Aunque no es estrella de un programa de cocina, la fama del chef Keller ha superado el mundo gastronómico, debido simplemente a la genialidad de su cocina y la calidad de su experiencia gastronómica, ambas representadas en esta institución de Yountville. Con tres estrellas Michelín, The French Laundry es una experiencia única que debe estar en la lista de pendientes de todo comensal que se precie. El menú degustación es sublime, con platos estacionales que van cambiando y el plato insignia del chef Keller, “ostras y perlas” (ostras y caviar en sabayón).
Si no puede conseguir una reserva (las mesas se completan con meses de anticipación), visite el Bouchon Bistro vecino del chef Keller, para degustar comida deliciosa con influencia francesa en un entorno más informal. El menú destaca platos clásicos de bistró como filete con patatas, soupe à l’oignon, escargots à la bourguignonne y confît de canard.
¿Solo está de paso por la ciudad en su camino hacia una degustación de vinos? Pase por Bouchon Bakery, la pastelería del chef Keller, para probar los perfectos macaroons o una mantecosa rebanada de quiche.
Consejo de alguien que sabe: una manera de ver al chef Keller es en los festivales de comidas y vinos más importantes, como el Pebble Beach Food & Wine, siempre atestado de estrellas de la gastronomía.
El Valle de Napa reina como la tierra de las grandes fincas, las grandes salas de degustación, los pueblos pintorescos y los hoteles elegantes, muchos de los cuales se encuentran a lo largo del Silverado Trail. Apenas a una hora en coche al norte de San Francisco y con más de 400 bodegas, el Valle de Napa es un paraíso para los conocedores que invita a los visitantes a explorar más allá de los vinos distintivos de la región, el Cabernet Sauvignon y el Chardonnay. No se pierda, por ejemplo, el redescubierto Merlot, cuya textura suave y su sabor térreo a cereza atraen a una nueva generación de entusiastas del vino tinto.
Considerado por mucho tiempo la más famosa región del vino en California, el valle de Napa pasó a ser una atracción global después del “Juicio de Paris” de 1976, cuando un Chateau Montelena Chardonnay de Calistoga barrió con otros nueve Chardonnays en una prueba a ciegas en París, incluidas las extremadamente prestigiosas botellas de Francia. En esa época, Francia se consideraba la región del vino precursora en el mundo, pero este triunfo cambió para siempre la percepción internacional de los vinos del norte de California.
Las hojas de los viñedos en primavera tornan las laderas en verde brillante y en otoño los viñedos rebosan de trabajadores.
Hoy en día, la región posee algunas de las más codiciadas uvas de vino de todo el mundo, incluidas las To Kalon Vineyard, plantadas en la década de 1860, además de botellas de culto contemporáneo como la Screaming Eagle y la Harlan Estate.
¿Cuándo puede visitarlas? Cada temporada tiene su atractivo. Las hojas de uva emergentes en la primavera tornan las laderas en verde brillante, emplumadas de hileras de flores de mostaza. El verano se calienta con eventos y festivales (y las multitudes que asisten), así que prevea un calendario apretado. El otoño atrae al gentío, y los viñedos y las bodegas se llenan de trabajadores. El invierno se asienta en un fresco silencio: Los conocedores saben que es la época para hacer reservaciones en la galaxia de restaurantes con estrellas Michelin del Valle de Napa, comprar regalos navideños en pueblos alegremente decorados pero más tranquilos, y relajarse en la mayor intimidad de los lujosos spas.
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.
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.
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.
One of the area’s best new developments unites many joys as well. St. Clair Brown is a boutique winery 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).
For overnight stays, R&R abounds at options such as the big-city-chic Andaz Napa hotel and the impossibly 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.