Nestled between the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, Napa Valley is a lush landscape dotted with family-owned vineyards and charming small towns. The winemaking region, which runs from Napa to Calistoga, is particularly renowned for its world-class cabernet sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals. But the area’s gourmet culinary scene, luxurious spas, and bourgeoning art community make it a well-rounded vacation spot that’s accessible all year long.
Most people associate Napa Valley with wine, but the valley's dining options have also risen to prominence in recent years, with chefs such as Thomas Keller spearheading a haute cuisine movement. In towns throughout the region, you’ll find gourmet restaurants serving fresh, farm-to-table cuisine prepared using sustainable practices.
- In Yountville: Thomas Keller’s renowned French Laundry earned three stars from Michelin for its two seasonal, nine-course tasting menus and enviable wine list.
- In St. Helena: Home to the Culinary Institute of America—and its acclaimed eatery—the village also contains The Restaurant at Meadowood, another recipient of Michelin’s three-star rating.
- Oxbow Public Market: This local favorite in the town of Napa offers everything from local wines and cheeses to fresh oysters that can be enjoyed on an outdoor deck overlooking the Napa River.
- Olive-oil tastings: The valley’s Mediterranean climate is great for growing not only grapes, but olives as well. Taste small-batch oils at Round Pond Estate in Rutherford or The Olive Press in Napa.
Napa Valley is California's capital of all things grape. The region’s rolling hills are dotted with more than 400 vineyards, where oak barrels age vintage nectars and visitors are invited to stop, taste, and sniff private-label wines. Although some wineries welcome drop-by tastings, your best bet is to make appointments ahead of time.
- AVAs: Napa Valley spans 15 designated grape-growing regions known as American Viticultural Areas (or AVAs for short). Rutherford, an AVA known for its cabernet sauvignon, has an especially high concentration of wineries, including the sustainable Cakebread Cellars.
- Ride the wine train: Napa Valley Wine Train’s passengers enjoy a seasonal lunch or dinner along with tastings and full pours. The vintage railcars make a three-hour loop between Napa and St. Helena.
- Tastings and tours: You’ll find a different winery at almost every turn, but the Robert Mondavi Winery, Artesa Vineyard and Winery, and Sterling Vineyards are all worth checking out. Sterling has an aerial tram to whisk visitors across the fields.
There are a slew of things to do in Napa Valley besides eat and drink. The villages are filled with quaint shops and art galleries, and the countryside is ideal for a scenic drive.
- Explore: Glide past rolling hillsides and vineyards on bike trips, chauffeured wine-tasting tours, or—for a bird’s-eye view—hot-air balloon rides.
- Shop: Pick up new threads at the Napa Premium Outlets or take a spin through the valley’s galleries to pick up local paintings and sculptures. Oakville has an especially artistic vibe.
- Play: Numerous golf courses dot the landscape, including the 9-hole Meadowood Golf Club and a pair of championship courses at Silverwood Resort and Spa.
- Unwind: Calistoga, a town renowned for its natural hot springs, features a handful of spas where you can soak in restorative mineral waters and mud baths.
Where to Stay
- For luxury: Guest rooms at Bardessono hotel in Yountville exude elegance, with gated patios and custom bathrooms that have soaking tubs and concealed massage tables for enjoying in-room spa services.
- For a quiet retreat: Calistoga Ranch resort sits in the midst of 157 acres dotted with majestic oak trees and a small lake.
- For historic charm: Located within the Historic Napa Mill, Napa River Inn showcases the 19th-century mill’s original clay-brick walls and exact replicas of the moldings and trims.
- For diehard wine-lovers: St. Helena’s The Wine Country Inn sits within 5 miles of more than 50 local wineries and a complimentary tasting is held each afternoon.