Napa Valley-Much More Than a Wine Destination

by Carmel L. Mooney and Tanya Curtis

The familiar fair-weather refrain of “where can we go on vacation?” is quickly being revised to “where can we afford to go on vacation?” With gas prices at an all-time high and no end in sight, families are looking closer to home for those weekend getaways.

The Napa Valley is a great choice for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives for either a family getaway or even a romantic getaway for moms and dads. Known internationally for the local wines, this area has so much more than just wine tasting to offer those willing to explore. An easy drive from both the Bay Area and Sacramento, this Northern California destination is worth checking out and is “round trip accessible” on less than a tank of gas.

Napa itself is going through a huge revitalization, intending to bring more cohesion to the popular areas and newly arrive businesses. The carefully designed continuity is sure to benefit both tourists and residents alike. In the heart of this revitalization stands the historic Napa River Inn. This luxury hotel was built in 1884 along the Napa Valley River and is located in the Historic Napa Mill. The spacious rooms provide a welcome respite for weary travelers, not to mention the fireplaces and private balconies. The little shops of the Historic Napa Mill along the boardwalk attached to the hotel offer both historical interests as well as some wonderful niche shopping.

Whether you are looking for a place to take the family for a weekend, need a quiet getaway, or a quick shopping and wine-tasting fix, the Napa Valley has something everyone can enjoy and appreciate.

Over the bridge is one of Napa’s interesting new additions. The Oxbow Public Market is an indoor/outdoor market that is truly a cooperative enterprise. With “market stalls” inside and two main seating/eating areas, each merchant offers their wares, with some even offering samples. Wine merchants, tea purveyors, meat companies, and unique restaurants are only a few of the offerings. Outside stalls offer local growers a place to sell their home-grown produce as well.

Inside the market, the Pica-Pica Maize Kitchen is a truly innovative concept. Father and daughter entrepreneurs, Leopoldo López Gil and Adriana López Vermut along with Luis Sosa have brought traditional Venezuelan food to America. Perfect for weight-conscious individuals and those on gluten-free diets, the tasty and unique cuisine is sure to draw repeat customers again and again. From arepas and cachapas to yucca fries, these savory foods are a welcome change from boring.

Carneros Inn dining Napa Valley

Just down the Sonoma Highway, FARM at Carneros Inn is a restaurant that prides itself on using local products. The menu is planned around sustainable and organic local crops, changing with the seasonally available produce, and featuring local wines. From luxurious, comfortable dining outside to relaxed, elegant dining inside, FARM offers a unique Wine Country dining atmosphere. Executive Chef Jeff Jake and Chef de Cuisine Christophe Gerard have certainly created a menu worth writing home about.

For those who prefer the “hidden gems” in travel, the short drive north to Calistoga is well worth the price of gas. This small town of 5,000 residents boasts a friendly, stroll-able Main Street bursting with personality and local flavor, with everything from quirky shops to mud baths and spas, not to mention the dining.

For a fun, kid-friendly eatery, Checkers is the perfect place to take the kids out for a bite to eat. From gourmet pizzas like a margarita pizza to the ever-popular pepperoni pizza, Checkers has been a local favorite for years.

The Flat Iron Grill brings a luxurious but friendly “Old West” feel to the town’s dining choices. From steaks to what is possibly the best mac n’cheese in California, it’s a great place to fill ‘er up. The walls are adorned with local art that all ages will enjoy. Moms and dads…don’t forget to check the wine list for some perfect pairings with your meal.

barVino’s is one of the most delightful surprises in Calistoga. While most passersby might mistakenly assume it holds only a well-stocked wine bar, they pleasantly discover so much more inside. This is a restaurant of textures—from the walls to the food. barVino’s boasts an excellent and varied full dinner menu that you’ll be glad to come in for, with or without the huge selection of wines, including those from the owners’ vineyard.

For those special occasions (or just because), Brannan’s Grill has an understated, luxurious atmosphere that puts a special shine on any event. Converted from an old warehouse, the locals all know that Brannan’s in the place to be. Excellent food, an award-winning wine list, decadent desserts, and live jazz music by world-renowned artists on the weekends are sure to make a lasting impression. The owners, in addition to being locally and globally active in civic and humanitarian efforts, also own an award-winning local winery, so you won’t want to visit without taking time to try something from their cellars as well.

Whether you are looking for a place to take the family for a weekend, need a quiet getaway, or a quick shopping and wine-tasting fix, the Napa Valley has something everyone can enjoy and appreciate.

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Written by Carmel L. Mooney and Tanya Curtis, they are both moms and travel junkies.