Visiting Napa Valley Alone
Much of the world seems designed for couples, and that’s especially true for romantic getaways like Napa Valley. Nevertheless, a single person can have a great time in “Wine Valley.” He or she might even meet someone for a future visit together, but if your goal is to meet someone you may be disappointed. It’s better to plan to have fun, and see what happens.
Getting to Napa
A great way to get to Napa is via the Baylink Ferry from San Francisco. It’s an hour of relaxation—you can even have a glass of wine on the way to get yourself in the proper mood.
There is bus service from the Vallejo Ferry to downtown Napa, thence to Calistoga on clean, modern busses run by VINE, the local transit agency. Check the schedule at www.napavalleyvine.net as it changes occasionally -- and don't be discouraged if the bus is running a little late. The busses from Vallejo to Calistoga and back run about every hour.
There’s also bus service from both Oakland and San Francisco Airports provided by Evans Transit. And Amtrak buses connect from the new train station in Martinez to Napa a number of times a day.
Once you’re in the Valley, downtown Napa has a free shuttle (It looks like a cable car on tires) that serves many popular destinations including the Embassy Suites, the biggest hotel in Napa Valley, and Copia, a prime destination. Most attractions downtown are within walking distance.
Napa also has conventional bus service, and there are shuttles in each of the Valley’s towns (Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga), though most of the attractions for visitors are close enough for walking.
Unfortunately, the local and city governments won’t let the Wine Train offer conventional passenger service, as it wishes, but it’s still fun and you can just take the trip and buy wine in the bar rather than buying an excellent but pricey meal.
Where to stay
In the past, most visitors stayed up valley north of Napa if they could find a room and afford it. Some of the nicest inns and resorts and best restaurants and bars are in colorful Yountville and St. Helena in mid Valley. Unfortunately, their limited accommodations fill quickly, and few of their rooms are reasonably priced.
Calistoga at the north end of the Valley and Napa at the south have a wider variety of lodgings. Both are also short hops from mid Valley.
Staying in Napa or Calistoga isn’t a hardship, however. Both boast many attractions, restaurants and bars, mostly within walking distance. Napa, in fact, has recently become a hot tourist destination with many new attractions and restaurants.
The city of Napa contains some large chain hotels that often offer special prices, particularly now with tourism down. One is a Hilton Garden Inn, for example. The River Terrace Inn, though not a chain, offers a delightful location on the Napa River, and often has special prices.
One of the nicest places to stay is the new boutique Napa River Inn in downtown Napa within walking distance of almost everything you’d like to see there. Though no modest motel, it’s worth checking for attractive deals.
The renovated 50’s Chardonnay Inn is a nice motel close to downtown, and other inexpensive (under $100) places to stay include the Napa Valley Chablis Inn, the Chateau Hotel, Discovery Inn, Napa Valley Redwood Inn, Hawthorn Inn & Suites, Wine Valley Lodge and Napa Valley Travelodge Hotel & Suites. None are exactly romantic getaways, but if you’re alone, who cares? You won’t be spending much time in your room, and they’re all clean and safe.
The Calistoga Inn, which also has a popular microbrewery and restaurant, has inexpensive rooms, though the bathrooms are down the hall. Many modest spas in Calistoga have inexpensive rooms, too. The ambience is about like a Motel 6, but they’re clean and you won’t care much about surroundings after a relaxing mud bath and massage.
One place I wouldn’t recommend is a B&B. Most target couples looking for a romantic weekend.
What to do
Visiting wineries and tasting wine is the prime attraction in Napa Valley, but it’s worth planning ahead if you want to get the most out of your visit.
Robert Mondavi Winery offers the widest variety and some of the best classes, tours and events, but you need reservations. You also need reservations at some of the other outstanding venues, like the sit-down guided tastings at Joseph Phelps and Duckhorn Cellars, and visits to hot small wineries.
Frank Family Vineyards is notoriously fun, particularly late in the afternoon when the bachelorette parties descend. Other friendly places include Peju Province, V. Sattui, the amazing new Castello di Amorosa winery, and the sparkling wine producers such as Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros and Mumm Napa.
Many wineries host meals, parties and special events that aren’t too widely publicized. Some are only for their wine club members, but many are open to the public, usually for a charge. Many singles attend these events.
