After a challenging 2020 that included not only a pandemic, but several devastating wildfires, Napa Valley should be at the top of your list for 2021 travel. In spite of the hardships, plenty of exciting new businesses — from restaurants and hotels to wineries and boutique shops — opened their doors recently to further diversify Napa’s world-class offerings in all things wine, food, and R&R.
While this Wine Country destination is unfortunately kicking off the new year under lockdown due to Covid-19, Napa Valley is expected to safely reopen to visitors by mid-to-late January and the time to start planning is now.
Please note: Napa County is currently under a stay-at-home order. Non-essential travel is prohibited, but hotels are accepting reservations for future stays. Please visit our Covid news page for more information and updates.
There are three new hotels for you to consider when booking your Napa Valley accommodations. Bann at Oak Knoll Napa is a sweet little bed and breakfast that looks nothing like any other hotel in the area. Formerly the Oak Knoll Inn, Bann is decorated to reflect the traditional design of homes found in three different regions in Thailand. Each room and suite is unique with bright colors and an array of fun textures, materials, and patterns. The property has decks and pergolas for lounging, a pool and spa, and offers complimentary breakfast and afternoon tea service.
Napa Valley’s northernmost and arguably-sleepiest town of Calistoga is in the middle of a renaissance, thanks in part to new, luxury hotels. One of Calistoga’s oldest resorts, Dr. Wilkinson’s, has just wrapped up a head-to-toe renovation and will be open for reservations starting mid-January. The resort dates back to 1952 and was allegedly the town’s original wellness resort that tourists sought out for relaxation in the spring-fed mineral pools and mud baths. Post-makeover, Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs stays true to its roots — and the iconic neon sign remains — but now it’s all shiny, contemporary, and new with a totally-chic, reimagined spa and a restaurant, House of Better.
The Four Seasons Resort and Residences Napa Valley on the edge of downtown Calistoga (Take the Silverado Trail north from Napa until it ends) was set to open in 2020, but like many new businesses, they were delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The resort is now set to open in early 2021 and features a pool, spa, multiple dining options, and even a winery, run by top Napa Valley winemaker Thomas River Brown, who’s been awarded 23 100-point scores from wine critic Robert Parker throughout his career. When making your reservation, snag one of the vineyard view rooms — relaxing, light-filled accommodations complete with vaulted ceilings, in-room fireplaces, and stunning views of vineyards and the Palisades Mountains.
There are a handful of new Napa Valley wineries to visit and taste at. Please note: these are all appointment-only. One of the most exciting new winery openings is Faust Haus, a four-year restoration project in an 1800s Victorian that sits on a hilltop overlooking Hwy 29. It’s the first-ever home for longtime Napa cabernet brand Faust Wines, which specializes in wines from Napa Valley’s up-and-coming Coombsville AVA. The views of the valley and vineyards below are unmatched, while the sophisticated, simple, and at times eclectic interior is a design lover’s dream. Make sure you check out the Prohibition-era cellar before you leave.
For a low key wine tasting of high-end vino, swing by the Oasis by Hoopes, which has stripped away all pomp and circumstance in favor of a more casual atmosphere featuring a regenerative farm, garden, airstreams, farm stand, and animal sanctuary (they’ve got a donkey, turkey, chickens, goats, and more).
BRION is unique in that the owner has recruited not one, but three rockstar Napa winemakers, each focused on crafting a single-vineyard cabernet sauvignon from a region of Napa Valley that they’re most familiar with. The winery and tasting room, which opened to visitors at the end of 2020, have been built into a carefully restored bank barn (one of just two remaining in California), offering a one-of-a-kind tasting experience that takes place far off the main road with a view of the estate vineyards.
In St. Helena, longtime family-owned wine brand Lang & Reed recently opened a new, cozy tasting salon just a block off the town’s Main Street. Lang & Reed does things differently, focusing on the production of cabernet franc and chenin blanc, two grape varieties you won’t find bottled by themselves too often in Napa Valley. Sit out on the quiet front porch of the tasting room and sip away the afternoon in the bucolic St. Helena, where you can also do some shopping and dining when you’re done.
Finally, BRAND Napa Valley isn’t technically new, but it does have new ownership, which unveiled a stunning winery and tasting room redesign in 2020. Located high up on Napa’s esteemed Pritchard Hill, this is definitely one of those off-the-beaten-path gems for fine wine lovers and collectors.
