California’s Napa Valley has long been the ultimate destination for hedonistic oenotourists, with some accommodation options reaching $6,000 a night. While there are still mind-blowing, luxurious stays that cost more than a month’s salary, there are also many more places to choose from, each offering something a little different – and not all of them will blow the budget.
Busy times tend to be around harvest, from August to November, so be sure to book in advance if you want to travel then (and be prepared for the inevitable eye-watering price hikes). Quieter times are between March and May. You may not see grapes on the vines, but crowds are smaller, it’s sunny, and the vine flowers will be out in all their glory.
Food is a huge focus in the region, with gorgeously fresh and simple farm-to-fork restaurants on almost every corner, as well as a plethora of Michelin-star dining rooms, many in the hotels themselves.
For those seeking to pamper, the spa scene has exploded in a similar way to the food scene, with even budget-priced guest houses and hotels offering vinotherapy as well as upmarket spa experiences.
The issue of wine tasting and getting around has been well addressed in recent years, with many locations offering complimentary drivers and shuttles to nearby activities. The most convenient way to see Napa is still with your own car, but if no one on your team wants to be the designated driver (it’s a wine destination after all!), there are several chauffeur companies that will transport you from tasting room to tasting room. Many hotels have solved this problem for some of their customers by hosting their own regular tastings at sundown, often with winemakers present.
Family-friendly wine tourism has improved, too, with children more welcome in some guest houses and hotels than perhaps they used to be. And dogs are well received in a great many places. Welcome to Napa!
Best for vineyard views
1915 Main St, St Helena, CA 94574
Alila Napa Valley, located in St Helena, is a perfect locale for those seeking vineyard views. Situated in an old Georgian house, it feels more like a private estate than a hotel – an estate with a rather famous neighbour. The historic Beringer Vineyards sit adjacent to Alila, and a good number of the 68 rooms and suites look out onto those very special vines. You can dine sitting on your own private terrace overlooking the vines, and the hotel’s outdoor pool and fire pit are just a few steps away. If it’s a splurge-worthy occasion, ask for a corner suite with one of the huge wraparound terraces looking straight onto the vineyards.
While you’re there, make sure you take the time to try the modern Californian cuisine at the hotel’s Acacia House restaurant. If it’s warm enough, book a table outside on the veranda, where wine lovers will want time to peruse the extensive wine list. And the cocktails are not to be missed.
St Helena is also a great location to explore many famous vineyards and wineries, such as Freemark Abbey and the wonderfully bonkers Raymond Vineyards just down the road. The hotel’s concierge can help organise winery visits, including transport, which may or may not include a hot air balloon ride over the vines.
1 Main St, St Helena, CA 94574
With panoramic views of vineyards, as well as botanical gardens and tall redwood trees from many of the 81 rooms and suites, the Harvest Inn is surrounded by nature. Seek out one of its enormous Vineyard View Collection Suites, with private terraces looking onto the vines, or splurge on a Vineyard View Collection Spa room, with unobstructed vineyard views from your private outdoor hot tub.
400 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, CA 94515
Four Seasons landed in Calistoga with much anticipation and fanfare. This high-design mecca of apartment-style ‘rooms’ upped the ante for luxury accommodation in Napa Valley’s northernmost town. Sleek hues of greys and whites and natural wood abound throughout the resort, ensuring a relaxed holiday atmosphere. The resort boasts its own fully functional winery, Elusa, which has a cosy yet luxe tasting room where guests and non-guests alike can taste the fruits of Thomas Rivers Brown’s – Elusa’s star winemaker – labour. And they can enjoy it while overlooking the resort’s private, 1.9ha organically-farmed vineyard.
Speaking of spectacular views, Four Seasons’ one Michelin-star restaurant, Auro, is a calming respite all of its own. The intimate outdoor terrace that looks onto the rest of the property is a perfect way to start what will surely be a fascinating culinary journey before setting foot in the low-lit, airy, wood and glass dining space.
Best for romance
6380 Silverado Trail, Stags Leap District, Napa, CA 94558
Located on the famous hills of Stags Leap District, just a five-minute walk into the gourmet capital of Yountville, this light and airy, adult-only guest house has just five rooms. Each is named after a famous poet and furnished to the highest standards, with spa-style bathrooms, sumptuous wardrobes and impressive personal service. It’s hard to imagine feeling more spoiled here, where every suite boasts expansive views of the valley, showers both indoor and outdoor, private terraces, wood burners and a well-stocked – free – minibar. You might be tempted to indulge until the executive chef prepares your epic complimentary breakfast in the morning, using local ingredients of the highest quality.
Rooms start at about 88m² and go up to a whopping 135m² of living space. You can hire out the large Farmhouse as a vacation home by the month if you’re so inclined, but you could take over the whole venue for a wedding or other big celebration. The Robert Louis Stevenson Suite is the iconic room to go for, but the Robert Frost room, with its two outdoor spaces and incredible light, is a very close second.
