A travel journal
to Napa Valley by Barb B
Quote: Napa Valley has long been a place with fantastic natural beauty. Today, with its wonderful restaurants, wineries, shopping opportunities and festevities, it has become a favorite travel destination. There are lots of brochures and websites to tempt you, I will try to display Napa through the eyes of a "Local".
Napa has many lovely Bed and Breakfast places, several very nice hotels and a few (quite frankly) 'dumpy places'. At Embassy Suites, I always know exactly what I will get for my money. Here in Napa, they have a very pleasant staff--willing to help you with local driving directions and sight seeing ideas.
The outdoor ponds and gardens at Napa Embassy Suites are REALLY VERY NICE--in fact, my husband and I stayed there the night before we got married just so we could have our photographer take pictures around the pond and in the atrium area!! The rooms are comfortable, with separate living room and bedroom, 2 phones, data port and voice mail, 2 TVs, a coffee maker, refrigerator and microwave. Being Embassy Suites, of course, you always have a full breakfast and the evening free cocktail bar.
The restaurant at Embassy Suites is called 'Rings' and is in a lovely atrium setting. Service is excellent and the wine list (of course) is great. The restaurant has recently made some menu changes, and I have to admit that I liked the Old menu better. They are currently offering a "Chop-House" type menu with lots of steaks, prime rib and grilled items. The food is still very good, but they no longer offer the wonderful variety of pasta and seafood dishes they served in the past. The bar is very comfortable with a huge antique back-bar of marvelous rich wood and antique display cases lined with vintage wines. The bar staff is also very friendly and attentive.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 17, 2000
California Drive at First Street
Napa Valley, California
Restaurant | "The Red Hen Cantina"
If you want to share a few Appetizers, the Red Hen has some delightful items: taquitos, a fajita plate, spicy salsas, fried cheese, and other items with new items frequently added. Seating is available for Lunch and dinner, 7 days a week from 11 A.M.
There is a large inside dining area which has been divided into smaller eating areas to offer a more cozy atmosphere and memorabilia and nostalgic pictures decorate the walls. But if the weather is good on the day or evening of your visit, definitely choose to sit in the outdoor patio area. A small pond provides an inviting entry, and although the patio is fairly close to Napa's Highway 29, the noise is minimal and you have a nice view of the hillsides and vineyards.
The recently installed outdoor Mexican style ovens also contribute to the pleasant Mexican atmosphere. The Red Hen has a young, enthusiastic wait staff which is always happy to recommend a good menu item, or to tell you about their favorite local winery or other place to visit. There is an extensive menu with the usual Mexican favorites and some unique daily specials. Most menu items can be ordered in mild or extra spicy variations. I find the Mexican seafood entrees especially good and the crab stuffed enchilada is my personal favorite. My husband usually sticks with the more common tacos, rice and bean plates--extra spicy of course! Most portions are more than adequate and will satisfy even the hardiest of appetites!
Next door to Red Hen Cantina is the Red Hen Antique shop--Have lunch at Red Hen Cantina, then go next door and spend a while checking out the antiques! A great way to spend the afternoon!
Reservations are not required, but are recommended at dinner, particularly during the May-October tourist season.
Red Hen Cantina
5091 St Helena Highway
Napa, California 94558
+1 707 255 8125
Restaurant | "Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi, too!"
The comfortable outdoor, covered patio offers a relaxed atmosphere and an opportunity for people-watching.
One of my favorite menu items is the homemade sausage bread (pane di salciccia). The warm, soft bread works perfectly with the Insalate Caesare con gorgonzola (a caesare salad with gorgonzola cheese and walnuts)for a delicious, satisfying lunch. The veal parmigiana (made with marsala), the spaghetti Bolognese and the Prawns Portofino (with fettucine, garlic and shallots) are also some of our family favorites and are highly recommended. If you take the kids, there is a huge selection of pizzas, calzones and wonderful desserts.
