The Bachelorette of my Dreams
When it came time to figure out my bachelorette, I knew exactly where I wanted to go: Napa Valley, where the wine is flowing and the sun is shining.
Unfortunately with some bridesmaids being out of country, and some of the younger ones just starting post graduation jobs, most weren't able to make the bachelorette. But I knew that would be the case, and it was more important for me that they be by my side on the wedding day, then on a pre-wedding vacation.
So my bachelorette was just me and my best friend Ndonga, who is one of the sweetest and hardest working people I know. This isn't the first time she and I have taken a weekend trip, and some of these travel itineraries will definitely be Jas and Ndonga trips.
Part of why I picked Napa is that I'm not really into clubbing. I do it like once year and I couldn't do it for a whole weekend. Not without coming back from my bachelorette more tired than before. Ndonga and I are more about nice cheese plates and good wine.
We flew into SFO early Thursday morning and grabbed a car rental. It was an hour drive to our hotel in Napa. Not bad at all. Despite not sleeping the night before and having only a short nap on the flight, we were pretty full of energy.
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn on Solano Ave. It cost us approximately $300 a night, for a spacious king size room. The hotel was very clean and conveniently located, about 10 minutes from downtown Napa, 10 minutes from Yountville, 15-20 minutes from Sonoma Square, and 5 minutes from a Target and Whole Foods in case we needed anything. The outdoor patio had a fire we hung around to chit chatted one night, and the gym where we squeezed in a quick workout one morning was well stocked. There were also bikes for rent located right outside the hotel, and a pool.
As it was just the two of us, we got a hotel room. Depending on the size of your bridal party I’m sure there are tons of really nice airbnb’s in the area which would be more cost efficient. There was also a Marriot right next door if you have a preference for points.
We dropped off our things, and stepped out to grab a quick bite at Grace's Table, which was about 5-10 minutes from the hotel. They had outdoor seating and we sat in the lovely weather and grabbed a few apps. The grilled goat cheese was delicious, and with a glass of wine each we headed back to the hotel.
To keep the first day super relaxing, we only had one thing planned, which was a spa trip. The Napa Valley Marriot Spa & Resort, which is literally next door to the Hilton, was just a 5 minute walk.
The spa was nicer than I was expecting for a chain hotel. One of the perks to planning our spa trip on Thursday, is that it was empty and we had the spa lounge to ourselves. There’s a small outdoor space with cabanas to relax, where we hung out there for a bit after our treatments. The prices are pretty reasonable as far as spas go. I got the body scrub with the Vichy shower, and Ndonga got a spa pedicure. Whenever I go to a spa, I like to mix it up since I can get a massage at plenty of places around home. What I love about body scrubs is it's a fully body exfoliation and when it's done my skin feels so soft. We were both very happy with the services.
Side note, I have this thing where whenever I go somewhere with free amenities, I bring back tea bags for Greg. He loves teas, and I just want him to know that I was thinking about him, and that I would have loved for us to try these teas together. The spa at the Marriot, had a lovely array of teas and Greg was very excited to try them all.
For dinner we decided to head to Oxbow Public Market. It's about 10 minutes from the hotel, and the parking lot will most likely be full, especially in the evenings, but there’s also street parking along one of the side roads so we didn't have much trouble finding parking. The market is full of different places to get food and the vibe is very laid back. In fact, we came back here a second time during our trip to get more wine, more cheese, and to try the oyster bar. Hog Island Oyster Co. had such fresh oysters and we tried two kinds; herbed and jalapeno. The jalapeno oysters were amazing. I'm not the biggest oyster fan, but I sometimes dream about going back just for those oysters.
We had so much fun hanging around the wine bar. Their cheese plates are great, and we may have fallen in love watching the man behind the bar put together gorgeous charcuterie board after charcuterie board. We also tried the smoked burrata. It did not disappoint with the smoky flavor, despite looking so simple, as it was only drizzled with some olive oil and a little cracked black pepper. The bread that came with it was way better than the very dry breadsticks you get with the cheese plates.
