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What to Do in the Napa Valley
Napa Valley is a bit of paradise, not just for wine aficionados, but for sports enthusiasts, kids, art lovers, and anyone who appreciates great cuisine. In fact, there's so much to do, that it is impossible to cover everything. The following is a brief introduction to one of the most popular pastimes that both locals and visitors are passionate about: bicycling.
There are miles of well-paved roads that criss-cross the valley and wander up into the hillsides. (For dedicated mountain bikers, there are some excellent trails and roads that offer challenges for even the most experienced cyclist. More on that later.) Make sure to bring along a camera, water and a picnic and plan for a fun-filled day of exploring. If you can't bring your own bicycles, there are several reputable rental and repair shops in Napa, St. Helena and Calistoga that can provide you with a set of wheels.
If you are staying in the upper part of the valley (generally considered Rutherford and northward), call St. Helena Cyclery (707-963-7736) or Palisades Mountain Sports (707-942-9687) in Calistoga. If you're lodging closer to Napa, contact Napa Valley Cyclery (707-255-3377). These three shops also offer repair services and sell new bikes, clothing and accessories. Bicycle Works in Napa (707-253-7000) is one of the valley's best bicycle repair shops and has an excellent sales room, but it does not have rentals.
Rental prices vary as does the equipment included with the bicycles, so make sure to ask what you'll get for your fee. Maps are usually provided as are locks and racks. Helmets (required gear for any biker in California) are included at St. Helena Cyclery and Palisades Mountain Sports. All three shops rent Burley Trailers for comfortably hauling smaller children. (These are light-weight, brightly colored carts that attach to bicycles and are easy to tow.)
Hybrid bikes (a cross between mountain and road bicycles that makes for less strenuous biking) are available at all three shops. Palisades is the only shop that rents mountain bikes; Napa Valley Cyclery has road and tandem bikes for rent. All levels of riding experience can be accommodated at any of the shops
To tour along the floor of the valley, bikers should cruise the Silverado Trail, which is linked to Highway 29 and the valley's towns by a network of crossroads. There is a bike lane (though it does narrow to only a foot or two along the few winding sections of road) that makes traveling safer than on Highway 29. From Silverado Trail you'll also be treated to some of the more picturesque vistas across the valley. And, of course, there are plenty of wineries to visit along the way.
There are public parks in Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga for picnics, or you can relax at a number of wineries that provide a lawn, shade or even tables on the wooded hillsides. Not all wineries have a license to allow picnicking, so if you're not sure whether or not a winery offers that amenity, call ahead or ask when you arrive. If you want to enjoy wine with your repast, it is always courteous (and appreciated) if you buy your bottle at the facility that is providing you with a picnic spot.
One of Napa Valley's most interesting areas to explore by bicycle is the Carneros Region southeast of Napa. You can easily spend a day or two there visiting a myriad of still and sparkling wine facilities, and the county's only brandy distillery, Carneros Alambic. The scenery is breathtaking, from rolling pasture lands sculpted by ocean winds, to the canals and islands that reach out into the San Pablo Bay. If you don't want to spend time riding to and from the Carneros, your rental shop can provide a car rack so you can drive there with bikes in tow. (The weather can be much cooler in the Carneros, so make sure to ask at the bike shop what clothing is appropriate for that day.)
For the more arduous rides, you'll need a mountain bike to take you up Mount St. Helena or some of the other trails that lead up into the Palisades and mountains flanking Napa Valley. The views are incomparable. On a clear day you can see the Sierras, the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco from atop the 4300-foot Mount St. Helena, named after a Russian Princess. And, if you're lucky, you might even spot a golden eagle or two. Spring is particularly glorious: gushing streams, blankets of wildflowers, and lush, green new growth.
If you are interested in other Napa Valley sports, look for upcoming articles on golf, horseback riding, fishing, tennis, croquet and even roller-blading! There is much more to the Napa Valley then merely tasting wines.
Finding the Perfect Picnic Ingredients
You'll find a mouth-watering array of foods throughout the Napa Valley: from imported and domestic cheeses to locally made sausages, fresh fruits, house-cured, barbecued or roasted meats, pat»s, bakery-fresh breads and desserts. If you prefer to pick up your picnic en route, just call ahead to the deli or restaurant that sounds good to you. Here are a few suggestions.
