Visiting California wine country and looking for a quaint escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Napa? Check out Yountville, just a hop, skip, and a jump away!
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Many first-time visitors to California wine country base themselves in Napa, which is lovely, if lately increasingly commercial. Incidentally, I'd recommend staying in Sonoma, and making it your home base for your trip (for more on that, check out the full post).
From either of the major cities in wine country, it's easy enough to visit Yountville, situated approximately 20 minutes north of Napa and about a 30-35 minute drive from Sonoma. Curious what to see when you're up there? Here are the basics!
Yountville itself can be easily explored in a day, though you'll want to plan for at least one meal to enjoy the city's excellent restaurant offerings, as the city has not one, but two Michelin-stared restaurants (more on that below). The city has a population of only about 3,000, most of whom live at the Veteran's Home of California, which is situated just on the other side of the highway from Yountville's main (and really only) road.
Founded in 1867, Yountville's name became synonymous with high-end dining about a century later, in 1977, after the nearby French-imported Domain Chandon winery opened its restaurant. The French Laundry opened the following year, and it was revamped by world-renowned Thomas Keller in 1994. The French Laundry now has a 3 Michelin star rating. Keller himself now has seven Michelin stars to his name, with a number of restaurants around the U.S..
Though it certainly won't take too long, do spend some time strolling around downtown Yountville and exploring the sites. The city is pristine, with gorgeous flower beds and very little traffic. A bit of shopping is available in the historic V Marketplace. If you have a choice, pick a day with nice weather for your trip, as it'll be a largely outdoor adventure. (You may wonder why I even address weather, as California has the best weather ever, which it does, but I will say that we had a total fluke and it rained almost our entire trip. While wine still tastes good at a winery in the rain, it's a bit harder to wander around a little town in the rain. Thus, if you get rain, I'd say hit a winery instead).
Eating at Bouchon Bistro, Yountville
Let's dive right into those restaurants! We were fortunate enough to dine at Bouchon, the second of Thomas Keller's Michelin-stared establishments. Opening 4 years after Keller took over the French Laundry, Bouchon followed on its heels in the French Bistro style, with a very thematic interior. Gold finishings, a gorgeous bar, and fabulous red lacquered walls really do make you feel like you're in Paris - but without a "Disney World" feel. As it was an absolutely gorgeous day, we opted to eat outside on the patio. Situated on a small road, you get excellent views of Yountville and a bit of the surrounding scenery, but it's not too loud. There's also a bit of the hedge protecting you from the road. They do have heat lamps, if needed.
The menus are paper - they feel a bit like a thin paper bag. They fold out to about 3 times this size, and the waiter assured me they'd be reused/recycled (I didn't ask ;))
A typical menu is available here for all meals. We stopped by just for lunch - not only was it easier to get in (we walked right in, though we were super early and the crowds were coming!), but of course the bill was also far more manageable. I've always heard it said that eating at high-end restaurants for lunch is a great way to save money, but the ironic thing is that a lot of them aren't open for lunch! Regardless, this one is - and I'd highly recommend it!
I opted for a Kronenbourg 1664 (when sort of in Rome!) and the salad Lyonnaise, made in the French traditional style, with bacon vinaigrette and topped with a poached egg. Absolutely delicious!
If you aren't in the mood for the full sit-down meal, Keller more recently opened the Bouchon Bakery, just right next door, which was doing a popping business while we were there, churning out coffees, pastries, and takeaway sandwiches. It's a great way to get a taste of what Keller has to offer, without the hefty price tag.
The French Laundry
The French Laundry is, of course, an institution. Offering multi-course meals each night on a prix fixe menu, with no overlapping ingredients, it is consistently rated as one of the best restaurants in the country, and in the world. If you are interested in having a meal, you'd better hop on that waiting list right now! We got our names down a few months in advance and actually still weren't able to get reservations - which I found very surprising, but of course good for the restaurant to be in such demand!
Of course, even if stopping by for a full meal isn't in the cards, you absolutely need to walk by and check it out! The exterior of the building itself if fairly unobtrusive, but so ubiquitous that you'll recognize it immediately. Be sure to see their garden across the street, where they grow some of the most gorgeous produce I've ever seen!
Hotels in Yountville
Yountville is home to several high-end hotels, if you're going to be spending the night. Hotel Yountville is, of course, one of the originals, but it's been joined by Vintage House and Hotel Villagio - both new/updated.
Beware: prices are quite high. Being small and high-end, Yountville hotels can command a premium from people who are visiting The French Laundry (people come into town just for this purpose). Yountville is gorgeous, but if you're getting sticker shock at these prices, know that this whole area is beautiful, and you can easily find more affordable hotels in the area. As we always stay in Sonoma, I can't offer too much first-person insight into the hotels here, aside from the fact that they are largely newly renovated, mostly have spas, and look amazing.
Wineries in Yountville: Exploring Domaine Chandon
And, of course, no visit to Yountville would be complete without a trip to Domaine Chandon, which is about as close to downtown as it is possible to be. Located just on the other side of the highway Domaine Chandon is a French import (it's owned by Moet Chandon), that has become a staple of California wine country. For more on a visit to Domaine Chandon, check out my post on Visiting Napa and Sonoma County Wineries.
Thanks so much for stopping by! Hope you have a great visit to wine country! xx
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