Your Ultimate Travel Guide to Napa Valley

John I visited Napa Valley three times in the past four years and it is one of our all time favorite US destinations. Whether you’re looking for a laid-back romantic getaway with your significant other or a lively weekend away with friends, California’s wine country should be on your bucket list. Since this post is long overdue, I’m going to share photos and details from all three trips to give you the ultimate travel guide to Napa Valley!

About Napa Valley

Napa Valley is the premier wine region in northern California and the gateway to wine paradise known for its Cabernet Sauvignon wines with over 400 wineries. Napa Valley is comprised of six major towns: Napa, Yountville, Oakville/Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga. With its award-winning wines alongside its stunning landscapes, Napa Valley is a wine lover’s paradise.

Getting Here

Napa is located in the northern region of California, about an hour and a half north of San Francisco and an hour south of Sacramento.  There are five major airports you can fly into:

1. San Francisco Int’l Airport

2. Sonoma County Airport

3. Oakland Int’l Airport

4. San Jose Int’l Airport

5. Sacramento Int’l Airport

For all three trips we flew into San Francisco. We rented a car for two of the trips and on our first visit in 2015, we hired a private driver for the day to chauffeur us to and from each winery and back to San Francisco. A day trip is a great option if you wish to experience wine country and explore the city in one visit. San Francisco is a popular city with plenty of attractions such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Alcatraz Island, the Painted Ladies, the Golden Gate Bridge and the world’s last manually operated cable car system.

When to Visit

Spring (March to May) or late fall (October or November) is the ideal time to visit Napa Valley. The region’s harvest season is from August through October making it the peak time to visit with larger crowds and high hotel prices. In 2015, we traveled in early May for our first wedding anniversary and I thought the weather was the most pleasant of all three trips with clear blue skies and ideal temps. San Francisco is quite chilly while inland gets into the 80s around that time of year. In 2017, we went over Labor Day weekend which was really uncomfortable because the weather was well into the 100s and they had some wildfires a few weeks before causing quite a big of smog in the area. In 2018, we traveled over the first weekend in November. It was still really warm during the day and we were able to wear shorts and short sleeve dresses without jackets, but it did cool off in the evenings make it really pleasant when walking into town.

Where We Stayed

In September 2017, we stayed at the Villagio Inn & Spa which has since been completely remodeled and renamed to Hotel Villagio in Yountville. Yountville is a quaint and charming town with several luxury hotels, Michelin starred restaurants on the main street and smaller wine shops, all within walking distance of each other. Yountville also has V Marketplace which has specialty shopping, art galleries, a couple more restaurants and Napa Valley Aloft Balloon Rides. They need your credit card to reserve your spot, but won’t charge you until the day of in case they have to cancel (we had a hot air balloon ride scheduled on our last day, but they had to cancel our reservation due to strong winds).

Last year we traveled with a small group of our friends for John’s birthday and stayed at the Archer Hotel in downtown Napa. Downtown Napa has several hotel options, restaurants and bars and is home to more of the locals. Scroll to the end of this post for hotel, restaurant and winery recommendations.

Hotels in Yountville

1. Hotel Villagio

2. Vintage House (next door to Hotel Villagio)

3. Hotel Yountville

4. North Block Hotel

5. Bardessno

Hotels in Downtown Napa

1. Andaz

2. Senza (right off the highway)

3. River Terrace Inn

4. Archer

Hotels in Oakville/Rutherford

1. Auberge du Soleil

2. Rancho Caymus Inn

Hotels in Calistoga

1. The Bergson

2. Solage, an Auberge Resort

3. Calistoga Spa Hot Springs

4. Mount View Hotel & Spa

5. EuroSpa & Inn

Hotels in St. Helena

1. Harvest Inn

2. Las Alcobas Saint Helena

3. Meadowood Napa Valley

4. Southbridge Napa Valley

5. The Wydown Hotel

6. Wine Country Inn and Cottages

Restaurants in Yountville

1. Bistro Jeanty

2. Bouchon Bistro (French restaurant owned by Thomas Keller Group)

3. Bottega (Italian)

4. Redd Wood (Italian and known for their wood fired pizzas)

5. Ad Hoc

Restaurants in Downtown Napa

1. Oenotri

2. Torc

Wineries We Visited

1. Robert Mondavi: Known for it’s chardonnays.

2. Peju: Super cute winery and great wine, red and white.

3. Opus: Extremely expensive and not worth it in my opinion. We spent $40/glass for a tasting and it retails for $350 a bottle. The winery itself is very modern.

