WHY WE LOVE IT
- It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth—a cross between the south of France and Tuscany—and it’s an all-season destination.
- The luxury resorts combine world-class dining and wine lists with high-thread-count sheets, concierge service, gorgeous scenery and eclectic architecture.
- Eating is an adventure. Some of the best chefs in the world are here, using the freshest local ingredients to create works of art on the plate.
- Activities abound for all tastes: Hire a town car and visit wineries all day or rent a bike and explore the vineyards; take a cooking class or see the valley from a hot-air balloon; visit art galleries or help with an olive harvest. Or just go shopping for chocolates and shoes.
- The spas cater to your every desire and offer special treatments like grapeseed wraps, goat-milk baths, champagne facials and couples massages in front of a fire.
WHEN TO GO
If you like heat and crowds and can find lodging with a large pool, come in summer. Fall is harvest time, and the annual Indian summers usually last well into October. Late fall, winter (except around Christmas) and early spring are the best times to come if you don’t like crowds, want better rates and don’t mind a rainy day or three in front of a fireplace.
WHAT TO PACK
Remember that Northern California isn’t like the rest of the country. Even in summer it can get chilly at night, and even in winter you can sometimes go swimming. Pack a bathing suit and a coat whenever you come. Don’t forget walking shoes and one formal outfit, just in case.
GETTING MARRIED IN THE WINE COUNTRY
Each area of the Wine Country has its own ordinances and nuances; most wineries can't host weddings, but a few can. The best sources for basic information are the Web sites of the Napa Chamber of Commerce (napachamber.com/dir_weddings.html) and the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce (sonomachamber.com/weddings.html).
Public marriage licenses cost $70 in Napa (Napa County Recorder-County Clerk’s Office, Carithers Building, 900 Coombs St., Room 116, Napa; 707-253-4246) and $75 in Sonoma (Sonoma County Clerk's Office, 2300 County Center Dr., Suite B-177, Santa Rosa; 707-565-2645) counties. There's an additional fee of $13 for a certified copy of the license.
If you want to get married in the Wine Country, do your homework: Come for a weeklong visit about a year before you want to get married and stay at a few different resorts, try the restaurants and visit some potential wedding sites. Then hire a wedding planner—either an independent contractor or one who works at the resort you’ve chosen. The Web sites NapaWeddingSource.com and SonomaWeddingSource.com have information about planners and service providers.
6476 Washington St.
Thomas Keller wanted a place to serve dishes inspired by the comfort food he ate growing up. It was to be a kind of pickup jazz combo to the symphony of the French Laundry and the string quartet of Bouchon (see both below). It was meant to be temporary and would serve five nights a week. Due to popular demand, the restaurant now serves a fixed menu five nights a week in a small room, with some seats available at the bar for walk-ins. Best to check the Web site or call before stopping by because a set four-course menu is served each evening. A recent menu included a salad of petite romaine hearts, buttermilk fried chicken, a cheese course and ice-cream sandwiches.
6510 Washington St.
Chef Philippe Jeanty came to California from France's Champagne region, bringing his exquisite blend of haute and home cooking. Jeanty installed a communal table here long before San Francisco's fashionable upscale restaurants did the same. The mix is half local, half visitors, but they’ve all heard about his famous cream-of-tomato soup (topped with puff pastry) and coq au vin with buttered noodles. Other deftly rendered traditional dishes include pieds de cochon, duck foie-gras pâté, escarole salad with a soft-boiled egg and bacon dressing and sole meunière with lemon and capers. This is the place to come when it's cold outside and you need to feel soothed or it's a pretty spring day and you're up for lingering on the outdoor patio.
6534 Washington St.
Tiny Yountville is Thomas Keller’s world, and we just eat in it. If you haven’t snagged a reservation at the chef-restaurateur's French Laundry (see below), saunter down the street to Bouchon. Take a seat at the zinc bar, order a glass of wine and the salmon rillete and make friends with the local winemaker to your left and the vacationing gals from New York to your right. The French bistro food is authentic (including onion soup and croque monsieur), the outdoor seating is just the ticket when it’s not too sunny, and the oysters are fresh. The nearby Bouchon Bakery sells take-out salads and sandwiches, croissants, pastries and foie-gras dog treats (we are not kidding).
