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Napa is all about wine. This beautiful valley, an easy motor north from South Francisco harbour, is dotted with world famous vineyards, small family-run wineries and dozens of tasting rooms, cellar doors, restaurants and wine shops. Exploring is easy and rewarding, with much of the best of the valley centred on the towns of Oakville, St Helena and Napa itself – home to the region’s main marinas.
“I personally enjoy hitting the Silverado Trail for the mainstay wineries, as well as finding off-the-beaten path boutique wineries for small batch tastings,” says JR Wills, Vice President of Sun Country Yachts in Newport Beach, California - Sunseeker’s southern California dealership. “My favourite small family-owned winery is Hayfork Wine. I specifically love their Cabernet. Another favourite, on a larger scale, is on the Silverado Trail and is called Darioush Winery. They also do a magnificent Cabernet.”
From San Francisco Bay, into San Pablo Bay, the wide expanses of water will entertain, so will the abundant Bay birdlife. Once into the Napa River at Vallejo more care needs to be taken and speeds reduced as the river narrows. Nevertheless, the slow transit will allow you to enjoy the scenery as you head North of Napa. From here you can also moor at Napa Valley Marina or the members-only Napa Yacht Club and easily drive a car up Highway 29 to see the main sights. “The Bay Area is always scenic and a must when boating. However, a trip up the river, all the way to Napa, in a yacht would be the ultimate experience,” says Wills. “There are multiple marinas, harbours and places to enjoy during the trip up.”
Napa’s wine-making tradition stretches back to the 1860s when Charles Krug founded the first winery here. New immigrants from Europe discovered that the soil and climate of this slice of northern California could be perfect for growing grapes and many chose to plant vines and make wines – the main market of San Francisco was close by and the beauty of the valley enticed many to set up home here. Barely a century and a half later and what was previously rolling hills is now dotted with wineries both small and large – 400 in fact – that produce wines on 43,000 acres of land. Every year more than 4 million visitors come up to Napa to taste, to explore, to enjoy the peaceful surroundings, to enjoy concerts in the summer – and increasingly to eat fine food too.
“Outside of being one of the top places in the world for wine... It also draws some world-renowned chefs for some amazing dining experiences,” points out Wills. Indeed, Thomas Keller’s three Michelin starred The French Laundry is one of the world’s most famous tables, Ken Frank’s La Toque and The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil are also Michelin star recipients. But aside from fine dining, a dazzling array of delis, small restaurants and pop-ups dot the valley. One of the hottest of the newcomers is Avow, a hipster joint which caters to vegans and offers a stark, striking and modern interior.
Back on the boat, and northern California isn’t just about the Napa River and San Francisco Bay. Head out into the wilder Atlantic and the coastline is a feast for the senses, particularly the Point Reyes National Seashore and Doran Beach, or the coast down to Monterey. “Outside of the Bay, the coastline can be a dramatic backdrop to a run north or south,” says Wills. “Many of my clients enjoy heading down to Monterey Bay or Carmel and anchoring up off Pebble Beach Golf Course.” Just make sure to stock up with a case of wine before leaving Napa.