Robert Louis Stevenson totally was on to something.
Way back when, in the 1880s, the author came to California’s Wine Country to repair ailing health by taking in the clear air and soaking in pools filled with water from natural springs.
Today, though most accommodations have changed considerably, crisp air and mineral pools—along with epic restaurants and great wineries—still make this part of the world restorative and rejuvenating. Even when you visit with a newborn.
My wife and I live on the Sonoma side of Wine Country year-round, so we understand and appreciate the magical qualities that the region has to offer. But on a recent weekend getaway with our newborn baby girl to the Napa Valley side of the area, we turned off our phones, slowed down our engines, and decided to give “staycation” a new and much-needed whirl.
Pools of joy
We stayed in one of the renovated cottages—Cottage No. 8, to be exact. When the structure was built in the 1930s, it was a one-bedroom/one-bathroom with a kitchen. Today, the cottage still has the main bedroom (with a queen-sized bed), the bathroom, and a sitting room. But as part of the upgrade, the kitchen was converted into a second bedroom with bunk beds.
This room was the baby’s room. The bunks, from Restoration Hardware, were a great design: queen on bottom, twin on top. As part of the rehab, the resort also covered one of the windows with a chalkboard on which (bigger) kids could draw. (The resort also left every room with chalk.)
Over the course of the weekend, my wife and I took turns swimming in the Main mineral pool—an Olympic-sized job that’s fed by a natural spring and has water that always is somewhere between 92 and 102 degrees (it actually comes out of the ground much hotter than that). I preferred to go at night after the two girls went to sleep. Lounging on some of the house-provided pool floats, I could have looked up at the stars for hours (and on one night actually did).
My wife also enjoyed a massage in the on-site spa, deeming it one of the best she’s ever had. Though I did not partake, I’ve heard similar reviews from other friends.
To say we ate well on our weekend staycation would be the understatement of the year.
We ate more than half of our meals on-property at Sam’s Social Club, a restaurant that was part of the expansion (the resort didn’t have its own restaurant until Sam’s opened in 2015). Brunch was my personal favorite, with a plate of avocado toast I could eat every day for a year. In the afternoons, I enjoyed beer from the resort’s on-site beer program. The brewmaster, a young guy named Kyle Hipp, isn’t classically trained, but is making beer that’s just as good as the stuff you might find at more renowned breweries around the Bay Area.
We also splurged. Right around the time we visited, chefs Douglas Keane and Sang Yoon opened Two Birds/One Stone, a new restaurant in the old Freemark Abbey winery in St. Helena. I like to think of this restaurant like a high-end yakitori joint—Asian influences shine through on the menu in dishes such as silken tofu with chilled shitake broth and deviled Jidori eggs with gribenes, shichimi togarashi, and wasabi. We also loved the Wagyu short rib with scallions and Korean BBQ sauce. And the Asian-inspired cocktails.
One of our favorite things about TBOS (as locals call it) is that there’s no corkage fee, which means you can bring your own bottle of wine and have servers open it for you with no additional charge.
You better believe the two of us took advantage of that.
Of course no trip to the Napa side of Wine Country would have been complete without English muffins from the Model Bakery, and we made a run for those one morning, too. Soft, buttery, and chewy—the muffins always elicit one of those, “This tastes amazing” eye-rolls that so many travel/food bloggers stick in to their videos. We bought a half-dozen on our last morning; they were gone before dinner.
Viewfinder Tip: Arrive at Model Bakery before 10 a.m. if you want the world-famous English Muffins; the place sells out every single day.
Fittingly, we ended our Wine Country wind-down weekend by celebrating the author who inspired it: Stevenson himself. Our destination was the 8-mile, round-trip trail to the summit of Napa County’s highest point, Mount St. Helena, which comprises the bulk of Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.
We set out from a parking lot at the top of Highway 29 up a well-marked switchback trail through alternating pockets of manzanita and pine. About a mile in, we reached a stone and marble memorial to Stevenson erected in 1911 by the “Club Women of Napa County.” The memorial is in the shape of a pedestal topped by an open book. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
From there the climb to the top of the mountain was laborious—especially for me with a baby in our child-carrying backpack. Thankfully, the top was well worth the effort.
We left so early in the morning that we summited before the daily fog burn-off. This meant that from the top, we were looking down on a sea of pillowy white, pierced only by smaller mountaintops poking through like green islands. It was unlike anything in Wine Country we’d ever seen.
Standing there, watching the clouds dissipate to reveal the Napa Valley below, we couldn’t help but smile. No wonder Stevenson credited Wine Country with prolonging his life. How could it not?
Where do you like to spend weekends away from home and why?