After 18 years of growing up in the Bay Area, 10 years of countless wine bottles consumed, and god-knows-how-many-years of visiting wine country almost quarterly – it’s safe to say I’ve become pretty well versed in all of the notes of Napa Valley. (I think I might get bonus points for having a BFF/aunt who happens to live there as well.) But after planning several trips for friends/folks and squeezing in as much “research” as possible with every trip up to Napa, it became clear to me that it was about damn time I wrote it all down to pass along to friends.
It’s simple really: if you enjoy food and you’re a wine lover (or at least curious about wine) – we’re friends. And whether it’ll be your first time visiting or you’re a pro and could perhaps just use some new suggestions, as your friend, I’m just here to make sure you enjoy it to the max potential. Napa is not complicated, and it’s pure HEAVEN for folks like us. Like any great getaway though, it always helps to have the insider/good friend perspective to help with planning.
At the end of this journey, a giant glass of Cabernet and a delicious celebrity-chef-made-meal awaits! That I can guarantee.
Getaway Guide to Napa Valley
- There are over 450 physical wineries, and 815 different wine brands – 95% of which are family owned
- As famous as the Napa Valley is worldwide, it only accounts for 4% of CA wines, and .04% globally
- The Napa Valley wine industry provides an annual economic impact of $9.4 billion locally, and almost $34 billion in the US, creating 34,000 jobs in Napa County and 190,000 nationwide
- Napa Valley is known for producing Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot, and Merlot varietals. But Napa grows more than 34 different types of grapes
- The weather in Napa is pretty “pleasant” all year round, but the best time to visit would be somewhere between March and October. The height of the travel season is during the summer when the weather tends to be around 90 degrees
- The most picturesque time to visit (and my personal favorite time of year to go) is during the fall when the leaves are changing, tourism dies down a bit, and harvest begins. And of course, the weather is still beautiful.
- You can get to Napa via SFO, Oakland (both around the same distance to be honest), Santa Rosa, Sacramento, or fly directly into the teeny tiny Napa airport
- You’re going to need a car. From SFO and Oakland, the drive is over an hour (without traffic), and paying for an Uber there will cost you a small fortune. If you’re flying in – rent a car.
- Napa Valley is about a 30-mile stretch, and not everything you’ll want to do will be close to one another. If you’re planning on drinking (which, duh) it’d be in your best interest to hire a driver for the day (there are plenty) or Uber/Lyft around (of which there are plenty of those as well).
- Napa traffic can get real. Many of the highways and roads are two-lane, so keep that in mind when you’ve got places to be and people to see.
- Most if not all of the “towns” in the Napa Valley – St Helena, Downtown Napa, Calistoga, and Yountville – are all very walkable, entertaining, quirky, and quaint.
- Bear in mind a trip to Napa can be expensive, but there are always “affordable” options – from hotels, dining, to even tasting. (I found this article from Vintner’s Project to be helpful for ways to experience Napa on a budget!)
- It’s always going to be in your best interest to make a tasting reservation ahead of time. Many wineries/tasting rooms accept walk-ins but I personally wouldn’t take the chance.
- Tastings can run anywhere from complimentary to hundreds of dollars. I know. I’ve found that most tend to be between $20 – $50 but check before you go.
- DO NOT OVERDO IT ON TASTINGS. You’ll say to yourself, “we can easily hit up 3+ wineries today”. And I’ll say, “don’t.” Your palate, your brain, and your wallet will be exhausted after 2, and you still have dinner to eat and more wine to drink later! So keep your tastings to 2 – trust me. I’m practically a professional.
- Napa is not only a destination for wine, but it has quickly become a destination for dining as well. From roadside fast-casual to Michelin starred fine dining, several celebrity chefs have renown restaurants in Napa. Regardless of where you’d like to go, do your best to plan ahead and make reservations!
WHAT COMES ESPECIALLY RECOMMENDED *
Any listing with an asterisk next to its name comes highly recommended by yours truly. I know this list is pretty thorough, but I want you to have as much info and options as possible! But if you need help narrowing things down, know that the places with a ” * ” are not to be missed in my opinion. But with that said, I’ve experienced (and at least familiar with) most of what is on this guide so know that everything mentioned comes from a personal perspective. If you’re planning a trip and have questions, please email, dm, or message me I am happy to try to help!
WHERE TO STAY
There are T O N S of hotels/resorts/B&B’s in Napa, the Valley really is your oyster. Depending on the type of vacation vibe you’re going for, here are some favorites to consider:
Located in Downtown Napa, the Andaz is one of Napa’s most recent hotel openings. It’s young, swanky, chic, and super centrally located. I personally always gravitate towards Andaz properties so I can almost guarantee you won’t go wrong with this one.
