1. Where to Stay
Forgo your car in pedestrian- and bike-friendly St. Helena at the Wydown Hotel (from $269). The welcoming lobby here is known as “the living room” for good reason: The frameless leather chairs, comfy couches, and a selection of games and books invite lingering. That warm aesthetic continues in 12 guest rooms with fuzzy throws on king-size beds and nature-inspired photographs on the walls. Take advantage of guest passes to the Health Spa Napa Valley, just a five-minute walk away, and get your workout in at the state-of-the-art fitness center and 25-yard heated outdoor lap pool. Then indulge in the Sports Massage (from $130) before walking back to the hotel for four-flight tastings at the adjoining tasting room of Materra/Cunat Family Vineyard, known for its Merlot.
Imagine you’re in Tuscany at Yountville’s North Block Hotel (from $300). Located just off the town’s main drag and within easy walking distance of wineries and tasting rooms, the property feels like a villa in the Italian countryside, with a lantern-lit courtyard decked with lemon trees, a fireplace, and lounging sofas. The 20 understated and elegant rooms feature wooden sleigh bed frames, plush armchairs, and wool carpet, plus French doors that swing open onto patios or terraces equipped with loungers. Take a midafternoon dip in the cabana-lined pool, then grab a dinner of wood-fired pizza (from $11), handmade pasta (from $15), and charcuterie (from $15) at the on-site restaurant, Redd Wood, a bustling, osteria-style spot by chef Richard Reddington (reservations recommended).
Relax weary muscles at The Sunburst Calistoga (from $129), where the on-property mineral-water swimming pool and hot tub are fed by Calistoga’s underground geothermal well. The former-1950s motel’s lackluster exterior gives way to a lively, retro-chic vibe in the lobby and all 50 guestrooms, with orange-and-blue patterned carpet, bold black-and-white palettes in the bathrooms, and ‘60s-inspired furniture like woven marshmallow lounge chairs and mini green picnic tables. Luxe in-room touches include rainfall showers, decadently comfy beds, plus a continental breakfast (with stellar coffee from Northern Cali’s Equator) included in the rates.
2. Where to Eat
Treat your taste buds (without busting your budget French Laundry–style) over a multi-course meal at the Conservatory at Greystone, located on the castlelike grounds of the Culinary Institute of America’s St. Helena campus. Open for reservations only on Friday and Saturday nights, this “crop-up,” created by C.I.A. graduate Larry Forgione, showcases a serious farm-to-table philosophy with a constantly rotating tasting menu developed, prepared, and served by culinary students, for just $65 ($105 with wine pairings; students can’t accept tips, but gratuities go back into the nonprofit program). A recent menu featured Napa Valley pastured lamb, seared Nantucket scallops and ricotta cheese gnudi, and a whimsical dessert trio of red-velvet whoopie pies, kettle corn, and maple-bacon truffles. Arrive pre-dinner to browse the sprawling Spice Islands Marketplace, a foodie’s paradise overflowing with kitchen gadgets and cookbooks, plus a Flavor Bar, where you can refine your palate with various tasting exercises.
Tuck into playful, pub-inspired cuisine at 1226 Washington, a local favorite since opening last fall in Calistoga. Three separate spaces — a tavern with bar and table seating; a dining room in a high-ceilinged cottage; and a garden area — offer the same locally sourced, internationally inspired menu. Belly up to the tavern bar for the signature veggie burger (the recipe for which is a closely guarded secret, $16), accompanied by a draft from Northern California breweries like North Coast and Bear Republic. For a more refined experience, settle in at a cozy table by the fireplace in the dining room, and try the seared scallops over chard ($18) accompanied by a locally sourced (and surprisingly affordable) wine list, with more than a dozen selections in the $20 to $30 range, plus eight reds and whites on tap.
Savor fresh regional flavors at Torc, open since November in a beautiful, light-filled space that was formerly a yoga studio. In his first solo venture since studying with Alain Ducasse and Michael Mina, chef Sean O’Toole (look out for him in the open kitchen) highlights ingredients foraged, hunted, or purveyed in Northern California: Think violet-artichoke soup with hedgehog mushrooms ($10), pork with cheddar-cheese grits ($25), and black-truffle risotto ($32), plus imaginative desserts like pineapple French toast with coconut-lime sorbet ($10) and a citrus-lime praline tart with smoked ganache ($9).
3. What to Do
Break a sweat before you sip: Several wineries now offer physical activities beyond just lifting a glass to your lips. Work out your core with a Pilates or barre session on the upstairs veranda of St. Helena’s Vineyard 29, where a stunning view of the 29 planted acres and Howell Mountain in the distance make that painful last “hundred” worth it. Workouts wrap up with a tasting of the winery’s small-production varietals accompanied by organic, small-bite snacks like Dungeness crab salad with mango and avocado and a tour of their cellar, followed by brunch (sessions on Sunday; reservations required, $290 per person, four-person minimum). Hop aboard a Polaris ATV at Somerston for a guided 45-minute tour through the vineyard’s 1,600 stunning acres, which span natural soda springs and vistas from up to 1,200 feet; the excursion ends with a tasting of three estate wines paired with artisan cheeses (tour and tasting, $75). At Domaine Carneros, perfect your yoga postures alfresco on the grassy veranda with magnificent views of vine-covered hillsides; try to book a class taught by Christie Dufault, who’s also a sommelier and, for an extra $50, will lead an hour-long wine education and tasting session (classes $125, including brunch).