The Cheese & Wine Merchant also has cheese and wines you can purchase. We especially loved the Poseidon (between the two of us we brought back 5 bottles of this white wine). We also grabbed a fresh baguette and some cheese to have for lunch the next day between wine tastings.
You can also take your wine outside to the cozy patio. We even saw people playing corn hole. Inside the market there's sushi, ice cream, an espresso bar, cupcakes, pizza, Mexican, and an additional bar on the other end of the market if you prefer beers. It's great for a large group where everyone is in the mood for something different, or has dietary restrictions. Very casual, but great to hang around.
The trip was already off to a relaxing start. The next day we got up and headed to our first wine tasting at Cliff Lede Vineyards, in Yountville, about 10 minutes from the hotel. Again, booking it for Friday morning meant it was pretty slow as most people coming in for the long weekend were just arriving. The tastings cost between $35-75, depending on the experience you choose and are available between 10 am and 4 pm. We did the Veranda Table tasting for $50, where we got to try 5-6 wines out on the veranda, while enjoying some incredible views.
Seriously, how gorgeous is that view? The vibe at Cliff Lede Vineyard is fun, but I wouldn't call the nods to classic rock a theme, as it's really subtle and done in a way that's classy. If you get to go backstage, it’s a very cool spot with artwork that celebrates classic rock.
The FEL wines are delicious. Typically red wines are too dry for me to enjoy. They have this harsh aftertaste that I don't like which makes me stick to white wines. In Napa, that was not the case at all. I enjoyed every red wine I tried. They also have a white wine that has been voted the best white wine in the US multiple times, and it’s only $25. It's not part of the tasting because it sells out, but if you’re going to bring back a wine from your trip $25 is a pretty great deal for an award winning wine!
They have a “Rock Block” wine which is different every year. They’ll tell you about it during your tasting but the process is very unique to this winery. We brought back a bottle of the current selections to pop open at a special occasion together!
What made the whole experience extra special was Uncle Pierce! Not sure if this is something you can request, but if he can be the guide for your tasting, you are in for a great time! He’s actually a retired partner from the same public accounting firm I was trying to get away from, and he was the best. He refers to himself as a recovering accountant. Again, some of the walking around we did and the tour Uncle Pierce gave us around the winery was probably because we beat the crowd, as it wasn't part of the tasting experience we picked. But even if that's the case, he didn't have to do it. He just did, and he even gave us information on where to eat, which of course we listened to. Looking around, it seemed like everyone that works there is a lot of fun, so on top of the delicious wines the service is amazing and the people working there really do the best they can to make the experience memorable.
We stopped at a local market Uncle Pierce mentioned to grab a baguette and cheese, headed back to the hotel where we devoured it as we lounged in our room, and then onward to our next wine tasting!
Domaine Carneros is a winery about 10 minutes from the hotel with a beautiful chateau at it's center, which is actually a replica of the owner's chateau in France. The photo opportunities here start at the parking lot as there is lush landscaping all the way up to the chateau. The tastings start at $30, and go up as you choose different flights. Each flight comes with four wines to try. There are elevated tasting experiences as well, including tours, but we kept it casual. We chose the sparkling wine flight and had our tasting on the patio. There is also a Pinot flight, and a flight that had a mix of sparkling and Pinot. Cheese plates and a caviar flight were also available, but we were still pretty stuffed from the baguette and cheese.
The sparkling wines were nice, but I think sparkling wines are too sweet and bubbly for me. We tried a glass of one of the reds as well and it was good, but not my favorite.
I also want to point out that the level of interaction during the tastings here was minimal. We had a server but the flight came with a laminated note card with a little blurb about each of the wines in our flight. Other than coming back to ask if we wanted anything else, our server didn’t tell us much about the wines or the vineyard. So this experience was different from the previous experience at Cliff Lede, where an individual comes back with the next wine and tells you a bit about it before the tasting. I'm sure with one of the elevated experiences, you can also increase the level of interaction and attention.
