For a long time, there was one way to do Napa, California. It involved reservations at Napa Culinary King Thomas Keller's remarkable French Laundry and Ad Hoc + Addendum, restaurants that had paved the way for the Northern California region to become the culinary destination it is today and spearheaded the country's farm-to-table movement. It also involved visiting wineries whose bottles are just as recognized by locals in Napa as they are in wine stores nationwide. And while we see nothing particularly wrong with indulging in Keller's artfully prepared Wagyu beef and caviar pierogis (should your budget allow it), nor in dropping Sideways-esque insults about Merlot (although, IMO, the 2004 film unfairly slandered the varietal), we must say we've been glad to see a considerable shift in the last few years, with the region becoming more accommodating to the millennial set, who are interested in more varied experiences than what used to be available.
Now there are new, hip wineries that don't speak down to their young but educated consumers, as well as established spots that are leading the way in terms of Gen Y-valued factors like biodynamics and sustainability; affordable restaurants that put out delicious, unfussy, seasonal food; and boutiques whose lineups include unexpected and cool designers that could rival those found in the city. Ahead, our insider's guide on where to stay, eat, do wine tastings, and shop while in Napa.
Where to Stay
Vista Collina Resort: A brand-new addition to Napa, Vista Collina is a resort that makes it hard to leave the grounds, thanks to its adjacent "Village," a courtyard-like area that comprises nine wine and beer tasting rooms, an artisanal market, a food and wine center offering culinary classes and drink seminars, and a lawn space that will play host to events and live entertainment year-round. The 145-room property itself holds 39 suites with fully equipped kitchens (a rarity in Napa), modern furnishings, and a pool area with cabanas.
North Block Hotel: This stylish boutique hotel, located in trendy Yountville, boasts 20 eclectic rooms encircling a communal courtyard that holds a fireplace, lemon trees, and couches and leads to the pool and hot tub area. Amenities include Chandon sparkling wine upon check-in, breakfast featuring pastries from Keller's Bouchon Bakery (no need to wake up early to stand in line!), and Redd Wood's famous charcuterie and breakfast potatoes, as well as electric bikes to explore the area.
The Meritage Resort and Spa: Conveniently situated close to downtown Napa, this property holds its own hillside vineyard and tasting room, two heated outdoor pools and whirlpools, and a bar with a bowling alley. The onsite dining includes a rustic Italian restaurant and a healthy cafe offering made-to-order smoothies and eggs bowls. As if this weren't enough, The Meritage's Spa is situated in a stunning 22,000-square-foot estate cave and offers services like grape seed facials, heated herbal compress massages, and lavender exfoliating treatments.
Las Alcobas: This stunning St. Helena luxury property, located in a Georgian-style farmhouse, will charm travelers with its neutral color palette, stylish decor with lots of wood detailing, and freestanding tubs (some of which are even located on terraces overlooking the vineyards!). Guests also get to enjoy the pool, fitness studio with yoga, barre, and circuit training classes, and food from Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino.
Vintage House at The Estate: Located in Yountville, the refined Vintage House is, erm, home to 80 bungalow-style, (contrary to the name) contemporary abodes, Michael Chiarello's three eateries, luxury spa, and plenty of experiences, like hot air balloon rides and bike rentals with wine tasting and picnic add-ons.
Where to Eat
Redd Wood: The laid-back sister restaurant to six-time Michelin recipient Richard Reddington's Redd, Redd Wood puts out some of the most delicious pizzas, housemaid pasta, and small plates around. This means, wood-fired asparagus pie with bechamel, bacon, pecorino, and chili; creamy burrata on grilled bread; rich cacio e pepe over whose last bite I cried; and an epic cheese and meat plate, made from in-house charcuterie and local cheese, that will prove that not all cheese-meat plates are created equal.