1310 Main St.
When we canvassed workers at Wine Country resorts and restaurants about where they go for a relaxing informal meal, many said they to head to Cook. A small place, it seats only 40 people, but the minute you arrive you're treated like a regular. If you sit at the counter, you can see into what looks like a diner's short-order kitchen that produces simple but flavorful dishes with an Italian slant. The homemade mozzarella is wonderful, as are comfort foods like the gnocchi with Gorgonzola cream and the fettuccine Bolognese. Entrées include grilled fish and a burger; for lunch you can order a gourmet BLT made with applewood-smoked bacon and served on a ciabatta. The wine list is an even split between local favorites and Italian varieties, many available by the glass.
EL DORADO KITCHEN
405 1st St. West
Chef Ryan Fancher's El Dorado Kitchen is fast turning into Sonoma Plaza's anchor restaurant, a place that pulls in even the cooler-than-thou Napa Valley crowd. The first things you see upon entering the dining area are a big open kitchen and a 21-foot-long communal table made from a Vermont bridge. The effect is rustic yet modern, and Fancher, whose résumé includes the French Laundry and the Santa Barbara area's San Ysidro Ranch, mirrors the setting with blissfully simple and farm-fresh dishes. Surprising flavors pop up—the steak comes with truffle frites, for example, and the fritto misto has curry in it. The bar is known for its unusual house drinks, including a prickly-pear margarita. In fine weather, sit outdoors.
THE FRENCH LAUNDRY
6640 Washington St.
We include this hard-to-get-into iconic restaurant only because those who should know (chefs like Anthony Bourdain) agree that it's a place one should visit before one dies. But you must plan ahead. Here are the four best strategies for getting a reservation: 1) know someone who works or has worked there who can grease the way; 2) call two months to the day before you want to dine and actually get through; 3) get lucky on Open Table (opentable.com); 4) book a private dinner for 10 (for $3,600) and buy a less expensive wedding dress. If you still can’t get it, at least walk around the garden across the street and bond with the ingredients you’ll never get to taste.
641 Main St.
Go Fish's owner, Cindy Pawlcyn, is a Napa Valley pioneer. A native of Minnesota, she studied in France before heading to the Wine Country, where in 1983 she opened Mustards, still a regional favorite. Then came Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena and in 2006 this large and airy space with a long, curved Italian-marble sushi bar. The mood is casual and fun at this hangout beloved by locals. Order noodles with tempura prawns, fish and chips or traditional rolls and maki as well as sushi chef Ken Tominaga’s special sashimi plates. Steak and a pasta dish are also on the menu, in case someone needs them. The wine list is heavy on whites and sake.
6480 Washington St.
Chef-owner Richard Reddington's résumé includes stints at topline San Francisco restaurants Masa’s, La Folie, Jardinière and Postrio, as well as at New York’s Daniel, Alain Passard's L'Arpège in Paris and Napa Valley's own Auberge du Soleil. In 2005 he struck out on his own in the gastro center of the Wine Country, Yountville, fashioning a delightfully eclectic seasonal menu. Caramelized scallops with cauliflower and almond balsamic reduction and prime New York steak with braised short ribs are among the signature dishes. The snappy bar menu includes fish tacos and a prosciutto pizza. One of the attractions of Redd is its clean, bright, minimalist interior. The white walls, shiny hardwood floors and modernist tables and chairs provide a sense of calm, and the large windows let the natural scenery hold center stage.
1180 Rutherford Rd.
After you’ve tried the latest in trendy fusion fabulousness, come to the Rutherford Grill for a perfect roasted chicken and the cornbread that comes in a cute little skillet. Think of the meal as a palate cleanser. And, yes, there are fish, other meats and everything else on the menu. It’s just that people come for the chickens—you can see them waiting for you in a huge glass-encased rotisserie. The restaurant's ambience is laid-back, the stone-and-wood building is country chic, and the bartenders and waitstaff are friendly. The lines in summer are out the door, so for dinner book ahead or sit at the large horseshoe-shaped bar, where locals meet to trade stories.
TRA VIGNE RESTAURANT
1050 Charter Oak Ave.
This ivy-covered, high-ceilinged operation was the brainchild of the Food Network star Michael Chiarello, though he's no longer a partner. Over the years the cuisine's quality has varied, the chefs sometimes straying from traditional Italian focus on a few well-selected ingredients. But now the kitchen has found its way. The menu for both lunch and dinner is simple, with a few pastas and meat dishes and a couple of pizzas from the wood-burning oven. Sit outside in the summer—the patio is one of the Napa Valley's loveliest. Inside, the wood bar is striking, and the Italian posters and muted color scheme create a chic yet warm atmosphere.
