Just Back: Napa Valley

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Navigating California’s Napa Valley and its profusion of fine restaurants and upper-crust wineries can be intimidating. Thankfully, National Geographic’s Andrew Coleman (on Instagram @awc007) is a repeat visitor to the oenophile wonderland and can offer fresh insight gleaned from his latest tour.

Here are some of the high points of Andrew’s trip, in his own words:

Authentic souvenir: You can’t visit Napa and not bring back wine. But that’s so obvious. This time around, my wife and I branched out and went to an olive oil tasting at Round Pond Estate (our favorite was a variety infused with blood oranges grown on-site at the vineyard). For a broader selection of great local finds, head to Oakville Grocery—the oldest continually operating grocery store in the Golden State—which carries an array of homegrown products from Napa and Sonoma Valley farmers, artisans, and purveyors.

Craveable culinary experience: Unsurprisingly, Wine Country abounds with top-rated restaurants. What we didn’t expect was to have a standout food experience at a winery. The concierge at our hotel recommended B Cellars, which was founded in 2003 on the site of an old horse farm. The Oakville outfit prides itself on its pairings, whipping up delectable dishes to accompany their wines in a full kitchen. My wife and I couldn’t decide whom we liked more—the winemaker or the chef. Needless to say, this tasting room will be one of our go-to spots from now on.

Best place ever: Duckhorn Vineyards is a touchstone for us when we visit Napa. This St. Helena winery offers a relaxing sit-down tasting experience against the background of its gorgeous estate. It’s rewarding to witness how a winery changes over the years. (Cakebread and Chateau Boswell are two additional favorites.)

Outdoor adventure: Rent a bike! We like cycling the Silverado Trail, nearly 30 miles of winding, sometimes hilly, roads on the eastern edge of the Napa Valley. There’s no better way to take in the beautiful views of the wineries if you stay within the designated bike lane and observe one simple rule: Don’t sip and ride.

Doable day trip: If you’re looking for a break from the vineyards, drive an hour southwest to Muir Woods National Monument. The Mill Valley park offers flat (i.e., easy) trails that loop through an impressive grove of old-growth coastal redwoods—some of which are up to 800 years old and 250 feet high. After a nice hike, it’s just a short drive into San Francisco or artsy Sausalito for a late lunch overlooking the bay.

Wish I’d known: If you’re planning a special meal at one of Wine Country’s top restaurants, remember to go easy on the wineries during the day. Most restaurants have an excellent selection and offer pairings with their meals. We went to the Michelin-starred Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant after a full day of tastings and wish we’d used the time for an afternoon bike ride instead.

Practical tip: Check the Wine Country calendar and the websites of your favorite wineries for special events that coincide with your stay. This time, surfing the Web led us to the Calistoga Food and Wine Festival at Solage Calistoga, where we had access to tastings from 30 small wineries, paired with food from highly rated Solbar. We would never have been able to visit so many wineries in one trip, let alone in a lifetime. And we found a few new favorites to add to our list in the process.

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