Nothing much ever changes in California’s wine country—and that’s one of the region’s charms. Visitors can return after years and revisit favorites feeling like no time has passed at all. That said, in recent years, there have been shifts in the valley, some of which subtle, like the “greening” of more and more wineries, others obvious, like the opening of such big-name restaurants as Morimoto.
Here is a list of Indagare musts for your next Napa trip, as well as some favorite recommendations of local insiders, including vintners, chefs and plugged-in residents (full interviews with them will post soon).
Napa Valley Sweepstakes: Win a four-night trip to Napa, with stays at two of the valley’s most acclaimed properties: Auberge du Soleil and Calistoga Ranch.
Newcomer: Downtown Napa
With a redeveloped riverfront, an ever-growing, impressive farmer’s market and several good restaurant choices, Napa is no longer the town you drive through en route to the valley. Highlights worth stopping for include:
Insider Pick: “My favorite Napa newcomer in recent is Norman Rose Tavern in downtown Napa. I love its design and the relaxed atmosphere.” John Conover, owner of Cade Winery
Where to Stay: Best Hotels
- Auberge du Soleil: This longtime favorite is still the top property in the valley that delivers on style, service, location and giving a real sense of place.
- Bardesonno: Opened in 2009, it’s the only LEED Platinum certified hotel in California and a great option in Yountville, in midst of some of the valley’s best dining options.
Insider Pick: “A place that gives guests a piece of the valley is Milliken Creek by the Napa River. It is secluded and has a great spa, open only to hotel guests.” Lissa Doumani and Hiro Sone, owners of Terra
Where to Eat: Big Night Out
- Restaurant at Meadowood: Talented young chef Christopher Kostow is only the second Napa chef (after Thomas Keller) to earn three Michelin stars. His food is innovative, playful and has transformed the restaurant at Meadowood into the gourmet destination.
- Auberge du Soleil: The renovated dining terrace of this Michelin one-star is one of the most scenic and romantic spots for a languorous meal
- Terra: A relaxed but refined ambience and innovative cuisine from the chefs who also head the St. Regis’ Ame restaurant in San Francisco
Insider Pick: “Richard Reddington’s REDD is a major destination for seriously hip foodies who travel across the bay area nightly to dine at his restaurant.” Alexis Traina Swanson, of Swanson Vineyards
Where to Eat: Local Scene
- Mustard’s Grill: A long-time mainstay in Yountville that has kept up with the newcomers thanks to its committed chef-owner Cindy Pawlcyn.
- Bouchon: Heavier on ambiance and drawing a more casual, late-night clientele, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon bistro is a jewel-box affair.
- Cook: A favorite local joint with an Italian-inspired menu.
Insider Pick: “On the way to Napa via the 101 from San Francisco, you can find the most delicious and old-fashioned Fremont Diner. It serves some of the best food in Northern California, and a stop here is a top priority!” Alexis Traina Swanson, Swanson Vineyards
Where to Drink: Off the Beaten Path
- 750 Wines: The charming owners of this by-appointment shop, which opened in 2009, host tastings, special wine events and private functions.
- Ma(i)sonery: This groovy two-level art and interior design gallery, sculpture garden and wine collective showcases the next generation of Napa’s tasting rooms.
- Sip Room: Swanson Vineyard’s Sip Room is open to the public and offers a chic setting for casual tastings as well as a fun, well-stocked boutique.
- Cade: It’s difficult to decide what’s more impressive: Cade’s focus on all-things green or its lofty location; suffice to say you’re tasting wine while lounging on cushy couches overlooking the valley.
Insider Pick: “Make an appointment to visit Quixote Winery near Yountville, the winery was designed by the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who was known for no straight lines and features a gold onion dome. The winery specializes in Cabernet and Petite Syrah.” Lissa Doumani and Hiro Sone, owners of Terra
The full interviews with our Napa insiders will post soon.