Breathtaking views, quaint wineries nestled in amongst the vines, dining at world renowned restaurants, pampering yourself with a mud bath, or satisfying the adventurer in you with a hot air balloon ride; these are but a handful of the things that make Napa Valley simply heaven on earth
Located about an hour north of both San Francisco and Oakland, sitsNapa Valley – one of the wine capitals of the world. So, if you’re planning a trip to the West Coast, here are some people, places, and things you should definitely try to enjoy. Note: yesterday’s post was all about the Gateway to Napa Valley (a.k.a. San Francisco and Oakland) and today’s post is focused on the different regions of Napa withan eye toward the best sparkling wine producers. Plus, here is the Travel to Napa Itinerary I put together.
If your heart sputters for the finer things in life, Yountville (an incorporated town in Napa County) is the place for you. A quaint town with loads of character describes it best – and it’s home to three of my all-time favorite places | Bouchon Bakery, Napa Valley Aloft, and Domaine Chandon.
For a breakfast reminiscent of the cooking practices and traditions of France, be sure to visit Bouchon Bakery. Whether ham & cheese on a fresh baguette, decadent pastries, or their signature hot chocolate (did I mention this is like drinking chocolate and is one of the most delicious beverages I’ve ever had), there is something for absolutely everyone. Tip: while there are other Bouchon Bakery outposts in the U.S., Yountville started it all. Bonus: Bouchon Bistro, also owned by Michelin starred chef Thomas Keller, is right next door.
Immediately across the street you’ll find Napa Valley Aloft, a family owned and operated hot air balloon company. If you’re nervous about taking a hot air balloon ride, this is the establishment to seek out – they explain all of the funny noises you’ll hear and why there are cutouts in the actual balloon so you’ll feel more comfortable once airborne. Jay Kimball has nearly 10,000 flights under his belt and he’s the one that piloted my sunrise balloon ride – I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Tip: all of the balloons are named after popular Latin dances – Fox Trot, Tango, etc.
Down the street and around the corner (yep, it’s walking distance) is Domaine Chandon, an extremely well-known name in the sparkling wine industry. A sister winery to the likes of Moet & Chandon (see the name similarities) and Dom Perignon; the Domaine Chandon founders migrated from France to Napa Valley and settled in Yountville over 30 years ago.
In addition to providing a thorough tour and customizable tasting (ask if the upper grotto is available if you’d like a more private, outdoor setting), Domaine Chandon is one of the only, if not the only, winery in the area to have its own fine dining restaurant. étoile Restaurant offers indoor as well as patio seating and delivers some of the most innovative food & wine pairings I’ve ever had. Everything is delicious – Braised Pork Belly, Moroccan Spiced Octopus, Bavette, etc. Tip: be sure to try the Caramelized Pear Mille-Feuille for dessert – paired with the Chandon Extra Dry Riche. It’s absolutely magnificent.
What better way to start a day in wine country than with an early morning tasting at one of Napa’s most picturesque properties. Domaine Carneros is located in southern Napa Valley and the estate sits atop a hill with beautiful grounds which are obviously meticulously maintained. While the tour and tasting are enjoyable, the best part is sitting on the patio with a glass of bubbly (and plate of cheese) looking out over the rolling hills, vineyards, and flowers – with the birds chirping in the background – while enjoying the Napa sunshine and a light San Francisco breeze. Absolutely rejuvenating.
Need something a little more hands-on to wake you up after a morning of relaxation? Head over to Oxbow Public Market near downtown Napa. Parking is abundant and so are the culinary choices.
First, stop by The Olive Press for a complimentary olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting. While they do have a few travel size bottles for purchase, it’s easier to order online once you return home. Tip: my personal favorite was the jalapeño flavored olive oil…yummy.
Next, move right next door to Napa Valley Distillers. They happen to be the first distillery in Napa Valley, offer a wide array of bitters, and will taste you on every liquor (and bottled cocktail) they produce for $15. Tip: be sure to try the bottled mint julep…one of the best pre-prepared mint juleps I’ve ever had.
Finally, if you’re hungry for some seriously delicious food, check-out Ca’ Momi. While they have an indoor Enoteca (wine bar), I’d suggest sitting outside on the patio to best enjoy their homemade, authentic Italian cuisine. The wood oven pizzas are heavenly and pair exceptionally well with the wines – yes, Ca’ Momi has its own winery too.
After you’ve stuffed yourself on olive oil, booze, and pizza; take a short stroll down to the Napa Riverwalk. It’s more walk and less river than you might expect, but does give you a chance to see some of the shops and restaurants this little town has to offer.
If there’s one place to visit along the Silverado Trail (and I’m biased because as you can tell I’m on a sparkling wine crusade), it’s Mumm Napa. Located in Rutherford, which is on the eastern edge of Napa Valley, Mumm Napa boasts a Fine Arts Photography Gallery, a top notch gift shop, and one of most over-the-top food experiences I’ve ever taken part in – a bonafide lobster boil. Lobsters, corn on-the-cob, spicy sausage, artichoke, prawns and potatoes literally thrown out on a table wrapped in paper. This was a put on a bib; eat with your hands plate-less type of meal – all while watching a beautiful vineyard sunset.
I sincerely hope you enjoy your next trip to San Francisco, Oakland/Alameda, and Napa Valley. If you have any questions about places to visit, restaurants, hotels, etc., please feel free to reach out. Cheers!
Note: As part of the trade, my experiences at Domaine Chandon (and etoile), Domaine Carneros, and Mumm Napa were provided complimentary.