It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating my 27th birthday in a bubble dome in the middle of the Joshua Tree desert. Fast forward one year and one worldwide pandemic later and I found myself celebrating another birthday, another trip around the sun, with a new adventure, this time in Napa, California. While masks were still worn and many of the COVID-19 guidelines were still in place, this birthday felt one step closer to "normal."
Before I dive into the juicy details and offer all my recs from my weekend in Napa, I must provide a quick bit of additional context. As many of you know I was born and raised in Sacramento, California. Now if you're not familiar with Northern California, Sacramento is about an hour and a half drive (on a busy day) from Napa. That's important information because despite my close proximity on the map to Napa, I had actually never visited the Napa Valley before my birthday weekend this year if you can believe it??
I drove to Napa with my mom and grandma for my 19th birthday (I think it was 19?) but that was only for lunch and considering the fact I wasn't yet legal nor able to enjoy the fruits of Napa's loom so to speak, I think we can agree that that one didn't really count?
Well I'm happy to report that our first time in Napa was an absolute dream and only whetted our appetite for this beautiful town. It's one of those places that you could spend four days in and STILL feel like you have so much left to see. I love that though. Keeps you coming back for more!
Without further ado, I've split up recommendations from our long weekend in Napa based on three categories - food, drinks and experiences - to make it easier for you to navigate. While each of the below has more information and photos detailing my own personal experience, I've also cut straight to the chase and started each review with whether or not I would recommend that particular place in the hopes that it helps you plan your next Napa visit.
Hotel: Archer Hotel Napa
The Archer Hotel is in a great location in Downtown Napa. It's walking distance to numerous bars, restaurants, shopping and more which is clutch when you're visiting wine city. Of course most of the wineries are a bit of a drive but nevertheless there's lots of options in close proximity to the hotel to keep you busy. Our room had a magnificent tub and even though I'm so not a bath girl, it provided a nice soak after a day wine tasting. The only thing I would say is it may be worth getting a room on the back side of the hotel. Our room was on the front side and because you're located right above the main street in downtown Napa it is extremely loud. We sat out on the balcony in the mornings and at night and it takes away a bit of the relaxation of it all when the sound from the street below is amplified up to your hotel room balcony.
Recommendation: A must visit!
Morimoto Napa is a dining experience. Located on the waterfront in Downtown Napa, this restaurant has a stunning ambiance both outside as well as inside. Not only does Morimoto serve absolutely exquisite seafood, but it's Napa's only Sake and Japanese Whiskey Bar. Morimoto was my official birthday dinner and I can say it's one I won't soon forget. We fully immersed ourselves in the experience of dining at one of Napa's most esteemed restaurants and indulged in sake flights and the Chef's Sushi Combination for dinner. While on the pricier side, this is a dining experience you will treasure for years to come.
Recommendation: Skip this one
While Napkins Bar and Grill has all the elements that should (in theory) make up a great restaurant, it left a little to be desired unfortunately. I will set up the context of our evening for you so you have additional insight that can help you infer your own final decision but we had spent the day out and about and hadn't had one square meal to our names. That being said, we dreamed of indulging in a delicious Napa pizza that evening but unfortunately our grumbling stomachs informed us that timing was of the essence when it came to making a dinner decision so we kind of picked the closest place in downtown Napa that appeared remotely interesting and had a decent amount of patrons who had already chosen Napkins to dine at. Menu wise, the drink list was longer than the food list so we stuck to some small bites but it wasn't anything worthwhile nor that I'd offer up as a Napa recommendation.
Recommendation: Add it to the list!
This champagne girl loves her bubbles so we were quite excited to stumble upon Be Bubbly. It actually came by way of a recommendation from our waiter at Morimoto. Because we enjoyed an bit of an earlier birthday dinner, we were looking for a spot for after dinner drinks and the newly established Be Bubbly was mentioned. Again, the location was walking distance from our hotel in Downtown Napa. Less than a year old, Be Bubbly is a premium destination to grab late night drinks and bites. With individual booths that can be made more private with individual curtains, it feels like a very cozy and intimate experience to be enjoyed by couples and friends alike. Whatever you do, you MUST order the grilled cheesy toast bites. I don't know if it was the sake flight from dinner at Morimoto talking or it was just that good but I'm thinking it was the latter. You won't want to miss that late night bite!
Recommendation: A Definite Y-e-s!
This was my favorite winery we visited during our time in Napa. Pulling up to James Cole I felt like I was stepping out of reality and into a story book. As we took our idealistic seats, two outdoor furniture chairs enveloped by a large umbrella out in the winding garden rock pathway, I immediately started looking around for possible locations to host an event (*cough wedding cough*) - it's that beautiful. The way the outdoor seating is set up it feels quite private if you find yourself at one of the tables a little bit farther down the path in the garden. Our host, Kyle, was an absolute joy and truthfully we probably spent more time just talking to and learning about him rather than the wine. I am pleased to report I will be enjoying my James Cole "Summer Water" and reflecting fondly on our experience at this beautiful Estate Winery all Summer long.
