If our first two posts about day one and day two of a wonderful Napa Valley vacation didn't leave you wishing for the west coast (unless you're one of the lucky ones that already lives there), day three should be able to convince you.

For the third post in our three part series we'll cover the final day and a half of the "perfect" Napa Valley itinerary. Typically, by the third day of your trip you've had enough time to adjust to vacation life. You're not worrying so much, you're starting to get that relaxed feeling, and you're ready for some seriously great food and drink. If that's the case, there are few better places to be in the world.

If you're able to get out of bed bright and early, the area has a lot of morning adventures. From markets like Ox Bow in downtown Napa, to long bike rides, to hot air balloon rides as the sun rises. It's a wonderful way to get a jump on the day and to enjoy what the area has to offer.

After your morning activities and a bite to eat, get ready for one of the coolest tours you can take in the Napa Valley. The Jarvis Winery is located within a hillside some 10 miles east of Napa. We had never heard of it but were tipped off while talking to a waiter in Sonoma. He told us about "the best place in the valley for a wow factor tour." We immediately made reservations and were quite excited by his description.

When you approach the vineyard, you park and begin walking towards the hillside and a large arched door cut into the earth. This is the last point on the tour where you can take photos, so my description will have to do.

Once inside, the whole operation is within a series of underground cave tunnels. From the waiting lobby to the wine making area to the tasting room and ball room. The entire winery "building" was dug from deep within the earth using the same grinding and digging machinery used to make the Chunnel.

The tour highlights the traditional French methods and machinery William Jarvis uses to make their fine wines. From massive imported French oak barrels constructed by imported laborers, to the hand corking and wax dipping of the bottles, the utmost care is given to every bottle.

The coolest part of the entire tour is the trip to the tasting room. The cave was constructed as a circle with a crossing hallway. While digging the hallway across the diameter of the large circular cave, the workers came upon a natural spring. That spring is still running today and actually ensures the humidity of the cave remains at an even and perfect level for wine making. The spring runs in front of the tasting room that was dug off of the side of the hallway. To enter the room you must walk on a few well placed stones to cross the small spring. It was a unique experience, so say the least.

While in the cave we met the owner of the winery, William Jarvis, as he came out of his office (which had a huge carved wood door with his name above it). He and his wife are another pair of very wealthy (billions) wine hobbyists who came to Napa Valley on vacation. After spending a little time there, they liked it so much they decided to buy hundreds of acres, a lake, and build a winery. Oh the burdens of deciding what to do with so much cash. The end result is this very unique and enjoyable experience.

On the way out of the tour you can stop at the sample vines near the entrance. There you can see all of the grapes currently growing on their property and, if in season, sample each right from the vine. It's amazing what distinct flavor each one has. It's also amazing how much fun this can be after having just come from a wine tasting where it was easy to go a bit overboard.

After your tasting at Jarvis concludes, it should be about lunch time. Head back towards Yountville where you will be sitting down for another excellent meal at the well known Mustards Grill. Remember, Open Table is your friend on this trip because a reservation is almost always necessary, even for lunch. Billed as a "deluxe truck stop," it is truly anything but. The only thing even close in our book is the fact that it is by the side of the road and the "Way Too Many Wines" menu is in a metal binder. Beyond those items, this is simple an informal but amazing place to eat.

Wendy and I have gone a couple of times and have thoroughly enjoyed all of our meals. All dishes seem to have a bit of a simple setup, such as your standard burger and fries, but the preparation and presentation are excellent and the freshness of the ingredients contributes tremendously to the overall dish. As with many places in the area, you can't seem to go wrong with what you order.


After lunch there is another great tour and tasting fairly nearby that you should absolutely check our. It is our last suggested tour and tasting, but it's a good one. Frog's Leap is location just xx miles away from Mustards and is in a breathtaking setting and an perfect and relaxing experience. Their tours and tastings book very early, so be sure to call way in advance.

The winery is set within several buildings on an expansive property. The main house, where you will do the tasting, is the perfect setting and makes you feel absolutely at home. Within a few minutes of sitting down I had a vineyard cat hanging out on my lap. 
 

Our tasting actually took place on the porch of the main house and was conducted overlooking the gardens and vines of the vineyard. We sampled five of their current releases along with pairings of fruit, artisnal cheese, and crackers. 

When our tasting wrapped up we wandered around the grounds and came across some interesting and very cool things. 

From the lush vegetable gardens. 

To the chicken coop behind the barn. 

 Everything about this place just seemed perfect. A place you could easily see yourself living (if you had obscene amounts of cash). The whole place was completed with the signature Frog's Leap weather vane atop the wine making barn.

