Explore the Unexpected Travel Guide: Napa Valley

Known for its charming small towns, extraordinary farm-to-table cuisine, and, of course, its world-class wines, Napa Valley is an ideal escape for anyone seeking picturesque countryside and stunning year-round blue skies. At only 35 miles in length, it’s one of the smallest, yet most diverse, wine growing regions in the world.

Located two hours northeast of San Francisco, Napa Valley is a scenic stretch of rolling hills and grapevines that is home to more than 400 wineries and 150 restaurants that boast more Michelin stars per capita than any other wine region in the world. Whether you choose to stay in a historic country inn or a sophisticated modern resort, Napa’s warm hospitality is ever-present. 

In 1981, Napa Valley was designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA), the first in California, for its distinctive grape-growing conditions and myriad styles of wine. However, don’t let Napa Valley’s classic reputation fool you. From contemporary restaurants and spas to a burgeoning brewing scene, there are many modern and exciting reasons to visit the region. 

Here are MarQuee Magazine’s top picks for your next trip to Napa Valley: 

Hop from Town to Town

Napa Valley is home to five towns, each distinctive for its personality and merits – Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville, the city of Napa, and American Canyon. Take, for example, Yountville, and its friendly, small-town atmosphere. Book a historical walking tour of downtown Yountville’s boutiques and galleries or visit Yountville’s Art Walk, which includes 29 unique sculptures, many available for purchase. In Calistoga, known for its hot springs, visit Calistoga Ranch, a resort with 50 freestanding guest lodges, ranging from 600 to 2,400 square feet. Among the many experiences you can enjoy, Calistoga Ranch offers a new sensory “Cheers & Namaste” experience led by yoga, wine, and wellness experts Ulrika Engman and Deanna Heon. Unwind while instructors lead you through yoga poses while you sip local wine. Cheers! 

Napa Riverfront, Napa Valley, California

Discover The Many Wineries

Napa Valley has 16 distinct grape growing regions, called appellations, each with its unique characteristics of grape-growing conditions, including their microclimate and soil. Of Napa Valley’s more than 400 wineries, 95 percent are family-owned. Hess Family Wine Estates, one of the world’s premier family-owned and family-led wine companies, dates back to the 1970s when Donald Hess became fascinated with the volcanic slopes and ideal climate of Mount Veeder, itself an American Viticultural Area. Today, Hess Family Wine Estates produces some of the region’s most acclaimed wines. 

Take your Napa Valley wine experience beyond the classic tasting rooms and try something truly unique. For example, enjoy a hands-on wine experience by taking a barrel blending class, or stomp grapes during harvest season. If you’re even more adventurous, take your wine tasting underground in one of the region’s wine caves. Traditionally used for barrel storage, it now offers some of the most contemporary food and drink experiences in the area. You can also explore Napa Valley by train aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. Part museum, part fine dining, the Napa Valley Wine Train’s mahogany paneling, and etched glass partitions offer a luxurious way to travel from winery to winery while taking in the unforgettable view.

Farmers Markets
Shopping at Oxbow Public Market Napa Valley
Fall Vineyards
Calistoga Wellness

Drink Napa Valley Wine, Obviously!
Napa Valley has 16 distinct grape growing regions, called appellations, each with its own unique characteristics of grape-growing conditions, including their own microclimate and soil. Of Napa Valley’s more than 400 wineries, 95 per cent are family owned. Hess Family Wine Estates, one of the world’s premier family-owned and family-led wine companies, dates back to the 1970’s when Donald Hess became fascinated with the volcanic slopes and ideal climate of Mount Veeder, itself an American Viticultural Area. Today, Hess Family Wine Estates produces some of the region’s most acclaimed wines.

Take your Napa Valley wine experience beyond the classic tasting rooms and try something truly unique. For example, enjoy a hands-on wine experience by taking a barrel blending class, or stomp grapes during harvest season. If you’re even more adventurous, take your wine tasting underground in one of the region’s wine caves, which are traditionally used for barrel storage, but now offer some of the most contemporary food and drink experiences in the region. You can also explore Napa Valley by train aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. Part museum, part fine dining, the Napa Valley Wine Train’s mahogany paneling and etched glass partitions offer a luxurious way to travel from winery to winery while taking in the unforgettable view.

