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The In-the-Know Guide to Napa Valley According to Its Stars

We sat down with five local tastemakers from this iconic California destination to discover their favorite restaurants, bars, hiking trails, and other go-to spots. Here are their picks.

Father and son, Xavier and Jeronimo Cervantes, canoe in a lake on the family's Pope Valley ranch.

Father and son, Xavier and Jeronimo Cervantes, canoe in a lake on the family’s Pope Valley ranch.

Photo by Raphael Macek

Napa Valley’s many charms have been attracting travelers for more than a century—even author Robert Louis Stevenson lived in Calistoga for several months in the fall of 1879, coming for the mineral waters and falling in love with the landscape. To get an insider’s take on what continues to make this northern California destination so attractive today, we turned to those who don’t just call it home but are part of the very fabric of this unique place.

From luminaries of storied vineyards to culinary innovators, we handpicked these five locals who live and work in Napa Valley to share their recommendations of what to see and do. In the spirit of celebrating this intimate knowledge (after all, AFAR is all about traveling deeper), here’s what we learned about these trendsetting residents’ favorite places up and down the Valley. Their picks provide an itinerary for one epic weekend.

Jeronimo Cervantes, Cervantes Family Vineyards

Jeronimo Cervantes

Jeronimo Cervantes

Photo by Rob Watermayer

Jeronimo “Jero” Cervantes grew up in Mexico City and recently moved to his family’s 1,100-acre ranch in Pope Valley full-time where he serves as vice president of sales of the family business, Cervantes Family Vineyards. While a relative newcomer to the area, over the last few years, he’s spent enough time in the Napa Valley to have established “regular” haunts here.

Cervantes’ top choices for restaurants include The Charter Oak, which uses ingredients from its own organic culinary garden, and the locally-focused Press, both in St. Helena. Other favorites are Ciccio and its brick-oven-fired pizza and handmade pasta, Bottega for Italian cuisine, and Thomas Keller’s Bouchon—all in Napa Valley’s self-proclaimed culinary capital, Yountville; and the award-winning Compline and Angèle, featuring French country cuisine, in downtown Napa.

While he and his family enjoy fine dining, some of their most special meals are from far more casual spots. “During the spring and summer months, we love to gather with friends and family at the swimming hole on our property for picnics with sandwiches from Giugni’s Deli and amazing cheese selections from the Oakville Grocery and Sunshine Foods Market,” he says.

Cervantes and his family enjoy being active, whether horseback riding on the ranch, hiking on the many trails throughout Napa Valley, or cycling. “We enjoy road biking through Napa Valley, with our favorite rides taking us through Lake Berryessa or around Aetna Springs.” Formerly home to a golf resort, this area is slated for a new world-class resort aimed at connecting guests to nature.

Remi Cohen, Domaine Carneros

As Domaine Carneros’ CEO, Remi Cohen heads up one of the most picturesque wineries in Napa Valley—and one that specializes in sparkling wine. The winery, built to resemble a French chateau, has an expansive patio where visitors savor food and wine pairings with a panoramic view of the Carneros region.

A scene from the restaurant Bear at Auberge Stanly Ranch

A scene from the restaurant Bear at Auberge Stanly Ranch

Courtesy of 2023 Napa Valley Restaurant Week

The recently married wine executive noted that she and her husband have embraced the “staycation” concept to celebrate special occasions. “We love both the Carneros Resort and the newly opened Auberge Stanly Ranch, two incredible properties near the Domaine Carneros chateau that bolster Carneros as a destination within the Napa Valley.”

Her favorite restaurant? Morimoto Napa Valley, hands down. “I love the miso black cod, and it pairs perfectly with a glass of bubbles,” she says. “I’ve tried to replicate the recipe at home, and while it does come out delicious, it isn’t quite the same as enjoying it at the restaurant overlooking the Napa River with a great glass of sparkling!”

