There are many wonderful things about living in the Bay Area not the least of which is living a two-hour drive from one of the best wine growing regions in the world! Even if you’re not a wine drinker the region has a lot to offer, beautiful scenery, fine art galleries, shopping, spas, bike tours, ridiculously good food and much more! Within the region of Napa Valley there are many little towns, Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga to name a few.
While I don’t get there as often as I might like, I have been fortunate enough to find myself there for various reasons three different times this year! March found me running the Napa Valley Marathon, August found me shopping and dinning in both St. Helena and the town of Napa with a scenic drive along the Silverado Trail, and finally another trip in August to tour the wineries in high style with a group of girlfriends! So there you have it Napa three ways!
The Napa Valley Marathon
I’ve been an avid runner for a number of years now and after running countless races of all distances I decided it was time to take it to the next level and attempt a full marathon. Many of my marathon running friends suggested the Napa Valley Marathon as a great first marathon! One of my best friends flew up from LA to join me! Yes! She’s an excellent friend!
If you are planning to run the marathon you should know that the course is incredibly beautiful, but also very hilly! The course starts in Calistoga and follows the scenic Silverado Trail for the majority of the 26.2 mile course. It ends at the Napa Valley High School and as most races do this one starts very early in the morning. We drove up the Saturday before so we had time to go to the race expo, explore the town of Napa and have a big carb loading dinner with our running group!
Napa is a fairly quiet place, but definitely on the rise with a number of fun little shops and restaurants worth checking out. Visitors often confuse the entire region of Napa Valley with Napa the town so they’ve given themselves the #realnapa. St. Helena, Geyserville, Yountville and Calistoga all have fun little shopping areas to explore as well.
Just east of downtown across the river is the Oxbow Market. It’s a great place to grab a bite and do a little shopping. They have a little bit of everything and I found a fun magnet board in one of the little shops. We weren’t drinking much the day before the full marathon, but we did treat ourselves to one glass of wine. How could we resist?
We stayed a short distance outside of town in a very decent place, however, it wan’t convenient to anything. If I had to do it over again I would choose the Andaz Napa where another friend stayed. It was in a great location walking distance to all of Downtown Napa and the rooms were very nice. Wouldn’t this nice big tub be a welcome sight after 26.2!?
Napa Valley with Family
Recently my folks came for a visit and we drove up for the day. While they weren’t sure they were interested in wine tasting (What?!) I thought they might enjoy the drive and poking around the little towns. Our first stop was at V. Sattui a wonderful and well established winery. If you’ve never been to the area I highly suggest you stop here. They have a large market where you can purchase all sorts of lovely food to accompany your wine. Their grounds are stunning with large picnic areas. I first visited in 1999 when Tim and I were still dating. Very romantic!
We weren’t ready for lunch so decided to keep driving and have lunch a little further up the road in St. Helena. We ate on Main Street in a little place called Market which is Michelin Guide recommended. Both the food and the service were nice, but I’ll probably try somewhere new next time. After lunch we popped in and out of the shops and galleries along the street and sampled some chocolates at Woodhouse Chocolates which I will definitely visit again!
I really wanted my folks to see the Silverado Trail it’s incredibly beautiful and I thought it might be fun to show them my marathon route. It’s lined with winery after winery and a lot of them will probably sound familiar to you as you drive by. Of course you don’t have to keep driving! Most offer wine tastings between 10 am and 5 pm. I recently learned that the Silverado Trail was the first permanent road built between Napa and Calistoga!
We finished up our circle drive in #realnapa where we wandered through the shops and the Oxbow Market before heading home.
I mentioned Napa three ways and I’ve saved the best for last…
While Napa Valley has many things to offer let’s be real… the main reason to visit is tasting the WINE! Many people find they don’t want to drive from one winery to the next as their ability to taste becomes hampered by their need to NOT drink and drive, so it makes sense to find alternate transportation.
