As the fourth biggest wine producer in the world, California is definitely the place to go if you’re a bit of a wine buff (or fancy yourself as a potential one!). The state’s main vineyard region, Napa Valley, is located handily close to San Francisco, meaning there’s no excuse not to visit on a holiday to California. Here are our top picks of things to see and do on a wine break here:
1) Ride the Napa Valley Wine Train
This journey offers a great introduction to the culinary delights of Napa Valley. The Napa Valley Wine Train takes passengers on a 36-mile route from Napa town and back again, passing through Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford and St Helena along the way. Passengers will enjoy a sumptuous gourmet lunch or dinner during the three-hour ride along with – of course – some delicious locally produced wine. It’s hard to beat the experience of travelling past vineyard after vineyard while sipping on wine made with grapes grown in these very places!
2) Tour the Jarvis Winery
Now, it’s likely you’ll spend a significant proportion of your holiday touring some of the wineries around Napa Valley. If you only have time to visit one, though, make it the Jarvis Winery in the town of Napa itself. It makes a rather excellent cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay, but the main reason to visit is simply to have the chance to wander around the winery’s cave. Yes, that’s right – all of Jarvis’s wines are made in a 45,000 sq ft cave, which you can tour if you book in advance. Look out for the underground waterfall, which keeps the cave’s humidity and temperature at the right level, towards the end of the tour.
3) Hike through Robert Louis Stevenson State Park
California has some fantastic scenery to explore, so if you fancy a break from all that wine tasting, head to the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park for a refreshing walk. Located north of Calistoga, the park is home to the Stevenson Memorial Trail, which you can follow for 2 miles to and from the Stevenson Memorial, or hike on a longer round trip to the summit of Mount Saint Helena for an amazing view. The park is named after Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson because it’s where he went on honeymoon with his new wife in 1880, spending six weeks camping and generally enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
4) Combine wine tasting and fine art at Robert Mondavi
If you’re something of a culture vulture, a trip to the Robert Mondavi Winery will be right up your street. This impressive building offers wine tasting/tours as you’d expect, but it’s also home to a wonderful range of fine art pieces that you can browse during gallery opening hours in the daytime. The permanent collection includes a significant number of sculptures – including some by Beniamino Bufano – along with paintings by local and international artists. There are also several wine-related antiques and artefacts to see, such as a Mediterranean wine amphora dating back to 1 BC. Some of these can only be seen on a tour, however.
5) Indulge in some Michelin-starred dining
Napa Valley is home to a fine array of Michelin-starred restaurants, so you’ll definitely be in your element if you’re a foodie as well as a wine aficionado! There are two venues with three of the coveted stars – The French Laundry, which (unsurprisingly) serves up French-inspired cuisine, and The Restaurant at Meadowood, which provides tailored menus for each of its customers. Other top-ranked eateries include Redd, Ubuntu, Auberge du Soleil and Bouchon, so consider visiting at least one of these during your stay for the ultimate gastronomic experience.