If you’re looking for an awesome and yet totally affordable option, the El Bonita Motel in St Helena is ALWAYS my personal suggestion. I’ve had several friends stay here and say that it was great. Yes, it’s more or less just a place to sleep but it’s quiet, super clean, and still cute!
In the past few years hotel development in Yountville has taken off, and one of the most recent developments – and the most luxurious of them all – is Bardessono. It’s a beautiful work of architecture, it’s a bit minimal, modern, and contemporary in style and yet still has that cozy feel you’d want in a Napa stay. It’s $$$$, to say the least, but offers everything you’d want in a 5-star hotel experience.
Located right next door to the El Bonita on Highway 29 in St Helena is another favorite of mine, the Harvest Inn. It’s quaint, kind of “cottage-y”, it backs up to a vineyard, and it is very picturesque. Plus it’s fairly priced but not outrageous.
Located right in the heart of Yountville you will find Hotel Yountville! Go figure. I actually stayed here a number of years ago and it’s a great option if you’re looking for something nice but ridiculously overpriced and fussy. I mean it’s expensive, but between the location, the pool, the spa, the room sizes, and the service, it feels worth it.
If there’s one hotel (not resort, hotel) I wish I had the funds to stay at, it’d be Las Alcobas in St Helena. Holy gorgeous architecture and stunning everything. It has the “feel” of a classic home you’d find in Napa, but with the sophistication of a 5-star hotel. I’ve only been for drinks on their wrap-around porch, but every time I’ve been my inner bougie b* never wants to leave.
Another great option in Downtown Napa is the gorgeous and historic Napa River Inn. It’s a great boutique hotel for the price and the location – you can walk pretty much anywhere in Downtown Napa, and the views from the rooms are amazing.
The Wine Country Inn is tucked away in St Helena and offers another one of those idyllic hotels in which to find yourself in, well, wine country. It’s rustic but chic and nice but not overpriced. I have yet to stay here myself but with those vineyards surrounding the property and from the looks of the rooms and the hotel itself – sold.
Wydown is a great mid-priced option in the heart of the downtown St Helena area. It’s small (only 12 rooms), it’s beautifully decorated, and it’s in a very walkable area.
Painfully perfect and one of the dreamiest hotels I’ve ever been to (sadly just for drinks), Auberge Du Soleil is one of Napa’s most renowned luxury resorts. I don’t have $850+ to drop on a hotel room, but if YOU do, please go, and tell me all about it.
Carneros is a bit out there on its own in terms of the Napa landscape but it makes for a beautiful area in which to place a property like the Carneros Resort. They’ve got the cottage accommodations, the pool with a view, the famous restaurants, the contemporary design and decor, and pretty much everything you could want in a resort in Napa Valley.
116 room resort with a thermal fed mineral pool, a spa, and one of the best restaurants in Calistoga, Sam’s Social Club. Indian Springs is younger, it’s hip, it’s a great mid-priced option, and it feels like a true wellness resort. (I am dying to stay here myself.)
Easily Napa’s most famous resort, Meadowood sits high up on a hill off the Silverado Trail looking down at the valley below and is the epitome of 5-star luxury. They’re at the top in every category: golf course, spa, dining, accommodations, service, you name it they’re the best at it. And with all those stars come a lot of dollar signs, so if you have the funds please have the best bougie time. Send updates, tell us what it’s like.
Of all of the resorts in the Napa Valley, I’d say that The Meritage is probably the most accessible and affordable. The lux is not lost on them – it’s still a beautiful property, it’s, fortunately, just a nice option for those of us who want the resort vacay but don’t have the Meadowood budget. I have yet to visit the spa but when my parents lived up that way this was their spa of choice, so just another something to consider!
The Silverado Resort is “classic” Napa Valley and attracts quite the golfer crowd, and I get the impression that it’s particularly popular amongst the 50+ crowd for that reason. It’s a beautiful resort complete with all of the ideal resort amenities – plus it comes at a better rate than most of the resorts in the area which is always something bonus to consider.
Weird! Another painfully perfect Auberge property! Solage is located in Calistoga and might be my favorite of the Napa Auberge properties, only because it somehow feels the most attainable, even though it’s probably not. But of the Auberge properties, I’ve spent the most time at Solage. Again, I’ve sadly never stayed the night, but I have dined and had drinks here, and dreamt of one day becoming a multi-millionaire and weekending here frequently.
The Estate is a new property development in the heart of Yountville and is comprised of Hotel Villagio, Vintage House Hotel, The Spa at the Estate, shops at Market Place at the Estate, and restaurant Perry Lang’s. It’s all pretty slick, expensive, trendy, lux, and “new Napa”. If you want to be in Yountville this is another option!
BED & BREAKFAST TYPES
It’s literally a giant historic white house with a columned facade and all. It’s gorgeous, and it even comes with a great pool, a hot tub, a lounge, curated breakfast, and spa services. (Someday I’m going to stay here.)
