Straddling both sides of the river, downtown Napa has numerous clever reuse projects in historic buildings, including the Historic Napa Mill, home to a luxury spa, a charming riverfront hotel and Silo’s—a cozy spot to catch live performers.
In recent years, new hotels have moved into downtown Napa, along with more tasting rooms and fine boutiques. As the city continues to evolve, many old favorites also continue to thrive and draw savvy visitors who also journey to Wine Country to see what’s new.
There’s no better way to enjoy getting to know Napa than with a scenic walk along the Napa River Trail. From the paved path, observe the oxbow in the river, for which several local attractions are named.
At the CIA at Copia, individuals, couples and families can enjoy cooking classes and chef demonstrations, and adults can opt for wine courses and tastings. Enjoy seasonal fare at The Restaurant at CIA Copia, check out the events calendar or simply explore the beautiful grounds.
Napa is also a destination for live music and engaging entertainment, with must-visit venues Blue Note Napa and Jam Cellars. The popular Napa Valley Wine Train operates year round and offers a three-hour, 36-mile throwback round-trip excursion in vintage Pullman rail cars. Running between Napa and St. Helena, the train stops at a number of celebrated vineyards. Special packages are available, including a murder mystery dinner.
There’s something for everyone at the Oxbow Public Market: an emporium of handcrafted chocolates, locally produced olive oil, wine and liquor and housewares and gifts. Start your day with an English muffin sandwich from Model Bakery, or head over to the Westin Verasa to enjoy breakfast at Bank Café, featuring fresh juices and savory egg dishes.
Lunch at Compline begins with vino by the glass or bottle, selected by the bistro’s master sommelier. Sample local cheeses, seasonal soups and starters, and save room for king salmon or duck for two. At Ca’Momi Osteria, rustic, authentic Italian fare comes in the form of light antipasti plates of burrata and roasted veggies, and plates of housemade pasta perfectly al dente.
Dinnertime in downtown Napa is a delight. At longtime Michelin-starred La Toque, the discreet dining environment boasts several booths with windows into the open kitchen. There are several tasting menus to choose from and expert pairings available from the staff sommelier. Offering views of the river walk, Morimoto is a longtime Napa favorite for its namesake chef’s inventive Japanese tasting menus and sake list. With Wine Country name recognition comes Charlie Palmer Steak Napa. Located on the ground level of the Archer Hotel, this sleek steakhouse focuses on sophisticated steaks, seafood and plenty of locally produced sides and bottles of vino.
One highlight includes Vintner’s Collective, which brings together bottles from more than a dozen boutique wineries from across Wine Country. Walk-in for a tasting, or call ahead to reserve a private appointment. Brown Downtown is open every day pouring its signature zinfandel, and reservations aren’t required but are recommended.
Along with being one of the few remaining active historic railroads in the country, the Napa Valley Wine Train it is also the most lavish way to travel through wine country. Each rail car has been lovingly restored to its former glory with velvet curtains, etched glass partitions and opulent armchairs. Although each car has a unique style, what they all have in common is the magical ability to take guests back to a time when train travel was a luxurious experience and service was paramount.
The Napa Valley Wine Train understands the palate of guests who expect “a bit more.” And for those who are fortunate enough to experience the Napa Valley Wine Train, they do get bit more scenery, a bit more fine wine, and a bit more access to wine makers and artwork.
The delightful train station is centrally located in the vibrant heart of the city of Napa and on its two-mile journey through the city the Wine Train passes through the Rail Arts District (RAD). Along this corridor, Napa Valley Wine Train and Napa Valley Vine Trail has sponsored a variety of murals, sculptures and landscaping for guests of the train to enjoy on their journey out to the vineyards. The murals are incredible masterpieces by world-famous artist and have been installed adjacent to the rail line. Argentinian-Spanish artist Felipe Pantone traveled from Spain to paint the latest mural titled “Chromadynamica.”
While appreciating the artwork on the outside of the train, guests are treated to the fine wines created by local wine makers inside the railcars. The Napa Valley Wine Train has an impressive list of tours they host daily. For visitors who only have a few hours, the beautifully curated three-hour multi-course lunches and dinners are a favorite.
The train is most famous for the epic all-day adventures that take guest to three different wineries with a superbly timed moveable feast between winery visits. Along with traditional wine tours, the Wine Train is celebrated for hosting special events including live music, Easter, Mother’s Day, and murder mystery dinner shows.
Variety, along with exceptional service, has been a driving force for the Napa Valley Wine Train, always creating amazing partnerships and experiences for guests. Here are a few of the most popular tours this time of year that will give guests “a bit more” of Napa Valley.
Vista Dome: Three-Hour Rail Journey
For the ultimate scenic tour of Napa, enjoy lunch or dinner in the elevated Vista Dome. The Wine Train’s 1952 Pullman domed railcar provides the most private dining experience as only guests with reserved seating are allowed in the dining area of this two-story car. The delicious multi-course meals are prepared in the kitchen below.
The Castle Tour: Four-Hour Tour
The young at heart love the Castle Winery Tour with its whimsical fairytale feel. A multi-course lunch is served on the way to the castle, then once at Castello di Amorosa winery, guests are taken on a private two-hour tour and tasting where guests get to explore the castle.
