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I'm planning a trip to Napa, when do I go, where do I stay?

Please advise. My wife and I want to go to Napa and maximize the experience. Please help me know when to go, where to stay, what wineries to see, and where to eat. Thanks so much.

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  1. I'm not sure exactly what sort of occasion you're visiting for and where you're visiting from but I'll give you some starters. Depending on how much you want to spend and what sort of experience you're looking for, I'd highly suggest staying/dining at Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford. It is an expensive resort but the views are unbeatable and the food is divine! I had the best foie gras there and the wine list is excellent as well. http://www.aubergedusoleil.com/html/r...

    Another dining option is the Greystone Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in St Helena where you may be interested in signing up to watch the chefs cook your meal. The building itself looks like a magnificent castle and the food is decent and well priced. http://www.ciachef.edu/restaurants/wsgr/

    Of course, there is also French Laundry in Yountville, although you will need reservations far in advance...I'm not sure when you are planning on going. But thats an experience that cannot be missed if you have the resources to fully enjoy it. :) http://www.frenchlaundry.com/tfl/fren...

    Another cute thing that I love doing is visiting the Oakville Grocery Store where they make delicious sandwiches and deli items to pick up items for an onsite winery picnic. http://www.oakvillegrocery.com/ The line can be long in the store, but you simply browse the items in the store while waiting to order. They also have a fabulous selection of gourmet cooking items and wines as well. What I normally do after it take my precious little picnic lunch and head over to the Silver Oak Winery where you can get a generous tasting of BOTH the Alexander Valley ($60/bottle) and Napa Valley Silver Oak Cabernets ($100/bottle) for only $10 (plus a free glass to keep!) to enjoy with your picnic. http://www.silveroak.com/ It's a fabulous experience that I always enjoy. Be sure to double check if Silver Oak is still doing tastings as they had a fire last year that destroyed part of their facilities and I have since moved out of the area...

    I think that's a good place to start...I'll let others chime in. :


    Hope you have a great experience!

    5 Replies
    1. re: aznconvertiblegirl

      Good suggestions, but I would say that Bovolo, just down the street from Oakville Grocery is a better choice. Also, if in Healdsburg, stop by Downtown Bakery for some of the best baked goods in the Bay Area.

      There are lots of posts like this on the board. Scroll down or search Napa or wineries. It might give you more suggestions than the replies in this thread. No plans for Sonoma? You might also define what price range maximizing the experience means ... French Laundry or taco trucks. Also when your are coming and from where might be helpful.

      Auberge is pretty pricy and there are mixed reviews on this board. If the budget doesn't allow that, have a glass of wine on the outdoor porch and watch the sun go down. Same great view, bargain price.

      I don't know if you realize you have two threads on the exact same topic posted within hours of each other. Check your 'my chow' link if you can not remember your posts.

      If you get some great tips from the board, hope you will report back as this will help other visitors in the future. Misses as well as hits are useful. Nice to get reports on places that might have slipped. The perception on the board is that Auberge has over-priced food. That might change if there were enough reports about great eats there.

      1. re: rworange

        Good point RW. Thanks for the Reply. Thanks for the tip on "My Chow" as well. I'm coming from Salt Lake City and really am trying to hit the mid range as far as price on food and wine goes. Not the French Laundry experience, but not the Taco Truck either. I'm also interested in the small deli, cheese store, or grocery store. I don't really know when to go, but I want to avoid crowds and want to taste a lot of Red Wine.

        1. re: rworange

          I suspect that the rec is for the original OakvilleGrocery, not the location in healdsburg. In any event, Healdsburg is not in Napa.

          1. re: aznconvertiblegirl

            We loved Oakville Grocery! Don't miss it!

          2. I can second Auberge du Soleil for the food. The view from the patio was amazing. We stayed at the Silverado Resort and had a wonderful time. as for wineries, I don't know where to begin but my most memorable experience was a private tour of Duckhorn.

            1 Reply
            1. re: rHairing

              Duckhorn is a great winery to tour as their wines are fabulous as well. :)

            2. I was there in mid September 2 years ago, right after the peak harvest season. It was perfect because we had just missed the crowds yet the vineyards were in full bloom. According to the locals, just the week before the single-lane streets were packed with cars and the wineries were so crowded it would've been difficult to relax and enjoy the tastings.

              We stayed at a really lovely bed & breakfast called Wine Country Inn in St. Helena. St. Helena was the perfect part of Napa - a quiet, quaint neighborhood with easy access to everything. The rooms at the B&B were cozy, the surroundings beautiful, and the owners extremely kind and accommodating. In the mornings, they had a breakfast with an array of fresh fruit and simple dishes. In the evenings, they put out freshly baked cookies. They also had local wineries come by for tastings accompanied by small appetizers, all fresh and delicious.

