Visitors from around the world travel to Napa Valley for its famous wineries, restaurants and beautiful scenery. The Valley is 30 miles long, only a few miles wide and is home to over 400 tasting rooms. I drove from Los Angeles for an evening and a day just before Memorial Day weekend which is considered the beginning of Napa’s summer season. The vineyards were green with growth, the weather was warm and I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of people we saw. The City of Napa is located at the southern end of Napa Valley and is the beginning of many wine tours. The Napa Valley Wine Train begins just a stones throw away from downtown Napa or you can bring your own driver or hire a car for transportation around the Valley. I had 24 hours to make the best out of what Napa Valley had to offer, so below is what I suggest for a quick, well-rounded Napa Valley experience.
WHERE TO STAY
The Westin Verasa Napa is the epitome of luxury and location. Located in downtown Napa with shopping, wine tasting rooms and Michelin Star eating all within walking distance. The welcoming Craftsman- Style lodge design features a beautiful lobby with wood floors, stone pillars, a large stone fireplace and cozy seating area that opens up to a slate patio with fountain and pool. The modest pool was surrounded by shady cabanas and tall palm trees.
The color scheme reminds you of the beautiful colors found in the Napa valley, shades of brown and green that complement the view. I stayed in a One Bedroom King Suite room that had a balcony overlooking an oval lawn (perfect for a wedding) and the Napa River. The room featured modern wood furnishings, and granite counters in the full kitchen and luxurious bathroom. It felt classic and modern and their heavenly beds are my favorite beds to sleep on.
Other hotels worth looking into include the Auberge Du Soleil with breathtaking views of Napa Valley, and the Bardessono Hotel & Spa.
WHERE TO EAT
The Michelin Star La Toque restaurant is attached to the Westin Verasa and Chef Ken Frank gave me a private tour of the kitchen before he opened the restaurant for dinner. The kitchen is a large show kitchen, allowing diners to see his team at work. I got to see his team create some of the most mouth watering dishes, all made with fresh, local ingredients while presented and paired with the perfect wine to complement the flavors. The menu is Contemporary French and the atmosphere in the restaurant is sophisticated with a casual elegance. I had some Seared Foie Gras that I watched cooked in a savory broth that melted in my mouth. It was so sweet and juicy and cooked to perfection. I also had a beautifully presented desert made with flowers, a new creation by one of Chef Ken’s protégés.
I also went to Goose & Gander in Helena, known for their menu of mixed drinks created by Scott Beattie a famous Mixologist. The restaurant and bar is popular with both locals and tourists and the atmosphere was very cozy and cool- the ceiling above the bar covered in hanging glasses. There the bartenders showed me how to make some of their featured cocktails like the Cucumber Collins and the Bali Spice Old Fashioned. They use fresh ingredients grown behind the restaurant and they put so much thought into their presentation. The large ice cube in the Old Fashioned was cut from a block of ice so that it was perfectly clear, rather than using regular ice cubes. While I was there, I got to sample their menu by Chef Howard Ko. I had their Charcuterie plate, Grilled Spanish Octopus, Steak Tartare, Roasted Quail and their very popular G&G Burger with Foie Gras (which was my favorite). I was in foodie heaven. Chef Howard Ko had an exquisite and creative presentation for each dish, and the flavors were mouthwatering and executed to perfection.
WHAT TO DO
Early in the morning I woke up to call Napa Valley Aloft Balloon Adventures to see if the weather was good for a Hot Air Balloon ride. They said it was and I met with their crew in Yountville. The fog started to roll in so our launch was moved to Pope Valley. After a 30minute drive, we hopped into our hot air balloon. There weren’t many people in the basket so we didn’t feel crowded. Our pilot brought us up and down over the wineries of Pope Valley where the views were stunning. There were some clouds but we saw the sun peek through once and floating along with the other balloons was extremely serene and relaxing. After an hour ride we landed safely in the middle of a Peju Province Winery owned field. Afterwards they brought me back to Yountville for some brunch and mimosas and delicious hot chocolate with our pilot.
In the afternoon I went to the Peju Province Winery in Rutherford to sit down and speak to Ariana Peju. We ate lunch and tried some of the delicious Peju blended wine like the Tess, a fruity blend that is served chilled and Provence, which had a little more spice. Ariana told me about how her parents started the winery in 1982 and was inspired by her father’s life in the Caspian Sea and France. The tasting room itself looks like a fairytale castle with a moat and beautiful garden and it has a large stained glass window inside. We also met with Alan Arnopole who provided some “Vinentertainment” by rapping about the creation of Napa Valley and singing for me in the tasting room. I was given a small behind the scenes tour where I saw the casks of wine being stacked in so they can age. I wished I could have spent more time at this lovely winery while the weather was perfect and the afternoon relaxing.