Legacy Quattro Vino Tour: Six-Hour Rail Tour
This tour visits three of the family estates that established the Napa Valley as a world-famous wine region. Those families include Robert Mondavi, Charles Krug and V. Sattui. The legacy of these Italian families represents a combined winemaking history of more than 300 years. This journey includes tasting at three wineries and a four-course Napa style meal served between winery visits.
Mother’s Day: Three-Hour Rail Journey
For Mother’s Day memories that will last longer than a dozen roses, the Napa Valley Wine Train is offering a special Mother’s Day tour that includes a welcome taste of the Private Label Wine, a multiple course gourmet meal, and a three-hour journey on the train.
Murder Mystery: Three-Hour Rail Journey
Step back into time and into the pages of an Agatha Christie murder mystery on one of the Napa Valley Wine Train’s Murder Mystery dinner theater. The setting is perfect and so is the multi-course dinner that is included in this fun evening of clues and suspects. Check the website for specific dates and times of departure.
It can be hard to wrap your mind around Sonoma County, an area that starts 45 miles north of San Francisco. It's nearly the size of Delaware and encompasses rolling vineyards, dense redwood forests and, perhaps most surprisingly, a wild and foggy stretch of coast. Many tourists know that this shoreline includes the fishing village of Bodega Bay, where Hitchcock filmed "The Birds," but the Sonoma Coast has many other draws for travelers. Here, we outline a seaside getaway that will take you far away from the everyday.
In the small town of Bodega Bay, Fishetarian Fish Market serves the (sustainable) catch of the day in a super casual setting that includes patio seating. Wash down the award-winning, gluten-free clam chowder with one of the five craft beers on tap or a glass of wine from neighboring Sonoma Coast Vineyards. Located across from Sonoma’s fishing hub, Spud Point Marina on Bodega Harbor, Spud Point Crab Company welcomes local fishermen for breakfast and lunch.
For dinner, consider taking an epic sunset drive up Highway 1 to Coast Kitchen, where you’ll dine on upscale California fare like braised short rib and little gem salad in a rustic mid-century modern dining room that highlights its seaside location via floor-to-ceiling windows.
Make a stop at Bodega Head, a rugged peninsula with incredible views (keep an eye out for whales, seals and seabirds). If you're looking for some beach time, head to the 17-mile long Sonoma Coast State Park, where long, sandy stretches of sand meet rocky headlands and coves. Swing by the clifftop, 93-foot Peace obelisk sculpture by midcentury artist Benny Bufano at Timber Cove Resort. Continue north to Fort Ross Historic State Park, bordered by beaches and redwood forests and home to a compound built by Russian fur trappers in the 1800s.
Visit Fort Ross Vineyard Tasting Room to sip cool-climate pinot noir and chardonnay, made from grapes that grow on the coast above the fog line, while admiring the ocean view. Feeling adventurous? Rent a kayak at Bodega Bay Kayak to get up close to seals and bird life. Or just stop in Candy & Kites for creatively flavored saltwater taffy (birthday cake, anyone?) and maybe a colorful kite to fly in the sea breeze.
While it's worth the drive up to the Sonoma Coast from San Francisco even if it's just for a day trip, we suggest staying a night (or two or three), especially if you plan to continue exploring past Jenner. High on an oceanfront bluff between Fort Ross and Sea Ranch is Timber Cove Resort, a low-key glam property that combines the allure of a midcentury California motel and a cozy lodge retreat.
The soaring redwood-walled lobby, outfitted with colorful sofas and a full bar, is crowned with a giant stone fireplace and a dramatic antler chandelier. The rooms, originally built in the 1960s and connected by external corridors, have fireplaces, record players, plaid blankets and DIY pour-over coffee. Be sure to explore the surrounding trails and views, a favorite subject of Ansel Adams, during your stay in the area.
You could devote half a day to exploring the three blocks of Sutter Street between Montgomery and Stockton streets. This short stretch connecting the Financial District with Union Square pulsates with urban activity and packs in interesting shopping, popular restaurants (with equally lively bars) and prestigious art galleries.
The Alessi flagship is a wonderland for disciples of Italian industrial design, selling high-concept home goods and kitchenware. Just half a block away, a mother-daughter team with a sharp eye for emerging global talent runs Ethos clothing boutique. At Lang’s Antique & Estate Jewelry, browse baubles dating back to the late 1700s, from rare engagement rings to Art Deco watches. In the historic glass-front Hallidie Building, The Hound has been a destination for refined menswear for more than 40 years. The fairy tale Teuscher Chocolate shop displays Swiss imports and Champagne truffles. Devotees to Korean skincare can stock up on sheet masks for the flight home at the tiny TonyMoly shop.
E&O Kitchen and Bar runs a popular happy hour with shareable bites like the pupu platter and creative cocktails like the Blushing Geisha. Pacific Cocktail Haven offers a long list of exceptional drinks, such as the Swizzle my Nizzle and the Tuk Tuk Tea. At Parisian influenced Gaspar Brasserie, vintage chandeliers, leather banquettes and a pressed tin ceiling create a romantic setting for a date. If you're looking for a convenient place to stay the night, consider booking a room in the adjacent, freshly renovated Joie de Vivre property, the Galleria Park Hotel.
