Top Spots for a Napa Valley Getaway
Whether it be a day trip from San Francisco, a weekend getaway, or a full vacation, the Napa Valley will never disappoint.
Whenever people ask me where I go to college I tell them, “Pacific Union College, its super small, but its in the Napa Valley.” Though not the typical college town scene, the Napa Valley has been an incredible place to spend my college years. It is where most people only go on vacation. Of course it is one of America’s number one wine destinations, but it is also packed with incredible restaurants (trust me, I was not a foodie before going to Pacific Union College, but now I am). A trip to the Napa Valley may just turn you into a wine connoisseur and a foodie as well.
The Napa Valley is known also for being expensive, so I will try to include some of the slightly cheaper options. The following spots are also not limited to one town since one of the many beauties of the Napa Valley is that it includes many small towns that all have their own character and feel.
• Oxbow Market (Napa)
Napa, the city, has quite a few nice spots for food and just relaxing, but Oxbow Market is really your one stop destination. Hit up the Oxbow and you are basically set for the day. All of the stalls are great, but are too many to list here so I will recommend two of my favorites. C Casa: If there is not already a religion about tacos, there should be. And C Casa would be like one of the high ranking cardinals of tacoism. All of their food is locally sources and organically raised, and not to mention delicious. Once you’ve had your fill of tacos, if thats possible, stop by Ritual Coffee Roasters for some of the best coffee you will find in the entire Bay Area.
• Cairdean Estates (St. Helena)
This little sanctuary was my go to afternoon chill/study spot for about a year, so much so that I did not tell anyone about it just to keep it on the down low and not get filled with students. Well word has gotten out about Cairdean and its much more popular now. Which is okay, I can share it. Cairdean has everything you are looking for in a day out in Napa Valley: a cafe, restaurant, beautiful courtyard and patio, wine bar, gallery, and a small boutique shop. You can easily spend an entire afternoon here.
• Goose & Gander (St. Helena)
I know I mentioned I would only list the cheaper spots, but Goose & Gander is too good not to recommend. This can be your splurge night. If you are going to pay $19 for a burger, this is the place. If the dining room upstairs is full, the bottom floor is an open seating bar/lounge that has plenty of tables and features the full menu. The basement bar is preferable mainly because it is a bit more casual, lively, and will not fail to make you feel classy. Top tip: If you bring a special someone along and do not want to look like a slob, do not order the burger. Yes, its one of the best around, but it is also incredibly messy. You’ve been warned.
• Model Bakery (St. Helena)
This little gem in St. Helena has been in business for almost 100 years. Once you try it, you’ll know why. I 100% recommend the english muffins, which I am not usually a huge fan of, but at Model they are king. They were even named by Oprah to her “Favorite Things” list, apparently a real thing, and she described them as “scrumptious all over”. She is not wrong. The blueberry scones are also top notch. The only drawback for Model is that seating is extremely limited.
• Bouchon Bakery (Yountville)
Do not be frightened by the line out the door of Bouchon Bakery, its normal. It also goes quickly, which is good because you will be able to smell the delicious bread and pastry smells wafting out of the window as you wait in line. The pride and joy of Bouchon is their macarons. They are all delicious, but I’d suggest the salted caramel (pictured below), raspberry, and pistachio. Bouchon does not mess around with the tiny one bite macarons that a lot of bakeries do. These bad boys of pure sugary perfection are about triple the size of the macaron you are used to.
• Archetype (St. Helena)
This St. Helena newcomer has quickly become a Napa Valley staple. Archetype offers lunch and dinner like a normal restaurant, but brunch is where Archetype shines brightest. There is no better brunch destination in the valley. The lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry syrup is definitely in my top 3 pancakes list (what, do you not have a top 3 pancakes list?). Everything I have tried at Archetype is nothing but pure deliciousness. If you have a group of more than four, be sure to make reservations though because it will get crowded.
I’ve listed many restaurants, cafes, and such, but no trip to the Napa Valley is complete without at least one stop at a winery. They are everywhere, they are beautiful, they are quintessential Napa Valley. I am not that into wine, but there are a few that stick out, including one that is absolutely a must visit.
• Via Sattui (St. Helena)
Opened by the Italian Vittorio Sattui in 1885, the winery laid unused after prohibition until 1976 when Vittorio’s grandson, Dario, re-opened it. Today, Via Sattui is one of the Napa Valley’s most popular winery destinations. In addition to the vineyards and various tasting rooms, Via Sattui also has a fully stocked classic Italian market and a large outdoor picnic area. Sattui is the perfect place to grab a bottle, some snacks, and relax in the California sun for hours.
• Castello di Amorosa (Calistoga)
Though one of the more touristy wineries in the valley, Castello di Amorosa should be your number one destination. Seriously, go here. It is touristy for a reason, and that reason is that its fantastic. As the name states, they have a castle. For America, especially California, that’s pretty rare. It looks quite old, but it was actually completed in 2008. Dario Sattui, yeah the same guy, studied medieval Italian castles and villas before designing one of his own and shipping over 8,000 tons of stone from Europe. The winery offers tours and tastings that will be an unforgettable experience.
• Charles Krug (St. Helena)
The oldest winery in the valley, Charles Krug is also one of the most personal and intimate. Krug opened California’s first public tasting room back in 1882. Not only do they boast some of the valley’s best wines, but also provide an interesting historical background into the California wine industry before it truly bloomed into its current fame and success. Their smaller tasting room offers you more contact with the knowledgable staff.
So far I have mentioned food and drink spots. Don’t worry, there is more to do in Napa Valley and the surrounding area than eat and drink.
• Bike Tour
A great way to experience the Napa Valley is rent, or bring your own, bike. It is also a great way to feel a little less guilty for enjoying so much food and wine. Much of the valley has a designated bike trail that makes pedaling from spot to spot simple.
• Armstrong Redwoods California State Park
Located about an hour drive west from the Napa Valley in the tiny town of Guerneville is the Armstrong Redwood State Park. Though it is still very close to the wineries and mediterranean feel of the valley, a walk among the giant redwoods will make you feel like you are up in the Pacific Northwest.
• Mt. St. Helena Hike
After all of the pigging out on fantastic Napa Valley cuisine, you might feel the need to work some of it off. A hike up Mt. St. Helena will offer you one of the best views of the valley one can see. The hike is about five miles roundtrip so be prepared, but once you reach the peak and take in the view you will know that it was worth it. On clear days you can even see the Pacific Ocean.
• Bodega Bay
About an hour and a half drive from the Napa Valley is one of the most beautiful coastlines in California. Around Bodega Bay are several California state beaches that are perfect for a Sunday picnic. Normally there is no shortage of rustic looking driftwood up and down the beach you can collect and take home for that Etsy project you have not worked on in months. There are also a few nice spots for rock climbing or bouldering if that suits your fancy. If you bring a wetsuit and have the courage to brave the cold water, there is even a couple decent surf spots.