4. Educated Guess by Roots Run Deep: One of our favorite wines that retails for $22 at Target or Binny’s.

5. Darioush: Very pretty winery and really tasty wine. Carries white and red wines and you don’t need reservations, but I would recommend making them (visited twice).

6. Silver Oak: One of our favorite high end wines that sells for about $150/bottle (visited twice with a tour on the first trip).

7. CADE: Situated on a mountain with a very modern and contemporary setting. The wine in our opinion was just OK (had a full tour here).

8. Quintessa: Beautiful winery and another high end wine we really enjoy. We scheduled a full tour here (about 1.5 hours).

9. Stag’s Leap: Great wine; also on the high end list. Don’t confuse this with Stags’ Leap which is known for their Chardonnay’s.

10. Pride Vineyards: Beautiful winery and great wine which is reasonably priced. I recommend getting a tour and asking for Krysta.

11. Caymus: Great wine on the higher end. Pretty setting, but the staff wasn’t as friendly.

12. Orin Swift: one of our other favorites in the medium price range ($60-$80/bottle) located in St. Helena. We plan to stay in St. Helena next time we go.

** Pro Tip** Most wineries take walk-ins for tastings, but I would recommend scheduling at least a couple of tours to learn how wine is made and walk through the vineyards for a full experience. Three to four wineries a day is plenty when scheduling tastings and tours. I do suggest wearing closed toe shoes or flats to the wineries when touring vineyards since you’ll be walking up and down hills so you’ll want to be comfy.

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The Ultimate Getaway: A Weekend of Rest & Relaxation at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa

Hey, guys! Happy Monday! I hope you all had a great holiday weekend and are enjoying your summer so far. Our weekend was well spent with a few parties, including my father-in-law’s 70th birthday bash and quality time with family and good friends.

Just before the holiday, John and I went up to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for a three day weekend getaway for a mix of fun and some much needed R&R. This was my third time going up to Lake Geneva and my second time staying at the award winning AAA Four Diamond luxury resort, Grand Geneva Resort and Spa. The first time I stayed at Grand Geneva Resort and Spa was for a friend’s bachelorette party a few years back which made my decision to stay at this resort again an easy one.

For two of my three trips to Lake Geneva, I chose Grand Geneva Resort & Spa because of its location, amenities and exceptional reviews. The resort is situated on 1,300 acres in the woodlands of Lake Geneva with 355 guest rooms and suites including their newly added luxury villas. They have two outdoor and indoor swimming pools, two beautiful 18-hole golf courses (rated one of the best in the Midwest), five restaurants, the WELL Spa & Salon, a fitness center and a ski & snowboarding hill, in addition to being a popular venue for weddings and/or group events year-round. Grand Geneva Resort & Spa is the ideal location for families, couples or a group of friends looking to sneak away for a day trip or for an entire weekend. The resort is conveniently located 3 miles from downtown Geneva, 90 minutes from Chicago and 60 minutes from Milwaukee or Madison, WI.

Grand Geneva Resort & Spa offers a weekly calendar filled with experiences and seasonal group activities for all ages, including a big fireworks show on July 3 that is considered the best in state and a small fireworks show every Sunday night from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

[Photo Credit: instagram.com/grand_geneva]

Some additional activities and amenities the hotel offers include:

  • Horseback riding
  • Hiking
  • Bike rentals
  • Scooter rentals & tours
  • Volleyball
  • Golf
  • Skiing/Snowboarding
  • Wine tastings
  • Fitness classes
  • Weekly classes
  • Spa
  • Kids programs
[Photo Credit: instagram.com/grand_geneva]

Grand Geneva Resort & Spa has five restaurants & bars plus five cafes & lounges including:

  • Geneva Chophouse -Upscale steak house; reservations are recommended and is also open for Sunday brunch.
  • Ristoranté Brissago -Contemporary Italian cuisine.
  • Grand Cafe -Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast buffet has really tasty cinnamon rolls and is only $19/pp before 9am or $22 after 9am.
  • Links Bar & Grill -Casual atmosphere and is open for breakfast, lunch or dinner with an outdoor patio and stunning views of The Brute golf course and the resort’s private lake.
  • Leinenkugel’s Mountain Top Lodge -Open in the winter.
  • Lobby Lounge -Offers live entertainment and a great place to mingle with friends and have a cocktail before dinner.
  • Grand Central -Coffee shop with freshly-baked pastries, salads, sandwiches and smoothies as well as a small range of toiletries.
  • Evolve -Indoor lounge offering beer, wine and cocktails.
  • Embers Terrace -An outdoor patio with a fire pit ideal for before or after dinner cocktails located outside the Geneva Chophouse.)
  • Cool Water Pool Bar -Outdoor pool bar.