The only gallery of its kind in San Francisco, Montague Gallery features an expansive roster of sought-after names in the contemporary fine art glass world, including Lino Tagliapietra, Dante Marioni and Hiroshi Yamano. Caldwell Snyder Gallery has exposed new collectors to established Latin American and European painters and sculptors who are lesser known stateside. Open since 1984, Serge Sorokko Gallery displays contemporary paintings, sculpture and photography by the likes of Donald Sultan and Hunt Slonem.
The history of Marin County is a fascinating tale filled with stories of Native American Indians, English captains, European cheese makers and fighter pilots. Francis Drake and his crew landed on the Marin coast in 1579 claiming the land as Nova Albion.
Then, according to historical records, the area we call Marin was named after "Marin," the great chief of the Coast Miwok Indians in the mid-1800s.
For history buffs and lovers of antiques and old-world charm, a trip to Marin County can be a surprising adventure that will give you a glimpse into the historical significance of the area.
At the end of the civil war, a dairy farmer named Jefferson Thompson started making fresh cheese and delivering via schooner to the dockworkers in San Francisco. Jefferson soon gained popularity for his European style cheeses including soft-ripened Brie, Camembert and his famed Breakfast Cheese that the dockworkers were given because of the shortage of protein during that time. Almost 150 years later, Marin French Cheese still operates in the same cozy valley in Marin giving them the celebrated title of the longest continually operating cheese company in America. They welcome visitors from around the world and you can pick up everything you need to enjoy a memorable picnic by their pond. Marin French Cheese Company: 7510 Point Reyes-Petaluma Rd, Novato
One thing there is no shortage of in Marin is marvelous estates chock-full of family heirlooms. Many families are opting to downsize and that is where the fun begins for collectors. One of the prominent resellers in Marin is Laurel House Antiques located in the quaint town of Ross. They feature heritage collections of jewelry, crystal, silver, china, tableware and textiles, fine American, European and Asian furniture, and decorative and functional art. What’s great is that all purchases and donations help support the Marin Art & Garden Center. Laurel House Antiques: 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, CA 94957
Hamilton Field History Museum
Hamilton Field History Museum is a delightful destination hidden away in the Hamilton Field neighborhood of Novato. The museum showcases the history of
Hamilton Airforce Base from its beginnings in 1932 all the way up to its closure in 1974. During that time 428 planes crashed in the area and it was here where the airplane that dropped the A-bomb departed. Hamilton Field was the first destination for wounded WWII soldiers. Once they arrived at Hamilton, they were cared for, then flown home.
The museum is lovingly managed by enthusiastic veterans who are more than happy to take guests on tours of the museum and share the incredible history of the airfield. There is also a library and research center full of books, videos, and posters that the public is welcome to peruse. Hamilton Field History Museum: 555 Hangar Ave, Novato
The Marin coastline is a dramatic slice of earth that has a rich history that is being carefully preserved at the Bolinas Museum. Their goal is to collect, preserve, and exhibit the art and history of coastal Marin and to present exhibitions and events that provide inspiration and cultural enrichment to residents and visitors. Always changing, the museum hosts 18 different exhibitions a year. Bolinas Museum: 48 Wharf Rd, Bolinas, CA 94924
Landmarks and Attractions
Mission San Rafael Arcángel
Mission San Rafael Arcángel was founded in 1817 as a hospital to treat the sick Native Americans. The mission grew and prospered and was granted full mission status in 1822. Currently, it is an impressive edifice in the middle of San Rafael and worth a visit if you follow Spanish mission history. Although all the historic adobe buildings were destroyed, in 1949 a replica of the chapel was built next to the current Saint Raphael's Church. Mission San Rafael Arcángel: 1104 Fifth Ave, San Rafael, CA 94901
For kids of all ages, a day at Fort Cronkhite playing hide and seek in the dramatic ruins, hiking along the coastal trails, and picnicking down by the beach are sure ways to keep a smile on your face. Perched along the Marin Headlands north of Rodeo Lagoon, Fort Cronkhite is a former World War II military post on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Fort Cronkhite is one of the few examples of these World War II "mobilization posts" remaining in the country. The fort's barracks and other buildings are preserved and tell a story of the soldiers who waited here for an enemy that luckily never came. Marin Headlands Visitor Center: Fort Barry, Building 948 Sausalito
Olema Lime Kilns
Finding the hidden Olema Lime Kilns can be a rewarding feat for those who love a good challenge. The centuries-old kilns are recognized as a historic landmark and are located just west of Highway 1 between Olema and Bolinas. Unfortunately, they are not marked by a plaque or a formal trail. Yet with some Sherlock skills and a sense of adventure you just may get lucky. Historians have long questioned their origin. For a fun day of exploring, pack a lunch and hike out to the kilns. Olema Lime Kilns location is 300 ft W of State Hwy 1 (P.M. 22.1), 4.2 mi S of Olema (Park in the turnout that is 4.1 mile south of Olema. Head southeast through the meadow down to the creek. The kilns are west of HWY 1 and east of the creek.)
