The Check-In: A long weekend in Napa Valley

The best of what the region has to offer

A vineyard in Napa Valley
(Image credit: Michael Sugrue via Getty Images)

There's something special about Napa Valley. It isn't one thing that makes this region of Northern California stand out — just like a good wine, it's a blend of things, like the world-renowned wineries, the vineyards that stretch as far as the eye can see, the cutting-edge culinary scene, and the enthusiastic people who run these operations.

A visit to Napa Valley is a treat, and can be done over the course of a long weekend. One way to enjoy the area is by starting your adventure in Calistoga, then working your way down to Napa.


Where to stay:

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The Francis House offers classic luxury. Built in 1886, this historic inn has been beautifully restored by husband and wife Richard and Dina Dwyer, who put their heart and soul into the spectacular seven-room property. The attention to detail is evident, especially in the modern amenities like the heated Toto toilets, Dyson hairdryers and sparkling water on tap.

The front of the Francis House bed and breakfast in Calistoga, California

The stately Francis House.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Visit Napa Valley)

Outside, there is the pool, heated to 82 degrees, as well as a turf tennis court and infrared sauna and salt room. In the morning, guests are served a delicious breakfast prepared on-site, to enjoy in the dining room or expansive patio. Richard and Dina are gracious hosts, who take the time to get to know guests to ensure they feel welcome and all their needs are met.

A bedroom at The Francis House

A bedroom at The Francis House.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Visit Napa Valley)

What to do:

Calistoga is known for its mineral hot springs. At the Golden Haven Spa, the bubbling water is mixed with clay and peat to create a glorious mud bath that is soothing and has healing benefits, thanks to minerals like sulfur, calcium, and magnesium — it leaves skin softer and muscles relaxed. Sinking into a mud bath is a feeling you won't forget, with the warm mud instantly enveloping you like a weighted blanket. While many spas in Calistoga offer these baths in communal spaces, Golden Haven has private rooms that can accommodate up to four people.

You've never seen a tasting room like Picayune Cellars. Owner Claire Ducrocq Weinkauf follows the négociant model, purchasing small lots from respected vineyards to create her own blends. At Picayune, visitors can sit at the bar for a tasting or step it up and try the wine pairing luncheon, a gourmet four-course seasonal meal presented by a wine educator. After imbibing, shop in the eclectic boutique filled with one-of-a-kind items curated by Weinkauf. She travels the world to secure artisan crafts, jewelry, art, hats, and tableware from small, usually women-owned, companies.

Where to eat and drink:

Mangia Mi is as saucy as its name suggests. This Italian spot makes its pizza dough and pasta every day from scratch. The Roman eggplant stack is a standout; a taller version of eggplant parmesan, the crispy and tender elements work well together, and the tomato sauce spooned on top of the garlic bread is heavenly.

A plate with eggplant and tomato sauce on it

The Roman eggplant stack at Mangia Mi.
(Image credit: Catherine Garcia / The Week)

When it's time to head to Napa, take your time. There are dozens of wineries between the two towns, where you can have a tasting (make reservations in advance at the must-see spots) or tour. For those who don't drink, include a stop at the Clif Family Rifugio Tasting Room in St. Helena for the Farm Elixir Mocktail Flight. The offerings change based on the season, with the most recent trio being the Pluot Lavender Limonada, Chocolate Covered Pear and Red Pepper Caesar, a twist on the Bloody Mary. All are made with ingredients grown at the nearby Clif Family Farm, and are so bursting with flavor you won't miss the alcohol.

Three mocktails and small bites on a plate

The Farm Elixir Mocktail Flight at the Clif Family Rifugio Tasting Room.
(Image credit: Catherine Garcia / The Week)


Where to stay:

The Napa River Inn has room for everyone. Right on the waterfront, this historic hotel in downtown Napa is pet- and kid-friendly, with warm and inviting rooms that feature pillowtop mattresses, spacious bathrooms and patios or balconies. Every morning, an assortment of pastries from on-site bakery Sweetie Pie's are delivered to your room with a smile, along with coffee pods and tea.

The lobby at the Napa River Inn

The lobby at the Napa River Inn.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Visit Napa Valley)

The hotel is home to the Napa General Store, Amelia's Gifts, the Vintage Sweet Shop, Celadon, and Angéle, a lovely restaurant that focuses on French Country cuisine. Ask for a table on the outside terrace, which has sweeping views of the Napa River.

What to do:

The California Brandy House is all about experiencing the spirit. Inside this sleek tasting room, visitors are led through their flights — there are three to choose from, featuring Argonaut and Germain-Robin brandies — and encouraged to ask questions and compare and contrast the different varieties. Damon Boelte, the California Brandy House's experiential specialist, is an especially enthusiastic guide, with encyclopedic knowledge of cocktails and a passion for sharing what he knows. Be sure to add the bespoke chocolates, made with Argonaut brandy, to your tasting for a sweet accompaniment.

Inside The California Brandy House

Inside The California Brandy House.
(Image credit: Catherine Garcia / The Week)

The Napa River winds its way through the city, and is an excellent place for wildlife watching, with snowy egrets and deer regularly spotted along the banks. Those who want to be on the water can go kayaking or paddleboarding or take a gondola cruise. You don't have to be on the river to enjoy it — take a walk on one of the trails that go by, or grab a seat on the patio at the River Terrace Inn's ALBA Restaurant. It's right next to the river, and has a grazing board with meat, cheese, fruit, pickles, olives, and bread that's great for sharing.

The Napa River

The Napa River.
(Image credit: 4kodiak via Getty Images)

You could spend hours walking through the shops in downtown Napa, with antique stores, clothing boutiques, wine shops, and art galleries among the storefronts. One really fun place to stop at is Milo and Friends, a pet boutique that sells locally-designed toys, leashes, collars, and apparel. It's the perfect place to pick up a souvenir for your pup.

Where to eat and drink:

Compline is twofold — there is a wine shop, and just steps away, a restaurant. Start with a tasting at the shop, like the Wine Without Borders flight, and pick up a bottle before heading over to the restaurant for lunch or dinner. The San Francisco Chronicle heralded the burger as one of the best in the Bay Area, and they're right — add the duck fat fries for an even better experience. The halibut crudo is also a great choice, and if you didn't get your fill at the shop, the restaurant has an impressively robust wine list.

A colorful wine-related mural

A fun mural at the Compline Wine Shop.
(Image credit: Catherine Garcia / The Week)

Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar at the Archer Hotel has gorgeous views of Napa, making it a hot spot all day. You can get a lemon drop or Aperol spritz on tap, or try a signature drink like the Carrot Me Away, with gin, whiskey, yuzuri liqueur, carrot, dill, and pink peppercorn. There are small plates available for snacky bites, with the lobster corn dogs and fried pickles popular choices. On cooler nights, grab a seat by the fire pit.

Sunset as seen from the rooftop at the Archer Hotel

Sunset at the Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Visit Napa Valley)

In a town where still wine reigns supreme, Be Bubbly stands out from the crowd. This dedicated sparkling wine lounge is the first of its kind in Napa, and offers six flights at different price points, making bubbles accessible to all. You don't have to know anything about sparkling wine to enjoy Be Bubbly — the friendly and knowledgeable staff is happy to answer questions, make suggestions and keep your flute filled.

People gather at Be Bubbly

Spirits are high at Be Bubbly in downtown Napa.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Be Bubbly)

Catherine Garcia was a guest of Visit Napa Valley.

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.