Thinking about heading to Napa Valley but not sure what to do, see, eat or drink? Or if things are even open for business given the recent fires and pandemic? Read on for a three-day itinerary that explores the best that this area has to offer right now!
Napa Valley is quintessential California laid back luxury. From lush rolling hills covered in fruit-covered vines, countless wineries immaculately designed for luxe experiences, perfectly manicured floral gardens, overflowing culinary gardens, boutique shopping, and a drinking and dining scene to rival any, it’s a place that continues to be unbeatable for a quick getaway from the city.
Whether a staycation or a fully-blown vacation, time spent in Napa Valley is pretty much guaranteed to be relaxing and memorable. It’s an ideal place to pamper yourself with indulgent culinary experiences paired with world-class wines in a setting that exudes tranquility.
I absolutely love Napa Valley, and to be honest, I’m in no way, shape or form a wine snob! I don’t have the most discerning palate, and despite having tasted wine in some of the best regions in the world, I like what I like and often times that’s not the most expensive or renown wine. That’s one of the reasons I love wine tasting; everyone’s taste preferences are different and at the end of the day you get to enjoy tasting new wines (and revisit old favs) in beautiful settings with people who equally want to have a good time!
Given the pandemic and California fires, it’s understandable that you may be weary of visiting this destination right now, but if you have a few days it’s certainly worth making the effort now that the smokiness has subsided. Currently, wineries are allowed to host indoor tastings at 25% occupancy, restaurants have increased indoor occupancy to 50%, and breweries are open for outdoor service.
Moreover, many of the area’s best restaurants have opened back up with pretty outdoor dining sections and new menus for patio experiences. Complete with strict safety protocol and socially distanced seating, of course!
I took my parents on a little getaway from the city for several days to experience Napa Valley (amidst all the chaos going on in the world!) and I have to say it was well worth the effort. I literally can’t wait to go back and continue to experience wine country as we transition to a new “normal” in the travel and dining space.
There’s never been a more important time to support the local community and Napa Valley in particular as it reopens for business! And with that here is:
A luxurious three-day itinerary
First things first! Where to stay? During my short but sweet Napa trip we stayed at two fabulous, attentive properties that offered us everything we needed to feel right at home and more.
The Westin Verasa Napa
This beautiful property is conveniently located down the road from Oxbow Public Market and just across the street from the famed Napa Wine Train. Even if you don’t have a car, you can easily walk over to the lively Downtown Napa Riverfront, a charming area to explore if you’re temporarily winery-ed out.
From the Westin Verasa Napa Valley, you can easily walk over to the lively Downtown Napa Riverfront, a charming area lined with boutique shops; upscale eateries; bars serving local brews and award-winning wines; live music venues and the chic rooftop bar, Sky and Vine, at the top of the Archer Hotel.
The Westin is situated in a quiet, secluded area on the western bank of the Napa River and exudes luxury resort vibes. It offers 3 floors, 20 rooms, and 160 suites of tastefully decorated, relaxing hotel accommodations with plush, comfortable furnishings. Located on the backside of the hotel, along the river, is their spacious heated outdoor saltwater pool and whirlpool area, surrounded by shaded cabanas. You can’t go wrong with a pre-dinner dose of sunshine and relaxation at the pool area! Of course, if you prefer they also have a fitness center and a biking/ walking trail that’s easily accessible.
Another reason to choose the Westin? The incredible food. On property is Michelin Star Michelin Star-awarded Chef Ken Frank’s La Toque Restaurant and Bank Café and Bar, which serves fresh California fare and inventive cocktails. More on this below!
Meritage Resort and Spa: Vista Collina Resort
Alternatively, if you’re looking for more pampering by way of spa treatments and massages, book a stay at Vista Collina which is home to Spa Terra. At Spa Terra you’re invited to de-stress with a treatment in its underground Estate Cave or opt for an outdoor or indoor massage. The spa also features yoga classes overlooking the resort vineyards. Other luxe amenities include an expansive pool (complete with poolside bar) and fitness center.
The resort itself is home to nine Napa Valley tasting rooms which feature the wine from Trinitas Cellars, Foley Food & Wine Society, GEN 7 Wines, Anarchist Wine Co, Napa Smith Brewery Cornerstone Cellars, Jayson by Pahlmeyer, Mi Sueño Winery, and Luna Vineyards.
Currently four of the nine are providing outdoor tastings. The culinary experiences don’t end there, however, as the resort also has an on-property Fivetown Grocery that sells farm-fresh, local ingredients and products from the five towns that make up Napa Valley. The Fivetown Grocery to-go menu includes soups, stacked sandwiches, salads, coffee and tea and more. Guests are encouraged to create their own picnic and al fresco dining experience on their expansive 16,000-square-foot event lawn which has a resident food truck as well.