The name Straus conjures up visions of ice cream, cheese, and milk. But in this case, the Straus name is all about the beautiful Straus House that is nestled in a quiet valley surrounded by towering eucalyptus, cypress trees, and 160 acres of organic pastures. The 150-year-old house and property was the home of the Straus Family after they escaped the Nazis in WWII. Now it serves as a charming bed and breakfast where guests can spend an afternoon relaxing on the porch overlooking the historic red-painted barns, rolling pastures, and Tomales Bay. Guests are encouraged to walk to the small beach where they can kayak. 22888 Highway 1, Marshall
Ten Inverness Way Bed & Breakfast Inn
Built in 1904 as a private home, this beautiful property was converted into a charming bed and breakfast inn during the seventies. Ten Inverness Way Bed & Breakfast Inn is a cozy stop for those who want an intimate experience on the Marin coast. The inn has only 5 rooms, so expect the personal touch when staying here. It is located at the entrance to Point Reyes National Seashore, and just one hour north of San Francisco. One of the favorite features of this darling destination is that breakfast, appetizers, and wine in the afternoons are included. 10 Inverness Way, Inverness
Just past the gentle rolling hills of Carneros Valley is an intersection where old-world hospitality and new world technology meets. That place is Kieu Hoang Winery. The winery is set on a beautiful plot of land where the international wellness visionary Mr. Hoang is working on perfecting the ideal elixir—a wine acknowledged for its remarkable flavors as well as health benefits.
Mr. Hoang is the current CEO of RAAS Blood Products and in his research, he found restorative cells were present in both human plasma as well as in red wine. Mr. Hoang’s lifelong passion for health and wellness brought him to Napa Valley where, in June 2014, he purchased his current winery from the Michael Mondavi Family Estates. Mr. Hoang chose this property because of the Mondavi’s iconic name and winemaking history. Mr. Hoang has continued the legacy by hiring the renowned winemaker Charles Hendricks to establish the Kieu Hoang Winery as a notable producer of wines in the region.
Insiders consider the Kieu Hoang winery a quiet, hidden gem nestled amid the well-traveled Carneros Valley and busy Napa Valley. Part of the magic of the property is the passionate and welcoming staff who are eager to share their enthusiasm and knowledge of each Kieu Hoang wine with guests. The winery offers private tours by appointment and they also host seasonal events for members of their loyalty program. The winery has a lovely wine cellar that is available for special events.
Along with being a beautiful destination for enjoying a casual picnic lunch on their expansive veranda, guests are invited to enjoy wine flights at the tasting bar. Using his expertise from 38 years in the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Hoang has applied his knowledge of technology and created a controlled temperature, low PH, state-of-the-art facility that is dedicated to creating wines with a focus on wellness. It is a testament to his level of commitment that he employees the same high standards in his winemaking production as he does in the creation of pharmaceutical products. And, this dedication can be experienced in the fine wines that are produced by his winery.
A noteworthy bit of information is that each of the bottles of wine has been crafted to be a piece of art. All of the bottles are adorned with hundreds of tiny circles on the labels; this is what grape cells looks like under a microscope. These designs are a celebration of Mr. Hoang commitment to wellness and his passion for art.
Make sure to taste the piece de résistance Emperor 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Although the bottle retails for $175, guests are able to sample the wine through a very sophisticated cork puncturing system that allows the pourer to siphon just enough wine out of the bottle for a tasting without exposing the whole bottle of wine to the destructive elements in air.
Along with being an advanced winemaking facilities in Napa, it is also one of the friendliest. The attentive staff is excited to showcase the numerous tastings and wine offerings. Guests to the winery are encouraged to bring their picnic lunch, buy a bottle of wine, and enjoy the relaxing veranda with sweeping views of the vineyards below.
The property is a sweet reminder of what wine tasting was 20 years ago before Napa wineries became so commercial. The winery has a lovely sense of charm that makes every guest feel like the winery belongs to them. So, on your next visit to Napa, stop by Kieu Hoang winery and step back into time while racing forward into the future with their technologically advanced winemaking facility. It is truly the best of both worlds.
Everything about Forestville-based Ryme Cellars represents the partnership between Ryan and Megan Glaab, the two winemaker owners who also happen to be husband and wife.
The most obvious example of this is the winery name, which is a mashup of the first two letters of Ryan and Megan. More subtle examples are the wines themselves, since they generally comprise Italian varietals for which both Glaabs share a passion.
Even when Ryan and Megan quibble, they celebrate their philosophical differences with panache. Back in 2010, the couple could not agree on how to approach still Vermentino, so instead they made two—a “his” and “hers” version. Ryan’s take is big and bold, and is considered an “orange” wine because of the color it assumes due to contact with the skins. Megan’s is light is drinkable. This one-of-a-kind approach was so popular with customers, Ryme continues to make two versions of the wine every year.
“The way we look at wine, there’s no point in making it if you can’t have fun,” Megan says.
For wine geeks, “fun” often means doing interesting things with interesting grapes. This explains why the Glaabs ferment a Cabernet Franc in a ceramic amphora. It also explains why their current offerings include a petulant natural-style Vermentino they call “crackling,” Aglianico and Aglianico Passito, Ribolla Gialla, and a Carignane (among others).
In all, Ryme produces roughly 2,500 cases each year.
