows. The willowy trees and lush grass provide a cool retreat from the triple digit temperature of summer. Buy a bottle of one of their estate wines and chill at one of the coveted picnic tables (or a patch of grass) and enjoy the unique scenery and locale. Frank Family Vineyards is a place that you might see in a movie or described in a book – absolutely charming in an authentic Napa Valley way.
2. Tamber Bey Vineyards (Calistoga) is a stunning horse ranch turned winery (but there are still horses there). Located very close to Mt. Saint Helena, the landscape is gorgeous and the land beneath is likely a bubbling hot spring. Did you know that Mt. Saint Helena is the highest point in the San Francisco Bay Area watershed and a dormant volcano? It’s entertaining to sit at Tamber Bey and contemplate what the valley must have been like years ago. Needless to say, Tamber Bey is a nice spot for a picnic and offers a stellar selection of red and white wines to complete your picnic spread. Ranch-like in nature, you will feel relaxed with all the farm life going on around you. Rustic and casual, you will feel right at home. Picnics are welcomed out on the patio and there is shade as well as lots of comfort. However, it does get quite warm during the summer (even in the shade), so maybe bring a fan-propelled mister to keep you cool while you play a game of horseshoe.
1. Sherwin Family Vineyards is located at the top of Spring Mo untain and is a completely different world than the valley floor. You will have to drive up the winding road behind St Helena (past the site where they would film Falcon Crest in the 1980’s) to get there, but it’s worth it. The drive is gorgeous and upon arrival, you will be glad you made the effort as you will not find another setting to match anywhere in Napa Valley. The tasting room at Sherwin feels like a private home and overlooks the estate’s vineyards and tranquil lake. Is there anything better than that? I don’t think so. You will enjoy your picnic out on the terraces with a patriotic pour of one of the Sherwin varietals. Little known fact is that Sherwin Family is the only winery in the U.S. that was granted permission to have the U.S. flag on their bottle. Ask them about it, it’s a great story.
The wineries listed below all have fabulous picnic areas, but require you to buy your food and wine on site. Good news is you don’t have to pack anything and can just roll up and have a world of options at your fingertips.
V. Sattui (St. Helena) has been around forever. When it comes to permitting picnics at wineries (which is rare BTW), that pays off in Napa Valley! V. Sattui is one of the few places that can also host weddings, sell wine by the glass or the bottle and serve food. Dario Sattui (the owner) is a wonderful man who gives back to the community whenever he can. He is very conscious of the employee-housing problem in the valley and has been passionate in taking care of his staff. He also owns the Castle Di Amorosa (in Calistoga), which you may have heard of. You’ll know you are in the right place when you see hundreds of people lounging about out on the lawn eating, laughing and having a grand old’ time. So if you are expecting a tranquil picnic spot, this is not the place. Located right on Highway 29, just before you get into St. Helena, V. Sattui is a great option for a picnic. I love the deli (which is adjacent to the tasting room) because there are so many things to choose from, everything is made to order and you can walk around and taste things before you decide. It may be a bit like a zoo on the weekends, but when a place is as busy as V. Sattui, you know that the food is not sitting around for long. Don’t be turned off by the crowds. There is plenty of room and parking and great people watching!
Beringer Vineyards (St. Helena), founded in 1876, is "the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley", and is listed under both the National Register of Historical Places and as a California Historical Landmark. As you can imagine, the grounds are expansive and the vegetation is established and the property is well manicured. There is so much to see and do at Beringer, that you could easily spend the entire day there (I actually have done that for the fabulous Founders Day celebration). While you cannot bring in your own food, you can walk along the perfectly-landscaped path to an area behind the Rhine House. There, you will find a cute little shack that sells simple lunch items. The picnic areas are spread out, but the main one is right there and offers comfortable patio furniture, shade and a view of Beringer’s historical gardens. The other picnic area is up on the hill, in front of the main tasting room and caves. As for the wine, it is widely distributed and in grocery stores, but there are some incredible reserve and estate wines that are excellent and very special that are only available for purchase in the tasting room.
