Weddings

Honeymoon in Napa Valley: How to plan the perfect vacation in California wine country

Napa Valley is famous for its rolling vineyards.
Napa Valley is famous for its rolling vineyards.

Imagine a vacation that takes you to olive groves and vineyards, Michelin-starred restaurants and roadside taco trucks, small towns and elegant wineries.

Napa Valley is like visiting Europe, with California sunshine and American friendliness mixed in. With over 450 world-class wineries, it’s the perfect destination for a food and wine-loving couple’s honeymoon.

And it’s easy to get to from Kansas City. Fly nonstop to San Francisco or Oakland and rent a car. On the way to Wine Country, stop at In-N-Out Burger and taste what all the fuss over “Animal Style” fries is about.

The further you drive north, away from shopping centers and traffic jams, the closer you get to the magic that is Napa Valley. It’s basically one long road — Highway 29 —with side roads branching off.

The region is about 30 miles long and 5 miles wide. If you have planned ahead by scoping out wineries you’d like to visit and making restaurant and hot air balloon ride reservations, your honeymoon will glide by like the first sip of a luscious Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay.

It’s not surprising that the main thing to do in Napa Valley is to discover the world of wine. Each vineyard has a unique point of view that’s expressed through wine and architecture.

Domaine Carneros, located just to the west of the town of Napa, is famous for bubbly. The winery looks like Marie Antoinette just stepped out for a bit; the view from the terrace rivals that of the grounds of The Palace of Versailles.

In contrast, charming Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena looks like a Victorian cottage. The winery’s tasting room serves both wine and olive oil produced on the estate.

Enjoy a Tuscan-style experience at Swanson Vineyards in nearby Rutherford. Swanson’s Cabernet and Merlot are served with warm pistachios in the winery’s whimsical Sip Shoppe.

Some of the more upscale wineries charge for their tastings; a little research beforehand will help you avoid any surprises. Some wineries offer extensive grounds with picnic tables and bocce ball courts, where you can bring a little picnic basket, buy a bottle of wine, and enjoy an afternoon.

Napa

Napa is the epicenter of wine. You could simply stay in Napa and have a wonderful honeymoon. Downtown is friendly and walkable, with wine-friendly eateries in every price range.

The Cottages of Napa Valley offers a casual, private retreat, with eight charmingly restored vintage cottages. Each has an outdoor sitting area with Adirondack chairs, perfect for chilly evenings under the stars. A chilled bottle of champagne awaits your arrival.

Breakfast from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery is delivered to your front porch, ready when you are. If you like, you can arrange in-cottage spa and massage treatments, which are great after a day of hiking or biking the wine trails.

You can also arrange for a S’mores basket after you get back from dinner out; they have all the fixings for the perfect do-it-yourself dessert at your outdoor fireplace. The Cottages of Napa Valley also offers private, chauffeur-driven wine tours that stop at small, family-owned boutique wineries.

Hog Island Oyster Co. in downtown Napa is a casual restaurant that specializes in local and sustainable seafood from nearby Tomales Bay. You can order oysters raw, baked, fried, or grilled along with clams, mussels, and a great seafood stew.

Celadon, also in downtown Napa, is famous for global comfort food and “green plates” for vegans and vegetarians. The restaurant gets rave reviews for its Peekytoe crab cake with Asian slaw and sambal aioli.

If you want a laid-back way to explore local wineries, hop aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. Tours depart from Napa in elegantly refitted 1915 Pullman cars last 90 minutes to a full day, depending on the itinerary. Enjoy a gourmet lunch or dinner and visit a winery or two. Reservations are recommended.

Rutherford

Although this beautiful area has a timeless feel, it has changed a lot over the past 50 years. It was originally owned by Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, a wealthy rancher who served in the first session of the California State Senate.

The valley eventually became the property of Thomas and Elizabeth Rutherford, who received it as a wedding present in 1964. The couple developed a winery, which attracted other wine makers, restaurants, and inns to the area.

Auberge du Soleil is a member of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux hotel and resort group. The adults-only resort has sweeping views of the wine country and a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Each room has a fireplace and outdoor terrace. Positioned along a sunlit hillside and nestled in a 33-acre olive grove, the “Inn of the Sun” is renowned for its culinary roots, sweeping vineyard views and exceptional service.

When you’re not soaking up the pristine ambiance of Napa Valley’s iconic luxury property, you can swim, play tennis, or get pampered at the spa.

When you get hungry, the nearby Rutherford Grill offers high-quality steaks, great wine and, of course, a relaxed northern California vibe.

Or, you could stay local and dine at The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, which boasts a fabulous view from the terrace, impeccable service, and a Michelin-starred chef. The bistro offers more casual fare.

Yountville

Located in the northern section of Napa Valley, Yountville has been known as a destination for fine dining since 1977, when Chef Philippe Jeanty presided over a restaurant at Domaine Chandon, which is known for its sparkling wine.

True to laid-back California style, Yountville still has a small-town vibe. Visitors can bike along the Napa Valley Vine Trail and bring a picnic lunch from Oakville Grocery, which was founded in 1881 and is famous for local produce and artisan foods.

Check out Napa Valley Bike Tours to take a tour or simply rent a bike. Many hotels, resorts, and inns also offer complimentary bike rental.

Get up early and head to Napa Valley Aloft Balloon Rides for an unforgettable experience. One after another, adventurers in hot air balloons rise above the early morning mist to catch the air currents.

As the balloons rise and move with the wind, the beauty of Napa Valley reveals itself in a way you would never experience on the ground.

When you come back down to earth, check out Mustards Grill, an upscale yet casual restaurant from chef/owner Cindy Pawlcyn. The hearty fare travels a short distance from garden to grill to table, and has been luring hungry customers for 30 years.

When a sizzling Mongolian Pork Chop makes its way to the table, heads turn. For dessert, you have to have a piece of lemon-lime tart with billowy brown sugar meringue that’s been torched like a toasted marshmallow.

If you’re craving a fine dining experience like no other, consider booking a table at The French Laundry, a world-famous restaurant that’s part of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux group. But there is a catch: To eat at Thomas Keller’s three-Michelin-starred eatery, you must make reservations months in advance. Two tasting menus in a series of small courses are offered daily for around $325 per person, not including wine.

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