There really isn't a bad time to visit Napa wine country, but it sure is better after fall crush (between November and April), when the crowds go home, hotels are more affordable and restaurant reservations are easier to come by. Within two hours of San Francisco, oenophiles can raise a glass at more than 250 wineries, and enjoy world-class dining, spas and local festivals, fairs and farmers' markets, making it a wine-fueled weekend getaway or much needed mid-winter excursion.
Here are 15 not-to-be-missed off-season deals and tips for getting the most out of your wine country visit.
During the off-season, room rates can drop by as much as 40%. Sunday through Thursday night stays are less expensive than weekends. It doesn't hurt to ask hotels about possible last-minute discounts on unsold rooms.
Built around a landmark mansion from the 1870s, the Historic Silverado Resort offers drastically reduced "Suite Season Rates" during the off-season.
Right on the Napa River, midweek, off-season rates at the Vino Bello Resort for a spacious studio even include a bottle of wine.
In the winter, four-diamond Villagio Inn & Spa in Yountville offers a Sunday through Thursday Spa Escape that includes lodging, a bottle of wine, champagne breakfast and two 50-minute spa treatments.
A trip to Calistoga isn't complete without a visit to the mud baths and mineral springs, but prices vary greatly. For those seeking simple comforts, Roman Spa Hot Springs & Resort is an economical choice.
Need a girls' night away? Silverado Resort has a Spa Girl Package that includes luxurious fireplace suite accommodations, a 50-minute spa treatment, breakfast, tennis, a Silverado canvas tote and a VIP tasting at a Napa winery with a midweek stay.
Wanna hit the links without spending private-club prices? Check out Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park. Twilight rates and Super Twilight rates are an even greater bargain.
In between Sonoma and Napa in Carneros is di Rosa Preserve, 217 acres that feature three art galleries, an outdoor sculpture meadow and a 35-acre lake. A tour is essential to see the full property (and the peacocks!), but on Wednesdays, admission is free.
Wineries often conduct library tastings during the winter; be sure to ask about special tasting opportunities when planning your visit.
To avoid paying marked-up wine-list prices, consider carrying in your own bottle. Some restaurants will charge a corkage fee, but it is often waived for one bottle if another is purchased. Call the restaurant in advance to find out its corkage policies.
If you happen to be in Calistoga in December, don't miss the annual "Pauper's Feast" held at the Calistoga Inn. Fifteen dollars buys you an entrée, salad and dessert, plus a festive opportunity to celebrate the season with locals.
Big-ticket dining options abound in Napa, but local budget-minded gourmands go to Taylor's Automatic Refresher for gussied-up burgers and a great selection of wines by the glass.
On a warm winter day, pack a gourmet picnic for a fun, inexpensive lunch. Purchase take-out items at either Oakville Grocery (Yountville) or Sunshine Market (St. Helena), grab a bottle of wine and you're good to go. If you have space in your luggage, pack a small cutting board and knife, a corkscrew and some cheap wine glasses.