I can’t say enough great things about Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, the exceptional service we received during our stay or recommend a better family-friendly resort in Lake Geneva for your perfect summer getaway. Grand Geneva Resort & Spa is offering my readers a 20% off discount on lodging that is valid now and all through September 30, 2019 via this link here or with code: STILETTOS on their website.

A big thank you to Grand Geneva Resort & Spa for hosting us during our stay.

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One-Piece Swimsuits for Your Next Beach Vacation

BEACHWEAR DETAILS:

Swimsuit: Forever 21 [similar] | Cover-Up: Forever 21 [similar] | Sunglasses: LOFT [similar]

One-piece swimsuits have become really popular over the past few years and are my go-to style of swimwear for lounging poolside or relaxing on the beach. There are so many different cuts and styles to choose from (e.g., bandeau, cut-out, ruched, halter, solid vs. pattern, etc.) and they’re virtually flattering on all body types. So to follow up on my last travel post and get you ready for swimsuit season, today I’m sharing some of my favorite one-piece swimsuits to pack on your next beach vacation!

Bright Colors and Floral Print One-Pieces

Blue One-Pieces

Red One-Pieces

Black One-Pieces

Leopard Print One-Pieces

White One-Pieces

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Our Beach Vacation and Your Travel Guide to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

With spring break travel at its peak, I can’t help but reminisce about palm trees, clear blue skies and one of our favorite beach destinations, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico!  In this post, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite photos from two previous trips, an overview of Cabo, where we stayed as well as a few recommendations on where to eat, sleep and play.

Cabo San Lucas is located on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula and about a 4.5 hour direct flight from Chicago.  John and I first visited Cabo in 2011 for his 30th birthday, a second time in 2017 (the majority of this post has been sitting in draft since then), and most recently, I traveled to Cabo last summer for a bachelorette party (read all about The Ultimate Bachelorette Party in Cabo here).  Although we’ve had our fair share of trips to Mexico including Playa Del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Akumal, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun (read all about our Destination Wedding at Secrets the Vine Cancun here), Cabo is one of my favorite beach destinations in Mexico for sun, sand and margaritas.The two times I traveled with John, we stayed at the newly renovated and contemporary, ME by MELIÃ, an adults-only property located on Medano Beach (Playa el Médano), the only swimmable beach in Cabo.  We chose this hotel because of it’s location and atmosphere.  The ME overlooks Cabo’s popular landmark, El Arco (The Arch) at Land’s End, a distinctive rock formation where the Pacific Ocean becomes the Gulf of California and is walking distance from shops, bars, nightclubs, restaurants and the marina.  The weekdays are fairly quiet and relaxing at the hotel, but you can expect high-energy, a fun vibe, house music and a large crowd on the weekends when the main pool area turns into a beach club known as Blue Merlin Ibiza (formerly known as Nikki Beach).

**Fun Fact** The week of John’s birthday in 2011, Tiesto, one of my favorite DJs back in the day, was spinning live at our hotel so we lucked out with a “free” concert off of our hotel room’s balcony.

**Note** In 2014, Hurricane Odile slammed the Baja California Peninsula and ripped through Cabo causing severe destruction and irreparable damage and so our hotel went through a complete renovation.  The four photos above are of the pool area from our first visit in 2011 and the photos below are of the hotel now.

If you’ve ever traveled to Mexico then you know there are a ton of all-inclusive resorts to choose from, but ME isn’t one of them.  Staying at an all-inclusive resort definitely has its perks.  The resorts are large and you never have to leave the property, they have a variety of restaurants on site, nightly entertainment and your room, meals and beverages are all bundled into a package when you pay up front making you feel as if everything is “free” when you arrive on your vacation.

