An Innkeeper's Guide to Napa
Take a getaway to Napa, California, to taste some of the world’s best wine and feast on gourmet cuisine. The town and surrounding valley are home to many B&Bs that offer guests an intimate experience far different than a large hotel.
“If you want to truly immerse yourself in this region's wine and food culture, stay with a local,” says Russ Herschelmann, innkeeper of Napa Old World Inn. “Innkeepers will help you discover wine, food, and truly memorable experiences.” Ten innkeepers of Napa B&Bs reveal the inside scoop on where to eat, shop, explore, and day trip.
Napa may be a small town, but it’s jam-packed with activities and unexpected adventures, wine-related and not.
Wine activities abound in the famous Napa Valley. McClelland-Priest B&B's innkeeper, Celeste Carducci, offers guests her own programmed wine tasting itineraries. Ask her for the details!
Jim and Carol Beazley, innkeepers of Beazley House Bed and Breakfast Inn, recommend attending wine pairings at Sequoia Grove Vineyards. They also say guests delight in visiting Raymond Vineyard’s Wine Blending Studio to be a winemaker for the day, or indulge in a private tasting and wine pairing in the Salon at Swanson Vineyards.
Kim Fox, innkeeper of White House Inn & Spa, recommends visiting Mark Herold Wines to find your new favorite wine in their tasting room.
Oleander House's innkeeper, Kathleen Matthews-Gagnon, says you can't go wrong with a Segway tour along the Yountville vineyards. You can also take a Segway tour through downtown Napa or Calistoga.
Sam Neft, innkeeper of Candlelight Inn, recommends visiting the Palmaz Vineyards, a restored 1800s vineyard, and Enchanted Cottage Bed and Breakfast suggests Chateau Montelena Winery, another 1800s vineyard.
Joanna Guidotti and Brian Jensen, innkeepers of Churchill Manor, add that it’s enjoyable to have a picnic lunch at one of the many wineries. Some innkeepers offer picnic lunches for purchase, or you can stop in a local grocery store and buy ingredients to make your own lunch.
Napa Old World Inn says you can’t miss the experience of simply walking through Napa Valley’s vineyards. The innkeepers also suggest attending wine-blending sessions to make your own wine at some of the Napa Valley wineries, including Judd’s Hill, Conn Creek, O’Brien Estate, and Franciscan Estate. Another recommend activity is the grape stomp during harvest at Grgich Hills Estate and several other Napa wineries.
If you plan to spend the day wine tasting, Napa Old World Inn Inn also offers these wise tips: "Some wine tasting newbies eat a gigantic breakfast, then taste wine for the next six or more hours. Big mistake. Start off with a good breakfast. Not too hearty, but not too small. Plan on stopping for a light lunch. Keeping a bit of food in your system while wine tasting makes for a much better day. Always carry a bottle of water with you. The big secret to tasting wine? Don't drink it. Napa Valley tasting rooms get two kinds of visitors: Experienced tasters who spit discreetly into a glass (you'll never see them do it), and newbies, who drink all of their wine, since they don't see anyone using the spit buckets! Newbies wind up with raging hangovers, and can't make it to more than one or two wineries before their tasting palate is shot (alcohol dulls your senses)." Don't be afraid to use the spit buckets, they advise guests.
Candlelight Inn encourages attending a hands-on cooking class at Cooking with Julie, which uses local ingredients and includes wine pairings. They also recommend going to Round Pond Estate to tour their olive vineyards and taste their handcrafted olive oils and red wine vinegars.
La Belle Epoque urges guests to go to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone to take a baking class, attend a session on wine and beer tasting, or watch an impressive cooking demonstration. Pictured is a chocolate almond baklava dish made at the CIA.
The innkeepers of The Inn on First, Jim Gunther and Jamie Cherry, say you can’t miss a Napa Culinary Crawl to discover food and wine in downtown Napa’s tasting rooms and restaurants on a walking tour.
Churchill Manor recommends taking the similar Gourmet Napa Walking Tour to explore local cuisine and wines through a three-hour tour.
