Destinations, Experience, The Americas
A Weekend in Napa Valley
“…on top of a hill that looks down low and across the bridge there lies lovely Sausalito.” -Gwen Thomas
Visualize yourself driving on a highway with the wind blowing through your hair, the warmth of the sun dancing on your brow, foggy bluffs on the horizon and the smell of moist air rising off a freshwater bay. These are the sensations one experiences on the way to Wine Country California.
Breaching the bay, Sausalito is a cute little town that presented a pleasant getaway en route to Napa Valley. Boats lined the harbor framed by a series of waterfront restaurants and wine bars. Picturesque from both the hills and from the bay, Sausalito is touristy, yet familiar. Visitors can window shop while enjoying cones from Lappert’s Ice Cream, a local favorite. Sausalito has an impressive number of small art galleries, notably Studio 33 and Petri’s Gallery, that sell an array of works from artful sketches to edgy sculptures. However, the most worthwhile activity was sitting on the rocks and watching yachts enter the pier.
After a scenic hour drive, through rolling hills filled with neat rows of grapes and rose bushes, we arrived in the heart of Napa. The city itself starts to shut down around 10pm, with the exception of some bars and restaurants. Downtown Joe’s Grill is one well known Napa establishment that garners mixed reviews from locals. I’m not sure if it was the DJ blasting Pitbull and 2Chains that made it uncharacteristically Napa, or that Joe’s is famous for its beer, not wine, but in either case, I recommend their stouts. The next day we rode the Napa Valley Wine Train, celebrating it’s 25th year in service. The old style locomotive serves lunch and dinner while passing through the beautiful vineyards of Napa and its surrounding towns. The staff was very knowledgeable and pointed out different estates, citing their histories along the way. The train stops at some of the most famous wineries in California. We toured Grgich Hills and learned about the history and lore of its Croatian born founder and sampled his famous Chardonnay. On the ride back we toured the train and enjoyed wine flights in the lounge car. Napa locals consider this a must do if you visit.
Our next stop was at the famous V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena. V. Sattui is described as the most popular and most visited winery in California. Their grounds feature an open picnic area, a retail store featuring a delicatessen, a huge tasting room, and an impressive cellar. Among its many award winning wines, V. Sattui is known for it wide variety of Zinfandels, Gamay Rouge, the Sattui Family Red, and the 1998 Vintage Port (my personal favorite). After tasting about six wines, we purchased our favorite, grabbed a picnic lunch from the deli, and enjoyed the scenery on the grounds opposite acres of vineyard.
Traveling to Calistoga was the perfect wrap up of our trip. Just a half hour north of Napa, Calistoga was the perfect place to detox and refocus after an indulgent weekend. Despite arriving into town late and without a reservation, a stroke of luck landed us at the Golden Haven Spa Hot Springs Resort. While you wait, Golden Haven offers guests the option to roam its grounds playing Bocce ball, corn hole, or simply relax in a hammock. However the highlight of a stay at Golden Haven is their luxurious mud bath. A staff member brings you into the fitting room to disrobe in preparation for your mud bath. You’re brought to two concrete tubs filled with sulfuric mud. The sludge looks horrid until you sink into it, pile it on and allow the toxins to escape your system. Following the sticky and sweaty experience of the mud bath, is a shower and a long soak in the jacuzzi filled with hot spring water. Ice cold cucumber water was provided, but take care to pace your hydration. Feeling fully refreshed, we were wrapped in blankets and left alone to nap while we cooled down. Golden Haven’s mud bath treatment left us silky smooth and refreshed after a wonderful Napa weekend.
You can definitely feel the charm that Napa has to offer no matter how brief your stay. Good planning, such as speaking with your hotel or B&B about recommended wineries and special offers, will help to make the most out of your experience. There are also plenty of non-wine related activities such as biking, golfing and spa indulgences. You’ll be pleased with doing as much or as little as you want.
A Foreign Service Officer and lover of all things new and unexplored, Cam holds a passion for sharing the world with those most curious. A proud alumnus of Morehouse and Johns Hopkins SAIS, he has traveled to 30 countries.