FIRST TIME VISITORS GUIDE: NAPA VALLEY
By Jessica Lowndes
My first trip to Napa Valley was over this past New Years. We decided to go for a four-day whirlwind to explore the beautiful California wine country. It was very last minute which only made it that much more of an adventure. As a first timer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard through the grape vine (see what i did there?) about the scenery, wine and good food. I had no idea that all of the above would be a major understatement. I learned fast that there is so much more to this gorgeous part of the California coast than just vino. We arrived in San Francisco, hopped in a rental car and drove just over an hour into a foodie’s paradise! I can still see the kaleidoscope of colors over the rolling hills and mountain ranges, smell the oak-scented tasting rooms, feel the touch of that winter sun under the crisp and clear blue sky, hear the sound of no traffic (which is so nice considering I live in LA) and if I close my eyes I can remember the taste of the best food I’ve literally ever eaten in my life!!! Now, I fully understand why Napa is one of the most dynamic food destinations in the country. I decided to make a list of all the must-see experiences and give you a little peek into our adventure.
HERE ARE SOME OF MY TOP PICKS FOR A PERFECT FIRST VISIT TO THE NAPA VALLEY. I HOPE THESE TIPS MAKE YOUR GETAWAY TO NAPA UNFORGETTABLE!
THE FREMONT DINER
OUR FIRST STOP: As we drove into Napa along highway 121, in the Carneros district between Sonoma and Napa, we found this gem! It feels as if you've traveled to a different decade. They are known for their fried chicken. Unfortunately, the diner closed early due to holiday hours but we made sure to stop back in on our way out of town. Their milkshakes were off the chain!
AUBERGE DU SOLEIL RESTAURANT
We loved coming here for brunch! It is located on a hill and the views on the outside deck were breathtaking. Best view of the valley by far. The food is outstanding. It’s in my top 5 restaurants I’ve ever been to and one of the best meals I’ve ever had. If you come for brunch or lunch the prices are pretty reasonable as well. Service is beyond compare. What you expect from a michelin star restaurant. Also, very romantic!
This is the first place we went wine tasting. If you’re into wine, it was a very awesome experience. The Persian style architecture is gorgeous. The owner had the stones imported. The wines were delicious, the grounds were stunning and our host was wonderful. He was a true educator and made our private tasting worth while.
ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY
NEXT STOP: We went on a signature wine tour that included the tasting at the end. Our guide was super knowledgeable and entertaining. I absolutely loved the experience and the wine is fantastic! We toured the room where their house 11-foot barrels followed by the cellar. Not only is this vineyard an iconic winery here in Napa but the vineyard itself is unbelievably scenic.
Situated in a cave! Yes… a freakin’ cave! The entire winemaking facility is contained within 45,000 sq feet of a cave tunneled into the Vaca mountains! You almost feel like you’re in jurassic park. There's even a natural waterfall inside. So glad we went. The tour and tasting were definitely worth it.
Winter made this a great time to explore Napa’s winding roads on bicycle since it was so calm. J.F. Kennedy park runs along the Napa river. It was the perfect place for a bike ride. There is also five reservable picnic areas if you feel like something more low key.
It is a very relaxed and comfortable setting and one of the best dinners I’ve ever had! It’s Thomas Keller’s sister restaurant to his famous French Laundry (which we couldn’t get reservations at on such short notice). The food is incredible! It's a completely fixed menu but it is something special! The main dish we had was to die for. Excellent quality and I’m really glad I came hungry!
OXBOW PUBLIC MARKET
We loved hanging out here for lunch. A foodies playland for sure. The market has two dozen shops, wine bars, and amazing artisanal food!
The food is so delicious! The black cod literally melts in your mouth. It is romantic and the food is top notch. Japanese-inspired dishes but the chef also incorporates tastes from France, Greece and Italy. I understand why it has a michelin star.
WHERE TO STAY:
We stayed here and really loved it! Tuscan-inspired lodging. There was even a bowling alley in the bar which was fun late night after a full day of wine tasting. (My boyfriend is in a bowling league and definitely gave me a run for my money. Five strikes in a row?! C’mon. who does that?)
One word: dreamy. Next time we visit, this is where I want to stay. This lovely country hotel has some great views over the Napa valley and apparently one of the best spas in town.
NAPA RIVER INN
A beautiful boutique hotel located right in the riverfront district of Napa. Definitely on the list for places to stay next time.
I AM A HUGE FAN OF HOTEL TONIGHT AS WELL. AMAZING LAST MINUTE DEALS AT AMAZING HOTELS!!!