Sky-high hotel and restaurant tabs are commonplace in the Napa Valley wine country, but with a little advance planning you can still eat and sleep on the cheap. We scoured Napa and Sonoma counties — from Calistoga in the north to Napa in the south and Santa Rosa in the west — looking for deals for travelers. Our penny-pinching tips include hotels and restaurants, including some of the priciest in the region.
We discovered nightly rates as low as $79 for a double during the week and $99 on weekends. In all, we found six great little hotels with reasonable rates and nice-to-excellent accommodations.
We also found 10 restaurants where you can get a wonderful meal for $20 or less. Many are locals’ favorites — places where you’ll line up with Napa and Sonoma residents to get a super deal on a super meal.
We want you to hobnob with the trust-fund class. Just don’t tell them how much less you’re paying for the privilege.
Here are five ways to save money on a visit to Napa Valley’s wine country:
1. Visit during the off-season, November to April, when lines are significantly shorter and prices lower.
2. Stop at the Napa Valley Visitor Center (600 Main St., Napa; (707) 251-5895, www.visitnapavalley.com) as soon as you arrive and pick up coupons for deals on wine tasting and other activities. They vary, but some offer significant savings.
3. Saturdays are the worst days to visit — and to drive on crowded wine country roads. Additionally, most hotels require a two-night stay on weekends. You’ll find lower prices on midweek visits.
4. Take along a designated driver and don’t try to visit too many wineries in a day; experts recommend four or five as the limit.
5. Many wine country fans say to sightsee in Napa but eat and sleep in neighboring Sonoma County, where prices are lower.
6 money-saving hotels in Napa Valley wine country
Want to spend a few days tasting wines but can’t afford the tab? Raise a toast to the six hostelries below, where you can stay for as little as $79 a night. Rates listed are for the off-season, beginning this month.
El Bonita Motel
Pretty landscaping, friendly desk staff and super-low prices create a winning combination at this roadside motel in St. Helena. El Bonita — named for former owners Elmer and Bonni — is a ‘60s-vintage motel with wings added in the ‘80s and ‘90s. At $79.99 weekdays and $99.99 weekends, it is one of the best deals in the region. 195 Main St., St. Helena; (800) 541-3284, elbonita.com
Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa
You’ll find a sleek and cool look at the Flamingo, a Midcentury Modern hotel with lots of personality. As a matter of fact, it’s part of the Personality Hotels group. Ask for the renovated rooms, which are gray on gray with touches of pink (flamingo motif, of course). Internet specials, which begin at less than $100, are common in the off-season. Doubles begin at $129 weekdays, $139 weekends. 2777 4th St., Santa Rosa; (800) 848-8300, www.flamingoresort.com
Calistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery
If you’re looking for cheap and cute, this turn-of-the-last-century Napa County inn might be what you want. The only drawback? Shared baths. Remodeled a little more than a year ago after an attic fire, the inn has fresh paint, plump duvets and low prices. But you may have to wait in line for a shower. Doubles from $119 weekdays, $149 weekends. 1250 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga; (707) 942-4101, calistogainn.com
Jack London Lodge
The great adventure writer Jack London would be proud of this small hotel — and even prouder of the colorful saloon next door that’s also named for him. The nicely landscaped lodge has a pool, fluffy duvets, free Internet and flat-screen TVs. Walk to tasting rooms nearby. Doubles from $99 weekdays, $129 weekends. 13740 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen; (707) 938-8510, jacklondonlodge.com
Sonoma Creek Inn
If you’re fond of the retro California look, you’ll love this inexpensive motel in downtown Sonoma. Vintage furnishings, Sunset magazine covers and photo-illustrated lampshades decorate the small but stylish rooms. Doubles from $79 weeknights, $129 weekends. 239 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma; (707) 939-9463, sonomacreekinn.com
Ivy Hotel Napa Valley
This Best Western hotel, four miles from downtown Napa, offers some nice perks, including a free breakfast buffet and fitness center. It also has 42-inch flat-screen TVs, a pool and guest rooms furnished in rich blues and browns with white duvets. Doubles from $169 per night. 4195 Solano Ave., Napa; (800) 937-8376, ivyhotelnapa.com
10 restaurants for $20 or less in Napa Valley wine country
You can chow down on pumpkin tamales, smoky barbecue or bruschetta to go in wine country without emptying your wallet. Great meals can be found for $20 or less — if you choose carefully. Here are 10 places where you can dine finely for not too precious a price.
