Napa Valley may be best known for its exceptional wines and golden hills. But after the tasting rooms have closed and the sun has set, a different side of Napa Valley starts to shine. Live music, exclusive brews, and brew-fueled bowling are only part of Napa’s lively nightlife scene.
If the theater is your thing, grab an early dinner at one of Napa Valley’s exceptional eateries before enjoying a show at the Lincoln Theatre in Yountville. Check the calendar for musicals, Symphony Napa Valley performances, ballets, and more. Constructed in 1880, the Napa Valley Opera House is one of the oldest structures in downtown Napa. Admire the brass chandeliers and a stained-glass skylight as you take in a show. On the first floor of the opera house, you’ll find the sleek club, Blue Note, where live music is paired with beer brewed on site and New American fare.
For more music, head down the street to Uptown Theater, where 1930s Art Deco design provides a backdrop for everything from rock bands to Irish step dancers. For an intimate experience, try the small venue Silo’s at the Napa River Inn. Headline your own show on weekly karaoke nights, hosted Tuesdays and Thursdays at Downtown Joe’s in Napa proper.
It would be a shame to relegate all those delicious Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays to daytime tastings only. Luckily, there are a number of wine bars where you can keep the party going. The Wine Thief in downtown Napa puts a spotlight on local, small-batch wines in a lounge-y setting. Head down the street to flip through the Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ’s extensive wine list and roll up your sleeves for some St. Louis-style ribs. Nearby Carpe Diem, Cadet, and Compline (helmed by Master Sommelier Matt Stamp) all serve bottles at the bar with snacks and larger bites.
If you’re feeling loose after a vino-filled day, show off your moves at Napkins Bar + Grill, which has one of the best dance floors in Napa. Crush Lounge at the Meritage Resort and Spa offers the opportunity to show off a different set of skills: indoor shuffleboard and six lanes of bowling are ready for playing. Don’t turn in too early, though, as nearby Calistoga: Hydro Bar & Grill plays 1980s music until 11:30 p.m. on weekends, while Calistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery stays open until 1 in the morning. A DJ spins fresh tunes as guests get their groove on while sipping on beers that come straight from the seven-barrel gas-fired brewhouse.
Napa Valley reigns as the land of grand estates, expansive tasting rooms, quaint towns, and elegant lodges, many of which edge up to the celebrated Silverado Trail. Roughly an hour’s drive north of San Francisco and boasting more than 400 wineries, Napa Valley is a connoisseur’s paradise, inviting visitors to explore beyond the region’s signature Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Don’t miss, for instance, the rediscovered Merlot, whose plush texture and earthy cherry flavor are appealing to a new generation of red wine fans.
Long considered California’s most famous wine region, Napa Valley exploded into the global spotlight following the 1976 Judgment of Paris, when a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay from Calistoga trounced nine other Chardonnays in a blind tasting in Paris, including extremely prestigious bottles from France. At the time, France was considered the world’s forerunning wine region, but this triumph forever changed the international perception of Northern California’s wines.
Today, the region boasts some of the most coveted wine grapes anywhere, including To Kalon Vineyard, planted in the 1860s, plus contemporary cult bottlings like Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate. Napa Valley cuisine has come into its own as well, with dozens of world-class restaurants offering meals on a par with the vintages served up alongside them.
When to visit Napa Valley? Each season has its charms. Spring’s emerging grape leaves turn hillsides brilliant green, plumed with golden swaths of mustard blossoms. Summer warms up with events and festivals (and their attendant crowds), so plan on packed schedules. Fall brings the crush, as vineyards and wineries bustle with workers. Winter settles into a cool hush: Insiders know this is a time to snag reservations at the area’s galaxy of Michelin-starred restaurants, shop for holiday gifts in gaily decorated but quieter towns, get a seat on the Napa Valley Wine Train, and relax in greater intimacy at posh spas.
Peanuts characters are alive and well at this Santa Rosa institution, which celebrates the life and legacy of Snoopy creator Charles M. Schulz. The museum was founded in 2002 by Jean Schulz, the cartoonist’s widow, and today it houses the largest collection of original Peanuts artwork in the world. Permanent exhibits include a look at some of Schulz’s original comic strips, as well as a recreation of his art studio. There’s also a tile mural composed of 3,588 different comic strips. Temporary exhibits change throughout the year. The museum also has an outdoor area with sculptures that depict iconic moments from the cartoons (such as Charlie Brown with a metal kite stuck in a real tree) and a theater that screens documentaries on a loop. If you’re traveling with children, the best part of the museum is the laid-back-but-hands-on education room, where docents help visitors learn how to draw specific characters. Also worth exploring with kids: the Redwood Empire Ice Rink, located across the street. Schulz loved skating at the rink, which is open to the public. Skate rentals are available, and a café serves breakfast and lunch daily.
Grays and greens abound in this public conservation tract in the tiny town of Guerneville along the Russian River. The area predates logging in the northern part of the state, so the preserve is home to some of the oldest and tallest trees in Sonoma County—one, the Parson Jones Tree, is more than 310 feet tall. Not coincidentally, the park is also a popular place for weddings; go on a weekend and you’re practically guaranteed to see one. As far as public parks are concerned, Armstrong Redwoods is more accessible than most. The main sections of the reserve are relatively flat, and there are ample picnic areas for hikers of all abilities. There’s also a self-guided nature trail just behind the visitor center. On foggy summer mornings, the damp pathways inside Armstrong are great places to spot banana slugs—just one of a few attributes that makes the park kid-friendly. With more than 30 miles of trails, the park offers plenty of longer hiking or running options, too. When you’ve had your fill of nature, head down the hill to downtown Guerneville for an ice cream cone at Nimble & Finn’s, inside the Guerneville Bank Club.
CIA at Copia (The Culinary Institute of America)
Consider the Culinary Institute of America at Copia the center for continuing education about food and wine. The facility—which in its first iteration was bankrolled by the late Robert Mondavi—offers to the public a host of cooking classes, wine and beverage explorations, chef demonstrations, and more. Situated next to the Oxbow Public Market on the east side of the Napa River, CIA at Copia also has expansive chefs’ gardens and an on-site restaurant. Most of the programming involves education, with classes ranging from demonstration-style to hands-on. Some, such as one on how to make ice cream, are family-friendly. Others, like sabering a bottle of champagne, are geared distinctly toward grown-ups. Private classes for groups of 10 to 20 people are also available. Throughout the year, CIA at Copia also hosts a number of regular events such as a seminar series, as well as the popular Easter Egg Hunt, Bud Break Festival, Summer Luau, Ciderfest, Oktoberfest, and Holiday Marketplace. There’s even a store on-site, which is stocked with kitchen tools, hard-to-find ingredients, cookbooks, and housewares.
