Napa Valley is so close, so beautiful and so delicious that it's pretty hard to have a bad day there. That said, there are definitely ways to make it exceptional and memorable, and navigating through the wineries, vineyards and restaurants can be overwhelming.
Start your day at the Fremont Diner. Technically closer to Sonoma, this small, unassuming spot with bright turquoise picnic tables turns out some of the freshest, most delicious comfort food using exceptional local ingredients. It's a perfect place to enjoy crispy, salty-sweet chicken and waffles, unbelievably buttery, fluffy biscuits or ricotta pancakes looking out at the vine-covered hills.
Fremont Diner — Photo courtesy of Brooke Lewy
After breakfast, head "up valley" toward Calistoga (don't worry, you'll make your way back south and won't miss anything). Save your wine tasting for later in the day and burn off some of those biscuits with a hike in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Pick up a trail map--the Redwood and Ritchey Canyon Trails provide a 6.5 mile hike with great views that can be made longer or shorter depending on your preferences (or how full you are). From there, drive back toward St. Helena, stopping at the Culinary Institute of America. Its building, Greystone, is impressive and its shop, the Spice Island Marketplace, is a great place to pick up foodie gifts, culinary gadgets and cookbooks.
Gott's Roadside (formerly Taylor's Refresher) — Photo courtesy of AngryJulieMonday
If you're starving, grab something light at the Model Bakery (Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen is a great option for a more substantial meal), or stroll down the picturesque few blocks of St. Helena's Main Street and do a little shopping before stopping at Gott's Roadside for an ahi tuna burger and a coffee bean milkshake or the Oakville Grocery for excellent picnic provisions. If you choose to see what St. Helena has to offer, be sure to check out the quirky Martin Showroom, PEARL Wonderful Clothing for stylish women's wear, Vino Velo for the latest Clif snacks and cool bike gear or pick up some Woodhouse Chocolates for later.
Martin Showroom — Photo courtesy of Martin Showroom
After lunch, it's time for wine tasting. If you're still feeling active, stop in at the St. Helena Cyclery to rent bicycles and cycle from one winery to another. Moving south from St. Helena, stop at the Heitz Cellar Winery's pretty tasting room to sample their Grignolino and their Cabernet. From there, drive (or bike) up the windy Sage Canyon Road for a highly personal and informative tasting experience at Neyers Vineyards, where their chardonnay has been known to convert a chardonnay-hater or two (call in advance to make an appointment). Afterwards, head to the luxurious Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford for a cocktail on their patio--it's a perfect way to experience their breathtaking view--or stop in at the Inglenook (formerly called the Niebaum-Coppola Estate) for some Hollywood glamour and a tour.
As the sun starts to set, make your way to Yountville for a stroll along the town's art walk or maybe one last tasting at Ma(i)sonry (where you can ogle their gorgeous furniture). Wander through the French Laundry garden or play a round of Bocce ball at Veteran's Park (reserve the court in advance). For dinner, take your pick of superb restaurants in this culinary wonderland: The French Laundry, Ad Hoc and Bouchon from Thomas Keller, Redd and Redd Wood from chef Richard Reddington, and others. You can't go wrong, they're all completely delicious.
French Laundry garden — Photo courtesy of Brooke Lewy
If the night owl in you kicks in after dinner, head south to downtown Napa, where you can salsa until the wee hours at Bistro Sabor on weekends, see a music show at the Uptown Theater or shoot some pool at Billco's.