I have the terrible misfortune of having parents who live in the Napa Valley area in Northern California (incase you live under a rock and weren’t sure where Napa was), and because I love them so much I regularly make the 6 hour drive up the 5 fwy to visit. Long weekends at my parents usually result in repeated hangovers, 3 lb weight gains, and a trunk full of wine, so as you can imagine I’ve become quite a Napa super fan, a connoisseur if you will, by way of Los Angeles and my Northern California roots. What’s amazing about this place besides the obvious is much like Los Angeles, there’s always something new to discover – whether it’s a winery, a trail to hike, a store, or a new celebrity chef restaurant, new fun activities are always popping up. Which as mentioned, makes this whole “coming home” thing that much more of a terribly boring chore; you all know how much I hate good food and wine. There’s a lot going on in these parts for the adventurous Angeleno, take it from a “local” of sorts, you don’t have to have a large bank account, or even a taste for wine for that matter to enjoy much of what this gorgeous town has to offer. Fellow friends of LA and beyond here are 10 of my favorite things to do in Napa I think you would enjoy as well. Happy Napa-ing!
1. A Burger (& Everything Else) at Gott’s Roadside
Gott’s is a Napa institution and have won over the hearts and tummies of several cult followers – my boyfriend and I actually being among several others. There are two Gott’s now in the Napa area, St. Helena and Downtown Napa, so in that case you have absolutely no excuse not to make it to at least one of their locations. I may be going out on a limb here, but the burgers at Gott’s are up to par with some of the infamous LA burger joints such as Fathers Office, Apple Pan, and yes, even In N Out. If you’re a fan of blue cheese the Western Bacon Blue Ring is an absolute must.
2. A Cocktail at The Thomas & Fagiani’s Bar
Alright… tee-hee… I know, but before you get a head of yourself Fagiani’s Bar in Downtown Napa is actually quite the historical landmark in town as it was originally opened in 1945, and quickly closed in 1974 after it became the site of a gruesome murder committed on Anita Andrews. After her unsolved murder mystery was finally solved just a few years ago, the family who still owned the bar decided to open it back up for business and the gorgeous three-story space is now The Thomas and Fagiani’s Bar. So, if you’re not already dying to check it out because hello, how crazy is that story, there’s more to love about this joint like grabbing a craft cocktail and some delicious bites on any one of their three floors of dining. The top has a great outdoor patio, the second floor has beautiful floor to ceiling windows looking out, and the ground floor is your classic majestic bar, one you absolutely might expect to find yourself at in 1945. If you’re over wine and in need of a beer or a unique craft cocktail, The Thomas is your place.
3. Sushi at Morimoto
When in Napa, eat at a celebrity chef restaurant at least once. My vote this go around is for Morimoto because us Angelenos truly appreciate our sushi, we’ve all got at least one spot we visit and praise. You Angelenos may be thinking there’s no comparison to Sugar Fish or Nobu, but Morimoto’s in Downtown Napa may surprise you… Or not because it’s Morimoto, the great 5 star Iron Chef, obviously. The space is grand, open, tasteful, and it sits peacefully right along the Napa river so if it happens to be warm out, sitting outside is quite the picturesque Napa dining scenery. If you don’t feel like dropping the cash on a dinner (which, admittedly can be steep but beyond worth it), drop in for lunch and get one of the Bento Box lunches, or have a drink and a light bite at the long bar – this way you’re not breaking the bank and you still get to say you went.
4. Have a picnic at Kuletos, Sequoia Grove, or Sullivan Winery
Depending on where you are in the Napa area there are plenty of places to pick up goodies for a picnic. Men, don’t roll your eyes at ‘picnic’, it’s actually a lot more fun and normal than you think. EVERYONE picnics in Napa, and if you’re not picnicking trust me you’ll wish you were at least once. Best places to pick up goodies are at The Oxbow Market in Downtown Napa, the totally ‘something-out-of-a-movie’ Oakville Grocery, or at Dean and Deluca’s. Once you’ve got the goods there’s actually quite a numerous amount of places you can set up your afternoon meal, but Sullivan Winery , Sequoia Grove, or Kuleto Estate are my picnic spots of choice. I’d have to say from experience, Kuleto’s is one of my favorite places on earth to visit, if you have the opportunity I’d say try them first. I can’t even begin to try to explain the beauty of this estate, you won’t even believe you’re in California. All three require reservations for tastings which is no big deal just work on getting one ahead of time. Then of course after your tasting, buy a whole bottle, have them open it, and enjoy it with your picnic! Holy shit the most fun day ever!
