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If you think you know Napa and Sonoma, think again. We’ve got the skinny on the region’s newest hot spots (and updates on a few old favorites), just in time to celebrate the harvest season. Discover the movie mogul’s swimming pool where you can make a splash, the glampground where you can sleep in a yurt, the fried chicken shack where you can sample a Michelin-starred chef’s finger-lickin’ fare and, of course, the coolest watering holes, from a bike-themed tasting room to an organic cider house that rules. Scroll down, and get ready to wine and unwind.

By Hillary Louise Johnson and Leilani Marie Labong
Photographs by Jeremy Sykes
 

For oenophiles, Napa’s a bucket-list destination that revolves around traditional notions of luxury, like $25 appointment-only tastings, infinity pools and plates of pâté. But there’s a lot more eclecticism and energy to be discovered in this sun-soaked, bucolic region than the postcard vistas on wine labels would lead you to believe. We’ve scouted out some of the most offbeat, elegant, bespoke, down-home or all-around surprising discoveries in a place you thought you knew, from a post-earthquake downtown bustling with food markets and nightlife, to a gem of a campground, to a retro-cool winery where you can play pinball—all destination-worthy attractions to keep you intrigued whether or not you know your merlot from your malbec. Whatever your predilections, there’s a Napa Valley here that’s up your alley. —Hillary Louise Johnson

EAT

Addendum

If you’ve yet to bag that once-in-a-lifetime dinner at The French Laundry, fret not—there are more ways than ever to get a little Thomas Keller into your life, the latest being this fried chicken and rib shack in Yountville tucked behind Ad Hoc, the chef’s mid-range, family-style offering. Locals who used to pray their reservations fell on one of the nights Keller’s famous fried chicken popped up on Ad Hoc’s rotating prix fixe menu now just line up at Addendum to score white paper boxes of the glistening, golden morsels, flecked with rosemary and served with sides like coleslaw and macaroni salad and, if you’d like, a cup of sweet tea. Throngs eat at communal picnic tables under a stand of redwoods, licking fingers and chasing napkins that blow away in the breeze. Addendum is only open for lunch, Thursday through Saturday, so plan accordingly if you want to make a pilgrimage. 6476 Washington St. Yountville. 707-944-2487. adhocrestaurant.com

Thomas Keller’s famous fried chicken tops the menu at Addendum. (Photos by Jeremy Sykes)

Brasswood

Fans of L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen will recognize a familiar face in general manager Marcus Marquez, who co-owned the former midtown hot spot, but he’s the new kid at Brasswood. When Napa staple Tra Vigne shuttered after a 30-year run (it’s now the setting for The Charter Oak, see below), the majority of the kitchen and waitstaff stayed together, moving en masse to Brasswood, the clubby, leather-appointed restaurant at the winery of the same name that opened in early 2016. Also jumping ship: Tra Vigne’s signature dish, mozzarella “al minuto,” an appetizer of fresh, hand-pulled mozzarella cheese that’s made to order and served on tranches of grilled baguette from La Brea Bakery, drenched in olive oil. With a side of balsamic-laced heirloom tomatoes still warm from the sun that grew them, it’s a perfect farmhouse meal. And you will no doubt be eating it next to a farmer, as this is the kind of place where land barons and laborers rub elbows and talk shop. Out of respect for the mothership, Brasswood doesn’t put the dish on its menu (other standouts include a warm Brussels sprout salad and duck risotto), but your server will tip you off, if the swoons at the table next to you haven’t already—did they just order a second plate of it? Why, yes they did, and so will you. 3111 St. Helena Highway North. St. Helena. 707-968-5434. brasswood.com

Brasswood’s made-to-order mozzarella “al minuto” isn’t officially on the menu, but you won’t find many tables doing without an order—or two—of the popular dish. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

The Charter Oak

Chef Christopher Kostow’s Restaurant at Meadowood earned him three Michelin stars, but the palate wants what the palate wants, and his newest venture, The Charter Oak, which just opened in June, is a radical departure into what he calls “elemental cooking.” Along with chef Katianna Hong, Kostow is putting out food that is purposefully simple, much of it prepared over the St. Helena restaurant’s central open hearth. Picture hand-cut, roasted potato chips served with a dip made of house-smoked Brie, potato and salmon roe—if this is Kostow’s idea of elemental, it’s working: the dish is an essay in vegetal textures, the roe serving as a seasoning, the cheese binding the dish, the layered, potato-on-potato action the star. Or try a plate of whole, raw baby summer vegetables displayed like a deconstructed cornucopia, served with fermented soy dip. If your own idea of elemental skews caveman, there are beef ribs grilled over cabernet barrel staves, alongside beets roasted and tossed in the rendered fat. The vast, cavernous space has an industrial edge, feeling both timeless and contemporary, and the details are entertaining, like menus delivered tucked into vintage books, and cocktails that are bottled and poured out of private-label flasks. Best of all, you can wander in at any old time and sit down at the communal table, with the best view of the hearth, without a reservation. 1050 Charter Oak Ave. St. Helena. 707-302-6996. thecharteroak.com