Clif Family Bruschetteria: I'd never been a bruschetta person until I tried the piping hot one that this food truck, adjacent to the Clif Family tasting room (in fact, you can do a bruschetta and wine tasting), offers. While the menu rotates seasonally with options for vegetarians and carnivores alike, I have had a porchetta version with pecorino and aioli on two of my visits, and it's delicious and greasy and exactly what you want to pair with/after you had too much wine. Note: The bruschetta is actually the size of a flatbread, so don't try to get three like I almost did the first time.
Gott's Roadside: If a burger is what you're after, head to Gott's, a casual eatery that draws a long line during peak hours. Pick your burger of choice—ranging from old-fashioned classics to a kimchi, green chili, and Impossible Burger variations—and pair with one of its signature milkshakes. For those not wanting to travel to St. Helena, there's also a location inside the Oxbow Public Market downtown.
Goose and Gander: This modern American restaurant is known for dishes like wood-roasted cauliflower, chanterelles and Meyer lemon fettuccine, and roasted chicken breast with Perigord truffle gravy. This is where you also go for well-made cocktails featuring buzzy ingredients like yuzu, shrubs, and garden herbs.
Boon Fly Cafe: Housed inside an engine-red barn, this restaurant is famous for its breakfast and brunch offerings that include made-to-order doughnuts, eggs benedict with jalapeño hollandaise, smoked salmon flatbread, and, yes, some healthy options. Don't miss the morning cocktails including the Bloody Fly's Spicy Bacon Bloody Mary, and the evocatively named Beauty in a Glass, a vodka concoction made with rose water.
Mustards Grill: If Keller is Napa's culinary king, Cindy Pawlcyna is its queen. With the recent closing of Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, Pawlcyna's other restaurant Mustards Grill—a neighborhood grill that serves fresh fish, barbecue baby back ribs, and the famous Mongolian pork chops along sides like housemade potato chips with creamy blue cheese dip and citrus black beans, sour cream, and scallions—is bound to get really busy.
The Charter Oak: A favorite of locals, this family-style, seasonally driven restaurant, owned by a three Michelin star chef and James Beard Award winner, focuses on highlighting the beauty of simple produce made with minimal ingredients. Their vegetable dishes are particularly striking and include grilled cucumbers, cauliflower with raisins and brown butter, crispy potato "tostones," and raw vegetables with fermented soy dip, though meat-lovers will be more than satisfied by the smoked beef rib and buttermilk chicken.
Oenotri: Another frequented-by-the-locals institution, this southern Italian restaurant serves 20 (!) different types of housemade salumi, Neapolitan-style pizzas, and consistently delicious mains that use ingredients from the restaurant's own four-acre garden.
Where to Drink
Tank Garage Winery: This '30s gas station-turned-tasting room (made to look like a retro gas station again) will have different pours every single time you come here thanks to the small production of each wine. In addition to offering limited-edition wines with the coolest of labels and names, like the very good F★ck Tomorrow rosé and Nothing Corporate red blend, this offbeat wine tasting room holds a merch room; speakeasy bar, located in the back of the tasting room, that hosts live music on weekend; and monthly garage sales, with rare wine releases, food, pinball, and more.
Newton Vineyard: You'll find no better views of Napa Valley than at this exceptional hillside boutique vineyard known for its unfiltered mountain fruit Chardonnay (which has been served to the Queen of England and at the White House) and Cabernet Sauvignon and advanced sustainable practices. (For the best photo op, ask someone to take a photo of you in the French gardens.) The only American vineyard to win a 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards Best in Show medal (for its Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon, which you can buy on the property), Newton offers a one-of-kind tasting experience that includes driving to the top of the property, where guests can enjoy the incredible custom-selected wines among the Cabernet Sauvignon vines from which the wine is made, 1,600 feet above the valley floor.
