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The Perfect North Napa Day Trip

We've done all the hard work of planning it—now go do it.

Castello Di Amorosa

 

Napa Valley is about 30 miles long, five miles across, and cross-hatched with dirt roads, winding mountain drives, and meandering lanes. Without a solid plan you could easily spend most of your day in the car and miss all the best spots. Fear not! In a new series of stories, we are separating Napa Valley into three easy to decipher areas (north, middle, and south) so that you reduce your drive time. The first day trip plan is designed to introduce you to the areas of northern Napa Valley, which vary greatly in terroir (environmental factors that affect vines and grapes) and wines, but is known for being the hottest, least tourist trodden, and most comfortably day-trippable portion of the valley.

MORNING

Get on your horse and head up Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail to Calistoga to get the long drive out of the way before traffic slows you down. If you haven’t eaten or need a pick-me-up, start at local favorites Yo el Rey Roasting or Calistoga Roastery.

While you’re on the main drag in Calistoga, stop at the family-owned and -operated Heibel Ranch tasting room, which is located in an old train car and offers killer photo opportunities, complex, well-made wines, and generous hospitality. No appointment needed. They also offer a backcountry tour by appointment if you’re looking to get out in the vineyards.

Next, head a little further north Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail to famed Chateau Montelena, an iconic winery that had a big part in putting Napa Valley on the map. It boasts hilly and verdant grounds, ponds with bridges and pagodas, historic stone buildings, and impressive wines like an earthy and lightly jammy zinfandel (a personal favorite) and the chardonnay that made them famous. No appointment needed.

If you have time, you might also head 15 minutes south on Highway 29 to Schramsberg for its cave tour, Castello Di Amorosa for its full-sized castle (really!), or Viader for its big reds.

LUNCH

Goose & Gander boasts several superlatives—the best bar, one of the best patios, and maybe the best burger in St. Helena.

Small, cozy Cook and Cook Tavern makes the best pasta in St. Helena, and its tavern is where to go for high-end bar food.

You can't go wrong with Gott’s, the high-end outdoor burger shack that is so good, its rapidly spreading across the Bay Area.

AFTERNOON

Perched on a hillside about 15 minutes up a winding road from St. Helena, Aonair has a comfortable yet chic style, a view of mountains and vines, but is still just far enough under the radar to be hip. The wines drink easily now, but, primed to be the next big thing, are well worth saving. (Appointment required.)

A bit like finding Xanadu, Fantesca is a forested drive up Spring Mountain: exclusive, sexy, and hard to get an appointment. But worth it. (Appointment required.)

Right across the road from Fantesca, Schoolhouse is an exemplar of what Napa was back in the day. Try their pinot noir and red blends—both among the best in the valley—in tastings conducted in the vineyard home of the owners. (Appointment required.)

DINNER

Acacia House is the hot spot at a sassy new hotel in St. Helena. Sit in the casual bar area or reserve a table and order rich, intricate dishes to share, like lamb tartare or crispy fried Iberico pork schnitzel.

Horseshoes! A big red tractor! A fire pit! A lawn and open garden! Farmstead in St. Helena has it all, and that’s not even to mention that they grow or raise just about everything they serve, including caramelized beets and the meat in the grass-fed cheeseburger.

 

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