If someone invites you to Napa Valley – the most renowned wine country in America – the first thing to do is say yes. A jaunt through these vineyard-dotted hills is appealing all year round, with the region’s opulent, chateau-like wineries offering up some of the planet’s most full-bodied, mind-melting Cabernets. The top-notch culinary scene is also a major draw, with fabulous food festivals, swanky cooking schools and too many Michelin stars to count. 

Choosing when to visit can be difficult, but it’s helpful to remember that in Napa Valley, sunshine directly correlates with higher hotel rates, crowds and the necessity of reservations. For those looking for the quintessential Napa experience, the fall harvest season – although it's busy – is the best time of year.

Interior of award winning restaurant Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, Napa Valley
Interior of the Michelin-starred French restaurant Bistro Jeanty in Yountville © Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock

Low Season: November to February 

Best time for budget travelers

If you’ve ever dreamed of having a Napa winery all to yourself, and all the tastings you can swallow, wintertime is your jam. Because monsoons are frequent and temperatures dip into the 50s, 40s and even the 30s, hotel prices are at their low point (which is still pretty high in California’s most chichi wine country, and of course excludes the holidays). Food festivals go off in January and dazzling yellow mustard flowers paint the hillsides early in the year.

Shoulder Season: March to May 

Best time to explore the outdoors

As the winter frost drips away, Napa Valley goes into full bloom and greenery abounds. Long dormant vines pop with new shoots and days begin to lengthen, with highs in the 60s and 70s when the sun is out, and lows dropping into the 40s in the mornings and evenings. Soak up these uncrowded and lovely days with hikes and bike rides, but don’t be surprised by a bit of rain, particularly in May. 

High Season: August to October

Best time to visit vineyards

When the harvest season rolls around in August, grapes fly off the wines and Napa Valley comes fully alive. With the grape smashings, harvest dinners and fabulous balls, though, expect crowds and high prices and book hotels, restaurants and tastings  accordingly (months in advance!). Note that clear and sunny summer days also tend to lure untold numbers of oenophiles and festival-goers. 

Stacked rustic oak barrels near a vineyard in California wine country
Oak barrel winemaking is in decline worldwide: here some rustic barrels are stacked at a vineyard © Dori Dumrong / Shutterstock

January

During the cheapest time of year to visit Napa Valley, things are pretty quiet, with the exception of a couple of food festivals to liven things up. Rainfall is on the high side while daytime temperatures hover in the 50s, dropping at night.

Key Events: Napa Lighted Art Festival, Napa Valley Restaurant Week, Napa Truffle Festival

February

Temperatures are on the rise and the rain tapers off a bit and yet the crowds are still absent, making February a pretty lovely month in Napa Valley.  The destination makes for a super romantic (if busy) Valentine’s Day, and tastings are otherwise easy to come by.

Key Events: Napa Beer Mile, Napa Valley Restaurant Week

March

With spring comes breaking buds, greening and yellowing hillsides and more sunny days, with temperatures mostly hanging out in the 50s. Prices and visitation begin creeping up, particularly during popular events like the Napa Marathon and Bud Break Festival.

Key Events: Napa Marathon, Yountville Live, Bud Break Festival

April

Welcome to 70-degree days perfect for vineyard tours, picnic lunches and hot air balloon rides. Because visitation levels remain relatively low (apart from Easter), this might just be the most pleasant time of year to visit Napa Valley.

Key Events: Arts in April, Vineyard to Vintner 

Masks and social distancing are part of the wine tasting experience at California wineries
Taking some notes while wine tasting in the Napa Valley at Amici Cellars © Katie Hammel / Lonely Planet

May

Temperatures continue rising in May, but considerably more rain begins to fall. In other words, definitely pack that umbrella. While the springtime greenery is out in full force, crowds are not, particularly on weekdays.  

Key Events: Bottle Rock Napa

June

Summer is here, and it brings incredibly sunny weather and a delightful array of outdoor concerts. Crowds and high prices are a bit much, but those who book in advance and know what they’re getting into will do just fine. 

Key Events: Jazz Getaway, St. Helena Summer Concert Series, Calistoga Concerts in the Park

July

Sunshine and live music continue to draw all the tourists, but now those daytime temps are creeping into the 80s and even the 90s. Many of the traditional agriculture events go down this month, including the Napa County Fair.

Key Events: Festival Napa Valley, Napa Porch Fest, Napa County Fair

August

The harvest begins, the sunshine remains and the rain is nowhere to be seen. This is the best time of year to visit Napa Valley, and everybody knows it, including the people deciding the prices for hotel rooms and everything else.  

Key Events: Blues/Brews/BBQs

September

Crush time is peak season in Napa Valley and winemaking operations are in full force. Accommodations, tours, tastings and restaurants should all be booked at least four months in advance.

Key Events: Calistoga Harvest Table

Grapes and colorful autumn leaves  in Napa Valley, Northern California
Early fall harvest time is arguably the best (and busiest) time to visit Napa Valley © Juancat / Shutterstock

October

Still harvest time, this is Napa’s busiest month. Prices are steep. The weather is sunny and perfect in the daytime, cool in the evening. Crowds are intense. Reservations need to be made at least four months in advance.

Key Events: Crush Challenge

November

The rush dies down, the fall colors pop and the valley transitions into holiday mode, with events including Turkey Chase, Napa’s Lighting of the Christmas Tree and the Christmas Parade. The more relaxed and festive atmosphere make this a superb month for a visit.

Key Events: Napa Valley Film Festival, Turkey Chase, Lighting of the Christmas Tree, Christmas Parade

December

Temperatures have dropped, tourists have fled and the grapevines have gone bare. But the valley is lit up with festive holiday lights, and fireplaces are making things super cozy for the few visitors who do show up.

Key Events: Holiday Happenings

You may also like: 
How to get around California
Top things to do in Napa Valley: a wine expert's guide
How to spend a perfect weekend in Napa Valley

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