The Napa and Sonoma Valleys encompass some of the best things that California has to offer: beautiful farmland, endless rows of grapevines, an elevated food scene, and a bon vivant attitude.
My mom brought me to Napa for the first time when I was two months old. Ever since, we’ve tried to visit three or four times a year. We’re the type of family who contemplates what’s for dinner before we’re done with lunch. Here are some of my favorite spots—restaurants, wineries, shops, and farm stands.
DAY 1: NAPA VALLEY
Spend a slow morning at Stanly Ranch. If you think some movement would feel good, it has yoga, barre, and Pilates classes. You can get a massage or facial at Halehouse spa or sit and sweat it out in the cedar sauna or salt room.
Then work your way north to St. Helena and go to the Station for coffee and pastries. On Main Street in St. Helena, pop into Carter and Co for stoneware by artist Richard Carter, grab a bottle of olive oil from the Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company, and peruse European linens and tableware at Vintage Home.
It’s worth backtracking a little for a leisurely lunch at Mustards Grill, a Napa institution that feels like something out of a Nancy Meyers movie. Put in your order for the lemon-lime meringue tart at the beginning of your meal, as it sometimes sells out by the time the dessert menu rolls around.
As it is wine country, there are endless options for tastings. The Faust Haus in St. Helena is a great spot—have your tasting outside, overlooking the valley, or in one of its library rooms. Or head up to Calistoga: Larkmead Vineyards specializes in Cabernets. In the mood for bubbles? Try a tasting at Schramsberg Vineyards and take a tour through one of the historic wine caves.
If it’s a warm summer evening, start with a cocktail at Acacia House and sit out on the farmhouse porch before walking a few blocks down to Cook St. Helena, a great spot for homemade pasta and salads. Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch serves farm-to-table comfort food: grilled artichokes, biscuits with honey butter, garden lettuce salads, and a Dungeness crab roll on brioche. Press has a beautiful dining room, a world-class wine cellar, and both four-course and tasting menus. (I saw Thomas Keller of the French Laundry dining there one night—it’s that good.)
My favorite restaurant in the area is the Charter Oak. Chef Christopher Kostow emphasizes seasonal, local ingredients, much of which the restaurant grows in its own gardens. It does simple food exceptionally well: I get the bread with cultured butter, Little Gem Caesar, and burger and fries. Even the rice is so good. The dessert menu changes with the seasons, but if you see the buffalo milk soft serve, order it.
DAY 2: SONOMA VALLEY
Start out in Healdsburg at the farmers’ market, where there’s live music and exceptional produce. I always make sure to get a few bags of heirloom garlic from Bernier Farms. While you’re in the area, drive by the Dry Creek Flowers stand and pick up some locally grown flowers, or stop at Dry Creek Peach for famously good peaches.
If you’d like to stick around the Healdsburg area, grab a quick sandwich for lunch at the Dry Creek General Store before going out for tastings. Preston Farm and Winery is one of my favorites: It’s an unpretentious spot that feels like old California. Medlock Ames is a regenerative organic vineyard that is set on 338 acres at Bell Mountain.
Or if you want to move south for the rest of the day, go to lunch at El Molino Central for mole enchiladas and crab tostadas. On the way, stop by Flatbed’s farmstand in Glen Ellen, which offers organic produce, olive oils, herbal shrubs, and spices—all nice gifts to bring home. And it’s worth joining the wine club at Scribe Winery for its exceptional picnic.
Either way, finish the day in Glen Ellen at Glen Ellen Star, a great casual spot for wood-fired pizzas, wines, and locally grown vegetables.
A Cheat Sheet of My Favorites
- Acacia House, St. Helena
- Brasswood Bar + Kitchen, St. Helena
- Cook St. Helena, St. Helena
- The Charter Oak, St. Helena
- Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, St. Helena
- Gott’s Roadside, St. Helena
- The Model Bakery, St. Helena
- Mustards Grill, Rutherford
- Press, St. Helena
- Barndiva, Healdsburg
- El Molino Central, Sonoma
- Glen Ellen Star, Glen Ellen
- Little Saint, Healdsburg
- The Matheson, Healdsburg
- Valley, Sonoma
- Faust Haus, St. Helena
- Larkmead Vineyards, Calistoga
- Promontory, Rutherford
- Schramsberg Vineyards, Calistoga
- Spottswoode Winery, St. Helena
- Alila Napa Valley, St. Helena
- Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford
- Meadowood Napa Valley, St. Helena
- Stanly Ranch, Napa
- Acres Home + Garden, St. Helena
- Carter and Co, St. Helena
- Elyse Walker, St. Helena
- Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company, St. Helena
- Vintage Home Napa Valley, St. Helena