Unfortunately, I can't discuss the pizzas or calzones, because I've not tried them yet. I find Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi, too! is a great place in the Napa Valley to enjoy hearty Italian food in pleasant surroundings without breaking the bank. Portions are more than adequate and all foods are also available for take-out.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 27, 2000
Frankie Johnnie & Luigi Too!
6772 Washington Street
Napa Valley, California
Attraction | "Ansel Adams Exhibit and Champagne at Mumms"
Some days, Mumms can be very crowded with tour buses, other days there signs stating "NO TOUR BUSES". Whatever, I have never been put off by tour buses, because I do not do the USUAL "tourist thing!!" As a local, I will tell you how we experience the wonderful taste and art of MUMMS without getting into the tourist crowd.
As you enter Mumms, walk to the right, through the gift area, and head directly toward the art exhibit. (No one will deter you or question your action.) Walk past the outdoor patio tasting area, directly into the "Art exhibit" area. You can now enjoy a leisurely tour of the local art experience. There is a Magnificant(!) Ansel Adams display (geared toward the experiences of wine culture). I think this exhibit exceeds several other exhibits I've viewed....Primarily focused on wine production, It is Wonderful!! Other artists have also displayed their wares.
When you have finished your tour of the Art Area, it's time to enjoy the samplings of Mumms. You can sample 3 small tastes of sparkling wines for $7 if that is your choice. We as locals, find it much better to just order a bottle of a wonderful Mumms champagne and enjoy it! You sit in an indoor or outdoor patio (choose outdoor unless it is cold or nasty) No hassel, no problem--Just sit, sip your champagne, and watch the world go by. Order a second bottle if you are so inclined!!
Tours are available hourly if you prefer to go that way. Open daily 10am to 5pm.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 30, 2000
8445 Silverado Trail
Napa Valley, California
Attraction | "Napa Premium Outlet Mall"
As a local, I find the Outlet Mall a good place to shop and I frequently find excellent bargains on designer items. There are over 40 shops offering A wide variety of wares. Especially good sales can usually be found at the Outlet Mall in February when large clearances take place. There is generally a huge sidewalk clearance sale held during the Labor Day weekend. During the holidays, It is possible to find some very desirable items for as much as 50% off the retail price.
Some of the stores I especially like are Mikasa (which offers unique and beautiful crystal items at bargain prices), Tommy Hilfiger (where I watch for sales on the items I want), Le Gourmet Chef (for gourmet cookware and hard-to-find kitchen items), Maidenform (for luxurious underware and sleepware), Harry & David's (Gourmet food items and food gifts) and The Cosmetic Company Store (carrys Lancomb, Este Lauder, Clinique and other fine cosmetics).
Just a few of the other stores offering designer items: Ann Taylor, Calvin Klein, Jones New York, Timberland, Big Dog, Dansk, Liz Claiborne, Esprit and Nine West.
The Mall is located just off Highway 29. Exit at First Street and turn left over the overpass. Plenty of free parking is available and the Mall area is very clean. Most stores have friendly, willing salespeople, eager to assist you in finding just the right item. A food court is available with 5 restaurants to select from.
OPEN Mon-Sat 10am to 8pm, Sun 10am to 6pm
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 3, 2000
Napa Premium Outlets
629 Factory Stores Drive
Napa, California 94558
Attraction | "The Napa Wine Train"
The Napa Wine Train is truly a wonderful experience, even if you are not a wine drinker. The vintage rail cars have been beautifully restored and offer a unique dining experience. The interiors have rubbed mahogany, polished brass and sparkling crystal throughout--reminiscent of an older, more glamorous and more opulent era. The train travels at a leisurely pace through the valley vinyards and the ride usually lasts about 3 hours.
During your trip you enjoy a fine meal of gourmet quality, prepared by an outstanding chef using only the freshest ingredients found in the valley. You will select you favorite appetizer and a salad, then choose from three entrees (usually meat, fish or chicken), and then enjoy one of the fabulous desserts. (I always choose the Chocolate Decadence!) Meals are served with style on white linen cloths with fine china and silverware. Of course, the wine selection is wonderful and you can order by the bottle or by the glass. You can view the Executive Chef and his staff preparing your meal in the glass on-board kitchen. The food is of the highest quality and truly of gourmet quality. On a few of our trips the chef has stopped at our table to visit and see if everything was satisfactory!