Churchhill Manor is another quintessential Napa B&B located in a historic old-world craftsman style mansion that was built in 1890. This property is a bit more “romantic”, elegant, and antique than most properties in Napa, which I think gives it a bit of a fun and different edge.
There are a TON of cozy bed & breakfast type accommodations in the Napa Valley, sadly none of which I’ve personally had the pleasure of staying at, nor am I just terribly all that familiar with. Since I cannot make a personal recommendation here, I will direct you to Visit Napa Valley’s page with a full list of Bed & Breakfast options! If there were a place to B&B… Napa would be ideal. With all of that history in these homes/hotels… holy. quaint city.
WHERE TO TASTE
[Photo Details: Davis Estates | Inglenook | AXR]
WHERE I’VE BEEN AND CAN PERSONALLY SUGGEST
In my top 3 favorite wineries/wines in Napa (might actually be #1 let’s be honest) they’re located right off 29 in St. Helena and they have an absolutely gorgeous property. From the main house to the newly redesigned barn/outdoor patio area it’s such a peaceful place to taste. (They even have a cluster of giant redwoods on the property that have grown in a near-perfect circle, or a “fairy ring” – very nice for photo purposes.) AXR is mostly known for their absolutely out of this world Cabs, but I have not met a wine they’ve made that I didn’t love.
An absolutely breathtaking winery in Carneros, super popular but definitely worth the visit, founded by the oldest winemaker family in Spain, and their winemaking team is lead by a lady! (Love that)
A household name amongst fellow wine snobs, producers of critically acclaimed wines, Napa Green-certified (sustainable), a great winery with cozy outdoor seating, cute fountain situation, located right off Hwy 29 in St Helena.
One of my favorite smaller, family-run wineries in Napa, they make some of my favorite Chardonnay, Pinot, AND Cabernet, it’s a cute little winery right off of the Silverado Trail near Yountville. It’s a great spot to taste if you want something smaller and more intimate.
One of Napa’s most famed, historic, and picturesque wineries, it’s a truly beautiful (and delicious) destination for a tasting (and a picnic if you so choose). Located in St Helena you can’t miss the stunning and sprawling estate when you drive by. So instead of driving by, drive in! It’s a great spot to go if it’s your first time visiting the valley.
Another one of my favorite smaller, family-run wineries: Bremer is tucked away in the hillside vineyards and was actually the original Sutter Home Winery & Distillery (it’s been there since 1891). The tasting feels very special – it’s intimate, it’s fun (the caves!), and to my knowledge, I believe tastings are complimentary. My parents were long time members and we’re lifelong fans.
Beautiful Spanish style architecture winery, known for their (expensive) Cabernet, located in the heart of the Stags Leap District off the Silverado Trail.
Producers of some of my favorite Chardonnay in Napa, and just a classic, kinda bougie spot to taste. It’s a great spot for folks who are getting serious about wine but still want to do the Napa essentials.
Napa = Duckhorn wine. If you’re familiar with Napa wines (or wines in general) then you’ve likely at least HEARD of Duckhorn and their portfolio. It may be one of the most popular wines to come out of Napa but it’s also one of my personal favorite places to taste. With its wrap around porch, it looks like a quaint “home” on a vineyard, and it’s a place you’d hope to imagine what tasting in Napa would look like.
If you’re looking for a fancy top-notch tasting, Davis would be the destination! They’re reservation only, they have a few tasting options that start at $100 per person (some include a dining option), and it has got to be one of the most stunning wineries I’ve ever stepped foot in. The wow factor is definitely apparent. They have couch swings on the patio overlooking a vineyard down below for god’s sake.
Another very popular place to taste off the Silverado Trail, the architecture is grand and that of a Persian temple and the wines are great! Darioush is definitely touristy, but a total show stopper.
Ehler’s is a great place to taste if you want that Napa experience (pretty vineyard with history and all) but don’t want to do the “typical” tastings. They’ve got great wines, they’re certified organic farming, they have a warm and very classy tasting room, and again, this is a great option if you want to try something “new and different”.
Faust is by far one of my favorite tastings I’ve had the privilege of experiencing in the Napa Valley. It’s a somewhat “newer” winery located in a grand and recently renovated Victorian home just off of 29 at the top of a hill. You can’t miss the mysterious and absolutely stunning structure that is painted in a dark grey/black shade – so, don’t! I promise you won’t want to miss these views, the Architectural Digest worthy design, the *epic snacks*, the history around the property itself, and, of course, some wonderful wines. They specialize in Cabernet but make some great blends as well. Tastings are $55 and trust me, it’s worth every penny.
