You’ve done your research and scheduled all your wine tastings for your visit to the Napa Valley, Northern California’s famed wine country. Great! But here are five other fun things to consider while you’re there, to round out your Napa Valley experience.
Savor Wine Country Cuisine
The Napa Valley is known almost as much for its world-class restaurants as it is for award-winning wines. There are so many fabulous places to eat that you’ll be spoiled for choice. If you are a serious foodie and have definitive plans to visit, why not splurge and book a table at The French Laundry in Yountville? Chef Thomas Keller’s restaurant has three Michelin stars and a multi-course tasting menu that changes daily. They claim no ingredient is ever repeated in a menu! The only down side is that you will need to reserve at least two months in advance. We haven’t yet been, because our getaways to the Napa Valley have always been at short notice, but it’s an experience that’s definitely on my radar.
If you haven’t booked at the French Laundry, you still have numerous options, ranging from fine dining restaurants to casual cafes. We have had wonderful lunches at the Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena, where American farm-to-table cuisine is offered in a lovely renovated barn with very tall ceilings and an open kitchen. We’ve tried many dishes here, and have always found them flavorful and fresh. Before or after, you can stroll their vegetable and herb gardens, which are right outside.
Among my favorite restaurants for dinner in the Napa Valley are Bistro Jeanty in St. Helena, which serves French Cuisine (I love their tomato soup as well…it comes in a bread bowl and is so rich it’s almost a meal in itself), and Oenotri in Napa, which offers delicious Italian cuisine. I thought Oenotri’s olive oil cake, which my husband and I split for dessert, was the perfect ending to a lovely pasta dinner. It was not too sweet and not too rich…just perfect. If a restaurant accepts reservations, booking ahead is always a good idea.
For a quick but yummy breakfast, pop into the Model Bakery in St. Helena and try a hot egg and veggie sandwich on their famous English muffin, which was featured on an episode of the Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
With layers of spinach or arugula, tomato, optional avocado and soft scrambled egg, the delicious sandwich is a great way to start your day!
Tour Wineries for their Art, Architecture, Gardens and Views
Where else but in Napa Valley can you find a French chateau, a Tuscan castle, and a Persian palace, all within a few miles of one another? As you’re driving up and down the Valley, keep my list of eight gorgeous Napa Valley wineries handy so you can pop in for a look around and some photos at these Instagram-worthy spots.
The wineries on my list are all located either along California Highway 29, the main road through the Valley, or on the Silverado Trail, which runs parallel to Highway 29, and is less crowded and more scenic. A couple of the wineries require a little bit of extra driving on side roads, but most of them can be squeezed in as you work your tasting itinerary. Many of them have gorgeous tasting rooms and excellent wine choices, so they would fit perfectly into a planned tasting itinerary as well.
Stroll Yountville’s Main Street
The main street of the town of Yountville is just about a mile from end to end. The walk along the main street is lovely in every season. We have walked it in the summer, when flowers are in bloom everywhere, and the little public rose garden is ablaze with color.
The rose garden is a lovely place to sit and watch the tinkling fountain, converse with friends or people watch.
We have also walked the main street of this pretty little town in the fall, when flame-colored trees frame the road and yellow vines offer brilliant color by the side of the walkway. Holiday lights make for a fairy tale atmosphere on winter evenings.
At any time of year, the forty or so sculptures around town make the stroll even more beautiful. Docent-led art walks are offered during the summer months, so check to see if one is being offered when you plan to visit.
At the north end of town, you can walk around the kitchen gardens of The French Laundry, which sometimes feature giant sunflowers in addition to a multitude of herbs, salad greens and other vegetables.
Go Hot Air Ballooning Over the Valley
This is one we haven’t done yet, but it’s on the agenda for our next summer visit. I read that on a clear day you can see all the way to San Francisco! The balloons usually take off before daybreak, and come back to earth just as the sun rises.
We saw eleven or twelve balloons at various stages of their flight each morning when we drove around in Yountville last fall. They looked so beautiful drifting lazily across the sky. The view of the vineyards from up there must be wonderful!
Indulge in Sweet Treats
If you enjoy sweet baked treats, a visit to the Bouchon Bakery in Yountville is a must. Owned by Chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry fame, Bouchon is styled after French boulangeries and offers delicious breads, desserts, and baked breakfast goodies such as croissants and muffins. There’s almost always a line snaking out the door at Bouchon, so allow for a wait for 15-30 minutes. Trust me, their pastries are worth the wait!
Almost across the road from Bouchon in the VMarketplace is Kollar Chocolates, a delightful little sweet treat destination. My husband and I shared a scoop of chocolate gelato that was sinfully decadent. There’s a glass show kitchen in the store, where you can see Kollar chocolates being produced in small batches. I was hesitating about picking up some chocolates to go when a sales lady cut a dark chocolate truffle in two and offered the pieces to us to taste. One little bite and I was sold! Chris Kollar’s chocolates have been called “works of art,” and I have to agree they look gorgeous and taste divine!
Have you visited the Napa Valley? What are some of your favorite things to do in the region? Comment below with your recommendations!
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