The train travels from the Napa Station on Soscol Avenue to the station in St. Helena and then returns. Unfortunately at this time, you cannot get on and off the train along the route. However plans are in the works for on-&-off stops in the future.
The train also offers many specialty trips such as a Mystery Dinner Train, Sunday Brunch Train, Gourmet Dinner Train, Vintners tasting luncheon, etc. During the holidays they even have a 'Kids Ride With Santa Train.'
Several dining options are offered: from the Luncheon Deli Car (serving deli sandwiches and other items), Champagne Vista Dome Car (my favorite)with a 'view from the top.' All are wonderful and the food and service are impeccable! So choose your price, but go for the BEST you can afford!!
You can see the options of the Wine Train at the Wine Train website at - www.Winetrain.com.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 12, 2000
Napa Valley Wine Train
1275 McKinstry St.
Napa, California 94559
Attraction | "Friday Night Chefs' Market"
Every Friday evening from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend, the City of Napa closes First Street to traffic and the Napa Chef’s Market rolls into action. First Street becomes a pedestrian zone lined with tables and chairs, colorful fruit, flower and vegetable stands, and a series of bandstands for local musicians. Locals and tourists alike, turn out to enjoy the warm summer evenings and taste the "fruits of the Napa Valley."
Local restaurants and food vendors have set up temporary kitchens to prepare and serve treats for every taste. Mexican food, Moroccan food, Italian, Chinese, BBQ, Cajun, hot dogs, -- "You name it, It’s there." Plenty of tables are provided so you can sit and enjoy, while watching the world go by.
The Firday Chef’s Market provides something for everyone!
The Kids are kept busy with pony rides, fire engines to play on and rubber jump centers set up Just-for-them!
Teens enjoy looking at the hot-rods on display, listening to the music on 3 bandstands, checking out the craft vendors and just "hangin’ out with friends.
The Adults, of course, like to imbibe in the "other-fruits" of the Napa Valley. Several wine vendors offer tastings of their recent vintages. In the Town Center Rotunda, guest Chefs from several of the Valley’s world class restaurants provide cooking displays and demonstrations--complete with tastes!
The Market- is open every Friday from 4pm - 9pm Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend. Free parking is available in the local lots.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 7, 2001
Napa Valley, California
In 1982, Robert Sinskey began his humble plan to grow grapes in the Napa Valley. Beginning with just 15 acres, he built his winery and caves in the foothills of the Stags Leap District. Today the vineyards encompass over 150 acres in the Valley’s prime Carneros and Stags Leap Areas and a labyrinth of over 18,000 square feet of underground caves provide a perfect environment for the winery’s barrel aging.
A visit to this unique winery carved into the sloping hillside, provides a combination of education and elegance. The dignified tasting room features a dramatic wine bar fabricated from native Napa stone and "narra" an environmentally farmed hardwood. Beauty surrounds the entryway with peaceful water gardens and a culinary garden where herbs are grown for use in the cooking classes and food events at the winery.
Located along Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail, (known among locals as the "quiet side" of Napa Valley), the shallow soils in the area are intended to stress the vines and create grapes which are small and intense. This soil combination, along with the long growing season, has permitted Sinskey Vineyards to produce some superb, award winning wines. Recent vintages of special note include: 1999 Pinot Noir, 1998 Merlot and 1997 Vineyard Reserve Cabernet (a combination of 47% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Cabernet Franc).
Several tours are available at the winery: (1) Daily at 11 am -- a culinary garden tour which includes the gardens and caves followed by a discussion of the pairing of wines and herbs. (2) At 1 pm daily -- a wine and cheese tasting tour. This tour includes the caves and gardens followed by tastings of selected wines and cheeses. Both tours are $20 per person and the price is redeemable on wine purchases. Select tastings are also available in the tasting room for $10 per person (also redeemable on purchases). A secluded picnic area is also available, including a covered area for rainy day picnics.
