Itinerary: Napa Valley with Kids II
July 28, 2017
Whetstone Wine Cellars
August 7, 2017

Itinerary: Napa Valley on a Budget

Napa on a budget

Napa Valley is not cheap. On the contrary, it’s become quite an expensive destination.

So what do you do when you don’t want to throw down too much of your hard earned scratch? Luckily, you’ve got some options.

Mini Model Bakery

Since we’re going to have to spend the bulk of our budget on wine, we’re not going to go big on breakfast and coffees. That being said, we can still make it a special Napa Valley experience.

Hit up the newest addition to the Model Bakery family at Mini Model in Yountville. It may be the “mini” version of this well known Napa Valley establishment, but it comes with all the necessary items you’ll need this morning.

Choose your coffee and order any breakfast sandwich made with their incredible english muffins. You’ll be happy you did ’cause these muffins aren’t your everyday Thomas’ english muffins. No, sir. These muffins are fluffy, buttery, wonderful deliciousness.

Add to that some fresh local ingredients and you have yourself a legit Napa Valley breakfast you’ll be psyched about. Plus, you know, coffee.

Food comas may be setting in at this point which means it’s about time you get moving. Ready for the wine tasting part of the day?

Ok, so, Napa Valley on a Budget.

My approach to a less expensive day in Napa may be a bit different from other perspectives you may read on the topic.

Usually you’ll just find a list of wineries with the least expensive tasting experiences. While those are certainly great finds, the list continues to shrink and can be somewhat limiting.

Because of this, I recommend occasionally foregoing the traditional “tastings” where you get small pours of a few wines for a certain amount of money.

Instead, I like to suggest wineries that may not have the least expensive wine tasting flight in Napa, but that do offer wines by the glass (or have a reasonably priced single bottle for sharing on site).

This approach has allowed me and many of my visitors to enjoy the experience of a higher end winery without spending a prohibitive amount on a tasting flight.

Over time I have identified a few such wineries. Shall we?

Robert Mondavi Winery 

The first stop is going to be Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. The Robert Mondavi Winery is an iconic Napa Valley winery, and one of the few historical wineries that put Napa on the map. I’m thinking you’ve heard of it.

While it has amazing tasting options and experiences fitting almost any budget, they also sell wine by the glass.

Select the option that best suits you and your wallet and head outside to enjoy the wine and have a look around.

I urge you to really stop and focus on how lovely it all is. The sculptures, the wide green lawn, the winery itself, all the happy people… the wine. There’s a reason this winery is as well known as it is.

Grab an outside table. Eavesdrop on a tour. Relax on the lawn. Visit the gift shop.

Yes, this winery is very popular and may be rather busy, but with the incredible grounds and beautiful vineyard and mountain views I think you’ll understand why Mondavi is a key player in all sorts of Napa Valley experiences. And now it’s a key player in your experience too.

How is that glass empty already? Did you spill it? Hmmmm.

Pestoni Family Estate Winery

The next stop on the list is just a little bit further north on Highway 29, the main artery running through Napa Valley. We’re going to Pestoni Family Estate Winery, located at the southern end of St. Helena.

Pestoni Family Winery

You guys, this winery is one of my new favorites. I take everyone here. It’s a hidden gem — just hidden in plain sight. Or maybe I feel that way because it’s new to me. Either way, I think you’re going to like it.

Pestoni tastings are not expensive when compared to current Napa standards, but today I recommend selecting a single bottle for your experience. This is because I want you to take that bottle outside. And, bonus, it’s probably more budget-friendly than 2+ tasting fees.

But yes, go outside. There you’ll find an expansive green about the size of a soccer field. At the far western end of the field are towering Eucalyptus trees offering shade to a group of picnic tables. There’s a path around the perimeter offering views of the gardens, and Adirondack chairs for shady, more private experiences. There’s even a corn hole set if you’re feeling competitive. Of course, you can also spread out your picnic blanket if you have one.

Each option is a good one at Pestoni, and the fantastic vineyard and mountain views just beg for a photo-shoot.

All that, plus the tasting room staff is accommodating and friendly. And the wine? Let’s just say that I took home a few bottles after my last visit.

To summarize, order yourself bottle. Take it out back. Enjoy. *Sigh*

Line the stomach some more.

Once you’re sufficiently relaxed and selfied, get back on 29 and continue north to sniff out the next meal. Today’s lunch is at the Clif Family Winery Bruschetteria Food Truck on Highway 29 in St. Helena.

Yes, Clif Family. Does that name look familiar? That’s because it is the same Clif family that brings you Clif Bars. So, wine, food and Clif bars. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

And now they have a Bruschetteria Food Truck that all of us locals adore. Come join the locals.

