February 16-18, 2013: Napa, California
It seems that this winter, Mother Nature has forgotten about the rain, and the gray clouds, and the cold… (That or maybe there might be the smallest bit of truth to this whole global warming messing with the weather patterns?) After a wonderful first 3 day weekend of 2013 in Portland, Oregon, we were excited to explore a little closer to home as we spent President’s Day weekend in the Napa Valley.
The skies were blue, the sun was out, there was just the slightest breeze, and it was almost 70 degrees… in February. I don’t know how we got as lucky as we have been, but we are forever grateful as we made our drive from home just a little more than an hour away to the city of Napa, where we started our 3-day weekend at the Oxbow Public Market.
A neat indoor center with a wide variety of restaurants, locally sourced produce, and culinary-centric open air storefronts, the market is home to not one, but three gluten-friendly spots where we can chow down on amazing eats for not much money…
Our first stop (lunch) was to the Pica Pica Maize Kitchen, with a 100% gluten-free menu and kitchen, the place specializes in Guatemalan cuisine and their specialty, the arepa. Think of it as a sweet corn pattie, cut open half way (like a pita), and stuffed with all sorts of savory fillings. We enjoyed sharing two of the arepas (spicy chicken and pulled pork carnitas) along with some shredded beef empanadas and yuca fries…
Following that feast, we headed into town to Fuller Park where we picked up some Segways and glided around town on a two hour Historical Tour of Napa. Our guide, Chelsea introduced us to the fun, historical, and quirky background of the town. Riding along on the little get up and go machines full of gyroscopes is a great way to cover a lot of ground, see a ton, and have a blast while doing it!
After our tour was complete, we headed to our hotel for the weekend, Auberge du Soleil, a 5-star property along the Silverado Trail in the tiny town of Rutherford. Under the standard rules of TNJ Travel, we would have found a great stay location that would have hit our standard target of $100/day or less, but this weekend was a little bit of an unexpected bonus. Our amazing stay was the result of winning a raffle at work, allowing us 2 wonderful nights at this epic property. We enjoyed exceptional service, beautiful 180 degree views of the valley, and had a wonderful dinner on our terrace patio as the sunset. It was way way over the top and we were exceptionally grateful to have had the opportunity.
Early on Sunday morning (5:15am to be exact), we placed a call to the weather hotline for Napa Valley Aloft, and the report was good for takeoff, so we hopped into the car, made the 20 minute drive over to nearby Yountville, and arrived at the V Marketplace, where just after 7:00am in the morning, huge hot air balloons and their baskets filled the parking lot with color.
A few minutes later, we were airborne, and making our way to 1500 feet as we quietly and effortlessly soared over the valley as the sun began to rise… It was peaceful and surprisingly calm. We had a great and experienced pilot who let us have time to enjoy the view while he offered to answer questions along the way. Our basket had 12 people in it and everyone got their own spot along the perimeter to enjoy unobstructed views, take pictures, and just admire the world as it passed below.
We sailed through the skies for a little over an hour, making a safe touchdown in an open field within Napa’s Alston Park.
It was a little hard to believe, but it wasn’t even 9:30am when we arrived back at our hotel, and this gave us a chance to head up to the Auberge Restaurant and enjoy breakfast on the outdoor patio. As Natalie and I enjoyed an amazing meal and huge cups of peppermint tea, we enjoyed this quiet and peaceful view… No matter where you are, this is a great way to start your day!
After enjoying a nice breakfast, we hopped into the car, headed 45 minutes to the northwest and spent the day touring the Sonoma Wine County. We visited several great places enjoyed participating in the Sonoma Passport program, where for the cost of the single passport (which is valid for an entire year!) you can receive free tastings for 2 at more than 25 wineries! (For the interested… no we did not go to 25 wineries in a single day…) We went to a handful of great new places and figured that we can always make a return visit later in the year.
Since we were nearby, we contacted Natalie’s aunt to see if she was available for an early dinner and we had a great evening at one of our favorite Mexican food places in Santa Rosa, Tres Chiles!
We enjoyed a beautiful, if slightly chilly evening under the stars (it is February!) driving back to our hotel and the next morning enjoyed a nice, leisurely breakfast before heading back to home.
It was a weekend to remember and another great addition to the mini-journey list in 2013… Where should be go next?