Though the Glaabs don’t own vineyard land (yet), Ryan notes all their grapes come from conscientiously farmed organic or sustainable vineyards, and that the wines are produced according to simple methods.
“We want each of our wines to be the best representation of the grapes and where they’re from,” he says. “We use no cultured yeast, no temperature control, no enzymes and no other adulterants. We also don’t fine or filter.”
The Glaabs aren’t only about making wine; they prioritize giving back, too.
Last year, they launched a sister wine label that donates all proceeds to causes that align with their values. This second label, Uphold, produced 2,000 cases of white, red and rose and raised serious coin for nonprofits including Earthjustice, She Should Run and the ACLU. Both Megan and Ryan expected to expand production—and charity—in the years ahead.
Ryme Cellars, 6450 1st St., Forestville. 707.820.8121 Tastings: $20.
It only makes sense that the Bay Area, a region whose residents are known for prioritizing wellbeing and holding strong environmental values, is ground zero for natural skincare and aromatics, a booming multi-billion dollar industry. This is the headquarters of beauty powerhouses Sephora, Benefit Cosmetics and Bare Escentuals, and dozens of small eco-focused companies have launched here (and around California) as well.
A San Francisco esthetician and natural perfumist recently launched Monastery, a beautifully packaged line of skincare handmade in small batches right here in the city. Stocked at seven Bay Area boutiques, the collection is free of salt, alcohol and synthetics and instead made with whole ingredients such as sage from Greece, roses from India and flowers from Japan.
The food and drink-loving founder of the locally beloved Etta + Billie line has partnered with other local makers like Craftsman and Wolves patisserie and Ritual Coffee Roasters for special editions of her soaps, balms and sprays. Dozens of local shops carry the farm-to-bottle brand, which is based in the city.
Sandoval aromatics are also hand-blended in small batches in California, using essential oils, absolutes, woods and resins. The sprays, candles and incense each even contain an energy crystal.
Gallery: Three New Products to Take Home
For decades, Wine Country has attracted Bay Area locals and tourists alike for weekends of imbibing and dining amid bucolic vineyards. Then, breweries such as Russian River Brewing Company and Lagunitas Brewing Company joined the party in the '90s, enticing people from across the globe to try Wine Country’s other beverage of choice. But now dozens of other breweries and taprooms have popped up in Napa and Sonoma counties, giving the wine industry a run for its money. Here are several that opened in 2017, with even more scheduled to open doors in 2018.
In July, Beer Baron Bar & Kitchen opened up its third Bay Area location in downtown Santa Rosa, just a few blocks from Russian River Brewing on 4th Street. With about 25 craft beers on tap and an extensive (to the tune of 400) list of local and hard-to-find whiskies, this has quickly become a go-to spot for after-hour drinks. Plus, its comfort-food menu of fried chicken and waffles and Cajun mac and cheese is definitely worth a stop.
Then 2 Tread Brewing Company joined Beer Baron in downtown Santa Rosa a few months later with a September debut. The brewery’s open space gives customers a front-row seat to the brewing process. IPAs, cream ales and farmhouse ales are crafted onsite using specialty ingredients that change with the seasons, while burgers, flatbreads and an innovative bites menu, including sweet potato tots and fried shishito peppers, are also up for grabs.
Bear Republic Brewpub is another long-standing brewery that attracts people to Sonoma County, which is why the opening of its second location in Rohnert Park this past September was widely welcomed by the community. The same beloved menu of burgers, pizzas, local cheese boards and charcuterie plates pairs nicely with the brewery’s delicious homebrews, including its famous Racer 5 IPA.
After much success in Berkeley, Fieldwork Brewing Company expanded by opening taprooms in other parts of the Bay Area—landing in downtown Napa’s popular Oxbow Public Market as of late 2016. Enjoy a sampler flight off the brewery’s always-rotating tap list. Better yet, take some brew ha-ha home using a growler or the brewery’s very own Crowler cans.
Tannery Bend Beerworks is small—some used to call it nano-sized, in fact—but it prides itself in producing local, small-batch beer. Opened last spring, the new taproom accommodates a five-barrel system, which produces about 250 gallons of beer a week—a long way from its nano-brewery days of 15-gallon batches. Created by the team behind Napa’s popular Oenotri restaurant, the brewery combines brewing techniques with a culinary bent, drawing inspiration from local ingredients. Case in point: The Bancal Belgian winter ale gives off aromas of freshly baked banana bread.
Stone Brewing, Southern California’s largest brewery, is making its way up north and opening a new taproom in Napa, scheduled for March. Its downtown location in the historic Borreo building will feature a 10-barrel pilot brew system, guaranteeing that Stone’s iconic beers, including its Stone IPA, can be replicated onsite. Communal tables and outdoor fire pits will complete the inviting feel of the space.
If you can’t make it up north to Napa and Sonoma, the Blue Brew Bus offers brew tours throughout Livermore and San Leandro to the east. Up to 20 people can board the bus to start the tour with a “cheers beer” in a souvenir beer glass. Then, the bus will visit three area microbreweries, one of which will give a production facility tour. Past tours have included stops at Altamont Beer Works and Drakes Brewing. Bottoms up!
