On bike tours with Gears and Grapes Getaways, groups cycle through the iconic Napa Valley, internationally recognized as one of the nine Great Wine Capitals in the world, and the slightly-more-indie Sonoma Valley, home to nearly every type of grape grown in California.
Groups typically stop at four boutique wineries during the tours, pausing at midday for a gourmet picnic lunch. Those who get tired of pedaling or who want to pretend they're on a stakeout can hop on the shuttle that follows close behind at any time. Guides also take visitors on tours of wineries and breweries in San Francisco proper.
Housed within the heart of Golden Gate Park, Park Chalet Garden Restaurant manages to simultaneously embrace its natural surroundings and its contemporary, urban setting. Glass walls and ceilings completely surround the diners, affording them pastoral views of Queen Wilhelmina's windmill and the dutch-tulip garden without sacrificing the comfort of an indoor environment. During warm, sunny days, natural light floods the space and the retractable glass doors slide open to admit warm breezes. The dining room's pendant lamps and immense stone fireplace become invaluable at night, keeping the restaurant brightly lit and the temperatures toasty throughout the evening.
To complement this elegantly cozy ambiance, Executive Chef Matthew Urban and his team devised a menu of familiar comfort foods with subtly refined touches. Smoked paprika oil adds an unfamiliar yet welcome burst of savory flavor to the fried chicken, and cornmeal-crusted trout arrives at tables with an aromatic saffron aioli. Occasionally, the chefs look for inspiration in other cuisines and fuse those flavors with Californian ingredients. Crushed avocados add to the ahi tuna tartare's richness, but the dish's ginger-sesame vinaigrette balances those flavors with a hint of zesty spice.
However, the chefs aren't the only culinary talent at Park Chalet Garden Restaurant. The staff also brews a variety of beers in-house, crafting everything from smoky, German-style märzens to refreshingly hoppy IPAs. As diners enjoy one of these brews with their meal, they can take in the views and applaud the local bands and extraterrestrial magicians that perform every Tuesday evening.
Now that eating on an ordinary table or atop a stack of Chinese acrobats seem horribly passé, adventurous foodies are seeking the next unconventional dining experience. Today's Groupon puts a little motion under your meal with two gourmet dinners on the Napa Valley Wine Train for $99 (a $198 value for dinner, $188 value for lunch). Treat yourself and a loved one to a three-hour ride through Napa Valley on an antique locomotive engine, accompanied by a delicious gourmet meal in lieu of the traditional mysterious murder.
The history of Ceja Vineyards dates back the 1950s, when Pablo Ceja, then working in St. Helena vineyards, dreamed of owning his own land where his ever-expanding family could grow their own grapes and make their own wine. Fueled by this dream for a better life for his children, Pablo moved his family from Mexico to the Napa Valley in 1967. Fortunately, 2 of his 10 children, Pedro and Armando, inherited his passion for wine and belief in hard work. When they were old enough, Pedro and Armando planted their first pinot-noir grapes in 1986 and, 13 years later, officially founded Ceja Vineyards with their wives and children. Today, the Cejas' operation boasts 113 producing acres and a chic wine-tasting salon where guests can enjoy sips of the vineyard’s red and white varietals, artisan cheeses, gourmet food items, and featured works from local artists.
In good Ceja tradition, Pedro and Armando’s kids are now beginning to purple their feet in the family business as well. Pablo’s family has undoubtedly made him proud; they’ve done much since their humble beginnings in St. Helena. The family hopes their story of hope and determination surfaces in every sip of their lovingly cultivated wines.
Wildflower-filled vases adorn hardwood tables within Savour St. Helena's rouge-tinted tasting room, where servers dish out hard-to-find vinos culled from small wineries. The Vinter's Tasting offers oenophiles and foodphiles the makings of an authentic vintner's lunch, uniting assorted cheeses and charcuteries with the sipper's choice of three wines. Quaffs of the Areté 2010 sauvignon blanc or the Houdini 2007 merlot escort nibbles of artisanal cheeses, cured meats, and mixed olives to a flavorful promenade chaperoned by bites of crusty french bread and a kindly corkscrew. Alternatively, a flight of Spotted Owl Vineyards 2008 mountain cuvée and Veendercrest 2005 Rutherford cabernet sauvignon can coast in for a smooth landing upon your palate's runway.
Along a winding country road, up an unpaved drive and past Gus a big, friendly, chocolate lab, you’ll find one of the most unpretentious, down-to-earth tasting rooms around. The Pope Valley, one of Napa’s hidden treasures, is home to the Pope Valley Winery. Here you will be treated less like a visitor and more like a friend