A friend of mine recently referred to St. Helena as the “land of the right hand turn.” I got good laugh out of that one because we both knew, from his shorthand reference, exactly what he meant: that God forbid you find yourself, on a weekend afternoon during the summer, on Highway 29 in St. Helena having to make a left hand turn. As you sit there in the your car, stranded in the center of the road, blinker clicking endlessly as the cars full of irritated people back up behind you and the line of cars coming towards you extends into the horizon, your blood pressure tends to rise and your patience fray. We love our visitors in the Napa Valley and we certainly recognize where our bread is buttered, but the fact of the matter is the valley can get a bit crowded around this time of year. It helps to have some strategies to cope.
It’s a great idea for visitors to consider using Calistoga as their home base during their stay in the wine country. Calistoga, by virtue of its location in the north tip of the Napa Valley, stays a bit quieter throughout the busy season, which allows visitors to decide how much of the crowds and bustling nature of the valley you want to bite off. You may want to throw yourself into the thick of it one day, do some shopping, dining, and of course wine tasting along with the crowds, but it’s also really nice to have the ability to decide the next day that you want a quieter day, maybe a day to poke around Calistoga which retains its small farming town charm.
A perfect day for those who want a quieter Napa Valley experience is to start your day with one of the excellent cappuccinos at Calistoga Roastery or, for those who like a little more fuel to power them, breakfast at our down-home favorite, Café Sarafornia. After breakfast, explore the variety of shops on Lincoln Avenue, which meld a level of sophistication with a folksy lack of pretension. Along with art galleries, boutique clothing shops, and wine stores, you’ll find an independent bookstore filled with local favorites, my kids’ favorite candy shop, and a hardware store full of hardworking people with dirt under their fingernails. After shopping, pick up some sandwiches from Palisades Deli and visit one or two of the small, family-owned wineries in the area. For visitors whose only experience of Napa Valley wine tasting is at the large wineries along 29 that are open to the public, it is surprising to find that it is a completely different experience to go to small winery where visitors often get to sit and chat with the owner, hearing the ins and outs of winemaking and vineyards from someone on the ground floor. That personal connection makes the wine come alive in your glass in a whole new way.
Finish up your day with dinner at any one of the fantastically reviewed restaurants in Calistoga, perhaps accompanied by a bottle of the wine you tasted earlier that day at a local winery. All in all, I’d say that’s a perfect day for those in search of the quieter side of Napa Valley.