AUBERGE DU SOLEIL
180 Rutherford Hill Rd.
Tel: 707-963-1211, 800-348-5406
Auberge is the place for those who crave a taste of French country with snob appeal. A recent renovation has turned the interiors golden, with suites that include wet bars, large dressing areas and balconies. Weddings are held on an intimate, flower-filled veranda overlooking the valley vineyards. The formal dining area is just that—better to eat on the terrace in fine weather, with the possibility of a star sighting or two—but the semicircular bar is a cozy bet for a burger or pizza. The spa offers such local specialties as a Meyer lemon–olive oil massage and a rose petal–custard body mask. The facility is located far enough from the gorgeous outdoor pool, yoga pavilion and workout areas to assure serenity.
580 Lommel Rd.
Tel: 707-254-2800, 800-942-4220
The Napa Valley's newest luxury resort, this ranch is more like a Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired hideaway camp for royalty. Young men in golf carts whisk you to your room, which feels more like a country house. Most of the larger suites include a bedroom and a living room separated by a deck containing a private hot tub. The construction materials are high quality—slate in the bathrooms, beautiful wood in the outdoor showers and a subtle copper trim around the exterior eave that changes color with the weather. The spa's bathhouse has private outdoor tubs (filled with cabernet wine, mud, buttermilk, chocolate milk or fresh cucumber according to your taste). Weddings are held in an idyllic glen, and receptions can be hosted in a wine cave nearby.
THE CARNEROS INN
4048 Sonoma Highway
Here's the epitome of the new agro-chic resort, a mix of private houselike suites modeled on farmworkers' tin-roofed huts but with wood-burning fireplaces, private patios and Italian linens on the beds. The property is lush with fruit trees, flowers, lavender and rosemary, and the almost-Olympic-size chlorine and salt-water pool is the best in the valley. Indoor-outdoor spaces are fabulous when the weather is warm, but even when there is a chill, the outdoor fire pits (in some of the rooms) and showers keep things comfortable. Wedding-friendly, the Carneros Inn has several sites, among them an apple orchard, for your ceremony, and the banquet rooms echo the chic, clean design of the rooms. Each of the three restaurants here serves memorable meals.
EL DORADO HOTEL
405 1st St. West
Sonoma and Napa are very close geographically, but psychologically they are quite different. The Highway 29 part of Napa that is full of resorts, wineries, spas and world-famous restaurants is one way to go, but if you are more interested in quiet, quaint and comfy, then the town of Sonoma might be for you. The recently refurbished El Dorado Hotel has a modern country-chic style, with 27 simple accommodations (four of them bungalows near a small pool) and a large lobby connected to a cafe and the El Dorado Kitchen restaurant. When you walk out the hotel's front door you are right on Sonoma Plaza, across from a movie theater and within easy walking distance of restaurants, shopping and the historic Sonoma Mission.
25 Matheson St.
The town of Healdsburg is north of the main Napa-Sonoma action, making it a great choice if you're looking for a low-key honeymoon. And with places like the lively Hotel Healdsburg anchoring the adorable downtown, you don't have to sacrifice style to achieve tranquility. The rooms are spacious and have clean lines and soft colors (celadon, chocolate, cream), and the pool area is intimate, with potted lemon and olive trees and a separate semi-enclosed hot tub. Star chef Charlie Palmer oversees the Kitchen, where you can feast on specialties like Hog Island oysters, roasted organic baby beets with Laura Chenel goat cheese fondue and venison with hoisin glaze.
KENWOOD INN AND SPA
10400 Sonoma Highway
Imagine Tuscany as interpreted by a whimsical artist who has read Much Ado About Nothing, and that’s Kenwood. Once you enter the resort you leave the world behind. There are no televisions in the spacious rooms, but there are velvety chairs, heavy wooden furniture custom-made in Italy, fireplaces, deep bathtubs and tiny, witty windows that create delightfully framed views of trees, water features and sculptures. There's a spa, but the best treatment is the in-room ti amo togetherness massage, with grapeseed oil, sparkling wine and candlelight. A special treat, only for guests of the inn, is dinner with Venetian chef Renzo Veronese. Sit at a table near the open kitchen and watch him turn out flawless pasta, chops, roasted fish and minestrone.