Yes, the Hess Collection in Napa makes wine and sells it under the same name. But really, the brand is about something equally wonderful in entirely different ways: modern art. Owner and entrepreneur Donald Hess began collecting art in the 1960s, and the collection on display at the Mount Veeder winery and tasting room represents a small portion of the pieces he’s amassed since then. The three-story gallery is open to the public for free and displays work from artists Franz Gertsch, Francis Bacon, Leopold Maler, and others. Despite the high caliber of work on display, the Hess Collection gallery is relaxed and without pretense. Visitors can take self-guided strolls through the collection or sign up for a formal docent-led tour. This latter option provides guests with insider information about the art, and follows the tour with a private tasting of Hess Collection wine. Housed in a circa-1903 stone winery originally constructed by Colonel Theodore Gier, the building evokes the grandeur of yesteryear—especially in summer, when ivy covers the stone walls of the gallery.
Yes, this Rutherford-based agricultural operation sells wine. But what sets Round Pond apart from just about every other Napa Valley winery is its olive mill. Through tours and tastings, visitors get an intriguing behind-the-scenes look into the world of olive oil. Tours wind through the olive orchard while guides explain the process of harvesting. Tastings take place inside the mill; you smell the oil first and then taste it with different vegetables, breads, meats, and cheeses. With the exception of a few reserve samplings, most wine tastings at Round Pond occur on the second-story tasting lounge and covered terrace, a space with panoramic views of the estate and the palm-lined driveway. To combine both sides of the house, try the Il Pranzo tasting, which includes wine and food on the winery side and olive oil and food on the olive mill side. What’s more, for an unparalleled winery visit, book a spot at the weekly garden-to-table brunch, a four-hour experience that includes a tour, a harvesting session in the winery garden, a cooking class, and a farm-to-table meal served in the garden itself.
Napa Valley Paddle (NVP) rents kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and inflatable paddleboards by the hour, day, and weekend. But the company—based on the Main Street Dock at Riverfront Plaza—also offers guided tours that offer a completely different perspective on a part of wine country that so many visitors see only by land. There are four such trips, including a two-hour paddle around the Oxbow River in downtown Napa; a four-hour fishing excursion from downtown Napa to the top of San Pablo Bay; and a day-long adventure through the marshlands south of Napa and the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge (both are prime spots for bird-watching). Tours include all equipment (including a personal flotation device and a waterproof bag to keep wallets and cell phones dry), as well as a brief safety lesson. NVP can also orchestrate casual “unguided” tours of downtown, complete with maps and gourmet picnic lunches, or family-friendly excursions on inflatable stand-up paddleboards that are big enough for six paddlers at once. All tours and rentals are subject to weather conditions, so it pays to call ahead.
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Though best known as the Academy Award-winning director of The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s winemaking roots dig deep. He produced his first harvest at the Inglenook Estate in Rutherford in 1978 and now offers a wide variety of wines, including a highly acclaimed red blend, Rubicon, designed for discerning oenophiles. He also owns the 88-acre Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, a particularly scenic corner of the Alexander Valley region of Sonoma County.
Beyond wine, Coppola has his hand in resorts, restaurants, a literary journal, an independent film studio, and much more. We asked the iconic filmmaker to share some of his Golden State favorites; his answers are below.
Where do you live? Rutherford, in the Napa Valley
Why there? That is the original location of the Inglenook Winery established in the 19th century and where we make our home.
Who or what is your greatest California love? I guess I must say the Inglenook Winery in Rutherford because it is probably the most beautiful large wine estate in the world.
What is the biggest misperception about Californians? It would be a misperception to assume Californians are all the same when in fact Californians represent such a diverse cross-section of people from all over the world, attracted by the extraordinary beauty and resources of California. They are truly cosmopolitan and diverse.
What is the stereotype that most holds true? You have to get everywhere by car.
What is your favorite Golden State splurge? To enjoy the incredible home-grown produce and agricultural products from this region.
Time for a road trip—where are you going? I love the drive from the Napa Valley wine country to the Sonoma wine country through the Alexander Valley. This is probably the most beautiful 45-minute trip existing anywhere and I find that I’m never bored by the journey nor hesitant to undertake it. I go from Inglenook and Rutherford directly through St. Helena then Calistoga and then continue through the Alexander Valley until I reach Highway 101, which I join. I then get off at the Independence Lane exit and I am there.
If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? This state is so diverse in its offerings it would be impossible to decree an official cuisine and be fair to the varying cultures that have influenced cuisine here. It is as easy to find an amazing meal inspired by local produce in the form of a vibrant and flavorful salad as it is to find high-quality Mexican-influenced cuisine or Japanese sushi.
How do you define California style? California is such a large state with the northern section and southern section varying quite differently from one another that it would be very difficult to typify beyond people who are friendly, love where they live, and feel grateful for being able to live there.
Best California song? “San Francisco (Open Your Golden Gate)” and “California Dreamin’”
How would your California dream day unfold? I’d enjoy an early morning espresso while viewing the magnificent vista into Napa Valley, and later drive into San Francisco to see a local dance company performance, or symphony, or an opera, or a film. I take great pride in the fact that we founded American Zoetrope, our independent film studio, in San Francisco. The Sentinel Building, located in what is now known as North Beach, is the the incubator of many of our art endeavors whether one speaks of the film history here, the award-winning literary magazine we’ve produced quarterly for 21 years (Zoetrope All-Story), or the Italian cuisine enjoyed in our Cafe Zoetrope. These places are all personal to me and my family, and while I’m continuing to innovate, it is always nice to come home to places we created years ago that still feel authentic, pleasurable, and of the highest quality.
If the Napa Valley were a kingdom (and some oenophiles might argue that it is), this storied property in the town of Rutherford would certainly make a worthy home base for the monarchy. Originally purchased in the late 1800s by Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish sea captain and wine connoisseur, the former farmland and orchards now holds some of the region’s most historic wine grapes, as well as a spectacular chateau—all restored to elegant perfection by the current owners, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and others in the Coppola clan.
When Coppola bought the winery and towering Niebaum mansion in 1975, celebrated Napa residents took note. In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the filmmaker recalls when Robert Mondavi, patriarch of the legendary Mondavi wine empire, came for a visit: "You realize you have bought the most beautiful, the most important winery property in the Napa Valley?" Coppola recalls Mondavi asking. "You realize what this is?"
Inglenook boasts a history that spans the very creation of this hallowed wine region. Over the decades, Inglenook—and the Napa Valley—came into the international spotlight as a perfect place for growing wine grapes. Niebaum’s vines flourished, and for decades his family produced exceptional grapes and bottles. An economic hiccup forced the family to sell, and the new owners began producing jug wines that dulled the luster of the winery’s celebrated name.
