Charming Towns of Northern California’s Wine Country

Town Highlights: The riverfront Historic Napa Mill building dates back to the 1880s, when it operated as a grain mill (the old tin silos are still attached). It's now a gourmet shopping center and the home of the endearing Napa River Inn. Look for the mosaic fountain depicting scenes of Napa's colorful history. Other food-filled retail complexes include the newer Oxbow Public Market (plenty of artisan bites and wines) and the Napa Town Center, where a pedestrian street connects antique buildings — you'll know it by its two massive oak trees.

Best Nearby Wineries: French-owned Clos du Val is known for its cabernet and pinot noir, both of which you can sample in the rustic tasting room (tastings start at $15, a fee that's waived if you buy a bottle). Outside, there's a rose garden, a petanque court, and two picnic areas. Less than 2 miles away on the Silverado Trail, impressive Darioush has a different feel: Its namesake and founder, Darioush Khaledi, is from Iran's Shiraz region, so the grand Greco architecture here is inspired by the ancient Persian city of Persepolis. Tastings of Darioush's strong Bordeaux-style wines start at $18, though a private tasting-and-cheese-pairing tour costs $60.

Unforgettable Meal: Michelin-starred La Toque, in the Westin Verasa, gets lots of attention for its French-American cuisine: Wine Spectator called it one of America's best restaurants. Chef Ken Frank uses organic ingredients in inventive dishes such as the Japanese hamachi salad, or the seasonal ravioli in a Parmesan wild-mushroom broth — and do go for the recommended wine pairing. If you're a mushroom fan, try the truffle menu.

Where to Splurge: The Cottages of Napa Valley, once a rundown 1929 motel, now epitomize country chic. Each freestanding unit features a fireplace, a jacuzzi tub, and a back porch. Rates start at $305 per night, a price that includes a delivered-to-your-door breakfast from Bouchon.

Where to Save: Napa's Embassy Suites isn't your typical chain hotel. Sure, it has the brand's signature cooked-to-order breakfast and evening happy hour included in the price (nightly rates start at $179), but it also has a swan pond, a wooden mill, and a courtyard to remind you that you're in wine country.

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(Photo Credit: Frommer's)


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