St. Helena is a city within Napa County known for its combination of small-town charm; big, bold wines; and epicurean experiences. The small city is home to more than 400 wineries and dozens of award-winning restaurants as well as copious outdoor activities, notably kayaking, biking and horseback riding. Here is a look at how to maximize a long weekend or quick trip to this Northern California gem.
Spread over 8 lush acres in St. Helena, the Harvest Inn oozes romance. Though it is just off the main drag in the region, once you enter the property, you are transported into another realm. The secluded resort is hidden between massive redwoods, botanical gardens, art installations and fountains that make one feel as if they stepped into a fairy tale. It’s wine country, and there are vineyards as far as the eye can see.
There are even rooms set directly in the vineyards just steps from Whitehall Lane Leonardini Family Vineyards. Several rooms on the dog-friendly property boast fireplaces or hot tubs, and the suites have so much living space that one is tempted to order in wine and plan one or more nights here. Of particular note is Harvest Table, one of the most lauded restaurants in Northern California. The ingredients are heavily sourced from Northern California to ensure freshness, and the dishes are second to none.
Press St. Helena
Beyond the Harvest Inn, those in the know book a reservation at Press while in St. Helena. A true expression of the region, the contemporary farmhouse-style restaurant is tucked between rolling, vine-covered hills; has grand views of the Mayacamas Mountains; and is home to the largest collection of Napa Valley wines in the world.
The all-Napa Valley wine list celebrates current vintages as well as older wines going back over 50 years; as a result, wine is very much at the core of Press. With over 1,200 selections, the restaurant has become the ideal place to taste one’s way through the rich history of the Napa Valley and deeply explore the fabled wine-growing region. And then there is the food. Under the direction of chef Philip Tessier, Press is a celebration of flavor. With these freshest of ingredients, he develops his menu as an epicurean tour of California cuisine at its best. The outdoor garden and patio accommodate alfresco dining, featuring a large outdoor fireplace and stunning views of the Mayacamas Mountains.
Napa Valley Paddle
Thanks to an urban renewal project in the 1970s, the Napa River is bigger and better than ever. Today, the 55-mile river travels through most of the Napa Valley region and notably rises in northwestern Napa County just south of the summit of Mount St. Helena in the Mayacamas Mountains of the California Coast Ranges. Through Napa Valley Paddle, visitors can sign up for several kayaking and paddleboard adventures, each of which starts with formal instruction to ensure safety. Many tours glide through a local nature preserve, and there is also rental pricing for those who prefer to go alone. Knowing not all outdoor enthusiasts like to get a little wet, Napa Valley Paddle also offers hiking and biking tours, each exploring lesser-visited areas of the region.
Louis M. Martini Winery
This gem was first built in 1933 in anticipation of Prohibition coming to an end in the United States. Its founder, Louis M. Martini, is not just the namesake of the award-winning vineyard and renowned wine; he is a founder of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, which helped create the Napa we know today. A visit to this historic and important winery is a must. When visiting, consider reserving the Heritage Lounge Tasting beyond just a glass or bottle. Why? Martini employs chef Jeffery Russell, who delights in dreaming up mouth-watering culinary pairings to highlight its most exclusive and sought-after small-lot sips.
Charles Krug Winery
In addition to Martini, Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena teems with historical significance in addition to an enchanting property and extraordinary wine selection. Founded in 1861, Charles Krug, the visionary father of Napa Valley winemaking, established the estate. In 1943, the Mondavi Family — perhaps the best-known name in American wine — purchased the iconic estate to develop wines that epitomize and honor the region. There are several viticulture and historic adventures to be had at Krug, but in true California fashion, they are anything but stuffy. Case in point: its Cabana Experience, which features one’s own outdoor, private cabana for six and the option for sips and bites, notably freshly made pizza from an outdoor brick oven.
Joseph Phelps Vineyards
The 600 acres of oak-studded hills and golden valleys where this vineyard sits were a cattle ranch once upon a time, until Joe Phelps planted cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, riesling and gewurztraminer on the property in the 1970s. The result, as one might guess, was legendary. In the decades since, the Phelps family owns and farms nine estate vineyards in St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Stags Leap District, Oak Knoll District, South Napa and Carneros. But this continues to be home, and one of the best vineyard experiences in the region. From terrace tastings to wine blending and culinary experiences, the Phelps family continues to bring honor to its name and provide a little piece of heaven in every glass and dish.
Long Meadow Ranch is one of the coolest farms in the world. Actually, there are several Long Meadow Ranch Farms, but St. Helena is the granddaddy of them all. The family-owned, biodynamic, solar-powered farm boasts wines, extra virgin olive oils, grass-fed beef, eggs and heirloom fruits and vegetables, and that is just to start. At the heart of the St. Helena property is Farmstead, a farmhouse restaurant that also features an outdoor café, general store and farmers market, each with its own vibe, tastings and tours depending on where your tastebuds want to take you.