In stepped Coppola, who, with his wife Eleanor and others, spent 40 years restoring Inglenook’s illustrious heritage. That included bringing winemaking operations back to the chateau and adjacent winery, and hiring top winemakers to produce top wines.
Today, you can sample Coppola’s results in a fleet of luxurious experiences. For example, the Heritage Tasting lets you relax beneath a chandelier in the Pennino Salon, where you sip and learn about Inglenook’s Estate wines, including the flagship Rubicon Cabernet. Squint while you’re dining outside at the pretty onsite Bistro and you’ll swear you’re in Paris’s Luxembourg Gardens. Special events sprinkle the calendar, including a summertime lobster feast, a late-summer harvest party, elegant wine dinners, and a holiday open house.
Set on 28 acres of rolling vineyards between the towns of Napa and Sonoma, Carneros Resort and Spa features a relaxed sophistication that takes full advantage of its perfect location. Airy views stretch out over the vineyard grapes to the mountains beyond, while a cottage-focused design imbues the resort with an agro-chic feel.
Those cottages make up most of the resort’s 100 accommodations, all of which offer plenty of privacy and outdoor space. Interiors are done in muted tones, with vaulted ceilings and luxury-farmhouse decor. But you might just spend more time outside anyway, enjoying the front porch (complete with rocking chairs), patio, garden, and attached al fresco shower. Some cottages come with extra features, like a two-person outdoor soaking tub and fire pit—and your fireside butler can help spark some romance while you’re off dining or exploring. (Of course, this all adds up to the ideal setting for a wedding; Carneros offers several package options.) For more space, opt for a cottage suite or one of the six 2,400-square-foot private homes that feature wood-burning fireplaces and second-story decks with outstanding views.
The hotel’s dining also soaks up the wine-country flavor: Ingredients mostly originate in the resort’s own garden or within a 150-mile radius; even Executive Chef Aaron Meneghelli is an area native. A highlight of the upscale FARM restaurant is an ever-evolving five-course tasting menu which incorporates one specific, seasonal ingredient in each course. But you’ll want to start your day with sugar-dusted donuts from the resort’s Boon Fly Café, or eat at the guests-only Hilltop Dining Room while enjoying its sweeping views of Napa Valley.
Panoramic views also abound at the adults-only pool (there’s a separate one for families). Lounge there after borrowing one of the resort’s orange bikes and taking a relaxing pedal through wine country; there are mini-versions with training wheels so the kids can come along, too. For even more relaxation, head to the Spa at Carneros, renovated in mid-2018, which features (what else?) local ingredients in the same rustic, cottage-like setting that’s become your temporary wine country home.
When Christopher Kostow, the critically acclaimed executive chef behind the Michelin-starred restaurant The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, released his first cookbook in 2014, the title put a name to the movement that he more or less launched: A New Napa Cuisine. Less Eurocentric in its approach than The French Laundry but equally obsessed with technique and ingredients, these recipes are as close as one can get to sampling the terroir of California’s leading wine region. (“What doesn’t grow well in Napa Valley?” ponders Kostow. “It’s like the Garden of Eden out here.”) While Kostow is crazy busy running the kitchen at The Restaurant at Meadowood and his newer, more casual spot, the Charter Oak, also in St. Helena, his love for the Golden State runs deep and he explores it every chance he gets. What follows are the chef’s insider tips for making the most of your California trip.
Where to Eat
“The French Laundry [in Yountville] is always amazing. Restaurants are very trend-based, but they’re not trying to be current—they’re trying to be timeless. There’s something really cool about temples of eating, too. It’s event dining. There’s no substitute for feeling like, ‘Wow, I’m at this place.’ When a certain level of service and execution is there, the myth begets the myth.
“On the more casual side of things, the Tuscan-style pizzas at Redd Wood [in Yountville] are really good. They do a take on a Hawaiian with pineapple and chorizo. Their cacio e pepe is also great.
“There’s tons of awesome fine dining in the Bay Area, too. If you were to pit San Francisco’s high-end restaurants against New York’s, it’s not even close. They’re not fancy-schmancy restaurants, either—they’re cool, they’re young, and the design, product, and cooking are better. Corey Lee’s food at Benu, for instance, is super unique and rooted in his own Korean heritage. James Syhabout’s food at Commis is just like his personality: monastic. There’s nothing superfluous; it’s all very well edited.
If you want to cook on your own while visiting the Napa Valley, the St. Helena Farmers’ Market is really good, or there’s a little grocery store in town called Sunshine. They sell locally sourced meat, Andante Dairy cheese, Grove 45 extra-virgin olive oil, and, of course, wine.”
Where to Drink
“The Scholium Project [in the Suisun Valley] is doing really funky wines. They’ve always been ahead of the curve. The guys at Ferdinand [in Napa] are making really good wines. And Dan Petroski’s Massican label is freaking delicious. He’s the winemaker at Larkmead [in Calistoga], so he only makes two or three smaller Italian varietals under the Massican label.”
Where to Shop
“Main Street Books in St. Helena is about the size of two closets and about four times as expensive as a big-box bookstore, but I still love it. There’s a really literate, well-read community here, so a lot of great books come in and out. I’ve found cool coffee table books, including one on old California mining towns.”
What to Do for Fun
“I like going to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park [San Francisco]. The recent Ed Ruscha show was pretty cool—very Americana and graphic-forward. We also go to the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito a lot. It’s under the Golden Gate Bridge, on the grounds of Cavallo Point, which was built on an old military base. It’s nice because we can spend the night there and even bring our dogs.
I also like to bring my kitchen team to museums to capture the idea of looking at beautiful things; it puts what we’re doing into context. Take the Getty Center in Los Angeles—even the building itself is cool. Or the Marciano Art Foundation, which just opened on Wilshire Boulevard. Their focus is on the promotion of younger, lesser-known artists.
How to Get Outdoors
“The Oat Hill Mine Trail [between Calistoga and Pope Valley in Napa] is a really nice hike. It’s an old mining path on the north end of Silverado Trail. We go hiking a lot in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, too. It’s one big loop, so a walk there really depends on how far you want to go. Life out here is pretty old-school, a Little House on the Prairie sort of existence, really.”
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This winery’s downtown Napa location is more of a nightclub than a tasting salon, complete with leather couches, a huge vinyl collection, a recording studio in the back, and a small stage for live music near the front window. In short, it’s a great spot to kick back with friends while you sip sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Rosé, and Cabernet. The winery is the brainchild of John and Michele Truchard (their initials form the name), Napa natives who also own the more upscale label John Anthony. Their goal with JaM is simple: to make decent, affordable, and approachable wines that everyone likes to drink. JaM is the leading sponsor of Napa’s BottleRock music festival every year and owns naming rights to the big stage at the old Napa Valley Opera House (which is now the Blue Note Napa). You might even see its Butter-branded bus (dubbed the “Butter Bus,” of course) bopping around town.
