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Having traveled to San Francisco a few years back, biking for five days, and absolutely loving it – the one thing we didn’t get to do was Wine Country. This month my sister and I decided to travel back for a few days to experience the vineyards & small towns firsthand.
This Heirloom Travel segment highlights our travels and notes those places & experience that you should be sure to put on your list during your next visit! Do enjoy!
We started our adventure in the heart of Historic Napa Mill. The Napa River Inn was simply darling with Napa General Store right next door. The best little bakeshop we found on our entire trip was also right here – Sweetie Pies! A throwback screendoor with galvanized metal greets you as you enter and the bakery is filled with the heartiest breakfast croissant sandwiches & Morning Buns that are to die for. It also features the only remaining grain bagging machine smack in the middle of the cafe floor as a nod to the Napa Mill’s roots.
The historic Napa area was fun to wander, though we didn’t find too much there. Ate at a great Mexican restaurant for dinner with a wonderful open-air floorplan and agave nectar margaritas that you just can’t miss.
Across the main street was another bakery, cafe & Oxbow Market area – nearby the Napa Wine Train station – with a Farmers Market on Saturday AM.
A good bit to the north of Napa, we traveled to the town of Calistoga. With a retro Western feel to the town, we ventured up early Saturday AM to catch their town Farmers Market which turned out to be a treat! Beautiful fresh flowers, grapes & peaches, and some great woven baskets that we couldn’t pass up. Not far from Old Faithful, Calistoga is known for their mud & the healing powers that comes with it, so we decided it was here we’d partake in a Spa treatment. The Spa was very cute with ivy covering the exterior stone building and I must say a great massage! Several vintage consignment stores worth checking out as you enter the town too!
Passing vineyard after vineyard, Oakville holds a few great treasure stops along your way. The first, and loveliest is the Oakville Grocery. A wonderful old building set right beside the main road is painted with Coca-Cola with benches out front for sitting & eating. Inside the hardwood floors creak and mobs of people peruse the various cases of baked goods, prepared foods, meats for slicing, gourmet goodies & beloved sandwiches. The perfect stop for picnic preparation, and be sure to get one of their handy burlap grocery sacks!
To complete the picnic, you can also stop at the always-wonderful Dean & Deluca, also located right off the main drag. D&D features some of their wonderful classics (black & white cookie fans beware) sprinkled with a great variety of local treasures – like Point Reyes Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives, local honey and produce.
This wonderful little town was absolutely a top favorite from Wine Country. The road to St. Helena is a grand entrance lined with slightly canopied trees welcoming you to the quaint town. St. Helena Olive Oil Company is SUCH a treasure! We stopped in twice to restock. Their infused olive oils are just delightful … basil, rosemary, jalapeno, garlic. A variety of balsamic vinegars, lavender bath products and the most wonderful sea salts! All housed in an old bank building .. a must stop.
The town is just filled with endless treasures! Model bakery has a rustic display of crusty, floured bread in the window, and next door the Woodhouse Chocolates almost feels like a jewelry store of handmade confections. Ridiculous window displays line the streets, can’t help but wander inside these shops. “M” had some great oversized pieces like this great rope chandelier and worn-wicker chairs. Vintage Home was pure delight with breadboards, Match pewter, and great lamps scattered throughout the charming store.
We almost didn’t stop if Petaluma, as we hadn’t heard much about it. Another of the absolute best places we visited while in the Wine Country. Petaluma is a fabulous few blocks of historic buildings packed with antiques, dining & more. We park directly in front of the Seed Bank – filled with aisles of heirloom seeds! A simply breathtaking building with wonderful painted windows – what an amazing treasure! The street corner sidewalks held metal lettering spelling out the street names, worn from walkers year after year.
So many lovely antique stores – the best of our trip. Sienna Antiques (wonderful pieces, very authentic), Vintage Bank Antiques (lovely building, a mismatch of everything), and Chelsea Antiques (again, wonderful pieces & little treasures) being our favorites. Found a great old bag too! Bluestone Main was a proper little decor store with strikingly crisp & classic finds, while the Sweet Little Shoppe was filled with inexpensive clothing & accessories with a wonderfully playful decor.