MEADOWOOD NAPA VALLEY
900 Meadowood Lane
New England meets California at this longtime favorite. The whitewashed lodgings, with their fireplaces and fluffy comforters, sit amid a bowl-shaped valley. The spa and pools are practical rather than trendy, and there is a croquet glen (where you can have a wedding) as well as tennis courts, four miles of hiking trails and a golf course whose adjacent grill serves fabulous American food (have the burger, the grilled artichoke and the soup du jour). The main dining room recently lost one award-winning chef but gained another, Christopher Kostow, who features cuisine based on regional ingredients. Besides sports classes, the resort also offers comprehensive information on its flora and fauna as well as wine courses and a nightly tasting in the lobby.
1600 Atlas Peak Rd.
Tel: 707-257-0200, 800-532-0500
This is the place to come if you are golfers or just like a lot of space. Anchoring the 1,200-acre country club is a white-columned Southern-style mansion—complete with two restaurants, private party rooms, a lounge and a dance floor—that overlooks the two championship golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. The 280 units, simply furnished, have fireplaces and full kitchens. The resort also has 10 swimming pools and 17 tennis courts. The spa is across the road (you can walk or take a golf cart), so you feel separate from fellow guests who want to wield themselves. Instead, you can bathe Roman style, have a couples massage or just roam around the 16,000 square feet of space at your disposal.
FAIRMONT SONOMA MISSION INN
100 Boyes Blvd.
This resort, built on a natural hot-mineral-water source discovered by native Indians, used to be the first place that came to mind when people thought of Wine Country resorts. The current building opened in 1927 as a hotel, was used as an R&R site for sailors during WWII and is now managed by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. The big pink resort has the faded glamour of a platinum-blond bombshell from the studio days. The spa’s Greco-Roman theme, with large indoor baths, attracts couples from around the world for a romantic getaway. Tennis courts and a golf course (a quarter-mile shuttle ride away) and outdoor pools provide plenty of recreation, and you are very close to downtown Sonoma, with its movie theater and restaurants.
VILLAGIO INN & SPA
6481 Washington St.
Tel: 707-944-8877, 800-351-1133
If you've come to the Wine Country for dining adventures, Yountville would be the perfect home base—after dinner at the French Laundry or Bouchon or Bistro Jeanty or Ad Hoc or Redd, you can just walk home—and the place to stay here is Villagio. It’s a sprawling but easily navigated collection of spacious rooms and suites intersected by riverlike water features and softened by Meyer-lemon bushes and white roses. All the rooms have fireplaces, Italian linens and oversize sunken tubs. Breakfast is served buffet style in the lobby, and in nice weather terrace tables are set up overlooking the pool. This spa is admired for its simplicity, comfort and skilled massage therapists.
755 Silverado Trail
In what has lately become the new Napa style, Solage combines warm and homey with chic and modern. The 22-acre spread, just south of Calistoga, offers visitors their own home (actually just a room with patio but since it's not attached it feels like a house) with two bicycles waiting outside, five pools (a 130-foot, a children's, a hot springs co-ed and two unisex pools with clothing-optional feature) and some of the best food in the valley. There are also two bocce ball courts (lit for evening play) a world-class spa, yoga room and gym. At first glance, the site looks underwhelming but that is all good once you settle in. Though the design is high-end the feeling is cozy and comfortable. Unlike some of the fancier resorts in the Wine Country, this place is easily navigated since it's all on one level--no need for a golf cart to whisk you anywhere. A word about the aforementioned cuisine: chef Brandon Sharp, formerly of Gary Danko in San Francisco and The French Laundry in Yountville, prepares fresh, seasonal dishes that don't show off but offer the brightest, deepest flavors possible. Salmon is perfectly seared with an angelic bernaise and even if you don't like dessert, have the chocolate souffle. Since the portions are perfectly sized you will crave breakfast the next morning. Have the omelette, the housemade bagel and the bacon. Then grab your trusty bike, feel like a 12-year-old again, and ride into Calistoga secure in the knowledge that you can come home later for another meal. PS: the place is ready and able to put on large weddings and proved it by doing a huge one (involving a buyout of the entire property) the first week they opened in July, 2007.