In Napa, Genova Delicatessen (707-253-8686) on Trancas specializes in first-rate Italian fare. Their deli case is at least thirty feet long with salads, cold cuts, hot dishes, appetizers and sinfully delicious desserts.
Further north on 29 you'll find the legendary Oakville Grocery (707-944-8802) at the Oakville Cross Road.
Sattui Winery has a mind-boggling selection of picnic goodies for making your own sandwiches and a large grassy area with tables.
In St. Helena, just south of Pope Street, there's the Olive Oil Factory on Charter Oak Avenue. (They don't make sandwiches either, but the selection of cheeses and other picnic fare is fabulous, and they are known all over the Bay Area for their imported delicacies. They also have several picnic benches near their small vineyard.) The Cantinetta at Tra Vigne (707-963-8888), also on Charter Oak, offers an old-world courtyard in which to savor their many house-made specialties. Napa Valley Deli (707-963-7710) is further north on Main Street. Pairs Parkside Cafe is situated almost alongside Lyman Park in the center of town and has an enticing picnic menu.
At the Factory Stores on Highway 29 north of St. Helena and Lodi Lane, stop in at the Arbor Cafe (707-963-7335) for hearty sandwiches and a variety of freshly prepared picnic foods. There are also secluded, tree-shaded picnic grounds that surround the intimate shopping complex.
In Calistoga, look for Fellion's Delicatessen (707-942-6144) and Palisades Market (707-942-9549). Both are located on Lincoln, the main street through town. Palisades Market is a few blocks farther west, closer to the Silverado Trail and across from the Calmart supermarket. In addition to housemade sandwiches and salads at Palisades Market, you can find quality produce, picnic baskets, a variety of wine and beer, breads and a fine selection of locally-made specialty foods.
Most of these purveyors are equipped to prepare individually-made picnic lunches or suppers for you. Just call ahead and they'll be happy to help make your picnic a memorable occasion.
Where to Enjoy a Winery Picnic
Few things in life are so simple and yet so satisfying as a picnic. And in Napa Valley, where good food, wine and hospitality reign, picnics can be a feast for the eyes as well as for the taste buds.
There are now over two hundred wineries situated along this thirty-mile long slip of land, most of them nestled in vineyards or overlooking the valley, and many of them surrounded by handsome gardens. Among these, several offer visitors a cool lawn or shaded hillside spot for a leisurely picnic. Keep in mind, however, that the summer and fall seasons are the busiest and that it's sometimes difficult to find a winery where you can spread out your blanket.
What's best to do to insure your time in the shade?
Plan ahead, even if it's only a day in advance. A call will determine if picnic grounds are available and if you can reserve a spot. Just remember, when space is at a premium in the busier seasons, be prompt for a reservation you've made. Another option is making plans for a mid-afternoon picnic or early evening supper when fewer people are using the grounds.
Select a reasonable number of wineries to visit each day. Even though distances seem short between wineries, you need to allow enough time to sample wines and browse through the always interesting winery tasting rooms. Tours alone can take as little as twenty minutes or as long as an hour. Usually two wineries in the morning, the second being your picnic site, and two in the afternoon are all that you can safely and comfortably do.
Some of the wineries where you can enjoy a peaceful outdoor repast are listed here. If there's one you want to visit but don't see listed as having a picnic area, call to see if limited picnicking is allowed.
Silverado Trail, between Lodi and Bale Lanes, St. Helena
Clos du Val
Silverado Trail, between Oak Knoll and Yountville Crossroad
Silverado Trail, south of Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga
Highway 29, north of Yountville
Edgewood Estate (formerly Bergfeld Winery)
Highway 29, north of Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena
Folie ż Deux Winery
on Highway 29, north of Lodi Lane, St. Helena
Louis M. Martini Winery
on Highway 29, just south of St. Helena
Big Ranch Road south of Oak Knoll Crossroad, Napa
Mont St. John Cellars
5400 Old Sonoma Road in the Carneros
Moss Creek Winery
Napa. Call for directions
St. Helena. Call for directions
Pine Ridge Winery
Silverado Trail between Oak Knoll and Yountville Crossroad
Pope Valley. Call for directions
Rutherford Hill Winery
Silverado Trail north of Highway 128, Rutherford
Shadow Brook Winery
Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena
Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga
V. Sattui Winery
Highway 29 north of Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena