I have had the privilege of visiting this incredible California wine region a few times, and am always surprised and delighted by each new pocket of the Napa ecosystem that I am able to explore. From Yountville, to Healdsburg, to St Helena and beyond, there is truly something for everyone in this Northern California paradise. You can rent a limo for the day, opt for a bike tour, or explore the little towns by car if you’re wined out, but no matter how you do it, it truly is a special place. Read on for some of my favorite spots throughout the area.
Check out my hashtag #caro_in_napa for a photo diary of my journeys through Napa!
Where To Stay
I love Yountville as a home base while exploring Napa. It’s where the majority of my favorite restaurants are, which gives you the luxury of walking to your meals and not having to worry about driving or getting a cab. The Maison Fleurie in Yountville is small, charming, and utterly perfect. Located smack-dab in the town center, it has the loveliest rooms, a pool and hot tub for a soak after a wine-filled day, a lovely breakfast and happy hour wine and cheese, and the perfect rooftop for watching the sunset.
In Calistoga, the Bungalows at Calistoga are the place to be. There are only four of them, but they are so perfectly decorated with a curation of art and found objects, and there’s a lovely outdoor space perfect for having a glass of vino before dinner. As an alternative, the Calistoga Motor Lodge has amenities such as a pool and spa, and also has really fun, pop-art vibes too.
Where To Eat
Sam’s Social Club – This Calistoga mainstay boasts one of the most beautiful bars I’ve seen, both indoor and outdoor space, and a cozy fire pit for that nightcap. Don’t miss the market ceviche, grilled octopus, and seared scallops.
Mustard’s Grill – If a “fancy” sit down lunch is on your agenda, post up at Mustard’s Grill for an incredible feast. Having gone with a big group and sampled nearly everything on the menu (including drinks), all I can say is that you can’t go wrong here. And do not skip dessert by any means either.
Model Bakery – This famed St Helena bakery makes a delightful freshly baked English muffin breakfast sandwich. Also: COOKIE ALERT.
Healdsburg Shed – If there was any restaurant that is a representation of me as a person, it would be Healdsburg Shed. I absolutely fell in love with this place, which is part sit-down restaurant, part takeaway, part outdoor seating, and part specialty food and home goods shop (complete with a killer book section). Come here for lunch and leave yourself plenty of time to explore. They also have killer house-made kombucha on tap (FTW).
Gott’s Roadside – On a sunny day, there is no better casual lunch spot than Gott’s, where you can grab a burger and a beer (and a shake if you’re feeling wild) and sit outside at a picnic table.
Valette – This French classic in Healdsburg was the perfect place for a cozy and romantic meal. Their signature item is the scallops en croute, which are served with a champagne and caviar beurre blanc, and it is the best scallop dish I have eaten in my life. Order a glass of champagne to go along with it, and you will be fighting with your partner for the last bite.
Bottega – This modern Italian experience from Michael Chiarella was incredible in every way. From the ambiance to the wine list to course after course of heavenly dishes, this is a special occasion restaurant that should not be missed.
Oakville Grocery – I came here for sandwiches, and I left with just about everything under the sun. This gourmet food market is the perfect spot for picking up lunch to go for a winery picnic, and everything from the sandwiches to the salads to the desserts (plus awesome gifting items) are fresh and lovely.
Ad Hoc – If French Laundry is not on your itinerary (or in your budget), you can still get a piece of Thomas Keller magic at Ad Hoc. Menus differ daily and are posted at 1pm, and all meals are served family style. For seasonal locavore cuisine in a fun atmosphere, this is your spot.
Redd Wood – For a more casual dinner that sits alongside a cool, modern atmosphere, I loved Redd Wood. The pizzas and salads and pastas are perfect for sharing with a group.
Where To Drink
Ridge – Zinfandel was never a favorite wine of mine until I encountered Ridge’s. Go here and sample them all, and be forever changed.
Unti – Unti has a small and pretty nondescript tasting room, but it truly felt like a family organization. I loved that they were working with Italian varietals (needless to say, their Barbera came home with me).
Duckhorn – A gorgeous lawn with gardens and an old school wraparound porch? Sign me up. While the wines were not the most memorable, Duckhorn wins on their front porch tastings alone.
Clos Du Val – Perhaps my favorite winery on beauty points alone, this is where I chose to post up for a picnic lunch. Grab a table outside, or sit in the adirondack chairs overlooking the vineyard for pure heaven.
Inglenook – Formerly owned by Francis Ford Coppola, this sprawling estate features a breaktaking chateau and lovely cafe on the premises. The Rubicon should not be missed, but I loved their cab as well.
Quintessa – Sleek, modern, and seriously stunning, I loved the ambiance as much as I loved the wine at Quintessa. Their signature Quintessa cab is a true delight.
Baldacci – While the ambiance and premises were less than memorable, Baldacci made up for it by introducing me to the Brenda, their signature cab.
Gundlach Bundschu – Tucked away in Sonoma, “GunBun” is a laid-back tasting experience with ample outdoor space. We posted up at the indoor bar for a tasting (don’t forget to try their rose), and then brought a picnic and sat on one of the many trellis-topped patios for a relaxing afternoon.
Hill Family Estate – I normally refer visiting vineyards to visiting the urban outpost of a tasting room, but Hill Family was an excellent exception. It’s right in downtown Yountville, so no transportation is required if you’re staying nearby. They have a great Syrah, but are best known for their “Like a Hawk” red blend.