Another frequent destination on my work trips has been St. Helena, California… yes, a career in produce marketing is highly recommended. The Culinary Institute of America has a campus in St. Helena which would host a few summits and events throughout the year. I might be biased recommending St. Helena among the many destinations in the Napa Valley but I consistently have a wonderful time here so between meetings and culinary demos here are few highlights not to miss on your trip.
When driving to St. Helena from either San Francisco or Oakland airports try to avoid weekend traffic out of the bay area. See if you can catch an earlier flight to make the most of your first day. Visit Oakville Grocery to grab supplies and a late take away lunch for your drive up Route 29.
Check into the Wydown Hotel for the weekend. This is my favorite hotel in the country. Every room is extremely comfortable, modern amenities, luxurious bathrooms and individually decorated to fit the setting. Every time I stay I wish I was there for vacation and not work. They recently expanded adding more rooms to this popular hotel situated right on St. Helena’s main street. The Wine Country Inn is another St. Helena favorite.
I really don’t think you can go wrong for dinner your first night anywhere in this area but some personal favorites are Farmstead for a long but delicious dinner, Goose & Gander ( lots of mushrooms)or Archetype right across the street! Go with a group to any of these and order everything to split.
When you wake up Saturday morning avoid the temptation of in room coffee and walk across the street to The Model Bakery for the tastiest ham and cheese coissant and hot coffee. This place is always packed with locals who look like they are on their way to monitor their vineyards making it extra fun to people watch. After breakfast if you are like me you are rushing off to Greystone for a day of culinary challenges, decadent meals and presentations… if you are not like me then enjoy the reason to be in Napa and hop on a wine train. However, schedule a bit of time to visit this winery turned culinary school for a tour and maybe lunch at one of there student run restaurants. The building is extraordinary and the school shop is filled with signed cookbooks and deacedent treats. After your tour go back to wine tasting. I have visited a few vineyards last minute on the way back to my red eye out of San Francisco but not enough to recommend one over another. Cakebread gave a great educational tasting and great wine but I imagine they all do! If you skipped lunch at the CIA visit Gotts Roadside for a classic cheeseburger to soak up some of the alcohol to keep you going through the night.
Freshen up at the hotel and then out for another dinner. Take a taxi to one of the nearby towns, Napa, Yontville, Sonoma or Calistoga. You really can’t go wrong with a well rated restaurant in any of these towns. Talk to people while wine tasting during the day to get up to date recommendations. I haven’t had too much trouble making reservations in the past but I am usually there mid-week so this is probably not the case on a summer weekend so do a little research before hand and have bookings made.
Sleep in and a hit a few more vineyards on your way home. Even though it is a chain the Dean & Deluca in St. Helena is a treat. Definitely don’t miss the Oxbow Public Market in Napa and possibly leave some time for Oysters and Prosecco.
Honorable Mention: If you can, visit Napa for Bottlerock music festival. If you are fair weather fan of music festivals Bottlerock is the perfect blend of food& wine festival with music. Great mix of bands usually on the line up and all of the local restaurants, vineyards and breweries with stands keeping you full all day. My work best and I were able to skip out on a dinner one trip after a long weekend of cooking video filming to enjoy the concert. Such a treat and completely recommend.