Culture / Travel

36 Hours in Napa Valley — Restaurants, Wine Stops and Coffee Shops You Need to Know

From Downtown to Yountville

BY // 11.20.19

Napa, the world famous wine growing region, synonymous with all-day wine tasting, evokes quite a sense of anticipation. On a recent first time visit to the valley, I found myself with a day and a half to explore as much as I could of the wine town — and eagerly set out to make it happen.

With a mission of trying some of the best wine tasting rooms, coffee shops and restaurants in Napa, my boyfriend and I ventured from downtown Napa to Yountville in 36 hours.

Downtown Napa Coffee Shops, Restaurants & Bars

Driving down from San Francisco, we arrived at our Airbnb in downtown Napa around 3:00 in the afternoon. After getting settled in our above-garage “bungalow”, we decided to take a stroll through the square. First, we stopped in at Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company for a midday caffeine fix. Two cappuccinos were ordered and we sipped and sat to gain our bearings for a bit. Contrary to my usual obsessive itinerary planning and love for it, we had not a single thing planned in downtown Napa.

The quaint coffee shop, in a landmark Victorian building, has been around since 1985. As one of the first local coffee roasting companies in Napa Valley, it was modeled after European cafes. A second location opened up north in St. Helena several years later. They serve single origin coffees from all over the world and the menu offers everything from macchiatos to lavender vanilla lattes. Napa Valley Coffee Roasting even has a cold brew with a shot of espresso called the Bowl of Nails, which doesn’t sound too appetizing but I understand the concept.

After being sufficiently re-energized, we walked down the street to have a rooftop bar immediately catch our attention. I naturally gravitated towards it as I have a thing for rooftop bars and it was the Archer Hotel. We proceeded up the elevator of the boutique, four star hotel, to find Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar. With incredible, panoramic views of Napa, it was the perfect spot to kick off the wine tasting experience. I ordered a glass of the Sangiovese and an order of the Truffle Parmesan Popcorn.

With comfy seating and toasty fire pits, it was tough to leave after watching the sun set, but I could’ve eaten three servings of the popcorn so it was time to go eat dinner. After some researching on my phone, I found a popular spot called Grace’s Table. Known for its “eclectic, global cuisine,” I thought it worth a try. A charming interior, the space was intimate, mainly because it was 5:45 pm on a Tuesday. We shared an order of the Iron Skillet Cornbread with lavender honey butter, which were just as perfectly sweet and savory as you’d imagine.

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Grace’s Table Napa
Cornbread with lavender honey butter

For dinner, the Half Chicken came highly recommended. The chicken was indeed good, but the quinoa that came with it was the showstopper. Other dishes on the main menu include tamales, gnocchi, risotto, a Kobe burger, and more dishes of Italian and South American influence.

Next, we headed over to nearby Cadet Wine & Beer Bar. Described as hidden in an alley, it was much more classy than that. The bar offers a full beer and wine menu, as well as grilled paninis including a Nutella, marshmallow fluff and powdered sugar concoction called The Fluffer. Since we were already so full of corn bread and quinoa, we just ordered a flight of wine.

The menu changes regularly, but you can choose between champagnes, whites, reds and roses for three glasses of two ounce pours. The bartenders are also very knowledgable if you’re a wine tasting newbie like myself.

The next morning, it was time for more coffee. And some work. So, we went to Molinari Caffe that provided good coffee with a great atmosphere if you’re traveling for work or working while traveling. I ordered a flat white and banana muffin and headed upstairs to a bar table area, that sits in front of a private office you can reserve if you need to. Along with making hand-crafted espresso drinks like a Ghost Chili Mocha and Con Panna, the shop also owns its own Molinari Private Reserve, which is a fine-wine infused coffee. Something for another time.

For brunch, we headed to Napa famous, The Model Bakery. Around for almost 90 years, the bakery serves coffee, pastries, breads, cookies, cakes, pies and more. Located inside of the Oxbow Public Market, another downtown Napa must-visit, the cafe serves Stumptown Coffee Roasters and makes breakfast and lunch items like sandwiches. Since the English muffins at Model are “world-famous” we gave “The Original” egg, cheddar, and ham breakfast sandwich a try. OK, these English muffins do earn the title.

Yountville Wine Tasting Rooms & Restaurants

Since the one thing we did plan was about 20 minutes north in Yountville, we Ubered over for the afternoon. We’d signed up for a Blind Tasting at Hill Family Estate. I was excited because I enjoy a little competition. My boyfriend was a bit wary, having played me in ping pong and trivia games several times before. I knew nothing of wine tasting or notes, but I knew I wanted to win. When we arrived, we found a table set up just for the two of us. We had expected more guests, but once we started it was nice not having others witness our lack of wine knowledge.

For the tasting, we had four black wine glasses set up in front of each of us, along with a palate cleansing type wine, glass of water, and some bread sticks. All of the wine glasses were lined up on a piece of paper that listed options of red vs. white, single varietal vs. blend, oak vs. stainless steel, one to three years vs. four to six years, vs. seven-plus years. Different aroma and taste note options were written out on a blackboard beside us so that we could take note and compare with the winemaker’s notes. And for an extra point, we could guess the variety of wine or blend.

We ended up tie-ing, leading to a tie breaker of one more wine to taste. This one was a pinot noir and more difficult to decipher. We both got the color wrong, guessing white over red, but I ended up breaking the tie with single varietal over blend. We won some marble coasters. It was fun. We learned more than we knew so that for our next tasting we’d be a bit more prepared.

Jessup Cellars
Jessup Cellars puts on a great tasting experience. Courtesy of Jessup Cellars

Afterwards, we headed over to Jessup Cellars‘ Tasting Gallery. Here, we were taught by the bartender how to smell correctly. You must place your nose towards the middle of the glass, not the edge so that you aren’t overwhelmed with the alcohol scent. She gave us some dark chocolates and crackers to pair our flight of tastings with. I don’t usually drink white wine, but the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc was great. But then we tried the 2016 Merlot. I wanted to bring 10 bottles home with me.

Overdue for some food in our stomachs, we headed to Bottega. Italian food oasis by celebrity chef Michael Chiarello, the restaurant has been named Top 10 by Forbes and Best Newcomer by Zagat. Again, as time seems to crawl by in Napa Valley, we were too early for dinner at 4:30 pm. So we ordered a quartino of wine at the bar. We felt we were wine connoisseurs at this point so we sniffed our Sangiovese the correct way before drinking it.

Soon it was 5 pm and we were motioned to a table on the covered, outdoor patio. The ambiance was cozy and romantic. First up, we ordered some apps including the Insalata di Cavolini di Bruxelles, which is a shaved Brussels sprouts salad with Meyer lemon dressing, Marcona almonds, sieved egg, and pecorino cheese. Then, we tried the short rib meatballs with pine nuts in Sicilian tomato sauce with ricotta, sweet Italian peppers, and eggplant.

I heard from a local that the Gnocchi di Ricotta Della Nonna was the must-try dish here. I devoured those ricotta pillows with tomato sauce and pecorino romano. And for dessert, the Caramelia chocolate cake with layers of chocolate caramel ganache, topped with hazelnut praline, with chocolatey bliss.

Ubering back to downtown Napa, with lots of wine and ricotta pillows in my stomach, I almost fell asleep during the car ride. It didn’t help that it was already pitch dark at 7 pm and we took a country road instead of the highway, naturally lulling me to sleep. But it was a nice end to our Napa adventure.

Despite not having specifically planned every single place that we visited ahead of time, I don’t think it could’ve turned out better.

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