When planning a wedding, there is one equally important aspect that can lead to even more memories than the wedding itself… the honeymoon! After months of chaos, constant gatherings with family and friends, and, of course, the amazing and energy-draining wedding day, the honeymoon is the time to relax and rejuvenate! Many couples travel to exotic locations, or across the pond to Europe; however, some couples travel to destinations within the boundaries of this great country. Connor and I chose to stay in the states because his military commitments only allowed us five days for a vacation, and we wanted to make the most of those five days. So, we packed our bags, sat on a plane for a mere two and half hours, and honeymooned in the beautiful Napa Valley for five perfect days!
Sure, our honeymoon wasn’t long or extravagant, but it was a time for us to relax, to be together, and to enjoy our time as newlyweds. What else could we ask for! We wanted to share some of photos and stories to show how we made the most of a short honeymoon. So, this is how we spent our time in California, and strongly encourage anyone who wants a romantic getaway to experience some of the things that we did in the Napa Valley!
Arrival Day: Sunday
The morning after the wedding, we landed in San Francisco…
… and then we drove a few hours to Calistoga, California. We stayed at the Cottage Grove Inn (which we highly recommend!). There are 12 cottages in a beautifully wooded area right in the middle of downtown Calistoga. Even though we were right in the middle of the town, the lot had so many trees that we couldn’t even tell. We had our own adorable little cottage. And the manager gave us a free bottle of sparkling wine because she knew we were on our honeymoon! It was the epitome of romantic.
Day 1: Monday
Monday was the day that we lived out one of our wedding presents! The family of one of Connor’s groomsmen set us up with a day of winery tours and tastings. It was one of the sweetest gifts we could have been given… the gift of an experience! We went to three vineyards: Schramsberg Vineyard, Frank Family Vineyards, and Pride Mountain Vineyard. We loved all three for different reasons.
The Schramsberg Vineyard is the third oldest in Napa Valley, and was founded in 1862 by a German immigrant. The vineyard has amazing caves and is known for their sparkling wines (which seriously are amazing!). The Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine was used by President Nixon when he traveled to China in 1972 to “Toast to Peace”. Every president has used the sparkling wine since. And we got to try it! We also got a tour of the amazing caves that house the wine… that was our favorite part about this winery!
At the Frank Family Vineyard we were given a free private wine tasting. The man who our tasting was with was incredibly knowledgeable and helped us further our understanding of wine. This is where we tried some of our absolute favorite wines on our honeymoon, and where we purchased the most wine to bring back with us. Once we actually get around to opening those bottles, check out our reviews! We would definitely recommend checking out Frank Family. Plus the grounds are beautiful.
Finally, we drove to the top of a hill to Pride Mountain Vineyards. The view, hands down, was the best part about this tour! The roads are a bit narrow and curvy, so don’t drink too much at the top of the mountain. But once you get up there, enjoy a tour of the caves (home to the cutest little frogs!) and some dessert wine while looking over vineyards in both Napa and Sonoma Valley.
And after all that, we had the BEST Italian dinner at Tra Vigne in St. Helena! Any “best restaurants of Napa” website will tell you how amazing the food is, I’m just here to confirm!
Day 2: Tuesday
Ocean day! We woke up bright and early, packed a basket full of cheese and crackers, and drove to the California coast. This is a must do! The weather started out foggy (as it often is in the morning this time of year) but eventually turned into a beautiful day. We drove up and down highway 1, which closely hugs the coast. Where we were driving, there was not a lot of civilization… so do what we did and bring a picnic to either eat on the beach or in the car. P.S. watch out for rogue cows on the road!
Day 3: Wednesday
This is the day that we gave each other our wedding gift… another gift of an experience… a hot air balloon ride! We somehow managed to wake ourselves up at 3:00 in the morning so that we could drive an hour from Calistoga to downtown Napa. We enjoyed free coffee and scones while waiting for the balloons to set up. There were 18 people in our basket… but the basket was sectioned off so that everyone wasn’t running to one side or the other (cause that would be bad). We were in the air for approximately 1 hour, and traveled 1,400 feet in the air. I’m usually afraid of heights, but it was so peaceful and quiet, and the balloon rose so quickly, that I hardly noticed the height. We also had a wonderful pilot! She has been piloting balloons for almost twenty years and has flown all over the world! It was a blessing to meet someone with such incredible stories. After our hour flying, we landed (with much effort) in the middle of the vineyards. After our ride, we enjoyed a champagne breakfast compliments of the hot air balloon company.
The same day, we toured one of the coolest wineries near Calistoga, Castella di Amorosa. The castle was only built about 15 years ago, but it is so cool because every bit of material used to build the castle was imported from Italy! The castle boasts a dining hall, a chapel, even a torture chamber… everything any good castle should have. While the wine was fairly decent, the tour itself was extremely memorable! Plus, the tour ends with a wine tasting in the castles cellar. So cool! The gift shop is also huge and is a great place to purchase the wines we tasted and other souvenirs.
We ended the day with one of the best meals I have ever had. We spent our evening at the restaurant of the Culinary Institute of America. The restaurant was awesome because the kitchen was right in the center, so we could watch the chefs preparing our food. We also had one of the best servers (and I was a server, so I know good service)! We ended up talking and it turns out she was in the army, was stationed where Connor is now stationed, and introduced us to the manager of the restaurant who also attended West Point. She graciously gave us free sparkling wine and dessert. It was such a blessing to meet such a kind woman. The servers are also the chefs in the school, so they understand every aspect of the business, so they are extremely knowledgeable with the food and wine. This is another must do when in the Napa area!
Day 4: Thursday
Another winery day! But today we did something unique… we rode bicycles to every winery. The Cottage Grove Inn provided us with free bicycles, so we took advantage of that and rode to three wineries closest to us. They were Sterling Vineyards, Twomey Cellars, and Clos Pegase Winery. Again, these three were memorable for different reasons, but the best part was that they were all within a mile of each other.
Sterling Vineyards is one of the big tourist vineyards. There is a gondola that takes guests from the parking lot to the main house, where guests go on a self-guided tasting tour. The views were amazing, because the house sits on a hill. At Twomey Cellars, we only tasted the wine, but we were able to do so for free because we are military (always ask!). Finally, when we went to Clos Pegase, we not only tasted the wine, but we also got a free cave tour! The caves housed a great deal of art from Italy, which is part of the owners private collection. We also bought the 2011 Cabernet and are saving it for our one year anniversary!
To wrap up our time in Napa, we visited Beringer. The grounds were stunning, and there was even a wedding going on when we were there. We tasted the Reserve wines on the porch of a beautiful house and enjoyed a cheese plate. I did not enjoy the grounds of any other winery as much as Beringer. The sun was setting and it was just breathtaking. Beringer is a huge company and we tried to avoid the large commercial wineries, but I would go back in a heartbeat.
Day 5: Friday
For the final day of our honeymoon, we decided to drive back into San Francisco before our evening flight, rather than stay in Napa all morning. There is a lot to see in San Francisco! We only made two major stops: Lumbard Street and Pier 39. Driving down the winding Lumbard Street is a major tourist attraction not only because it is so unique, but also because it is beautiful! The street itself is cobblestone and lined with flowers, and the view of the city is spectacular. Pier 39 is also one of those big tourists attractions. There are lots of shops, restaurants, even a carousel. But the main thing that attracted me to Pier 39 were the sea lions that notoriously sunbathe on the pier! Walking along the pier, eating ice cream, and watching the sea lions was the perfect end to our relaxing honeymoon.
It wasn’t extravagant, but it was our perfect honeymoon. And the best part was that we were finally together… we’ve only been waiting four years for that!
Below I posted links to all of the wineries that we visited, as well as links to our hotel, restaurants, and hot air balloon company, because we recommend all of these! Many of the wineries also have great wine clubs that you can join via the website.
Cottage Grove Inn: http://www.cottagegrove.com
Balloons Above the Valley: http://www.balloonrides.com
Culinary Institute of America: http://www.ciarestaurantgroup.com/wine-spectator-greystone-restaurant
Tra Vigne Italian Restaurant: http://travignerestaurant.com
Schramsberg Vineyard: http://www.schramsberg.com
Frank Family Vineyard: http://www.frankfamilyvineyards.com
Pride Mountain Vineyard: http://www.pridewines.com
Castello di Amorosa: http://www.castellodiamorosa.com
Sterling Vineyard: http://www.sterlingvineyards.com
Twomey Cellars: https://www.twomey.com
Clos Pegase Winery: http://www.clospegase.com
Beringer Vineyard: http://www.beringer.com