The country-style NOMAD Heritage Library at Stewart Cellars’ downtown Yountville tasting room has the look and feel of a worldly traveler’s living room: It’s full of books. Rumor has it the titles are tomes that owner Michael Stewart loves and cherishes, and the books are available for guests to read during their time on-site. The Library hosts private and exclusive Heritage Tastings, allowing guests to sample an amazing selection of older-vintage cabernets from consulting winemaker Paul Hobbs. Elsewhere on the premises, the main Tasting Hall features vaulted ceilings, a horseshoe-shaped tasting bar, and floor-to-ceiling doors that open to a private but welcoming courtyard. Wine flights are available in this part of the facility, and they incorporate some of Stewart’s wines from Napa and Sonoma counties. In 2017, Napa’s beloved Southside Café opened a second location at Stewart, serving coffee and California cuisine with a Latin twist. Brunch at this branch of Southside is a big deal; make a reservation ahead of time to start your day with breakfast tostadas, chilaquiles, or a porchetta and potato onion cake.
With midcentury modern architecture and vinyl on the turntable, Ashes & Diamonds is not your typical Napa winery. Yet for Kashy Khaledi, the son of Darioush Khaledi (the man behind Darioush Winery), the new digs make perfect sense. The younger Khaledi cut his teeth for the past decade in the music business, with a job at Capitol Records. In 2016, when he decided to make the leap back into the family business of wine, he knew he was going to do things differently. To oversee the design of the winery, he enlisted celebrated Los Angeles architect Barbara Bestor, who conceived of the building’s zigzag roofline, sunshine-yellow doors, and an eclectic interior of Saarinen chairs and North African rugs. To design the bottles’ labels, Khaledi hired Brian Roettinger, who famously designed the album cover for Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail. Other moves, such as bringing on Steve Matthiasson and Diana Snowden Seysses as consulting winemakers to recreate the authentic experience of Napa wine from the 1960s, were bold, too. Tastings (some of which include food pairings) are held in the lounge, at the tasting bar, or on an expansive outdoor patio overlooking the vineyards. The “A&D Experience” features an elaborate five-course meal.
It’s hard to ponder the growth of Napa Valley without thinking of Silver Oak. The cult-favorite Oakville winery has been producing some of the region’s best Cabernet Sauvignon since the 1970s, and after more than 40 years, the majority of what the place makes remains Cabernet. (Twomey, a sister brand, is produced elsewhere in the valley.) While the tasting room itself is upscale, the winery has other highlights you’ll appreciate when you see them on a formal tour. Like the glass-house library with decades’ worth of wine vintages. Or the history gallery with artifacts and other mementos from the original winery. Or the iconic water tower. For visitors, the daily food-and-wine pairing is memorable for all it includes; chef Dominic Orsini matches four glasses of wine with four different small bites. Visitors can also book a cooking class with Orsini; the hands-on part of the experience is followed by a meal during which students and teacher sit down to eat their creations paired with Silver Oak wine. And now Silver Oak has another wine country experience for fans to explore: It recently opened a second facility in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, near Healdsburg.
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Matt Stamp has such a talent for selecting good wine that he even helped put his home state of Nebraska on the oenophile map. The Omaha native had started his career by growing his family’s restaurant there, earning it the state’s first nod as a James Beard Award semifinalist.
But when Stamp decided to take his wine career to the next level, he knew where to go: Sonoma County and Napa Valley, where he become sommelier at two bucket-list restaurants, The Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, and The French Laundry in Yountville. While at the Thomas Keller icon, Stamp completed the Master Sommelier Exam—making him one of just 200 Masters worldwide—and earned the title of “America’s Top Sommelier.” Now, he’s opened Compline in Downtown Napa, a wine bar and restaurant where he also offers wine-tasting classes. The wine bar’s theme pays tribute to early California’s wine-growing monks, who would practice the quiet contemplation of compline at day’s end, so we asked Stamp where he likes to go for his own Golden State downtime.
Where do you live? Downtown Napa
Why there? Downtown Napa increasingly feels like the center of the valley. It’s where the next generation of Napa winemakers lives. It feels like a real town—not just a wealthy outpost designed for tourists. I live six blocks from my restaurant, and I can walk to a half-dozen great restaurants, two music venues, several galleries, parks, and my favorite coffee spot.
Who or what is your greatest California love? When I was younger it was the L.A. Lakers. (Back in the magic days!) Now it’s the climate and the abundance of amazing food and produce that I love more than anything.
What is the biggest misperception about Californians? That everyone here is a tree-hugging liberal.
What is the stereotype that most holds true? That everyone here is a tree-hugging liberal!
What is your favorite Golden State splurge? A quick staycation in San Francisco, with lunch at Lers Ros, an afternoon museum-hopping, dinner at a favorite restaurant (Liholiho Yacht Club if I can get a seat), cocktails, and a downtown hotel to sleep off the inevitable overindulgence.
If you could decree an official state culinary experience, what would it be? Sadly: avocado toast.
How do you define California style? Relaxed, colorful, and full of heart.
Best California song? Pavement’s “Unfair.” Those boys from Stockton paint a pretty good picture...
How would your California dream day unfold? Sightglass Coffee appears magically at my bedside and a Langer’s Deli pastrami sandwich shows up for lunch. A drive to the coast for Hog Island oysters out on Tamales Bay. Dinner and drinks in the bar at Meadowood. By this point, I guess you might be noticing a theme…
Tucked away in a secluded Napa Valley canyon, Calistoga Ranch feels like it sprang from the earth, much like the ancient oak trees and mineral pools that populate it. Its elegant wooden structures blend harmoniously with the lushly forested landscape, making the Ranch feel like a natural—yet meticulously designed—extension of the land. The setting is both subtle and striking.
California’s enviable indoor-outdoor lifestyle is on glorious display here, especially in the lodge accommodations, which range from the one-bedroom creek-side suites with outdoor showers, some with hot tubs, sun decks, and fireplaces, to the 2,400-square-foot Estate Lodge, where you can enjoy family dinners alfresco on the roomy patio.
In keeping with Calistoga Ranch’s close ties to the land, there are multiple ways to enjoy Napa Valley’s legendary food-and-wine bounty. Book a table at Lakehouse Restaurant, which utilizes seasonal ingredients from local farms. For a hands-on experience, take part in the ongoing Food of Place series, which includes cooking classes, wine tastings, and hosted dinners starring area chefs and vintners. And if you’ve ever wanted to learn the art of wine blending, there’s a class for that, too.
Also drawing inspiration from the natural surroundings—and the town’s healing mineral pools—The Auberge Spa in Calistoga offers treatments designed to restore and rejuvenate. The guest-favorite Calistoga Cure is a 150-minute session that includes a mineral-salt body scrub, a soak in a private outdoor bath, an energy-balancing session and, finally, a therapeutic massage.