Chinatown doesn’t run short on superlatives. The buzzing neighborhood is the biggest and oldest Chinatown in the nation, and its vibrant, lantern-strung streets grow even more spirited during Chinese New Year. This February, celebrate the Year of the Dog by exploring Chinatown’s atmospheric alleyways, dazzling facades and countless eateries, from casual dim sum joints to trendy Michelin-starred dining rooms.
On Feb. 24, 2018, the Year of the Dog kicks off with a bang when an elaborate Chinese New Year parade snakes its way through Union Square and Chinatown with dancing dragons, thundering drums and the crackle of exploding firecrackers. Also contributing to Chinatown’s vivid streetscape are the many murals that grace its buildings and alleys. Erin Jang’s recent “Chinatown Flavor” transforms a stairway along tiny Vinton Court with bold stripes and a colorful list of Chinese food faves.
Hidden on historic Ross Alley—the oldest alley in San Francisco—diminutive 41 Ross Gallery features community-based exhibits such as “Chinatown Home Cooking,” which profiles local home cooks via photos, recipes and the short film “Sunday Dinner.” At the Chinese Historical Society of America museum, immersive displays tell the challenging story of early Chinese immigrants in America inside a glorious 1932 building designed by Hearst Castle architect, Julia Morgan.
Chinatown's market-filled sidewalks brim with bins of exotic fruits such as spiky rambutans and citrusy buddha's hands. Have a new favorite blended into a fresh juice or smoothie at Juicy Fruit. At the modern Steap Tea Bar, premium globe-hopping teas inform an extensive menu of fun, inventive boba drinks. Come happy hour, seek out Cold Drinks, a plush clandestine cocktail lounge that marries rare scotches with Asian flavors.
For a quick bite on the go, you can do no better than dumplings plucked from giant steam baskets at Good Mong Kok Bakery and crispy, ginger-infused chicken wings at neighboring New Golden Daisy. The beloved, century-old Sam Wo has new digs, but its popular down-home dishes remain the same including their signature BBQ pork-filled rice noodle rolls. Katsu House dishes up customizable poke bowls from a cozy take-out shop situated amidst the colorful balconies and temples of Waverly Alley.
Down the street, Michelin-starred Mister Jiu's reinvigorates Cantonese dishes such as a roast quail with homemade Chinese sausage in a dining room overlooking bustling Grant Avenue. At China Live, a culinary temple to Chinese cuisine, you can shop exquisite pantry staples and cookbooks at an upscale boutique, slurp tingly dan dan noodles at Market Restaurant and vie for a coveted seat at the ultra high-end Eight Tables.
It might still be a bit chilly in San Francisco but in Marin county, it’s warming up with the sweet aroma of romance. The area has a variety of experiences and romantic offerings for lovebirds looking to escape for a night or two. Leave your cares behind and head north for a memorable getaway with the one you adore. From sea to city, redwoods to romance, we have you covered with these four incredible destinations in Marin.
Mill Valley Inn
If you blink, you could easily miss this remarkably well-appointed inn located in the bustling heart of Mill Valley. From the outside, all that is visible is a driveway and a single door, but beyond that is a magical piece of land complete with towering redwoods, creek, and romantic bridge. Along with 22 charming rooms, two cottages, there is a main lounge that hosts nightly wine and cheese hours for guests. Every morning the lounge serves a wonderful complimentary breakfast as well. Ask for the sunny Creek House Penthouse Suite or a Balcony King room where you’ll get a private balcony and fireplace. For a super cozy stay, book one of the cottages. Mill Valley has a delicious cornucopia of restaurants to choose from, but for a truly romantic evening set your sights on Piatti with delicious Italian cuisine and waterfront views.
The Panama Hotel & Restaurant
Don’t let the name fool you. The hotel is nowhere near Panama, actually, it is in downtown San Rafael. Since 1926 the hotel has been in operation and its name was changed to The Panama Hotel by a bohemian couple who loved the 1942 movie “Panama Hattie.” Since 1984, the hotel has been owned by Dan Miller and his family who have kept the eclectic vibe alive and well. Brunch at the hotel has been a local favorite for generations. For a super romantic stay, book the Bordello Room or Honeymoon Room.
The Lodge at Point Reyes
Built by a master craftsman, the Lodge is a superb example of leveraging the beauty of nature through design. Each room has been thoughtfully created using wood, seashells, stone, and driftwood. With cathedral windows in many of the suites, it is easy to believe that your room is an extension of nature’s magnificence. You can’t go wrong with any room, but for the romantics, I suggest the Casa Olema Cottage, where you have your own private hot tub overlooking the creek and cozy fireplace. For a spectacular view from your bed, request the 2-story Sir Francis Drake Suite with its dramatic chandelier and opulent king size bed. The place to dine is the legendary Sir and Star, which is just across the street. There, you’ll experience a world-class meal with a preset 4-course meal created weekly depending on what’s in season. Sir and Star offers the most darling rooms upstairs, each decorated with a zeal for style and old school rustic charm. Truly impressive.
