With more than 400 vineyards to choose from, it would be impossible to list the best wineries in Napa Valley. Frantic Google searches and hours of research often yield nothing but confusion for travelers hoping to make the most of a romantic weekend away, so for my own debut visit to the region, I decided to do things a little differently.

Enlisting my favorite Napa Valley winemaker, Silver Oak, I asked vintner and CEO David R. Duncan to create a custom itinerary that would take me from Yountville to Calistoga for a visit to his favorite local spots—which includs some of the country’s best restaurants (seriously) and a premiere hotel—with plenty of swoon-worthy scenery and upscale wine tastings in between.

Where to Stay

The instant I pulled up to Calistoga Ranch, a luxury resort at the northern most tip of Napa Valley, the stress of city life immediately melted away. Tucked into a secluded canyon, the 157-acre Auberge Resort property was designed to look like a vintner’s estate—think an upscale mountain lodge with spacious cedar shingle cabins nestled in a California forest. The best part of our suite? An outdoor garden shower with views of nearby mountain tops. It’s a surprise we left the property at all, with The Lakehouse restaurant serving up local food and wine in a four-course prix fixe menu, all on a private setting overlooking the majestic Lake Lommel. Meanwhile the hotel’s spa is a sanctuary inspired by Calistoga’s healing waters—you can soak in heated mineral pools for some alfresco “forest bathing” surrounded by moss-laden old-growth trees and the rhythmic trickling of a nearby creek.

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The outdoor showers at @calistogaranch, flanked by lush California mountains, is seriously worth the 8-hour cross-coastal trip to Napa Valley alone. (And for those who have been asking for my top 5, here’s my final ranking! @hixislandhouse, where the outdoor shower on their suite’s oversized balcony overlooks the jungle and the ocean; @fsnamhai because it’s like showering in your own private tropical garden; @brushlandeating’s Owl’s Nest cabin because it’s surrounded by 5-acres of forest; @calistogaranch for the aforementioned; and finally, our little outdoor shower in Fire Island which is always full of sand—and at this point, six years worth of summer memories) ? @mattrubin

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What to Eat

Forget French Laundry, there’s a new guard of dining destinations in Napa Valley where experimental dishes—all paired with local wine, of course—are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Make sure you have a healthy appetite when you visit Charter Oak, where local ingredients are meant to be shared family-style, because you’ll want to order everything on the menu. Two Birds One Stone offers a refreshing Japanese twist to Napa’s culinary scene; while Auberge Du Soleil can’t be missed for a delicious lunch with a view. For breakfast try Bouchon Bistro, a Thomas Keller spot with a bakery by the same name next door. Or if you’re a late riser, Archetype is neighborhood spot for the best brunch—and people watching.

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Dessert of our color dreams

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What to Do

From Lolo’s Consignment filled with unique vintage pieces (I found my all-time favorite summer dress here), to Main Street Books, an unassuming and charming used bookstore, to the Culinary Institute of America which offers culinary classes, a tasting bar and an acclaimed onsite eatery, a visit to Napa wouldn’t be complete without a walk through the historical St. Helena.

Where to Drink

Certified under California’s Sustainable Winegrowing program, Silver Oak makes (in my opinion) the area’s best Cabernet Sauvignon—a variety they’ve been producing for more than 40 years. Silver Oak boasts two locations: more than 400 acres of vines in Napa Valley and a leading-edge approach toward precision viticulture in Alexander Valley. Hot tip: Release Day of its 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet is fast approaching.

Meanwhile, exploring the photography exhibit with a glass of wine at Mumm Napa is a highlight for art lovers—don’t miss the 27 prints by Ansel Adams, including some of his most famous photographs. And weaving your way through works by John Baldessari, Peter Wegner, and Nick Cave takes you beyond tasting wine at HALL. For a picturesque view, head towards Sterling Vineyards to take the only aerial tram in Napa Valley to the entrance of its Mediterranean-style winery. And Spottswoode’s Estate is a must on any earth-friendly wine drinker’s bucket list. Certified organic, the winery was recently awarded the Green Medal Environment Award as part of the Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Awards.

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