Another winery and tasting experience in my top 3 is Far Niente, located in Oakville. Top scores in everything: wine, property, experience – all of it. They make some of the best chardonnay and cabernet I’ve ever had, so this one is kind of a must in my book.
A long-time family favorite of ours is Frank Family – seriously not one person in my family isn’t a member. We like our Frank. The tasting room itself is small, nothing too crazy, but the wines are some of my favorite in the valley!
Another very popular winery and tasting is Grgich Hills in Rutherford. Mike Grgich was the creator of that famed 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay from the “Paris Tasting” of 1976! So needless to say, Grgich Hills is a classic wine brand and an always A+ tasting experience.
There are TWO ways to experience Hall wines, both comparable and equally as unforgettable. There’s the beautiful winery in St Helena (main tastings) and the beautiful (kinda famously so) tasting room in Rutherford, which is the more exclusive and intimate of the two tasting options.
The last winery in my personal top 3 in Napa is Inglenook. THIS is what dreams of tasting in Napa are made of. Between the long tree-lined driveway, the stunning stone estate, the history behind the winery and the property, the museum upstairs, the tasting in the cellar itself, and the overall experience… it’s just one I simply never get tired of. Inglenook is where I take all of my friends who haven’t been to Napa, and at the end of the trip, we all unanimously agree that it was our favorite.
JCB’s tasting rooms, all of them, are just… wow. Where to even begin trying to explain what I mean! They’re kind of “you have to see it to understand it and appreciate it”, but damn they’re fun, they’re bold, and of course they have great wines – my favorite being their bubbles. Let’s just say there’s a lot of red, gold, and baccarat crystal goin’ on – and it’s f*cking fabulous. (There are tasting rooms in Yountville, St Helena, and Healdsburg.)
KULETO ESTATE * [CLOSED DUE TO FIRE DAMAGE, but hopefully not for forever]
Kuleto is the one winery on this list I would 100% suggest first if you were considering doing a picnic. It’s an absolutely gorgeous property with views of the valley you won’t experience anywhere else in the valley. It feels like you’re in Tuscany. They have picnic areas set up and you can purchase bottles to pair or you can opt for a proper tasting. I’ve been visiting Kuleto for YEARS and love it every single time.
Nickel & Nickel is the sister winery to Far Niente, so if you’ve assumed in that case that it too must be awesome, then you’ve assumed correct. Nickle & Nickle is known for their single vineyard wines and is located just down the road from Far Niente right off Hwy 29, it has two horses in front, can’t miss it – and nor should you!
The only winery in Napa I am actually personally a member of!!! Paraduxx is part of the Duckhorn portfolio and is known for their high-end red blends. It’s a GORGEOUS tasting, it’s one of Duckhorn’s more “hip” brands, and it’s another one of my absolute musts.
Raymond was founded by the Raymond family in 1970 but is now run by Proprioter Jean-Charles Boisset (of JCB) who runs a number of my favorite properties in Napa Valley but Raymond is one of my favorites. If you have the opportunity… visit the Crystal Cellar. Because if we know JCB at this point, he won’t disappoint and you won’t forget it.
I’ve only been to Robert Sinskey once and since I’ve been they’ve done a big remodel and it’s supposed to be beautiful! I loved tasting here. They have a great patio, great views, a great “food and wine pairing program”, and they’re right off the Silverado Trail. They’re also one of the few wineries in Napa actually known for their Pinots and they are fantastic.
If you’re a cab lover, then I suspect you’re already familiar with Silver Oak. I’m not convinced they’ve ever produced a cab that wasn’t 110 out of 100. They’re fantastic winemakers and this is a total must if you’re big on cabernet.
Wine… surriounded by beautiful horses… is there anything that sounds more dreamy than that?! Being a horsegirl myself this is obviously one of my personal favorite places to taste, and while both the grounds and residents are a sight for sore eyes, the Tamber Bey wines are absolutely wonderful. If you’re planning on being near Calistoga put this one on your list.
Tank is one of the more fun and young tasting rooms I’ve been to – cant say no to a tasting room located inside an old gas station! Calistoga has this very fun and relaxed vibe to it, and Tank fits in perfectly. If you’re in that part of the valley, make sure to stop in.
Doesn’t it even just sound beautiful? Oh and don’t worry, it is. It’s a stunning winery with world-renown wines – it ain’t a cheap tasting but if you’re looking for something truly special and memorable, this might just do it for ya. (Sister property to Faust too!)
OTHER SPOTS IVE HEARD GOOD THINGS ABOUT
It’s literally a castle. And thus, super touristy. But still – fun.
Supposed to be one of Napa’s most beautiful wineries.
Because duh. HISTORY HELLO!
One of the oldest wineries in Napa, and just super fun (as far as I’ve heard). It’s a great spot for “first-timers” and not super serious wine drinkers. (But ok, them too though.)
