My friends in the Northeast constantly ask if I miss “experiencing seasons.” My response is always that I enjoy living in the perfect temperature all year and being able to drive from the beach to the vineyard to the mountains all in the same day. San Francisco has its flaws (rent prices, for example), but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Napa is a worldwide wine destination and happens to be one of my favorite day trips. Early spring is the perfect time to visit, especially if you want to see the vineyards filled with bright yellow flowers. So I’m highlighting a few of my favorite places to eat and drink.
Oxbow Public Market: I love wandering around the Oxbow Market in the morning. It’s full of life and the perfect spot for people watching. Generally, I’ll go to C CASA for a breakfast taco or Model Bakery for one of their famous English muffins. I mean, I don’t even like English muffins but am obsessed with theirs. There’s a Ritual Coffee as well, which is the perfect area to people watch in. If you miss the market in the morning, be sure to stop by Hog Island for a dozen oysters on the half-shell during happy hour.
Dean and Deluca: This place is foodie heaven. They’ve got everything you need for a picnic or for something to bring home after a long day of wine tasting. Whether you’re in the mood for some fancy cheese or a freshly-made sandwich, they’ve got you covered—with all sorts of cool spirits, wines, rubs, olive oils, and fresh produce.
“I went to Dean & Deluca. Man, they charge, like, five dollars a strawberry there. But I figure since you quit your job… we should celebrate.” ~ Nate in The Devil Wears Prada
Gott’s Roadside (St. Helena): By far my favorite veggie burger in the entire Bay Area. Oh, and the poke tuna tacos are out of this world. The atmosphere is perfect, with lots of green grass and picnic tables to enjoy your lunch. It’s the ideal place to enjoy a sunny afternoon and refuel after a morning of tastings. Also, I’m pretty sure they have the best milkshakes I’ve ever tasted.
Tip: Order online, set a pickup time, and skip the line that wraps around the building.
The Bakery Cafe by illy (at the Culinary Institute of America): This place is the best-kept secret in Napa in my humble opinion. The Culinary Institute has a very swanky (and expensive) reservations-only restaurant, but I always go to this quick student-run cafe for approachable prices and quality food. It’s centrally located in the school (which looks more like a castle) and always has a fantastic menu. I’m obsessed with the desserts and have to convince myself not to order 45,678 things on the menu.
Tip: Try not to buy everything in the gift shop. Though I do love my $25 reusable shopping tote; it was definitely an impulse buy. There’s just so many cool cooking gadgets!
Bouchon Bakery: Have you heard of famed French Laundry chef Thomas Keller? He’s the mastermind behind Bouchon Bakery. They’ve got the most incredible sweets in the Napa area, and it’s totally worth a visit to say you’ve eaten something created by Thomas Keller. The upscale cafe is next door and highly recommended as well. Last time we went, I devoured their salted caramel macarons at a little bistro table outside in the sunshine and brought some of the foie-gras dog treats home for the pups.
Schramsberg: Hands down my favorite place to taste, but I’m a little biased because I used to work on their PR (and adore the family). When you walk in, you’ll immediately notice pictures of the presidents (even Obama) and royalty (including Princess Diana) that used their bubbles for official events. Next you’ll be guided through caves from the late 1800s with thousands of bottles lining the walls. All while enjoying some of the most incredible sparkling wine in the world. I’m a huge fan of the J. Schram and J. Schram Rosé, which have beat the most prestigious French Champagnes in blind taste tests. If you only visit one winery, this is the one. This tour/tasting is $50 per person, and you’ll need reservations well in advance.
Domaine Chandon: I’m usually a big fan of the smaller wineries but an absolute sucker for a good glass of bubbly and a gorgeous view. This place has both, and it’s perfect if you’re just looking for a relaxing atmosphere to sip bubbly and catch up with friends. Domaine Chandon is the California property of legendary Moët & Chandon, so you can expect quality and class. It was the first French-established winery in the U.S., and they have various tour packages and educational wine flights. I adore their Étoile Rosé and appreciate that you’re able to order by the glass or by the flight without a reservation for a tour/tasting.
Cuvaison: Lover of Pinot Noir? This is by far my favorite producer. Their wines are balanced and complex, and they are sustainable and organic. I cannot think of a better expression of Napa. Not to mention they have a gorgeous glass tasting room with sweeping vineyard views and down-to-earth staff. Their tastings run around $25, which is well worth it.
ZD: This gem is a small family-owned winery hidden on the Silverado Trail. The deLeuze family is known for producing exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon. ZD has recently opened an upstairs tasting room with a deck, and the views are incredible.
VGS Chateau Potelle: VGS stands for very good shit. It’s a tiny tasting room, but the wines are incredible. Plus, there’s hot-air balloons all over and the food pairings are divine. Be sure to book a reservation ahead of time though! $60/person.
Goose and Gander: Yes, it’s wine country. But if you’re in the mood for a creative cocktail, look no further! I order the Coastal Pimm’s Cup (but with Sipsmith Gin, because it’s the best). They’ve also got an extensive wine list as well as yummy bites.
Hope these suggestions were helpful to you. Would love to hear about your favorite ways to spend the day in Napa, so leave a comment.