Unfortunately, Disneyland took the slogan first, but Napa Valley may be the true “Greatest Place on Earth” ….at least for adults. To be fair, I don’t think kids would appreciate it in the same way because a lot of my love for Napa comes from the wine.
Actually though, Napa has more to offer than just wine. Granted, it does have over 300 wineries just in the Napa Valley (so that doesn’t even count Sonoma or the coast), but it also is home to some fantastic restaurants (including quite a few Michelin stars I might add), and some pretty amazing hotels and spas. Keep reading, I shall explain.
My sister and I drove up from San Francisco (read about our day there here), which is a quick hour and a half away. There are four major (major being a loosely used word) towns in Napa Valley: Napa is the closest to San Fran, then Yountville, St. Helena, and furthest away is Calistoga. Each has a very particular vibe – Napa is the biggest and most diverse, Yountville is the newest looking with the best restaurants, St. Helena is quaint and picturesque, and Calistoga is like an old-school California town.
My sister and I decided on Yountville and stayed at the Napa Valley Lodge. I cannot explain how impressed and pleased we were with this hotel. Since we were there for Memorial Day weekend, all the hotels were pretty expensive. Napa Valley Lodge was by far one of the cheapest outside of the town of Napa (don’t stay in Napa) and we have never been able to figure out why. The location was great – right on the Northern edge of Yountville, the service was phenomenal (they had a pillow menu…you could actually choose your pillow from a menu), plus they had a free champagne breakfast every morning – which was as good as you think it could be. The pool was pretty spectacular as well after a day of wine tasting.
Once we’d had our fill of champagne breakfast, biked around Yountville, and chosen our pillows from the menu, we decided on a few vineyards to visit. Since there are so many great vineyards to choose from, I’d recommend doing a bit of research beforehand to figure out which ones you want to see. A lot of them have something a little different on offer to set them apart. For example, Schramsburg Winery does sparkling wine. Also, some wineries offer full tours of their grounds, and others only do tastings in one building. I’d recommend doing at least one tour of the grounds and then a few tastings. We were only in town for three days, so the first day we explored/ate a lot/pooled, the second day we dedicated to wine, and the third we dedicated to the spa.
The wineries we decided to visit were Alpha Omega, Robert Mondavi, and Plumpjack. Then we followed up with a couple visits to wine cellars in Yountville that also do tastings such as Jessups and Maisonry. Of all the ones we went to, I’d say Robert Mondavi is a must. The others were great but somewhat interchangeable. I definitely want to make it to Schramsburg next time. Robert Mondavi gave us a perfect tour of the grounds and the cellars and even ended the tour with a little appetizer to go with our wines.
Best things I learned: 1) I really like Napa Valley Chardonnay, and it is also usually the most expensive on a menu. 2) The difference between a winery and a vineyard in America is that the vineyard is where the grapes are growing and the winery is the building where the grapes are turned into wine. Fun fact!
The other most significant activity we participated in while visiting Napa was eating, and food, we found, is another thing that Napa Valley does really well.
Here are some of my favorites (I apologize that there are so many….actually, I don’t):
- Ciccio’s: Newcomer in Yountville, next to Napa Valley Lodge, great vibe in a converted gas station, have the pizza or the chef also gave us free cheese risotto balls that we really good!
- Redd Wood: In Yountville, we only had drinks here but the ambiance was worth a mention – great outdoor space with a fire place, perfect for drinking some wine.
- Gott’s Roadside: This burger joint is very hyped and very adorable, the milkshakes and burgers are pretty good though so it’s worth a visit for lunch, go to the St. Helena location though.
- Oakville Grocery: Another adorable lunch place near St. Helena with great sandwiches…and wine obviously, there’s some tables out back to sit at while you eat.
- Bottega: This Yountville restaurant may not have fully lived up to its hype for us, but it was a solid dinner, I recommend a table in the front room or drinks on the patio.
- Archetype: Probably my favorite place we ate, formerly French Blue in St. Helena, the new management hasn’t changed much except the name, the food is great, the service is awesome, plus they gave us free Shramsburg sparkling wine to celebrate my sister’s graduation! Sit outside on the enclosed patio surrounded by twinkley lights.
- Solbar: This unexpected gem was the adjacent restaurant to SolSpa, the spa we spent the day at in Calistoga on our last day, the indoor dining room is nothing to see, but the outside patio is shaded and overlooks the massive pool, the food was great and reasonably priced, overall a solid spot for a relaxing, slow lunch.
I can’t put this one on my list because I didn’t eat there, but first on my restaurant list for my next trip is French Laundry in Yountville. With 3-Micheling stars, it hardly needs the constant recommendations that everyone gives you when you ask where to eat, but they don’t hurt. Unfortunately, the reservation waitlist is like a thousand years long (give or take two months), so it didn’t make the cut this trip. Next time though, I will be prepared and plan in advance….and start saving up for the hefty bill that comes along with the food.
Our last day in Napa, once we were fully saturated with wine, was spent at the Sol Spa at Solage Calistoga, a beautiful hotel on the North end of Napa Valley in (you guessed it!) Calistoga. The hotel itself is more resorty than the Napa Valley Lodge, so if that’s your style, it’s definitely one to consider. The Spa, however, was super fun for our last day.
Our flight wasn’t until 10:30 pm out of San Francisco, so once we’d checked out of our hotel, we needed a day’s activity to do. The Sol Spa allows you to do one treatment and then have access to their private spa pool and changing rooms/showers. So, we decided to do their much touted “Mudslide,” which was hilarious.
I’m not much of a spa person usually, but this particular treatment should have been marked for advanced spa-goers only. Basically, we did the couples version, which was awkward already. They put you in a room covered in showers and you’re meant to smear volcanic mud all over your body and just lay there in it. Afterwards, you’re moved to another room with two bathtubs in it and a rapidly spinning fan where you’re meant to soak, I guess. Lastly, you’re put in a zero gravity chair and wrapped in a duvet and given noise cancelling headphones. Overall, we were in a fit of giggles through most of it, so it wasn’t all that relaxing, but a fun experience nonetheless. The pool area and showers were the real bonus.
As we headed to the airport, we were already discussing our next trip back to Napa and future plans that could take place in Napa (Bachelorette Party, anyone?). Needless to say, I was sold. Although, if you like fun, wine, food, and sun, you’ll be sold on Napa too.