What You Should Eat, See and Do in Napa Valley

10/15/2014 at 02:57 PM ET
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Courtesy Andrea Lavinthal

Hi, Great Ideas readers! I’m Andrea Lavinthal, PEOPLE’s Style and Beauty Director. When I’m not covering breaking news (in my world, that means a celebrity just debuted their new haircut on Instagram) or obsessing over the latest red carpet looks (did you see what Reese wore last night?!), you can find me enjoying a glass of Sauvignon Blanc at home. And I recently had the pleasure of visiting the home of my favorite beverage, Napa Valley.

Some people love to travel so much that it’s almost like work is just something they do in between decorating their Instagram accounts with photos from trips to exotic, far-flung destinations.

Then there are people like me (at least I hope there are, otherwise I’m a total weirdo), whose definition of a vacation is four nights at a luxury beachfront resort where the ocean is postcard blue, the sand is blindingly white and the most taxing decision of the day is whether to order the mojito or the margarita.

But after countless 85 degrees and sunny vacations, I wanted to do something different. Not Laos or Turkey different. More like Napa Valley different. My boyfriend wasn’t sold (“that’s where everyone’s parents go”), but I persuaded him with promises of hiking, biking and of course, lots and lots of drinking. I crowd-sourced Napa suggestions on Facebook and within minutes I was inundated with names of stunning vineyards, charming hotels and restaurants that would change my life (Napa is just as much about the food as it is the wine). All of these must dos left me paralyzed since, I prefer trips where the main activity is sitting.

I reached out to the Visit Napa Valley team, and they recommended that I create a spreadsheet of my five-day trip broken down by breakfast, activity, lunch, activity, cocktails and dinner (like I said, Napa is serious about food). I thought that sounded a little nuts, but I did it anyway. Over the course of a month I filled in each blank cell until I created my version of the perfect Napa itinerary. (I also slated in lots of free time and spa appointments lest you think this sounds more like a corporate retreat than a romantic vacation.)

We didn’t stick to the spreadsheet completely. Some dinner reservations were canceled because lunch turned into a five course meal, plus cheese plates. So many cheese plates. And then there was the day that I swore I couldn’t take another sip of wine and we just sat by the hotel pool (where I enjoyed a glass of wine). We covered so much ground, yet I’m already making a list of everything we couldn’t get to for our next trip. In the meantime, here’s what I think you should do.

Courtesy Andrea Lavinthal

Borrow a Benz at the Solage Calistoga

The hotel (where we strayed for the first three nights) keeps a fleet of Mercedes-Benz cars parked in the lot and hotel guests are welcome to take them out at anytime for up to four hours. We chose the convertible and had a very hard time returning it.

Order the ricotta blueberry pancakes at Solbar

My boyfriend arrived in Napa gluten free. That didn’t last long and these pancakes are to blame.

Courtesy Andrea Lavinthal

Hire Winecube for the day

Raymond Rolander, a Sonoma County native, is the ultimate Napa Valley tour guide. Based on our preferences, he put together an incredible wine-tasting itinerary (you know how much I love those), then drove us to each vineyard in his Nissan Cube (hence, the name Winecube) while sharing his insane knowledge of wine along
the way.

Eat the fried chicken at Ad Hoc

They only serve it for dinner every other Monday (check their site for the daily menu) and it’s worth every calorie. So was the chocolate creme pie I managed to eat for dessert.

Courtesy Andrea Lavinthal

Visit Swanson Vineyards

Of the four vineyards Raymond took us to, this one is for people who chose their wine based on how pretty the bottle is(that would be me). It’s a special little spot that doesn’t feel like anything else in Napa and is the only place that serves a dollop of caviar on a salty potato chip with their almost-too-chic-to-eat cheese plate.

Make a stop at Gott’s Roadside

Raymond took us here for lunch between vineyards. I took down a cheeseburger, ahi tuna tacos, fries, a milkshake and a Diet Coke while Raymond and my boyfriend watched in amazement.

Courtesy Andrea Lavinthal

Go olive oil tasting at Round Pond Estate

At some point you’ll want a (short) break from tasting wine. In addition to 362 acres of vineyards, Round Pond Estate has 12 acres of olive orchards and their own mill. We sampled several of the their hand-harvested blends (the garlic infused was my favorite), plus a variety of citrus syrups and red wine vinegars. They also make a killer Sauvignon Blanc (my drink of choice) should you get a second wind for wine-tasting.

Have a fancy lunch at Auberge du Soleil

The view from the Michelin-rated restaurant will get you some killer Instagram photos. Say yes when they offer you bread, we’re still talking about the rosemary lemon kind.

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Courtesy Andrea Lavinthal

Make an appointment at the Carneros Inn Spa

We stayed at the Carneros Inn for the last two nights and I almost cried when it was time to check out. It’s a beautiful resort with the coolest amenities (like our own backyard with a firepit where we made s’mores). I especially loved the spa where Kathryn gave me one of the best facials of my life. And when I was done, I wandered over to PlumpJackSport, a clothing boutique on the property that carries everything from Tory Burch to Vince. There’s also a gourmet market, and three stellar restaurants including Napa favorite, Boon Fly Café.

Shop at Pennyweight in St Helena

I have a thing for greeting cards and this well-curated jewelry/stationery/gift store has one of the best selections I’ve ever seen.

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FILED UNDER: Restaurants , Travel , Wine

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Showing 8 comments

Kat on

This article really embodies the magic of Napa Valley and I enjoyed the read. This is a great must have list for any visitors. Thank you for giving Napa the attention it deserves. Well Done, Andrea Lavinthal!

TrevR on

Good stuff! We recently published our “ultimate foodie itinerary for the Napa Valley” as well and included Swanson and Round Pond’s olive oil tasting, check it out: http://www.uncork29.com/blog/2014/09/18/napa-valley-itinerary/

Mary Williams on

Thanks so much for the great article! We get down there about every other year and love it. Though we have been to some of the places mentioned here, you’ve given us new ideas and now we can’t wait to go back!

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