Bring your appetite and an extra suitcase.
St. Helena is home to some of the most storied wineries in Napa Valley: Charles Krug, Beringer, Lokoya, Cain, Newton, Chappellet, Ehlers, Corison, and more are all found there, which means that it’s become a destination of choice for serious oenophiles. But St. Helena is about much more than its world-class producers. From hotels and restaurants to a downtown dripping with enough charm to make it the perfect backdrop to your next favorite wine country rom-com, there is something here, as the old cliché has it, for everyone. Just bring an appetite and an extra suitcase: You’ll need both. Badly.
St. Helena Hotels
Harvest Inn (1 Main St., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 963-9463): Whether you stay in a Vineyard View Collection room overlooking Whitehall Lane’s Leonardini Family Vineyards, or an elegantly appointed, welcoming Harvest Inn room, this property offers all of the perks of wine country and then some. There is an excellent spa on-site, the perennially popular Harvest Table restaurant means you don’t have to leave the property for a great meal…and the bacon at breakfast is some of the best in the Valley.
Las Alcobas (1915 Main St., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 963-7000): Las Alcobas, which means the alcoves in Spanish, is part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection of hotels. And it’s a no-kids property, which is a very good thing indeed as you’re sloughing off the stress of your non-wine-country life. The property’s Acacia House restaurant is helmed by acclaimed Chef Chris Cosentino, fire pits and private terraces grace most of the rooms, and Beringer winery is within walking distance—another very good thing, because relaxation is thirsty work, and you’ll need to hydrate with something delicious.
Meadowood (900 Meadowood Ln., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 531-4788): Sprawling across 250 acres in St. Helena yet somehow as intimate as a private estate, mention of Meadowood evokes habitual sighs of longing from me...and Larry David-style glares of jealousy from my wife, who hasn’t been there yet. (Soon, though!) The impeccably appointed rooms embody the very concept of wine-country chic, each one has a wood-burning fireplace, and there’s even a Michelin three-star restaurant on site. (More on that below.) In other words, you may never want to leave. I know that I never do.
Wine Country Inn and Cottages (1152 Lodi Ln., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 963-7077): With a fireplace in every room and a patio or terrace off most of them, you may be tempted to stay inside for the duration of your stay. Don’t fall into that trap: Head on out and explore St. Helena, make the most of the charming downtown and incredible vineyards of the appellation...and then come back to your room, pop the cork from one of the too-many bottles you’ll likely buy during your day of tasting, and sink into an in-room spa treatment. Then, and only then, are you allowed to stay put.
Wyndown Hotel (1424 Main St., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 963-5100): Original art and furniture in each room, a continental breakfast featuring the local bounty, and the close proximity of the Culinary Institute of America Greystone all mean that the Wyndown is a perfect place for the kind of wine-country vacation that food-lovers and oeniphiles alike will savor.
St. Helena Restaurants
Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch (738 Main St., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 963-4555): LMR produces excellent wine that I’ve been a fan of for years, and the Farmstead restaurant lives up to the high bar set by their bottlings. The menu is highly seasonal, and features lamb, honey, olive oil, and much more from their estate.
Goose and Gander (1245 Spring St., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 967-8779): I first dined at Goose & Gander more than five years ago, and every time since then it’s more than lived up to that initial experience. The wine list is stellar—think verticals of Corison, splits of Corton-Charlemagne, and more—and the cocktails are forward-thinking yet rooted in good sense and taste. Dishes like the wood-roasted cauliflower and grilled Spanish octopus epitomize a menu that brings together impeccable ingredients, smart technique, and old-school deliciousness.
Gott’s Roadside (933 Main St., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 963-3486): Let’s face it: A day of tasting big, expressive red wines can be exhausting. And unless you’re in the business, chances are you won’t be spitting as much as I do (it’s the worst part of my job). Which is where Gott’s roadside comes in. It has no Michelin stars, you have to wait in line to order your meal, and they sell t-shirts and hats emblazoned with their logo. All of which adds up to one thing: Gott’s is exactly what you’ll need after a morning of winery visits to sooth your weary palate (fat! protein! carbs!) and fortify you for the afternoon’s “work.” The Western Bacon Blue Ring is one of my go-to options, though the Kimchi Burger comes in a close second. The fish and seafood tacos are solid choices, too. Whatever you eat there, you’ll be ready to face that next round of Cabernet with confidence. And probably a new t-shirt.
Press St. Helena (587 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 967-0550): Carnivores will swoon when they read over the menu section titled “Steaks & Chops from the Almond Wood Grill,” but produce and seafood also play an important role in this St. Helena favorite. Accompanying that wildly appealing menu is a wine program that runs the gamut from unexpected back-vintage gems like the 1975 Stony Hill Riesling to mortgage-payment-level wines like the 2015 Screaming Eagle. The secret sauce? Expect expert guidance, no matter what your tastes and budget.
The Restaurant at Meadowood (900 Meadowood Ln., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 531-4788): Typically mentioned in the same hushed, reverential tones as other Napa Valley temples of California gastronomy like the French Laundry and Single Thread, this Michelin three-star destination, helmed by Chef Christopher Kostow, utilizes ingredients from its two-and-a-half-acre garden for its glorious modern American cuisine. Wine Director Micah Clark and sommelier Scott Turnbull—an old friend of mine from the East Coast whom my colleagues and I refer to as having “moved to the vinous promised land”—work with a list both far-ranging and deep. There’s a reason The Restaurant is so venerated.
St. Helena Shopping
ACME Fine Wines (1080 Fulton Ln, St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 963-0440): No matter how hard you work at it, it’s just not possible to visit every winery you want to in Napa. Trust me: I’ve tried. And in more than a decade of visiting for work and play, I still haven’t even come close. I’m just one man, with one liver. Fortunately, Acme Fine Wines can help fill in the gaps during your next trip, with a well-curated selection of bottles that include every conceivable price point and stylistic preference. Because let’s be honest: It’s not a successful trip to wine country unless you have to pay hundreds of dollars in extra baggage fees at the airport to account for all the Cabs and Chards you’ve purchased.
The Model Bakery (1357 Main St., St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 963-8192): This is the O.G. (for “original gluten”—sorry!). The store that started it all—there are now outposts at the Oxbow Public Market and Napa—is still going strong nearly nine decades later. The attention to detail here is stunning: The sourdough is leavened using a starter sourced from wine grapes, the pastries will weaken your knees, and the cookies instill a sense of childlike glee. At least, that’s been my experience.
New West KnifeWorks (1380 Main St., Ste. 102, St. Helena, CA 94574; (707) 244-5188): The only other outposts of New West KnifeWorks are in Jackson, Wyoming, and Park City, Utah, which makes this one slightly easier to get to if you’re in wine country. It’s worth stopping by: The knives are gorgeous to look at and even better to use: Perfect to bring home and try to recreate all the great food you’ll be eating in St. Helena.