Heading north from Frog's Leap with an ultimate destination of Calistoga, we suggest you make a final pit stop for a quick tasting at Miner Family Vineyards. No reservation is required for this tasting at Miner Family, and it is right on the way to Calistoga. Wendy and I enjoyed the wines at this family owned and operated winery, as well as the very friendly and knowledgable staff. The woman who led our tasting had worked at the vineyard since it was started by the Miner family some 15 years ago. Beyond the wine, the view across the valley from the front of the property was simply breathtaking.

Keep heading north on the Silverado Trail towards Calistoga. Located at the north end of the Valley, Calistoga is your quintessential sleepy town. Complete with historic main street shopping and ultra friendly people. We enjoyed strolling around and just taking it easy. You definitely do a lot of driving on a trip to Napa Valley, but you get to see and experience some great an diverse places. And on your way back towards Napa, stop by California's Old Faithful Geyser as a fun stop.

Switching gears back to food (because when is a bad time to eat on vacation), we'll focus on the final evening's dinner selection. For your final dinner we HIGHLY recommend The Wine Spectator at Greystone at the Culinary Institute of America. This restaurant is a staple in our trips to Napa Valley. Working within the Culinary Institutes Napa Valley Campus, the restaurant carves out a large area and patio in their historic building and renowned location of learning for some of the world's top chefs.

The restaurant has an open central kitchen that allows you to watch your chefs as they construct your meal. Wendy and I really enjoy the appetizer sampler and absolutely recommend ordering that among the table. It changes every night, but we've always enjoyed.

With your final evening wrapped up, head back to your hotel and enjoy your last night. Lounge, relax, do what vacations do best. But be sure to get some sleep, you have one more morning left in Napa Valley.

Wendy and I usually like to take the red-eye back in the evening, so we use the last day to spend the morning and lunch in Napa Valley, then head back to San Francisco for the remainder of the day. Before before we head back, we usually like to stop at two vineyards and grab lunch in at least one more amazing restaurant.

For your final day, sleep in, enjoy the relaxation, get a massage, go for a walk, chill out. Then check out of your hotel and head out for your final morning tasting. We suggest either Clos Du Val or Grgich Hills Estate. Wendy and I thoroughly enjoy both places. Clos Du Val has the more grand setting and is a very nice way to wrap up your still wine tastings.

After your tasting, head back towards Yountville for your final lunch. As you get into town, stop by to at least look at the The French Laundry. Don't worry, I'm not suggesting you eat there, unless you have an extra $1,000 burning a hole in your pocket and several hours for lunch. 

But at least walk across the street and look at their amazing vegetable and herb garden.

Rather than The French Laundry, we suggest you have lunch at another of Thomas Keller's Napa Valley restaurants, Bouchon. Serving lunch every day, with Bouchon you get to experience Thomas Keller cooking without the top end prices. But whatever you order, don't get dessert. Instead, walk to the building next door after your meal and select an item or two from the Bouchon Bakery. Truly amazing confections, that's for sure. By this point in the trip you should be happy and full and ready to roll out of Napa Valley. We have one more stop for you on your way back to San Francisco.

A fitting final vineyard tasting on your way home is more fitting if it is a sparkling stop. As you leave the valley stop by Domaine Carneros to give your excellent vacation one final toast. The Carneros region is where the majority of grapes for sparkling wine originate, so no better place to wave goodbye "until next time."

The winery's setting is picturesque and gives a grand backdrop to your final tasting. Sit on the porch, enjoy your view, your wine, and your company. And pick out your favorite bottle to bring home so you can ring in the New Year with it.

And with that, our tour and itinerary for Napa Valley comes to a conclusion. I hope you've enjoyed some of our favorites and find this guide useful in helping to either convince you to go to Napa, or to find some new places to try.

There are obviously hundreds of vineyards and thousands of activities we've not touched on, but this should be a good starting point for anyone going to the area.

If we've left out something that you think people should absolutely be aware of, please be sure to include it in the comments below. I'm sure it will be useful as people stumble on this series of posts over the years.

Comments 2

Comments

Penny
7/28/2013 at 11:09 AM
Wow! Preparing our first trip. This is it.
Alex
7/28/2013
Hi Penny! So glad this is helpful. Be sure to check out this post as well www.oldtownhome.com/2012/5/4/A-Napa-Valley-Birthday-Surprise-for-Wendy/index.aspx That was from our trip last year with a few new places that we really liked. Also, we went again this year, and we absolutely loved Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen as a new place for dinner. Have a great time!
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