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Napa Valley, California






Napa Valley has won my heart for wine, food and rolling hills (do they actually roll or is it the wine?) The winery list is long (over 450), the collective culinary talent is astounding and the boutique hotels are among the finest in the world. Each little town is as charming as the next: Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, Oakville, Rutherford.

I’m opposed to over scheduling, especially in my free time. Weekends must include time and space for lingering, daydreaming, weaving in an extra walk or a nap. Napa Valley presents a unique challenge: I am always tempted to bite off more than I can chew. Yet, after a spectacular tasting, we might decide that the most rewarding afternoon activity is nothing it all; we sometimes choose to spend it park side on a bench. We recently gave up lunch reservations for a jar of gourmet pickles and a bottle of sparkling water; at that moment it was the perfect treat, enjoyed quietly together beneath an early summer sky. I’ve read every guide to Napa Valley over the years, and what’s missing is a simple map highlighting beautiful, tree shaded park and waterside resting places. And I love architecture! I am obsessed with architectural gems like Dominus and Hourglass Blueline, but a nice bottle in the middle of a field can be better sometimes, and it doesn’t require any planning.

Rumor has it that the Wapoo Indians originally called Napa Valley “the land of plenty.” I ponder the valley’s prehistoric families (scientists estimate a population of 500) who crafted houses out of tree branches and set up camps near local rivers and streams. They ate acorns and earthworms and crushed bread made from California buckwheat. I imagine them peeking in the windows of modern day Yountville, wearing wild animal skins in winter and nothing at all during the summer (as was their custom). What would they make of Napa Valley today? What would they think of The French Laundry?

Napa Valley has a timelessness, generations of us are fortified in the same enduring way by the rich soil and mesmerized by the very same rolling hills cleverly crafted by nature a few hundred million years ago. I love Napa Valley.


Start a Napa Valley day with Brunch at Solbar (755 Silverado Trail, Calistoga ; 855-942-7442) in Calistoga. If it’s warm, book a table outside near the pool. On a cool or misty morning, head inside the beautifully designed restaurant.

In downtown Napa, enjoy a late lunch alongside the Napa River at Angèle Restaurant + Bar. (540 Main Street, Napa ; 707-252-8115) This is a favorite place to go with our children: We love the steak (Onglet) and salad (Petit Gem de Laitue); the atmosphere is light and lovely, the waitstaff is friendly and the boys giggle as they attempt to order in French.

Also in Napa, check out the indoor Oxbow Public Market. (644 1st Street, Napa ; 707-226-6529) There are about 20 artisanal food and wine purveyor’s to choose from including the much celebrated The Kitchen Door. Sometimes we stop here first and pack a picnic of wine, fruit, bread and cheese. Often, the Oxbow Public Market is our last stop on the road home; Our sons each get a scoop at Three Twins Ice Cream while we get an espresso at Ritual Coffee Roasters, essential for the ride back toward the bay.

For impeccable food with family or large groups, check out Bottega in Yountville. (6525 Washington Street, Yountville ; 707- 945-1050) Book a table on the patio overlooking the green and your little ones can wiggle and run during lunch.

In Yountville without children, have dinner at Bouchon Bistro, my favorite Thomas Keller eatery. Located on the same street as The French Laundry, this Parisian bistro atmosphere is more casual and, a big plus: it’s possible to get a reservation with less than two months’ lead time! I love everything about this place, and always hope the grand finale includes pots de crème.

For great food on the fly go to Gott’s Roadside (933 Main Street, St. Helena ; 707-963-3486) in Saint Helena. My friend Glen first tipped me off to this place by describing at as “awesome + loose.” I still think of those two words every time I am happily reacquainted with their sweet potato fries and gourmet hamburgers while seated at a bustling roadside parking lot picnic table in the sun.


Perched high on a hilltop above Rutherford, Cade Estate (360 Howell Mountain Road S, Angwin ; 707-965-2746) has a smashing view of Napa Valley and the wine (especially the Cabernet Sauvignon) is sublime. I love the modern concrete architecture, outdoor living room and comfortable indoor tasting lounge centered on a massive picture window. Plus it’s sustainable and LEED Gold–certified. Reservations required.

In Rutherford, Round Pond Estate (875 Rutherford Road, Rutherford ; 888-302-2575) has a comfortable outdoor seating area on the second floor, but I also like the cozy corners in the main hall. Round Pond has excellent wine as well as infused olive oils and citrus syrups which are made at their state of the art mill, directly across the street. I recently took my son there for an olive oil tour and tasting, which we both thought was cool.


In Rutherford, adjacent to the Silverado Estate and nestled into the hillside overlooking Napa Valley, is the very famous Auberge du Soleil. (180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford ; 707-963-1211) Auberge has a stellar reputation, but there’s more: it has an intimacy and sweetness which is extraordinary. I love the tucked in location and knockout views. When we stayed here with our boys, the staff arrived quietly each evening and transformed two fireside sofas into primly made beds; they lit the fire and stayed just long enough to make sure it was going.

For classic clapboard California cool, go to Solage Calistoga. (755 Silverado Trail, Calistoga ; 707-226-0800) It’s mission is clear and purely executed. A collection of pristine white buildings are surrounded by tufts of native grass and connected by pebbled pathways that criss cross manicured lawns and gardens. The pool deck and restaurant (Solbar) are perfect, classic and a somehow just the right amount of glamorous.

Both of these hotels are very pricey, but they are authentic; Napa Valley is expensive. To spend less on a room, I would settle into Yountville’s Napa Valley Lodge (2230 Madison Street, Yountville ; 707-944-2468) from which you can walk Yountville’s fantastic restaurants. Another option to consider is the Calistoga Inn; I haven’t been there in years but I stayed there once (invited by a friend’s parents who owned the place) and I loved it.


Visit Di Rosa Art (5200 Sonoma Highway, Napa ; Tel. 707-226-5991) in the Carneros Region. The property covers over 200 acres of protected wine country landscape dotted with galleries and outdoor art. It is  beautiful, serene and includes a large lake and wildlife preserve. Walk in visitors can check out the small but worthwhile Gatehouse Gallery. The only way to see everything at Di Rosa, considered the world’s best collection of Bay Area Art, is to book a guided tour.


Napa is a dreamy, wide open space and it’s totally possible to enjoy wine and good food with children in tow. I often take my kids but I always keep it simple. We generally hit one vineyard, one restaurant and spend most of our time running wild on grassy lawns. Everyone’s happy. Children are not welcome in bustling tasting rooms. However, sometimes a reservation in a smaller, private room will accommodate everyone (always ask in advance). Otherwise, choose outdoor seating and sip away while the kids play. Animals, flower gardens and good climbing trees are often found on farms and the best places to visit with little ones have this, and more! My favorite wineries with kids are Frog’s Leap and Inglenook. Frog’s Leap has a playful, unpretentious quality that I appreciate. Request a tasting on the covered porch or in the garden. At Inglenook, seat yourselves on the patio of “The Bistro” while the kids move about the grand courtyard and sail colorful boats (complimentary and available to all) in the reflecting pond. Both places are spacious, welcome children and provide coloring books.