One of the top U.S. destinations for wine country vacations, Napa and Sonoma counties in northern California, can be very expensive places to visit. If you’ve got your heart set on a trip to California’s wine country but don’t have a fat bank account, don’t worry. There are things you can do to make California wine country vacations more affordable without sacrificing too much of the fun and luxury of a traditional wine country vacation.
#1: Visit During the Off-Season
The number-one way to reduce your travel costs to Napa County or Sonoma County is to visit during the off-season. High season for traveling to California’s wine regions is May through September. If you book your trip for sometime during the rest of the year, especially during January or February, you’ll not only find lower airfares but will discover that many of the area’s inns and hotels are offering great package deals, some including meals and winery tours.
Taking wine country vacations during the off-season also means that you won’t have to deal with crowds. You’ll have restaurants and wine tastings almost to yourself, giving you the freedom to travel at a slower pace and really enjoy yourself.
But what about weather? Yes, you’ll experience colder weather in northern California in the winter, but if you’re prepared, this shouldn’t hinder your trip. Expect temperatures in the upper 40s and low 50s in the wintertime. January and February tend to be the rainiest months. However, most wineries have indoor tasting rooms–and what’s more pleasant that cozying up to a big glass of pinot noir next to a roaring fire?
#2: Forego the Guided Tours and Rent Your Own Car
Though guided tours can be interesting and informative, they can also cost a bundle. Maps of Napa and Sonoma wine trails are available online, as well as at most hotels and visitors centers. Choosing the wineries you want to visit and driving to them on your own will not only save you the cost of a guided tour, you’ll be able to visit the wineries you’re really interested in while skipping the ones you don’t want to see. You’ll be able to stay at each winery as long as you like, too, without having to spend your days conforming to the schedule of a group.
#3: Shop Around for the Best Hotel Deals
Though winery bed-and-breakfasts and inns can be pricey, it’s possible to find affordable hotels in and around Napa and Sonoma. Sign up for discount alerts online well before your trip, so you can compare deals. Staying in an adjoining town, instead of directly in wine country, can save you a fortune.
Look for hotels that offer amenities like complimentary breakfast and free parking. Over the course of a week perks like these can save you hundreds of dollars.
#4: Find Wineries Offering Free Tours and Tastings
While most wineries charge a fee for their tours and tastings, many, especially the smaller ones, offer them free of charge. Your hotel’s concierge or manager will likely be able to direct you to wineries that offer free tours and tastings. Some wineries only offer freebies mid-week, so you can also research these in advance and plan your schedule around wineries’ free and discounted weekday offerings.
Take advantage, too, of the coupons and special offers in the brochures and printed materials available at hotels and visitors centers. Much of the time you’ll find coupons for free or discounted tours, tastings and meals.
#5: Have Fun Searching for Budget Wines
Make your wine country vacation into a bit more of an adventure by seeking out new budget wines. While anyone can try the big sellers, it’s a lot more fun to go off the beaten path and discover budget wines that no one knows about. If you find something you really like, consider purchasing a case and having it shipped home. Not only will you get a case discount, when you get home you’ll have some delicious budget wines to enjoy that will remind you of all the fun you had on vacation.