Honeymoon Destination: The Napa Valley

Lose yourself among the rolling hills of California's wine country, and fill your first days of married life with romance, relaxation and culinary adventure.

Auberge du Soleil. Photo courtesy of the resort.

Auberge du Soleil. Photo courtesy of the resort.

Whether it’s the palm trees, the flipped coastline or the six hours it takes to get there from Philly, there’s something about California that makes you feel like you’ve really gone somewhere, even though you’re still in the Continental U.S. Add in the western state’s variety of environments—from beach to forest to desert to city—and you’ve got the potential for one memorable trip.

The Napa Valley, nestled in the greater San Francisco Bay area, offers much of what a newlywed couple might hope to find in their honeymoon: breathtaking vistas, luxe accommodations, spa getaways, adventure, relaxation, romance—and, of course, the very best in food and wine. (The region is dotted with more than 400 wineries.) Stay in Napa’s bustling downtown at the Westin Verasa Napa or nestled into the hills of nearby Rutherford at the luxurious Auberge du Soleil. Whether you’re on your mini ’moon, your honeymoon or a stopover on your way to Hawaii, it’s hard to argue against spending your first days as a married couple enveloped in one of this country’s true treasures.

BY DAY It’s all about the vineyards here, of course—you’ve just got to decide which to visit and how. UberX drivers roam freely, but download the NVT app, too: Napa Valley Tours is like a localized version of the car service. Chauffeurs—accompanied by tour guides, if you choose—are also available for full or half days of services. (Minimums tend to run around four hours.)

The Napa Valley Wine Train is a great way to see the region.

The Napa Valley Wine Train is a great way to see the region.

On the Napa Valley Wine Train, you’ll chug along to wineries aboard a fully restored circa-1915 Pullman coach. Settle in with your glass of bubbly or the train’s Private Label Reserve, and choose from several tours—there’s the three-hour, 36-mile round-trip journey along the rail line that runs between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail (the valley’s two main corridors), or shorter, more focused tours. (You’ll love the relaxed tasting at the historic Grgich Hills.) And don’t miss seeing Napa from above: Several companies offer hot-air balloon tours that give you a bird’s-eye view of your honeymoon destination. Check out Napa Valley Aloft’s private flight for two with a champagne breakfast, and Napa Valley Balloons’ combo packages that let you pair a balloon ride with a bike or limo tour of the wineries below.

Be sure to mix the big wineries with the boutique: At powerhouses like Mondavi, Beringer, Opus One and Sterling, you’ll get to see how the wine is made, catching cabernet grapes tossed at you by vineyard workers and strolling by young wine fermenting in tanks and barrels. At the tiny, family-run spots (usually seen by appointment; whatever you do, do not miss the open-kitchen lunch tasting at Kelham Vineyards), you’ll chat with the owners while exploring a bit on your own and getting a real sense of where their wine comes from. You’ll want to experience both during your stay.

You'll love your tasting—and the history—at Grgich Hills Winery. Photo courtesy of the Napa Valley Wine Train.

You’ll love your tasting—and the history—at Grgich Hills Winery. Photo courtesy of the Napa Valley Wine Train.

BY NIGHT Watch one of the prettiest sunsets you’ll ever see with a pre-dinner drink on the wraparound terrace at Auberge du Soleil’s Bistro & Bar. At the Westin, ask one of the bartenders at BANK Café and Bar (also a great spot for a late-night drink before you return to your room) for a plastic carafe and glasses so you can take one of the bottles you bought during the day into the hot tub or heated salt-water pool outside. Or take a break from the vino and sip beer while you listen to live music at the riverside Downtown Joe’s Brewery in Napa, a favorite of winery and restaurant workers.

WHAT TO EAT Chef Thomas Keller is king of the Napa region’s food scene, and his restaurants—the French Laundry, Bouchon and Ad Hoc—are all in the neighboring town of Yountville, less than five miles away. Or head into Napa’s charming, walkable downtown and take your pick of the restaurants lining Main Street and its cross streets: At Oenotri, order up a salad and thoughtfully crafted pizza and pasta; at cozy Angèle, dine on the river on rustic French bistro fare like duck confit, wild mushroom risotto and roasted quail.

The wine bar at La Toque. Photo courtesy of the Westin Verasa Napa.

The wine bar at La Toque. Photo courtesy of the Westin Verasa Napa.

WHERE TO STAY The Westin Verasa Napa is a 10-minute walk from downtown Napa, and virtually next door to the Wine Train’s home station. Each room comes with a balcony or patio, and chef Ken Frank’s Michelin-starred La Toque Restaurant is right downstairs. Auberge du Soleil, which started out as a Provençal restaurant (today it, too, enjoys a Michelin-star rating), is a tranquil, romantic hideaway you won’t soon forget. Stay in one of the recently redesigned Deluxe Maison Suites, some of which come with a freestanding soaking tub in an outdoor bath garden.

WHAT TO PACK Layers are key: Even days that reach 80 degrees often start out at 50, so you’ll want to bundle up and peel ’em off as the day unfolds—then cover up a bit again for the cool nights. Be sure to bring dressier outfits for special dinners out.

BEST TIMES TO GO From late August to October is harvest season, when the wineries operate at full tilt and allow you to really see the winemaking process in action. January through March is the quietest, when you can avoid crowds— and premium pricing.

Auberge du Soleil

Auberge du Soleil

NEWLYWED NEWS Highlights of the Westin’s honeymoon package include a $200 credit to either Gloria Curry Day Spa or La Toque, and a five-hour town-car wine tour for two through the surround- ing region. At Auberge, you’ll sit down to champagne at a four-course dinner for two and enjoy a 90-minute couple’s massage.

HOW TO GET THERE Fly direct from Philly to San Francisco, then splurge on a rental convertible for the 70-mile drive to Napa.

For more on honeymoons—destinations, advice, tips and inspiration—go here.

This article originally appeared in the spring/summer 2016 issue of Philadelphia Wedding. 

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