Perched on 33 sun-kissed acres of vineyards and olive groves high on Rutherford Hill, Auberge du Soleil serves up mesmerizing vistas of Napa’s seemingly endless valley.
The vibe is decidedly “French Riviera” at this adults-only resort. Casually elegant cottages are fronted by terraces that make the most of the sublime views. Accommodations range in size from 520-square-foot guest rooms in the main building to 1,800-square-foot “maisons.” All have private patios, king-size beds, and fireplaces; many have outdoor showers or soaking tubs. Devotion to detail is an organizing principle: complimentary yoga mats in your room, a tray of chocolate almonds delivered at turndown, and staff members who remember your name.
Want to explore Napa Valley’s winding roads? Drive in style in a Mercedes-Benz, free to Auberge guests for afternoon outings. Or make the most of the sumptuous property: You can admire a sculpture garden with more than 100 works by California artists, practice your warrior pose in the Japanese-style yoga and meditation pavilion, join in complimentary fitness classes, or just relax with a cocktail by the pool.
Auberge’s 7,000-square-foot spa is reserved exclusively for hotel guests, who can partake in indulgent treatments like the Cabernet mud body masque before (or after) a bliss-inducing steam and soaking pool ritual. The spa building, anchored by centuries-old stone fountains in a sandstone courtyard, was designed with the help of a Zen master to have just-right feng shui.
For an off-the-charts food experience, reserve a table at The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, which has attracted discerning diners for nearly four decades and has held a Michelin star for 12 consecutive years. Executive chef Robert Curry creates Mediterranean-inspired dishes ideal for pairing with wines from Auberge’s 15,000-bottle cellar.
Tucked away on a 250-acre private estate in the lush evergreen hills of St. Helena, Meadowood is the ultimate retreat for recharging and indulging in the region’s bountiful wine and food offerings. The vibe is classy but friendly, regal yet cozy at what Forbes Travel Guide named a triple five-star resort in 2018.
Instead of your typical corridor of identical guest rooms, every accommodation option here is distinct—and gorgeous. Guests can stay in any of their bright, stylish cottages, each with its own fireplace and outdoor space, or book one of the lodge options (great for larger family gatherings). Insider tip: If your first pick isn’t available, call the hotel to inquire, as the ultra-accommodating staff pride themselves on working their “availability magic.”
Meadowood is owned by a duo of acclaimed Napa Valley winemakers, and guests will quickly realize that the property serves as a hub for the region’s world-class wine and food scene. The property is also home to a private club and beautiful nine-hole golf course frequented by many local vintners. Reserve your table at the Michelin three-star Restaurant at Meadowood, which features inventive “modern American” fare starring ingredients sourced from local growers, foragers, and artisans. Some of the restaurant’s produce is plucked from Meadowood’s own 2.5-acre organic garden. As you’d imagine, the wine list is expertly curated by a sommelier, who will guide you to the perfect pairings.
Wine is also at the center of various guest packages, such as the three- or five-night Wine and Wellness Retreat, which includes tasting tours, access to fitness classes and activities, a consultation with a certified health coach, and two treatments at The Meadowood Spa. The award-winning all-suite spa provides every guest with a totally custom treatment plan in a sophisticated, serene setting. For a Valentine’s Day to top them all, check out the Romance Collection, offered during the month of February.
Think Napa Valley, and most wine lovers think Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Indeed, the Napa Valley is a single appellation, or AVA (American Viticultural Area). Yet within its borders reside 16 sub-appellations, each with its own distinctive microclimate, and often, its own signature grapes.
The St. Helena AVA, for example, home to the Rutherford Wine Company and many others on the celebrated Silverado Trail, is a warm area with less fog or wind than many more southern areas, making it perfect for a rainbow of varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. Another estate that capitalizes on the variations of Napa Valley terroir is the Fleury Estate Winery, which has three vineyards in three appellations at three elevations.
Napa Valley is home to 16 sub-appellations, each with its own distinctive microclimate and often its own signature grapes, like Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, and Zinfandel.
Many wineries here have deep roots as pioneer vineyards, showcasing Napa Valley’s longstanding commitment to premium grapes. Just a few examples: Mayacamas Vineyards is comprised of a stone building, which in 1889 was carved into the side of a dormant volcano crater on Mount Veeder (happily, that historic building survived the 2017 wine country wildfires). Sinegal Estate was once a St. Helena Pony Express stop, then the historic Inglewood Estate, before being bought and completely renovated by new owners in 2015. Beaulieu Vineyards, founded in 1900 and housed in a building that dates to 1885, managed to flourish during Prohibition, when so many Napa vineyards were forced to shutter, due to their contract to provide sacramental wines to the Catholic Church. And some wineries have brought their own sense of history: Calistoga’s Castello di Amorosa, owned by Dario Sattui, makes Italian-inspired reds in a sprawling, 13th-century-style castle.
A new generation of wine growers is planting newer-to-the-area varieties as well. Summers Estate Wines in the Calistoga AVA bottles Charbono, a rare Italian grape found on less than 100 acres in all of California, plus a Greek Muscat Canelli known in Europe as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. Plush, plummy Merlot is back in the spotlight too, such as Duckhorn Vineyard’s prized bottling from the Atlas Peak AVA.
Take a deep dive into Napa winemaking history at the free-admission 1881 Napa Wine History Museum & Tasting Salon, which offers Cabernet tastes after you take in the winemaking exhibits.
This two-lane country road, trimmed with shady oaks and world-class vineyards, is quintessential Napa Valley. Its surrounding land is dotted with so many wineries that you could travel it for a week straight and still not visit all of them. Constructed in 1852 as the first permanent road linking the 30 or so miles between the towns of Napa and Calistoga, the Silverado Trail is the bucolic, parallel counterpart to busier State Highway 29. Enjoy the drive along this scenic route (or rent a bike and pedal the whole way), snuggled up against the valley’s eastern hills.
Prestigious wineries with Silverado Trail addresses include Joseph Phelps, ZD Wines, and Signorello Winery—plus the famous Stags Leap District collection of wineries, making up Napa Valley’s famous mecca of Cabernet Sauvignon and other big-bodied reds. (Signorello, in the town of Napa, was one of the few wineries to sustain major damage in the 2017 wildfires. Its winery building was destroyed, but will be rebuilt next to the vineyards and barrel room, which were spared. Some parts of the Stags Leap District, meanwhile, experienced limited damage.) There’s sparkling wine here too, notably at Mumm Napa, where you can sip the fine bubbly on an elegant patio, in a grand tasting salon, or while wandering the elaborate art gallery.