Among the reasons the Wine Country is ideal for a honeymoon is that unlike such places as Paris or Florence there are no must-dos or must-sees. But there are plenty of options for wine lovers, gourmands, outdoorsy types and even lazybones. Your concierge can help you shape your itinerary. Every resort has special relationships with local businesses that offer activities like hang gliding, hot-air balloon rides or horseback riding. Hiking and biking trails abound as well. And of course you can always stay at your lodgings and swim laps, take a yoga class or get a facial. After you’ve paid your exercise dues, hire a town car through your trusty concierge and visit some wineries (see our suggestions below).
ARTESA VINEYARDS & WINERY
1345 Henry Rd.
This winery used to produce sparkling wines based on parent company Cordoníu’s Spanish varieties. Now, after a modern face-lift and addition of sculpture and paintings by local artist Gordon Heuther, the winery sells primarily still wines, striking out in areas other wineries in the region don’t touch. The Carneros District, whose rolling hills you can see from the hilltop perch at Artesa, is perfect for pinot noir and chardonnay, but the winery also makes wonderful sauvignon blanc, albarino and tempranillo. You can try them all while gazing out at the gorgeous views. Don’t try to get married here, though. It's been said that a bride showed up once in full regalia and had to be turned away.
500 First St.
This food-lovers mecca in downtown Napa has so many things to offer it seems the folks running it never want you to leave. You can wander through the organic herb-producing Edible Gardens ornamental, watch cooking demonstrations, join a wine-tasting group or eat lunch at Julia’s Kitchen (named for Ms. Child, of course). Copia—its full title is Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts—is a foodie church, and events have been developed to celebrate every occasion, season and holiday. Yes, you can get married in the garden—even if you are inviting a thousand people.
THE CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA
2555 Main St.
The other C.I.A. This one offers cooking demonstrations, tasty meals and a fetching terrace on which to linger and decide what to do next. Check the Web site for upcoming classes, but you even can learn a thing or two just stopping for lunch or dinner: The kitchen is open, and it’s better than the Food Network because the cooks are right there making your meal. The menu usually includes some classics, such as French onion soup and cioppino as starters, roasted chicken or day-boat scallops for main courses and crème brulée for dessert. The huge stone building is impressive, and the service is superb.
DEL DOTTO VINEYARDS
Del Dotto Caves
1055 Atlas Peak Rd.
Del Dotto Estate Winery & Caves
1445 St. Helena Highway
If you want to taste wine amid marble columns, Venetian chandeliers and vaulted ceilings, visit the new bar at this over-the-top winery. Make a reservation for a private visit to the caves, hand-dug in 1885, where you can taste from the barrels and nibble on Parmesan. There is nothing else like this in the Napa Valley—or anywhere for that matter. The estate's grand entry hall can be rented for private parties, if you have the wardrobe to match it.
DI ROSA PRESERVE: ARTS & NATURE
5200 Carneros Highway
Of several noteworthy places to view art in the Wine Country (see also Artesa, above, and the Hess Collection, below), this is perhaps the most stunning. Rene di Rosa was a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper before he decided to move to the country and buy several hundred acres of Carneros land. He grew grapes for a few decades, but after selling his vines to Seagram he concentrated on collecting contemporary works by Northern California artists. Stop by anytime to visit the large Gatehouse Gallery, but you can only see the full—wildly diverse—permanent collection on guided tours for which reservations are required on Saturdays and recommended during the week. Guides also conduct nature walks through the 121-acre preserve, which is across from Domaine Carneros (see below).
DON'T CALL IT CHAMPAGNE
Though they can’t call it champagne, many California sparkling-wine makers use the classic methode champenoise. Two palatial stops in the Sonoma Valley are Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyard (23555 Carneros Highway, Sonoma; 707-996-7256; gloriaferrer.com), one of the few wineries that hosts weddings, and J Vineyards and Winery (11447 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg; 707-431-3646; jwine.com) known for its J Sparkling Brut. The venerable French house of Moët & Chandon branched out to the Napa Valley with its Domaine Chandon (1 California Dr., Yountville; 707-944-2280; chandon.com). The outdoor tables look out over a lawn and huge oak trees. Equally pretty views can be had from the striking château of Domaine Carneros (1240 Duhig Rd., Napa; 707-257-3020; domainecarneros.com), the domestic partner of France's Taittinger champagne house.