              There was an Italian place called Terra that was excellent. I would definitely suggest doing a picnic at one of the wineries. We went to V. Sattui - not the best wines, but convenient as they had a little shop with salads, cheeses, salumi, etc.

              The best meal we had there was, not surprisingly, a casual one. It was a take-out burger joint called Taylor's Refresher. My recommended dish would be the tuna burger. It was unlike any other tuna burger I've ever had, made with a real slab of grilled tuna and a wasabi cole slaw. Their black and white shake was thick and delicious too. You can enjoy the meal outdoors on one of the picnic tables.

              Happy travels! Please report back after your trip.

              I also made reservations at Chez Panisse in Berlkey a few hours before our flight, so we took a little detour on our drive back from Napa to the airport for a truly memorable meal.

              4 Replies
              1. re: yumyumyogi

                Thanks to all for recommendations. In the planning stages now but really appreciate the recommendation to go in mid Sept to avoid the crowds. I also appreciate the recommendations for out of the way places that will make the experience more unique.

                1. re: FDawson

                  September is a nice time to go... fall colors and warm days, cool nights. (pictures were taken in August, in Yountville, right off the main road)

                  If you can spare a day, visit COPIA on First St (http://www.copia.org/). There is so much to learn and see there.

                  I also vote for Taylor's Refresher. I felt like I was in another place sitting at the picnic table on the large back lawn.

                  Off of one of the main roads, Trancas St, is Genova Delicatessen ... lots of sandwich choices. There are also two Vallergas Market & Deli in Napa.

                  There is a nice Italian restaurant called Picolino's in the Napa Town Center on First St. If you get there in the early afternoon, you can also visit one of my favorite candy stores, Anette's Chocolates, which is right across the street.

                  If you want to visit a small family winery, I recommend Peju Province Winery in Rutherford, off of Hwy 29, before St. Helena. If you have iTunes and subscribe to podcasts, they were featured on the 12/8/2006 podcast of NBC11.com - In Wine Country. Everyone who works at Peju is really nice.

                  For a no-frills place to stay, near a large shopping area, away from Main Street, there is Hawthorne Suites on Soscol Ave. If you want to stay in a place that feels far away, try the Christian Brothers Retreat & Conference Center; they have really nice rooms and suites. See http://www.christianbrosretreat.com/a...

                  1. re: snowgirl

                    Peju is the one place I tell everyone to avoid at all costs. I've been going up to Napa & Sonoma regularly for the past 20 years and the people at Peju were the rudest I have ever experienced. Plus they've got a very touristy / Disney-esque atmosphere and I found their "yodeling" performance stupid and annoying.

                2. re: yumyumyogi

                  I vigorously second the recommendation for Taylor's Refresher - fun experience, and won't take up too much time or money. If you are wine tasting you will have a hard time getting to very many wineries if you stop for a long lunch. We also saw Toni Collette there, or at least my husband did - I am terrible at celebrity spotting...

                  I have also stayed at the Wine Country Inn, and it is nice if a bit pricey. I also like the Mt. View Hotel in Calistoga a lot. The Indian Springs Spa in Calistoga is fun for a mud bath and massage. They also have kind of a cool old fashioned outdoor pool heated by the geyser. Calistoga is also a good place to spend the night because it's at the North end of the valley.

                  On my next trip I plan to try Ad Hoc, the new Thomas Keller "temporary" restaurant in the old Yountville Diner location - apparently it has been made permanent now (I see someone else discusses this below). I have been to Bouchon and thought it was just ok, but that was a long time ago. I would think it might be fun for breakfast or lunch. I have also heard good things about Boon Fly and Martini House, and I have had good meals at Brix. I am not a fan of Mustards, but lots of people like it.

                  For tasting, some of my favorites include Pine Ridge, Rombauer, Domaine Carneros and Duckhorn. I also like to stop at the Oakville Grocery or Dean and Deluca for picnic supplies/snacks for the hotel room.

                  Enjoy - it is a fun place to visit!!

                  I just noticed you were asking about when to go. Personally, I would avoid high summer and the fall - when the valley is extremely crowded and VERY hot - 90s and up. For the best weather I'd say spring. If you don't mind a little rain ( I don't) winter is also lovely.

                3. Another vote for Taylor's Refresher! They have beer and local wine too..pretty cool for a drive in!

                  To stay at I've always liked the B&B's of the wine valley better than hotels... The Vintage Inn is very nice.

