Most summers when my kids go off to sleepaway camp, my husband and I like to take a grown-up trip. Usually those trips are abroad, exploring different places. This year, with so much uncertainty regarding travel, we decided to stay domestic and head to the west coast for a road trip that started with Napa.
So, my California Dreamin' journey begins!
Napa is one of those destinations I’d always wanted to visit… just took a little while to get there.
It was well worth the wait. Be prepared to eat, drink and clink your way through this beautiful slice of California paradise. The weather here is perfection, warm during the day but zero humidity and cool Napa nights.
We flew into San Francisco on Thursday.
Our rental car, from Black & White Car Rentals, met us at the airport (no schlepping to the rental center).
It was a 2-hour drive from SF up to Yountville, the town in Napa Valley where we were staying.
Pro tip for your own California Dreamin' experience: make restaurant reservations EARLY! They book up fast.
Many of the restaurants here have multi-course tasting menus. The service was fantastic, the views were superb, so was the food and wine. They also offer a vegetarian menu inclusive for all.
We woke up to clear skies and beautiful balloons in the air. Hot air ballooning is another fun Napa activity, but we opted to just enjoy the view from our patio.
There is a lot of drinking in Napa… but not driving. We hired a fantastic company called Designated Drivers to drive our rental car for us to and from the wineries. Safe, sound, and easy. Plus, it saved us time while making sure we avoided illegal and unsafe driving.
After a delicious breakfast at the hotel our driver met us for the day.
First stop Kenzo Estate Winery.
When we arrived, I felt like I was walking into a Restoration Hardware catalog! Turns out, the same architect built the winery that did the RH stores. Very zen, modern, and classic at the same time. Everything about it felt new, clean, and organized. Each row of grapes was labelled with the varietal.
Quick stop at Gotts Roadside for a quick bite to eat.
We were advised that the tuna tacos were a must have, so we needed to try them. Cute diner-esque place. Filing tacos and fries. And a quick stop to Oxbow Public Market for a new pair of flip flops after I broke my sandals on a crack in the sidewalk.
Next stop on our California Dreamin' journey was at MayaCamas, one of the oldest wineries in the country. Up a long windy road… but the views were worth it. The building was centuries old with a true old school winery feel with beautiful stone floors and aged barrels. We’re lucky to share a mutual friend with the owners so we got a private tour by ATV (very smart as these roads are rocky) up to the highest point of the mountain. We got to enjoy some more sips of whites and reds with a magnificent view that felt like we were on top of the world. When you look out you can see the entire valley from a bird’s eye view. MayaCamas offers both kosher and non-kosher wine that tastes exactly the same! We left after placing an order to send some home to enjoy back in NJ.
Next stop Hagafen Cellars.
We were running late and arrived shortly before closing here so it was a bit rushed. We’re familiar with their wines at home so it was nice to enjoy just a few quick sips. I loved the eclectic garden vibe.
Our final winery of the day was V Sattui.
We were lucky enough to attend their library tasting. We got a true education on so many things. V Sattui was the largest and most commercial of the wineries we visited, but from the library tasting room you’d never know it! We learned a lot here about vintage varieties and the history of the Napa Valley region.
After a full day, we went back to the hotel for a short rest before dinner at French Laundry which I can attest is by far the best way to do laundry. This dinner was truly an experience unlike any other from start to finish. Another fixed tasting menu. We advised the restaurant of dietary restrictions and they accommodated without skipping a beat. The kitchen is open with windows to the outdoor dining area – it was fun to watch the staff bustle in the kitchen.
Celebrity Chef Thomas Keller came out to meet and chat with all the diners. Truly a gracious host. It was a pleasure to meet him.
I lost track of the number of courses; the food kept coming. Each course more beautiful than the next. At one point we had to ask them for a break! And when dessert came, we needed to take a goodie bag… too stuffed to finish all the dessert courses. What struck me was how genuinely happy the restaurant staff seemed to be. I have never seen waiters and busboys so enthusiastic about their job.
The check… be warned, the artful and plentiful meal and attentive service doesn’t come cheap… it's appx the same price as another night at the hotel… That said, it’s not just a dinner, it is truly an experience I’m so glad to have had. We left with souvenirs too – they print out a custom menu with the meal you had, dated in a beautiful folder. The clothespins that serve as napkin rings also make a great souvenir.
Saturday was a quiet lazy day, much needed after all the running around!
The town of Yountville is picturesque and full of cute shops and cafes. We took a walk around the neighborhood and enjoyed the sights. Every town has winery tasting rooms along the main street, so if you don’t make it to the vineyards, you can still get a beautiful tasting experience. There are walking tours where you can experience different wineries and there is also a bike tour for the more adventurous ones. Our afternoon adventure was a few hours at the hotel pool and spa with a good book and poolside lunch.
We went for a much more casual dinner at La Calenda, Mexican, also owned by Thomas Keller. He happens to own many of the restaurants in Yountville, including Bouchon and Ad Hoc. We enjoyed a nice break from wine with some delicious Margaritas. Perfect and easy way to end our night and our California Dreamin' experience.
Being east coasters, we loved early dinners since we were getting tired quite quickly and waking up early.
Sunday morning was time to hit the road for our drive down the coast to our next destination… We thought about stopping at Bouchon Bakery on the way out but as always, there was a line wrapping around the block… So, we’ll have to save that for next time.
California Dreamin'—Where To Stay
Bardessono—We loved it here! And the location was fantastic.
We were only here for three days, if we stayed longer, these are the other great options we'd consider staying at as well.
*opening late 2021
California Dreamin'—Where To Eat
The ones we ate have a star (*). If we had more time, we would have explored many other great restaurants, including these on the list below:
California Dreamin'—Where To Drink
Stay tuned for the second part of our California Dreamin' experience, which will be titled California Adventures Part 2 - Big Sur and part 3 - Montecito!
In the meantime, you can always read more about my travels in my Lis on Travel category!