While there are many options we’ve found that renting a limousine and splitting the cost among us makes the most sense. Not having to think about who will drive takes all the worry out of the day! We’ve done this a few times and usually head out from home around 9 am. As I mentioned most wineries don’t stay open past 5 pm, so getting an early start is a good idea!
If you haven’t been before it helps to consult a map of the Valley before setting out that way you’ll have an idea of where you’re going in advance. Keep in mind that some of the wineries require an advance reservation and the map will help you to figure out which ones those are. In our group we have both white and red wine drinkers so we each pick somewhere that interests us. That’s another great thing about hiring a driver, they know their way around the Valley and if you give them a list of destinations they’ll take care of the rest!
On our most recent trip we visited four different wineries. We had grand plans to visit more, but there is so much going on at each location it’s quite difficult to find the time especially given that most places close early and you’ll want a break for lunch!
When I first started visiting back in 1999 a lot of the wineries had free tastings, but those days are long over. There are pros and cons to this. The con obviously being that it can really add up when you’re paying $20+ at each winery for a tasting, however the pro is that because you’re paying they are even more attentive and take more time explaining the different wines!
St. Supery was our first stop as it’s a favorite of this group! The grounds are really lovely with beautiful ivy and flowers everywhere. They offer tastings and you can choose to stand inside at the counter or there is a lovely seating area just outside, both are very inviting. It’s quite modern inside which really appeals to me! If you have time to linger there is a little shop and there are some lawn type games you can take advantage of.
Our second stop, just 5 min down the road, and just as loved is Peju! While I admit that I’m the white wine drinker of the group, the other girls really prefer red and in fact belong to the wine club here. I will say they do have a great Sauvignon Blanc! The grounds are like stepping into a fairytale with flowers and fountains everywhere. I spent a lot of time taking photos while they spent a lot of time drinking the red! It might be a good idea to call ahead at Peju as its pretty popular. We always walk away with a “few” bottles to bring home.
After the drive up and stops at two different wineries its time for lunch! There are a number of wineries with markets and restaurants, but we thought we might do a less formal lunch and decided to eat on the go. I know I mentioned Dean and Deluca in my New York! Pizza, Restaurants, Markets & Bars! post, but guess what!? They have a location in Napa Valley too! We stopped here to pick up picnic goodies which we ate in the limousine. There are so many choices and everything is so good, it’s hard to make decisions. It definitely doesn’t help matters if you walk in hungry… Oh, and they also sell knives and other kitchen items should you need them.
After lunch I thought we should try somewhere new, so we visited Long Meadow Ranch also on the St. Helena Hwy. They have a lot to offer here as they aren’t just a winery, but a complete farmstead with multiple locations. Beyond wine they also produce, olive oil, beef, eggs, fruits & vegetables and honey. You’ll find a selection of some of these products in their shop. We did a tasting and probably due to the size of our group they were kind enough to put us in this adorable little private room. I really enjoyed the music, Johnny Cash was playing, and the decor, farmhouse chic, there was something incredibly welcoming about this place. We didn’t get a chance to eat here, but we heard that their restaurant is definitely worth a try!
Our last stop of the day was the Frank Family Vineyards which is a favorite of Tim’s and a little bit off the beaten path, but so worth it! They don’t do a lot of marketing and the wines are really only sold at the winery, and in a handful of select restaurants and retailers. You can order online, but we don’t usually do that… if we want more we have to drive up and get it. It’s a definite favorite around our house and a big hit at dinner parties. The landscaping is really beautiful with a different more wooded or rustic feel than the other locations we visited. Antonio, the gentleman doing our tasting was really funny and definitely very good at his job as I walked out with a case of wine!
We ended our day with dinner at Redd which is located in Yountville. I like to be as positive as I can when talking about my experiences, but I just didn’t love this place. The positives were that the main courses and the waiter were both great! However, I thought my chair was about as uncomfortable as they come and I literally hated one of the desserts and thought the other one was only okay.
After all that lovely wine tasting, eating and beautiful scenery it was time to head home… How great is it that someone else was driving!
So, there you have it… Napa three ways! What do you think? Which one appeals to you?!