Several years ago I fell head over heels in love with Napa Valley. I spent 10 months there doing my internship, and that’s when the love affair began specifically with the city of Napa. During that time I also discovered St. Helena and Yountville. For a time I would drive right through Napa to get to St. Helena, my newer love, or sometimes Yountville to visit a friend. And although we met for the first time even before I met Napa, more recently I’ve started getting more acquainted with Calistoga. But this past weekend I returned to my first love, Napa, and I realized how much I’d missed my old friend.
I’ve noticed a number of ladies mentioning Napa is on their bucket list, and I’ll be the first to say I understand completely. Not long ago I got busy organizing my next wellness weekend for the ladies, and we’re all pretty excited about it. As a wine lover, healthy food lover, spa lover and lover of cute little boutiques, this area has everything I love all in one place. I’m so blessed to live close enough to wander out there whenever I have a day to spend. But I don’t do it often, as I want to keep it special.
So here’s a recap of my absolutely perfect Mother’s Day in Napa, or tips on how to enjoy a day to your bucket list destination.
My mini and I had brunch reservations at Tarla Mediterranean Grill right in downtown Napa. We arrived promptly at 10:30 and found a parking space right out front. Parking is free but limited to 2 hours, and unlimited on the weekends and holidays. A bit about Tarla, if you like to eat healthy, which I do, this is your place. The food is Greek and Turkish (Mediterranean) and quite authentic. I met the chef while I was there, and she was Turkish, as was our wonderfully helpful and friendly server. He gave me a list of the must see places for my upcoming trip to Istanbul, oh, and great service.
After multiple rounds of the wonderful buffet (and bottomless mimosas) we needed a long walk. So we headed up the road and stopped at a number of stops along the way. We visited an art gallery, did olive oil and vinegar tasting (no wine tasting since my mini is a minor), passed by several small wineries (after the mimosas, no wine tasting was needed), dropped into a couple of bakeries, and shopped at several boutiques.
For those of you who want to visit Napa Valley and see much more of the Bay Area as well, I would suggest you stay in San Francisco or Oakland and make your way out to Napa Valley for a day trip. If you choose to spend more time in Napa Valley and want to stay there instead, that’s fine. Just be aware that no matter where you stay, hotel prices are high as hell compared to many other places. Also once you get to Napa, you are just starting to enter Napa Valley. Driving through to the other cities (you won’t even see that Welcome to Napa Valley sign until you get about a 20 minute drive into the valley beyond Napa) is via 2 lane always crowded sometimes slow as molasses highway. So you may not want to spend your precious time in that traffic every time you want to come out of the valley. You could even stay in American Canyon, the city right before you get to Napa. It may be a little less pricy and keeps you out of most of the traffic.
If you’re coming from outside of the area, you’ll want to fly into SFO, Oakland, San Jose or Sacramento. It really doesn’t matter which one as you will have to drive over an hour to reach the area. So let ticket price and flight times guide you in deciding which airport to choose.
If you’re visiting for more than a day you’ll want to venture out to all of the little towns that make up the Napa Valley. For this I would suggest renting a car. As you drive along the two lane highway you’ll get a chance to stop at a new town at almost every exit, each one with a little something different to offer.
The Napa Valley consists of a handful of small towns starting with:
Napa -a lovely town that is quite busy, loaded with shops and dotted with wineries all over the place. If you want to get away from it all, keep going right on through to the next stop. But first stop by the visitors center to get guides, maps and a really warm welcome.
Yountville – really cute, really quiet, really expensive – home of the French Laundry. I’ve enjoyed some delicious meals there too. You may run into a celebrity or two there, or not. You can literally park and walk through the busiest part in just about 20 minutes and keep going if you don’t plan to visit any of the restaurants or shops.
Oakville – I don’t know how I’ve missed this one but it must be pretty small as I’ve never stopped there. I think it’s the long winding road full of huge vineyards. After you stop at so many you begin to just drive by and ogle.
Rutherford- I always stop here at Rutherford Grill – also known as Houston’s. That’s because we don’t have access to Houston’s as easily as I did in Atlanta. Other than that, you’ll get a chance to take that Welcome to Napa Valley photo somewhere between Oakville and Rutherford so keep a look out so you don’t pass it up. Be prepared to run across traffic to take the pic also, as the sign is on the opposite side of the street. FYI if you pass it, there’s a second one waaayyyy up the valley in Calistoga. That one will have fewer people waiting in line to take a pic.
St. Helena – I absolutely love visiting the CIA here (Culinary Institute of America) – you can take a cooking class or do chocolate tasting, or just tour this marvelous former Christian Brothers winery. They used to give guided tours. I’m not sure if they do any more but either way, stop by. It is really fabulous. Before you get to the CIA you’ll go through downtown where there are lots of really cute shops and bakeries and restaurants. Enjoy.
Calistoga – last stop and mud bath and spa heaven. This is where we will be staying for our wellness weekend in October. I’ve found the people there to be warmer than in the previous cities. Maybe they don’t get as many tourists so they aren’t worn out. IDK. It’s really quiet with lots of little wineries and shops in the downtown area. Somewhere between St. Helena and Calistoga is Sterling Vineyards, where you can take an aerial tram ride up to the winery. Honestly, not the greatest wine IMO but it’s a beautiful view from the top. Right before you get to downtown Calistoga you’ll come to that beautiful castle winery. You may want to stop there for photos or to take a tour and tasting. As you keep going and start to head out of the valley through the back way you’ll see some more totally amazing and breathtaking wineries.
So that’s my recap of Mother’s Day and my guide to visiting Napa Valley, the quick and dirty. Is it on your bucket list? And if so, when are you going to check it off???