Napa Old World Inn suggests doing a progressive dinner; walk to five world-class restaurants from their inn, and stop in for a course at each one!
The great outdoors
If you love the outdoors, some of our innkeepers recommend kayaking on the Napa River. You can rent a kayak and go on your own or take a kayaking tour with a professional.
Rebecca Sheppard, innkeeper of Enchanted Cottage Bed and Breakfast in nearby Calistoga, suggests an exciting visit to Safari West (pictured). This wildlife preserve on 400 acres features over 400 exotic mammals and birds that you can see up-close. It's only about an hour from Napa.
Churchill Manor loves the Napa ARTwalk, a rotating outdoor sculpture exhibit. The Inn on First tells guests to visit Cornerstone Gardens in nearby Sonoma to see a beautiful, ever-changing series of gardens and landscape art.
Napa innkeepers almost unanimously recommend catching a live music show at Uptown Theater. Another popular spot is Uncorked at Oxbow Barrel, a tasting salon, that offers fun wine blending sessions and open mic nights.
The Napa Valley Opera House (pictured) is highly recommended as a venue for classical music and opera in addition to jazz, films, and other styles of music. Another popular nightlife spot is Silo’s, where you can nurse a glass of wine while watching live jazz. The Inn on First suggests going salsa dancing on Saturday nights at Bistro Sabor.
La Belle Epoque and Beazley House Bed and Breakfast Inn are fans of 1313 Main, a fine wine tasting bar. Visit their Wine Maker Wednesdays, where local winemakers visit and discuss their craft. Candlelight Inn says a local highlight is the Mondavi Concert Series, which consist of live music at the Robert Mondavi Winery.
Enchanted Cottage Bed and Breakfast encourages guests to head to Calistoga to grab a drink and play pool at Susie’s Bar for some local flavor. It has been voted as the best dive bar in town. They also recommend visiting Calistoga Spa’s hot springs, which are mineral pools said to be therapeutic. Take the evening swim offered from 7-9 p.m.
Napa Old World Inn reminds travelers that the wineries are closed at night—something many visitors don’t think about. But after a full day of wine tasting and activities, the innkeepers say it’s not unusual to be asleep by 9 p.m.!
Napa Valley is full of fun, but the surrounding area offers plenty more to do and see. Napa innkeepers share their favorite itineraries and activities for getting out of town and seeing more of the famous Wine Country and nearby forests and beaches.
McClelland-Priest B&B recommends taking a scenic drive in Bodega Bay along the Pacific Coast. Another option is driving to San Francisco. If you have extra time, they suggest taking a short drive over to Calistoga to try wine or get a spa treatment.
Oleander House says the perfect day trip consists of a car ride over the mountains, through Sonoma County and the Russian River Valley, and Armstrong Woods to the Pacific Coast. From there, stop at Bodega Bay for lunch and return through the Carneros Wine District.
If you have a few days in Napa Valley, Churchill Manor urges guests to venture out with a trip to the ocean at Stinson or Dillon beaches, each about an hour and a half from Napa. If you’re brave, take a romantic horseback ride on the beach. Another fun activity the innkeepers recommend is going zip lining in nearby Sonoma.
La Belle Epoque encourages you hop on Highway 1 and drive to Muir Woods National Monument, a redwood forest that is less than 50 miles away.
Several of the innkeepers highly recommend Platypus Wine Tours. Beazley House Bed and Breakfast Inn also suggests Beau Wine Tours' Napa Valley daily limo tours. According to the innkeepers, “They do the driving, serve you lunch at a winery, and bring you home safe and sound.”
For a different perspective of the Napa Valley, several of our innkeepers guide guests to a balloon ride at sunrise. The innkeepers are happy to arrange the romantic ride over the vineyards for you.
