This past weekend was my first trip to the Napa Valley wine country. I've been to other wine regions in Cali but never to Napa, which made me feel like a painter who had never seen the Louvre, or a gambler who had yet to visit Vegas. Jocelyn has had the opportunity to visit Napa several times and promised that I would not be disappointed.
We spent most of our time in Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga, towns I'd heard of but knew nothing about.
Yountville is home to several amazing restaurants, including the renowned French Laundry, named best restaurant in the world on multiple occasions (the garden alone addresses any doubt). You probably need to make the reservation almost a year in advance, or spend the afternoon drooling and dreaming outside their busy kitchen windows. Downtown Yountville is very small and super swanky- you'll dine and board like a queen at every turn but spend a small fortune in the process.
St. Helena is surrounded by some of my favorite wineries and definitely has the best shopping. When Route 29 slows to a crawl through town, just go with the pace and pull over to park. You'll discover shops for shoes, soaps, sweets, sweaters, second-hand treasures, and sophisticated souvenirs.
Calistoga is another small little town but very quaint and surrounded by excellent boutique California wineries. It's also home to the hotel Solage, a luxury resort that you must at least eat at if you can't stay there. The pressed coffee and sugared donut holes are unquestionably gourmet and the expansive grounds make for a serene early morning stroll.
My only disappointment was with the town of Napa itself. A large portion of the storefronts were vacant and the town felt dreary and uninhabited. We planned to have lunch there but after looking at a few menus pressed on to Yountville (for an amazing lunch at Boettega). We got a chain restaurant vibe from the few downtown restaurants we passed and didn't want to waste a good meal on mediocre food and ambiance.
It was hard to say goodbye after only three days, so a return trip is already in the works that will probably include a San Francisco 49s game (gotta support my fellow Helix alum Alex Smith) and a swing into the city. The hills of Los Angeles may be home to several budding wine businesses, but the lure of the Northern Californian air, landscape, and people is strong enough to make this wine-o pack up for another weekend getaway.