5. Free Wine Tasting at Bremer Family Winery
I am about to fill you in on Napa’s best kept secret… and that is Bremer Family Winery. Between the picturesque backdrop, being away from the hoopla down the hill, the incredible wine, and a little peace and quiet, Bremer is everything you’d hope to find in a Napa winery or tasting room. And the best part? They don’t believe in charging for wine tasting (hallelujah), so taste away. However I must warn you, it will be hard to leave without at least one bottle and their wine isn’t exactly cheap. It’s not over priced either, in fact it’s incredibly fairly priced for the quality of the product, but it’s also not your average Tuesday night 2-buck-chuck wine. This is the winery you visit to sit down, enjoy the sunshine, privately enjoy your tasting, and maybe even take a tour of their incredible cellar. Enjoy your free tasting, buy a bottle for a celebration, and take in the truly ‘Napa’ scenery.
6. Dessert & A Glass of Wine at Angele
Angele is located in Downtown Napa, just a stones throw away from Morimoto in fact, and as you may know the French are masters in art of pastries, desserts, and wines. It has become a bit of a ritual for me to “go on tour”, as I like to call it, whenever I’m hanging around Downtown Napa – “going on tour” means: start with a beverage somewhere (The Thomas usually), have dinner at a different location (plenty of options to choose from), then we end the night with dessert and a glass of wine – in my case usually at Angele. I particularly love sitting at the bar, it’s just one of those bars, but they have a beautiful candle lit patio that sits near the Napa River where you may enjoy your meal, dessert, or glass of wine. When you go it’s absolutely mandatory you order the Banana Gratin, it’s honest to Morgan Freeman one of my top 3 favorite desserts ever. But even if you’re not a dessert or banana person, the entire rest of the dessert menu and wine menu is quite incredible, prepare for a perfect way to end a perfect evening.
7. Take a Drive on the Silverado Trail
The Silverado Trail is 29 miles of gorgeous Napa scenery peppered with several wineries and tasting rooms along the route. Admittedly, on a weekend in the dead of Summer this Trail can look like the 10 freeway at 5pm in LA but hey, you’re used to it and you’re in Napa! You’ll want to drive slowly to take in the scenery anyway. While you’re on the trail I’d suggest you make some stops at a few wineries, naturally. If the weather nice and you’d like to sit outside and taste some excellent red blends, stop at Paraduxx Winery. If you’re in the mood for visiting a grand desert oasis and have a taste for white wine, stop at Darioush. If you’re a dark, heavy, full body red wine drinker Baldacci is your stop. If you’re a Pinot person, or in the mood for a nice place to sit outside, stop at Robert Sinskey. There’s so many wineries off Silverado, all of which have their stand out qualities, but those happen to be a few of my favorites to make pit stops at along the drive around this famous 2 lane freeway.
8. Happy Hour at Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ
Regardless of what time it is this is one spot I recommend to anyone heading to Napa because in my world it doesn’t get much better than wine and BBQ, coming together at one place in perfect harmony. Located Downtown, this wine and BBQ joint is regularly crowded with patrons drawn in by the scent of BBQ wafting around the Downtown air. Happy hour is a great time to check the Bounty Hunter out because between the hours of 3-6 Monday-Friday you’ve got a pretty good chance to be seated quickly and enjoy their tasty half priced selections. The happy hour menu offers: 2-for-1 Bounty Hunter Brand Wines By-The-Glass, 2-for-1 Draft Beers, $5 Rib & ‘Slaw Appetizer, and $10 BBQ Sampler Plate. If you miss the happy hour time frame, oh well, you won’t mind anyway after you have some of the best food in town paired with some of the best wine in town.
9. Wine Tasting at the Vintner’s Collective
If you don’t feel like running around from winery to winery and would perhaps prefer to try a few under one fabulous roof, the Vintner’s Collective in Downtown Napa is your perfect one-stop-shop. With no appointments necessary feel free to drop in anytime and try any one of their several wines or wine flight options. Thankfully it’s no boring space, in fact it’s actually more inviting and more interesting than several winery tasting rooms in the area so it’s a great alternative to driving around and only having the opportunity to trying a few wineries. They have an upstairs area for private tastings, a large patio that anyone can enjoy, and a fun friendly staff who do not skimp on your tastings. Love that about them.
10. Treats, Coffee, Oysters, & Everything You Need In Life at Oxbow Market
The Oxbow Market is a 40,000 square foot spaced collection of unique vendors who offer anything and just about everything from cheese, wine, bar accoutrements, ice cream, cupcakes, tacos, pizza, coffee, glassware, housewares, to produce and much much more. Purveyors of artisanal goods and the tasty things in life will truly die and go to heaven walking around this bustling public market. Grab some lunch, some coffee, and some goodies to take home with you all located in one conveniently awesome place: the Oxbow Market.