Once you leave Yountville you are in the heart of Napa Valley wine country. Rolling vineyards dotted with wineries, the smell of grapes in the air, the country market, and lots of fine local restaurants. This is prime time Napa.
It's also where you'll find the Napa Valley hotel you've been dreaming about, the one that's tucked away next to a vineyard with lots of local charm. But watch out as there are plenty of dumpy places ready to prey on the unsuspecting visitor. Best hotels in St. Helena? Follow me.
It's pretty hard to beat Auberge du Soleil for understated elegance . This casual yet sophisticated resort sits off the Silverado Trail on the side of a hillside overlooking the valley. It's clearly upper end, but comfortable enough so that you don't feel uncomfortable wearing shorts and sandals in the lobby.
The 52 rooms and suites are housed in cottages set in the hillside of this 33 acre property, giving the resort a nice, spread out and private feel. This is about as close as you'll get to staying at a hillside villa in Provence without leaving the country. Romantic, sexy, and elegant, the rooms feature overstuffed furniture, fireplaces, baths for two, candles, a private patio, and exquisite linens. Look, if you don't get lucky here then you're not even trying!
Of course the 7,000 square foot spa is another of the key attractions here. With views overlooking the valley, it's easy to see why many call this the most luxurious spa in Napa. Want to spurge? Go for The Melisee Suite where couples can relax in total privacy next to the fireplace in a suite that overlooks the valley. 120 minutes of spa treatments, a nice bottle of sparkling wine, a touch of gourmet food, finished with a sensual outdoor private shower (Wally, put down that camera!) or a soak in the hot tub overlooking the valley.
When you want a special place to stay, a true Five Star Resort but without all of the snobby stuffiness and pretense, then this is your pick. Honeymooners, stop looking and stay here.
AUBERGE DU SOLEIL : Check Rates and Availability
180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford, CA 94573 (map)
Local Wally Notes: Auberge du Soleil was originally a restaurant before it became a destination resort. Highly recommended for lunch and the bar is one of my favorite destinations at the end of the day to relax with a glass of wine and appetizers as you watch the sun go down.
As you drive into this resort, it almost feels as if you've left Napa and somehow went back in time. Mature pine trees line the road, and the rooms are like little cottages with a bit of that turn of the century "upper crust" look to them.
Located off the Silverado Trail, here you'll find a 9 hole golf course, seven tennis courts, a world class spa, and yes, even croquet. If it feels like an exclusive private country club that somehow let you slip in by accident, that's because at one time it was just that - Private. But times change and now everyone is welcome here - even you!
The 85 rooms offer plenty of options, from a standard studio with fireplace to four bedroom suites. Private decks to take in the views of the pine trees or hillsides, and down comforters keep you cozy at night. Resort service is impeccable. Additionally, the restaurant gets stellar reviews with some suggesting it's near the caliber of The French Laundry - but at half the cost. There's also a more casual restaurant as well, and both restaurants have highly desirable outside seating for those warm Summer evenings. Romantic? Oh yeah.....
You'll want to spend plenty of time here experiencing the good life, taking in a game of golf or tennis or perhaps learning how to play croquet. And the pool is absolutely gorgeous - no sneaking a cooler of Meisterbrau here, this is high class. But don't worry about a snooty staff wondering whose parents raised you - everyone here is vacation friendly and the staff goes out of their way to make everyone feel welcome. When you want a five star resort tucked away in the pines, one with private cottages that feature spa level baths and high count linens, then you definitely will not be disappointed with a stay at Meadowood.
MEADOWOOD NAPA VALLEY : Check Rates and Availability
900 Meadowood Lane, St Helena, CA 94574 (map)
Local Wally Notes: It's like Summer camp with the cozy cabins and pine trees. Be selective when you check in for the best views and location. Great honeymoon or anniversary spot.
Set off the road on Highway 29, The Harvest Inn is the type of place where you twist your head as you drive by and ask "what is that place?"
The main lodge, built with the bricks and stones collected from old San Francisco homes is what catches your eye.
The 54+ guest rooms are scattered along trails lined with pine trees and lush natural plantings. You'll feel a bit like you're in a storybook setting, like a Disney movie come to life - you almost expect to see Snow White singing into a wishing well. Quiet and serene, you'll love walking along the paths that lead to secret gardens, and there's plenty of places to stop and just sit for awhile.
Rooms are well appointed and recently updated. As you might expect for a resort of this caliber, you'll find a bottle of wine with glasses awaiting you, as well as Dean and Delucca snacks - a nice touch. Complimentary breakfast, and you can even have them deliver it to your room for a slight fee. Most rooms have fireplaces, whirlpool baths and views of either the vineyards or the lush landscaping.
