If Napa and Healdsburg were sisters, Napa would be the posh, refined sister with the best shoes and matching handbag; while Healdsburg would be the hippy sister who loves a great vintage, having a glass in the plaza park on a sunny day.
The Napa Valley comprises 5 towns, is 35 miles long and only 5 miles wide, and is home to hundreds of wineries. Tourism has come back in force, with weekends being very busy and high season in the fall. Visitors have their choice to fly into San Francisco, Sacramento or the smaller and closer Santa Rosa airport.
Two Accommodation Varietals
Milliken Creek Inn is a small inn tucked into a lush wooded area, nearly out of sight. With just a handful of buildings, you’ll be one of a select few getting spoiled at this quiet spot. The grounds are stunning with tables, chairs and couches nestled by fireplaces and the creek running behind the property. Help yourself to a plentiful drink station available all day (sparkling water, sodas, tea and coffee), wine and a small charcuterie tray at happy hour, and you’ll order a full breakfast on the ipad in your room to be delivered promptly at the designated time.
The circular guest room is spacious, lux and inviting with a king bed, soaking tub and separate bathroom with a large shower. You might not get to spend much time here, but you’ll not want to put a cork in it (as in leave, in wine talk)!
River Terrace Inn (a Noble House property) is a more commercial option, but the location can’t be beat! The inn opens up to the Vine Trail that runs along the river, which offers not only the perfect place to dine, but easy access to other places you want to get to: town, The Napa Wine Train or Oxbow Market. You’ll enjoy a comfortable room (two doubles or a king) with a friendly staff.
Have dinner at their restaurant, Alba, along the trail outside (heaters and blankets included for a chilly night!). Start with the grilled pork & lamb meatballs or parmesan & garlic fries, which both make a great precursor to the ricotta gnocchi. As with most restaurants in Napa, you can bring your favorite bottle of wine you tasted earlier in the day and just pay a small corkage fee.
Wine Flies When You’re Having Fun
The Napa Valley Wine Train allows you to kick back and throwback to travel of days gone by. This luxury train is one of the few active historic passenger railroads in the U.S., and it’s so much more than transportation (though that’s a selling point to not have to get yourself from winery to winery = no drinking and driving).
The iconic attraction offers a roundtrip journey from its downtown Napa station (just a 3-minute walk from River Terrace Inn) to St. Helena with a gourmet meal prepared freshly on board by an expert culinary team, where you’ll be seated in a dining booth, gazing out over the views as you sip and savor.
Guests can choose from a full or half-day tour. The Legacy Tour begins with a tasting of sparkling wine, followed by a four-course culinary experience spread throughout the 6-hour trip, a stop at the Napa Valley sign for an onboard wine tasting and photo opp, followed by exclusive tastings and tours at both Charles Krug and V. Sattui wineries. Legacy Tour tickets typically range from $495 – $695.
Right across the street from the train station and just down the trail from River Terrace Inn is the famous Oxbow Market, open 7 days a week (7:30 am-9 pm) for your dining and shopping pleasure. The Market, founded in 2007, features a rose and cupcake bar, a “Jew-ish” bagel bar called Loveski, a produce stand, meat market, Hog Island Oyster Bar, Ritual Coffee out of SF and a pizza bar, among other offerings. It’s a spot to walk through, shop and each individual can pick their own dining option.
Wining and Dining
Alpha Omega Collective is a tasting room in downtown Napa that allows you to make the most of your time, offering wine from three different vineyards in one location. The vineyards, all owned by the same winemaker, are located in Napa Valley (Alpha Omega), San Luis Obispo (Tolosa) and Spain’s Priorat (Perinet). Their Bordeaux-inspired releases can be ordered by the flight, glass or bottle. Because a trip like this is truly a celebration of life, consider purchasing their Alpha Omega Era (signature wine; $335 bottle). Reservations can be made for a party not to exceed six people and on any day of the week between 11 am – 7 pm.