The words “local, seasonal, handmade” set the theme for Kitchen Door, a contemporary cafe that specializes in Asian-inspired comfort food. Fans praise chef and owner Todd Humphries for his mushroom combinations and unique flavors. Try the out-of-this-world mushroom soup ($8.25) and the wood-fired chicken wings ($9.95), a local favorite. Oxbow Public Market, 610 1st St., Napa; (707) 226-1560, kitchendoornapa.com
Auberge du Soleil
This dreamy hotel on a hillside overlooking the Napa Valley has a Michelin-starred restaurant, a multimillion-dollar view and an A-list clientele. It also has a menu that fits our criteria. Enjoy breakfast on the terrace overlooking the valley or lunch in the bistro, also on the terrace; both menus offer many items for less than $20, including the three-cheese Margherita pizza ($18). Then ask at the front desk for a key that will allow you to roam the grounds, explore the sculpture gardens and indulge your dreams. 180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford; (800) 348-5406, www.aubergedusoleil.com
Gott’s Roadside Burgers
Wine Advocate founder Robert Parker once called a Gott’s burger the best meal he’d had in a year’s time. We’re not sure where Parker ate that year, but we do know that this burger has a huge following. Gott’s burgers are advertised as being 100% Angus beef, aren’t fatty or greasy and are topped with a secret sauce with a spicy kick. Prices start at $6.99. Four locations including Oxbow Public Market, 644 1st St., Napa; (707) 224-6900, gotts.com
Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ
This wine and spirits cafe and bar, set in a late-1800s building that once housed a speak-easy, has a distinctive look and flavor. Find it on the walls, which are decorated with the heads of long-dead animals, and in the smoky barbecue specialties, especially the pulled pork and beef brisket sandwiches ($13.50). Visit during happy hour, 3-6 p.m., for the best prices. 975 1st St., Napa; (707) 226-3976, www.bountyhunterwinebar.com
El Molino Central
Fans of Mexican food queue up daily at this tiny cafe in Sonoma’s Boyes Hot Springs District. El Molino, known for its street food and tamales, offers authentic flavors keyed to the seasons. During fall, for instance, pumpkin tamales ($9.50 for two) are popular. Another great bet: enchiladas suizas ($11.50). 11 Central Ave., Sonoma; (707) 939-1010.
Yountville is known for the three-star Michelin-rated French Laundry restaurant and for a multitude of other high-priced dining establishments. But you don’t have to go broke to dine here. The Redd Wood, a chrome-on-black gastropub with a nice vibe, serves up excellent pizzas and pastas, many of which are within our price limits. Try the sausage and smoked mozzarella pizza ($17) or the fettuccine and Gulf shrimp pasta ($19). 6755 Washington St., Yountville; (707) 299-5030, redd-wood.com
This family-owned, contemporary gastropub sits in the heart of the earthquake zone, but closed for just days after the August quake. Try the Tillamook Cheddar mac and cheese, a rich meal in itself ($7.95), or the local favorite, beer-battered fish and chips ($17.95). 1401 1st St., Napa; (707) 258-1516, www.normanrosenapa.com
Villa Corona Cocina Mexicana
Grab a giant burrito on the go or take a seat in this colorful Mexican restaurant and order traditional favorites such as carne asada, chile verde and carnitas. Combination plates are $12.75; burritos start at $5.95. 1138 Main St., St. Helena; (707) 963-7812, www.villacoronash.com
Clif Family Bruschetteria
The Clif family — the people who brought us Clif Bars — have wheeled out a new taste treat: bruschetta to go. They now have a food truck, parked just off the back patio of its Velo Vino tasting room in St. Helena, that they call a bruschetteria. From Wednesdays through Sundays, the truck serves seasonal Italian-inspired bruschetta, spiedini and salads. Most prices are less than $10. Try the pomodoro with heirloom tomatoes and burrata, $8. 709 Main St., St. Helena; (707) 301-7188, cliffamily.com
Pica Pica Maize Kitchen
The spicy Venezuelan pocket sandwiches featured here, called arepas, are hand-made daily from maize and filled with slow-cooked beef and other fillings. Locals and food critics love them, as does the Michelin guide, which features them. Try the pork ($8.95) version or the garlic and yuca arepa ($4.95) for an international experience. Oxbow Public Market, 610 1st St., No. 5, Napa; (707) 251-3757, www.picapica.com