The Charter Oak, co-owned by three-Michelin-starred chef Christopher Kostow, bottles its own cocktails and serves them up alongside hearth-fired fare. (Photo by Kelly Puleio, courtesy of The Charter Oak)

Oxbow Public Market

If downtown Napa’s rollicking public market reminds you of San Francisco’s Ferry Building, that’s because it was designed by the same team. This is choose-your-own-adventure dining: Start with an appetizer of creamy, garlicky oysters Rockefeller from the Hog Island Oyster Company, or a crispy ahi taco from Gott’s Roadside, an outpost of the famous ’50s-style burger shack in St. Helena, then choose a 50-day dry-aged steak from the meat counter at Five Dot Ranch and have it grilled up to order. Grab a glass of Fieldwork Brewing Co.’s churro cream ale for dessert, or a scoop of lemon cookie cream from Three Twins Ice Cream, and wander among the vendors’ displays of exotic provisions. Napa Valley Distillery, for instance, boasts over 50 brands and 100 varieties of bitters—from Addition’s Filthy Dirty Tincture for making dirty martinis to Bad Dog Bar Craft’s Fire and Damnation for creating “volcanic” daiquiris—and you can try them all, if you dare. 610 & 644 First St. Napa. 707-266-6529. oxbowpublicmarket.com

At Oxbow Public Market, you can sample over 100 varieties of bitters at Napa Valley Distillery, try a flight of beer at Fieldwork Brewing Co.’s taproom, go for seafood at Hog Island Oyster Co., and more. (Photos by Jeremy Sykes)
 

DRINK

Velo Vino

Whether your idea of two-wheeling it runs toward Lance Armstrong or Pippi Longstocking, the Clif Family Winery’s bike-themed tasting room has you covered. Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford invented the Clif Bar while cycling through Italy tasting wine, and they’ve gone to great lengths to create a complete experience for guests, with no detail left out. You start out at their tasting room on St. Helena’s Main Street with coffee and—what else?—a Clif Bar, then set off on your rented steed of choice with a clever map that tucks into your cycling jersey (or pinafore pocket) and lists local wineries where you may wish to tarry, along with routes that range from bucolic idylls to athletic workouts. The Tour de St. Helena is the classic all-ages-and-abilities ride, taking you through quaint neighborhood streets and up a canopied country lane for a gentle 8 miles, with opportunities to stop at Orin Swift Cellars and Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. Upon your return you’ll sprawl on the colorful patio, tasting wines from the Clif Family Vineyards and feasting on fare from the Clif Family Bruschetteria food truck, where chef John McConnell does insane things to toasted bread, like topping it with shaved beet pimento cheese and spiced almonds, or Moroccan rabbit confit and minted yogurt. Sound good? Falling in love with this side of Napa is as easy as riding a bike. 709 Main St. St. Helena. 707-968-0625. cliffamily.com

Save room for savory toasts at Velo Vino, the Clif Family Winery’s bicycle-themed tasting room in St. Helena. (Photos by Jeremy Sykes)

Tank Garage Winery

If the charms of Tuscan fountains and castles are lost on you, and if you maybe have a tattoo or two you regret (or not), Tank Garage Winery is going to be your new jam. Housed in an erstwhile 1930s service station and decorated with vintage guitars, motorcycles and arcade games, this three-year-old joint in downtown Calistoga is wine-loving-hipster heaven. Especially on certain random evenings, when the tasting room turns into a speakeasy and you need a password (happily distributed by staff) to enter—“Wah Pedal” on a recent Friday. And lest you think it’s all quarters and rockabilly, they do take their wine seriously, with a lineup that tends toward the bold and fun. But if you fancy, say, the 2015 Lipstick and Gunpowder, a sultry blend of barbera, syrah and old-vine primitivo, then you’d better stock up, because Tank Garage never repeats a vintage, and you can only get it here. 1020 Foothill Blvd. Calistoga. 707-942-8265. tankgaragewinery.com