ATV Wine Tours
Fall Vineyard Row
Hess collection winery cellar

Visit During Cabernet Season
If you’re a fan of the bold taste of Cabernet Sauvignon, visit Napa Valley between November and April when the temperature dips slightly and wine lovers flock to the region for Cabernet season. It’s the perfect time for a cozy getaway and robust food pairings: A glass of Cab Sauv is perfectly paired with red meat or aged cheeses. Regional events during Cabernet season include the Napa Valley Film Festival (November) and the Napa Truffle Festival (January).

Wine blending workshops
Napa Valley Wine Train

Eat Unparalleled Cuisine
Michelin-Star restaurants, world-famous chefs, and unparalleled cuisine are just a few reasons to visit Napa Valley. Most recently, renowned Barbeque Chef and Pit Master, Adam Perry Lang, opened Perry Lang’s in the historic Groezinger Estate House at The Estate Yountville. If barbeque isn’t your style, Hal Yamashita Napa, a new Japanese restaurant, opened on Main Street in downtown Napa in November. The dynamic new restaurant features the culinary creations of Master Chef Hal, a member of Iron Chef All Stars in Japan.

Go back in time and explore Napa’s rich agricultural history with an olive oil tasting. The region’s Mediterranean-like climate is perfect for olive oil producers. Just like wines, olive oils have a wide variety of tastes and aromas, from fruity and aromatic to buttery and peppery.

A trip to Napa is never complete without a visit to the Oxbow Public Market — the community gathering place to enjoy local food and wine. Visit local merchants and artisanal cafés before grabbing a seat along the Napa River. Across the street from the market, you’ll find WALT Napa Oxbow, a new tasting room in the heart of Napa. Opened in June 2019, it offers its signature 1,000 Miles of Pinot event featuring a tasting of releases from vineyards along the coast.

Oxbow Public Market
Napa Valley Chef Preparing Food
Newton Winery Garden

Soak Up Napa Valley’s Natural Beauty
If you’re craving a bird’s eye view of Napa Valley, you have a number of options. Soar above the region’s rolling hills in a hot air balloon, or take a glimpse of the countryside on a hike of Napa Valley’s rugged mountain ranges. If you prefer to stay closer to the ground, take a boat ride on Lake Berryessa, a 45-minute drive from Rutherford, or ride a horse in Coombsville, Napa Valley’s newest AVA. The Napa Valley Vine Trail will one day be a 47-mile walking and biking trail system connecting the entire Napa Valley region from Vallejo to Calistoga. Currently, you can enjoy the completed 12.5-mile trail from Kennedy Park to Yountville. You can also hit the links as you soak up the scenery at Napa Valley’s five public golf courses.

Napa Valley Hot Air Balloon

Enjoy Napa’s Burgeoning Brewing Culture 
With the number of craft and nano-breweries growing in the region, Napa Valley offers beer lovers a chance to appreciate a cold brew under the California sun. Downtown Napa is home to several breweries within a half-mile stretch, including Stone Brewing, one of the largest craft breweries in the United States. It recently opened in a 19th Century historic building with an onsite 10-barrel brewing system, and a stunning view of the Napa River. Another recent addition to Napa’s craft beer scene is La Cheve Bakery and Brews. Located in Napa’s oldest building, the Old Adobe, it serves local craft beer alongside Mexican-style breads, traditional pastries, and breakfast bites.

Clearly Napa Valley has more to offer that scenic wine tours. It is home to innovative culinary experiences, craft breweries, a multitude of ways to tour the region, and exciting art displays and festivals. The region continues to grow into a vibrant, dynamic, and modern space, while maintaining its classic charm. And, there are no signs that Napa Valley, and its wine and beer producers, have any intent on slowing down.

Beer Tasting Napa Valley
Earthquake tank at Hess Collection Winery

Photo(s) courtesy of Visit Napa Valley by Bob McClenahan, Josiah Roe, David H. Collier and Hess Collection Winery