The Napa Valley is about 30 miles long with four distinct towns and surrounding areas to stay. Each has its own character and conveniences so figuring out where to stay depends on what you’re looking for.
The southernmost town of Napa is a good size city with all the major supermarkets and drug stores and the greatest choice of accommodations from major hotel chains to boutique hotels to bed & breakfast inns. It is closest to San Francisco, the airports and the town of Sonoma and the wineries nearby. It has a National Register historic district and the largest concentration of pre-1906 Victorians in all of the Bay Area. Downtown Napa has been undergoing a major transformation from a sleepy town to a serious food and wine destination with its Riverfront development and Oxbow Public Market. Downtown Napa has two Michelin restaurants, La Toque and Ubuntu and several new restaurants are slated to open within the next six to nine months. Being close to the Bay, Napa is the coolest part of the Valley which is pleasant during our hottest summer days. Napa is close to the wine district of Carneros to the south, Mount Veeder to the west and the newest district Oaknoll to the north.
About eight miles north is Yountville, a culinary destination with a total of six Michelin stars. It has the greatest concentration of Michelin star restaurants per city block than any city except New York and has the greatest number of Michelin star restaurants per capita than any city on earth – ok so Yountville’s small. But it is about the food. Yountville has many choices of accommodations from quaint inns such as Maison Fleurie to the luxury hotel and spas such as Villagio and the new Bardessono. Yountville is a wine district in its own right and is minutes away from the classic wine regions of Stag’s Leap to the east and Oakville and Rutherford to the north.
Another nine miles north of Yountville is Saint Helena, the heart of the Napa Valley wine region since the 19th century. It is a small town of about 5,000 residents where drivers stop for each other and neighbors help each other out. Most of the shopping and restaurants are on four blocks of Main Street, as are most of the stoplights on all of Highway 29. Saint Helena is a wine district and is close to Rutherford and Oakville to the south and Spring Mountain to the west. Some of the oldest continuously running wineries from the 19th century are located here including Beringer and Charles Krug, both of which are on the National Register of historic places . Unlike Yountville with its strong hospitality base, Saint Helena remains true to its small-town, family-oriented roots with a few choice accomodations but with some very good restaurants.
As one continues north of Saint Helena, there are less wineries and traffic, making the eight mile scenic drive to Calistoga seem short. Calistoga is the northernmost town in the Napa Valley with one of its most famous features being the hot springs. From its earliest 19th century history, Calistoga was known as a destination for restorative mineral baths and attracted such notable writers as Robert Louis Stevenson who suffered from tuberculosis. Calistoga remains a spa destination with a very down-home character all its own. From Calistoga, one could visit northern Sonoma County wineries in Knights Valley and Alexander Valley districts by driving north on 29 which turns into highway 128. The wineries are more spread out, but the turnoffs are well marked out. In Calistoga, it can be quite hot during the summer, which makes a nice cold beer at the micro-brewery at Calistoga Inn a very nice treat indeed.