Delicious Destinations: Napa Valley, California

Vineyard in the Napa Valley
Vineyard in the Napa Valley (Photo: @alfredomjr via Twenty20)

Some people plan their vacation with no thought of where they are going to eat, while others plan their entire trip around food. No matter which camp you’re in, FamilyVacationist’s Delicious Destinations has you covered! Each month, this food column covers local favorites including the best family dining spots, the best places for solo travelers, and irresistible snacks in cities around the U.S. Up this month: the best places to eat in Napa Valley, California.

Let’s Eat: Napa Valley

I’m Megan duBois. I’m a full-time food and drink writer, and when I don’t have a fork in my hand, there’s likely an ice cream cone there instead. In this Delicious Destinations column, you can come with me to a different city each month and we’ll explore great restaurants, bars, bakeries, and other eateries. I’ll offer recommendations for families, adults, and solo travelers in each city. I’ll also give you tips on finding great themed restaurants, mid-day snacks, and breweries.

This month we’re traveling to wine country. Napa Valley is often sought out as one of the top wine destinations in the world, but there’s so much more to the area than vineyards and clinking glasses. There’s a plethora of dining experiences, family-friendly restaurants; and, when you need a break from wine, there’s always a brewery around. Here are some of the most memorable places to eat in the Napa Valley enclaves of Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga.

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Best Restaurant For Families: Gott’s Roadside

What started as a roadside burger shack has now grown into a local chain restaurant around Northern California. But true foodies know that the original Gott’s Roadside is in St. Helena, and it’s still serving up burgers, fries, and shakes just the way they did decades ago. There’s also more modern roadside fare like Impossible burgers, seared Ahi tacos, and ultra-fresh salads. If you’re taking your kids with you to the Napa Valley, or are just craving an all-American classic, be sure to stop in at Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena, or at the newer location next to Oxbow Market in downtown Napa.

Gott’s Roadside Must-Have: A classic cheeseburger

Best Restaurant For Adults: Press Restaurant

For adults looking for a date night or a way to treat themselves while on vacation, Press Restaurant in St. Helena is the spot to be. Press is best known for its steaks, wine pairings, and attention to detail in every part of a meal. If you want to dine here but are looking for something slightly more casual, try its Saturday lunch offerings when the chef is putting his own spin on McDonald’s happy meals, with an adult twist.

Press Restaurant Must-Have: 35-day New York strip with braised shortrib, farm alliums, wild ramp salsa verde

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Best Restaurant For Solo Travelers: The Pickled Pig

Solo travelers looking to find something more unique than Napa’s fine dining favorites or the casual roadside stands should stop at The Pickled Pig in Calistoga. The restaurant serves up fresh cuts of pork on all types of sandwiches and lunch specials during the day. If you’re visiting from within driving distance of Napa Valley, you may want to even consider stopping here on your way home to stock up on exceptional bacon and other heritage pork products from the grocery side of the storefront.

The Pickled Pig Must-Have: The Cubano Sandwich

Best Splurge Restaurant: The French Laundry

Is it really a trip to Napa Valley without a stop in Yountville at Thomas Keller’s flagship restaurant The French Laundry? Reservations are hard to get, and meals often require three to four hours, but it’s worth every penny to eat at one of America’s most important and influential restaurants, and one that boasts three Michelin stars. There are quite a few options here, including an outside table with tasting menus or the indoor dining room with an extended tasting menu.

The French Laundry Must-Have: Outdoor dining tasting menu

Best Mid-Day Snack: The Model Bakery

When it’s time for a snack, there’s no shortage of options around Napa Valley, but one spot that outshines the rest is The Model Bakery. This little shop with three locations (one in Napa, another in nearby St. Helena, and the “Mini Model” stand in downtown Yountville) serves breakfast and lunch, but also has a pastry case filled with delightful treats. Its English muffins have earned a spot on Oprah’s favorite things list more than once for a reason, and sell out fast. When I want something a little sweeter, I always head straight for a bear claw or a seasonal hot cross bun. Pro tip: At Oxbow Market in Napa, The Model Bakery and Gott’s are neighbors, so you can try both with one stop.

The Model Bakery Must-Have: Freshly baked bear claw

Best Napa Valley Brewery: Napa Valley Brewing Company

The Napa Valley is known for its wineries, but sometimes you just crave a good beer. Swap that wine glass for what’s on tap at Napa Valley Brewing Company, where craft beer has been the star since 1987. The beer selection at this Calistoga establishment rotates throughout the seasons, so there’s always something new to try here.

Napa Valley Brewing Company Must-Have: Whatever beer you enjoy most

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Megan duBois
Megan duBois is the Senior Theme Park Editor for FamilyVacationist. She's also a freelance journalist who covers theme parks, cruising, family travel, and wine tourism for outlets like Conde Nast Traveler, Business Insider, Forbes, Travel + Leisure, The Points Guy, and National Geographic. You can reach her via email at megand513 [at] gmail [dot] com.