                  For a really great fine dining experience try Hiro Sone's Terra Restaurant in St. Helena. If Eel is on the menu that night get it, Hiro does great eel.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: lebelage

                    Taylor's Refresher is certainly fun although we personally don't think the food is good enough to justify the expensive prices. Their garlic fries are pretty yummy though!

                    1. re: Carrie

                      i have to agree - we spent $22 for two burgers, two fries and two soft drinks when we were there. a little much for us! but definitely yummy.

                      1. re: katg

                        Yep - Taylor's is not better (if not worse) than most raodhouse burger joints. If you like wine with your burger, though, they have mogood options.

                        I can't wait for Keller's burger place...

                        1. re: canard

                          "I can't wait for Keller's burger place..."

                          ... which will be where & when?

                          1. re: yumyumyogi

                            taking over the ad hoc place in yountville right?

                            1. re: katg

                              Nope. Most recent word is Ad Hoc is here to stay. Keller is scoping out other locations for the burger joint, but they decided not to mess with the success of Ad Hoc. BTW, I would strongly recommend Ad Hoc for a meal.

                              My best friend & I did a 2-day wine country stint last year for "The Crush" in the third weekend of September. Room rates were still high, but the crowds were gone and the wineries were running at full tilt. We got to watch the fruit coming in by the truckloads, the de-stemmers churning away, and you could smell the fermenting wine almost everywhere in the air. It's such a great time to go because for almost 11 months out of the year there's nothing else to see at the wineries except casks of wine aging. IMHO, that's only one notch above watching paint dry. Enjoy your trip!

                              1. re: foodiegrl

                                Also, during Crush you can eat the different types of grapes right off of the vine (as well as try out crushing grapes with your feet in the barrel) over at Grgich Hills.

                  2. Harvest Inn is a bit older, but a good mid priced hotel in St. Helena. the continental breakfast in the morning has a lot of variety, not just your usual pastries and fruit. you can sit outside and which the grapes grow. it's a great way to wake up.
                    I recommend making an appointment at Vine Cliff. there vineyard is next door neighbors with Screaming Eagle. Also, Shafer is a great experience, however, you will need to call now to book an appointment. If you can find it, Jimtown Store, in northern Napa is really great little sandwich shop. i love their ham and brie sandwich with honey mustard! you can also pick up wine and other local products. they close around 2pm, so go early. Frank Family towards Calistoga has some great sparkling. August Briggs is one of my favorite pinot producers in the valley, and Ballentine has some of the best Zins hands down. if Bruce is around you are in for a treat. he is a great guy.
                    I'll be honest, even though Terra is highly acclaimed, it was the worst service we have had in wine country, and we will never go back.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: strephking

                      Jimtown Store is in Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, not Napa.

                        1. re: Gary Soup

                          Here's more about the landmark Jimtown Store,
                          Yes, we shouldn't forget the many ghost communities and townships that once dotted Sonoma County: Asti, Chianti Station, Trenton, Jimtown, Lytton, etc.

                          1. re: Gary Soup

                            Melanie Wong - So?

                            Sorry FDawson, i recommended one of my favorite little lunch places that just happens to be 17 miles outside of Calistoga. If you get lost and end up in Alexander Valley, stop by Jimtown store, it's worth the trip. You may stumble upon some amazing wine; such as Chalk Hill for example. Sausal makes some darn good zins, and Styker is a new and up and comer. BE WARNED, it is Sonoma County not Napa Valley.

                      1. here are two places to stay.... cottage groove inn and the aurora park cottages. both are in Calistoga and both are amazing little cottages that you have to yourself.

                        I would also try Vincent Arroyo Winery. Very small, but if you can buy a bottle of port, it is amazing.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Mel

                          Vincent Arroyo is great. Their petite syrah is also amazing. Really friendly people there.

                          Personally I would avoid the big wineries and focus on smaller places. You are more likely to get personalized service, meet with the winemaker and taste some great wines that you can't find at your local wine store.

                          When I went to Napa 2+ years ago I was not that into wine and visited all the wineries I ahd heard of. This trip gave me the wine bug and now its a serious hobby of mine. I can't wait to go back and this time I plan to hit all the places you read about in WS and WA but only produce a few hundred cases or are allocation lists only. Just because its small doesn't mean its expensive. Opus produces thousands of cases a year and is more expensive than lots of wineries.

                        2. We stayed at Rancho Caymus in Rutherford and it was just fantastic...fireplaces in every room, balconies, a beautiful courtyard with a fountain, everything very clean and private, yet extremely close to the main drag.


