My husband’s and my first trip to Napa was a few years ago. We flew in and out of San Francisco and spent a week driving from Half Moon Bay, to Lake Tahoe, and then on to Napa. We’ve been to some incredible places on our adventures thus far—Copenhagen, Paris, Tuscany, Grindelwald—but that trip to California was my favorite we’ve ever taken. And ever since then I’ve been looking for any and every excuse to visit Napa. We went for a second time for my 30th birthday last year, and we decided to go back a third time this past March when we realized we had a couple Hyatt nights that were on the cusp of expiration.
One of the great things about living in the Dallas area is that we’re a fairly short flight from both coasts. And I especially love that Virgin, hands-down my favorite airline, has loads of direct flights from DFW to both LAX and SFO. Getting to Napa is relatively quick and easy for us, it’s just a matter of finding the time to go. And I’m glad we were able to this spring.
We flew into San Francisco on a Friday evening, picked up our rental car, drove an hour-ish north, and checked in to our room at the Andaz Napa. My favorite place to stay is the Harvest Inn in St. Helena, but since we had free Hyatt nights to use, the Andaz worked for our purposes. Our room was a little on the cold and modern side for my taste, but overall it’s swanky and luxurious hotel, and I particularly loved the cozy wine bar in the lobby and the converted wine barrels that served as check-in and concierge desks.
Since we’d gotten in so late, we stayed in and enjoyed our room before drifting off to sleep so we could get up early the next morning and hit up some wine tastings.
We decided we wanted diner food rather than fancy Napa food for breakfast, so we did a quick Yelp research and found a hole-in-the-wall spot called the Soscol Café. It’s cramped, so I recommend getting there early, but it’s still worth the wait if you get there and all the seats are taken. Michael and I both ordered omelettes and had enough food to feed about six people. Good stuff.
From breakfast we headed over to the Napa Visitors Center. We like to do Napa on the cheap so, in the past, we’ve always stopped by the Visitors Center to procure a few wine tasting coupons. They had some this time, but they also told us about the Visit Napa Valley app, which clues you in to all sorts of wine country deals. I downloaded the app and we started with the free tasting at Beringer. I know what you’re thinking. “Come on, have a little class!” But Beringer actually has one of the most picturesque wineries in Napa, and, contrary to popular belief, they actually produce some seriously good wine, which you can sample in their tasting room.
From Beringer we went for a drive off of busy Route 29. We were searching for an off-the-beaten-path winery that we’d spotted on our map, but we never found it. But we enjoyed the scenery and chanced upon this pretty little pond.
Next we crossed back over Route 29 and drove up into the hills to the Hess Collection. Yes, another big-name winery, but, like Beringer, the grounds are gorgeous and the wine is top-notch. There’s also a sizable collection of art that you can explore, just upstairs from the tasting room. We tagged along for the free tour they offer (they’ll pour you a nice big glass of wine to take along with you) and learned a bit about Donald Hess, the Swiss entrepreneur who founded the winery and who is a strong contender for the real-life Most Interesting Man in the World.
After the Hess Collection we drove to our next hotel in Santa Rosa and had an incredible dinner a small Italian restaurant called Lococo’s. Santa Rosa technically lies within wine country but isn’t quite as charming as Napa. But what Santa Rosa lacked in ambiance, Lococo’s more than made up for in delicious pasta.
The next morning we woke up early, drove to Sausalito, and had breakfast at yet another spectacular little diner, Fred’s Coffee Shop. Being Sunday, the line was out the door, but after waiting for a few minutes we were able to get two seats at the bar. The food, coffee, and service were all you could hope for, and the setting just across the street from the water made it all the more lovely.
After breakfast, we still had several hours to kill before we needed to be at the airport, so drove down to Half Moon Bay to have a drink on the patio at the Ritz Carlton. If there’s a heaven, I honestly can’t imagine it being much better than this place.
I kicked and screamed all the way back to the real world on Monday. Thanks for the memories, California. I’ll be back just as soon as possible . . .