For the ultimate romantic getaway, steal away to Nick’s Cove perched on the edge of Tomales Bay. Everything that you could possibly want is at Nick’s. On arrival, a platter of Nick’s signature BBQ oysters are delivered to your room and your luxurious adventure begins. Before sunset, grab a cocktail and stroll down to the pier to the Boat Shack and indulge in a scrumptious meal created with locally sourced protein, homegrown produce, honey, and eggs. End the evening with s'more’s around the bonfire. In the morning, breakfast is delivered to your cottage. Many couple’s favorite cottages include Al’s and Fly Fisherman’s.
A James Beard Award-winning chef, TV personality and prolific cookbook author, Chef Charlie Palmer has proved himself to be a successful entrepreneur with a restaurant, hotel and retail empire spanning coast to coast. In addition to his his famous flagship Aureole restaurant located in New York City’s One Bryant Park, he has dining establishments in Las Vegas and Washington DC. In his home base of Northern California Wine Country, he owns Harvest Table in St. Helena, Dry Creek Kitchen and Spirit Bar in Sonoma and the new Charlie Palmer Steak in downtown Napa, as well as two hotels.
Where do you send visitors to eat around here?
There are so many great choices on both sides of the hill, but here are some of my favorite choices: In Napa, Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. I love their charcuterie and cheddar biscuits. And CIA at Copia. It’s a great concept at the new Copia campus. And you can't go wrong at Cook or Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen.
As for Sonoma, I live in Healdsburg, so I definitely eat out more on that side, and the list is a bit longer: Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar, where honestly, all the seafood is delicious. Diavola in Geyserville is my favorite for pizza. Dino [Bugica] does an amazing job in the kitchen there. Campo Fina in Healdsburg also has great pizza, and it's a great place to bring visiting friends and family. I also love Chalkboard for the incredible handmade pastas that Shane McAnelly puts out.
What’s your favorite local winery?
This is like picking your favorite child. I have so many favorites, but my favorite wine is pinot noir, and Tom Rochioli [of Rochioli Vineyards] makes the best pinot in the world.
What’s an overlooked Wine Country activity?
My wife Lisa and I hike pretty often in Sonoma County, and I don't think the hiking spots get nearly enough recognition out here.
Describe your perfect weekend in town.
I'd spend it with my wife Lisa and my four boys: Courtland, Randall, Eric and Reed. We'd spend the afternoon at Iron Horse Vineyards and then go out to dinner at Diavola.
What local wines do you enjoy sipping?
Where would you pick up a gift or souvenir?
Oxbow Public Market in Napa is great for foodie gifts. I try to stop by whenever I'm down by Charlie Palmer Steak Napa. If you're looking for artwork or something longer lasting, try one of the Aerena Galleries locations.
What’s your favorite town in the region?
Healdsburg, hands down. It's where we live, and it's the most beautiful place on earth!
Any tips for visitors coming up from San Francisco for a day of tasting?
If you're just visiting for a day, head to downtown Napa. It's only an hour's drive, and you can hit many different tasting rooms in town. It's really hard to try and do more than two wineries in any one day, so if you pop in and out of several tasting rooms in Napa, you can try more.
In recent years, visitors have flocked to Wine Country in greater numbers than ever before. But as attending various regional events and booking winery tastings becomes mainstream, there are still plenty of diverse ways to experience the cultivated vineyards that cover Northern California’s rolling hills and gently sloping valleys.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor, an art aficionado, a food lover or a collector of hard-to-find cult wines, the cornucopia of working vineyards and tasting rooms across Napa and Sonoma counties has something special to offer every visitor.
There’s a first time for everything
The Mondavi name has long been synonymous with Northern California Wine Country. At the Robert Mondavi Winery, guests can enjoy guided tours in English and Mandarin Chinese and sip approachable merlots and fume blancs selected for folks trying out wine tasting for the first time. Pop over to nearby V. Sattui to pick out a bottle of the winery’s popular rosé. Then, stock up on picnic supplies from V. Sattui’s gourmet deli and enjoy dining al fresco on the vineyard’s beautiful grounds.
Inglenook offers a special experience for newbies and wine lovers alike. The daily Heritage Tasting, led by knowledgeable wine educators, showcases several of the winery’s finest wines with a cheese pairing. Oscar-winning film director Francis Ford Coppola and his film royalty family own Inglenook, and while you probably won’t see a Coppola on the grounds, their commitment to fine craftsmanship is infused into the property’s every detail.
Some sparkling wine lovers say fellow bubbly sippers shouldn’t miss Scharffenberger. While that’s certainly good advice, Breathless Wines offers another opportunity to sparkle. Founded by three sisters, this beautiful tasting room also offers visitors the option to tool around the grounds in a restored vintage Vespa complete with a sidecar for one lucky passenger.
Art for art’s sake
Winemakers have exceptional taste, so it’s no wonder many collect and display their own art acquisitions at their wineries. Mumm Napa, renowned for its delicate bubbles, displays fine art photography in a gorgeous gallery designed for that exclusive purpose.
You can drink in the famous art collection at Hall Wines before you even set foot on the property’s rich soil. The shiny stainless steel “Bunny Foo Foo” sculpture leaps above the lane, and all across the property, visitors encounter more delightful large-scale sculptures while enjoying Bordeaux varietals, including cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.
