There is no need to be shy about it. While many of your friends have likely already been to the Napa Valley and have favorite places to stay and restaurants they return to on every visit, everyone has their first time. But where do you start, where there are some 400 wineries, seven Michelin-starred restaurants, and plenty more offerings for culture, adventure, and wellness?
Our guide here encourages you to approach the valley from south to north, with a day each in three of its most popular stops: Napa, St. Helena, and Calistoga. Yountville’s location in the middle of the valley makes it a good base for your stay.
Still, here’s an important thing to remember before worrying too much about getting it all right the first time: No matter where and when you go, you won’t go wrong. Visit in the spring, and you’ll be greeted by an abundance of wildflowers. In summer, it’s a playground for hiking and biking. In the fall, you’ll get to experience wine country at the height of its harvest. And the mild winters are a chance to enjoy the cozy atmosphere of leading restaurants with seasonal food and good wine.
Check in to the 62-room Bardessono in Yountville this afternoon. The hotel embraces the spirit of the Napa Valley in every aspect of its design and amenities—and prides itself on sustainability, garnering a Platinum LEED certification. Even the smallest rooms feature 250-square-foot terraces where you can enjoy the area’s enviable climate. Signature treatments at the hotel’s spa incorporate Chardonnay oil and other wine-based ingredients.
Yountville makes a great base to explore Napa Valley, and the compact town, with fewer than 3,000 residents, also has plenty of charms of its own. A number of wineries have tasting rooms here, so you don’t have to get back in your car if you want to visit Domaine Chandon for a glass of bubbly or Stewart Cellars, a family-owned winery with a tasting hall at the opposite end of town—but don’t worry, a walk the whole way across town is a short one in Yountville.
Save the French Laundry, perhaps the area’s most famous restaurant, for another evening when you haven’t spent the day traveling. Tonight you’ll try one of Yountville’s more casual options like wood-fired pizzas at either Ciccio or Redd Wood, or maybe Mustards Grill, an institution that has been serving California cuisine for more than three decades, in a casual low-key setting.
Start this morning with a visit to the Chateau Montelena Winery. While the Napa Valley was a thriving wine region since the 19th century, it was an event in Paris in 1976 that helped elevate the region’s products in the eyes of wine drinkers around the world. In the “Judgment of Paris,” a competition between French and California white wines, the French judges decided that Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay was the best of all of them. The tasting room is open daily while the winery also has a lovely 19th-century chateau and a Chinese garden.
At your next stop, you’ll have an only-in-Northern-California experience, namely a mud bath in Calistoga. This West Coast spa town has drawn visitors to its hot springs since the 19th century, and a variety of spas, from basic to luxurious, cater to those who want to experience a “bath” in the warm mineral-rich mud that leaves your body relaxed and your skin glowing. The recently renovated Calistoga Spa Hot Springs offers a bath in the volcanic-ash mud, followed by a deep-tissue, sports, or Swedish massage, among other treatments. Afterwards, you can take a post-treatment/pre-dinner nap by the pool.
Calistoga offers up several excellent restaurants for dinner before you head back to Yountville. “Up Valley” favorites include Calistoga Kitchen, with an American bistro menu highlighting figs, tomatoes, and other produce grown at local farms. Evangeline has a menu that may be surprising given its location, with a number of Creole and New Orleans dishes, and an inviting patio with orange trees.