Napa's Top Secrets
You don't need us to tell you that Napa Valley is a nice place to visit. What you do need is a way to lose the masses.
11. Wineries double as art galleries
A heart-shaped sculpture by pop artist Jim Dine greets visitors at Cliff Lede Vineyards, one of several wineries that put prized private collections on free display (1473 Yountville Cross Rd., Yountville, 800/428-2259, cliffledevineyards.com, tastings from $20). At Artesa Vineyards & Winery, a waterfall-flanked stairway leads to a tasting room that could pass for a museum. Credit artist-in-residence Gordon Huether, who mounts dramatic glass, metal, and canvas installations that change throughout the year (1345 Henry Rd., Napa, 707/224-1668, artesawinery.com, tastings from $10).
12. A vineyard tour with a third-generation owner
The best Napa Valley wine tours go beyond the tasting room. At Gamble Family Vineyards, owner Tom Gamble takes you on a hay-bale ride through his organic and sustainable vineyards, on land his grandfather first farmed almost a century ago. This is no cookie-cutter tour; it's a chance to hear wine-making tales from a third-generation Napa native—and taste an old-vine Syrah and a robust cabernet. 707/944-2999, gamblefamilyvineyards.com, by appointment, free with suggested purchase of two to four bottles of wine, bottles from $25.
13. A supersize mineral bath
The nearly Olympic-size pool at Indian Springs Resort and Spa, fed by geysers and infused with minerals, is naturally warm—typically 102 degrees in winter and 92 in summer—and preternaturally relaxing. A single spa treatment, like a vitamin C facial or a volcanic-ash mud bath, comes with an all-day pass to the pool. Rooms and cottages in the Spanish-style resort, many with private patios, are pictures of casual comfort. 1712 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 707/942-4913, indianspringscalistoga.com, treatments from $65, rooms from $185.
14. The valley's most awesome view
The subtle drama of Napa is never more obvious than when you're sitting on a veranda on a hill overlooking the vineyards. Auberge du Soleil, a high-end resort on the eastern side of the valley, has one of the region's best spots for taking in the view. Forget booking a $575 (or more) room; a shaded terrace out back opens up onto the valley below, and everyone is welcome for sparkling wine at sunset or cappuccinos in the morning—the perfect time to take in hot-air balloons rising through the mist. 180 Rutherford Hill Rd., Rutherford, 707/963-1211, aubergedusoleil.com, sparkling wine from $13.
15. Even the malls are gourmet
Founded by Steve Carlin (who helped start San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace), the Oxbow Public Market feels like it belongs in an epicurean fantasy. In a concrete building that calls to mind an industrial barn, 23 artisanal vendors sell everything from strawberry-balsamic ice cream (from Three Twins) to soothing oolong (Tillerman Tea) to peanut-butter-and-chocolate cupcakes (Kara's Cupcakes). 610 and 644 1st St., Napa, oxbowpublicmarket.com.
16. And even the beans are better here
Rebosero. Flageolet. Black and white runners. In a world overrun with plain-tasting and industrially processed pinto beans, Steve Sando is committed to preserving heirloom legumes. His love for the earthy flavors of distinct organic strains has given rise to Rancho Gordo, a bean-centric specialty store whose coveted products can be found at top California markets and at restaurants across the country. 1924 Yahome St., Napa, 707/259-1935, ranchogordo.com, beans from $5 per pound.
17. A taco to remember
No reservations required at La Luna Market & Taqueria, a home-style Mexican takeout counter. Get there before noon, at which point locals have already started to line up. Adventurous eaters swear allegiance to the smoldering tacos al pastor (spicy, marinated pork). 1153 Rutherford Rd., Rutherford, 707/963-3211, lalunamarket.com, tacos from $1.75.
18. Anything's possible
House-made granola. Lavender-dusted almonds. Yoga gear. These are just a few of the things you can get at Ubuntu Annex, a tasting room and variety store that opened in June two doors down from its eclectic sister spot, chef Jeremy Fox's acclaimed vegetable restaurant (please, not "vegetarian") and yoga studio Ubuntu. 1130 Main St., Napa, 707/251-5656, ubuntunapa.com, almonds $8.
19. 150-foot-tall redwood trees
The footpaths in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, a peaceful swatch of green just down the road from the Beringer winery, provide a perfect way to work off food-and-wine-related excess. The six-plus-mile hike that connects the Ritchey Canyon Trail and the Redwood Trail runs past Douglas firs and the easternmost stands of redwoods in California. 3801 St. Helena Hwy. N., Calistoga, 707/942-4575, parks.ca.gov.
20. A local dive bar with class
Pancha's of Yountville is just the kind of place where the guy slumped on the bar stool next to you might start giving you tasting notes on his margarita. This is where Napa's winemakers come to unwind (and unwind and unwind). Expect to eavesdrop on gossip about rivalries and romances that seem sprung from Falcon Crest. 6764 Washington St., Yountville, 707/944-2125.