We always try to make the most of our three day vacations. This past Labor Day Weekend was no exception. Initially, we were planning on visiting New York. However, we decided a weekend escape to Napa was more the relaxing pace we needed.
Tips and Tricks
*Buy the Priority Wine Pass if you’re not set on visiting any specific vineyards. It’s good for one year at a variety of locations (Napa, Sonoma, Temecula, etc). The pass allows you to get a variety of discounts on tastings and bottles (ie 2 for 1 tastings, 50% off tastings, 15% off bottles). It doesn’t include all tasting rooms and vineyards. However, I found my favorite tasting room by far through the Priority Wine Pass (more on this later).
*Fly into OAK. It’s about an hour drive to Napa and you can avoid driving through the city. OAK also tends to have less delays because it doesn’t have the fog SFO does.
*Book tastings ahead of time (especially if it’s a long weekend)
*Get a driver. We saw a couple people get pulled over and cops are especially prevalent coming back from Calistoga and St. Helena. DUI’s are NOT worth it!
Flying into OAK
Our flight into Oakland from John Wayne was flawless. No delays and it was only about 45 minutes of flight time. Once we landed, we picked up our rental car from Avis and began the drive to Napa. Poor planning on our end led to us landing right in the middle of rush hour traffic on a holiday weekend. We ended up stopping on the way for a bite at Stay Gold Deli which was a pleasant surprise. Huge portions, classic deli sandwiches, and of course I had to get my favorite: white truffle mac and cheese.
Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Napa
After fighting our way through traffic, we finally arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn Napa. Again, our somewhat spontaneous trip left us with very few hotel options. I was a little nervous after reading the reviews beforehand. However, upon walking into the hotel, I was pleasantly surprised. Everything smelled brand new and looked immaculate. We came to find out the hotel was recently remodeled in January 2018. A complimentary room upgrade from the very kind staff and we were on our way to an amazing vacation. While it was nice to have the extra sitting room and jacuzzi bathtubs, I wouldn’t pay extra to upgrade a standard room. Especially since we don’t tend to spend much time in our hotel rooms to begin with. We did have breakfast one day at the hotel. It’s $13.95 for a “breakfast buffet.” It was extremely convenient, but I wouldn’t recommend this option if you have a choice. There are so many other amazing options in the area for a similar price. Sometimes ya girl just gets a little lazy.
I’ve heard Yountville described as the “Hollywood of Napa” on multiple occasions and it definitely fit the name. Although not as much hustle and bustle as it’s namesake, Yountville had the perfect mix of vineyards, tasting rooms, and restaurants. The best part: everything is walkable! We parked our car in the main part of town and walked to all of our stops the rest of the day. Our first stop was Bouchon Bakery, a sister restaurant to Thomas Keller’s famous French Laundry. It was crowded but perfect for a quick bite to start the day. I highly recommend the blueberry muffin and macarons (yes I have a child’s palette and extreme love of sweets).
Next, we visited Domaine Chandon. It wasn’t part of the Wine Passport but, it’s one of my favorite sparkling wines. The gift shop has more trinkets than you could ever ask for, and the grounds are just beautiful! We opted for a bottle of Rosé as opposed to a tasting. We ended up sitting outside next to a group of people from our hometown! Bubbles, nature, and friendly patrons…what more could you ask for?
Our next stop was Addendum for lunch, another Thomas Keller masterpiece. Addendum reminded me of a casual backyard family BBQ. All seating is outside on communal wooden picnic tables. Although there are a few meat options, Addendum is famous for it’s fried chicken and now I understand why. Juicy chicken, the perfect amount of fried outside, and a little sea salt and rosemary topping was absolute perfection! Just be sure to get there early because they close every day at 2 PM and are only open Thursday through Sunday. Pro Tip: you can order ahead online! It takes the chicken about 30 minutes so be sure to place your order by 1:30 PM latest!
With our tummy’s full of the world’s best fried chicken, we were ready for some more wine tasting. Next up, my personal favorite of the trip, Hill Family Estate. Hill Family Estate is a tasting room (no vineyard attached). Sometimes wine tasting can get a little snobby. Hill wasn’t anything like that. It was a down to earth, family owned tasting room. We were given time to truly enjoy each tasting and explore all the trinkets in the room. Each one came with a full family story including how their $12,000 guitar was secured! The wine itself was phenomenal and probably my favorite of the entire trip. Best of all, I discovered Hill Family Estate via Wine Passport so we received 2 for 1 tastings!