Pedal through some of Napa’s most prized landscapes, starting at Velo Vino. The tasting room of Clif Family Winery has become a gathering spot for local and visiting cyclists since its opening in 2011 (by the same folks behind Clif Bar). Grab a detailed map of eight local routes: Beginners will enjoy the 12-mile Conn Valley/Lake Hennessey ride, an out-and-back route along oak-lined rural roads, while more experienced riders should try out the 24-mile Organic Farm/Cold Springs Loop, with an elevation gain of nearly 3,000 feet. Post-ride, linger at Velo Vino’s cleverly designed tasting room (flights from $15), inspired by the lodgelike “refugios” of the Alps, where athletes rest up and rejuvenate. Rookie riders should also consider visiting Calistoga, for well-marked bike routes and less-trafficked roads; the Calistoga Bike Shop is the go-to spot for rentals (from $18) and tips on riding in the area.
Marvel at the views of wine country from up to 2,000 feet up, with Napa Valley Balloons (from $215 per person, including Champagne breakfast). The predawn wake-up call is worth it to see the sun peeking through the fog over the vineyards from your unique vantage point in the handwoven rattan basket of a hot-air balloon. Flights last approximately an hour, followed by the ballooning tradition of a Champagne toast, as well as a hot breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pastries, including a Champagne bar, at étoile Restaurant on the scenic grounds of Domaine Chandon.
4. Insider’s Tip
The Land Trust of Napa County, which oversees preservation efforts for more than 53,000 acres in Napa County, also offers free weekend “field trips” for enterprising visitors eager to learn about Napa Valley’s geography. The nonprofit opens some protected but not-open-to-the-public areas for these outings, which include hikes to waterfalls, wildlife-spotting trips, and volunteer days. Plan to sign up at least three days in advance, but if an event is popular enough, the organization will often add an extra hike.
5. Oddball Day
After burning calories traversing Napa Valley, indulge a little with some hands-on epicurean experience. Kick off the day at the downtown Napa outpost of St. Helena’s beloved Model Bakery, with Canadian bacon, cheese, and fluffy scrambled egg atop the bakery’s legendary English muffin ($7). Light, airy, and cooked in clarified butter, the muffins have earned such a following that they’re sold in strict limits of six ($2.50 each, six for $14) per customer. Then head around the corner to the 40,000 square feet of gourmet bakery, spice sellers, and artisanal food and drink vendors at Oxbow Public Market. Make sure to stop by Napa Valley Distillery, a cocktail-geek mecca selling circa-1900 vintage barware and an expansive selection of rare bitters and other spirits — though it’s early, you’ll want to sample their Napa Vodka Vintage Reserve ($5 for a ¼-ounce pour), with crisp, fruity notes showcasing the single vintage Sauvignon Blanc it’s made from. While at the market, grab provisions for a picnic lunch: White Rock Salami, made with White Rock Cabernet Franc ($25/pound) from the Fatted Calf, and Cowgirl Creamery’s triple-cream Mt. Tam from the Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant. Drive 20 minutes to Conn Creek Winery for the Barrel Blending Experience; armed with a graduated cylinder and beaker, you’ll create your perfect glass and bottle of a Bordeaux-style blend by tasting from 19 barrels representing Napa Valley’s American Viticultural Areas ($95 for class, including tasting and custom bottle; reservations required). Unpack your market provisions for a picnic lunch at downtown Napa’s Veterans Memorial Park, before an afternoon strolling and shopping along the newly rejuvenated Riverfront District; look out for the circa-1884 Napa Mill, which now houses boutiques and restaurants, and local art along the promenade, like a two-tiered glass mosaic fountain by Napa-based artist Alan Shepp depicting the area’s history, plants, and wildlife. Pop back to your hotel for a pre-dinner nap — you’ll need some energy for your hands-on meal at Silverado Cooking School. Under the guidance of professional Malcolm de Sieyes, you’ll don an apron and create an impressively complex meal from start to finish, using ingredients from the school’s own farm (from $120 per person). A recent menu featured a soup of wilted winter greens, potato, and chicken; sausage-stuffed quail; wild mushroom risotto; and, for dessert, dulce de leche and chocolate-chunk bread pudding. Sit down to enjoy the fruits of your labor and leave with recipes from the meal.
Napa Valley Hiking offers a list of routes, maps, and insider tips on some of the most popular trails in Napa County. Calistoga’s Bothe-Napa Valley State Park spans the History Trail, which passes by a cemetery where several Napa Valley settlers are buried and ends at a circa-1840s, water-powered grist mill. About five miles north, the Oat Hill Mine Trail is another favorite among mountain bikers, with splendid vistas of the valley and mountains.
Napa Valley’s hometown newspaper, the Napa Valley Register, has a whole section dedicated to wine and includes helpful listings of local events.
The Napa Vine Trail Coalition is a Napa-based nonprofit working to build nearly 50 miles of multi-use trails that will eventually run from the Vallejo Ferry north to Calistoga.