Angele Restaurant & Bar is located in Napa but will transport you to the countryside of France. Dining indoors or al fresco are options at this chic restaurant located in the historic Hatt Building along the Napa River. Locally sourced ingredients are prepared at both lunch and dinner. Leave the wine tasting to the tasting rooms and enjoy a cocktail, such as the Clear Conscience, or a Cali beer, such as the Almanac Love Hazy IPA. If you just really need a glass of wine, the restaurant has a corkage fee allowing you to bring in your own bottle. Fixed in the “tres” French way, the “Cochon in a Blanket” is a great choice for an appetizer and select the Roasted Branzino as your “Plats Chaud.”
After exploring Napa, take the scenic drive north via Hwy 12 and book a stay at Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza (Four Sisters Inn property), located in Sonoma County. This town is situated at the intersection of the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley near many wineries. Built in 1901, this chic boutique hotel includes 12 guests rooms, making the experience more like that of a bed and breakfast. Included in your stay are breakfast, wine + cheese mini-picnic, freshly baked cookies, and bicycles to borrow. Breakfast alternates between sweet and savory depending on the day of the week. Each room combines the historical feel of a 100+ year old inn with modern conveniences such as a flat screen TV. Guests can walk right out the front door to the town’s plaza and enjoy a picnic on one of the park benches.
Spa Montage and Hazel Hill at Montage Resort
After a luxurious treatment at Spa Montage, be sure to schedule dinner at Hazel Hill for a dining experience in the trees. Outdoor seating is an option, with heaters and lap blankets on a crisp night. Menu items are created with ingredients from their gardens, as well as local farmers and producers. For one of the most unusual items on the menu, start with the white asparagus available seasonally. Main dishes recommended are the wagyu strip loin served with duck fat potatoes, foraged mushrooms and sauce au poivre or Shannon Ridge Lamb cooked medium and served with artichoke, lemon confit and chickpeas. Light and fluffy, the mandarin creamsicle is a dessert to end this special occasion meal. The sommelier can recommend the best wine for your meal or have the beautiful pink Fight Like a Girl cocktail where a portion of the proceeds will support breast cancer prevention.
The Sutro Wine Hike and Taste is a VIP experience in an intimate setting (hike capped at 6 people) at an affordable $45 per person. Wine enthusiasts can experience a sommelier-led nature hike at the historic Warnecke Ranch & Vineyard, home to SUTRO Wine Co. The hike will take you one mile over vineyard terrain making appropriate walking shoes a must. The hike is followed by a wine tasting under an oak tree on a neighboring property, making personal transportation a requirement. Hikes are by appointment only. Founder & winemaker Alice Warnecke Sutro is also an artist and her artistic touch is evident throughout the experience.
Located right off the plaza in Healdsburg is Costeaux French Bakery, a delicious option for breakfast, lunch or simply a sweet treat. Serving Healdsburg since 1923, this socially conscious company created the Knead program to support the Redwood Empire Food Bank and Sonoma Family Meal during the pandemic when bread became sparse. While you can’t go wrong selecting from the menu, the cranberry turkey sandwich is a good choice for brunch or lunch. Signature desserts can be enjoyed at the bakery or picked up for an afternoon entremet. Choose from the chocolate decadence torte or the lighter lemon tart. Closed Monday and Tuesday so plan your visit accordingly.
Cover Photo Courtesy Napa Valley Wine Train
Marika Flatt, Outstanding Austin Communicator 2021, is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She began her travel writing career with Austin Woman Magazine when it premiered in the fall of 2002. Now, she writes “The Texas Traveler” section for Austin Woman Magazine and can be seen on TV shows across Texas, offering travel tips.
Selena Swartzfager is a travel writer, nonprofit president, an amateur athlete, lover of adventures and life. Her favorite type of travel allows her to learn about history while enjoying things for the first time. Follow her on Instagram.