Chandon California: For those who love sparkling wine, there's the Chandon vineyard and tasting room. The first French-owned sparkling wine venture in the U.S., and celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, Chandon California offers tastings—which include classic favorites, prestige Étoile sparkling wines, vineyard-exclusive wines, and hard-to-find still wines—as well as bites (a rarity in tasting rooms in Napa due to food licenses), like a local cheese board and addictive truffle popcorn. Following the tasting, beware of the store which, in addition to selling the largest selection of Chandon bottles you'll ever see, displays Instagrammable merch like the super-soft "I'd Rather Be In Napa" T-shirts, Swell bottles, and coffee table books.
Palmaz Vineyards: You'll feel like you traveled to the future at this vineyard that embraces technology to make wine in a cavernous building that runs 18 stories down. At the heart of the lair is the Fermentation Dome, lined with metal tanks and computer projections on the walls, courtesy of the Fermentation Intelligence Logic Control System (FILCS), a fermentation-control and -monitoring system that measures factors like temperature and sugar and alcohol content in tanks to take the guesswork out of the winemaking process. Palmaz's tech can also track the health of vineyards by analyzing aerial imagery with infrared light and pull important data, like how much sun and water a particularly successful crop got, for future batches.
James Cole: While this husband-and-wife vineyard and tasting room may be on the smaller (it produces under 2,000 cases of wine) and newer (it opened its doors in 2007) side, it houses wines whose complexity could rival some century-old vineyards. Known for its rich Malbec (rarely available on the tasting menu because of the customer demand), James Cole also puts out ridiculously good, fruit-forward blends that you can only purchase at the vineyard or through the wine club. Ask to check out the back, which holds a private, barrel-lined tasting room that shows movies (Francis Ford Coppola's The Outsiders was playing when I was here) and a garage that holds James' 1950s Chevrolet Corvette convertible (that he promised to get himself when the vineyard took off) and fermentation tanks named after music icons like Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and Mick Jagger. Do yourself a favor and splurge on a bottle of Suede, a velvety Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of leather, espresso, cigar, and vanilla.
Orin Swift: Located in what used to be an alleyway between two buildings, Orin Swift is not your typical Napa Valley wine tasting room. Instead, it offers bottles with atypical, edgy labels and unexpected wine blends in a room with stone and timber walls and quirky art.
Regusci Winery: Another premier vineyard that does not sell its award-winning wine outside of the property or the wine club, Regusci is the oldest family ranch in the Stags Leap District, built before Prohibition. While you can't go wrong with any of the wines offered during the tasting (especially the exceptional Patriarch Red, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Cabernet Franc blend with flavors of red berries and vanilla), given the vineyard's five generations of grape-growing, you would be remiss not to spring for the Library tasting that allows guess to taste rare vintages from the winery archives while being walked through Regusci's fascinating winemaking and farm history.
Where to Shop
Oxbow Public Market: This 40,000-square-foot is part market, part food playground. While Oxbow is home to favorites like Gott's Roadside, Hog Island Oyster Co., and Three Twins Ice Cream, it also holds plenty of shopping whether you're looking for olive oil (Olive Press), chocolate (Anette's Chocolates), cheese (Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant), charcuterie (Fatted Calf), or books (Napa Bookmine).
Forty Five Ten: This designer boutique is home to some of our favorite cool-girl brands like Alexander Wang, Comme des Garçon, Cult Gaia, and Rosie Assoulin, as well as luxury labels like Rick Owens, Proenza Schouler, Alexander McQueen, and Mansur Gavriel. Homebodies will love the Diptyque candles and Jonathan Adler decorative objects.
Fivetown Grocery: Pick up a salad made up of local produce, a signature sandwich on fresh bread, or homemade pasta at this grocery store that also carries local products like olive oil, cheese, snacks, fresh vegetables, and craft beer.
Pearl Wonderful Clothing: This stylishly outfitted store carries contemporary fashion from the likes of Isabel Marant Étoile, Ulla Johnson, and Equipment. It also stocks popular accessories, like Eugenia Kim hats, K. Jacques sandals, and Melissa Joy Manning jewelry.