As you head upvalley from Napa, which is located in the southern end of Napa Valley, you will find something special in each of the cities you visit. Napa is undergoing a renaissance and becoming a world-class destination all on its own. You will enjoy Michelin-starred restaurants and find Iron Chef champions preparing amazing meals. You can stroll through vibrant downtown Napa and visit tasting rooms, watch a thrilling performance at the Opera House, concerts at Uptown Theatre or pedal your bicycle down the River Trail.
As you head north to Oakville, you will enjoy gorgeous scenery and seemingly endless rows of grapevines. Several of the notable wineries include Folie a Deux and Opus 1. And you cannot miss the Robert Mondavi Winery with all of its beautiful gardens, art galleries and sculptures along with their Summer Concert Series in their open-air amphitheater. The last time I visited Robert Mondavi Winery I took the group tour. It is very educational and an enjoyable way to see much of the winery. If you need to refuel on your way up to Calistoga, be sure to stop into the Oakville Grocery for breads, soups and salad & made-to-order sandwiches.
And as you head further north you will come to Rutherford famed for their Cabernets. Story is that the unique soil in the area which was once a riverbed produces wines that are tinged with an almost spicy element known as “Rutherford Dust”. And don’t miss the winding drive up Rutherford Hill Road to Auberge Du Soleil. You may not find a more breathtaking view in the entire Valley!
As you drive down historic Main Street into St. Helena, you will find the most charming shops in the Valley. The downtown shops offer many one-of-a-kind items, quality art and jewelry, clothing and gifts. Though it is a part of my past, I always walk through Foot Candy. Foot Candy is a high-end women’s shoe boutique FULL of designer shoes. Now, of course, they are all leather so I only look and though I know they are made without compassion for my good friends the cows I still need to take a look! There are many dining options in those two square blocks and several of them offer vegan options. If you want to do some picnicking and wine tasting at the same time, V. Sattui is a perfect stop for that. Housed just north of St. Helena in a majestic stone building, is the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone which offers culinary education classes including vegetarian and vegan courses, a tasting bar and on-site eatery. Just to be sure you enjoy your experience, make advance reservations and mention that you are vegan!
And when you reach Calistoga you have reached the end of Napa Valley…now it is time to just relax! Calistoga is a quaint town tucked into the base of Mount St. Helena. It has the rustic feel of a small mountain town and in my opinion has the most gorgeous scenery in all of Napa Valley! One of my favorite wineries – Chateau Montelena is located in Calistoga. Chateau Montelena’s chardonnay put Napa Valley on the map by besting France’s wine at the 1976 Paris Tasting contest. And you have to enjoy the beauty of the medieval 13th century Italian Tuscan castle at Castello di Amorosa and check out the wonderful farm animals that live there! And to help rejuvenate you after all the wine tasting, soak in the Calistoga hot springs. This mineral-rich volcanic water emerges from the ground at 140-150 degrees and will leave your skin feeling soft and soul rejuvenated.
Now if you are familiar with Napa Valley you probably noticed that I missed a city. Though Yountville is only 8 miles north of downtown Napa, I had to save it for last. Though it is next to impossible to have a favorite destination in Napa Valley, I have to admit that Yountville just squeaks past Calistoga as my favorite destination. From my very first visit to Napa Valley in October 2011, Yountville has remained at the top of my “best places” list!
Yountville has the look of a tiny rural village but boasts more Michelin stars per capita than any other place in the entire North American continent! Wow! If you consider yourself a foodie, this is the place to dine. Now if you aren’t a full-fledged foodie, the Michelin rating was started in 1900 by (you guessed it!) the tire manufacturers Andre and Edouard Michelin. Their first edition was a guide for French motorists. Since there were so few cars on the road at the time, the brothers’ intention was to help boost the demand for cars, and thus tires. Pretty clever those two! Over the last 114 years, their star rating system has had a very dramatic effect on the success of restaurants. The rating system begins with one star which means the restaurant is “very good in its category”. Two stars denote “excellent cooking, worth a detour”. And three stars is “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”.
Even without all of the amazing food in Yountville it is very cozy and will bring your heart rate down as soon as you drive, walk or cycle into the village. And if you have had enough wine, be sure to enjoy a cocktail at Lucy’s bar located at Bardessono Hotel. And set aside at least 15 minutes to enjoy their bathrooms. That is all I’m going to say. You will know what I mean when you get there!
I recently dined at the well-known Hurley’s Restaurant. Hurley’s is located in the center of Yountville and serves local California cuisine influenced by the Mediterranean. According to his Bio, Chef Bob Hurley “planted his roots firmly in the California Wine Country” in the summer of 1988 as the chef at Domaine Chandon. In November 2002 he opened Hurley’s and is the Executive Chef. The menus are revised three times a year and take advantage of the seasonal produce. Because seafood and wild game are such a huge part of his menu, I had never dined at Hurley’s before. But his strong belief in the use of regional, seasonal ingredients and the fact that he is always so friendly and gracious when I see him out and about, attracted me to his restaurant when I had family visiting. We dined outside on the huge patio that overlooks Washington Street. It is spacious and though it seats quite a few, it is quiet and peaceful just like the rest of Yountville. The bar offers an extensive wine list by the bottle or the glass, sparkling wine, and many specialty cocktails. There are no vegan items listed on their menu so I did need to call ahead and discuss their menu with their hostess Michelle. She was very helpful when I made the reservation and made note that two in my party were vegan. The wait staff was very friendly and knowledgeable but did have to discuss specifics with Chef Hurley. It was decided that the Moroccan Vegetarian Tagine could be prepared vegan by removing the green olive raita and the vegetable Risotto could also be prepared with olive oil instead of butter. They are also able to remove some items from several of their salads and offer them in an entrée size. Chef Hurley did offer to prepare a unique dish using the additional ingredients he had available for the nightly dinner specials. I was very appreciative but I did not want to order a “surprise” $25 entrée! Based on the recommendation from my server, I ordered the vegetable Risotto. It was absolutely delicious! At the time of my visit, Hurley’s did not offer a vegan appetizer or a vegan dessert which is really a disappointment because the desserts looked absolutely amazing. Before the meal, they served a delicious artisanal bread with olive oil instead of butter and it was especially delicious since I typically do not eat gluten. It was a wonderful evening and Hurley’s is an excellent option if you are dining with a big group that include meat eaters and vegans. If you decide to dine at Hurley’s, please be sure to thank them for preparing a vegan option so they will be happy to offer more options in the future!
My goal for Napa is that every restaurant from a three star Michelin rated restaurant to the local diner, will offer at least one vegan appetizer, entrée and dessert. And the best way to accomplish this is to let our voices be heard (nicely) whenever we are fortunate enough to dine out!