Traveling Napa Like a Local
The Napa Valley is one of the world’s best-known wine regions, yet it still retains its unique (and sometimes quirky) charms and secrets. In an effort to get your nose out of a guide book and into a glass of wine, we turn to five locals for the inside scoop on Napa’s best locales from those who know them best.
Click through and find out where to eat and drink the next time you’re in Napa.
Brand Marketing Manager, Ceja Vineyards, Napa
“Brunch is my favorite meal. Favorite spots include Boonfly Café at Carneros Inn [in Napa]—they have amazing jalapeño Hollandaise eggs Benedict. For pub grub, Norman Rose has killer hamburgers and beers on tap.
“Head to Oenotri in downtown Napa for authentic Italian. All their pasta is homemade and they have gluten-free options. Bistro Jeanty [in Yountville] will forever have my heart for traditional French cuisine. My favorite is their famous tomato soup in puff pastry.
“I’m a native Napkin [Napa resident] in all regards. I went to Vintage High School—our mascot was a grape crusher.”
“For pampering, I love Indian Springs [in Calistoga] with its Olympic-size mineral pool. Book a massage or a mud bath. They’ve just renovated the cute little bungalows—great for a weekend escape.”
Her go-to destination for shopping is downtown Napa.
“Cake Plate has a very contemporary collection,” she says.
For wine tasting, she points visitors to the Carneros Loop: “Start at Ceja, of course, then check out Etude, Acacia, Bouchaine and Starmont. Artesa is a walking art gallery, and you can’t beat views of the gently rolling hills. End at Domaine Carneros for some bubbles on their patio.”
Kipp Ramsey, Farm-to-Table Manager and Sous Chef, Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, St. Helena, and Erin Ramsey, Chef de Partie, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Napa
The Ramseys met while students at Culinary Institute of America in New York’s Hudson Valley. They moved to Napa in 2011. They have a son, Graydon, who just turned two, and are expecting another child.
“When friends visit, we take them to Oxbow Public Market [in Napa] for breakfast,” says Kipp. “You can get juice from Hudson’s, coffee from Ritual Roasters and then the iconic English muffin breakfast sandwich from Model Bakery. With [Graydon], we go to Kitchen Door, Todd Humphries’ restaurant in the Oxbow. It’s family friendly, and it’s easy to accommodate large parties.”
A top wine-tasting pick is the laid-back Frog’s Leap Winery. “They have similar farming practices to what we have at Farmstead, and a huge culinary operation,” Kipp says. “They practically always have cheese, crackers and homemade preserves with the tasting.”
“Drive the whole valley and walk around the little towns. Don’t just try to go to all these wineries.”
Erin says, “We love bubbles, and our favorite for sparkling is Schramsberg [in Calistoga].”
“It’s one of the oldest wineries in Napa, and you go through the caves,” says Kipp. “And Corison [in St. Helena] is always cool to pop into. Cathy Corison is one of the best winemakers in the Napa Valley. She has an unparalleled palate.”
For kids’ activities, the Ramseys suggest the many great parks in the Napa Valley, especially in Yountville.
“There’s a beautiful trail that runs for a couple of miles,” Erin says. “And you can stop and taste at places along the way.”
Chef, The Charter Oak, St. Helena
Hong trained as an Olympic-caliber gymnast before she discovered cooking as a teenager. She worked as chef de cuisine at the Restaurant at Meadowood, recipient of three Michelin stars, with Christopher Kostow. He just tapped her to helm The Charter Oak, his new, family-style restaurant, scheduled to open this summer.
When she and her husband, John, (current chef de cuisine at the Restaurant at Meadowood) go out, “we like casual—relaxed and welcoming. We work in restaurants every day. It feels almost like working to go into that atmosphere on your day off. I love Archetype from Executive Chef Ryder Zetts. It’s really good for lunch, too. Every time I have family in town, I take them to Press. It’s a little fancier, but my husband loves steak. After work, we often go grab a burger at Goose & Gander.”
For wine tasting, “I take people to Charles Krug [in St. Helena], because we got married there. I love their lawn, and they do a lot of food and wine pairings. And my friends always like to see that pretty Italian winery—Castello di Amorosa,” styled like a 13th-century Tuscan castle [in Calistoga].
“My friends always like to see that pretty Italian winery.”
“Go to the Napa Farmers Market,” she says. “A good friend of ours, Ryan Harris, makes these really awesome breakfast biscuits at the market and does his own bacon. He’s from the South, so he knows biscuits.”
Vineyard Manager and Winemaker, Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery, St. Helena
Visiting Napa Valley for the first time on a trip with his parents in 2000, Weinkauf did all the touristy stuff like riding the tram up to Sterling. He remembers being struck by the beautiful views. He now lives in Calistoga with his wife, Claire (cofounder of Picayune Cellars and owner of Claire de Lune Wine Marketing Consulting), and 17-month-old son, Hugo.
Wine tasting at Robert Mondavi Winery leads off Weinkauf’s picks.
“You feel like you’re getting a slice of history, plus there’s the quality of their winemaking. I recommend the reserve room, where they’ll pour multiple vintages.
“In Calistoga, it’s still a small-town life—you have the Fourth of July Parade and the Lighted Tractor Parade near Christmas. Calistoga also has little wine shops like T-Vine, and W.H. Smith Wines. They’re worthwhile for expanding your palate.
“Wine tasting is cumulative. We’re always evolving and growing.”
“A great all-round dining experience is Calistoga Inn, for either a burger or more formal meal. It’s approachable and family-style, with great outdoor and indoor seating—nice in summer or on beautiful winter days. A new restaurant just opened up in Calistoga, Sam’s Social Club—great food, great brunches.
“Late night, I’ll go to Goose & Gander and grab some drinks after playing soccer. Then there’s Ana’s Cantina. It’s as close to a traditional bar as you get around these parts.”
For outdoor activities, “As a family, we do hikes up into the Palisades or Howell Mountain, near the college.”
- 1Dalia Ceja
- 2Kipp and Erin Ramsey
- 3Katianna Hong
- 4Aron Weinkauf