Cohen also looks out for concerts to catch. “I love seeing live music and enjoy all the offerings from JaM Cellars, from the performances over the summer at the Oxbow River Stage or throughout the year at the JaM Cellars Ballroom at the renovated Napa Opera House.”

Isaac Levine, Angèle

Isaac Levine pours cocktails at Angèle’s bar.

Isaac Levine pours cocktails at Angèle’s bar.

Courtesy of Visit Napa Valley

A Napa kid, Isaac Levine has poured wine and crafted cocktails behind the bar at the downtown restaurant Angèlesince late 2019. He prides himself on cultivating a jovial atmosphere that rivals the fictional bar in Cheers and strives to make guests comfortable as soon as they arrive, serving up beautifully crafted cocktails—from classic to innovative—that are a signature of this established downtown Napa eatery.

The mixologist also lives downtown, so he spends most of his time in the city of Napa. His beloved place to eat is C Casa, at the Oxbow Public Market. “We get tacos or the chicken-and-rice bowl. My wife and I appreciate the many gluten-free options at C Casa,” says Levine. “Plus the new patio overlooking the Napa River is beautiful. We bring our dogs with us to walk along the riverfront afterward.”

Other downtown hot spots on his list include Bounty Hunter for cocktail and wine selections, and Zuzu for tapas. And the drink expert feeds his creativity all over town. “When I’m looking for inspiration, I’ll pop in at restaurants like Oenotri or Scala,” he says. “Chefs and bartenders here are all so talented. It’s always really refreshing to see what they’re up to.”

Nick Runkle, Stanly Ranch

Nick Runkle in the gardens of Stanly Ranch

Nick Runkle in the gardens of Stanly Ranch

Courtesy of Visit Napa Valley

Farm director Nick Runkle oversees all farming operations at the 712-acre Stanly Ranch, Napa’s newest resort. The 133-room property doubles as a working farm, which means growing produce for on-site amenities keeps the farmer busy.

“I admire our restaurant, Bear, for the way it incorporates local ingredients,” Runkle says. Collaborating with Chef Garrison Price and the team of chefs at Bear is a constant source of inspiration for me as a farmer. Witnessing the skill and creativity that the Bear chefs display in creating dishes from the produce I grow fuels my passion for farming and pushes me to be a better farmer.”

He says he’s also eagerly anticipating the opening of a new restaurant in St. Helena called Charlie’s, led by Chef Elliot Bell, an alumnus of The French Laundry. “The restaurant will highlight locally sourced ingredients from farmers and purveyors in the region,” Runkle explains.

Of course, he’s a big fan of the many farmers’ markets in Napa Valley. “They are, by far, my favorite place to shop and luckily there are three in Napa Valley to choose from—Napa, St. Helena, and Calistoga.”

Kristy Melton, Freemark Abbey

Kristy Melton of Freemark Abbey

Kristy Melton of Freemark Abbey

Courtesy of Freemark Abbey

Winemaker Kristy Melton took over winemaking duties at Freemark Abbey from longtime winemaker Ted Edwards in 2020. Since then, the native of El Paso, Texas, has crafted her own style that pays homage to the winery’s 137-year history, a style that puts fruit first. After living in the Valley for more than a decade, she also has developed her list of adored spots.

When Melton needs to recharge, she heads for the hills—literally. “I like di Rosa [Center for Contemporary Art], where you can walk about and check out art and the beautiful grounds,” she says. “It’s Zen and peaceful. It’s a great way to be in nature and see some art.”

“My favorite Happy Hour in the Valley is Bistro Jeanty,” says the vintner. “They serve oysters and great French food. It’s a little bit quiet. I like the smaller West Coast oysters. They’re briny and I like to pair them with bubbles. I’m a big Champagne girl.”

When Melton wants a glass of wine, she goes to Torc, in downtown Napa. “They have one of the most interesting wine lists in town—it’s diverse but classic. You can find good Napa Valley Cabernet or esoteric white wines from around the world. It’s both affordable and super high end, which means it’s accessible while still being luxury. Just like the Napa Valley itself.”

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