The direct flight from Houston to San Francisco leaves you hungry for a snack. Our first stop was The Sea Lion Café, which has a great clam chowder served in a sour dough bowl. The best part is the view of the Sea Lions at Pier 39. They play, splash and swim without a care.
Every road in the Napa Valley is scenic, and Highway 29 is just more scenic than most. This road takes you right by some of the area’s most famous wineries and restaurants such as Opus One and The French Laundry.
The Napa Valley Lodge is right off Highway 29 and is the perfect location to launch your weekend getaway. Enjoy a wine tasting each evening in the lobby. Here you can mingle with other guests and learn more about local wineries.
Wine aficionados and history buffs will love the Napa Valley Wine Train. The antique train runs on 25-miles of track in the heart of the Napa Valley. Expect great service, good food and local wines. Ride the train right through the beautiful vineyards. After lunch, retire to the dessert car for coffee and after dinner drinks.
The Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farmstead features an authentic farm-to-table menu highlighting local, sustainable and organic ingredients at their peak freshness. In true Napa fashion ingredients are sourced from local purveyors, featuring Long Meadow Ranch’s all-natural grass-fed beef, vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, and honey.
The town of St. Helena is home to Woodhouse Chocolate – some of the best chocolate around. The Tiffany blue decorated storefront features confections created by Tracy Wood Anderson, Chocolatier.
Her unique, luscious flavors are delectable. Just across the street, you’ll find Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Our server suggested the Osso Bucco, it had been a special on many occasions and now has a full-time place on the menu. We also loved the Parmesan cheese, garlic and spinach oysters. And for $9, you must indulge in the Campfire Pie with toasted marshmallow fluff, fudge, almond and Oreo cookie crust.
For a casual lunch between vineyard stops, Gott’s Roadside is a must. People line up for these burgers and you should too. Roadside is renowned as the iconic gourmet burger stand serving updated American and California classics for breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a California-focused list of wines and beers.
Chef Ken Frank is leading the effort to transform Napa CA from an industrial hub to a tourist destination. His famed La Toque restaurant started on the Sunset Strip in LA and was reincarnated in Rutherford, CA. Now La Toque is the marquee-dining establishment at The Westin Verasa in Napa, where foodie couples treat their wedding guests to contemporary French cuisine from a Michelin-starred restaurant.
The Napa Valley has long been known as a luxurious place to taste the finer things. Until five years ago, the city of Napa was not invited to the party. Chef Frank has been working to revitalize the city, and it takes more than opening a fancy restaurant. Just behind the Westin, the Napa River takes a sharp turn; water backs up and floods during heavy rain. To alleviate the flooding, an overflow zone is being constructed; this zone will double as a city park when it’s not flooding. As luck would have it, guests at the Westin will be able to walk out the front door of the hotel and take a leisurely stroll through the park to downtown. The park is the final step in a five-year improvement project.
The City of Napa is already seeing rewards. Five years ago there was only one nice restaurant in town. Now, there are more than ten. In addition, tasting rooms have opened up; tourists can taste a multitude of wines without having to drive up the road in the Napa Valley. Frank is particularly fond of the Oxbow Public Market where he frequents Hog Island Oyster Co. and Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant.
Visitors can imbibe at the restaurants, browse specialty retailers or just hang around outside on the large riverside deck.
Entrepreneurs are working together to make the city successful. Frank shares Copia gardens with ten other local farms to fork restaurants. Many of their ingredients are harvested fresh from the garden, or purchased from the public market, which buys fresh organic produce from local farmers. Believing the vision, Gloria Curry left a corporate life at Nordstrom to follow her entrepreneurial dream. Gloria Curry Day Spa is across the street from the public market, where each treatment starts with a warm foot cleansing and massage. Her risk paid off; she just received the 2013 Small Business of the Year award from the Napa Chamber of Commerce.
Most wineries in Napa do not allow wedding ceremonies; the Westin does. They have many unique spaces, from formal to casual, for your destination wedding. The Solara Courtyard is a picturesque open-air ceremony space overlooking the Napa River. The Oval Green, a perfect garden nestled among the balconies of several suites, has seating for up to 150. After 10:00pm, celebrations can continue in the Amphora Ballroom or The Bank Café and Bar in the lobby. Since you’re in Napa, be sure to have your picture taken in the grape vines near the pool. The party spaces are beautiful, but the star of the reception will be the food. Chef Frank will work with you to create a star-studded menu to wow your guests.
By Laurette Veres
Photos: Tom Flynn