Breakfast at Westin’s Bank Café and Bar
Start your morning with an alfresco breakfast at the Westin’s Bank Café and Bar. Bank Café and Bar prides itself on the high quality, local ingredients that fill its menu. Breakfast highlights include the stone fruit cobbler pancake; Huevos Benedictios with poached Taramasso farm eggs, chorizo, corn muffin, chipotle hollandaise, breakfast potatoes; Maine lobster omelet melted leeks, fontina cheese, lobster hollandaise, lobster roe, potatoes; and the Foragers Mushroom Omelet with Sautéed Mushrooms, Bell Peppers, Fontina Cheese, Potatoes.
If you decided to come back, it also serves an all-day menu offers a variety of dishes that feature equally sustainable and local ingredients. Standouts include Grass-fed Beef Cheeseburger with Porcini Charred Onion Mayo; Agnolotti Pappa Pomodoro Fresh Heirloom Tomato Salsa, Toasted Pine Nuts, Fried Capers, Parmesan; and the Grilled New York Steak with Chimichurri, Crispy Potatoes and Roasted Squash.
Rent a kayak or stand up paddle board
Check out for a morning or afternoon (or full day!) of peaceful adventure on the Napa Valley River with Napa Valley Paddle! Depending on the time you head out, you’ll see a variety of wildlife, particularly birds. Experiences vary, but for a very cool, not too strenuous ride, go on a kayak tidal estuary experience. You’ll transition from saltwater wetlands to the freshwater forest in just four miles! Other options include riding wind and tide into town from the Champagne region with sweeping views of Mt Veeder, Atlas Peak, and Coombsville.
Lunch at AVOW
Now open with outdoor seating is Downtown Napa’s upscale restaurant and bar AVOW. Owned by Joe Wagner of Copper Cane Wines & Provisions, AVOW was previously historic Fagiani’s, one of the area’s most beloved landmarks. Originally constructed in 1908, the building has been transformed into a tri-level culinary destination serving up inspired California cuisine.
Executive Chef, Michael Williams’ offers daily lunch and dinner menu with highlights such as the burrata salad with heirloom tomato, peaches, and smoked watermelon; roasted bone marrow; braised pork belly with a boiled peanut puree; double-cut pork chop with cauliflower polenta and stone fruit; seared salmon with a blackberry chartreuse gastrique; and rabbit gnocchi with brown butter and herbs.
Also on the menu are sharable plates and “blocks” that feature charcuterie, cheeses, and fun shareable snacks for the table. The cocktails and wine list are equally impressive and make the outdoor dining experience more enjoyable!
Tasting at Odette Estate Winery
Situated in the Stags Leap District is Odette Estate Winery. This charming winery has a beautiful outdoor space perfect for wine tasting! Bright orange sun umbrellas and overhead foliage keep you cool as you sit down to try their flagship wines.
The guided Cabernet Experience was wonderful and educational and included tastes of their coveted library wines, in addition to five cabernets. The 2014 Odette reserve cab was an exceptional treat.
If you’re feeling a little hungry (I always love to nibble while tasting!) order a couple of charcuterie boxes complete with French bread, meats, cheeses, almonds, and fruits.
Tasting at Pine Ridge Vineyards
Right down the street is Pine Ridge Vineyards. Celebrating over 40 years, this vineyard is best known for is iconic cabernet sauvignon wines and is widely regarded as a pioneer in establishing Stags Leap District as an American Viticultural Area during a booming time in the California wine industry.
Pine Ridge offers intimate cave tours and a variety of tastings including the Estate Tasting of the vineyard’s current-release wines; the Hill Estate Tasting which includes two additional cabernets; and the Estate Vineyard Exploration and Tasting, a private experience guided by a wine educator that will lead your group through the property discussing all that goes into the winemaking. This experience ends with a seated tasting in their demonstration vineyard.
Pine Ridge features a tranquil, peaceful setting to wine taste in their beautifully manicured gardens. Wine tastings include wines from their five distinct appellations: Stags Leap District, Howell Mountain, Oakville, Rutherford, and Carneros.
Dinner at La Toque
For an unparalleled dining experience, reserve a table at the recently reopened La Toque Restaurant, Chef Ken Frank’s landmark establishment that has earned a Michelin Star every year they have been awarded in Wine Country. They currently have spacious outdoor seating to adhere to safety protocol, though it still feels just as elegant as its indoor seating area. Chef Frank showcases his expertise of modern French cuisine and his zeal for fine wines through his dishes. Innovative cuisine made with seasonal ingredients, artistic plating, attentive service and attention to detail make this a dining experience to remember.