Salt and acid are scientifically proven to be a great culinary match and this concept has inspired a trio of Napa Valley wineries to experiment with a different kind of food and wine pairing experience. Shaking things up from the standard wine and cheese experiences in Wine Country, Shadowbox Cellars, Silver Trident Winery, and Markham Vineyards have all launched unique and super-casual wine and potato chip pairings. Each wine is carefully paired with a different flavored chip, like Dry Aged Ribeye or Hawaiian Red Sea Salt at Shadowbox.
There are two new wine bars in Napa and each is specifically catered to a certain type of wine lover. Bar Lucia in the Oxbow Public Market pours all things pink. Patrons can rosé all day year-round with more than a dozen of local, small production rosés produced several ways: still, sparkling, frozen, and sometimes in a can. There are a handful of whites and reds for those who are feeling more traditional and as for food, Bar Lucia has small plates like dips and charcuterie boards, salads, and sandwiches.
True to its name, Be Bubbly in downtown Napa proves that sparkling wine isn’t just for special occasions. The menu features bubbles from all over the globe — Champagnes, Proseccos, Cavas, and more — in a wide range of price points with small bites (caviar, charcuterie, cheesy sticks, etc.) to pair.
If you need a palate cleanser during a Napa Valley visit, head to the new California Brandy House, which opened downtown at First Street Napa at the end of 2020. Sip through a flight of California’s luxury brandies made from California wine grapes — including single-barrel samples that you can’t get anywhere else — from producers Argonaut and Germain-Robin. You can even take home a custom-engraved bottle to enjoy throughout the rest of the year (or give as a gift).
EmpressM, a new, fine-dining dim sum and Chinese restaurant, offers traditional dishes that celebrate the “eight regional cuisines,” including Peking Duck, Sichuan Spicy Fish, and Mongolian Lamb Chops. Dim sum plates include vegetarian options like spinach, snow pea, and mushroom dumplings, seafood, and more adventurous bites, like chicken feet.
EmpressM is just down the way from La Cheve, a Mexican bakery, brewery, and restaurant that opened this past summer inside Napa’s oldest building, an adobe that dates back to 1845. The beer is brewed in-house by owner Cinthya Cisneros, and her mother, Mama Juana, makes all of the pastries, including ones with booze in them.
For a quick, yet fulfilling bite between tastings, grab some authentic, Argentine empanadas from El Porteño in flavors like Carne, La Maradona (tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella), and Esparragos (asparagus, roasted red peppers, Gouda). El Porteño built up a loyal following at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and is now the newest vendor at the Oxbow Public Market with its second brick and mortar.
While Napa Valley is known to be sleepy and limited on nightlife, a new card room and restaurant is opening to kick-off 2021 with a little more action. Operating outside (for now), Ace & Vine will stay open until 2 a.m. and feature Blackjack, Texas Holdem, and Baccarat tables. Food and drinks can be ordered from The Deck, serving up Asian and comfort food fusion dishes like lobster fish and chips, a dim sum-style steamed salmon basket, and the Nam Tok Burger with spicy pork belly and papaya slaw.
In the spring, the Calistoga Motor Lodge & Spa will open its new restaurant called Fleetwood, specializing in original craft cocktails and farm-to-table, wood-fired pizzas — which hotel guests can even order poolside — like Potato Leek with taleggio, bacon, chili flake, and parmesan or the Roasted Chicken with garlic cream, asparagus, pepperoncini, lemon, and herbs. For dessert, there’s even a 9-inch wood fire cookie.
First Street Napa, a high-end, outdoor shopping area full of boutique local retailers, continues to grow and evolve in downtown Napa. There’s a slew of new shops — 13 to be exact — that opened in 2020, making this destination worthy of an afternoon visit (there are plenty of restaurants and tasting rooms there, plus hotels, too). Notable newcomers include Honey Whiskey, I-Elle, and Tay & Grace clothing boutiques, Riza Plants, and Paint Nail Bar. There are some nationally-known brands to shop as well, and First Street Napa just announced that Anthropologie will be opening in mid-2021.
With so many new and beautiful wineries, restaurants, shops, and hotels to explore in Napa Valley Wine Country, this is the perfect destination for dipping your toes back in the travel game after a long year away.