Napa Valley is undeniably one of the world’s most renowned regions for wine. The climate, the landscape, the food, and (obviously) the vino make for a destination that’s unbeatable in Northern California, so it’s no surprise the gay community comes in droves. LGBT travelers have been vacationing in the region for decades (thanks mostly to its easy access from San Francisco), and their presence has never been stronger. Gay-owned hotels like Inn on First in Downtown Napa, restaurants like Barolo in Calistoga, and even gay-themed activities ensure Napa Valley will always be welcome to "friends of the family." We compiled a first-timers mini-guide to Napa for gay travelers… and pretty much anyone who wants to tag along, really.
Downtown Napa and St. Helena
The Inn on First: Downtown Napa Valley is chockfull of charming B&Bs but this gay-owned boutique B&B is far from the norm. Housed in a 1905 building, The Inn on First is owned by a gay couple (Jamie and Jim) with an eye for design. The ten rooms are colorful with contemporary furnishings, spacious bathrooms, and corner Jacuzzi tubs. Most of the rooms get tons of sunlight, even in the garden and dining area. The couple really puts the "breakfast" in B&B, thanks to Jim’s culinary background.
Insider Tip: Snacks are served throughout the day; prepare yourself for some addictive chocolate chip cookies.
Napa Valley Wine Train: There’s no better way to see the sprawling vineyards of Napa while wining and dining. One of the country’s only active, historic passenger railroads, Napa Valley Wine Train provides a scenic ride through Napa Valley for lunch or dinner. The Big Gay Wine Train event hosted by Out in the Vineyard takes place March 16. The package includes train fare, a four-course meal, and four pre-selected wines for $160.
Insider Tip: We prefer the lunchtime departures for the gorgeous views through the duration of the trip.
Goose & Gander: If you need a break from wine tastings (we’re assuming you don’t, but…) head to Goose & Gander, a new basement bar that takes up the former Martini House. Here, it’s all about the 40 or so craft cocktails created by master mixologist Scott Beattie, who you’ll often find behind the bar. The scene is casual, friendly, and lively with a diverse crowd. The bar is equipped with the typical ammo (fresh ingredients, hand-carved ice, etc) that makes a great cocktail.
Insider Tip: Order the Sasquatch with candy-cap mushroom infused blended Scotch, vermouth, and Angostura bitters smoked over cherry wood and lavender.
Chateau de Vie and Chanric Inn: Repeat visitors continue to shack up at gay-owned Chateau de Vie, open since 1998 and producing Cabernet Sauvignon since 2001. In addition to comfy quarters, there’s a private garden, hot tub, and a 40-foot seasonal heated lap pool. The Chanric Inn has new owners (a gay couple who ran a cattle ranch in Uruguay) and offers Thierry Mugler bath amenities, three-course breakfast, heated swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and chic guest rooms.
Insider Tip: Both B&B owners are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, so use them as your concierges—they’ve been known to book guests’ wine tastings, restaurant reservations, and more.
Solage Calistoga: B&Bs too intimate? A favorite for locals and tourists, Solage is a chic, upmarket resort with 89 studio cottages in a complex that feels like a community. Each cottage is equipped with bikes and a semi-private patio. The location is ideal, at a mere ten-minute bike ride (or two minute drive) to downtown and a handful of wineries sit just minutes away. The gay-friendly resort has an exceptional spa (with mud bar and mineral pool), separate Olympic-sized pool, and the award-winning SolBar has some of the area’s best food with Michelin-star chef Brandon Sharp.
Insider Tip: Ask for a cottage close to the back of the resort for more intimacy.
Roman Hot Springs: A trip to Calistoga wouldn’t be complete without a mud bath at the foot of Mount St. Helena. While the Roman Spa may be a far cry from luxury, it’s the all-natural treatments that get all the attention. After a detoxifying bath in hot, Calistoga mud (great for the skin), couples soak in a tub of natural mineral water for a truly relaxing experience. Gay owner Page Monte ensures a comfortable visit for anyone.
Insider Tip: Drink plenty of water as both mud bath and mineral bath are hot and guaranteed to dehydrate.
Barolo: Gay resident Mark Smith has been around for 25 years and knows Calistoga’s best restaurants. But you don’t have to look far: Mark owns three of them, including Barolo, Brannan’s, and Checkers. Barolo, opened in 2006, and serves hearty Italian (think house-made pastas and sausages) and stiff cocktails.
Insider Tip: Try their house wine (called Casamatta, which translates to "the crazy house" wine)—it’s made by Bibi Graetz, a cult winemaker from Italy who paints his own colorful wine bottle labels.
Jimmy Im is a freelance travel writer based in NYC. He’s hosted programs on the Travel Channel and LOGO, and makes regular appearances on morning news shows as a "travel expert." He teaches travel writing courses and is also cofounder of OutEscapes.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dieselmad.
Photo Credits: The Inn on First: T.J. Salsman Photography 2012|The Inn On First; Napa Valley Wine Train: Napa Valley Wine Train; Goose & Gander: Goose & Gander; Chanric Inn: Welcome Inn; Solage Calistoga: Solage Calistoga; Barolo: Barolo.