GRGICH HILLS ESTATE
1829 St. Helena Highway
While working at another Napa Valley winery in the mid-1970s, Croatian-born winemaker Mike Grgich gained international attention at a now-notorious Paris tasting session when his chardonnay received a higher rating than all the competing French white burgundies. Shortly thereafter, he started his own winery, whose wines are simple, clean and consistent. His chardonnay doesn’t undergo the malolactic fermentation that creates the butter and oak notes that have been so popular for so long. Instead, you taste the fruit and its natural acidity in a well-balanced blend. Come to the unpretentious tasting room for a bit of the Wine Country the way it used to be, with the added benefit that Grgich is now following the wonderful trend in California of growing his grapes biodynamically and organically.
THE HESS COLLECTION WINERY
4411 Redwood Rd.
Hess is among the Wine Country's best art-winery combinations. Its founder, Donald Hess, was a bottled-mineral-water mogul in Switzerland who came to the valley to extend his empire in the 1970s. The United States wasn’t ready for his product, so he made wine instead. And he started collecting work by contemporary artists. Hess' taste is world-class. You can visit his winery and tour rooms filled with works by Francis Bacon, Frank Stella, Anselm Kiefer and Andy Goldsworthy. Don’t miss Hommage (a.k.a. the burning typewriter) by Leopoldo Maler. Then visit the tasting room and try the estate wines made from varietals including malbec, syrah and viognier. Hess is seven miles off the main highway, but it’s a swell escape and the grounds are tree-filled and serene.
JOSEPH PHELPS VINEYARDS
200 Taplin Rd.
Phelps, a construction engineer who became a winemaker in 1972, has kept many of the bottles he’s enjoyed. When you are in the tasting room off the Silverado Trail overlooking the soft, gorgeous Spring Valley and the vineyards and mountains to the west, look up and imagine all the stories behind the bottles on the ledge near the ceiling. Then try the wines. Phelps is known for cabernet and two blends: insignia (cabernet, merlot, petite verdot and malbec) and le mistral (made from Rhone varietals). The winery also produces a syrah and a viognier. Tours and tastings are by appointment only; if you are a member of Phelps wine club you can call to book the picnic table.
1991 St. Helena Highway
Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t just make movies. He also makes wine and markets products at his winery that include olive oil, pasta, ceramics and everything else you need to take a bit of the Coppola vision home with you. For $25 you get a three-day pass to Rubicon Estate (known until recently as Niebaum-Coppola) and a wine tasting. You can also request free entry to visit just the store area or the cafe. The grounds are exquisitely maintained, with well-landscaped trees, gravel paths and the centerpiece: the vine-covered château that dates from the late 1800s. The upstairs has historical artifacts that tell the story of the estate’s founder, Gustave Niebaum, and there are artifacts and antiques related to filmmaking.
There are plenty of places to shop throughout Napa County and Sonoma County, but below we focus on the best two. St. Helena is a gem of a town. Give yourself a couple of hours to walk up and down the few downtown blocks, have lunch and then get back to your resort in time for your massage. Sonoma Plaza, the heart of the town of Sonoma, provides a quaint antidote to the sometimes too-cool world of Napa. Beyond these two towns are other options, starting with the wineries you'll be visiting, many of which also have shops; you won't lack for opportunities to whip out the plastic.
DEAN & DELUCA
607 S. St. Helena Highway
This is the be-all and end-all of Wine Country food markets. People come here to ogle the products the way they visit museums to view art. And some of the food here costs as much as fine art. One child had to put a fig back when his mother discovered at the checkout that it cost $7. But there are things that are more affordable. The house-made soups nearly always please, the cheeses and charcuterie are top-notch, and the baked-goods section contains not only fancy pastries but also basic breakfast rolls. The prepared food is at the back, and there’s an espresso bar. The huge wine selection is entirely Californian.
1350 Main St.
This is interiors as art, art as interiors. The buyers at Martin roam the world and find things you never knew existed, that you don’t need but that will nevertheless rivet your attention because they are so well designed and witty. The leather club chairs have taken steroids, the jewelry is displayed on rice, and there’s a tree trunk held together by metal bolts. Don’t ask. Just look. If you find yourself at the airport toting a faux-fur throw, avant-garde flatware or chromed antler candleholders, don't say we didn't warn you. Better pass on the handblown-glass honey-bear bong, though. It might raise eyebrows at the security checkpoint.