Although we’ve stayed at all-inclusive resorts in the past and have had wonderful experiences, we chose ME because of it’s prime location and smaller boutique size.  Since ME is NOT all-inclusive, dining at the hotel could get very expensive.  Cocktails can cost between $8-$12 and a small bottle of FIJI water is around $4.  They only have two restaurants on site; the Blue Merlin Ibiza Restaurant which offers Mediterranean cuisine with Asian influences (the sushi and ceviche is so fresh and delicious) and The Deck which is located in front of the hotel by the beach and is open for breakfast and lunch, in addition to room service options.  In my opinion, you end up paying about the same as you would at an all-inclusive resort without feeling confined to your resort, forcing you to venture out and try new places. 

Cabo is a fairly safe town (we walked into town every night) and when you walk out on to the beach and turn right out of the hotel, you’ll hit plenty of great and inexpensive restaurants for breakfast, lunch or dinner helping keep your costs low if you choose to forgo the all-inclusive route.

 Restaurants on Medano Beach:

  • Mango Deck Restaurante Bar & Beach Club– Lively atmosphere with loud music and an MC who hosts a variety of contests.  The service was excellent and our dinner for four which included quesadillas, nachos, swordfish, margaritas and beer came out to about $160.
  • The Office on the Beach– Ocean front restaurant with tables in the sand, colorful linens and tiki torches.  It’s only a few doors down and a MUST for anyone visiting Cabo.  The food, beverages (the margaritas are just oh-so tasty) and service are excellent.  It’s pricey and you’ll need reservations ahead of time, but it’s worth visiting.  They’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • SUR Beach House– A contemporary and modern restaurant with patio seating, amazing views and a tasty menu (I ate lunch here twice last summer).  Located right next door to ME.
  • The Sandbar– Located two doors down from ME and where we had breakfast a few times.  I believe our entire meal including drinks came out to about $30 for four guests.  They also offer 80-min. full body massages on the top deck for only $45 as well as different excursions and activities including wave runners, parasailing, horseback riding on the beach, ATVs, etc. (prices have probably gone up, but make sure to negotiate on the excursions).

Hotels on Medano Beach:

A Few Other Hotels in Cabo:

  • Riu Palace Cabo San Lucas– A beautiful all-inclusive option located on the far end of Medano Beach (tides are rough on this part of the beach so you can’t swim in the ocean).
  • Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort– Adults-only, all-inclusive option, but far away from everything. We’ve stayed at several Secrets properties and they don’t disappoint.
  • Breathless– Chic, adults-only hotel overlooking the marina; same hotel chain as Secrets.  My sister-in-law and her husband stayed here last year and they loved it.
  • Grand Solmar Lands End Resort– A favorite and the go-to resort for blogger, Olivia Rink (see her post here).
  • Vidanta– A brand new, luxury, all-inclusive resort in Los Cabos.  Kind of far out and the home of OMNIA Day Club (you can see photos and read about my experience at OMNIA from a previous post here).

As I mentioned above, ME is walking distance and less than a 5 min. cab ride from downtown Cabo and the marina which accommodates luxury yacht owners and guests with the highest quality services and amenities including entertainment, shopping and a variety of restaurants from Japanese, Asian Fusion, Italian, Mexican and American to choose from.

A Few Restaurant Recommendations:

  • Chamuyo– Argentinian steak house known for their beef ribs and flank steak with outdoor seating in a romantic setting.  The service, cuisine and wine were excellent and the bottom line was roughly $300 for five guests.  Just walk down ME’s driveway and it’ll be across the street.
  • Edith’s– Sister restaurant of The Office with great seafood and steak options.  The girls and I were supposed to have dinner here one night last summer, but we made some last minute changes and didn’t make it.
  • Nick-San– Gourmet Japanese and Mexican fusion restaurant with tasty sushi, modern decor and great ambiance.  We ate here on our first trip to Cabo and I remember it being a little pricey.  There are two locations: one in the marina and the other location is at the Shoppes at Palmilla (not familiar with this location).

The marina is steps away from a two block stretch of Cabo’s vibrant nightlife that caters to both young and old with your pick of bars and clubs to conclude your evening. 

My Top Bar & Nightclub Picks:

  • Mandala– A fun nightclub with locations in all the major Mexico destinations.  I would highly recommend reserving a table on the weekends because it gets packed (the ceiling is covered in disco balls).
  • Nowhere Bar– Located in the marina with a small dance floor and outdoor seating; good place to kick off the night with 90s throwbacks.
  • Cabo Wabo– A touristy spot with a live band.
  • Squid Roe-Another fun touristy spot.