The Inn on First touts a day trip to Tomales Bay, which opens up to Bodega Bay. It’s the perfect place to dine on fresh oysters. Then venture over to the Point Reyes Seashore, a park preserve with excellent hiking. Enchanted Cottage Bed and Breakfast says one of the best ways to spend your free time is driving on the back roads around the Calistoga area and the Northern Napa Valley area. Be sure to stop for a picnic! The innkeepers also recommend going to Goat Rock Beach to watch the harbor seals.
Whether you consider yourself to have a sophisticated palate or just love a fresh, hot meal, Napa has a burgeoning culinary scene that will satisfy any and all tastes.
Nearly all of our innkeepers recommend these eateries to guests:
- Carpe Diem Wine Bar: A sophisticated yet casual dining experience in downtown Napa with an expansive wine list and family-style plate menu.
- Celadon: Award-winning “global comfort food” influenced by flavors of Asia, the Americas, and the Mediterranean.
- Ristorante Allegria: This restaurant offers Northern Italian flavors influenced with California cuisine.
- Oxbow Market: A 40,000 square-foot marketplace featuring a diverse array of artisan cafes, local food vendors, and organic produce from local farms.
- Morimoto Napa: Gourmet Japanese food from Chef Masaharu Morimoto, a star of Iron Chef and Iron Chef America (pictured).
- Cole’s Chop House: A classic American steak house with fresh seafood and an extensive wine list.
Other favorite restaurants from our innkeepers:
- La Belle Epoque: Dine at The Thomas and grab a drink at their bar. Be sure to ask about the history.
- Beazley House Bed and Breakfast Inn: Eiko's Napa for unique Japanese cuisine.
- Candlelight Inn: Grace's Table, which serves global cuisine with local, sustainable ingredients, and Uva Trattoria & Bar, an Italian restaurant with live jazz, blues, rock, and funk music.
- The Inn on First: Angèle Restaurant & Bar, a French country restaurant on the Napa riverfront.
- Napa Old World Inn: Bottega, an Italian restaurant by celebrity chef Michael Chiarello, and Mustards Grill, a diner that’s been a Napa staple for 30 years.
- White House Inn & Spa: Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ, which serves delectable barbecue and offers a drink menu of over 400 wines.
- Oleander House: Bistro Jeanty for a French feast, Ad Hoc for creative American food, or Redd for wine country cuisine with flavors of Mexico, Asia, and Europe.
- Enchanted Cottage Bed and Breakfast: Buster’s Southern BBQ for fresh ribs and Checker’s, an Italian bistro.
When you’re vacationing in Napa, you will surely need a break from eating and drinking wine. Why not explore the local shops and boutiques?
Nearly every innkeeper we spoke to said Oxbow Public Market (pictured) can’t be missed--it's not just for dining! Several also suggest visiting Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company to buy or sip on fresh coffee from around the world.
Here are the other insider tips on where to shop.
- McClelland-Priest B&B: Find new fashions at Mustard Seed Clothing Company and Cake Plate.
- Churchill Manor: The Playful Garden for whimsical garden art.
- Beazley House Bed and Breakfast Inn: Napa General Store to purchase work from American artists.
- Candlelight Inn and Napa Old World Inn: Shackfords Kitchen Store, where Napa Valley chefs buy their kitchen tools.
- Candlelight Inn: VMarketplace, a destination for fine art, jewelry, gourmet foods, gifts, chocolates, wines, and more. Also, Oakville Grocery, the oldest continually operating grocery store in California.
- White House Inn & Spa: Anette’s Chocolates is a must-do, where you will find delectable confections that combine fine wines with fine chocolates.
- The Inn on First: Artists of the Valley and Quent Cordair Fine Art for art and Wildcat Vintage Clothing for unique fashion buys.
- Enchanted Cottage Bed and Breakfast: The Petrified Forest, a nature park of petrified trees that also has a gift shop with fossils, petrified wood, crystals, and other goodies. If you’re in Calistoga, they suggest a stop at Copperfield’s Books, and CA’ TOGA Art Gallery.
- Oleander House: Vallerga's Market or Sunshine Market for fresh produce and snacks. Shop for clothes at Pearl or Amelia Claire in Saint Helena for fashionable clothing.