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Uncorking the valley
Highway 29 is the main vino vein that passes through wine country like an asphalt artery. Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga each have something different and unique to offer the visitor.
Napa, at the southern terminus of wine country, is the Gateway to the Grape! One of the highlights of the town are handpainted murals that adorn the downtown buildings depicting the regions history and the growth of the wine industry. More than just informative they are truly a visual folk art feast for the eyes.
Traveling north on 29, you'll come to the community of Yountville, and yes, it is named after George Yount, the Johnny Appleseed of Viticulture. After paying your respects at his grave in Pioneer Cemetery, you may want to visit Vintage 1870, a three-story brick building with more than 40 eclectic emporiums that will cater to every shopping whimsy.
Quaint best describes Oakville, the next stop on your journey of wine discovery. Famed for its historic grocery, it is a definite must stop and see.
Continue north and you come to the town of Rutherford, home of the Niebaum-Coppola Winery and is a wine country stop you can't refuse! Sure, it's a winery, and yes, you can get a tour and a glass of wine, but the main feature is showing in the upstairs Francis Ford Coppola Movie Museum.
Props and artifacts from many of this famed directors films are here on display, but for my money, the hands-on fave rave is the chair and desk from The Godfather where Brando and Pacino -- as the Corleones --ruled their celluloid criminal empire.
St Helena is your next stop and it's a stylish boutique boomtown with enough cappuccino to float the Queen Mary. It's Bar Harbor without the harbor and design and flair ooze from every shop, so don't expect any Blue Light Specials in Aisle No 5! As you journey ever northward on Highway 29, just north of St. Helena, on your left you'll see the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, serving up some the finest cuisine in America west of NYC!
Prepare now to enter the spa and mudbath kingdom of Calistoga. Rumor has it that the original name was to be Saratoga of California, after the fabled resort in New York State, however, alcohol got the better of town founder Sam Brannon's tongue and he proclaimed loudly to all -- This will be the Calistoga of Sarafornia! Calistoga it is then. