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Who takes great notes on their hometown? Not me, apparently. This collection needs more work, just scratching the surface of the options. I’ve organized these notes by food and lodging in the towns, followed by winery options along Highway 128 and Silverado Trail. In general, Napa Valley is beautiful, packed with great food, better for reds than whites, and runs very expensive (but doesn’t have to be if you make the right choices). Calistoga is our favorite place to stay (as tourists).

Calistoga

Dining

  • **Calistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery, B+ food, nice setting with many outdoor tables. A little too expensive. Might be better for lunch or breakfast than dinner.
  • **Calistoga kitchen: expensive but very good. Local/organic. Sunday brunch, or dinner. [closed]
  • **Evangeline: French with a southern/creole twist. Food is very good, setting isn’t quite dialed in yet and service is overly thoughtful and slow. I’d go back but don’t assume it will be a fast meal. Almost entirely outdoors, limited heating.
  • **Jole: one of our favorites. Interesting, thoughtful menu. Great service and fun wine selection. (closed)
  • **Pacifico: great old school Mexican. Huge plates.  
  • **Cafe Sarafornia: Classic greasy spoon breakfast. Yum.

Lodging

  • Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa: [haven’t stayed, but like the description] This motor lodge is a holiday camp worthy of a Tenenbaum family retreat. The original 1940s Sunburst Motel was renovated in 2017, with a Wes Anderson-esque twee charm that appeals to younger travellers. The rooms are inspired Airstream caravans and have camper banquettes and corkboards pinned with maps and photos. Family-friendly activities include bocce, board games and hula hooping. s. Three mineral pools are fed by geothermal hot springs and there are DIY mud baths in the mud bar. 
  • Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort This is a classic, but it’s pretty run down and the springs themselves are indoors. Not recommended. 
  • ***Indian Springs is seriously the best, with a huge hot spring-fed pool, maintained at a perfect temperature year round. While the facilities are larger and much fancier than years past, it still has a fun vintage energy and makes for a great weekend getaway. 
  • Roman Spa: We walked by and it’s a little dumpy. Fine in a pinch but not a first choice.
  • **Brannan Cottage Inn: http://www.brannancottageinn.com/. Beautifully restored, great location, quite comfortable. Only downside is the lack of the pool (pair with a day pass to Indian Springs). Really nice management and civilized experience.

Napa

Dining

  • ***Bistro Don Giovanni Authentic Italian fare in a setting that spectacularly shows off the valley (a favorite).

Rutherford

Dining

  • *Auberge (the bar): expensive and okay. Menu a little boring. Crowd very flashy. Pass, or just come for cocktails and the view.
  • **Rutherford Grill: Where the local chefs hang out. Good meat. Fun late night.

St. Helena

Dining and Activities

  • **Archetype: Very “designed” experience, but the service and food were excellent. A little pricy. [closed]
  • ***Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park: take a break from the wine and take a hike! I love this place, some nice trails and the functioning water-powered grist mill is super interesting (and has staff that describe it passionately). It was built in 1846 is one of only two water-driven mills remaining west of the Mississippi River. Mill Tour: Sat-Sun, 10-4.
  • Bothe Campground: Skip this as a lodging option, perfect for day hike but the camping sites are too close to the road, really noisy.
  • **Press: very nice, seafood oriented. Fancy and expensive, but worth it.

Where to Taste

All Napa wineries have tasting fees, most starting at $10 or $15 for a basic lineup. Some wineries offer reserve tastings for an additional fee, plus tours and/or food-and-wine pairings for a premium; Napa being Napa, fees are on the high side. Consider concentrating on just a few wineries in a day. Highway 128 has more of the “premium” destinations. Silverado Trail is greener, prettier. These are not long distances, about 30 minutes up either side of the valley, so consider doing it on a bicycle.

Highway 128

  • **Beringer Vineyards (St. Helena) The oldest continually operating winery in the valley, and a St. Helena landmark, Beringer offers a whole menu of tours; its Rhine House and wine caves are synonymous with Napa history. A big production but worth it. Some very high end wines.
  • **Castillo do Amerosa (Calistoga): Epic cheesiness. Probably a lot of fun for a corporate event. Would not recommend for tastings. Architecturally impressive and very crass.
  • **Grgich Hills Estate (Rutherford). Organic wine. Not my favorite setting for tastings but the wine is very good. From an influence perspective on the valley, super important.
  • *Franciscan (St. Helena, CA). Pass on the one. High quality mid level wine – the kind of stuff you can’t drink for 10 years and will never be very interesting. $25 tasting. (I think the winery exists but they don’t have a tasting room now.)
  • **Hall (St. Helena) – new and very fancy. $30 tasting, big art collection, quite modern. Could be lame, but our experience was excellent, wonderful staff with lots of stories to tell. (Our server – Ryan Williams, “Wine Educator”, rwilliams@hallwines.com)
  • **Petrified Forest: for a break from the wine, this is a nice stop on the road, vaguely interesting. Takes about 20 minutes. **Old Faithful Geyser is also fun to experience.
  • **St. Clement (St. Helena). Established in 1870s, old Victorian on the hill. Really lovely spot. Very brisk whites, low cost, summer wine. High end expensive reds. $20-30/ tasting. (appears sold to Faust).

Silverado Trail

  • *Clos Pegase (Calistoga) The striking “temple to wine and art,” designed by architect Michael Graves, houses an art collection. It’s very 1990s style, wine is okay, but not great.
  • **Miner Family Vineyards (Oakville) Panoramic views from the terraces, as well as extensive caves, which you can make an appointment to tour. A wide range of top-notch wines is crafted here, from Viognier to a lovely dry rose and cabernet. (one of our favorites)
  • *Palioletti Estates Vineyard (Calistoga). A little odd, we waited 30 minutes and gave up. $15 tasting and tour.
  • ***Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (Yountville). Beautiful setting, great wine. Don’t miss it.
  • **Quintessa (Rutherford) There’s only one wine here, and it’s expensive but worth an appointment for a sit-down wine-and-cheese tasting and a tour of the stone-and-concrete gravity-flow winery. 

Middletown

  • **Langtry vineyards (near Middletown): nice setting, affordable average wine, worth it for the drive there.

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