NAPA PREMIUM OUTLETS
629 Factory Stores Dr.
Take your vitamins, have an espresso and make your way to this mega strip mall. It is worth it, even if shopping gives you a headache, because there is quality merchandise here: Ann Taylor, Barneys Outlet, Banana Republic, Coach, Calvin Klein, J. Crew and Levi’s. Fifty stores in all—you need to know it’s here. Stop either on the way to winery or on your way out, but stop. You’ll find a classic piece at a fair price. If you come on a hot day, be sure to wear sunblock and drink water because this is an open-air affair.
NAPA VALLEY OLIVE OIL MANUFACTURING CO.
835 Charter Oak Ave.
The little white barn that has sat on Charter Oak Avenue since 1931 is worth a visit just for the inspiring smell that greets you as you walk in the door: a heady mix of olive oil, aged cheese and salami. This is the center for plain old olive oil in a jug, imported Italian pastas and sauces as well as fresh cheese. The folks running the place may well be in the sweetest people in town. Place your business card on the wall to join the thousands already there. Napa Valley Olive Oil is near Tra Vigne Restaurant.
TWO STOPS FOR SHOE LOVERS
Off the main street and in a tiny space, Flats (1232 Spring St., St. Helena; 707-967-0480; flatsnapavalley.com) is worth seeking out for its handcrafted Italian ballerina flats in many colors, big white cotton tunic tops and Indian fabric dresses. Footcandy (1239 Main St., St. Helena; 707-963-2040; www.footcandyshoes.com) is for fabulously spoiled girls (you know the type) who need Choo, Blahnik and Louboutin to feel right about themselves. The shop is gold and white and has not only shoes but also fashion-forward clothing and bags. Of course.
1367 Main St.
This jewel of a candy box sells handmade delights in unusual fresh flavors like mint—which tastes like the leaves smell—mocha cream, rum raisin, honey and quatre epices (pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove). The packaging—light blue and brown—is so tasteful it will make you want to buy someone special (besides yourself) a gift. Like many businesses in the Napa Valley, this is a family-run operation. One daughter makes the chocolates assisted by her mother, two daughters help out with the business, and the chocolatier's husband "does everything else." They all do their jobs exceedingly well.
THE WINE EXCHANGE OF SONOMA
452 1st St. East
This is a place to come for local wines. The bottles are organized by variety, there are colorful vintage French posters on the wall, and you can even get beer for those in your party who want suds instead of grapes. Go to the homey wooden bar at the back of the shop, chat with the knowledgeable owners, Dan and Mary, and ask them what they’re pouring that day—you can taste most wines for a dollar a (generous) pour, with a few $2 or a tad more. The owners can also suggest boutique wineries in the area worth visiting. The shop has been here since 1989, and there are just as many locals as visitors at this friendly place.
EAST NAPA STREET
Stores worth visiting near the southern edge of Sonoma Plaza include three selling wines, books and kitchenwares. Sonoma-Enoteca (35 E. Napa. St., Sonoma; 707-935-1200; sonoma-enoteca.com) pours the wines of 12 boutique wineries, and you can purchase wine and accessories (glasses, openers, racks and even some art). If you need to furnish your new kitchen on a budget, Robin’s Nest (116 E. Napa St., Sonoma; 707-996-4169) isn't huge, but the products here are well made and smartly styled. There are lots of white ceramic ramekins and serving dishes in the many sizes all proper cooks need. Chanticleer Books (127 E. Napa St., Sonoma; 707-996-7613; chanticleerbooks.com) is filled with rare and out-of-print books. The owner, Stephen Blackmer, specializes in California history, literature and cookbooks.
Spain Street borders Sonoma Plaza's northern edge. Restored buildings of the original Sonoma Mission—one of 21 missions that Spanish priests established in California—are here, along with tasting rooms, shops and restaurants. Sonoma Cheese Factory (2 Spain St., Sonoma; 707-996-1931; sonomacheesefactory.com) has been selling its original jack since 1931; these days it comes in many flavors, including garlic, jalapeno and pesto. Buy some cheese, salami and bread and picnic in the serene plaza. What you don't eat then will go with the wine you bought at Sonoma-Enoteca, the Wine Exchange of Sonoma (see above for both) or the nearby tasting room of Castle Vineyards & Winery (122 W. Spain St., Sonoma; 707-996-1966 ext. 106; castlevineyards.com), whose winemaker uses old-world techniques to craft pinot noirs, chardonnays and Rhone varietals.