Travel Guide to California

Napa Valley

Napa Valley

Raising a glass to the good life in Napa Valley

By Laura Del Rosso

Spring, summer, fall and winter. There’s never an off season in the Napa Valley. As the mild winter wanes and spring waxes, Napa Valley bursts with color as yellow mustard flowers blanket the vineyards. Warmer weather in spring and summer invites leisurely, alfresco picnics and wine tasting. Autumn brings the crush, the time for harvest and production of the world-reknowned wines of Napa Valley.

Hundreds of wineries are situated throughout this prisine valley that is only 35 miles long and 5 miles wide. Each winery is accessible via the two main arteries of Napa Valley—Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. Amid picture-perfect vineyard landscapes, tall oaks, rolling hills, and historic vineyard estates, explore wine and so much more including Michelin-starred dining, shopping, biking, spa indulgences, and simply soaking up the relaxed, laid-back Northern California lifestyle.

Bustling Downtown Napa

Start your journey in the vibrant city of Napa. In the last decade, more restaurants, tasting rooms, art galleries, and boutiques have made downtown Napa their home, giving this area a hip and fun vibe. And with the walkable proximity to a multitude of options, including scenic strolls along the Napa River, there is something here for everyone right in the middle of town. Every Saturday, farmers and artists gather at the lively Napa Farmers Market, a short distance from an attractive residential district filled with Victorian-era homes—some of which have been transformed into boutique inns, ranging from traditional to modern.

Located in the Oxbow District of Napa, the Culinary Institute of America’s Copia is a foodie haven with cooking classes, a demonstration kitchen, an on-site garden, and a museum-like exhibit of culinary-related pieces. Nearby, the Oxbow Market offers a bustling food hall with a riverside deck and mouth-watering dining choices such as C Casa and Hog Island Oyster Co.

The Napa Valley Wine Train is like taking a trip from another era. Slowly rolling up the tracks from downtown Napa, you can explore much of the valley on any number of excursions, including a seasonal holiday trip—with Santa!—or even on a “murder mystery” train ride complete with dinner and wine. Aboard plush antique Pullman rail cars, passengers enjoy the vistas and scenery accompanied by multi-course meals, wine, cocktails or afternoon tea.

Yountville Foodie Haven

One of the don’t-miss Napa Valley towns is Yountville, another magnet for foodies. The French Laundry, the famous Michelin-starred wonder, is at the top of some bucket lists, but snagging a reservation takes some advance planning. Plenty of other celebrated dining options are nearby, including Bistro Jeanty and Ad Hoc—Chef Thomas Keller’s other, more casual comfort-food restaurant.

Simply exploring Yountville’s tree-lined Washington Street is a pleasure, with its lavish tasting rooms and inviting outdoor patios for leisurely lunches or an afternoon hangout. The V Marketplace is home to Bottega and Coqueta, and 19th-century stone buildings on the grounds are also home to Kollar Chocolates—perfect for satisfying any sweet-tooth cravings.

Insider’s tip:  Consider picking-up a rental bike in Napa and cycling to Yountville via the seven-mile easy stretch on the beautiful, safe, and paved pathway—the Napa Valley Vine Trail. Riding between Napa and Yountville is an enjoyable way to get outdoors and explore the beauty of this region, plus there are several wine stops along this portion of the Vine Trail, including Laird Family Estate and Trefethen Family Vineyards.

Downtown Yountville also happens to be one of several launch points for another outdoor thrill: flying high above Napa Valley on a hot-air balloon ride, an unforgettable experience available through a premier ballooning outfit, Napa Valley Aloft.

Strollable St. Helena

The town of St. Helena is full of charm. Art galleries, wine-themed shops and chic boutiques line its charming Main Street, three blocks of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Be sure to experience the hip tasting rooms and savor lunch at Market. If burgers, fries, and shakes are more your jam, don’t miss Gott’s Roadside!

Heading just slightly north, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone features tours and cooking classes—all housed in a grand 19th-century stone building. Beringer, a handsome landmark winery, is notable for its 146-year-old history and caves, offering a fascinating look into early California winemaking. And at the northernmost end of town, a tall water wheel and mill that date from the mid-1800s are on display at Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park.

Calming Calistoga

The northernmost town of Napa Valley is Calistoga, with its renowned spas, geothermal hot springs and famous mud baths. Calistoga has pampered guests since the late 1800s. Sam Brannan, one of the first American settlers to arrive during the 1860s, envisioned a spa town similar to Saratoga, NY. Legend has it that Brannan famously said he would develop “the Saratoga of California” and, after a few drinks, Brannan’s words came out as “the Calistoga of Sarafornia.” The name stuck.

The geothermal hot springs and famous mud composed of volcanic ash have long-provided a unique style of spa therapies and treatments. Many of the area spas create indulgent and relaxing experiences with combinations of mud baths, mineral soaks and aromatherapy. Relaxation is definitely on deck in Calistoga.

Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga’s tiny main street, is made for strolling with tasting rooms, restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries that are all one-of-a-kind. Outside of town is the awe-inspiring Petrified Forest where ancient redwoods and other trees were preserved after a volcanic eruption 3.4 million years ago.

Many wineries around Calistoga are well worth a visit and the gorgeous stone castle, Chateau Montelena, built in 1882, is a stand-out. The Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena is the famous wine that put California on the wine map, winning the 1976 Judgement of Paris and stunning the European wine world while cementing Napa Valley’s position as a world-class wine destination.

That famous moment during the Judgement of Paris wine competition may have put Napa Valley on the world map; nevertheless, the passion and commitment of the original farming families and land stewardship remains to this day. And,  many of the same family-owned and operated wineries from that era are still producing world-class wines today. The wine is still awesome and the experiences that have sprung to life around the wine in this little bucolic region of California are unrivaled. Visit Napa Valley and experience the laid-back, relaxed vibe that, along with the wine, will keep you coming back.

Napa Valley’s Delights: Wine and Much More

Visit Napa Valley: visitnapavalley.com



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