Clif Family Bruschetteria

The food truck is parked outside of the Clif Family Winery tasting room and serves light seasonal dishes straight from the family farm. And you know what else is great about this lunch stop? Here’s what:

  1. Delicious, farm fresh meal for not too much $ from a food truck. Oh, have I already said this?
  2. You can enjoy yet another glass/wine tasting OR you can recharge with a non-alcoholic refresher and give your body some time to process those earlier wine treats.
  3. Outdoor seating. I’m always on the lookout for dining al fresco opportunities.
  4. Indoor snacks and treats to peruse and procure for later.

See? See why it’s a great idea to stop here?

Ok, lazy bones. Wrap it up. It’s time to move on.

Elizabeth Spencer Winery

Turning back toward Napa, head south on Highway 29 to get to the next destination, Elizabeth Spencer Winery in Rutherford.

This winery, located just off 29 on Rutherford Road, resides in a historical stone building that once housed the Post Office. These days the post office is down the street, but lucky for us Elizabeth Spencer moved in so we get to enjoy the historical vibe.

Admittedly, Elizabeth Spencer is an old friend of mine — meaning that I have been coming here for years, not that they’re actually my friends, alas. (And FYI, Elizabeth Spencer is not a person. It’s two people.)

When I first started coming here it was a small, single room tasting salon. At least, that’s all I was aware of. However, over time it’s transformed into a wine tasting property.

There is still the single room tasting salon, but now they’re also set up for groups and events which can be held in the various spaces on the property.

And for you? You just head right outside to the terrace. Choose a single glass or perhaps share a tasting. This is a pretty relaxed place, so kick back and enjoy yourself.

As an aside, on my last visit I managed to leave with a magnum of one of their wines. Probably not a “budget-friendly” purchase, but whatever. #noregrets

Closing out the wine tasting portion of the day…

When you leave Elizabeth Spencer, turn away from Highway 29 and head east toward Silverado Trail, the secondary artery through the valley that runs parallel to Highway 29. Our last stop of the day will be Mumm Napa Valley in Rutherford.

Though I usually prefer to start my day with bubbles, I don’t see anything wrong with ending the day with bubbles this time, especially if it helps me deal with the Napa Valley traffic situation.

HOT TIP: Napa Valley, what with all the visitors and only two main roads upon which they travel, has a lot of traffic. So if you need to head south, do it earlier in the afternoon and do it on Silverado Trail in order to avoid all the traffic on Highway 29. If you choose go off plan here just know that you’ve been warned. It can be a lot.

Ok, back to Mumm. Three cheers for bubbles! Hip hip, hooray!

Ahhh, Mumm, old buddy. What’s new with you? A new wine-by-the-glass patio, you say? Well isn’t that just perfect. That’s exactly why we’re here.

Mumms New Tasting Patio

As I write, I see that I’m clearly suggesting all my old favorites. Mumm is one of these — but for good reason, because this is a Napa experience worth having under your belt.

Mumm has a really nice tasting room and gift shop. They’ve done a great job with the details. But know that Mumm is pretty popular, so though they don’t require reservations it may be helpful to have one anyway.

While they host traditional tastings, winery and art gallery tours, they also offer wines by the glass. So choose your table and the wine option which bests suits you at this point in the day (even if that’s water and their wicked addictive crackers), face westward and get busy absorbing all that beautiful Napa Valley scenery. Yes, more of that. It just doesn’t get old, does it?

I’ll admit — I’ve logged quite a bit of time on this terrace, and in their wine club. So I may be a little biased about this stop.

Really? You’re up for more?

Well, that was our last winery stop on this tour. But if you’re still interested in making the most of your “budget day” in Napa Valley (and we may be over budget by now, amiright?), make your way to the Oxbow Market in downtown Napa.

There’s something for everyone at Oxbow, and it being a market style venue it’s all reasonably priced: a cleansing ale at Fieldwork Brewery, a coffee from Ritual Coffee, and ice-cream treat from Three Twins Ice Cream, a little shopping, and a lot of atmosphere.

Take your pick. It’s a great way to close out the day. Have fun!


Be safe & responsible in Napa Valley (and everywhere else) with this.


  1. Jennifer says:

    Sutter Home and Heitz I believe still not charging for tastings although Heitz may change this policy with ownership change. Lodging always expensive in the valley – try glamping midweek to save even more money in Yurts at Bothe State Park near Calistoga. For the price, Frog’s Leap tour and tasting can last up to 2 hours and is one of the better values in that part of the valley. Good priced filling lunch – check out the options at La Luna Market in Rutherford. Come mid week the week before Thankgsiving. Prices always lower on lodging then as this week tends to be quiet in the valley.

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