I have heard amazing things about the winery (supposed to be beautiful, but slightly more laid back) – and I love their wine (especially their pinot which is not typical of Napa)!
Supposed to be stunning, the wines are supposed to be superb.
Big ol’ fancy cabs!
Again, hello, history. (How have I not been here either?)
Such a cute winery with great outdoor seating – and the wines are supposed to be pretty good!
Shrubbery I just have to see to believe. Oh, and of course the wine.
Oooo she pretty. Odette is one of Napa’s “newer” wineries and I’ve heard excellent things.
Love Prisoner wines, and they built a pretty impressive tasting room in St Helena right off Hwy 29. I drive by it all the time, so eventually, I actually need to stop in!
Another winery that is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in Napa. (I’m clearly a sucker for scenery.)
This is a pretty touristy and popular place to taste but I am still dying to take that gondola ride up the hill! And for what it’s worth I love Sterling chardonnay.
Iconic family-owned winery named one of the top 25 best vineyards in the world by “Wine & Spirits” critic Robert M Parker Jr.
I’ve tried the wines but have yet to visit their beautiful winery.
Another super iconic winery I need to get around to finally visiting. It’s Stag’s Leap for crying out loud!!
OTHER PLACES TO DRINK ADULT BEVERAGES
Napa doesn’t only offer wine! (Or do they?)
Super high-tech self-serve tasting in super gorgeous space, 1881 might offer one of the coolest tastings I’ve ever experienced. Located as part of the Oakville Grocery, not only is it a tasting room, it’s also a wine history museum!
Wine Enthusiasts 50 best wine retailers in America 2020! But not only is this cute little shop in St Helena a great wine retailer but they also offer great tastings from wineries all over the place. (They’re even doing virtual tastings right now.)
Avow is one of the prettiest bars in the Valley, in my opinion, and it occupies of the oldest and most historic buildings in Downtown Napa. This skinny 3 story space features a bar on the first level, a restaurant on the second, and a patio bar on the 3rd-floor rooftop. The rooftop space is absolutely spectacular – if you can make it up there I highly recommend it!
Blue Note Napa is a live music jazz club/gourmet restaurant venue occupying the first floor of the historic Napa Valley Opera House, and it’s always a good time. Jazz and wine – yes please?
Goose & Gander (the bar under the restaurant specifically) is my FAVORITE bar in Napa Valley, period. I cannot come to Napa and not visit the Goose & Gander. I need my regular order of duck fat fries and an “O.G.” cocktail or else the trip isn’t complete. They have arguably the best bar program out of any bar/restaurant in the area, and it’s a space you just have to see and experience. I joke that it reminds me of a little hobbit hole with its cozy warm interior, fireplace burning in the colder months, and low ceilings. It’s the greatest. (Have I made that pretty clear yet?)
If you’ve ever visited a RH store and wanted to sit down and stick around a while, well now’s your chance! RH Yountville is part store, part restaurant/bar with excellent (and obviously stunning) outdoor seating. They also have a whole tasting room if you’d prefer to take that course of action instead, either way, prepare for jaw-dropping beauty.
Talk about VIEWS – Sky & Vine is located on the rooftop of the new Archer Hotel in Downtown Napa and is one of the areas most beautiful and fun bars to enjoy – especially outdoors. Besides great cocktails, they do offer dining services as well. (Some nights they have live music!)
Stone Brewing has an amazing and expansive Napa Riverfront property with ideal patio seating, a massive bar on the second floor, and space to spread out and enjoy the scenery. I love Stone Brewing for the beer, obviously, but this location also serves some incredible BBQ as well. (Always order the pretzel.)
The Saint, located right along Main St in St Helena, is a beautiful and proper wine bar/lounge. It’s beautifully decorated, “classic but edgy”, almost speakeasy-ish, and they of course have a selection of great wines to sample.
Located in Downtown Napa inside an old saloon/brothel built in 1875 is another one of my favorite places in the valley to have a unique and customized tasting. They work with 18 of Napa Valley’s most celebrated boutique producers and you can sample them in one convenient (and beautiful) place.
WHERE TO DINE
Simply broken down by the regions/cities in Napa Valley to hopefully make it easier to decide on depending on your whereabouts!
[Restaurant Details: Gott’s Roadside | Evangeline | Stone Brewing]
One of the best breakfast joints in Napa Valley! It’s a great cozy little cafe who can’t seem to make a bad meal if they tried. Order the housemade donuts.
Farm is a little fancy but in the best “I am definitely on vacation” way possible. We celebrated my mom’s birthday here a few years ago and I couldn’t get over how beautiful the restaurant was. The meal was A+ as well, but again, I am a sucker for ambiance.
Some of the best BBQ PERIOD!! Super casual, relaxed, and just fun.
