It’s no secret that Napa is a popular destination for romantic weekends. The region has some of the best fine-dining restaurants in the world, idyllic landscapes, charming inns outfitted with heart-shaped tubs, and, of course wine. But for a guy like me, who often travels solo or with friends, the romantic Wine Country experience isn’t what I want. Instead, I seek experiences that appeal to my sense of adventure as a guy. So on my most recent visit to Napa, I made it my mission to have a mancation, Napa style.
I’d be remiss to talk about Napa and not talk about wine. With more than 400 wineries, Napa is home to all sorts of wine tasting experiences. The first stop on my recent trip was at Castello di Amorosa near Calistoga. This place is a winery in a castle. Literally. The owner studied castles from Europe and imported stones from there to build the winery to resemble them. Because who doesn’t want to drink wine in a dungeon?
A couple miles down the road from Castello di Amorosa is Ehler’s Estate, which has a much more localized history, as its land has been producing wine grapes since the mid-1800s. I found myself enjoying most of their wines, but I loved their flagship, the “1886” Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is named for the 1886 building that the winery is housed in. On a warm afternoon, enjoy a bottle of their wine while taking in a game of bocce ball on their outdoor court.
Outdoor enthusiasts probably already are familiar with the family behind Velo Vino–the Clif Family Winery. Yes, that Clif, as in Clif Bar, the company that brings to the world energy gels and power bars. Their tasting room, in St. Helena, offers multiple tastings and experiences, many of which are adventure-themed. My favorite: The Le Maillot Jaune (The Yellow Jersey) tasting, which pairs wines with a sampling of Clif Bar nut mixes, olive oil, dukkah, and chocolates. The winery also organizes Napa Valley bike excursions. One of these, coupled with a hike in nearby Robert Louis Stevenson State Park (take the 5-miler to the summit of Mount Saint Helena) will make you a feel little bit better about all that eating and drinking in Napa.
If beer is your thing, Napa has that too. Northern California Wine Country actually is home to numerous breweries, including Napa Smith, which has been brewing beer for several years, and is the latest offering from the man behind New Albion Brewing Company and Mendocino Brewing Company. Napa Smith makes a long list of beers, including a pale ale, pilsner, amber, ginger wheat, and red ale. The brewery also makes one beer that uses late harvest semillon grapes, so you can have your wine and drink it too.
My first stop in Napa is always at Model Bakery, which has locations in St. Helena and Napa (at Oxbow Public Market). This place’s English muffins are the best English muffins I’ve had on this side of the pond, in part because they are a twist on the traditional recipe: Model’s are more more like brioches, comparable to beignets only without the powdered sugar. Get there early in the day to grab a breakfast sandwich or pick up a few English muffins to nibble on throughout the day. Later, stop at Gott’s Roadside, which also has locations in St. Helena and at the Oxbow. Sweet potato fries, check. Burgers, check. Milkshakes, check. This is a roadside diner at its finest.
You literally could spend an entire day at downtown Napa’s Oxbow Market. Food vendors sell everything from tacos to oysters to cupcakes to pasta to pizza, and more. While many of these are found in public market stalls, there also are a couple sit-down restaurants, including Hog Island Oyster Bar and Ca’Momi Enoteca, which comes recommended by the Michelin Guide.
For dinner, head to St. Helena and check out PRESS, which has a little bit of something for everyone, including vintage wines and handcrafted cocktails. More amazingly, the restaurant serves a foot-long Wagyu hot dog, and sports a bacon bar? I recommend the bacon sampler, which includes everything from a “light” bacon to dessert bacon. After dinner, for a nightcap, head north on Highway 29 and hit the basement bar at Goose & Gander. All five senses come into play for their expertly created cocktail menu.
Viewfinder Tip: Stay in downtown Napa so you can walk home from dinner and/or a night of sampling local beverages.
Napa is a long valley–30 miles from bottom to top–so where you stay largely depends on where you’d like to set up a home base. Golfers may consider Silverado Resort, which is the largest resort in Napa, and home to one of California’s best golf courses. I prefer staying in one of downtown Napa’s hotels, like the Andaz, The Westin Verasa, or the Napa River Inn. My most recent stay was at the Verasa, which has a lodge feel to it, and features a heated pool, spa, and La Toque, a Michelin-starred restaurant (though more on the romantic side). I like staying in downtown Napa since it’s within walking distance of many restaurants and bars, such as such as Morimoto, Bounty Hunter, and Oenotri. I also like it because after a night of drinking and eating, I don’t have to worry about getting a taxi to get me home safely.
Aside from tasting wine, what’s your favorite thing to do in Wine Country?