1815 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
This romantic, bijou, five-star spa hotel lies off the beaten track, surrounded by leafy gardens. It offers tranquillity at its finest, with spa bathtubs and one-touch gas fires. The hotel can arrange transport around the valley for you and offers complimentary wine tastings in the early evenings.
Best for families
4048 Sonoma Hwy, Napa, CA 94559
With its two-cottage suites, residences and multi-bedroom private homes, Carneros Resort & Spa is an ideal place to stay with a family of all ages. You’ll love the 11ha of bucolic, sprawling farmland, with its kiddie-dedicated pool, bicycle hire and vegetable garden with chicken coop. Rooms are self-catering for family ease, but there’s also a choice of three excellent restaurants, ranging from the lively Boon Fly Café to the grander Farm restaurant and Hilltop Dining Room, with plenty of child-friendly dishes on offer. You can request packed lunches for your afternoon activities or put your own together from the swanky, on-site general store.
For those wanting a fantastic wine-and-dine experience without having to leave the children at night, you can order a wine tasting and dinner in the comfort of your own residence while the little ones are in bed. The winemaker from the resort’s partner winery, Cuvaison Estate Wines, will even join you for a private tasting if you wish.
For those itching to get out, however, the resort can help organise a babysitter for you – especially good to know once you check out all the events at its Pavilion venue.
2230 Madison St, Yountville, CA 94599
Ideally situated in Yountville, with a plethora of eateries on the doorstep, the rooms here are spacious, with a cosy farmhouse vibe. Try the make-your-own waffles at breakfast and freshly baked cookies available in the lobby every day before enjoying the pool, bocce ball court, lawn games and free bike hire. There’s also a playground and green space just across the street.
Best for foodies
900 Meadowood Lane, St Helena, CA 94574
A perennial favourite for foodies and luxury travellers, Meadowood, despite the Glass Incident Fire that took its beloved restaurant and some of its rooms, still leads the way for gourmands with its seamless blend of life’s pleasures, especially food and wine. Service is exemplary throughout its activity offerings – from the sporty side (tennis and hiking) to the more leisurely spa treatments and hedonistic wine and food experiences.
Chef Christopher Kostow earned Meadowood’s erstwhile restaurant three Michelin stars, but it managed to keep a warm, jovial ambience that was cosy and clever rather than stuffy and standoffish. The new restaurant in its place, Forum, continues in that vein.
Forum is situated at Meadowood’s famed tennis courts under a white and yellow-striped awning, reminiscent of the Big Top of a Cirque du Soleil performance. Wine country ‘starchitect’ Howard Backen designed the space to fit into the natural surroundings of the resort. The premise of the concept was to be a homey, gathering place for guests and locals alike, with seasonally-inspired menus by chef Scot Livingston and creative cocktails.
6462 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
Yountville itself is arguably the foodiest part of Napa Valley, with Michelin star restaurants and an array of other delicious eateries on the doorstep. Hotel Yountville is the perfect base for exploring the area. Still, you’ll also want to make the most of its luxury spa facilities and numerous fine dining options with its cosy, wooden-beam-with-copper-accents vibe.
Best for budgets
1880 Lincoln Ave, Calistoga, CA 94515
Both family-friendly and dog-friendly, what the Calistoga Motor Lodge lacks in Napa hedonism, it makes up for in charm and quirkiness. This renovated roadside motel channels a modern, mid-century America, camper-van-chic vibe with fun touches such as skipping ropes and hula hoops for little kids and big kids alike.
Budget it may be (for Napa, anyway), but that does not mean there are no treats. The MoonAcre spa and baths on-site are more of a social, fun affair than in other places. Make sure you take time to soak in the mineral pools fed by natural springs and have a go at applying your own masque at the mud bar. Even the treatments have quirky twists, such as massages and soaks using CBD (an active ingredient in cannabis), as well as the MoonAcre mud bake, bath and massage, a full 120-minute treatment. The relaxed and inviting nature of the spa makes it even more accessible and a particularly good location for groups of friends.
195 Main Street, St Helena, CA 94574
With its neon ‘Vacancy/No Vacancy’ sign out front, along with the walk-up, one-storey El Bonita does look like the typical motel, but this is Napa Valley – nothing here is typical. El Bonita is an art deco motel in the heart of St Helena. The clean, cosy rooms come with high-end bathroom fixtures, headboards with Napa Valley landscapes, and microwaves and refrigerators for convenience. With two separate buildings – one of which has three floors and a lounge and fire pit area for relaxation, a pool, sauna and jacuzzi – El Bonita punches way above its weight class for budget accommodation.
6523 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
The turn-of-the-century-style rooms at the Railway Inn in Yountville are each located inside century-old railcars. While basic, the long, narrow rooms are well-kept and charming. Save your money here for a blow-out meal at one of the many top restaurants nearby. Tip: ask for one of the quieter bedrooms away from the road.
Original post by Helena Nicklin updated October 2023 by J’nai Gaither