Donald Hess has spent his life collecting art from masters like abstract painter Robert Motherwell, and at the Hess Collection Winery and Art Collection, you can soak in the eagle-eyed collector’s exquisite taste. And at Donum Estate, a newer collection features some of the biggest names in the art world. Reservations are required to visit the estate and sip its signature pinot noir. The sculptures by superstars Ai Wei Wei and Louise Bourgeois only further enhance the experience.
Feast for the senses
Most tasting rooms offer basic cheese and wine pairings, but in the agriculturally rich regions of Northern California, many wineries employ award-winning chefs and offer dazzling culinary experiences to enhance the flavor and enjoyment of their wines. One of the best examples is Ram’s Gate Winery, renowned for its palate pairings. Available by reservation, chef Taylr Benhnam begins with five single-vineyard wines and prepares culinary delights to compliment each.
Known for its zinfandel, Seghesio Family Vineyards is also beloved for its food-driven wines. To experience both in a beautiful setting, check the calendar for specials, or request your own private experience with chef Peter Janiak, famous for his delicate pastas that pair perfectly with the winery’s Italian varietals.
Historic Simi Winery is one of the nation’s oldest wineries and offers private lunches and dinners by reservation. Chef Kolin Vazzoler crafts casual picnics and three-course seated meals to share and enjoy with the winery’s finest estate wines, including bright pinot noirs and an aromatic late harvest riesling.
Join the cult
Some of the country’s finest winemakers won’t sell their bottles to just anyone. Only the most dedicated fans, who travel to the winery or visit the few restaurants pouring the wines, can enjoy these highly coveted, limited-edition offerings. One of Napa’s newest reservations-required estates, Alejandro Bulgheroni, focuses on handcrafted small production cabernet sauvignon.
From grapes grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Ceritas Wines produces limited-edition chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. Email to inquire about a tasting at the Healdsburg winery, one of the only ways to enjoy the Ceritas experience. Arnot-Roberts, also with a reservations-required tasting room in Healdsburg, has a wide portfolio of exquisite, rare wines, including bold syrahs and French oak barrel-fermented chardonnays.
Kosta Browne’s acclaimed portfolio focuses on pinot noirs and chardonnays. While still retaining its elusive charm, the esteemed winery will open its first hospitality space in the spring of 2018, located in its new small-lot fermentation cellar and offering reservations to non-members seeking the chance to experience the winery.
Take your furry friends
While many wineries keep animals on the grounds and do not allow visitors to bring their pets, some encourage dogs to accompany their owners for wine tours and tastings. Benziger Family Winery, St. Francis Winery and Vineyards, and Larson Family Winery all welcome dogs. Dutcher Crossing Winery even has its own winery pup, Dutchess.
Where to Shop
Comic book fans go crazy over Fantastic Comics. In true Berkeley form, it caters to a diverse audience, carrying not only the big-name, Marvel-esque new releases, but also an assortment of graphic novels, collected editions and local comic books. It even has a Ladies Comic Book Club, defying any dated stereotypes that comics are a man’s game.
Body Time offers an interesting history lesson alongside its skincare products. Opened in 1970, this was the original Body Shop before the owners sold the name to the London skin care company in 1992. Under its new name, Body Time still emphasizes the use of natural ingredients and even encourages customers to customize their own scents.
Located further north in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto neighborhood, A Priori has the eco-conscious shopper’s needs in mind. Locally sourced knickknacks—vases, wooden bowls and handcrafted jewelry—are just the beginning. The store’s name in Latin literally means “from what came before,” a nod to its commitment to the 3 R’s mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle.
Where to Eat
Get a taste of New Orleans at Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen. This neighborhood staple serves up savory fried chicken, jambalaya, gumbo and shrimp creole. But the restaurant’s spring crawfish boils are when it truly brings out a “let the good times roll” spirit reminiscent of the Big Easy.
The people behind Gather are committed to bringing organic, sustainably sourced ingredients to the table. With that comes flavorful dishes that appeal to the meat-eater, vegan and every dietary restriction in between. Start off with a small plate of pork cheeks topped with a fried farm egg or a bowl of lentil soup made from mushroom broth.
East Bay Spice Company combines a trendy atmosphere with traditional Indian fare. Just take a look at the cocktail menu. Indian spices such as garam masala and tamarind add a unique kick to the restaurant’s most popular specialty drinks.
Where to Drink
Jupiter checks all the boxes when it comes to a college-town hotspot: pizza, beer and live music. The brewhouse serves up to 12 of its own beers alongside 30 guest taps from local breweries. Head out to the heated beer garden, where locals can enjoy a pint any time of year.
Tupper & Reed takes a page from its circa-1925 predecessor’s book by serving up classic cocktails in the comforts of the historic brick building, which for more than 80 years housed a music store owned by John Tupper and Lawrence Reed. The bar’s extensive cocktail list includes harder-to-find spirits such as absinthe, a perfect ingredient for mixologists to light on fire and entertain patrons right at the bar.
Revival Bar & Kitchen, also known for using sustainably sourced ingredients, makes this especially apparent on its bar menu, which emphasizes smaller craft distillers and organic wineries. Take a seat at the expansive bar during happy hour and enjoy a drink alongside an order of St. Louis ribs or blistered padron peppers from the Bar Bites menu.