Happy Fall, Y’all! I mean really, with the cool, fresh air rolling into Houston (finally!) it makes me so excited for the upcoming holiday season!
As a native Texan, I start craving fall around the end of August or early September. This typically means we do whatever we can to seek out that fall feeling. Since drinking pumpkin spiced lattes isn’t our best option when it’s 95 degrees and 90% humidity, D and I typically head north somewhere to take in a true fall experience. This year, we went back to our beloved Napa Valley, and stayed at my favorite spot, The Solage in Calistoga.
This was actually planned a while back, so let’s start there. I LOVE Solage. It all began about a decade ago when we went to wine road weekend with our friend Kat, and she recommended this little jewel as our hotel. Fast forward, to this past May, when D sprung a black-tie gala on me last minute. The gala was benefiting UNICEF, and would be the 1st of 2 black tie outings that weekend. Little did I know, I would end up winning an auction for an incredible stay at my favorite Napa Valley hotel at that gala. Jokes on Dan, right? HA.
So, since I haven’t done an updated tips + tricks for the valley in a while, I thought I would update my post while it’s all still fresh in my mind.
Hotels + Inns can run the gamut of prices, locations, rewards offerings, etc. in the valley, so you really need to do your research and figure out a few things. When booking your trip, keep these items in mind:
1.) What vibe do I want? In town? Walkable to restaurants and bars (trust me, you won’t need bars)? More low key but still accessible? Completely isolated? Awesome Spa? Romantic? Affordable?
2.) How much do I want to spend? Rooms can run from $250 a night in the off season to $2000 a night in prime time (harvest season is high-season, so expect high prices from Labor Day weekend – end of October). If you’re looking for a good value, try going in November or even February-April.
3.) Rewards? There are a few “chain” lodging options in Napa Valley, so if you want to incorporate your points/perks, this may be a good place to use them. There are properties such as Andaz (Hyatt), Marriott (Bonvoy), Las Alcobas (Bonvoy), Embassy Suites (Hilton Honors), and beyond. Keep in mind, some of these tend to be a more generic, as one would expect, so if you’re looking for a true local feel, I would recommend the Las Alcobas in St. Helena or Andaz in Napa.
Moral of the lodging story– here are my favorites in the various categories:
- Money ‘aint a thang: Solage Calistoga, Las Alcobas, or potentially the new Four Seasons opening early 2020 (hey, Four Seasons, hit me up!). There are also even pricier options, such as Auberge du Soliel, Calistoga Ranch, and Meadowood, but we haven’t stayed there so I cannot speak to those.
- I want to get my steps in: Andaz Napa, Hotel Yountville, or the new Archer Hotel by Charlie Palmer in Napa. After a day of drinking, these properties are my favorite walkable luxury hotels, where you can just get out and walk off some of that vino.
- Best use of your rewards points: Las Alcobas, hands down.
- Properties to skip: Carneros Inn Resort and Spa. It’s too far south in my opinion, and you really don’t get the true Napa experience, unless you drive a good 30 minutes north into the valley. Chain hotels. I would just say skip any of the main-line chain brands, just because the Valley has so many unique properties, you should definitely consider staying somewhere that is indicative of the region.
Keep in mind that like wine country lodging, vineyards run the gamut of offerings as well. You really need to know what kind of experience you’re looking for during your trip. Do you want private tastings or don’t mind standing at a tasting bar with countless other new, semi-toasty friends? Do you want to taste wines you can find at home in the grocery store, or are you looking for more rare offerings? Are you interested in food pairings? Do you want a tour of the property and/or their caves?
Here are some of my tips/considerations when booking vineyard/winery tasting experiences.
- Book in Advance. Always (and I cannot stress this enough) make appointments for the vineyards on your must-visit list well in advance. These tend to book up quickly, as the county limits the amount of visitors to each property. There aren’t many true experiences where you can just show-up and taste anymore.
- The rule of three. My personal rule is never to book more than 3 in a day. The valley is fairly generous with their nectar of the gods, so for me, 3 tastings is a limit. Hey, I want to remember my dinner after all.
- How much do I want to spend? Sometimes the tastings are $20, $30 or even $70 per person. Sometimes they’re free (remember, you get what you pay for!), and sometimes there is an expectation of purchase. Our driver in the valley once told us the vineyard required a $2500 per person spend. Ummm, who do you think I am, Bill Gates? Cancel that appointment, sir.
Here are some of my favorite Vineyard/Winery experiences:
- Most Impressive: Palmaz (want to know what close to $1 billion dollars will buy you in terms of a winery?)
- Unique Experience: Robert Sinskey Vineyards Farm to Table Tasting, Swanson Vineyards Sip Shop
- Best Food Pairing: Round Pond (not only is the wine good, the winery architecture is gorgeous, and the food tasty. That’s a win in my book.)
- Best Bubbles: Schramsberg (the tour is a bit pricey, but excellent cave experience and great wine-club)
- Best off-the-beaten-path Winery: Fisher (a bit of a drive, but the wines/property/people are excellent)
- Most Fun/Approachable: Aonair (ask for the ATV tour, and the owners phone number is printed on EVERY bottle of wine. Apparently he likes drunk texts.)
Ok, this is going to make me hungry. EAT ALL THE MEALS. Seriously, you need it here. We aren’t big breakfast eaters, but we know when in wine county you must have a hearty breakfast. We also try to work in a beautiful, special lunch each day, and then a more casual, affordable dinner that doesn’t have a set reservation time. After all that drinking, we find that we just want to be casual, not change clothes, and heck, sometimes even just eat some drunk food. Here’s my list of restaurants we routinely argue about visiting each time:
Favorite Restaurants: Gott’s Roadside (St. Helena), Bistro Don Giovanni, Solbar at Solage Calistoga, Oxbow Market, Hog Island Oyster Company, Brasswood Bar + Kitchen (definitely get the off-the-menu homemade mozzarella cheese and heirloom tomato topping! YUM!), Alexis Baking Company in Napa, Bottega, and the new Restoration Hardware Restaurant in Yountville.
Ship your wine. Don’t worry about checking wine in your luggage and risking ruining your clothes, or losing a special bottle of wine. There are many businesses throughout the valley that will ship your products home for you. We shipped 2 cases on our last visit from Buffalo Shipping in Napa, and it was around $100. Your hotel can also ship for you, but be prepared for an up charge/premium prices when going this route. Also, ask the winery you’re purchasing from if they ship. Most do, but sometimes there is a cost involved.
Another option if you really want to check a bag home (not sure why you’d want to do this, but hey, who am I to judge), vineyards sell suitcases specifically designed to safely check a case of wine home. We did this for a while, until we witnessed our wine fall 5 feet off the conveyor belt while being loaded onto the plane. Unbeknownst to them, the passengers on the plane were caught off-guard by my fearful shriek.
Hire a driver. This one is pretty self explanatory. Always remember: drivers are cheaper than DWIs. They also know the valley very well, and have been to most of the places you want to visit. There are times when cell reception/maps don’t work properly, and you don’t want to be stressed and lost while you’re on vacation. Uber and Lyft are available in the valley, but I wouldn’t consider these to be a solid means for transportation, particularly at night. There is almost NO nightlife in Napa Valley, so your wait time can be 30+ minutes for any kind of vehicle to come get you.
Book in advance. Let me say this one again. Book EVERYTHING in advance. This will save you a lot of heartache.
Cheers! That’s all for now. Let me know if you have any questions about the valley, hotels, drivers, etc. I’ve got bigger lists of recommendations for my favorite things, so just ask!
And now for some pretty pictures for getting you excited about your upcoming trip!