Lucky for us, we stumbled into Petaluma during their Arts Festival which was fun for all with the food, wines, music & wares. The Free Public Library might possibly be the most wonderful old library I’ve ever seen! And you must stop in the quaint Knitterly makes you want to make a scarf on the flight back home.
Santa Rosa & Healdsburg & Yountville
Santa Rosa was a quick drive-thru for us on our travels, but made for a nice little venture. The historic railroad junction of a town had a few great old buildings and some promising little shops that had already closed their doors for the evening.
Healdsburg was yet another little treat of a town to the North. A lovely town square again with blocks of wonderful shops and restaurants to explore. A vintage sweet shoppe takes you back to a simpler, more whimsical time. Yet another stop at the Oakville Grocery (one of the 6 shoppes they have) provided the most refreshing red berry drink and turkey & brie sandwich yum! Amdist the well-done restaurants and shops, the one that simply cannot be missed was Bistro Ralph. I dare to say one of my the top 5 restaurant interiors I have ever seen. Painted-white brick walls & a simple white interior provides the perfect backdrop to an enormous black spoke wheel suspended from the ceiling on the back wall of the restaurant. And their sorbet trio looked like a treat!
Lastly, Yountville was another quickstop for lunch – the overly French Bistro Jeanty – provided great outdoor seating and a friendly & social crowd, filled with authentic French dishes.
Sonoma Plaza was a great place to stay. The Plaza Park provides a secret garden of stone buildings, huge trees, little ponds, and people picnicing and playing. Our wonderful El Dorado Hotel was ideal, with cool tile floors and a laid-back yet refined El Dorado Kitchen restaurant that made for a great last dinner for us.
As we didn’t visit the lavish winery itself, we took in an evening wine tasting at the charming Ledson Hotel, enjoying a hearty tasting of nearly all their selections! A great place to stay overnight too no doubt. One evening we took in a fabulous bushel of oysters at the oyster & martini bar down the square – a must!
A array of great little shops, like the very-French Chateau Antiques, the childlike Tiddle E. Winks filled with vintage games, bookstores, & home goods. Rhapsody is a must-stop with it’s absolute joy interior design & displays inside! They have a great array of clothing and some very unique jewelry selections too. Almost cloud-like fabrics & lights make for the most fun shopping you’ll have!
And last but not least, who goes to Wine Country without visiting the wineries! I must say I wish there had been a better guide for which were the best small & unique experience vineyards to vist, but nonetheless we found some great ones to share.
At the Robert Mondavi Winery, we did the tour which I’d highly recommend. For being such an industry giant, the tour was very personal & experiential, starting in the vines, a great deal of education, moving into the fermentation process & cellars and ending with a dining-room-like tasting. We tasted some new wines they were testing and even a sampling of goat cheese & watermelon salad – delightful, educational, beautiful & fun overall.
Nickel & Nickel was an appointment-only winery that is so delightfully charming with it’s farm-like appeal & horses. The wooden-barrel-like appearance of Peju & Cakebread were both just lovely against the stark green of the surrounding vineyards. Twomey had a nice small & personal family feeling, with some great reds for tasting. Stopped into Franciscan also, as Dad loves their Cab .. our first tasting too .. and actually found their Sav Blanc to be quite tasty & pear-like.
Most beautiful & fun experience we had was at the Korbel Champagne Cellars. A last-minute trip, we meadered up to Korbel to find it nestled amongst the redwood trees of the North. We had such a fun time sampling all the champagnes side-by-side and realizing their vast differences. A quaint little deli & market also provided to the experience. Who can resist the bubbly!
A few more stops at Rodney Strong from some great reds and V. Sattui, where we tasted right along with George Sattui which made for a great “from the family” experience for us.