I don’t make a trip up to Napa anymore without coming here. I love the outdoor space, they have awesome beers on tap and wines by the glass, and if my company lets me, I’ll just end up hanging here for hours.
Cute little old school hometown diner. If you’re looking for a classic no-fuss but bomb-ass breakfast, this is the place! (Calistoga is – was – a little hippy to me, and Serafornia is a fun little glimpse into its past and history.)
Another place I HAVE to visit on nearly every trip to Napa is Evangeline. They have an absolutely gorgeous patio (and dining room for that matter), their menu is “French with a Creole Soul” and they make one of the best shrimp Po’ Boys I’ve ever had.
I haven’t personally been to Sam’s but it is constantly being recommended to me! It looks like an absolutely gorgeous restaurant and they specialize in New American cuisine (snacks, steak, cheeseburger, pizzas – the good stuff. It’s at the top of my hit list.)
MM! I love this place, and it’s the perfect excuse to be able to go to Solage without having to actually be a guest. It’s “casual”, but it’s Solage casual (AKA just a little bougie, just a little! Which is great on vacation.) They’re known for their fish tacos, but with a renowned chef at the helm, no dish will disappoint.
A cute little romantic French bistro right on the Napa Riverfront complete with a nice patio and a cozy dining room. When my aunt had an apartment at the Napa Riverfront our favorite thing to do was have a late-night glass of wine and a few desserts at the bar at Angele. It’s definitely a favorite of mine for many reasons.
A great and popular upscale classic Italian restaurant located inside a beautiful former bank. You can even dine inside the vault.
Some damn fine no-fuss thin crust pizza. It’s a great more casual option, and they of course offer much more than just pizza. It’s always been a local and family favorite of ours.
A wine bar, and a BBQ joint. My literal version of heaven and they do both SO. WELL. The Bounty Hunter is usually my first suggestion to folks visiting Downtown Napa, and will likely always stay that way. It’s a must in my book!
Just a classic, beautiful, upscale American steakhouse! (Named one of the best 100 in the country by OpenTable.) We’ve done a number of celebration dinners at Cole’s and it never disappoints.
Industrial chic enoteca that specializes in contemporary Italian dishes like pizzas, pasta, etc – the classics but with updates.
One of my absolute favorite sushi restaurants on the planet! Morimoto is located on the Napa Riverfront, they have a beautiful open space with a nice view of the river, and again, some of the best sushi ones can have. I love that they’re also open for lunch – the bento box situation is A+!
Another great restaurant on the Napa Riverfront is the Napa General Store. It’s a great spot to consider if you’re looking for a casual breakfast, brunch, or lunch and somewhere nice to sit outside and enjoy it. And yes – it’s also actually a general store!
Oenotri is one of Downtown Napa’s fancier and more buzzed-about restaurants, and they’re known for their incredible Southern Italian inspired fare and simply beautiful dining room.
A fun and different marketplace concept that is home to several types of vendors including fresh produce, spices, home goods, chocolate, cupcakes, ice cream, butchers, cheese, and a number of restaurants including Hog Island Oyster, Gott’s Roadside, Kitchen Door, and more.
The cutest little neighborhood bakery, and one of my personal all-time favorites. They made my 30th birthday cake! And it was perfect! Not only do they make incredible baked goods but they also offer coffee and breakfast options as well. Drop-in and be sure to treat yo’ self.
Torc is a beautiful restaurant with an energetic atmosphere, great farm-to-table cuisine, gorgeous high ceilings, and another family favorite of ours.
If you’re craving a delicious and light Mediterranean meal, Tarla has you covered. I absolutely love this place – it’s one of my favorite spots to go in town, especially for lunch.
I cant personally say I’ve been to La Toque, but I do know that it is one of Napa’s Michelin rated restaurants known for their New French cuisine. So, can’t be all that terrible.
The best Spanish food I’ve had outside of Spain, period. (If you like paella… you have no choice but to dine here, I demand it!) Zuzu has such a great space and energy, and the food is absolutely to die for. You won’t get an experience like this really anywhere else so don’t pass up on the opportunity.
This is a brand new spot (as of 2020) and took over the location of one of my favorite restaurants from the past (RIP Compadres), but Ace & Vine is doing this space quite the justice. They have a prime location on the Napa River, it’s a bit more of a local hidden gem as it’s not exactly in the heart of downtown with all of the foot traffic, but it’s worth the drive. They re-did the interior and extended their deck over the river and the result is A+. The food is a fine(ish)-dining Asian fusion concept (honestly, I loved it), they’re open from breakfast though “late night”, and interestingly enough they’re also a Card Room with casino games. So if that fits your fancy, there you have it.
