Napa Valley is a food & wine lover’s paradise: the countless wineries, farm-to-table eateries, Michelin star restaurants, bakeries, etc. provide THE ultimate gastronomic experience. As an SF resident and a huge foodie, I find myself venturing out to wine country several times a year (it’s only a one-hour drive from the city!). My list of recommendations could go on forever, but here are some of my favorites.
WINERIES IN NAPA VALLEY
Napa Valley is made up of several small towns, each unique and full of personality. The most popular (from south to north) include Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga, and it is an easy drive between each. I highly recommend checking out all four because there are amazing wineries and restaurants in all of them. If you’ve never been to Napa before, these are not to be missed!
1) DOMAINE CARNEROS (1240 Duhig Rd, Napa, CA 94559)
Start your day with something light and fun at Domaine Carneros, which specializes in sparkling wines! Upon arriving you’ll catch sight of the gorgeous French chateau and sprawling vineyards and feel like you’ve stepped inside a fairytale. There is both indoor and terrace seating available, but I recommend making a reservation as it can get very busy, especially in the summer. Tastings start at $30 which includes 4 wines at 2 ounces each. It’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy the view or take a tour if you so choose.
For all the sparkling wine lover’s out there, if you can’t get enough, I also really loved visiting Domaine Chandon. Instead of a grand chateau, this place features a large patio with expansive views of the valley. Tastings range from $20 to $25, and I can attest first-hand that they are very generous with their pours. You are allowed to stay in the tasting room for the whole experience or you can bring your tastings outside and enjoy the weather.
2) V. SATTUI (1111 White Ln, St Helena, CA 94574)
V. Sattui is hands down my favorite winery in Napa Valley! It has great wine (at reasonable prices), beautiful picnic grounds, and most importantly – delicious food! Inside the main tasting room is a cozy, marketplace set-up with tons of free samples and yummy lunch options. It’s a perfect food stop in between wine tastings. I love their paninis, ravioli, broccolini salad, meat & cheese selections, and honey dijon dip! And on weekends they serve fresh, hot BBQ and pizzas (yum!).
I’ve also taken a tour here and it was one of the best. We visited the vineyards and stainless steel tanks and had a private tasting at the end. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and explained everything from the history of the winery and the wine-making process to the different types of wines available during the tasting. The 45 minute tour plus tasting was $30 and regular tastings in the marketplace are $15. One of my favorite V. Sattui wines is the Gamay Rouge which is a summery wine with strawberry/cranberry flavors; sometimes I like to buy a bottle and picnic outside instead of doing a tasting.
3) CASTELLO DI AMOROSA (4045 Helena Highway, Calistoga, CA 94515)
Castello di Amorosa is the most unique winery I’ve been to because, as the name suggests, it’s a castle! The architecture is beautiful and makes you feel like you’ve been transported into 13th century Italy. In order to enter the inside of the castle, you must purchase a tasting or tour (starting at $30). I opted to do the tour and saw the barrel room, armory, and “torture chamber.” I’ll admit it’s a little gimmicky, but a cool experience nonetheless.
There are so many amazing wineries in Napa Valley you couldn’t possibly do them all in one trip. Other popular favorites include Artesa, Beringer, Robert Mondavi, Stags Leap, Sterling Vineyards and many more.
WHERE TO EAT
1) OXBOW PUBLIC MARKET (610 1st St, Napa, CA 94559)
If you’ve ever been to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, you’ll notice that the Oxbow Public Market looks quite similar to its sister marketplace with farm-to-table eateries and local artisan goods. It is so cute and a great place to stop for lunch; definitely try the lamb tacos from C CASA and the clam chowder at Hog Island Oyster!
2) ADDENDUM (6476 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599)
Thomas Keller’s Addendum is an outdoor picnic-style eatery featuring the juiciest, most perfect fried chicken you will ever have. It is located behind sister restaurant, Addendum, which also serves comfort food but at a slightly higher price point. You cannot come to Napa and not stop here!
3) FREMONT DINER (2698 Fremont Dr, Sonoma, CA 95476)
Fremont Diner is the cutest brunch spot! It is actually located in Sonoma but Sonoma and Napa are basically next-door neighbors so it’s not so far away. The food is delicious and the outdoor seating is great on a warm, summery day. I absolutely love their spicy chicken and waffles, cheddar jalapeno cornbread and farmers toast with ricotta & fresh fig!
4) BOUCHON BAKERY (6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599)
When you spot the loong line formed outside a light green/yellow building, you will know you’ve arrived at the right place. But don’t let the wait deter you because Bouchon’s baked goods are top notch. They have all sorts of yummy goodness from croissants and macarons to tarts.
5) ZUZU TAPAS BAR (829 Main St, Napa, CA 94559)
Downtown Napa is a beautiful place to stroll, especially right along the Napa River. With dozens of restaurants, tasting rooms and shops in the area, there is always something to do! One of my favorite restaurants in downtown Napa is ZuZu, a cozy Spanish tapas restaurant featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients and organic & sustainable produce. The seafood paella here is one of the BEST I’ve had.
HOT SPRINGS & SAFARI
1) CALISTOGA HOT SPRINGS / MUD BATHS
Treat yourself to a nice spa getaway in Calistoga, a town in northern Napa Valley known for its hot springs and mud baths. My boyfriend and I did a couples mud bath at the Baths at Roman Spa and had a great experience. The 60-minute package includes a mud bath, mineral bath and cooling room experience. It is unique and rejuvenating, and I would recommend going if you have never tried it before and don’t mind getting a little dirty.
2) SAFARI WEST
As bizarre as it sounds, you can visit a safari right in Sonoma County! Safari West is a 400-acre wildlife preserve featuring giraffes, rhinos, buffalo, cheetas, zebras and more. This place focuses on conservation and education and will make you feel like you’re in Africa without actually being in Africa. Tickets range between $83 – $115 per adult depending on the season and day of the week.
There is so much to see and do in wine country – the possibilities are endless! Whether it’s your first time or your hundredth time there’s always something new to discover. So, what are you waiting for? Grab your wine-loving girlfriends and head over to Napa for a *grape* time!
Have you ever been to Napa Valley? If you have any questions or your own recommendations, please leave these in the comments below.
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