THE HARVEST INN : Check Rates and Availability
1 Main Street, St Helena, CA 94574 (map)
Local Wally Notes: Be a bit picky on room selection when you check in because some rooms have more light than others due to the trees and the newer rooms lack the mature landscaping of the original area. And request a patio or balcony room when you check in so you can sit outside and enjoy the views.
Unlike a Marriott where everything is predictably the same, Rancho Caymus Inn is uniquely different. Mary Tilden Morton (of Morton Salt fame), a sculptor and wealthy entrepreneur, set out to build an inn where every room was a work of art. "I'm really sculpting in space", she said, and in 1985 her "dream inn" opened.
With a Spanish hacienda design, the inn welcomes you with gracious hospitality. A beautiful courtyard with wisteria vines and cozy seating is your first impression. Everywhere you look is the feel of old craftsmanship. You know that this place was created with a lot of attention to detail and every room is different. Most of the rooms feature an adobe fireplace that looks a bit like a wood burning pizza oven and all of them have quirky decor - is it retro, is it art? It's hard to tell, but one thing is for sure, it's different! Stained glass windows, original stoneware, wood beams, it's a bit like walking into a rich hippies house - let's call it "eccentrically unusual".
Rooms are large and spacious, the setting is gorgeous, and location is perfect, right in the heart of the action. In the morning, step outside and enjoy the complimentary continental breakfast in the beautiful courtyard as you plan your day. And since it's located right next to the popular Rutherford Grill, a great dinner is just steps away.
You've probably stayed in lots of cookie cutter hotels. The Rancho Caymus Inn is anything but, a bold and eclectic boutique that just happens to be in one of Napa's best locations.
RANCHO CAYMUS INN : Check Rates and Availability
1140 Rutherford Road, Rutherford, CA 94573 (map)
Local Wally Notes: This isn't a spa resort, it isn't hip and trendy, but it's strangely compelling for those looking for something unique and unusual in a hotel.
I used to freak out over Bed and Breakfast places. The Victorian decor reminded me of staying at my Grandma's house and sitting down to a meal with people I didn't know was just too much work for me in the morning.
So why does The Ambrose Bierce House end up as one of the best places to stay in Napa? One word - location. With downtown St. Helena right outside the front door, you'll love exploring the shops and dining in some of the finest restaurants in Napa without having to get in a car.
The rooms are "quaint" with canopy beds and lacy sheer curtains, and suites are available if you want a larger room. Each room has a private bath and some have jacuzzi tubs for two and a fireplace. TV's are small and old school - hey, I guess the entire place is old school. Some rooms with jacuzzi tubs, some with fireplaces. A delicious full breakfast is included - we're talking eggs benedict, Belgian waffles, home-baked croissants and breads, fresh fruits, coffee, teas, juices and, to start the day off right, champagne. Complimentary wine and cheese in the afternoon.
All of this adds up to a pretty pleasant place to stay. When you want a killer location and a fantastic homemade breakfast in a down home setting, you can't go wrong with he Ambrose Bierce House.
AMBROSE BIERCE HOUSE : Check Rates and Availability
1515 Main Street, St. Helena, CA 94574 (map)
Local Wally Notes: Can get noisy due to the street noise during the day, but calms down by the time you want to close your eyes.
Set amongst a cluster of buildings that includes Merryvale Winery and popular Italian restaurant Tra Vigne, this contemporary urban boutique has a lot going for it. The famous Gott's Roadside (formerly Taylor's Refresher)? Right across the street.
Free complimentary continental breakfast with cereals and fresh fruits, access to the next door Health Spa Napa Valley with heated lap pool, eucalyptus steam room and spa tub, this boutique doesn't skimp on amenities. The rooms are large and feature balconies and fireplaces, the furnishings updated and contemporary. Think of it as an updated cozy country feel, like a model home, and you got the style. Bathrooms are standard fare and TV's could use an update, but location can't be beat.
THE INN AT SOUTHBRIDGE: Check Rates and Availability
1020 Main Street, St Helena, CA 94574 (map)
Local Wally Notes: Taylor's Refresher is now Gott's Roadside and is across the street with burgers so good that they've been called some of the best in the nation on Food and Travel TV shows. I love their rare ahi burger!
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BEST PLACES TO STAY IN CALISTOGA
SPRING 2013: Thank you everyone for making this one of the most popular sites on Napa. Very cool.
The big Napa news is that we now have our own online store called Napa Valley Home & Garden. We're bringing the best of Napa Farmhouse living right to your home. Check it out - we're open for business!