Tuesday, April 22, 2014

California Trip: Day 1 and 2!

Alrighty, time for a good ol' trip recap! Mostly for us and posterity's sake, but also as a reference for any friends traveling to Napa and San Francisco who are looking for recommendations. I can't say thanks enough to other bloggers and friends who gave us such great suggestions! It makes planning a trip so much easier when you have such rave reviews to help you plan!

So let's begin, shall we? It's always fun to talk about vacation and wine!

When we got into San Francisco, it was only about 10:30 AM PST. While we were definitely tired from our 3 AM EST wake up, we were ready to make the most of our first day!

After a quick trip to Target for some sunglasses (oops....left them in my diaper bag at my parents' house!) and sunscreen, we headed to the little town of Tiburon and had lunch at Sam's Anchor Cafe. It was more or less on the way to Napa from SF, and a friend of mine who used to live there told me it would be a great lunch spot that provided a great view of the city. She was very right. Good food, cute place, and yes, nice view of SF! 

We left Tiburon and headed to Napa and enjoyed the views from our window as we drove into the Valley. It was a beautiful day and I won't lie, driving without a Daniel Tiger soundtrack playing was a big plus! 

We headed to Girard's tasting room where we did a private tasting paired with cheese and charcuteries. What a great way to dive into Napa! Awesome wine, we really liked Kevin who did our tasting, and the cheeses were not too shabby! Funny note about Kevin, he adamantly told us that Charlotte was his favorite city in the US after Napa. This made us chuckle a little bit but I think it might be part of why we liked him so much!

From here, we headed to The Cottages of Napa Valley to check in. A million thanks to Kate for this recommendation. What a GREAT and cozy place to stay in Napa. I have zero complaints. Charming, clean, fresh pastries for breakfast, heated tiles on the bathroom floor, french press....I could go on and on. We loved it!

After getting settled and a a change of clothes, we headed off to Mustard's Grill for dinner. So many suggested this place to us, and it was quite yummy! I ordered a smoked duck entree, which I sort of wish I hadn't done since I am not one to love duck, but it was still good.  I should also point out here that another great perk to staying at the cottages was they'd drive you to dinner at most of the nearby restaurants. This was such a nice little bonus!

Day Two! 

My morning began bright and early at 6:30AM (thanks time change!). But thankfully, our morning also began with some fresh baked goods, fruit and coffee. We also got to Skype with M after her trip to the zoo with my parents before she went down for her nap and it was at this time I knew she wasn't missing us at all. That girl was having a ball back in Richmond!

Since this was our first full day in Napa, we decided to do a tour and let someone else chauffeur us around for the day and do all the planning! I booked us a tour through Platypus Wine Tours based on their reviews on yelp and trip advisor, and was pleasantly surprised to find that everything I read was true. We had a GREAT driver/guide, they took us to a great variety of places (in size and wine), and they provided us with an awesome lunch plus endless bottles of water and cheese and crackers. We only had two other couples on our tour and both were really nice. It was a really fun day, and I'm glad we went this route for our first day here. 

Wineries on Day 2:

We started our day at Ballentine Vineyards in St. Helena where we got a fun history lesson, not only about the winery, but also about wine in Napa in general...something we didn't know much about going into this trip. We got to do a barrel tasting and then visited their tasting room where we met the sweetest lady who was working. She made the experience so fun. Ballentine had great wines, great people, but wasn't especially pretty or nice. Does that make sense? I'd go back here for sure, but I also wouldn't mark this as a MUST visit if you're planning a trip.

From here, we headed to Tudal Winery, also in St. Helena. This was probably my second favorite winery we got to visit on our trip. Not only was the wine good (with generous pours), but the place was just gorgeous and so laid back. 

We had lunch here (again provided by the tour....wonderful croissant sandwiches with a a quinoa salad). I wish I could remember in detail more about the wine we tasted everywhere, but when you do 8 tastings in 3 days...well, it all sort of blends together! If you're planning a Napa trip, add Tudal to your agenda. A small, but fabulous winery. We got one picture together here before heading off to our next destination!

From here we went to Dutch Henry in Calistoga. Highlights here were visiting their cellar and their cute terriers that were running around and having fun! But I won't lie, the gal working behind the bar who did our tasting was very blah. Had she been more fun or perhaps had more to share with us (info...not wine!), I would have enjoyed it more. The wine was great and they had a nice property, but it was just an okay experience.

We left Dutch Henry and headed South again and went to Rutherford Ranch, back in St. Helena. For our last visit of the day we did a chocolate pairing with our tasting. Who doesn't love wine + chocolate? 

Although I wish we got to see more of Rutherford Ranch and learn more about their history, I will say I liked their wine. We tried one here called Predator that was an "old vine Zinfandel" that I can't wait to pair with some smoked ribs or brisket. It was excellent. And this is coming form the girl who remembers very little about the 40+ wines we tasted here! We managed to sneak in another picture together here.

We got back to our cottages around 4:30/5 and at this point I gave my past self a pat on the back for making late dinner plans that allowed us to get a nap in before dinner! We snoozed till about 7 and then got ready for dinner at Ad Hock. When I told people we were going to Napa, Ad Hoc was probably the #1 recommendation I got (for food or wine!). After eating here, I can see why! Ad Hoc has a four course family style menu that changes daily, and boy oh boy. It was good! But, with all this said, I won't lie. Even after a good nap, I was still EXHAUSTED at our dinner. I think the early wake up + lack of sleep from the day before + tastings at 4 wineries = one really tired Rachel. I sort of wish we had planned a more low key dinner for our second night here so I could have eaten something small and caught up on my sleep. Not a huge problem, but a suggestion to anyone visiting Napa from the East Coast.

But y'all....the food. It was really really good!

I'll post part two of Napa later this week and then onto San Francisco!


  1. I leave for Napa tomorrow and this post has gotten me even more excited!!! I hope I can read day 3 before I get on the plane for even more recommendations :)

  2. Sam's is one of my favorite spots. It's great for Sunday brunch. We tried to go there on a Friday leaving Napa and heading back into the city but they didn't open until like 11am so we went to another place.
    Can't wait to hear more!

  3. Loving your recap!! This is making me want to go even more now, looks like a blast!

  4. This makes me want to start planning an anniversary trip! Those cottages look great!

  5. Oh man, I sure am looking forward to ending breastfeeding, now more than ever! ;) Love your recap so far!

  6. YAY NAPA! And Cottages! Oh man, now I want to go back rightthissecond.

    On both of our Napa trips, we basically had to drag ourselves out of the cottages to go to dinner every night. Wine tasting all day is HARD WORK.

  7. What a fun trip! You are making me want to go to napa! We've been to San Francisco but didn't go to any wineries!

  8. This looks awesome! The wineries seem so cool, I really need to go experience that someday.

  9. Platypus Tours is THE way to do Napa!! We had the sweetest, most informative guide and it was so neat to meet other couples (one happened to be from Columbia, SC!) in an intimate setting rather than a impersonal group. We want to do the Sonoma tour next time we're out :) Looks like y'all had an absolute blast; can't wait to read the rest of your recaps!

  10. Yay! I'm glad you had such a great time in Napa! I was there about a month ago and visited the Castle Winery and it was fantastic. I'm going to have to visit the ones you mentioned now.

  11. Ahhh! You're making me want to plan a trip NOW. It looks absolutely amazing. I'm drooling!