A classic 1950s-style neon sign marks the driveway to this well-run roadside motel that—when it isn't sold out—offers great value to budget-minded travelers. This being the Wine Country you'll pay a premium for the convenient location along Highway 29 a mile south of downtown St. Helena, but the rooms are tidy and the landscaped grounds and picnic tables elevate the property over similar places.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The motel sits close to the highway. To avoid traffic noise, ask for a room farthest from the road.
El Bonita serves families, vacationing couples, and solo business travelers well with seven different space configurations, from smaller rooms with a queen bed or two doubles to two-room suites with two queen beds. All rooms have comfortable beds and pleasant if not stylish decor.
Family-friendly pluses include roll-away beds and cribs for a modest charge; all travelers will appreciate the in-room microwaves and refrigerators.
Most rooms have bathrooms best described as utilitarian. Expect a toilet, a tub or shower, a hair dryer, and not a whole lot of space. A few rooms have "deluxe bathrooms," which basically means a little more space.
Like the rest of the motel, the lobby/check-in area is more pedestrian than fancy. You won't be spending a lot of time here, though like the rooms it's cheery enough.
Trees shade the kidney-shaped pool, which is heated year round. There's a hot tub, and even a sauna nearby.
The only meal served here is a no-frills continental breakfast most noteworthy for the tasty pastries.
It's strictly BYOB at El Bonita.
A mile from downtown St. Helena, El Bonita is within walking distance of restaurants, shops, and dozens of tasting rooms. Even more of the northern Napa Valley is easily accessible by car, and even down-valley icons such as Mustards Grill and The French Laundry are less than 10 miles away.
A dozen noteworthy restaurants do business within a mile or two of El Bonita. Head to Cook St. Helena (2-minute drive) for swoonworthy Italian; Harvest Table (4-minute walk) at Harvest Inn by Charlie Palmer for farm-to-table cuisine (many ingredients from the on-site garden); and Press (1-minute drive, 10-minute walk) for dry-aged steaks and voluptuous red wines. Gott's Roadside (1-minute drive, 12-minute walk) is the perennial pleaser for gourmet burgers, fish tacos, and other comfort food delights.
The bartenders at the lobby bar at Harvest Inn by Charlie Palmer (4-minute walk) whip up wild, fabulously named seasonal concoctions like A Pisco My Heart, starring Sonoma County–made boysenberry vodka, and Me So Corny, whose ingredients include reposado (oak aged) tequila, a chile liqueur, and grilled corn. Or just get a superbly crafted martini. Pop into downtown St. Helena for happy hour at Goose and Gander restaurant (2-minute drive, 15-minute walk), whose downstairs bar has a speakeasy feel.
WHY WE LIKE IT
Retro charm, a helpful staff and owner, and a fabulous location make this a fine northern Napa Valley budget choice. If you're willing to accept fewer perks in return for savings to put toward wine purchases and dining out—and we certainly are—El Bonita is the right place for you. When every other place you want to book costs well more than $300 a night and El Bonita is often the only place in St. Helena with rooms for under $200.