Tasting rooms are a dime a dozen in most wine-country towns, but Yountville in the Napa Valley does one better: It brings together an entire wine country experience in one small and walkable town, virtually eliminating the drinking-driving logistical challenge.
Of course there are tasting rooms—more than a dozen line downtown’s main Washington Street. But most people aren’t drawn to wine countries for the wine alone. There’s also that more general allure of the good life, of natural beauty, art, great food, and relaxation. And it’s this particular mix that Yountville does so well.
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With more Michelin stars per capita than any other place in North America (thanks French Laundry!), there’s a reason people come to Yountville to eat. Its thriving food scene blends upscale restaurants and casual bistros with bakeries, chocolate shops, and cafes, offering a taste for every whim and budget.
Art thrives here as well. A local initiative a few years back introduced public art to Yountville’s downtown, which you can either explore with the help of an art walk map or simply happen upon. A sea of stone mushrooms and a massive phoenix sculpture add a pleasantly surreal dimension to the stroll between wine tasting rooms. Most of the outdoor art is within a mile, making it possible to do the entire walk without breaking a sweat.
Nature is everywhere in Yountville. Parks dot the downtown, and a trail leads curious hikers out into the vineyards. The French Laundry has a vegetable garden that’s open to the public. And a few blocks away, the Secret Garden (open by appointment only for guided tours from June through October) offers passionate gardeners and cooks a look at the more unusual produce coveted by chefs at some of the Bay Area’s best restaurants. The tour is one for the senses, mingling the almond scent of crushed peach leaves, the piquant flavor of tiny arugula flowers, and the candy sweetness of Italian honey figs with a behind-the-scenes look at how the garden inspires top chefs.
In the early morning hours, Yountville yields yet another surprise—hot air balloons ascending into the morning air—most of the time from a small parking lot downtown. Napa Valley Aloft shepherds first-timers and veteran ballooners into large wicker baskets and sends them up into the sky from the heart of Yountville. There’s simply no better view of the valley than from the peaceful perch of a hot air balloon. Without much sensation of movement, you can go from being nearly within arm’s length of the vines one minute to soaring over a thousand feet up the next, admiring the patchwork of vineyards and towns as far as the eye can see.
Park once and experience wine country? We’ll toast to that.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Napa Off the Beaten Path
- 10 Great Wine-Region Getaways for Fall
- Love Wine? Sonoma’s Grape Camp Is Your Dream Vacation
(Photos: Yountville Chamber of Commerce)
Christine Sarkis has admired Yountville for years, and recently spent the day exploring courtesy of the Yountville Chamber of Commerce. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.