For dinner we went to Ciccio, per Uncle Pierce's instructions. The restaurant is in Yountville, close to Cliff Lede, and about 12 minutes from the hotel, and is only open for dinner. If you plan on going to both Ciccio and Cliff Lede, go for a later wine tasting so you aren't driving back and forth. We just didn't know until Uncle Pierce insisted that we have to try it. If you don’t have a reservation, be sure to get there like 10-15 minutes before opening (5pm), because there will be a line.
It’s a small place and not very fancy but it's a favorite among locals, which is why it stays packed. A good sign, if you ask me. The food was good! They have a pasta called the Caccio e Pepe, which was really simple, just parmesan and fresh black pepper, but it was such a comforting dish. We split that and the fish of the day, which was nice. We didn’t try the pizza but it looked smelled so good and looked very authentic. This is coming from a Jersey girl who is usually disappointed by pizza anywhere else. In all aspects, Uncle Pierce did not let us down.
Since we had a pretty early dinner, we went out later to grab some drinks and dessert. We ended up at Marimoto in downtown Napa. The decor and ambiance was elegant, and I would expect nothing less from an Iron Chef's restaurant. I'm sure the food is amazing, but as it's on the pricey side, we just went for a drink. We had the monkey bread and it was the perfect dessert, not too sweet or heavy, but the flavors just melted together.
The next morning we made use of the bike rentals right outside the hotel, and went for a bike ride up and down Solano Ave. We could see the mountains in the back and the sun was shining and it felt so nice to get in a little physical activity. You don't have to be a hotel guest in order to use the bike rentals, as it's tied to a credit card, not a room number. So if you're at the Marriot next door, I recommend walking over and maybe taking a bike ride one day! The weather in Napa is gorgeous why not make the most of it!
After our bike ride we had an early lunch at Auberge de Soleil, in Rutherford, 25 minutes from the hotel. This was farther past Cliff Lede, and is also a hotel and resort, however it is expensive, about $900 a night. Not within our budget, but if it works for yours, you would probably love to stay here. Luckily, you don’t have to spend that type of cash to go to the restaurant because the view here is breathtaking.
I cannot emphasize how incredible it was to sit up there and just look out over the whole valley. The breeze felt amazing, and the scenery was so lush and green. I could not get over it. I would recommend making reservations to try and get a spot closest to the view. The calamari was fried to perfection, and since it's Ndonga's favorite, we have had plenty of calamari to know good calamari. I got the pizza with pesto, buratta, and chilies. It had a thin crust, so not too heavy but I still couldn't finish it. The base was crispy and the flavors were interesting. And I don't mean interesting to be code for bad or weird, it was a really good pizza, and I just can't remember ever having a similar combination of flavors. The have regular and seasonal cocktails, but the espresso was so good! I had an Americano that just warmed my soul. We also ended up splitting a light fluffy piece of lemon cheesecake.
After the brunch, we headed over to Sterling Vineyards, our final planned wine tasting of the trip. The vineyard is in Calistoga, which is 40 minutes from the hotel, but only 20 minutes from Auberge de Soleil. Tastings cost between $35 and $75, depending on the experience you choose, but they all include a ride on the Aerial Tram. That's right. This winery sits at the top of a mountain and the view going up is incredible. If there’s issues due to weather, or if you hate heights and the idea of being in the Air Tram freaks you out, there is a trolley that will also get you to the top.
We did the Silver Tasting Experience for $55, where we got to try three wines out on the patio of one of the buildings. The space was a bit secluded from the rest of the tour path, so very quiet compared to the main part of the winery. We sat in the shade of some incredibly large trees as our server told us a little bit about each of the wines, and some interesting facts about where the different vineyards are located and how the weather is suited to that type of grape, more engagement than at Domaine. After the silver tasting experience, which came with a souvenir wine glass, our server directed us towards the self guided tour of the winery. There are screens and signs throughout the winery to show you how the wines are made, and as you walk through there are a few more wines to try.