Madrigal Family Winery (Calistoga) is a family-owned winery that has a ton of charm and personality. Here you will find honest wines and authentic people. Chris Madrigal lives on site and can usually be found around the vineyard talking with guests or working on something. He and his team will make you feel like you are part of the Madrigal family. There is no outside food allowed here, but they have the most lavish picnic experience around as something you can book ahead of time and enjoy. The patio sits right at the edge of the vineyards and looks out onto the valley floor which is stunning. By the way, the wines are out of this world, crafted by a master. If you don’t want to think about anything and feel like having a treat, give Madrigal Family Winery a call. You’ll need to check ahead of time for availability and current offerings, pricing, etc. The website doesn’t list this experience just yet. Call them. http://www.madrigalfamilywinery.com/
Places to Picnic That Are Not Wineries
Napa Valley Olive Oil Company (St. Helena) provides locally-grown and manufactured olive oil in the back streets of St. Helena. This is truly one of those hidden gems you see on TV that you wish you could check out for yourself. Well, here you go! Owned and operated since 1931, this little Italian grocery store, carries prosciutto, salami, sausages, breads, cheeses, peppers, wine, and pastas imported from Italy. Even the techniques and processing of the olive oil making has never been altered in any way for nearly 100 years. Their olive oil is available for purchase by the jug, so be sure to take some home with you! If you are a foodie, you are going to love this place. https://www.nvoliveoilmfg.com/
Addendum (Yountville) – No outside food allowed. Call for hours. https://www.thomaskeller.com/addendum
Local Parks & Picnic Spots
If you choose to picnic at any of these destinations, some do not offer trash or recycling receptables. So be responsible and please pack out what you’ve packed in for your picnic so others can enjoy, too.
Yountville Park (Yountville) http://www.townofyountville.com/
Lyman Park (St. Helena) https://www.cityofsthelena.org/parksrec/page/lyman-park
Crane Park (St. Helena) Ready for a friendly game of bocce ball? Just about every night, this becomes a gathering point for locals for very-competitive bocce tournaments. The who’s who will be found there on just about any night of the week during Bocce season. Plenty of different options to set up your picnic- in the shade, out on the grass or picnic tables galore. https://www.cityofsthelena.org/parksrec/page/crane-park
Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park (St. Helena) This is a perfect family friendly destination as there are at times tours of the working mill, plenty of shade and places for the kids to run around. https://napaoutdoors.org/parks/bale-grist-mill-state-historic-park/
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park (Calistoga) One of the largest parks, this is located about half-way between St. Helena and Calistoga on Highway 29. Great place to go for a walk, a hike or a swim as there’s a public pool to cool off in. https://napaoutdoors.org/
Oxbow Commons (Napa) http://www.cityofnapa.org/354/Parks-Recreation-Services
Zinfandel Bridge (St. Helena) Early in the summer, this is a great place to take a picnic as you can hang out along the Napa river, even catch a glimpse of some fish as they swim by and nip at your toes. Head out on Silverado Trail and exit onto Zinfandel Lane. Travel a few hundred yards and you’ll come across an old stone bridge. There’s limited parking here, but there’s typically room since not many know this picnic spot. Find your path down to the river and enjoy.
Napa Ecological Reserve (Yountville)
I’ve been coming to this spot since I was a kid and you should definitely add it to your list. Head out on Yountville Crossroad out from Yountville eastbound towards Silverado Trail for a couple of miles. As the road bends for the bridge over the river, turn left into the parking lot. Park there and walk the couple of hundred yards to the river where it’s tree-lined for the perfect shade and wildlife will be abound. Breathe deep, take in Napa’s beauty and time will pass you by.
Lake Hennessy (St. Helena)
For those that are venturing off to wine tastings near St. Helena and have some extra time, we recommend you pack a picnic and enjoy the road less travelled out to the backside of Lake Hennessey. Don’t get this confused with the Highway 128 route. Head out to Silverado Trail and head northeast on Howell Mountain Road. Stay on the road until it literally almost ends as you’ll find yourself surrounded by beautiful hills and stunning lake scene. You’ll be surrounded by wildlife, making for the perfect romantic picnic spot that will sure to bring a grin to your face on those common, warm, sunny afternoons in Napa Valley. The odds are high that you’ll be the only ones out there.