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An Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley—100% Cliche-Free

Gargiulo Vineyards
Gargiulo Vineyards Photo: Allie Foraker for The Wall Street Journal

THOSE WHO’VE never been to Napa Valley—or haven’t been in a while—assume this California wine region is a series of clichés: hills draped in grapevines, Cabernet connoisseurs holding court in fancy tasting rooms, fine dining at every turn. The reality can be a little different, however: bumper-to-bumper traffic and throngs of tourists wedged shoulder-to-shoulder on winery tours. Those fine meals ring true, but they usually come with a grisly bill. To sidestep the stampede and the searing price tags, you’ll need the guidance of shrewd locals. We’ve asked four insiders to divulge their favorite places, from old-school hideaways to worthy newcomers. Unsurprisingly, many of the new spots they recommend are in the town of Napa, at the entrance to the valley. Once a drab county seat, it’s now a cliche-free destination in itself.

An Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley—100% Cliche-Free

THE ENTERTAINER

Dave Graham

CEO of Latitude 38 Entertainment, producer of BottleRock Napa Valley music festival

PLUCK AND POUR / Oenotri This husband-and-wife-owned place serves southern Italian cuisine made with ingredients from their garden. The sommelier can guide you to great affordable wine. 1425 1st St., Napa, oenotri.com

IN A JAM / Blue Note Napa You can see world-class jazz musicians in this intimate, small-town venue. 1030 Main St., Napa, bluenotenapa.com

Erin Martin Design Showroom in St. Helena.
Erin Martin Design Showroom in St. Helena. Photo: Allie Foraker for The Wall Street Journal

FUN HOUSE / Erin Martin Design Showroom You never know what you’re going to see in the eccentric showroom of this cutting-edge interior designer. Right now it’s a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. 1350 Main St., St. Helena, erinmartindesign.com

GAINING PERSPECTIVE / Gargiulo Vineyards This boutique winery abuts the legendary Screaming Eagle vineyards, but their wines are much less expensive and the views are stunning. 575 Oakville Crossroad., Napa, gargiulovineyards.com

An Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley—100% Cliche-Free

THE WINEMAKER

Deneen Brown

Co-owner and president of Brown Estate Vineyards and Brown Downtown Tasting Room

GO GREEN / Hudson Greens & Goods This produce purveyor at Napa’s Oxbow marketplace has the most dazzling market-fresh produce I’ve seen anywhere in the Bay Area. 610 1st St., Napa, oxbowpublicmarket.com

NOTES OF OAK / Whetstone Wine Cellar Outside of downtown Napa, the tasting room is in a French-style château set amid giant oak trees. It has a laid-back vibe; you feel like you’re visiting a fancy friend’s home. 1075 Atlas Peak Rd., whetstonewinecellars.com

CALL TO CHARM / Pennyweight It’s an artfully curated gallery of gifts like corkscrews, wine keys, candles and charms.1337 Main St., St Helena, pennyweightnapavalley.com

OLD-WORLD LARDER / Napa Valley Olive Oil Company A true time capsule, this must-see market has been around since the 1930s and is exactly how I remember it as a kid. It’s perfumed by cheeses and salamis. 835 Charter Oak, St. Helena, nvoliveoilmfg.com

An Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley—100% Cliche-Free

THE BAR OWNER

Colleen Kretchmer

Co-owner of Cadet Beer & Wine Bar

LATE BLOOMER / Miminashi This Japanese izakaya has a really cool design and an awesome cocktail program. It’s open until 11 p.m. on weekends, which would have been unheard of just a few years ago. 821 Coombs St., Napa, miminashi.com

BEER ME / Mad Fritz Brewing The owner sources his hops and wheat from a lot of small farms nearby and makes wonderful wild ales and farmhouse-style ales. 393 La Fata St., St. Helena, madfritz.com

GET SCHOOLED / The Culinary Institute of America at Copia At this campus next to the Napa River you can take classes on wine, baking or pasta-making, or just grab a sandwich at the deli. 500 1st St., Napa, ciaatcopia.com

The bar at Miminashi.
The bar at Miminashi. Photo: Allie Foraker for The Wall Street Journal

TALL ORDER / Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar This bar at the Archer Hotel has a great view of the valley—a rarity since there aren’t many tall buildings in Napa. Go at sunset. 1230 1st St., Napa, archerhotel.com

An Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley—100% Cliche-Free

THE CHEF

Christopher Kostow

Executive chef of the Restaurant at Meadowood, chef-owner of the Charter Oak

SERIAL MILLER / Bale Grist Mill Historic State Park On weekends, you can watch flour-milling demonstrations. It’s fascinating to see the craftsmanship that goes into the process. 3369 St. Helena Hwy, parks.ca.gov

SCREEN TIME / Cameo Cinema Originally built in 1913, the theater has love-seats and sells wine and beer. Sometimes I take over the concession stand and do the food. 1340 Main St., St. Helena, cameocinema.com

Bothe State Park
Bothe State Park Photo: Allie Foraker for The Wall Street Journal

HERBAL SUPPLEMENT / Bothe State Park The trails run alongside creeks and remnants of an old apple orchard. You’ll see wild plums, bay leaves, lemon balm and mint. 3801 St. Helena Hwy., Calistoga, parks.ca.gov

PLAY DOUGH / Redd Wood The menu is always changing, but I really like the chorizo and pineapple pizza. It’s also pretty kid-friendly—the staff will give children a ball of dough to occupy themselves. 6755 Washington St., Yountville, redd-wood.com

Fried Chicken to go at Addendum.
Fried Chicken to go at Addendum. Photo: Allie Foraker for The Wall Street Journal
Plus, Don’t Miss…

Meadowood Napa Valley On 250 acres, the hotel offers a three-star Michelin restaurant, hiking trails, golf, tennis and a spa. For assured privacy, reserve one of the secluded Estate rooms or suites. From $750 a night, meadowood.com/Addendum Tucked behind Thomas Keller’S Ad Hoc restaurant is a fried-chicken shack that also serves ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. Take a boxed lunch to go or dig in at one of the outdoor tables. 6476 Washington St., Yountville, thomaskeller.com / Napa Valley Bike Tours Rent wheels at one of the two shops, in Napa or in Yountville, and spin car-free along the paved 12.5 mile path between the two towns. napavalleybiketours.com/ The Charter Oak Brunch family-style at this new spot in a historic building, where the open-hearth cooking is modern and hyper-seasonal. 1050 Charter Oak Ave, St Helena, thecharteroak.com

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