NapaLife

 

Visiting Napa Valley Alone

Paul Franson


 

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

 

Obviously, most people drive to Napa, and that gives you great flexibility – but don't drivbe if you've had more than a bit of wine. The police don't forgive visitors.


An alternate 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 the new transist center near 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 buses from Vallejo to Calistoga and back run about every hour.


VINE also runs buses to the El Cerrito BART stations – but not on weekends. The same is true of buses to Sonoma and Fairfield/Suisun City, where you can connect with Amtrak and other trains – but again, not on weekends.

 

There’s also bus service from both Oakland and San Francisco Airports provided by Evans Transit. And Amtrak buses connect from the  train station in Martinez to Napa .

     

Once you’re in downtown Napa, 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. Some EWine Train excursions include winery tours, too.

 

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 and around 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  become a hot tourist destination with many new attractions and  restaurants. 

     

The city of Napa contains some large chain hotels that often offer special deals.  One is a Hilton Garden Inn, for example. The River Terrace Inn and Westin Verasa offer delightful locations on the Napa River next to the Wine Train depot and must-visit Oxbow Public Market.

       

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 same is true of the modern Andaz Hotel, part of the Hyatt chin. It's in the hot West End of downton Napa.

 

Inexpensive  places to stay include the Napa Valley Chablis Inn, the Chateau Hotel, renovated 50s Chardonnay Inn, 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 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. There are also a number of wine bars. Many of the wine tasting operations have events, too, and they seem to attract more singles than couples. Mark Pope’s Bounty Hunter seems more a friendly wine bar than a  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.

     

One organization of particular interest is the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone Cellars in St. Helena. It's trains top chefs, but also offers many classes for amateurs. 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, the photo exfibit at Mumm Cuvée Napa, the Hess Collection, and Hall Winery.

     

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 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 City Winery at the Napa Valley Opera House and Uptown Thetre are top venues, as is Lincoln Theater in Yountville and the Performing Arts Center at Napa Valley College. Silo's Club in the Napa Mill and Uva Trattoria offer regular music, and an increasing number of bars, restaurants, wineries and other venues do, too..

 

Likewise, the restored Cameo Theater in St. Helena screens critically acclaimed current films. A new multiplex theater is south of town.

 

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, the Restaurant at Meadowood  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 other visitors and locals 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 Carpe Diem, Norman Rose, Tarla, Fagiani at the Thomas and Napkins. 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, a bit of a challenge to find.

 

Favorites in Yountville include Bottega, Bouchon, Cicco, Redd and Redd Wood, Hurley’s and Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, while Rutherford Grill is popular since it doesn't charge corkage. St. Helena has a number of fine restaurants with friendly bars for eating: Goose & Gander, Press, Market, Cook and Tra Vigne. Calistoga boasts the Calistoga Inn, Brannan’s, Barolo, JoLe 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.

     

— end —

 

If you visit (all 707 area code unless indicated) [In the process of updating 8/8/07]

 

Lodging

Calistoga Inn, 1250 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga, 942-4101, www.calistogainn.com

Napa River Inn, 500 Main Street, Napa (877) 251-8500, www.napariverinn.com.

 

Winery programs

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

The Bounty Hunter, 975 First St., 800-943.9463

Napa General Store, Hatt Building, 500 Main Street, 259-0762, www.napageneralstore.com

Vintners’ Collective, 1245 Main St., 318-0867, www.vintnerscollective.com

 

Classes

Culinary Institute of America at Greystone Cellars, www.ciachef.edu

Napa Valley College, www.nvc.cc.ca.us

 

Art

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, 5200 Carneros Highway, Napa, 226-5991, www.dirosapreserve.org

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

Napa Valley Museum, 55 Presidents Circle Yountville, 944-0500, www.napavalleymuseum.org

City Winery at Napa Valley Opera House, 1040 Main Street, Napa, 226-7372, 

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

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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