The hipster-friendly Tank Garage Winery, housed in a converted service station, hosts speakeasy parties and boasts a tasting bar with one-of-a-kind, limited-edition vintages. (Photos by Jeremy Sykes)

Mad Fritz Brewery

They say it takes a lot of good beer to make great wine. Husband-and-wife brewers Nile Zacherle and Whitney Fisher both came up in the wine industry and still work as vintners by day, in addition to running what may be the most famous brewery you’ve never heard of. Drop the name Mad Fritz (which is a combination of Madeline and Fritz, the couple’s two kids) at any craft brewery taproom in Northern California and you’ll see eyes light up, then mist over: everyone in the business seems to have made a pilgrimage to this tiny taproom in St. Helena, where you have to make an appointment for Nile himself to pour for you. Mad Fritz eschews the hop-heady IPA trend, which Nile likens to that generation of over-roasted coffee that everybody thought was “good”—until they tasted Temple’s Guatemalan peaberry. The label on a bottle of The Wind and Sun golden ale (the brews are all named after Aesop’s fables) lists the provenance of every ingredient, from the well where the water was drawn to the barrel it was aged in, and, as the moniker suggests, drinking the beer is like drinking a glass of crisp, molten harvest sunshine. Mad Fritz has just begun growing and malting its own barley, and has ambitions to create a line of single-origin brews, exploring the notion of terroir. Who knew the Napa Valley would be the birthplace of beer 3.0? Apparently it takes a lot of good wine to make great beer. 393 La Fata St. St. Helena. 707-968-5058. madfritz.com

Trefethen Family Vineyards

The 2014 Napa earthquake just about put paid to one of the oldest wineries in the valley, but the Trefethen family painstakingly rebuilt their 1886 building, brick by brick and board by board, reopening just this past May. The project is so new you can still smell the freshly hewn oak—the second-floor tasting room is dominated by open storerooms full of picturesque barrels. The main reason Trefethen is so fiercely beloved by a loyal cult of club members, though, isn’t the graceful surroundings, or even the great wine (like its flagship HaLo cabernet sauvignon and its dry riesling, which won Best White Wine of Napa Valley at the California State Fair this year), but the warm welcome, epitomized by the uniquely hospitable ways of tasting room doyenne, wine specialist Shannon Walli. You know how people who’ve met Bill Clinton always say he makes you feel like the most special person in the world? Walli shares that gift. When your gaze lingers on the striking communal table hewn from a single oak slab, she touches your elbow conspiratorially and whisks you away to view old photos of that tree when it used to stand in front of the winery, telling its story to you and others who gather around. You’ll leave Trefethen feeling like you’ve experienced what a family winery is really about. As one visiting club member put it, “There’s good wine all over Napa. We come here to see Shannon.” 1160 Oak Knoll Ave. Napa. 707-251-2473. trefethen.com

Trefethen Family Vineyards’ 19th-century main building—painstakingly rebuilt after the 2014 Napa earthquake, beam by beam and stave by stave—is open for tours again. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)
 

PLAY

Hear More Better Blues

The latest offspring of the legendary jazz and blues club in New York’s Greenwich Village (others include venues in Tokyo and Milan), the intimate Blue Note Napa—which opened on the ground floor of Napa’s renovated historic opera house last October—is the ideal sized room for appreciating the buttery tones of jazz singers like baritone Nicolas Bearde (Sept. 20-21) or singer-songwriters like Livingston Taylor (Aug. 25-27), who shifts easily between original pop songs and renditions of Gershwin. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the cheap seats ($10-$35) at the bar could arguably be deemed to provide the best vantage point of all. The barrel-vaulted brick ceiling and translucent blue walls behind the bar create a feeling of being underground, or even undersea. It’s the perfect environment if you want to be transported. Order a Sazerac and slip away to the blue bayou. 1030 Main St. Napa. 707-880-2300. bluenotenapa.com

Sidle up to the bar and hear all that jazz at the new Blue Note Napa. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