Other turns take you to lavish wine-country resorts, such as Relais & Châteaux’s Auberge du Soleil or the gracious Solage Calistoga. To see one of the most stunning retreats in the entire region, take the long, leafy drive onto the manicured grounds of Meadowood Napa Valley for an alfresco lunch at its garden-sourced The Grill.
And if you’re feeling extra splurge-y, dinner at the three-Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood delivers impeccable service, meticulous farm-to-table menus, and—of course—exquisite Napa Valley wines. You might even stay the night and take advantage of the resort’s excellent spa and golf course.
As is the case with their wines, Napa Valley hotels and resorts do not disappoint. Whether you choose to book a stay at one of the more bucolic retreats or opt for a more lively town setting, you’ll find the region’s uniquely Californian take on hospitality to be nothing short of enthralling. The indulgences present themselves as soon as you pull past the guard gate at Meadowood Napa Valley. You peek at the sunny swimming pools and tennis courts, and catch a glimpse of the 14,000-square-foot, Architectural Digest–worthy spa tucked into a wooded hillside. The reception valet greets you with complimentary wine and cookies, then whisks you via cart to your private cottage so that you can relax before you take in a game of croquet or golf, or get a treatment in the luxurious spa, followed by an extraordinary dinner at the three-Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood.
Such is the resort life in Napa Valley, which offers a variety of indulgent accommodations. Auberge du Soleil, for instance, provides all the world-class service and amenities demanded by its Relais & Châteaux designation, and the Solage Calistoga has a 20,000-square-foot geothermal spa (the mudslide treatment is a must), plus a new open-air Chef’s Atrium at the Michelin-rated Solbar. Downtown Napa, meanwhile, offers the Archer Hotel, with its destination rooftop that is known both for its lively soirées and its high-end spa.
The resort life in Napa Valley means private cottages, geothermal spas, and buttery Bouchon baked goods brought to your room for breakfast.
Also in Calistoga is Indian Springs Resort, a luxurious getaway with deep roots going back to 1861, known for its spa fed by natural geothermal geysers. Nearby, European-chic The Bergson sports 21 lavish rooms and suites including fireplaces, opulent gilded furniture, private patios, Jacuzzi tubs, and balconies for that sparkling-wine nightcap.
As an even more private retreat, Napa’s Poetry Inn welcomes rich and famous clientele to a 40-acre hillside hideaway that feels like a private home. Three miles away, in Yountville, is Bardessono, an exquisite hotel and spa with Japanese gardens and a focus on providing its guests with the ultimate digital detox. Another lovely spot, the Napa Vineyard Inn, was built in 1901 as a farmhouse but is now a five-room boutique inn. Decked out with Restoration Hardware furniture and linens, the inn also features a two-bedroom private cottage and vineyard views. As if it couldn’t get any better, start your day with a blissfully buttery Bouchon Bakery breakfast delivered to your room.
There’s a lot to explore in Napa Valley, and it certainly helps to know your way around the winding country roads and steep mountain drives. So for an extra-relaxing experience (including a designated driver), why not venture out with a savvy local guide? You can book any number of private chauffeurs, or hop aboard a bus tour as part of a group. Either way, your driver can offer insights about wineries and other points of interest—like, how you can be in Carneros, but also in both Napa and Sonoma, at the very same time.
Still, there are other fascinating ways to explore the Napa Valley—by bike, train, or hot air balloon—where the journey becomes as joyful as the destination. Some of the region’s numerous bike guides put special spins on their tours. The Velo ‘n’ Vino bike tour, for instance, by Getaway Adventures, puts you on a specialized Crosstrail road bike for a 20- to 30-mile ride fueled by a seasonal picnic lunch of charcuterie, artisan breads, and cheeses (plus stops for sipping at as many wineries you choose), while Napa Valley Bike Tours invites warriors for off-road spins on sturdy mountain bikes, as well as paved cruises.
Explore Napa Valley by bike, stopping for a picnic lunch of charcuterie and cheese, or tour wineries while riding in a turn-of-the-20th-century cable car.
The Napa Valley Wine Train is a classic, multi-hour excursion in vintage Pullman cars (dress up in period costume for extra flair). Among the wine train’s cool experiences, you can feast on a multiple-course gourmet meal—cooked onboard—as you gaze at wineries and vineyards through velvet-curtained windows. Take one of the three Quattro Vino trips to stop at wineries, too: Each of the tours bundles a four-course meal onboard the train with tastings at three wineries, including such bucket-list wineries as Robert Mondavi, Charles Krug, and V. Sattui. Or, try the Napa Valley Wine Trolley, a converted, turn-of-the-20th-century, San Francisco–style cable car. Guided tours take you to four wineries and include a gourmet lunch.
Or, get a view from overhead: Colorful hot air balloon voyages feel even loftier when capped off with the post-flight breakfast and mimosas at Domaine Chandon Winery in Yountville, courtesy of Napa Valley Balloons, or the touchdown sparkling wine breakfast from Napa Valley Aloft.
The artistry found at many Napa Valley wineries goes well beyond what’s poured in your glass. The Hess Collection, for instance, contains a virtual museum of important international works. Turnbull Wine Cellars in Oakville showcases one of the largest permanent photography exhibition spaces on the West Coast, including original works by Ansel Adams.
Quixote Winery’s former owner, meanwhile, commissioned Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser to design a stunning Silverado Trail palace, which evokes the work of Gaudí in Barcelona with its gold-leaf onion dome, melting architectural lines, and expansive tile mosaics.
Even the downtown Napa streets abound with artwork, on display through the biennial Napa ARTwalk program. On plazas all around town, you’ll see large marvels of imagination and craft created by artists from the Western U.S. Rotating works remain on view for two years, and are spaced near one another and close by such destinations as the Oxbow Public Market, the Napa River Inn, and Napa Mill, making for a leisurely walk that is stroller- and wheelchair-accessible. Past pieces have included such eye-popping creations as a giant charging bull crafted from steel and polished locust wood, a monster-size wine bottle made of woven grapevine cane, and an aurora borealis “curtain of light” crafted of aluminum, Plexiglas, and powder-coated steel.
In 2016, the historic 1880 Napa Valley Opera House was transformed into a hip hangout as the Blue Note Napa club took over the bottom floor as an outpost of the famous New York music venue. The upstairs showcases acts of all kinds, such as NapaShakes (an interpretive Shakespeare theater), Napa Valley Film Festival screenings, and private arts programs.
Jazz, films screenings, and creative takes on Shakespeare reflect Napa Valley’s other forms of creativity.
The valley’s museums of the more conventional sort are well worth a visit too, for an immersion into the rich character of the centuries-old Napa Valley settlements. Yountville’s Napa Valley Museum, for instance, inspires with its Land and People of Napa Valley permanent exhibition (did you know that wine country boasted an important Chinese culture in the 1800s?), and St. Helena’s Robert Louis Stevenson Museum shares global treasures from the Treasure Island author and Napa regular.
