Hello there! This week, we’ll be taking a tour of Napa Valley points of interest across two fascinating towns: Napa and Yountville (including things to do in Napa Valley besides drinking wine!). We’ll also learn all about Napa Valley history, in addition to exploring Napa Valley towns and wine regions. Pack your bags–let’s get going!
Napa Valley History
Many Napa Valley towns bear the names of the region’s early settlers. George Yount was the first to grow grapes in Napa Valley. When his granddaughter married Thomas Rutherford in 1864, Yount gifted them 1000 acres of land for winemaking–the region’s first vineyard, which is part of the Yountville AVA today. Wine has been produced commercially in Napa Valley since 1858, when wine was sold for $2/gallon (which might be even cheaper than Trader Joe’s!). By the turn of the century, over 140 wineries had been established in Napa Valley. Among Napa Valley’s oldest wineries were Beaulieu, Beringer, Charles Krug, Montelena, Far Niente, Mayacamas, and Schramsberg, all of which are top Napa Valley points of interest that you can still visit today.
Wine tourism basically began at Beringer Vineyards, which began inviting celebrities and others to its grounds in 1939. Napa Valley became an internationally respected wine region following the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, when Californian wines were rated the best in both the red and white blind taste tests–dispelling the myth that the best wine could only come from France. The winning wines were a 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, and a 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena.
Today, Napa Valley has over 450 wineries, and over 5 million people travel to Napa Valley points of interest each year.
Napa Valley Towns
Several towns comprise Napa Valley. The town of Napa is the largest, and about half of the county’s population lives there. Other Napa Valley points of interest are spread across towns like St. Helena, Calistoga, Yountville, and Rutherford, each of which contains a number of the most beautiful wineries in Napa Valley.
The two wine routes that cut through Napa Valley are Route 29 and the Silverado Trail. Napa Valley towns are all located along Route 29, and the wineries are equally split between the two roads, which run parallel to one another. You can literally drive up Route 29, then back down the Silverado Trail (or vice-versa), hitting up the Napa Valley points of interest that grab your attention along the way.
Napa Valley Wine Regions
There are 16 sub-regions within Napa Valley, differentiated by their subtle differences in climate and soil, which make them amenable to different kinds of grapes. Among the most notable Napa Valley points of interest are the following:
- The Yountville AVA is the location of Napa Valley’s first vineyard, planted by George Yount around 1836. The region’s center is the town of Yountville, which is one of my very favorite Napa Valley points of interest.
- The Los Carneros AVA (American Viticultural Area) is where the famous Windows XP background photo was taken in 1996. Interestingly, though many Napa Valley points of interest resemble the hills in the photo, the actual photo is impossible to replicate. The hills were bare at that moment because the vineyards that normally grew there had been killed by a bug infestation; but they were soon regrown, rendering the hill unrecognizable today.
- The Stags Leap District AVA is the home of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, which created the winning Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting–cementing Napa Valley as a legitimate wine region in the world. Interestingly, this district is also home to Stags’ Leap Winery–note that the apostrophe falls after the “s” rather than before. Both Stag’s Leap and Stags’ Leap are major Napa Valley points of interest. They were founded in the same year, and they’re actually located right next door to each other. However, it’s Stag’s Leap that created the famous wine–and they certainly didn’t appreciate the other winery reaping the benefits by attracting tourists who didn’t know the difference between the two. The two winemakers sued each other for the rights to the name, and the California Supreme Court ultimately decided that since they were both named after the area, they could both use the name–but one with the apostrophe before the s, and one after. In 1985, they settled their differences and released a wine called “Accord,” comprised of equal amounts of each winery’s grapes. (The Stags Leap District is one of the major Napa Valley points of interest, but if you want to visit one of these wineries, make sure it’s the one that you intended!)
Napa Valley Points of Interest: My Picks
Yountville has two claims to fame. First, Yountville was the location of the first vineyard in Napa Valley, which was a wedding gift from pioneer George Yount to his granddaughter in 1864. Yount is believed to have been the first to plant grapes in Napa Valley. Second, there are 2 Michelin star restaurants in Yountville: The French Laundry and Bouchon Bistro, both owned by acclaimed chef Thomas Keller. A single meal at The French Laundry costs over $300 per person and includes 9 courses, none of which uses a single ingredient more than once. Directly across the street from The French Laundry is the small farm where their ingredients are grown, which we took a stroll through in place of actually eating there. (My new life goal is to be rich enough someday to not bat an eye at a $600 restaurant bill!) If you’re looking for things to do in Napa Valley besides drinking wine, I absolutely recommend giving Yountville a visit.
P.S. If you’re looking to sample small-batch wines in a gorgeous space, one of my favorite wineries is located in downtown Yountville! Read all about my experience at Ma(i)sonry in last week’s post on how to visit Napa Valley wineries.
Napa Valley Points of Interest: My Picks
#2: Oxbow Public Market
Oxbow Public Market is a stop that I’d recommend to anyone visiting the area–whether you need to grab a bite to eat on your way to the wineries, want to pick up souvenirs to remember your trip, or are looking for free things to do in Napa Valley besides drinking wine. Basically, Oxbow Public Market is a collection of small specialty shops and restaurants in one large, modern building. There’s something for everyone here, from foodies to families; we visited twice throughout the weekend because it’s just so convenient! We tried decadent honeycomb truffles at Anette’s Chocolates; tacos from C Casa; Meyer lemon cupcakes from Kara’s Cupcakes; lime-infused olive oil from The Olive Press; and a mouth-watering Moroccan spice blend called ras el hanout from Whole Spice. Oxbow Public Market should definitely be on your list of Napa Valley points of interest to visit on your trip.
So, now that we’ve explored San Francisco and Napa Valley together, you have to tell me what your favorite parts were! Which San Francisco neighborhoods are you dying to explore, and which Napa Valley wineries are on your list? Have you been to California yet? Tell me all about it in the comments!
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