First Impression: This trendy, sophisticated area is the ideal respite for leisure travelers, outdoor enthusiasts, foodies and wine lovers. It’s rich history, therapeutic spas and recreational activities offer more than just vineyards and gourmet cuisine. There are plenty of cultural riches and activities to explore in Napa, and its close proximity to outlying areas and other big cities makes it the perfect home base for a northern California adventure.
Location: Napa County is located north of the San Francisco Bay Area in the U.S. state of California, and it’s served by Los Angeles International Airport. Oakland, San Francisco and Sacramento airports, which are equidistant from Napa as well, with some travelers suggesting the easiest airport to get in and out of being Sacramento. Its close proximity to San Francisco (about 45 miles south), Oakland (38 miles south), Sacramento, San Jose and even Lake Tahoe (about a three-hour drive) lures day-trippers to each area’s thriving attractions and entertainment.
Weather: Several microclimates exist within the area due to various weather and geographical influences. No matter what time of year you choose to visit, you’ll find the Mediterranean climate unparalleled and a year-round pleasure. The spring and summer months feature cloudless days and balmy nights, the winter rainy season is relatively short, and fall is so vibrant with color-changing foliage that you’ll be dazzled on a daily basis. Summer is a popular time to visit, when the vines are green and grapes are in full bloom, but Napa is filled with crowds. At an average 90 degrees F Fahrenheit) during the day and temperate nights, you may find yourself standing in lines and fighting for a spot at the tasting bar. One of the best times to visit Napa is in the fall (September to October), when colors are changing and the smell of fresh grapes fills the air. It’s also “crush” time, when you can see the wineries in action. The restaurants are also in prime form with fresh-grown produce used in culinary creations. November also features nice weather, and the crowds and rates have dropped. But one of the best and most beautiful times to visit is spring (early March through May), when pink and white blossoms and the mustard plants are all in bloom and the country sides are filled with eye-popping color. The weather can vary between 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring, with occasional rain/mist or cold/windy, so be sure to check what’s going on before you pack and be prepared. Travelers suggest dressing in layers and bringing a hat and waterproof windbreaker.
Getting Around: While many of Napa’s towns are great walking towns, the area is 30 miles long. Rent a car or book a taxi or limousine to get between sights, especially if you plan on visiting nearby outlying areas and cities like San Francisco. Napa Valley VINE operates a local bus service in Napa, along with intercity routes along State Route 29 between Vallejo (Solano County) and Calistoga. Limited service runs from Calistoga to Santa Rosa (Sonoma County). But for the money and convenience, your best bet is a rental car.
Retail Therapy: Shopping is an art form of its own, with a deserving place on everyone’s vacation itinerary. Napa Valley offers outstanding shopping experiences for those looking for gifts, distinctive items, couture clothing or unique home accessories. Some of the best items can be found in the winery gift shops, but there’s also the Westfield Mall and two premium outlet locations: Nut Tree Prime Outlets and The Napa Valley “Premium” Outlets, which offers more luxury brands like Coach and Bose. Cities of Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga offer walking distance to specialty boutiques, galleries and antiques. Downtown Helena’s main drag is peppered with high-end boutiques filled with art and jewelry and specialty stores for men and women, plus the can’t-miss Woodhouse custom chocolates. V Marketplace in Yountville is touristy, but the high-end, one-stop shopping village has a healthy array of shops. The Culinary Institute of America at Graystone (CIA) is a spectacular historic building that looks like a castle and boasts one of the most extravagant cooking stores, with cooking classes to boot.
Local Flavor: Delight your taste buds with Wine-Country cuisine with an international flair at numerous establishments perfect for romance, business, local cuisine, special occasions and family gatherings. Napa is a feast for the senses with culinary delights to please even the most discerning palates. Sustainability is an essential element of everyday life in Napa, and many restaurants use local or sustainable products. But with everything from domestic to international fare with a contemporary flair, you’re sure to find something to please everyone on the list. In Calistoga, Solbar offers seasonal ingredient-driven cuisine in an indoor/outdoor setting, and Mustards Grille takes casual upscale. Angèle, which overlooks the Napa River, symbolizes the renewed, modern-day vibe of Napa Valley dining. It offers contemporary spins on Provençal cuisine. The Chefs Market on Friday nights is also the place to be and be seen, drawing out everyone of all ages. It’s like a big a block, with excellent produce and street fair, live music on almost every corner and food stands selling free-range barbecue chicken and bottled beer. Enjoy an alfresco lunch at Round Pond in Rutherford. Plus, the small one-mile-long walking town of Yountville has the biggest selection of world-class restaurants and dining, offering culinary flavors of France, Italy and California, plus world-class cuisine reaching the 6-star mark. Popular hotspots in this tiny Napa town include the legendary French Laundry, Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty and Redd.