Go Up, Up and Away

The wee-hour wake-up call for a hot-air balloon ride can be challenging when you’re in vacation mode, but rest assured everything starts to look up from there—literally. At the launch site near Domaine Chandon in Yountville, pilots at Napa Valley Balloons will assess the conditions—we’ll take light and stable winds under a cloudless sky, please—before calling the whole thing off or inflating the balloons. If the weather gods are cooperating, you’ll take flight, gliding at an altitude of 1,000 to 3,000 feet above the valley floor, seeing the land divided into a patchwork of vineyards, farms and neighborhoods. You’ll recognize the restaurant you ate at last night, spot an outdoor labyrinth, wave hello to people on the ground, and watch the sun gain strength as the approximately hour-long ride flies by. You’ll gently touch down somewhere safe (for us, it was an empty playground) before a van whisks you back to the winery for a champagne breakfast. By 8 a.m.—widely accepted as a normal time to rise and shine—you’ll have conquered your phobia of heights and gained an entirely new perspective on one of the world’s most famous wine regions. 707-944-0228. napavalleyballoons.com —Leilani Marie Labong

Early to rise: Jump-start your morning with an eye-opening hot-air balloon ride over Napa Valley. (Photo courtesy of Napa Valley Balloons)

Get Cooking

The Culinary Institute of America’s shiny new downtown Napa home, which used to house the culinary center Copia, is a playground for foodie exploration, with museum exhibits, a restaurant, a store (where you can buy a copper braising pot that looks like it belongs on the coffee table, not the stove) and a full roster of cooking lessons, from daylong master classes to kids’ workshops. But the coolest ticket here is the farm-to-table cooking demonstration, which offers an opportunity to watch a professional chef (in this case, Hilary Sullivan Powers) at work while she prepares dishes from ingredients plucked moments ago from the school’s culinary garden—which you strolled through on your way to class. In the dramatic teaching theater, you sit at tiered dining tables (with wine, of course) and follow along during prep work with the aid of large TV screens showing the cutting board action in detail while Sullivan Powers, who grew up gardening in Vacaville and designed menus for George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, shows you how to chop, season and measure out ingredients to effortlessly turn out creative dishes—strawberry-rhubarb crisp and a salad with shaved fennel, radish, fava bean and ground juniper berry on a recent visit—fielding questions and offering tips along the way. You’ll leave with upgraded skills, like knowing the right way to use a mandoline slicer and how to season a salad (hint, you’re not pinching nearly enough salt), and your appetite for culinary experimentation newly whetted. 500 First St. Napa. 707-967-2500. ciaatcopia.com

“Dinner theater” takes on a new meaning as chef Hilary Sullivan Powers demonstrates how to prepare meals using farm-fresh ingredients at the CIA at Copia. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

Steep in Mud

Deposited from epochs-ago eruptions of nearby volcanoes, the mineral-rich ash naturally found at the magical bohemia known as Indian Springs is mixed into the historic spa’s signature mud bath ritual ($95). You will be helped into a concrete tub full of thick, black mud—a very warm (and at times, hot) mixture that’s fortified by the geo-thermal waters from the geysers on property. For 12 minutes, you’ll soak there in a perceived state of zero gravity (translation: you’ll feel like you’re floating, even though 10-15 pounds of the good stuff has been smeared on top of you), while your skin purportedly detoxifies, your circulation improves, and your creaky joints loosen up. After a shower, you’ll head to a bathtub where you’ll steep in clean geyser water for 15 minutes; use the time wisely to hydrate (the attendants will bring you as much citrus-infused water as you want) and clean your fingernails (a cuticle stick is provided). After that, a steam room awaits, where you’re instructed to stay as long as you can, since steam opens pores and helps all the good minerals penetrate the skin—definitely stick your head out of the porthole in the glass enclosure to cool down if you get overheated. At the finishing line of this therapeutic relaxathon, you’ll be tucked into a cot for a 15-minute power nap. Can’t get enough lightness of being? Before heading back to your hotel room—the small but sweet lodge just completed a refresh last November—float for a while in the resort’s famous geyser-fed outdoor pool. 1712 Lincoln Ave. Calistoga. 707-942-4913. indianspringscalistoga.com —Leilani Marie Labong

Take the plunge at Indian Springs Resort, whose mud baths are famous for transporting weary travelers to blissful states of repose. (Photo courtesy of Indian Springs)
 

