For most of the world, “Napa Valley” is shorthand for California wines and the classic California Wine Country experience. World-class wineries? Check (400 and counting, in the 30-by-30-mile valley). World-class Cabernet Sauvignon? Check. Some of the most highly rated restaurants in the country? Check. Charming towns and rural scenery? Got that, too. So where does a Napa visitor start? Take the tasting menu approach: Sample a little of this and a little of that—and start making notes for your next trip.
Trip Time: 2 days
Begin your visit away from the Wine Country’s busy artery, St. Helena Highway, on quieter Silverado Trail. At Robert Sinskey Vineyards , a tall central redwood nave grows out of low stone walls, surrounded by a kitchen garden. Relax as you admire the surroundings and sip beautifully crafted Pinot Noirs and crisp, aromatic whites. Reserve ahead for the food-and-wine pairings.
The Craftsman tasting room at Cliff Lede Vineyards gives way to a small art gallery and serene courtyard. Their Cabernets are among Napa’s latest greats.
For lunch, head into tiny Yountville, where you’ll find an embarrassment of world-class restaurants. At Bouchon, the casual cousin of the more famous French Laundry , chef Thomas Keller oversees this stylish yet rustic French cafe with the exacting standards you’d expect. Try the mussels and frites, quiche, and other classics.
Napa Valley’s back roads are ideal for cycling: quiet, mostly flat, and, of course, beautiful. Napa Valley Bike Tours offers rentals, maps and advice for visiting local wineries, as well as guided tours.
Just off Silverado Trail toward Oakville, stop at Silver Oak Cellars for more spectacular Cabernet. The highly sought after Silver Oaks Napa Cab might have launched the cult-wine phenomenon.
Stop for a bite at Redd . Richard Reddington brings an air of Napa Valley royalty to his namesake restaurant, what with his history as chef at Auberge du Soleil—not to mention his stints at famous kitchens outside the region. He offers multi-course tasting menus.
Up the St. Helena Highway in Rutherford, don’t miss Rubicon Estate . The grand Inglenook chateau, built by sea-captain-turned-wine-pioneer Gustave Niebaum, has stood sentry over the valley since 1880. Movie director Francis Ford Coppola owns the estate now. The fee for tasting Cabs and other Bordeaux varietals includes a tour of the winery and museum of wine and filmmaking.
For another slice of history, head up the highway to Heitz Cellars . At the lodge like tasting room, try the Martha’s Vineyard Cab made famous by larger-than-life winemaker Joe Heitz, who worked under the legendary André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards during the middle of the last century.
In glamorous St. Helena, learn how to taste wine like a pro at Merryvale Vineyards’ weekend-morning tasting seminar in the historic cask room. The winery was the valley’s first to be built after Prohibition.
When hunger calls, head over to Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen . Wine Country restaurateur Cindy Pawlcyn’s “kitchen” occupies a charming two-story house. The menu is California comfort foods (meat loaf, tamales) with a twist, plus fine desserts.
Napa is all about relaxing, and no town is more accommodating than the valley’s spa capital, Calistoga. Relax in style at Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort . Go for “The Works,” a traditional mud bath with facial mask, aromatic mineral whirlpool bath, steam room, blanket wrap, and massage.
Weak legged from your mud bath, cap your visit with fusion food from around the globe at Wappo Bar & Bistro . From the patio, with its fountain and twisted grapevines, sample dishes such as chiles stuffed with creamy rice and currants in a walnut-pomegranate sauce, Thai green curry halibut, and cassoulet.