Chef Frank’s tasting menu is a true culinary adventure filled with fun little surprises and treats for the open-minded diner.
Our experience started off with a couple of dainty amuse bouches and a loaf of incredibly crunchy, dense bread and creamy butter. I just love surprise treats throughout dinner, which this one was full of. We chose the Four Course Tasting Menu.
Our first course was a Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna with Asian Pear, Avocado and Dashi Gelee paired with a 2018 Riesling Kabinett Brauneberger Juffer, Fritz Haag, Mosel.
Our second course was a New England Sea Scallop a la plancha’ with Saskatchewan Chanterelles paired with a 2017 Chardonnay, Ramey, Russian River Valley.
Our third course was a Agnolotti dal Plin with Three Cheeses and Voatsiperifery Wild Pepper with a Fresh Summer Tomato Sauce paired with a 2009 Barolo, Marchesi di Barolo.
The last savory course was an impressive Honey Spice Glazed Devil’s Gulch Squab with Crispy Potato Tostones and Watermelon Rind paired with a 2010 Mad Hatter, Napa Valley Red Wine.
We split our three desserts which included:
Chocolate Concorde v3.1 2014 Ramos Pinto, Late Bottled Vintage Porto.
Russian Burnt Honey Cake with Tiger Striped Figs and Crème Fraiche Balsamic Sherbet 2001 Chateau Raymond-Lafon, Sauternes.
Strawberry and Lime Chiffon with Toasted Coconut Ice Cream paired with a Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto 2018.
The meal is topped off with an incredible spread of chocolates titled “Textures of Chocolate.” The plate comes with a variety of chocolaty expressions of deliciousness ranging from a mini fudge popsicle to a caramel chocolate truffle. Each treat was an absolute delight!
Breakfast at Westin’s Bank Café and Bar
Head over to Downtown Napa
The picturesque Riverfront of Downtown Napa Valley looks like something out of a storybook and is such a delight to spend an afternoon exploring. The river itself is peaceful and calming, making it an ideal stroll for any time of day, especially in the early morning or at sunset.
In particular, First Street Napa is an upscale 325,000-square-foot mixed-use development and artisan collective that spans the three main city blocks in this area. It features 45 fashion and specialty retailers; restaurants and wine bars; and more, in an expertly landscaped and designed made-for-pedestrian space.
When you’re done with shopping and exploring the area’s unique shops like the Napa General Store, you can start sipping! Downtown Napa is home to a whopping 35 tasting rooms, pouring up some of the Valley’s best wines. And again, with no real need for a designated driver, this fun, luxe hub is great for wine bar hopping to your heart’s content.
Recommended tasting rooms and spots for cocktails:
- JaM Cellars
- Mayacamas Downtown
- Sky & Vine
- Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ Bbq
- Napa Valley Distillery Tasting Room and Vintage Bar Shop
Lunch at Compline
On First Street is Compline, an upscale, trendy restaurant, wine bar and merchant that is fully open with social distancing and patio seating. They’ve recently welcomed a new executive chef, Jammir Gray, whose menu of flavorful, innovative season cuisine is as delicious as it is visually appealing.
Her dishes feature Mediterranean flavors that complement the wine and moreover, she’s introduced a new pasta program, new desserts, and a Filipino dish she grew up loving.
What to get? The Lobster and Shrimp Lumpia; Chilled Corn Soup; rye cavatelli liberty duck confit, porcini mustard greens, pecorino; citrus-brined chicken roulade, succotash, huitlacoche, chimichurri; new york strip root vegetable tian, cipollini, king trumpet, peppercorn demi-glace; Panzanella salad; and the duck fat fries. Seriously, the duck fat fries are one of THE BEST THINGS I’VE EVER EATEN!
Tasting at Palmaz Vineyards
Palmaz Vineyards is situated in a gorgeous setting of rolling hills and mountaintop mesas—a lovely place to sip on a variety of vintages including their focus, the cabernet sauvignon, alongside chardonnay, riesling, rose and more.
Palmaz Vineyards is a unique vineyard to tour, as they pride themselves on bringing together tradition with technology in their winemaking philosophy. The winemaking takes place in an 18-story cave of tunnels and domes that have been carved into rock at the base of Mount George. The Palmaz’ gravity-flow and gravity-finish subterranean winery needs to be seen in person to fully grasp how special of a winery it is!
