Napa Valley, California
Napa Valley is the quintessential countryside town in Northern California that is renowned for its wineries, fine dining, and sweeping valley vistas. The most notable cities in Napa Valley are Napa, Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville, Oakville, and Deer Park, and are home to some of the most exquisite wineries in California. Besides the extraordinary wineries, Napa Valley has other prominent natural features, such as mountains, lakes, and rare species of fauna that are equally remarkable. Visitor’s traveling along any of the state routes of Napa Valley can expect the scenic beauty that has been synonymous with the California winery landscape. The following locations are some of my personal favorite photography spots that can be accessed via the St. Helena Highway (State Route 29) and the Silverado Trail (State Route 128). Please note that the wineries that were chosen were selected based on the scenic beauty of the property, not on the quality of the wine. They have been categorized by the city that each location calls home:
Welcome to Napa Valley Sign – An Iconic wooden welcome sign next to train tracks with vineyards in the background. There are two welcome signs: the first is in Oakville off Hwy 29 just before you get to the Mondavi Winery and the second one is on the right side of the St. Helena Highway (heading north) near Maple Lane, which is a just before entering Calistoga. The sign features the slogan, “Welcome to this world famous wine growing region,” and is a wonderful spot to pull over and take a picture.
Grape Crusher Statue – The statue resides on the hilltop of Vista Point near Napa Valley Corporate Drive and Highway 29. The iconic statue represents a man wearing a wide-brimmed hat, cuffed pants with bare feet, and rolled up sleeves, who is in the process of crushing grapes. It is a tribute to the vineyard workers that dedicated their life’s work towards crushing grapes that would later be transformed wine. The 16-foot high statue is set on a grassy knoll and looms over the surrounding vineyards as motorists enter/leave the southern end of Napa Valley.
Silverado Vineyards –This Mediterranean-style stone winery is perched on a hill overlooking the vineyard and offers panoramic views of the valley from their spacious patio. When visitors enter through the stone terrace entrance, they are welcomed with the winery’s vibrant façade that seems to absorb the sunshine. Tours (start at $50 per person) are by appointment only for one of the designated times: 10:30am and 2:30pm.
Castello di Amorosa – Castello di Amorosa was designed and built to authentically portray an ancient 13-century Tuscan castle. This impressive fortress comes complete with a working drawbridge that safely guides visitors over the castle’s moat. A tour of the stronghold will guide visitors to the various bastions and ramparts, which offer a commanding view of the surrounding vineyards. Tours (start at $25 per person) do not require reservations; however, during peak hours (12:30pm-5pm) entrance is limited to Wine Club members and those who have reservations in order to prevent overcrowding. Whether you opt to take a guided tour, or walking the grounds on your own, this remarkable structure will surely impress and leave you with unforgettable photographs from every vantage point.
Sterling Vineyard – The Sterling Vineyard is a Grecian-style winery that offers premium panoramic views of the Napa Valley hills. The vineyard sits on a volcanic hillside overlooking Calistoga and is accessible via their cable car or aerial tram, which transport visitors from the parking lot to the winery. The tours are self-guided (start at $29 per person), which includes 3 current release wine tastings and a round-trip ride in the aerial tram. As the tram reaches the top of the hillside, the white-stucco façade of the winery appears from between the trees and signifies that your elegant wine experience is about to begin.
Chateau Montelena – At the foot of Mt. Saint Helena lays the winery of Chateau Montelena, an ivy-covered stone castle that is carved into a hillside. The Chateau Montelena has been listed to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Parks Service for its wine and impressive stone structure. The historic winery grounds are surrounded by lush, native vegetation, which overlook a Chinese garden, tranquil lake, and the winery’s expansive vineyards. The tour of the facility ($25 per person) does not require reservations and will include 3 to 4 tasting of their most balanced selections.
Domaine Chandon Winery – A beautiful winery with a terrace where visitors can enjoy the California sun while being surrounded by native oak trees and breathtaking foliage. The winery is most widely acclaimed for their signature Brut Classic champagne, but they also produce sparkling and still wines using the traditional varietals of grapes that are used to make champagne. Tours ($40 per person) are offered at 10:30am or 3pm so that visitors may explore the stunning property while indulging in one of the wineries creations.
Robert Mondavi Winery – A California Mission-style winery that is complete with elegant archways, a bell tower, and an expansive courtyard that looks out over the surrounding vineyard. The warm, earth-toned colors of the building and serene babbling fountain welcome visitors through the main portico of this iconic winery. The Robert Mondavi Winery tours are widely acclaimed for their extensive explanations that aim to educate visitors on the grand experience of the wine making process. The basic tour ($20 per person) is offered every hour and ushers guests through the Kalon Vineyard and into the Kalon Cellar and barrel aging rooms.
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone (CIA) - What was once a winery is now a private culinary school with its primary facility occupying the Greystone Cellars building in St. Helena. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to its rich history and Romanesque-style construction, which emphasizes strong archways and intricate masonry work. The impressive three-story stone facility was erected on a terraced hillside, so that its elevated position helps to emphasize the exquisite architecture to all of those who pass by. A stop at the Greystone Cellars will surely impress, with its interior, exterior, and gardens, all of which offer their own unique photographable elements.