Anyone interested in making a deep dive into Napa’s winemaking past should drop by the 1881 Napa Wine History Museum & Tasting Salon, which has an extensive array of artifacts from the early years of California winemaking on display, as well as a historic overview of the 16 sub-appellations of Napa Valley and anecdotes about their founders and other industry pioneers. Admission to the museum is free; after taking in the exhibits, visitors can participate in tastings of various local Cabernet Sauvignons.
Another must-stop: the Sharpsteen Museum in Calistoga, which is a treasure chest of Napa Valley history from its prehistory to post–World War I. Its stories are told through elaborate dioramas by Ben Sharpsteen, an Academy Award–winning animator, producer, and Walt Disney Studios director.
Sure, you go to Napa Valley for the wine tasting, but in between pours, explore the many green spaces of the area that provide the perfect opportunity to picnic, hike, or just take in the history and lush landscape. Here’s a rundown of Napa Valley state and city parks that beckon.
Most people don’t associate coast redwoods with the warm climate of Napa Valley, but Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is home to rare, impressive clutches of these California giants of the plant world. Now spanning nearly 2,000 acres, the park has been a treasure since it was established in 1960, and offers year-round camping, picnicking, hiking, BYOH (bring your own horse) riding, and seasonal swimming in a spring-fed pool. For an overnight adventure, reserve a campsite or cozy yurt, offering you more time to explore the park’s historic features, such as a pioneer cemetery, the site of Napa Valley’s first Methodist church, and a Native American plant garden.
You’re within walking distance of the Bale Grist Mill Historic Park, a fascinating example of 1846 ingenuity, where millers used (and still use) water-wheel-powered pulleys and grinding stones to craft artisanal organic flours, cornmeal, and polenta that you can buy at an onsite store (open weekends year-round).
The city-run Alston Park is another secret gem, covering 157 acres in the remote rolling hills of northwest Napa. Three miles of meandering creek and wildflower-lined trails lead equestrians, mountain bikers, hikers, and dog-walkers (leash required) to an upper area known as Canine Commons, a popular off-leash dog area.
For another scenic walk, set out on the Napa Valley Vine Trail, which is slated to span 47 continuous miles from the Vallejo ferry terminal to Calistoga when it is completed; you can view a map showing how much of the trail is already open. Its picturesque route runs mostly parallel to Highway 29, and along a stretch of Highway 37 into Vallejo.
Downtown Napa is home to Fuller Park, a spacious and lush park with several playgrounds, BBQ grills, picnic tables, and bathrooms.
Note: Kennedy Park, which runs along the river in the city of Napa, is closed 2019–2020.
Mark your calendar for festivals, fun, and fanfare
Attending any one of a number of Napa Valley’s special annual events isn’t just a way to taste more wine and eat great food—it’s also a good way to experience Napa Valley like a bit of a VIP. Take Flavor! Napa Valley, for instance, the March festival that includes celebrity-chef cooking demonstrations, rising-star winemaker dinners, grand gala tastings, and behind-the-scenes “Terroir to Table” tours of some of the area’s most outstanding boutique producers.
Early spring, meanwhile, brings Yountville Live, when dozens of local vintners pour premium wines, paired with bites from Michelin-rated chefs at gala dinners; the event also features chef demos, live music, and the Taste of Yountville walk-around feast. In April, the Stags Leap District Vineyard to Vintner celebration wows wine fans with exclusive tours, tastings, and live music at some wineries that are normally closed to the public.
Even non-culinary gatherings have star appeal, like BottleRock Napa Valley. Each May, more than 100,000 music lovers converge on the Napa Valley Expo in downtown Napa for three days of big-name musicians, a wine village, and a food stage area, where you can watch antics like Snoop Dogg rolling sushi with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.
Another don’t-miss is the extraordinary Arts in April, an entire month dedicated to Napa Valley’s burgeoning arts scene. Explore studios, salons, galleries, and private homes hosting events like art installations, pop-up exhibitions, live performances, and glass-crafting workshops.
Fall’s harvest time brings its own kind of festivities. This is when you can witness the hustle and bustle of grape sorting, stemming, crushing, and the beginning of fermentation. Some wineries (like Staglin Family Winery in Rutherford and Paraduxx in Napa) celebrate the season by hosting pre- or post-crush parties with wine tasting, food, and live music. V. Sattui hosts annual harvest balls and crush parties, while sparkling wine purveyor Schramsberg goes all-out, hosting a weekend-long fall harvest camp. For deeper immersion, Grgich Hills Estate and Schweiger Vineyards offer old-fashioned grape stomping events: Just roll up your pants and jump in.
If you’re serious about wine tasting, consider visiting Napa Valley in the winter. Mid-fall to spring is Cabernet season, and even at the height of winter temperatures are still mild. Wineries are less crowded and the overall pace is slower, which can mean more attention from the winemakers and more flexibility with appointments; often, walk-in tastings are possible. Accommodations are also less expensive during the off season, and plenty of wineries are open over the holidays and even on Christmas Day. From early December to early February, you can purchase a Winter in the Wineries Passport good for complimentary tastings at more than a dozen Calistoga wineries.
But there’s more to Napa than wine. November brings the Napa Valley Film Festival, which features screenings of up to 100 independent films, plus conversations with more than 300 writers, directors, actors, and producers. In December, holiday events such as fairs, caroling, tree lightings and Santa appearances are in full swing in St. Helena, Yountville, Calistoga, among other towns, and January brings the four-day Napa Truffle Festival. January visitors will also be able to witness blooming mustard fields ablaze with bright yellow flowers all over the valley.
The bustling city of Napa, on the banks of the Napa River, is celebrating a glamorous reinvention. There was a time not so long ago when the town was a sleepy residential area with strip-mall-style shopping centers. Yet an influx of celebrity-chef restaurants, upscale lodgings, manicured parks and river walks, and dozens of tasting rooms have redefined the area as a luxury destination.
Highlights include Oxbow Public Market, a lively food hall where you can slurp fresh oysters at Hog Island, savor artisanal charcuterie from Fatted Calf, or indulge in truffles and caramels from Anette’s Chocolates. If wine tasting has you in the mood for a good pizza, pick up an organic wood-fired pie from the market’s Ca’ Momi, which has been certified by both the VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) and APN (Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani). The restaurant also contributes mightily to Napa’s nightlife with its performance venue, which hosts live bands regularly.
For more edible pleasures, treat yourself to sushi at nearby Morimoto Napa, dine on chef Ken Frank’s elegant offerings at the Michelin-starred La Toque, or discover some of wine country’s most spectacular local-ingredient-driven cuisine right on the Napa riverfront at Celadon. Then, take in a show down the street at the outpost of New York City’s famed Blue Note, inside one of the region’s social and cultural hubs, the Napa Valley Opera House.
