San Francisco, CA
Napa catapulted American wine into the big leagues in 1976, when a bottle of red from the area’s Stag’s Leap vineyards beat a bottle of critically acclaimed (and unfailingly French) Château Lafitte-Roshschild in a blind taste test in Paris. Napa Valley is certainly the best-known of America’s wine-growing regions. Its golden hills, natural hot springs, and consistently gorgeous weather attract everyone from the well-to-do urbanite staying in a high-priced B&B to the group of tourists cruising in a rental limousine. Expect insufferable traffic congestion, especially at the south end of Napa where all the major highways meet. Regardless of tourist traffic, Napa’s dense collection of vineyards promise winery after winery of intoxicating pleasure and vistas that are equally disarming.
Scenic Route 29 (Saint Helena Highway) runs north from Napa through Napa Valley and the well-groomed villages of Yountville and Saint Helena (Where it’s called Main St.) to Callstoga’s soothing spas. The relatively short distances between wineries can take unpleasantly long to cover on weekends when the roads crawl with visitors. The Silverado Trail, parallel to Rte. 29, is less crowded, but watch out for cyclists. Napa is 14mi. east of Sonoma on Route 12. From San Francisco, take U.S. 101 over the Golden Gate Bridge, then follow Rte. 37 east to catch Rte. 29, which runs north to Napa.
Napa’s gentle terrain makes for an excellent bike tour. The area is fairly flat, although small bike lanes, speeding cars, and blistering heat can make routes more challenging, especially after a few samples of wine. The 26 mi. Silverado trail has a wider bike path than Rte. 29.
Need some recommendations about what sites to visit in Napa? Here are our top picks. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
Extremely cheap eats aren’t an option in Wine Country. Picnics are an inexpensive and romantic alternative – many wineries have shaded picnic grounds, but most require patronage. There are more than 250 wineries in Napa County, nearly two-thirds of which line Rte. 29 and the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley. Some wineries have free tastings and some have free tours; all have large selections of bottled wine available for purchase at prices cheaper than in stores.
California’s trend-setting status extends beyond fashion and movies to fresh, natural foods. Home to acres of orange and avocado trees, California offers an array of often organic produce in everything from smoothies to salads. Grapes also grow plentifully in the numerously vineyards that line the fields of Napa Valley and central California, the United States’s prime wine country.