My #1 choice as the host for my 30th birthday party, I absolutely love Brix. They recently redid the whole restaurant and it is GORGEOUS! You can’t beat that bar, the dining room, the expansive patio, and the beautiful garden and views beyond. Brix is a great “in the middle option” – not casual, not fancy. Juuuust right.
A Napa Valley icon! Small and mighty, always try for reservations or get there early to sit at the bar (always my personal move). The burger and the onion rings are my personal favorites on the menu.
Oakville Grocery has been around since 1881 – it has had a few facelifts over time but its current update is by far my favorite. Inside the grocery they’ve got every single thing you could possibly need for a great picnic including sandwiches, salads, wines – you name it (they do coffee and breakfast items too). Outside on the patio, they also have a pizza oven where they bake fresh Neapolitan style pizzas – and they’re to die for. For one delicious reason or another, I am at Oakville Grocery almost every single day when I’m in Napa.
RUTHERFORD – ST. HELENA SOUTH
You simply cannot compete with that patio and those views – or the food & wine really. We’d expect nothing less than perfection when it comes to Auberge hotels and the Restaurant certainly delivers on all fronts. Oh, and it has 13 consecutive Michelin Star awards – casual.
Charter Oak, in my opinion, is one of Napa Valley’s most beautiful restaurants. It’s got the brick / industrial-chic thing, the beautiful high ceilings, the warm and cozy tones, and beautiful design – inside and out. It’s on the expensive side but it’s a great restaurant if you’re looking for something “nice”. Or, take the alternative route and do as I do – just drop in for a glass of wine and a snack at the bar.
One of my “Napa musts” in terms of dining is definitely Farmstead because no matter what you order or where you sit you feel like you’re winning. Their menu is focused on “American farmhouse cuisine” and you’ll find delicious goodies like deviled eggs, biscuits, burgers, salads, typical BBQ sides, and so much more. Long Meadow Ranch is quite the little compound with tons of options for indoor and outdoor seating. It’s also worth mentioning that they also have a really cute little Garden Bar & Cafe where you can pick up coffee in the morning, or have drinks in the eve.
Harvest Table, located at the Harvest Inn, is an absolutely GORGEOUS restaurant and one I’ve been dying to try myself. They have a beautiful patio, indoor seating with a great bar and fireplace, and the whole restaurant just feels like what dining in Napa should look like. They’re open for breakfast and dinner, and soon to be brunch and lunch (be sure to check their site for an update), but be aware that the dinner service is prefix at $60 a person and reservations are required.
From design to menu, Press is a gorgeous modern chophouse right off Hwy 29 and has been a favorite in the valley for 15 years. Besides the obvious wood-fired meat selections, their burger is supposed to be one of the best in Napa. They’re open for dinner every day, and for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays (double-check that before you decide to go, but as of right now that’s the deal.)
Besides the fact that I love ALL Hillstone restaurants (R&D Kitchen, Bandera, Houston’s, etc), I especially love Rutherford Grill for their bar and their big wine pours. Don’t @ me if you don’t get one but from what I know it’s just a fact that Rutherford has the best pours in the valley. But also, it’s just a great restaurant. I love the super dim lighting, the cozy booths, and as previously mentioned, their massive U-shaped bar.
I think I have been to Brasswood more times than any other restaurant in Napa. Largely in part because their food is awesome, as is the restaurant itself, but also probably because it feels like one of the “lesser-known” restaurants where you don’t usually have to make a reservation, and waiting for a table requires minimal time. It’s popular don’t get me wrong, it’s just not typically totally mobbed – plus they’re open for lunch and dinner, and we usually find ourselves here before or after a tasting. (Hot tip: order the fresh mozzarella. That sh*t will change your life. And don’t leave without getting a cookie next door at the bakery/market/coffee shop. They’re important!)
Well, now that I think about it, I’ve actually probably been to Gott’s Roadside more times than any other restaurant in Napa. But more importantly, the original location is off Hwy 29 in St. Helena and it is just one of those places that are constantly busy – and so worth the wait. They’re a little factory at this point, and they have by far the best burgers in town (as well as plenty other goodies like fish tacos, salads, hot dogs, shakes, beer, wine, ice cream, whatever you want.) Gott’s is one of Napa’s pride and joy establishments and without a doubt an absolute MUST.
I personally think The Culinary Institute looks like Hogwarts, and if that’s not reason enough to want to dine here than I don’t know what is. (Besides the whole Culinary Institute part.) Come for the incredible meal, obviously, stay for the absolutely one-of-a-kind experience.
It’s Meadowood. So it’s safe to say it’s perfect, top of the line in service, design, and F&B programs, and definitely expensive.
Arguably the most famous bakery in Napa, Model Bakery is known for their outrageously delicious – and totally worth the hype – English muffins. There’s usually a line in the morning, and I’d always suggest buying in bulk – take them home and freeze them!