                          Had one of the best meals ever at their restaurant La Toque. Food and wine pairings - took four hours!

                          Wineries I would return to include Rombauer, Opus One, Miner, and Cakebread.

                          There is a great place to eat within walking distance from Rancho Caymus as well - Rutherford Grill I believe? Great casual place with salads, rotisserie chicken, ribs. We got takeout a couple of nights and ate it in the air conditioned room after long hours at vineyards in the 115 degree heat in July!
                          Maybe July is not the best time to go. I have heard that September and October are beautiful.
                          I was there in April once too and it was lovely.

                          Enjoy your trip. I can't wait to return!

                          1. I second the suggestion to visit in the fall- the weather is just wonderful in Sept/Oct (esp if you're planning time in SF) and the valley should be less crowded than in the summer months. No one's mentioned it yet, but you may want to check out Ad Hoc in Yountville (just down the road from St. Helena); also Bouchon Bakery, also in Yountville. Check out Woodhouse Chocolates (on Main St. in St. Helena), a little jewel box of a store! And Taylors is another good stop- don't miss the shakes and sweet potato fries!

                            1. Also in Yountville is Mustard's Grill, our family favorite. We prefer it to Bistro Jeanty... though BJ has better deserts!

                              Both spots are fairly affordable as far as fine dining in the area goes...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Carrie

                                Mustard's Grill is wonderful! Completely agree with that suggestion...

                              2. here's a link to my post about my new years eve trip to napa: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/356221

                                we were focused on finding good food at budget friendly prices. our favorite meal was by far at Zuzu in downtown Napa.

                                1 Reply
                                1. Just a friendly reminder, folks, Chowhoud is about finding delicious food, lodging discussions are out of scope for this board.


                                  1. No doubt Napa is good fun and definitely good eats, but a lot depends on what type of experience you're looking for - the $$ or the $$$$. There are great eats for all price ranges but again, the more specific you are, the better recommendations you'll get.

                                    Living and eating in paradise, here are a few of my favorites:

                                    Taylor's Refreshers - must haves: mini corn dogs with fries topped with chili cheese, ahi tuna burger, cobb salad (i know odd for a burger joint but seriously, it's way good), wisconsin sourdough burger, fish tacos. they also have beer and wine.

                                    Ad Hoc - comfort food, ingredients used and flavors are amazing, family style, $45 prix fixe menu but you can order a la carte at the bar, not to be missed: fried chicken night. wine prices are very good.

                                    Boon Fly Cafe - must haves: housemade donuts, huevos rancheros for breakfast/brunch, kobe burger, flat bread pizzas for lunch.

                                    I could go on for days but i'll stop here for now...

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: echanlund

                                      the doughnuts at boon fly are also a must have. yum!

                                      1. re: echanlund

                                        Thanks for the recommendations I really appreciate it. Looks like most people recommend Ad Hoc, Taylor's Refreshers, and Mustards for sure.

                                        1. re: FDawson

                                          I've never been to Mustards but there have been mixed reports on the board.

                                          However, IIRC, even people who are not fans all seem to love the pork chops. Maybe some one else will confirm that and the good stuff to order on the menu and what to avoid.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            The pork chops are one of the few things I've had at Mustards that I didn't much care for. Their quail dishes are always outstanding, and the rabbit is often very good (both change seasonally w.r.t. sauces and pairings). The hangar steak is quite good (great cilantro "relish") and the "truckstop" special -- usually a big hunk of ribeye, but with varying treatments -- is usually great. And their daily specials often shine. I'm still dreaming about an "Heirloom Pork Carnitas" dish they served last winter, with a lovely salsa ladeled on slow-cooked pork floating a rich sauce, with a few beans bobbing around alongside. To this day I can't figure out whether heirloom referred to the recipe itself or the pork, but the dish was stunningly good.

                                            The onion rings are much better than most, and they've got a real nice calamari appetizer right now. And any time they offer a roasted pepper or polenta side dish, get it.

                                            My $.03

                                      2. After having done Napa a few times, our favorite spot is now the Russian River Valley. Terrific wineries but a completely different terrain. It feels like the Pacific NW, green and lush and hilly. We stay at the Applewood Inn in Guerneville.

                                        Though for Napa, my brother and sister in law just returned from a week at the Lavender Inn in Yountville and had nothing but glowing remarks about it, the Inn itself and the location. Depending on your budget, it's also more reasonably priced than many of the places mentioned previously.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Meg

                                          Funny... I didn't think that the Russian River Valley was in Napa (yet).

                                        2. I really appreciate the replies folks.