As a cultural center of California wine country, Napa provides plenty of opportunities to taste. Stroll downtown to enjoy outdoor art and dip into a variety of tasting rooms. Highlights include Vintner's Collective, housed in the city’s oldest stone building, Mark Herold Wines, an eclectic spot with funky decor, and Prime Cellars, an intimate experience, focusing on small production wines. For a relaxing afternoon, head to St. Clair Brown, a boutique winery, beer garden, and restaurant framed by a 4,500-square-foot organic garden, which overlooks the path of the Napa Valley Wine Train (diners tend to wave as the locomotive chugs by).
Rest and relaxation abounds at options such as the big-city-chic Andaz Napa hotel and the romantic 1889 Churchill Manor B&B mansion, with remarkable old-growth redwood moldings and crystal chandeliers. Overnight stays at the historic Napa River Inn include a decadent breakfast from the Sweetie Pies bakery downstairs. Family-run Cedar Gables Inn offers a full series of cooking classes, where guests share a communal dinner they helped cook, paired with a featured local winemaker’s selected pours.
The upscale burg of Yountville shimmers with an impressive number of Michelin-noted restaurants, thanks to perennial three-star The French Laundry, the one-star Bouchon bistro, and the Bib Gourmand–rated Redd Wood.
While celebrity chef Thomas Keller put the town on the culinary map when he took over The French Laundry in 1994, it has since developed into a world-class destination of dining, shopping, lodging, spas, and wine tasting—sometimes all rolled into one. Consider the ultra-swanky, LEED Platinum–certified Bardessono resort, with its high-end farm-to-table Lucy Restaurant & Bar, a spa, and a lounge showcasing food and cocktails fed by on-site gardens. The resort is also walking distance to notable tasting rooms like Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley, housed in a historic stone building and featuring an art gallery where you can sample wines from more than 20 vintner partners.
Chef Thomas Keller put Yountville on the culinary map when he took over The French Laundry in 1994.
Indeed, the whole community of Yountville is walkable, with easy access to such covetable items as high-end chapeaux at Montecristi Panama Hats, wine bottles recycled into chic jewelry at Yount Street Glass, and home and culinary niceties from the Domain Home & Garden shop, across from chef Michael Chiarello’s award-winning Bottega restaurant.
For a sign of how this tiny enclave of less than 3,000 souls has evolved into a true lifestyle destination, just look at luxury Silver Trident Winery. The Tuscan-style stone building sits in the heart of downtown and features an elegantly appointed living room, dining room, and library with decor (all for sale) from Ralph Lauren Home. Then, there’s the glittery JCB Tasting Salon from global vintner Jean-Charles Boisset, resplendent with jewels and Baccarat crystal as well as wine.
Insider tip: Those on a tighter budget can experience Keller’s culinary genius by making a reservation at Ad Hoc, his more casual restaurant on Washington Street, or by ordering a boxed lunch from his to-go service Addendum, at the same address.
Nicknamed “Napa Valley’s Main Street,” the downtown area of the charming wine-country town of St. Helena brims with lovely little shops, art galleries, and precious cafés set in historic buildings. It’s all nicely walkable within its primary half-mile-long core, so you can browse gourmet shops, fashion boutiques, and candy stores (try the mendiants, tiny discs of chocolates studded with nuts and dried fruits, at Woodhouse Chocolate).
Downtown St. Helena is ringed with wineries, such as the iconic Merryvale Vineyards, which was the first winery in the valley to open after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The Clif Family Winery—yes, the same owners of the energy bar company—offers tastings of small-production wines, as well as wine-and-food pairings and the more casual option of the Clif Family Bruschetteria Food Truck. Another good stop is Hall Wines, which showcases spectacular edgy art, sculptures, and a “glass house” tasting room. (Be sure to greet mascot Bunny Foo Foo, a 35-foot-tall stainless steel rabbit at the winery entry.)
The compact downtown includes the Harvest Inn, of which the renowned contemporary Harvest Table restaurant is a part. On the north end of town, at the magnificent Restaurant at Meadowood, you can indulge in a glamorous three-Michelin-star dinner, or check the student-run restaurant schedule of the Napa Valley Cooking School to enjoy a meal cooked by budding chefs at the small but illustrious institution.
One great stop between meals and wine tastings: the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, next to the local library. In 1880, the future author of Treasure Island was in the area on his honeymoon, and found an abandoned shack in Silverado, then a remote mining ghost town on Mount Saint Helena. Penniless, he lived there with his bride for many weeks. In 1883, he published a memoir of his stay, The Silverado Squatters. Today, many of his artifacts are on display at the museum. You can also work up a sweat while visiting of Robert Louis Stevenson State Park; a five-mile trail through rough terrain to the summit of Mt. St. Helena will lead you to a vantage point from which much of the San Francisco Bay Area is visible.
Located at the northern tip of Napa Valley at the base of Mount Saint Helena, Calistoga is the less traveled, laid-back sister to the bustling downtown Napa. It’s ironic in a way, since the town of Calistoga helped put Napa Valley on the global wine map. In 1976, the town’s Chateau Montelena (and its 1973 Chardonnay) beat out the best French wines at the legendary tasting known as the Judgment of Paris.
Today, Calistoga’s local wine scene still has attention-grabbing appeal—in part thanks to Castello di Amorosa, the medieval-style, multi-turreted castle on a hill built by Italian-style winemaker Dario Sattui. A tour of the 121,000 square-foot castle (built over 15 years with authentic materials) makes for a fascinating hour, with its five towers, courtyard and loggias, a Tuscan-style farmhouse, a frescoed great hall, stables, a prison, and even a torture chamber (if you don’t like the wines?). Finish up with a 45-minute segment for barrel tastings and sips of current releases.
Wine is not the only elixir that people love here. Calistoga is the valley’s spa and hot springs capital, and visitors have flocked here seeking rejuvenation in mineral-rich volcanic waters since the 1800s. Spas and resorts range from casual (and clothing optional) to upscale, and most offer hot soaks, saunas, and massages. Indian Springs Calistoga, Solage, and Calistoga Ranch are a few of the area’s high-end properties which all feature luxury spas. Visit Napa Valley has more listed on their site.
One can’t visit without experiencing the quintessential Calistoga experience: the mud bath. Make an appointment for “The Works” at Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort, where you’ll be treated to a traditional mud bath with facial mask, aromatic mineral whirlpool bath, steam room, blanket wrap, and massage.
Calistoga is also a key spot to enjoy another Napa Valley signature experience: a hot-air balloon ride. Floating above the morning mist, looking out across the still valley as the sun peeks over the surrounding hills—can you imagine where you’d rather be? Cap it all off with a traditional glass of bubbly when you come back to earth.