Buehler Vineyards – The Buehler Vineyards is a small, family run winery that is nestled in the mountains of St. Helena with views of the Conn Valley. The winery grounds encompass nearly 300 acres of stunning hillside terrain that pair wonderfully with the Napa Valley sun. Since the winery is also the Buehler’s home, tours are available by appointments only between 10am-4pm. Tours will cover the history of the vineyard, the wine making process, and culminate with a wine tasting at their outdoor patio, which provides a breathtaking overlook of the vineyard and valley below.
Chappellet Winery – Chappellet is a rustic winery with sweeping views of the hillside vineyards and beautiful Lake Hennessey. The winery was one of the first to undertake cultivating vineyards at high-elevation on the steep, rock-strewn slopes of Prichard Hill. The picturesque view from the Prichard Hill provides a peaceful ambiance as you tour the grounds and learn about the remarkable legacy of Chappellet. Tours and tastings ($40-$95 per person) are offered at set times and are by appointment only, so it is recommended to plan in advance. The tours will guide visitors through the various pyramid-shaped buildings that house the barrel room and other key factors of the facility.
Viader – Viader is located on the precarious rocky foothill of Howell Mountain and offers a unique and distinguishable design layout that maximizes sun exposure along their hillside vineyard. The winery is situated 1300 feet above the Napa Valley floor, so that visitors are treated to magnificent views of the rolling green hills and the Bell Canyon Reservoir. Although there are many hazards cultivating this unique vineyard, the mountain breeze and volcanic soil help to bolster optimal conditions for the ripening fruit. Tours ($65 per person) are by appointment only between 10am-3:30pm and focus on the property and the underground caves.
NOTABLE LAKES OF NAPA VALLEY
Lake Hennessey – Lake Hennessey is a manmade reservoir that was formed by the Conn Creek Dam in the Vaca Mountains. Although it is considerably smaller than Lake Berryessa, it provides similar recreational activities at a closer distance to the wineries along the Silverado Trail. Lake Hennessey is Napa’s largest reservoir and is part of the Napa County Regional District, which preserves and maintains Napa’s outdoor recreational areas. Even though swimming in the reservoir is prohibited, outdoor enthusiasts will not run short of other engaging activities that Lake Hennessey has to offer.
Lake Berryessa – Lake Berryessa is the largest lake in the Vaca Mountains of Napa County and is a hotspot for outdoor recreational activities. Much like Lake Hennessey, Lake Berryessa is a manmade water reservoir that was formed by the construction of the Monticello Dam. After the winter storms of January 2017, one of Lake Berryessa’s most mesmerizing features, the Glory Hole, was back to its full form thanks to the lake being at full capacity for the first time in ten years. The Glory Hole can be found near the edge of the Monticello Dam and is the overflow spillway that helps regulate the lake water levels when it is full. The added benefit of the spillway is that the water that flows into it will help generate hydroelectricity to the North Bay region of San Francisco. As long as Lake Berryessa is at full capacity, then it is worth the hour-long side trip out to the Monticello Dam to marvel at the water as it surging through the Glory Hole.
Recommended Local Eateries:
Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ (NAPA) – Casual, brick-walled establishment offering BBQ classics, craft brews, and sizeable wine collection. I enjoyed the Big Nick’s Southern Style Pimiento Cheese Dip as an appetizer and the Grilled Veggie Sandwich with a side of Baked Mac and Cheese as my main. The Grilled Veggie Sandwich was made with grilled eggplant, Portobello mushrooms, squash, and roasted red peppers that were stacked high on an American bun with their chimichurri aioli. The entire meal was incredibly delectable and satisfying.
Addendum at Ad Hoc (YOUNTVILLE) – Serving affordable and delightful cuisine as a sit down or to-go lunch (to-go only on Thursday-Saturday from 11am-2pm), which include a choice of main course and two sides. It would be a crime to visit Addendum at Ad Hoc and not try the fried chicken, corn bread, and potato salad.
Redd Wood (YOUNTVILLE) – This menu changes daily, but features wood-fired and creatively designed pizzas, house-made pastas, and other entrees. The dining area is relaxed with casual indoor or outdoor seating.
Oakville Grocery Co. (OAKVILLE) – The Oakville Grocery Co. is the oldest operating grocery store in CA. It offers wonderful supplies for a picnic or snacks as you spend the day embracing the wine tasting experience of Napa Valley.
Gott’s Roadside (ST. HELENA & NAPA) – A favorite amongst locals, Gott’s serves quality hamburgers, spicy fries, crispy onions rings, and thick milkshakes, in their down-to-earth atmosphere. All the food, wines, and beers are all locally sourced and will keep you coming back for more. I like to order the Double Cheeseburger or the Green Chili Burger with garlic fries, onion rings, and a chocolate shake. It may be a lot of calories, but we all need a cheat day every now and then!
Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch (ST. HELENA) - Farm-to-table New American fare is served in a renovated barn owned by a cattle ranch and winery. All of their offerings include fresh ingredients that have been harvested from their farm, ranch, and vineyard.
Model Bakery (ST. HELENA & NAPA) – The Model Bakery can be found in two locations and boasts a laundry list of delicious baked goods. They are most renowned for their breakfast sandwich, which is made on their world-famous English muffins. If you still have room to spare, be sure to try their homemade granola parfaits and/or Morning Glory muffins; they are fantastic!
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