STAY

The White House Inn

Though house-sized, this design-forward inn is no mere bed and breakfast. It feels more like a miniaturized resort, with a grand lobby, a stately pool and spacious, lavishly appointed rooms whose Hollywood Regency-inspired décor looks like it is right out of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie, with Lucite chairs, chandeliers and tufted headboards. Built in 1886 as the home of the German tanner who invented patent leather, the White House Inn was given a modern makeover last year (think bright green accents against navy carpets dotted with giant polka dots), putting it right at the cutting edge of boutique chic. Husband-and-wife managers Candace Fecteau and Scott Richards lovingly prepare the breakfast spread every morning, a dazzling assortment of small plates that range from strawberry quinoa salad to coddled eggs to spiced bacon and Brie on a small biscuit with blackberry jam. You can walk a few blocks to the bustling restaurant scene in Napa’s revitalized downtown—that is, if you can bring yourself to ever leave. $280-$450 per night; 443 Brown St. Napa. 707-254-9301. whitehouseinnnapa.com

The White House Inn is only steps from downtown Napa, but feels like  a world away, with resort-like amenities, like a cabana-ringed pool and gourmet small plates for breakfast. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

The Yurts at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

Maybe you blew 80 percent of your weekend getaway budget on that wine club membership, or maybe you just like falling asleep to the sound of a babbling brook and a light breeze wafting through the redwoods. This state park, with campsites, yurts and cabins strung along a shady stretch of Ritchey Creek, is a hidden gem that even most locals you ask are barely aware exists. But they should be, because it may just be the perfect campground: 10 miles of hiking trails—including the gently sloping, shady Redwood Trail, which runs alongside the cool creek—and private campsites surrounded by vegetation (i.e. your neighbors won’t be in your business) offer enough rustic charm for outdoors people, but with enough amenities, like showers and a swimming pool (open on weekends), to seduce the novice glamper. The yurts are simple, with a wooden floor, a table and a cushy memory-foam queen bed. Don’t even think of bringing sleeping bags—do it up like Bedouin royalty and pack your satin sheets and fluffy blankets for the most comfortable camping experience of your life. You’ll drift off with visions of zinfandels and cabernets dancing in your head. $60-$75 per yurt per night; 3801 St. Helena Hwy. between St. Helena and Calistoga. 707-942-4575. napavalleystateparks.org

Your own private cathedral in the woods: a yurt at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

Napa Valley Railway Inn

This family-run hotel’s nine rooms are comprised of 100-year-old railcars perched on the actual tracks that used to define the Napa Valley Railway. The period-authentic rooms will make you feel like role-playing Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty, but there’s no theme-park kitsch here—the bedding is fluffy, the carpets plush, the toiletries unctuous. But fun and games aside, this golden nugget’s greatest asset may just be its location, smack in the middle of downtown Thomas Kellerville, er, Yountville. A few short blocks in any direction will take you to his spots Bouchon, The French Laundry, Ad Hoc and Addendum, with a dozen other choices including Redd, Bardessono and local favorite Bistro Jeanty nearby, too. After you’ve slept off the foie gras, you can grab your morning coffee from the caboose, where the much-loved Model Bakery opened an outlet in June. $225-$295 per night; 6523 Washington St. Yountville. 707-944-2000. napavalleyrailwayinn.com

The King Caboose room at the Napa Valley Railway Inn, located in the heart of Yountville (Photo by John Sutton)

The Carneros Resort and Spa

This resort just outside of Napa on the road to Sonoma is something like a dude ranch for fairy princesses, a 28-acre village of farmhouse-style cottages surrounded by native plantings. The simple, rustic-moderne aesthetic doesn’t mean you’ll be roughing it, as the appointments are impeccable after the first phase of a $6 million renovation was completed last year. That beautiful slate floor in the bathroom is heated, and you’ll make your morning coffee in your very own Nespresso machine, not over a campfire (although room service will deliver a s’mores package to your private fire pit in the evening). Seventy-six freestanding cottages all open onto private patios and sport fun details like indoor-outdoor showers and pony-skin Le Corbusier lounge chairs, and the stunning adults-only pool provides a sweeping view of the valley where you can soak and sip while watching next year’s crop of zin ripen on the vine before drying off and donning your Daisy Dukes to dine at Farm, the resort’s “agri-chic” farm-to-fork restaurant, where the ingredients for the rotating menu are grown on-site under the supervision of a full-time culinary gardener. Or if you just need to recover from too much wine and sun, you can always stop by the resort’s Boon Fly Café for a bacon-garnished, secret-recipe Bloody Mary, which Food & Wine magazine named one of the country’s 20 best earlier this year. $620-$1,750 per night; 4048 Sonoma Hwy. Napa. 707-299-4900. carnerosresort.com

The adults-only swimming pool at the luxe Carneros Resort and Spa overlooks a picture-perfect slice of the Napa landscape. (Photo courtesy of the Carneros Resort and Spa)