When you’re in Napa Valley, sipping wine from late morning until late afternoon, you’ll want to find the best places for lunch to break up the day – and the alcohol. Much depends on where you happen to be and where you plan to head next on your Napa Valley wine tour. Maybe you’re based in Napa but find yourself in Yountville after a tasting at Domaine Chandon. Or you want lunch in St. Helena before an afternoon tour at Castello di Amorosa. Maybe you find yourself closer to the town of Napa. Because the Napa Valley is an agricultural area with only a sprinkling of towns, you need to plan, especially since many restaurants require reservations even for lunch.
For serious wine lovers, a Napa Valley wine tour becomes almost a pilgrammage. You can drive up and down the Silverado Trail and tick off the famous names in wine production as you pass their gates and vineyards. Because there are so many, however, you must plan your visit carefully. Here, you’ll find some of the best Napa wineries to visit.
Long gone are the days when you could pop into a winery and sample their wines for free. If you want to visit a particular winery, reserve to guarantee your spot. Some do accept walk-ins, however. Since each winery has different rules and options, make sure you visit web pages to scope out what you want to do. Some offer wine experiences, often with food, while others allow you to belly up to the tasting bar. Regardless, expect to pay for your tasting.
Note: Because of the pandemic, call ahead to make sure your planned stops are open. Websites are updated as rules change.
Best Winery for High-End Cabernet: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
Most Beautiful Setting: Artesa
Best Winery You Haven’t Heard About: Bell Wine Cellars
Visit for Sparking Wine: Domaine Chandon
If You Love White Wine: Cakebread Cellars
Most Interesting Property: The Hess Collection
The One Everyone Talks About: Castello di Amorosa
Because of the pandemic, I have waited almost a year to write my blog on the best things to do in San Diego. People had stopped traveling. Over time, though, I’ve discovered that armchair tourism lives on. We all want to dream of a freer time. In response, I’ve detailed a virtual tour of San Diego. Kick back, sip your quarantini, and imagine you are there. Or going there soon.
Despite San Diego’s reputation for year-round good weather, I found it unpredictable, particularly in January. I began my trip in short sleeves and ended it in a hat and gloves. Especially if you plan to go out on the water, pack for cold weather, just in case. Since you aren’t going away, at least not yet, feel free to turn up the thermostat or throw open the windows. Or both. No one will judge you, except maybe your cat.
About a year ago I ate a fabulous dinner of lobster and squid ink pasta in the heart of Venice. Thanks to a tour guide, who said that it was his favorite traditional Venetian dish, I ordered it at Le Magazin, a restaurant not far from our hotel. This dish requires a whole cold water lobster for maximum presentation and flavor; however, you can dispense with it and use only the meat.
The first time I tried to recreate the recipe, it didn’t taste quite right. Last summer, with Maine lobsters on sale and my garden brimming with fresh grape tomatoes, I decided to give it another go. I used dried squid ink spaghetti, although any long black pasta will do. If you can’t bring yourself to eat squid ink pasta, substitute regular spaghetti or linguine for a less dramatic but still delicious dish.
Finding the best restaurants in the Finger Lakes region requires both less and more research than I’m used to. Less, because the options are limited. More, because we found it difficult to find the truly good among them. In keeping with the rural and outdoor nature of the Finger Lakes, even the fine-dining restaurants listed below retain a relaxed, semi-casual vibe.
Best romantic restaurant: Pleasant Valley Inn
Best Menu: Ports Café
Restaurant With the Best View: Ginny Lee Café
Most Relaxing Restaurant: Blue Pointe Grille
Because of covid-19 restrictions, we selected restaurants that either served outside or, by law, at well-spaced tables inside. Reservations are either required or strongly recommended since seating can be limited, particularly on the weekends. Note: Since pandemic restrictions can change, check out the current status before reserving.
On a recent trip to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, we stayed at the Idlwilde Inn in Watkins Glen. The bed-and-breakfast inn, perched on a hill above the town, provided a quiet, Victorian-style retreat. Owners Marcus and Elin Dowd offered warm hospitality and delicious breakfasts.
For us, the Idlwilde Inn ended up being near-perfect for what we wanted.
With the coronavirus still raging, my husband and I decided to plan a Finger Lakes Wine Tour in upstate New York. We did not live in a banned state, and we could drive there in a few hours. Besides, we liked the bookend to our last out-of-state trip before the shutdown, to Napa Valley. With social distancing and mask-wearing in effect, the trip provided a low-key, relatively safe, and fun deviation from our routine.
Although the region focuses on white wines made from riesling and gewurtztraminer grapes, other varieties and styles tasted quite good. We tasted a few reds, but while they were perfectly enjoyable, they didn’t meet our admittedly high standards for red wine.
Best Overall Experience: Boundary Breaks Vineyard
Worst Overall Experience: Dr. Konstantin Frank
Tasting Room Most Closely Connected to Wine Making: Hermann J. Wiemer
Most Knowledgeable Service: Wagner Vineyards
Most Intimate Tasting: Tower Tasting at Heron Hill
Biggest Surprise: Keuka Spring Vineyards
Because tastings cost less and are less formal (also less informative) than those in California, we were able to visit many wineries a day. Below, you’ll find reviews of some of the best wineries in the Finger Lakes.
Earlier this year, before the coronavirus lockdown, I planned a self-guided tour of the Murals of La Jolla, California. Even if you don’t live in the San Diego area, you can “visit” them in this seaside town, albeit virtually. The Murals of La Jolla project commissions art by both well-known and lesser known artists based in California. Murals such as my favorite Man, Myth, and Magic by Steven Hull (above) bring art to the the buildings and community.
Easy summer salads are a mainstay in my kitchen during the hotter months. Still, I get tired of the same old/same old. Enter inspiration from restaurants and friends. Although I previously shared a recreated Watermelon Greek Salad, a dish that easily falls into this category, I tackled three new recipes this summer, each with a twist on a classic.
Viewing art in the time of coronavirus has shifted from physical museums to virtual tours. While this happened, something else shifted underneath society. We have mutally discovered how the arts keep us sane and connected during lockdown. Whether an entire town singing from balconies or an individual dancing with himself in front of a mirror, we’ve discovered that creativity and expression help assauge aloneness. When people sing together in a Zoom mosaic of faces and voices, they strengthen connections despite physical distance.
All those who have said that studying the arts is useless should heed what’s happening. The arts sustain us. They allow us to soar beyond our small spaces and into the world. They reach across language barriers, oceans, and cultures to establish a human bond where perhaps none existed before. For that reason, I’ve chosen to focus this article on the visual arts currently locked away in collections but now available for all of us to visit, virtually.