Frequent culinary events and special tastings are also provided at the winery. You can see a full list of coming events at the Sinskey website, which also includes fantastic photos, poetry, history and recipes. www.robertsinskey.com
Daily hours 10am to 4:30pm
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 25, 2001
Robert Sinskey Winery
6320 Silverado Trail
Napa Valley, California
Literally, carved into the Napa hillside in 1991, and owned by the Codorniu Family of Barcelona (hence the name 'Artesa' meaning Artisan) they brought with them over 450 years of winemaking experience.
The uncompromising quality of the wines produced here is matched only by the graceful blend of glass, wood and metal sculpture dramatically displayed throughout the property. The unique architectural design gracefully balances color, form and nature.
In 1992, a local artist, Gordon Huether was invited to display his work at Artesa and since 1997, he has been the local artist in residence. His paintings, as well as his sculptures in both glass and metal contribute to the aura of tranquility one experiences both indoors and out. From the spectacular fountain and reflecting pond outside, to the almost spiritual, naturally lit pond near the tasting area, one feels that the artist has fulfilled his passion for minimalism. You can see his work at his website: http://www.gordonhuether.com
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the favored wines of the Carneros region with their fruity aromas and silky finishes. With vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and the Alexander valleys, an excellent selection of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Special Reserve wines are also available.
The spacious tasting room again illustrates the artist's harmonious blends of wood, glass and natural light, providing a quiet retreat to enjoy your wine. Beyond the tasting room, a wide terrace allows you to savor your wine while you appreciate the vistas beyond. The beauty of the vine-covered hillsides seems to enhance the classic flavors of the wines.
A small but informative museum displays antique winemaking tools along with photographs and memorabilia of the Codorniu family. The understated, but well stocked gift shop provides a nice selection of merchandise and is located adjacent to the tasting area.
The visitors' center is open to the public for guided tours at 11 and 2 and tastings from 10 AM to 5 PM daily. Tasting of any six wines is $6 or $2 per 2-oz taste. Reserve tastings are slightly higher.
From San Francisco, take Highway 101 North to Hwy 37. East to Hwy 121. Follow 121 for 12 miles and turn left at Old Sonoma Road. Left again on Dealy lane (about l mile). Dealy becaome Henry Road. Artesa will be to your left atop the hill.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 12, 2000
1345 Henry Road
Napa Valley, California 94558
Whatever else you do in Napa, by all means, have a picnic! Most of our wonderful wineries have beautiful, free picnic areas. Bring your own food, and buy a bottle or two of the wines from the Winery you choose for your picnic. (Most wineries will even lend you glasses to take to their picnic area so you won't have to drink your wine from plastic cups.) Pick you table and enjoy the beautiful valley. Some wineries also have covered picnic areas so you can enjoy your picnic in spite of rain!
You can pick up your picnic items at one of the local chain supermarkets (Safeway, Lucky, etc), at a local deli (my favorite is Genova's deli on Trancas Street) or you can go to my favorite market, Vallergas Market. (There are 3 locations: Solano at Redwood, Imola at Jefferson, and 1st Street at Silverado Trail). Vallergas is a gourmet supermarket with a wonderful selection of cheeses, specialty olives, fabulous crusty breads and imported chocolates. They also offer boxed lunches, Healthi deli items and hot soups made fresh daily. Of course they also have the usual chips and dip, if you are so inclined.
For a 'quieter' picnic-- try the wineries along the Silverado Trail, rather than the wineries along Highway 29. The wineries along the Silverado Trail are generally less well known by tourists and therefore are less crowded. Some of my favorites wineries along the Silverado Trail are: Robert Sinskey Winery (6320 Silverado Trail), Clos Du Val Winery (5330 Silverado Trail), Dutch Henry Winery (4310 Silverado), Pine Ridge (5901 Silverado, and Stags Leap Wine Cellars (5766 Silverado). Most wineries are open daily from 10-4:30.
Napa, CA and Hereford, AZ , Arizona