Our final tasting room was Jessup Cellars, also part of the Wine Passport. Jessup had also been recommended to me by a friend. The ambiance is beautiful and I understand why people like it, but I have to admit, it wasn’t my favorite quality of wine or “vibe.” We opted for the Art Gallery Tasting, again 2 for 1 . When we walked in, we were seated in their art gallery which had much welcomed AC and cheese plates already set out for each person. We were given tastings of seven different wines and I really wasn’t impressed by any of them. My favorite was probably a 2009 Red which still didn’t compare to the wines we tasted at Hill. Our service was also a little off as well. The server seemed either slightly aloof or like he just didn’t want to be there. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was just having an off day. Jessup wasn’t terrible, but I’m also not itching to go back.
Jessup concluded our day of wine tasting. We went back to the Hilton to take a much needed nap after all that wine. Fortunately, we planned ahead enough to have a late dinner reservation at Michelin Rated Bistro Jeanty. This was by far my favorite meal of the trip. I felt like I was transported to a bistro in France. The ambiance was beautiful and food was out of this world with flavor. I opted for the tomato soup (with a puff pastry on top) and the steak frites. The tomato soup is a must try while the steak frites I could take or leave. I tried a bite of the short rib as well and that dish was to die for! Pro Tip: serving sizes are HUGE! You can definitely split plates here. After we finished our meal, we were ready for a nice long slumber.
When you think of Napa and vineyards, St. Helena and Calistoga are what come to mind. Picturesque vineyards over rolling hills, hill top views of sunsets, and amazing wine. Our first stop was some classic BBQ in Calistoga. I was shocked to see Buster’s didn’t have higher ratings. In my opinion it’s all you could ask of a BBQ joint. Classic meats (we opted for pulled pork, ribs, and tri tip), so many sauce varieties (we opted for medium with hot on the side), and outdoor seating. We sat up on a hill where there was a breeze and a live band. I’m already itching to go back!
After our very filling meal we attempted to go to V. Sattui. Looking back, we should have made reservations, but it skipped our mind. We decided it wasn’t worth it to fight the crowds there since we were in the mood for something more peaceful. That meant moving up our reservation for the Rutherford Hill Summer Sunset and making a quick stop at Dean and DeLuca.
Dean and DeLuca is like a slice of heaven on earth! Every kind of cheese, wine, and salami you could possibly think of. We put together a small picnic to take to Rutherford complete with fresh baguettes and tasty chocolates.
Our drive to Rutherford Hill Winery was beautiful! It’s on the opposite side as V. Sattui which gave us a chance to take in the picturesque vineyards. The Summer Sunset Picnic that Rutherford hosts requires you to buy a bottle of wine, but lets you bring in your own food. You can also choose from a cabana or picnic tables. The picnic tables have a better view of the vineyards. However, keeping with our “mellow vibe” trip we opted for the cabanas. It was the perfect way to end our last day of wine tasting: great wine, tasty eats, and beautiful views. Pro Tip: Rutherford Hill is also dog and kid friendly which is a plus for families.
OxBow Public Market
By Monday, our final day of Labor Day Weekend, we were all wine tasted out. We decided to visit OxBow Public Market before our flight home. It was the perfect place to sample all kinds of food. Pretty sure we ordered something from every vendor: a whole rotisserie chicken, oysters, ahi tuna, ice cream, etc. You’ll find every kind of food imaginable and it’s also a great place to find souvenirs. We buy a shot glass from every new city we visit and Napa was no exception. A couple of my other favorites included an olive oil shop (that will ship home for free over $30, which is perfect because we always carry-on luggage) and a spice store that had all kinds of loose spices.
All in all Napa is a perfect little getaway for those of you close to or in California. Picturesque views, serene ambiance, great wine, and friendly people was exactly what we needed for a weekend of rest and relaxation. I thoroughly look forward to our next trip. Although, next time, I’d love to stay and see more of Calistoga and St. Helena area.
And so much more…
There were so many places I didn’t get the chance to see. Below are a few of my favorite recommendations we didn’t quite get to. Feel free to email or DM if you want a more extensive list!
- French Laundry (just to say you did it, I’ve been told by everyone it’s overrated)
- Domaine Carneros
- V. Sattui
- Opus One
- Far Niente
- Hot air balloon ride over the vineyards
- Aerial Tram at Sterling Vineyards
People who wonder if the glass is half empty or half full miss the point. The glass is refillable.