The vines might look eerie and twisted as winter descends upon California’s famed Napa Valley, but spirits are up following October’s devastating fires.
The holidays are a great time to visit California’s premiere wine country.
The air is finally starting to chill. The restaurants, shops, and wine tasting rooms are open and decorated with twinkling lights along the downtown streets. The 1900 light poles are wrapped with holly and topped with red and gold bows along the river promenade leading to the Christmas tree at the base of the First Street Bridge that crosses over the Napa River connecting the west and east sides of the City of Napa.
Wine Country for Families
Napa isn’t only a playground for adults. There’s plenty of things to keep kids occupied among the vines.
Santa is taking kids and their parents through the valley to his North Pole workshop aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train’s Santa Train, now through December 29. This annual event is fun for families, especially kids, who help Jolly the Bear, a toy that was left at the train station unfinished, find his way to the North Pole workshop, as they sing holiday songs, play games, eat cookies and drink hot chocolate as the historic Pullman train rolls along the tracks toward the workshop. Each kid receives an ornament as a reward for helping Jolly the Bear find his way to the workshop. On their way back from the North Pole, kids hand their letters to Santa to a fairy who will deliver them.
Parents will enjoy signature Napa Valley wines paired with train veteran Executive Chef Kelly MacDonald’s scrumptious creations all created while the train chugs through the vineyards between the City of Napa and St. Helena and back during the hour and a half ride.
The train also invites passengers to bring unwrapped gifts (toys, books, games, movies, gift cards, and more) to donate to the Secret Santa Toy Drive until December 17. The toy drive is in partnership with a Ticket to Dream Foundation. The Wine Train will invite hundreds of foster children to meet Santa Clause during a trip aboard the Santa Train. Tickets range from $39 to $69 per person.
Even as an adult I can’t think of anything more exciting as a kid to be able to leave the adults behind and freely explore a replica of a 13th century Italian castle, which is where Castello di Amorosa resides in Napa.
Sterling Vineyards offers a gondola ride into the hills 300 feet above Calistoga. At the top with its stunning views of the valley below, kids are greeted with a gondola-shaped snack boxes filled with cookies, juice and coloring books while their parents enjoy exploring the vineyard’s wines.
Napa for Couples and Girlfriend Getaways
Hands down, Napa is a sophisticated adult playground where good time with friends and romance is everywhere from cooking classes at the Culinary Institute of American at Greystone (Drew Barrymore took some classes with some of her girlfriends here not too long ago) to crafting your own Bordeaux wine at Judd’s Hill Microcrush. You can take a half-day tour with lunch or dinner of Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch.
Of course there’s exploring the more than 400 wineries throughout the Napa Valley.
Where to Sleep
Families will enjoy staying at the Meritage Resort and Spa. The luxury resort situated at the gateway to the Napa Valley provides suites large enough for families to spread out with spacious rooms and bathrooms with double sinks and more giving them privacy while being together. Kids won’t get bored at this resort as there are plenty of activities to keep them occupied and bring the family together, especially at the Crush Ultra Lounge. The lounge is a playroom and restaurant and bar offering up sports on large screens throughout the venue and games, including bocce ball, bowling (six bowling lanes), pool, and tabletop shuffleboard to get active.
The resort is only a short drive to downtown Napa and offers easy access to Napa’s famed wineries along highway 29 and the Silverado Trail.
Find a fun or romance stay in the heart of downtown Napa at a mainstream hotel to charming bed and breakfasts depending on your tastes.
The Napa River Inn offers a journey through time to the late 1800s to early 1900s with its turn-of-the-century romantic Victorian-Western décor. Located near the end of the Napa Riverwalk the hotel is steps away from music entertainment from Silo’s near the Uptown Theater.
For a modern and more foodie focused stay in Napa, The Inn On First and The Randolph Inn offer guests gourmet breakfasts to start them on their daily adventures during their stay. The Inn on First’s Chef Jim Gunther never serves the same dish more than once and The Randolph Inn’s Chef Dianna King serves up gluten-free gourmet meals that any foodie would marvel and swear it wasn’t gluten-free. Dianna also offers gluten-free cooking classes and last year she published the first-ever Inn on Randolph Cookbook. These inns also offer a modern atmosphere from romantic to chic.
Wine travelers with a budget will enjoy staying at the Best Western Plus Inn at the Vines in Napa. A shorter drive than the upscale Meritage to downtown Napa, the chain hotelier offers a comfortable in a surprisingly nice environment to relax in after a day of exploring without breaking the bank.
Where To Eat
Food and wine go together, so it’s no secret that Napa is a culinary wonderland with the legendary French Laundry or the other hard to get dinner reservation at CIA’s Copia, but there are so many restaurants that will make your mouth water and your stomach grumble.
For those who just want a cup of coffee and a quick bite to eat after sunrise, Molinari Caffe, a Nuttella cafe’ serves up delicious cups of coffee and a pastry, and the Oxbow offers quick inexpensive lunches if you are saving your appetite for dinner.
Where To Get That Special Gift
Downtown Napa’s art galleries and boutiques offer unique gifts for last minute shopping.
Cake Plate and Miyamo offer fashionistas chic wine country style by local designers. The Grand Hand Gallery Annex. Located at the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville, offers a mixture of California and Minnesota artists’ works and crafts.
Discover Napa’s local artists along the Napa Art Walk. The stroll through downtown is never the same as the public works are rotated biannually. The sculptures and artwork in windows of vacant storefronts will inspire you to own or gift a piece of Napa. Art lovers can find more local art at the Art Gallery Napa Valley, Artists of the Valley Gallery, and the Jessel Gallery to name a few.
On the other side of the Napa River, a quick jaunt by foot over the bridge, the Oxbow Public Market and the Home Index (formerly The Poor House Napa) also offer gifts that can’t be found anywhere else.
Anette’s Chocolate Factory at its downtown or Oxbow Public Market locations offers visitors delectable chocolates. Who would turn that gift away? Or you might just want to keep it for yourself.