Travel + Leisure is exploring America one three-day weekend at a time. Here’s what to do on a short trip to California’s wine country.
Sure, Napa has scores of world-class wineries. But if you go only for the Cabernet, you’ll miss the rest of what’s great about the valley. Chat up local vintners at a rockabilly diner that serves wine in mason jars, explore the world of Napa-Japan cuisine, and use a craft cocktail as a palate cleanser. Here’s how to spend three leisurely days making your way up the valley.
Start your weekend in Carneros, Napa’s cool(er)-climate AVA along the southwest border of Napa County. Conveniently, it’s also the closest portion of Napa to San Francisco, and the gently sloping vineyards and scenic byway offer a welcoming introduction. To properly gear up for a full day of wine tasting along Highway 12, stop at the Fremont Diner, a locals' joint with honky-tonk panache where the valley’s vintners, grape pickers, and wine country chefs crowd the counter for brunch.
Once you’re properly fueled, move on to Carneros’ opulent wine tasting rooms, including Domaine Carneros’ chateau, ZD, and Truchard Vineyards. Recover at the Carneros Inn, a wine country-chic inn with a pool overlooking the vineyards and in-room spa treatments.
Downtown Napa is no longer what you would expect. In lieu of the sleepy service and tannic Cabernet flights of yore, it’s transformed over the last few years into a new hub for international-inspired cuisine and cocktails. Yes, cocktails. In wine country. At Basalt, seasonal, sometimes even foraged, cocktails anchor the menu—pick your cocktail first, and your main course to go with it. Japanese restaurant Miminashi has people driving up from San Francisco just for its refined take on yakitori. Andaz Napa offers sleek rooms and a terrace with fire pits that’s amazing for stargazing.
Toward the northern end of the valley, the chic, upscale town of St. Helena is the best place to conclude your tour-de-Napa. Don’t miss Hall on the way in, a modern steel- stone- and glass tasting room with sculptures strewn throughout the 33-acre property. The only thing that rivals the setting is, of course, the high-ranked wines. There is no shortage of wine titans lining St. Helena Highway, so make a day of skipping from one stone-facaded chateau to the next.
As the day winds down, head to dinner at St. Helena gastronomic star Goose and Gander. Ask for a seat in the intimate basement or outdoor garden patio, a beautiful backdrop for the rustic yet delicate seasonal fare. Too tired to drive back to the city? Down the road, the Harvest Inn offers an ideal romantic place to end the trip.
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