Do you love award-winning wine and food, lush landscapes, and an indulgent splurge? It’s time to tour the Napa Valley. There is no doubt that Napa is America’s wine mecca. Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Mendocino. They all make world-class wine. But, in 1976 at an international blind wine tasting, Napa Valley’s wines beat France’s best, winning both the red and white tasting. Other California wines made the top five. It was official. Napa became known as the home of world-class premium wine.
And because of those awards, the top chefs, healthy indulgence, and extraordinary architecture flourish in the Napa Valley. Set among some of the earth’s nicest hills and valleys, soft buttered light, and a rowdy history, anyone who loves food, wine, and natural beauty will find a slice of paradise in Napa. If you’ve toured Napa Valley, it may be time to come back. If you haven’t experienced Napa yet, what wonders await you. In Authentic Wine Country, it’s all about the joy!
Recommended Touring: Oxbow Market, Wine Train
Napa Town was a sleepy agricultural center where farmers and ranchers gathered to swap news at the diner. Vineyards and orchards were the center of conversation in this laid-back, working town. Farming is still the talk of the town, and Napa is still friendly to the max, but it’s becoming a destination in itself. Napa was spared the effects of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. This means there are more Victorian-era buildings and homes in Napa than in any other city in the San Francisco Bay area. The Napa River is sweet, and it flows lazily through the downtown area. There are several cozy places to kick back, eat, drink, and watch soft light skim off the water. Downtown Napa’s newest food, music and wine experiences are ever-changing. Some of the most interesting wine, brews and foodie bliss are percolating here, and they’re waiting for you to discover them.
Recommended Touring: V Marketplace, Restaurants, Tastings Rooms
A foodie’s paradise, Yountville is the home of The French Laundry, Bouchon, Bistron Jaunty, Bottega, and other extraordinary finds. Yountville has more Michelin stars per capita than any other town in the United States! And, it was a wine from Yountville – Stags Leap Wine Cellars – that blew the lid off Napa’s fine wines and food in 1976’s world’s blind-tasting held in Paris. George Yount was the first white settler in the Napa Valley. In 1836 he got a Spanish land grant from the Mexican government. It was the first such grant awarded to an American Citizen in Northern California. Yount had no idea what he was starting, but he was the person who planted the first grape vines in the Napa Valley. Boasting some of the prettiest scenery in the valley, Yountville is easy to love. But its history lends it a texture that transcends time.
Recommended Touring: Culinary Institute of America
St. Helena is a lively and charming town. Part of that is due to her geography and part to conscious care. In the days of stagecoaches and bumpy roads, the Napa Valley was fairly remote. When the trains came through, St. Helena was easier to get to, but it was still a sleepy little town. Then world-class wine came onto the scene. Keeping St. Helena’s personality, and preserving the land around it, has been carried on with diligence. Today, a fierce love of the land and a strong sense of togetherness are tangible. You see it in historic downtown St. Helena where local family businesses thrive. You see it in the vineyards where 95% are family owned. Driving through St. Helena gives you the impression that this is a bustling little town that could be anywhere in America. But, when you walk down the streets past the boutiques and galleries, it’s a different story. If you are looking for wine country’s high-end artsy side, you’ll find it in St. Helena.
Recommended Touring: Spas
If you’re looking for a sense of the old Napa Valley – the laid-back era of Napa, then head to Calistoga. There are still parts of an old wooden sidewalk and lovely views of the mountains. It’s easy to imagine horses sauntering down the main street. Calistoga was, and still is, a spa town. The natural hot springs and mud baths have been attracting adventurous people to Calistoga for 150 years. San Francisco businessman Sam Brannan bought thousands of acres of land in Calistoga, and opened a general store there in the late 1850s. Today it’s a historic landmark, and well worth a look. Calistoga has a relaxed and homey feeling. Watch the soft sun ripple across the Mayacamas Mountains. Slip into the mineral baths or take a mud bath. The natural springs are some of the finest in the world. Then sip a glass of local wine. Unwind. Life is good.
Recommended Wineries: Mumm, Sterling, Shafer Vineyards, Caymus Vineyards
Napa’s Silverado Trail gets points for the rolling vineyard images and honest light that the name conjures up. It lives up to its name. The Silverado Trail is an old stagecoach route that runs 30 miles, from Napa to Calistoga. It is parallel to Highway 29. There are small roads that connect the Trail to the highway, making hopping on and off the two highways easy. Don’t be misled by the name–the road is paved! It is also a favorite among cyclists who prefer back roads. Silverado is a slower-paced ramble than Highway 29. You’ll come across some sumptuous, small family wineries that are tucked along the Trail or rise from the low hills. Continue north and consider a trek up Mt. St. Helena. At an altitude of 4343 ft., she dominates the skyline, and gives you a panoramic view of some of the sweetest scenery in the world. Walk the hills, survey the earth. Remember, wine country is about the land. Joyful and generous.