Dinner at Olive and Hay
At Vista Collina Resort is Olive & Hay, a farm-to-table restaurant that features an innovative Italian menu rooted in traditional Italian cooking, alongside an overflowing wine list.
Standout dishes include pizzas like the Calabria with Calabrese sausage, buffalo milk mozzarella, honey, “solo di bruna” parmesan; pastas such as the tagliatelle basil pistachio pesto, market vegetable, semi-dried cherry tomatoes, “solo di bruna”; mains that include a catch of the day and pan-seared NY strip; and sharable plates such the house-made meatballs.
Stay at Vista Collina Resort
Breakfast at Model Bakery
This famous bakery is home to one of Oprah’s (and my mom’s!) favorite things: fluffy, fresh English muffins!
Featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things 2016, each muffin is handmade and absolutely buttery and delicious! Stop by early for these treats and coffee.
Explore Oxbow Market
Oxbow Market is a 40,000 square foot food hall and marketplace filled with local food vendors, artisan cafes, produce, eateries and specialty merchants. It’s a foodies’ dream thanks to the sheer size and variety of offerings. It recently expanded it presence to feature a spacious outdoor seating area to satisfy social distancing protocol.
The outdoor picnic tables are perfect for enjoying a cold brew, glass of wine or frose from one of their merchants including Cru Tasting Lounge, Fieldwork Brewing Company, Bar Lucia, and Napa Valley Distillery. From Hog Island Oyster, Gott’s Roadside, and El Porteno Empanadas to Kara’s Cupcakes, Three Twins Ice Cream, and Anette’s Chocolates—you won’t be leaving hungry.
Tasting at Stag’s Leap Winery
For a memorable tasting in one of the most gorgeous wineries in the area, reserve a tasting at Stag’s Leap Winery.
This sprawling 240-acre estate features several types of tastings including an Estate Tour and Tasting which includes a tour of the historical estate property and intimate tasting at the Manor house; and the Manor House Porch Tasting.
The property, complete with its surrounding culinary gardens and rolling vineyards, exudes luxury and provides an unbeatable ambiance in which to wine taste. In addition to fabulous wines that include a cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Merlot, Stags’ Leap Winery has a fun and storied history that includes tales of ghosts, mummies, monkeys, and “shady” dealings at Stags’ Leap Manor. It’s quite interesting for those in to history!
Tasting at Nickel and Nickel
If you have time, stop by Nickel and Nickel for their famed “liquid gold” Dolce wine. A single late harvest wine that’s sweet, refreshing and an absolute treat to have chilled on a hot day!
If you plan ahead, book a tour of this classy, stunning property which features classic barns, a Queen Anne-style home (the beautiful white historic Sullenger House), vintage cars, a state-of-the-art cellar and more.
Yountville is an absolutely charming area to explore! Boutique shops, wine tasting rooms, exquisite dining and more await visitors!
Places to eat/ drink:
- Bouchon Bakery
- The Model Bakery
- La Calenda
- Mustards Grill
- R+D Kitchen
- RH Yountville
- The French Laundry
- Domain Chandon
- Ad Hoc
- Bistro Jeanty
- Bouchon Bistro
Our lunch spread from La Calenda:
- The Shops at the Marketplace
- Senses by JCBRH Yountville
Dinner at Brix
Brix is seriously one of the most gorgeous restaurants I’ve ever dined at! Currently open for indoor and outdoor dining on their spacious patio, Brix is situated on two acres of blossoming gardens and orchards making it an unbeatable al fresco dining experience. With a focus on farm-to-table cuisine, their sprawling culinary gardens provide the freshest ingredients for their menu.
I had a delightful time exploring the flower and vegetable gardens admiring the beautiful bounty! Salad greens, berries, herbs, melons, tomatoes, squash blossoms, beans… I couldn’t believe it! Incredible dinner entrees include pan-seared Alaskan halibut with coconut rice, Dungeness crab, shiitake mushroom, hot & sour lobster broth; wood-grilled local lamb t-bone chops Brix garden ratatouille, polenta crisps, chimichurri; Kelleher braised short rib with smoky garlic polenta, marinated and grilled vegetables, tomato balsamic jus; and a selection of housemade pasta dishes.
Brix is also offering carry-out special dinners during the week including a fried chicken dinner and a baby back rib dinner.
Stay at Vista Collina Resort
Check out my Napa Valley Instagram highlights for real-time clips and pictures from this trip! If you have any questions or if I missed anything, let me know in the comments below!
Here are several related Napa Valley articles I wrote for Forbes:
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