Located right in the middle of the little St Helena downtown area off Main St, Market is a cute little warm and cozy restaurant that is open for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. If you’re doing a little shopping downtown and could use a meal or a beverage, this is a great local spot to drop in to.
AD HOC *
If you were to ask me what my favorite restaurant in Napa is, I’d say it was Ad Hoc. It’s one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants (who you’ll come to notice seems to run a number of restaurants in Napa), and I love that the menu changes every single day, it’s always 4-course family-style, the menu is usually around $40 – $50 per person, and it’s so much incredible food for what you pay for. It’s an EXPERIENCE, to say the least, and really, for a prix fixe dinner situation, it’s casual, relaxed, and always SO fun. To my foodies: this one is a must!
Another Thomas Keller restaurant, and probably his most famous, is Bouchon Bistro and of course Bouchon Bakery. The bakery at any given time of the day usually has a line of tourists trying to snag some sweets, but Bouchon Bistro is Michelin rated and known for their classic French Bistro cuisine.
Another favorite spot of mine in Yountville is Bistro Jeanty – another French Bistro style restaurant. Bistro Jeanty’s food is just as good as Bouchon’s, I just find Bistro Jeanty to be a little more casual, and a little more “neighborhood”. They’ve been a beloved Napa restaurant for 20 years and are showing no signs of slowing down.
Bistro Don Giovanni is a GORGEOUS restaurant off Hwy 29 before you enter into the Yountville area, and it’s one of those restaurants in the valley I’d visit just for the ambiance alone. They have a beautiful patio, a whole garden area with a fountain, and a wonderfully cozy dining room. Thankfully the added bonus is that the food – classic Italian – is incredible.
Bottega is a venture by celebrity chef Michael Chiarello and has been one of my favorite restaurants to visit for celebrations for the past 10 years. I have had many birthday dinners here, but every meal here has been special. They have great “rustic Italian” dishes and the space itself is absolutely stunning.
Cozy little locals joint that makes some of the best pizza in Napa valley and other fine wood-fired Italian dishes. (This is about as casual as it gets in Yountville, and it’s one of my favs!)
Arguably this single most famous restaurant in Napa, and of course helmed by Thomas Keller. It takes months to get a reservation, and expect no less than $250 per person (but usually more), and what is to be an unforgettable meal. I’ve personally never been but, maybe someday!
Thomas Keller’s latest venture and one of his more casual dining concepts is La Calenda! I say it with excitement because I freaking love this place! They not only have great Mexican-American fare, but they make some of the best frozen margaritas I’ve ever had. They’re dangerous (in a good way), so don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Lucy is located inside the ultra-chic Bardessono hotel and specializes in “garden-inspired cuisine”. They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it seems like a great, casual, healthy little spot.
I would eat or drink at R+D every single day in Napa if I could. Between that great patio, the chicken sandwich, the wine/cocktails, and the sushi, I don’t really need much else? It’s such a nice and easy-going spot in Yountville, somewhere you could end up just hanging out around for a few hours.
WHAT TO DO
…you mean besides dine and go wine tasting? I don’t personally come to Napa to do anything else but if you’re all wined out and just need another type of adventure in wine country, here ya go:
Hot air balloon rides are a big deal up here, so if you’ve ever wanted to take a ride, this would be the place to do it. Head to Visit Napa Valley’s site for more info and a directory for where and who to book your tour with.
This one is on my own personal bucket list, I’ve seen the Wine Train go by 100000x but have yet to partake. I understand that it’s not the “cheapest” activity but that at the end of the day between the tastings, the meal, and the experience that it’s worth it. Everyone I’ve talked to that’s done it has loved it, and that they were especially impressed with the meal. The Wine Train is doing some expanding at the moment which will be great, but for now, they offer 1/2 day and full-day tour options.
From bike tours to tootling around at your own pace, Napa offers a few spots where you can rent a bike, be a little active, and explore. For a list of bike rental options, head to Visit Napa Valley’s site to learn more.
Take a tour of Napa by way of Kayak! That about sums it up!
My suggestions would be: Spa Solage ($$$), Meadowood Spa ($$$$), Spa at Bardessono ($$$), Spa Terra at Meritage Resort ($$), Spa at Carneros ($$)
“Classic Comforts” – Baths at Romans Spa, “Contemporary” – UpValley Inn & Hot Springs, “Whimsical Meets Luxury” – Calistoga Motor Lodge & Spa, “Custom Soaks” – Calistoga Spa Hot Springs, “In Room Relaxation” – Golden Haven Hot Springs (info taken from Visit Calistoga – click HERE to learn more about these 5 Hot Springs in Calistoga )
There are a surprising amount of great places to walk/hike in the area. If you feel like getting outdoors, check out this map to plan your outing.