For whatever reason Keever was a bit challenging to navigate our way to on a map which unfortunately made us about 20 minutes late to our reservation but nevertheless we found our way there and thank goodness we did! It was worth getting lost in Yountville/Napa Valley to discover this gem. Keever is a family owned winery (which always adds an extra special charm in my book) located on a private road in Yountville in the Napa Valley. It's actually the only winery on that road so you immediately feel wrapped in the glistening arms of the Napa hills and stunning scenery that surrounds you. We were given a private tour of the facility including the wine caves (!!!) before enjoying our wine tasting in their newly established tasting room which really just feels like your dream living room, overstuffed leather chairs and all. Again the staff was incredibly friendly and inviting at Keever and I truly feel grateful to have experienced the beauty and magic of that winery.
Recommendation: Not necessarily the top of the list but still a worthwhile visit.
Don't get me wrong, Paraduxx is a beautiful winery but after visiting James Cole and Keever in the morning, it just didn't meet the standards of either of those two properties for me. It felt a little more commercial - perhaps that's a good way of putting it. Paraduxx is part of The Duckhorn Portfolio (I immediately recognized the brand once our tasting guide told us that) which specializes in producing blends in the Napa Valley. I would recommend visiting Paraduxx with a group of girlfriends. There's plenty of room to explore, indulge in some of their varietals and take in the classic and picturesque scene of the Napa vineyards.
Recommendation: For the experience - yes!
Acumen Wine Gallery is a unique experience in Napa and for that reason I would recommend adding it to your list. The wines of course were good as well - namely the Sauvignon Blanc and the Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which they're famous for - however, the experience is really what sets Acumen apart. It was walking distance from our hotel which was a big bonus and you are immediately pulled into the winery by the beautiful German Shepard who lays out on the sidewalk leading guests to his treat bowl located conveniently by the entrance. Our host, Stan, made our experience extremely enjoyable from the moment he found out it was our first time visiting the Napa Valley. Upon completion of our tasting we walked around Acumen, enjoying the gallery featuring pieces from world-renowned artists.
Recommendation: Yes - a great spot!
If you look at a map you'll immediately realize that Cadet is directly next door to Acumen and thus you would understand the trajectory of our Saturday evening. Acumen closes at 7pm I believe and while they were kind enough to stay open a bit for us to enjoy our last sips of rosé, we popped over to Cadet Wine and Beer Bar with some new friends we made at Acumen for after tasting drinks. Cadet was absolutely packed and for good reason! They have a great menu for date night or an evening out with friends to enjoy light bites and various wine flights. Personally I indulged in a champagne flight and grilled cheese but the table enjoyed a charcuterie board and various other sandwiches from the menu.
Recommendation: Yes! Cannot recommend it enough!!
Perhaps some of you may remember a couple years back when we did a Volkswagen Bus tour in Temecula called Van'N Boozy? (Check out that blog post here to learn more). Well, fast forward a couple years and Adam happened to find the same thing in Napa by way of West Wine Tours. Great for couples or groups, West Wine Tours is the ideal chauffeur when visiting the Napa Valley. They will plan the itinerary for you or if you have particular destinations you want to visit they'll build the day around that as well. Adam let them sit in the drivers seat - when it came to planning as well as literally of course - and we had the best time. It was a full day affair in which we visited three different, spectacular wineries (James Cole, Keever and Paraduxx), ones that we perhaps would not have known about if not for West Wine Tours. Our driver, Steve, was an absolute joy and we so enjoyed getting to know him over the course of our day together. They even had a cooler packed with snacks for the day to keep us hydrated and fed.
Recommendation: Dinner + dessert along the Riverfront - a must!
There are numerous restaurants, bars, breweries, etc. along the Riverfront in Downtown Napa. I believe there are even gondola rides you can partake in! As you know, our first night in Napa we dined at Morimoto which is located just a stone's throw from the Riverfront. It is an absolutely stunning setting and one I would recommend spending time enjoying. Whether it's dining at one of the local restaurants or packing up a picnic, the Riverfront is a picturesque destination and a must visit in Napa.
Recommendation: Not the "luxury" Napa spa experience but still a worthwhile one!
My extremely thoughtful better half made appointments for us to get massages Saturday morning and while it may not have been the luxury Napa spa experience one would envision, it was extremely reasonable for two people to get massages and to be quite honest it was probably one of the best massages I've ever received. If you do visit, don't be surprised by the location or the hole in the wall vibes (it's a legit establishment - I promise!). Like I said, just not the traditional luxury spa experience. Ask for Julie - She was phenomenal!
Located in Downtown Napa, Copperfield's is a book lover's dream. I mean are we surprised I ventured into a bookstore even while on vacation!? While I didn't add any to my collection on this trip - I'm trying to limit my book purchasing until I read through a few more - this bookstore is a must visit. They have a wide range of books and gifts across kids and adults and you're sure to find something for everyone across age and preferred genre.
And that my friends wraps up my 28th birthday in Napa. Being that this was my first time officially visiting Napa, not only do I see the appeal of this wine valley but I understand why people keep going back! There's so much to see and experience within this town from wineries to restaurants and everything in between. I am very much looking forward to our next visit but in the meantime I will reminisce on this one by enjoying the numerous wine bottles we brought home.