**Travel Tip** Bottle service in Mexico is a lot cheaper than in any major cities in the US so it’s well worth it at places like Mandala.  The staff always takes good care of you and will treat you like a VIP.  Again, everything is centrally located so you’ll have plenty of places to choose from!

Make sure to check back at a later date for my Complete Travel Guide to Mexico including all the destinations in Mexico we’ve been to, the best months to visit, what to pack and a full list of hotels and resorts to choose from.  Thanks for stopping by.

xo

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The Ultimate Bachelorette Party in Cabo San Lucas

Hi all! A few weeks ago I attended the ultimate bachelorette party in Cabo San Lucas for one of my closest friends.  I’ve traveled to different parts of Mexico over the years and this was my third time in Cabo.  If you’re looking for a tropical destination with beautiful beaches, sunsets, a nightlife and not too far from home, Cabo is the place to visit!  You can read more about Cabo San Lucas in my travel diary from a previous trip here.The girls and I traveled over July 4th and stayed for six days.  I was a little skeptical about traveling to Cabo in the middle of summer, but the weather was absolutely perfect.  The temps were in the high 80s with clear blue skies and sunshine every day and it actually seemed to be a pretty popular time to visit.  There were quite a few birthday and bachelor/bachelorette parties happening while we were there.

Where we stayed:

We rented a beautiful property through Cabo Villas, Villa Desierto, located in Punta Ballena which is adjacent to the Esperanza resort in a gated community and about a 15 min. cab ride from downtown Cabo San Lucas.  Honestly we couldn’t have picked a more perfect property for our six day getaway to accommodate twelve ladies.  The Matron of Honor and Koumbara did all the legwork including finding the villa and planning out the week for us making it just the right mix of relaxation and fun.  Thanks again, ladies!!!This was my first time staying in a villa on vacation and I would absolutely do it again when traveling with close friends.  We split the cost between all of the girls and it came out to about $525/girl for the house which included three housekeepers who came out every morning, a house manager that was on call if we ever needed anything as well as our own private transfer to/from the airport.

Our Week in Review
Day 1:

After somewhat of a long travel day (there were no direct flights into Cabo the week we went), we were greeted with margaritas, chips, homemade salsas and guacamole by our house manager upon arrival.  We stopped at Costco on the way to the villa to stock up on some groceries since we’d be spending the majority of our time at the house so if you do opt to rent a house over staying at a resort there is a Costco or a Walmart to choose from.

We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging poolside before some of us went out for the evening.

Day 2:

We had lunch reservations at SUR Beach House, a super cute beach front property located on Medano Beach.  Medano Beach is actually the only swimmable beach in Cabo and it overlooks Land’s End.  There are several hotels on the beach to the left of SUR Beach House and more restaurants to the right including The Office and Mango Deck Restaurant & Bar, both of which are Cabo’s popular attractions. After lunch we decided to walk a few doors down where we rented a day bed on the beach and spent the day drinking cocktails, swimming in the ocean, getting our hair braided (typical girly girls) and being total beach bums.

Day 3:

We spent the entire day at the house and had lunch catered through A Matter of Taste that the MOH booked through Cabovillas.com followed by a private chef’s dinner in the evening.  During dinner we thought it would be a nice gesture to go around the table and say how we met the person sitting next to us and one favorite thing about that person which turned out to be an emotional evening (in a good way).  We concluded the night by gifting the bachelorette sexy lingerie and making her do a little runway show for us.  Let’s just say the groom is one lucky man!!

Day 4:

We went back to Sur Beach House for lunch (it was that good) followed by a pool party at ME Cabo hotel.  The ME hosts Blue Merlin Ibiza pool parties weekly specifically on Saturdays with guest DJ’s, but you can reserve a cabana Friday and Sunday as well.   At night we hit up downtown Cabo where there are a ton of nightclubs and bars. We basically spent our evenings dancing the night away at Mandala which is one of Cabo’s most popular night clubs.  I would highly recommend getting a table on the weekends because of how crowded it gets.  One other fun option to kickoff the night is Nowhere Bar which is kitty corner from Mandala and right before the Marina.

Day 5:

On our last full day in Cabo we spent the day at Omnia Day Club which is a brand new day club at Vidanta hotel in Los Cabos.  It’s more expensive than ME and a little further from downtown Cabo, but Omnia is definitely worth checking out.  We had our own private Cabana which included a private pool, butler, bottle service, food, etc. for about $3,500.  It was one of the many highlights of our trip and I’m so lucky to have been a part of it!

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