My humble (amazing) suggestions:
1. Napa Valley Bike Tour: Why hire a driver when you can pedal through vineyards and burn calories from last night’s dinner while touring three or four small, family owned wineries? My favorite vacations are those which involve more than laying on a beach consuming thousands of calories worth of dairy and rum based cocktails all day. Why not ride a bike, burn some calories, and then consume delicious wine. A bike tour is also great because you won’t allow yourself to drink as much (bike crashes are embarrassing and painful) and which would you prefer…get drunk, go to your room, pass out, wake up and eat room service at 11pm OR enjoy a little bicycle buzz, take a long soak in the tub, get super cute in your fall attire, eat an amazing meal at a charming restaurant across the street from the hotel, drink amazing wine, eat dessert, drink another bottle of great wine and then walk to Pancha’s for a nightcap? Any argument here? Didn’t think so. Next.
2. Pancha’s: What’s the best way add a little balance to a town that could be named Pleasantville with it’s perfect lawns, perfect restaurants, perfect cars, perfect people, and perfect visitors? Panchas. Just a couple doors past the restaurant which was twice named the “Best Restaurant in the World” is a nasty, windowless gem which could easily pass as a shed. Inside you’ll find nothing more than an old pool table, a couple of ripped up couches that have been around since the glory days of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and an odd mixture of wealthy vacationers and the town’s scum. Don’t forget your cash and for those smokers, a pack of cigs if you want to remember what it’s like to smoke inside a public place and for the non, do forget your cashmere sweater. The biker man bouncer (Harley not Huffy) claims he has thrown out more people stumbling in after their $600 (per person) meal at the French Laundry than anywhere else. It’s a must see and a landmark of filth and fun in this town of pretty perfection.
3. Day trip up north: Chances are if you are in Napa you’ve got a rental car so take full advantage of this beautiful part of the country by taking a road trip north to the redwoods and over to the coast.
a. 29 North through St. Helena and Calistoga
*Stop at Beringer Estate for beautiful pictures of the grounds and gardens (free if you say you are going to the gift shops)
b. Continue on to the funky river town Guerneville and stop at Armstrong National Park to see all the beauty of the Redwoods.
c. Head to the Coast Highway (1/PCH) and drive along the Pacific then head to Bodega Bay
*Stop at the church which is in the unforgettable scene from Hitchcock’s, The Birds
d. Continue to Bodega Marina and head to Bodega Head where you will stand on cliffs overlooking the beautiful ocean and it’s large waves
*Stop at Spud Point Chowder Company and have lunch on picnic tables outside the tiny restaurant overlooking the marina
**Three words-Salt Water Taffy-essential for the ride back
e. Head towards Sonoma and end the day with a sparkling wine tasting at the beautiful Domaine Carneros winery in Napa-Cheers to an unforgettable day in Northern California!
f. If you are up to it, backtrack 15 minutes (worth it) and head to Sonoma Plaza to enjoy a glass of wine at the Ledson Hotel (only six rooms and gorgeous lobby) and then eat at one of the many restaurants in the square, The Girl and the Fig is a favorite.
4. Wine Time: Helloooo, this is why you would be vacationing in wine country! There are over 700 wineries in Napa ALONE. To tell you where you should go would be impossible as we all have different ideas of what makes a good tasting experience so the only thing I can say is do you research. If you like the big names that most of us recognize like Sterling and Robert Mondavi then stick to highway 29 and if you are looking for smaller, family owned wineries where you get a tour from the owner himself and he introduces you to his children then head up the Silverado Trail. The roads run parallel and one is the main road and other is more…off the beaten path. If you like candle lit caves and tasting wine right out of the barrel, head to Del Dotto (Napa) and sip in the dark. If you like beautiful views looking over rolling hills of vineyards go to Artesa Winery. Figure out what you like whether it’s the actual tasting, the beauty of the estate, the view, or sitting outside and listening to music and then research, ask the concierge, and ask locals (they want you to have a great experience in their town)!
5. Relaxation: Give yourself at least one day of relaxation whether at the hotel spa (hot stone massage, yes please) or lounging at the pool. Indulging is exhausting and you need one sunny afternoon to relax sans a map, your boots and camera.
6. Bed, Bath and Beyond: Most hotel rooms serve two purposes; a place to sleep and a place to get ready. My time in wine country has shown me that my favorite hotel rooms are those which feel like I am staying in someone’s guest bedroom. All the rooms have the rustic charm that most hotels lack. These rooms boast candles, pictures (not of people…creepy) in frames on dressers, canopy beds and best of all….fire places. Over the course of this trip, I have made the realization that fires are not only appropriate on a cold, winter’s evening, but are also just PERFECT on a sunny morning in bed while eating my chocolate croissant (OOC-out of control) and drinking my vanilla (bean not syrup…to die) latte from Bouchon Bakery, in the afternoon while I do some work or write in my bed, and of course. in the evenings while I sip on a glass of wine and read in bed. Who knew?! Now this girl does… and just like cake, there is NEVER a wrong time to enjoy a fire.
As September comes to an end so does my time in wine country, but the icing on the cake after three weeks of work?! When work wraps my boyfriend is making his way here and we are going to eat, drink and enjoy the first of many fires that fall and winter will bring. Cheers!