The wines were delicious. They have a semi sweet that was sweeter than I would have expected for semi-sweet but still enjoyed called the Malvasia. They also have a rose which you can get either flat or sparkling but we preferred it flat. Cheese plates are available when you get to the rooftop so you can hang without getting hungry.
The tour ends on a rooftop with great views of the surrounding mountains and the entire valley, with wine and cheese plates for purchase. You can hang on the rooftop until closing essentially, which we did, because the weather was perfect, the view was amazing, and the cabana was comfortable. I know most people bring their sun hats to Napa, but I am forever a flower child. Ndonga and I rocked flower crowns the whole trip, losing count of the compliments we got.
The rooftop is a fabulous space to get lots of pictures, but this is a very popular winery, so expect crowds, especially on weekends. This winery is also kid friendly, so you'll see kids as anyone under 21 gets admission for $15. Even though this was the farthest winery from the hotel, we probably spent the most amount of time at this winery, at least 4 hours between the tasting, the tour, and hanging on the rooftop.
We also planned to have one fancy dinner, which we did Saturday night after Sterling Vineyards at Bottega in Yountville, again 10 minutes from the hotel. There are plenty of Italian places in Jersey, but it's not often you come across really good Italian food, and this was really good Italian food. Ndonga got the risotto which was simple but decadent. I got the ravioli which turned out to be one giant ravioli, with brown butter sauce, and a fried egg. I’ve never had ravioli like it before but it was phenomenal, and everything was presented elegantly. We also tried the octopus appetizer, which was delicious. Portions are perfect, given how decadent the food is.
Sigh, and that brings us to our final day in Napa. We got up the next morning and checked out of our hotel, before heading over to Sonoma Square; the historic site where California declared independence which lasted until the US came along and asked it if it wanted to be a state. This was 30 minutes from the hotel, and it was nice to walk around. There’s a park in the middle of the square, where you could do a picnic for lunch, as well as tons of cafes, bakeries, and restaurants for food. We saw a lot of really cute family owned shops, and there are a few wineries if you wanted to do wine tastings. Parking is mostly street parking, so I would try and get there early in the day if you plan on exploring the area.
We just stopped on our way out to grab some brunch at The Girl and the Fig, located along the square. Unless you have a reservation, you should try and get there before opening, as most brunch places along the square had lines waiting outside. We got there maybe ten minutes before opening and two minutes later a line had formed behind us. The food was filling without being heavy and great portions. We got the grilled peaches app, a summery salad that was not too sweet and had great textures. The eggs benny was perfect, and the smoked salmon tartine was way better than your basic avocado toast. The presentation should have been instagrammed, but somehow I ate my food without taking a picture of it first. Actually I did that quite a bit on this trip, but I didn't know I'd be starting a blog!
An important thing to know! If you're planning on bringing wine back from Napa, you will have to check it. Most of these wineries will ship wines, but depending on your state shipping rules might make it a hassle. If you're planning on bringing back 1-2 bottles of wine you can get wine sleeves for about $5 each, which individually wraps and protects wine bottles. You will still have to check your bag, but you can rest assured the wine will arrive at its destination safely.
If you're bringing back lots of wine because your state, like NJ, won't allow wine shipped out of state, you will want to get wine checks, which can hold up to 12 bottles of wine. You would just check it with your luggage and your wine bottles will make it home without breaking. Between the two of us, we had 13 bottles of wine to bring back, so we split the cost. The cheapest we found were at the Cheese Factory in Sonoma Square for $75. Checking the bag is usually $25, but since Ndonga is a member with the airline she gets one free bag to check. This was also better since we were able to bring back wines from each of the wineries we visited, without multiple shipping fees.
This really was the best bachelorette I could have had, and Napa was so beautiful. I will definitely be going back, as there was still so much to try!