Since the beginning of the financial meltdown in 2007, more and more Americans are taking “staycations” (stay-near-home vacations), an obvious reflection of our nation’s continued economic woes.
Napa could be considered one of the Bay Area’s priciest travel destinations (even for a staycation), but still - you don’t have to skip a mortgage payment to enjoy a long weekend there.
With some helpful tips from locals who call the Valley home, here are 10 ways to save money while you’re in the heart of Wine Country.
1. “Locals Night” at the Oxbow Market - Located in downtown Napa, everything inside this market is decidedly upscale: from the gourmet cupcakes, to local organic produce, to specialty blends of herbs and spices. But every Tuesday night starting at 5 p.m., many of the eateries offer special deals, such as those at Kitchen Door - $5 for small plates from their snacks and bites menu, and $3.50 pints of draft beer.
2. Day hikes at Skyline Park - Everyone thinks of sampling varietals while they’re in Napa, but what about going for a hike on relatively untrammeled trails, where you can see wild turkeys, red-tailed hawks, and grazing deer? A reasonable $5/day usage fee gets you admission into the park, plus parking and a trail map.
3. Save on tasting fees – Going wine tasting can get pretty pricey when you’re paying $20 per tasting per person, especially if you end up not liking the wine. A way around that is to schedule an itinerary that includes the wineries you most want to visit, then simply purchase one tasting per winery...and share.
4. Save on corkage fees - Buy a bottle of wine at a Napa Valley winery, bring it with you to dinner, and some restaurants will waive the corkage fee. Checkers Restaurant and Flat Iron Grill in Calistoga, and Compadres and the Grill at Silverado in Napa, all have “no fee” policies, while many others charge only $5-$10. Considering the markup on wines at many dining establishments, you’ll come out way ahead on this one.
5. Free shuttle to downtown Napa - Stay at the Meritage Resort and Spa, and you’ll have the services of a free shuttle to-and-from downtown. The 28-passenger van delivers guests to restaurants, tasting rooms, and theaters in the downtown corridor, which means you can leave the late-night driving to someone else.
6. Get a hefty credit towards a wine purchase - At Long Meadow Ranch, $10 of your $15 tasting fee (or 66.6%) goes toward the purchase of any of their bottles of wine. The winery’s tasting room is located at the historic Logan-Ives House, a restored Gothic revival farmhouse built in 1874.
7. Free doggie daycare - More than 10 wineries along the Silverado Trail are dog-friendly, but at Raymond winery, they lay out the welcome mat just a little bit further. Outdoors, in the Theater of Nature (the onsite, organic garden), Frenchie’s is a dog kennel with panache: Dogs are welcome to hang out in the beds crafted of wine barrels, while their owners can check up on them via “doggie cams” when they’re inside the tasting room. www.frenchiewinery.com
8. Free eye candy at Darioush - Designed to imitate Persia’s legendary Persepolis palace (which was built in the 6th-century B.C.), this eye-popping winery was founded by Darioush Khaledi, who grew up in Shiraz, Iran, one of the country’s wine-growing regions. Stop for a photo op in front of the symmetrical columns that line the pathway to the entrance, then head inside and check out the bedazzling interior tasting room. www.darioush.com
9. Download coupons for special savings - Wine Country This Week is a publication devoted exclusively to the area. You can pick up a copy of it in a variety of locations, but if you log on to their website (www.winecountrythisweek.com/deals), you’ll find a host of discount coupons you can print out and take with you, such as 2-for-1 tastings, reduced-rate wine tours, or specially-priced mud treatments. Also check out the packages and coupons on our website.
10. Enjoy eating in the great outdoors - Why eat “in” all the time? Have a picnic on the gorgeous grounds of V. Sattui Winery, where you can choose from a variety of delectable (and affordable) dishes from their onsite deli and wine shop. The picnic grounds are popular for a reason, including the shade provided by their 250-year-old giant oak trees.
—By Erin Caslavka
Erin Caslavka previously worked as a staff writer for AAA. Currently a freelancer, she writes for (among others) the San Francisco Chronicle, Connect, various AAA publications, and the website ArkandTent.com.