In addition, many wine bars and tasting rooms have opened in downtown Napa. Their formats range from single-winery tasting rooms like Mason and Craig to operations shared by a number of wineries like Vintners Collective and Napa Wine Merchants. There are also a number of wine bars and Copia, which offers classes and other opportunities to learn about wine as well as taste it. Many of the wine tasting operations have classes, too, and they seem to attract more singles than couples. Mark Pope’s Bounty Hunter seems more a friendly wine bar than a retail store, as does Back Room Wines, which has special inexpensive tastings each Friday night. All attract many single tasters.
Of course, tasting wine is a friendly pastime, and particularly later in the day, it’s easy to meet people at tasting rooms. Do be prudent and watch your consumption, however. The police take their responsibility seriously, especially in St. Helena, a quiet town where the police have little to do but rescue lost dogs and watch for tipsy drivers.
More than wineries
Napa Valley boast many other activities to enjoy beside wine tasting. One real treat though pricey is an early-morning balloon ride, an unforgettable experience.
There are classes on wine, food and other topics galore throughout the Valley, too, and they often attract singles. The local community college offers many short courses, and wineries and restaurants also provide a chance to both learn and enjoy.
Two organizations of particular interest are Copia and the CIA.
Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, is an interactive museum that’s a must visit in downtown Napa. Aside from interesting tasting experiences and exhibits, it has a vast array of classes and other programs, some included with admission ($5) or membership, others requiring separate payment.
Wine and food classes run throughout the day, as do tours of its incredible gardens. A lot of singles (and non-romantic friends) seem to attend them. You can check the schedule and even reserve on line.
The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone Cellars is the graduate campus of the world-famous cooking school in New York, so it doesn’t really offer classes for amateurs, but some are possibilities if you’re in a related business or serious about food or wine. It does offer excellent cooking demonstrations aimed at home chefs. You can check the schedule online.
Napa Valley is also a treasure-trove of art. Among the art collections you can see for free are those at Clos Pegase Winery, Mumm Cuvée Napa, the Hess Collection, and the sculpture garden at the Auberge du Soleil.
You should definitely see the di Rosa Preserve at least once. It’s an incredible collection of contemporary art, some bizarre but all worth viewing. The preserve is in the Carneros Region of southern Napa County, and requires reservations for tours, though you can visit its Gatehouse Gallery free. The first Friday of each month, it has a popular party for only $10.
The Valley also has a number of museums and they offer classes, too. The Napa Valley Museum in Yountville is another must. The Sharpsteen Museum in Calistoga and Robert Louis Stevenson Museum at the St. Helena Library (which also hosts the Napa Valley Wine Library) are also worth visiting.
And though Napa Valley was once a desert for performing arts, it’s becoming an oasis. The newly restored Napa Valley Opera House’s remarkable upstairs theater may be the best intimate concert venue in America and has a variety of eclectic performances at reasonable prices. Its downstairs café hosts performances, too.
Copia and many wineries and other organizations sponsor film, musical and dramatic performances, too. Copia has a movie each Friday night, and also holds concerts and many other events.
Likewise, the restored Cameo Theater in St. Helena screens critically acclaimed current films and film buffs are waiting anxiously for the 1937 Uptown Theater to be restored. There is also a mundane multiplex downtown.
Where to eat
The only thing locals and visitors in Napa Valley love as much as wine is food. The valley hosts many incredible restaurants, including famed French Laundry, which is definitely a couples place, as are Domaine Chandon, Auberge du Soleil and La Toque, the other world-class romantic restaurants.
Other restaurants welcome singles, and most have bars intended as much for eating as drinking. The bars offer full menus, friendly bartenders and the likelihood of meeting winemakers and vintners as well as visitors including occasional celebrities.
Friendly locals at bars happily offer suggestions about places to visit and eat, assuming people are welcoming unless proven otherwise. The bars are also comfortable for women alone, and bartenders discourage anyone who goes over the line.
A few restaurants like Bistro Jeanty even have communal tables where you’re sure to meet someone to talk to.
Some of the best bars for singles to eat are ZuZu in downtown Napa, which serves tapas and wines, as well as Angèle and Cuvée. Uva Trattoria has great Italian-American food at reasonable prices, live music and a friendly atmosphere and almost no tourists find it. Bistro Don Giovanni's bar is small, but always crowded and friendly, and the restaurant is a local favorite. So are Fumé Bistro, Zinsvalley and Foothill Cafe, the latter three a bit of a challenge to find.