Nightlife: Napa Valley nightlife is as diverse as the varietals of its wineries. The Uptown Theater Napa is downtown’s destination for live entertainment. The restored Art-Deco masterpiece and historic landmark showcases many top-notch acts, including music, comedy and more, and plays host to some of the biggest names in entertainment. Feeling lucky? Then take a gamble at one of northern California’s Indian casinos like River Rock Casino in Geyersville. For some premier Calistoga nightlife with outdoor patio dining, a full bar, micro brewery, jazz, dancing and more, hit the Calistoga Inn’s Restaurant & Brewery. There’s also the sophisticated Martini House in St. Helena. But the jewel of the Valley is the Napa Valley Opera House, which showcases excellence in music and performing arts for audiences of all ages including world-class musical theatre, plays, chamber music, jazz, opera, dance and family programs. Silo’s premier Music Room and Wine Bar in downtown Napa features the best in live rock, Motown, reggae and jazz along with Napa’s finest wines and draft beers. Downtown Joe’s Brewery & Restaurant is a popular local hangout with a vast selection of American cuisine. But for a true pub experience, visit Murphy’s Irish Pub in Sonoma. The Lincoln Theater Napa Valley in Yountville was originally built in 1957, then renovated and re-opened in 2005 as a state-of-the-art 1200-seat concert hall. Not only is it the home of the Napa Valley Symphony and Napa Regional Dance Theatre, the venue hosts a wide variety of music, dance and theater performances.
World-Class Golf: Golf aficionados of all levels will experience an unforgettable day on the scenic greens of Napa County, which is home to numerous golf courses, some pro-designed, making the area a very tough place to leave, though the Mediterranean subtropical climate makes it easy to come back often. While Nappa offers ideal year-round golfing, some courses and resorts drop rates in the winter season. Popular links for honing your skills include Eagle Vines Golf, Silverado, Chardonnay Golf, Napa Valley Country Club, Napa Golf Course and Vintners.
Spa Town: Long before the day spa was popular, people came in droves from all over to “take the cure” and relax in Calistoga’s hot springs, volcanic mud and enjoy the surroundings. They still do today. The spa town of Calistoga is still popular for its mud baths as well as its therapeutic treatments or modern techniques, which include organic treatments. On the Northern edge of Napa Valley, Spa Solage at the Solage Calistoga features modern treatments and enlightening therapies. There are also a variety of resort and day spas in Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Oakville, Rutherford, and outlying areas such as outlying areas such as American Canyon, Angwin, Lake Berryessa and Pope Valley, not to mention the enormous inventory of day and resort spas you can find in San Francisco.
About Wine Country: California’s Napa Valley is considered one of the top wine regions in the United States. It has more than 400 wineries, some with historical or European-style architecture that enhance the ambience and experience favored by aficionados. This wine-growing region’s distinction as the home of some of the world’s best wines was achieved through trial and error over its 200 years of wine-making history. Records of commercial wine production in the region date back to the 19th century (circa 1858), but premium wine production dates back only to the 1960s. Napa Valley has become the most popular wine tourism destinations in the United States, let alone one of the top wine-producing areas. Napa Valley is an American Viticulultural Area near the north coast, where the combination of Mediterranean climate, geography and geology of the region are conducive to growing quality wine grapes. With more than 400 wineries and some 43,000 acres of planted vineyards rippling into the Valley, varietals produced include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and more. Most of the Chardonnay grapes are grown in Carneros.
The Road to Riches: With a rich history of wine making traced back to 1858, Napa’s journey into premium Wine Country reads like a good book with several setbacks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including an outbreak of the vine disease phylloxera, the Prohibition and the Great Depression. But in 1938, André Tchelistcheff was credited for ushering in the modern era of California wine making, when he introduced several techniques and procedures that took wine making to all new heights. Following the Prohibition, in 1939, Beringer Vineyards invited Hollywood stars like Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Carole Lombard to visit the winery, and lured attendees of the Golden Gate International Exposition with promotional maps that said “All roads lead to Beringer.” These early promotions set the stage, and in 1976, the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 featured a Napa Valley Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that bested several famous French labels in a blind-tasting format. The results showed the region capable of producing the best quality wine—equal to that of Old World wine regions and further declared the region’s reputation as a producer of world-class wines. Wine-based tourism is now a large part of today’s Napa Valley economy. Just a few years ago, at The Napa Valley Wine Auction, which is considered to be the crucible of Wine Country and held annually in June, even had a bidder shelling out $500,000 for a six-liter bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon.