Northern California's Napa Valley is more than a famed wine region. It is a legendary luxury travel destination with much to offer visitors.
Any luxury traveler contemplating a visit to northern California should plan a minimum of three nights in this scenic, compact, altogether magical valley.
Napa Valley is located inland in Napa County, less than a one-hour drive northeast of downtown San Francisco. It is blessed with a delicious year-round climate of warm days and cool nights.
The fast-growing city of Napa is a must-visit. But the Valley extends to the towns of Yountville, Oakville, St. Helena and Calistoga, hailed for its mineral water. Napa's main road, Route 29, takes visitors through picturesque California towns and passes literally hundreds of vineyards and wineries.
Here are some of the best hotels, restaurants, wineries, and recreational and cultural possibilities for luxury travelers to the Napa Valley.
Napa Valley has some of America's most luxurious and scenic hotels, often facing the valley's famed vineyards. They range from city hotels to far-flung country inn, and almost always have excellent restaurants on-property.
- Auberge du Soleil is perched on a hillside in an olive grove, overlooking vineyards. The resort's 15 well-appointed cottages are exuberantly luxurious, and somehow feel both rustic and modern. The hotel offers a superb restaurant and a more casual bistro
- Meadowood is a beautifully designed luxury resort on 33 acres. It features private cottages, elegant suites, and spacious lodges in an estate-like, forested setting. Its off-the-beaten-path location assures a laid-back mood. The Restaurant at Meadowood owns the rare three-Michelin-star rating
- Bardessono is a high-end boutique resort with chic contemporary décor. Rooms feature fireplaces, massage tables, and a courtyard or balcony. Bardessono is an eco-conscious, LEED Platinum-Certified hotel, one of a handful in the US. Guests can take a Lexus hybrid car out for a spin
- Tuscany inspired the concept and design of Villagio Inn & Spa. Rooms feature fireplaces and wine cellars. The spacious spa has private lounges. The restaurant is renowned for brunch, with dishes like Valrhona chocolate pancakes
- Andaz Napa is a member of the fast-growing Andaz brand of Hyatt boutique hotels. The Andaz is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Napa. Quietly stylish rooms feature wooden floors and white marble bathrooms
- Silverado Resort and Spa is the choice for Napa visitors seeking individual-cottage privacy. Its 1,200-acre estate layout has a central mansion house and quiet cottage-lines lanes, two championship golf courses, and the Napa Valley's largest resort spa. read Luxury Travel's review of Silverado >
- River Terrace Inn overlooks the scenic Napa River right in the town of Napa. Besides its bull's-eye location and room terraces, this low-key, friendly resort offers nightly wine tastings and an outstanding restaurant, Cuvée. Read Luxury Travel's review of River Terrace Inn >
Restaurants place heavy emphasis on farm to table dining. Italian cooking still exerts powerful influence, but many Napa Valley restaurants serve new American or California cuisine, in elegant, generally casual settings.
- The French Laundry is often hailed as America's very best restaurant. This landmark must be booked a month or more in advance, and has an all-tasting menu format. This three-Michelin-star restaurant's internationally famed chef/owner is Thomas Keller
- (Keller also owns Ad Hoc, serving a prix fixe menu that changes daily, and Bouchon Bakery, ideal for breakfast and lunch. All three are located in the gourmet ghetto of Yountville)
- The one-Michelin-star Redd in St. Helena serves chef Richard Reddington's regionally inspired, ethnically influenced seasonal cuisine
- Oenotri is an Italian restaurant directly across the street from the Andaz Napa in downtown Napa. Pizzas and pastas are excellent, and the place to sit is the dazzlingly handsome courtyard
- Bottega belongs to celebrity chef Michael Chiarello. This rustic, farmhouse-style place is known for its regional Italian cooking and killer wine list
- Morimoto Napa is the only California outpost of superstar Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. The restaurant has wonderful sushi, sashimi, and meals. Its collection of local art is stunning
- Mustards Grill is an iconic restaurant and garden, well-loved since 1983. Napa celebrity chef Cindy Pawlcyn's diverse menu may include the familiar (Niman Ranch baby back ribs) and the exotic (Laotian quail)
- The Restaurant at Meadowood is an intimate, 44-seat dining room done in wood and bronze. Dinner is a tasting menu prepared by the Napa Valley's other three-Michelin-star chef, Christopher Kostow, whose cooking is simply magnifique
- Cuvee, adjacent to Napa's River Terrace Inn, features the farm-to-table cooking of a brilliant young American talent, chef Jordan Mackey. Cuvee diners should not miss the wonderful fresh market produce and terrific desserts
- For a casual meal with Napa flavors and flair, the vintage-1890 Oakville Grocery finesses lovingly made-to-order gourmet sandwiches, salads, pastries, and more. A deck features sunshine, umbrellas, and bucolic Napa views
Many of the Napa Valley’s top wineries offer tours to the public. They are often free, but best by prior arrangement. A good winery tour spotlights not only the terrroir and how the wines are made,but the caves and the vineyards too. And of course at the tour's end there's a tasting room, where wines are offered at nominal prices for tastes, and bottles are discounted.
- Hill Family Estate is in the heart of Yountville's Restaurant Row, on the corner of Washington and Mulberry, inside Antique Fair. The tasting room has a salon feel
- Chateau Montelena won the landmark 1976 Paris wine tasting, shredding French national pride. The winery's tasting room, tucked into a comely stone castle near St. Helena, is a highlight of any Napa Valley visit
- Beringer is the oldest continuously operating vineyard in the Napa Valley, and the first to offer tours. A number are available, such as a tour with food pairings along with tastings
- Maisonry Napa Valley is a collective that showcases a rotating collection of wines from its various partners. Prestigious producers like Blackbird, Vail, L'Angevin, and Renteria
- Private, VIP winery tours do all the planning for you -- and the driving too, so you can really savor Napa's strapping wines
- Napa Valley Wine Train offers a three-hour, 36-mile round trip through the most scenic part of the Napa Valley, from Napa to St. Helena and back. Either lunch or dinner will be included in the basic package, which can be expanded to cover various winery tours
As you might expect from a sophisticated locale that worships food and wine, Napa's cultural activities are plentiful and high-end.
- Unfurling every July, Festival del Sole is the highlight of the Napa Valley cultural calendar
- The festival features private winery lunches and dinners, music, ballet, and a host of other activities. In 2013, Festival del Sole takes place from July 12 to 21
- Here on Luxury Travel, find out more about Napa Festival del Sole
- Napa Valley Opera House in Central Napa first opened its doors in 1880. The venue showcases not only opera, but classical music, jazz, and dance performances
- Napa Valley Museum is located in historic Yountville. The museum chronicles the Napa Valley's rich history, from Native American settlements to the contemporary Valley's wine and tourism culture. The art collection combines painting, sculpture, photography, and handicrafts
- Yountville Art Walk features more than 20 pieces of art and sculpture, scattered throughout this picturesque hamlet. Most of the pieces are from local artists, and are for sale
The Napa Valley's gentle hills and winding Napa River create a place of memorable beauty, tempting visitors with sparkling sunlight and birdsong,
- Bale Grist Mill State Park features a massive stone waterwheel, first put to use grinding grain in 1846. Visitors can hike from the mill on the historic trail to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, which features Douglas fir-shaded picnic areas and a number of scenic hiking trails
- Napa Valley Bike Tours is a rewarding way to experience the vineyards of Napa Valley. Tours include a guide, a late-model Sirrus hybrid bike, helmet, and picnic lunch. Van support is at the ready should your stamina fail you
- Safari West is is a non-touristy wildlife adventure right in Napa, with 400 acres of exotic African animals. Jeep safaris provide daytime safaris, and luxury tents furnish overnight digs
- Balloons Above the Valley is a bucket-list kind of experience, up, up, and away over Napa Valley.