Favorites in Yountville include Bouchon, Redd, Hurley’s and Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, while Rutherford Grill is popular since it doesn't charge corkage; Zinsvalley and Silverado Brewing north of St. Helena doesn't either). St. Helena has a number of fine restaurants with friendly bars for eating: Martini House, Press, Go Fish, Market, Cook and Tra Vigne. Calistoga boasts the Calistoga Inn, Brannan’s, barVino and Hydro Bar.
But if you’re seeking a quieter time, the same bars that serve meals attract locals and visitors alike after dinner. It’s a good place to meet people — and maybe even find someone to help explore the Valley the next day or on your next visit to Napa Valley.
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If you visit (all 707 area code unless indicated) [In the process of updating 8/8/07]
Calistoga Inn, 1250 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga, 942-4101, www.calistogainn.com
Napa River Inn, 500 Main Street, Napa (877) 251-8500, www.napariverinn.com.
Duckhorn Wine Company, 1000 Lodi Lane, St. Helena 888-354-8885, www.duckhornvineyards.com
Joseph Phelps, 200 Taplin Road, St Helena, 963-2745, www.jpvwines.com.
Robert Mondavi Winery, Highway 29, Oakville, 888-766-6328, www.robertmondaviwinery.com.
Wine Tasting Rooms in downtown Napa
Back Room Wines 974 Franklin St., www.backroomwines.com, 226-1378
Bayview Cellars at Napa Valley Traditions, 1202 Main St., 226-2044
The Bounty Hunter, 975 First St., 800-943.9463
Copia, 500 First St., 259-1600, www.copia.org
JV Liquors, Silverado Trail and First Street, near Copia
Napa General Store, Hatt Building, 500 Main Street, 259-0762, www.napageneralstore.com
Napa Wine Merchants, 1146 First Street, 257-6796, www.napawinemerchants.com
Robert Craig Wine Cellars Tasting Room, 880 Vallejo Street. 252-2250, extension 1. www.robertcraigwine.com
Vintners’ Collective, 1245 Main St., 318-0867, www.vintnerscollective.com
Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, www.copia.org
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone Cellars, www.ciachef.edu
Napa Valley College, www.nvc.cc.ca.us
Auberge du Soleil, 180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford, 963-1211, www.aubergedusoleil.com
Clos Pegase Winery, 1060 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, 942-4981, www.clospegase.com
di Rosa Preserve,
Mumm Napa Valley, 8445 Silverado Trail, Rutherford, 942-3434, www.mummcuveenapa.com
The Hess Collection, 4411 Redwood Road, Napa, 255-1144, www.hesscollection.com
Museums and other attractions
Cameo Cinema in St. Helena, 1340 Main St., St. Helena, 963-9779, www.cameocinema.com
Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, www.copia.org
Napa Valley Museum, 55 Presidents Circle Yountville, 944-0500, www.napavalleymuseum.org
Napa Valley Opera House, 1040 Main Street, Napa, 226-7372, www.napavalleyoperahouse.org
Robert Louis Stevenson Museum and Napa Valley Wine Library, 1492 Library Lane, St. Helena, 963-5145. www.napawinelibrary.org.
Sharpsteen Museum, 1311 Washington St., Calistoga, 942 5911, www.sharpsteen-museum.org.
Restaurants and bars
Angèle, 540 Main St., Napa, 252-8115, www.angele.us
Bistro Jeanty 6510 Washington St. Yountville, 944-0103, www.bistrojeanty.com
Bouchon, 6534 Washington St., Yountville, 944-8037
Calistoga Inn, 1250 Lincoln Ave. Calistoga, 942-4101, www.calistogainn.com.
Downtown Joe’s, 902 Main St., Napa,707-258-2337, www.downtownjoes.com
Hydro Bar and Grill, 1403 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942-9777
Martini House, 1245 Spring Street, St. Helena, 963-2233, www.kuleto.com/Martini.htm
Rutherford Grill, 1180 Rutherford Road, Rutherford, 963-1792,
Tra Vigne, 1050 Charter Oak Ave., St. Helena, 963-4444, www.travignerestaurant.com
Uva Trattoria, 1040 Clinton St., Napa 255-6646
ZuZu, 829 Main Street Napa, 224-8555, www.zuzunapa.com
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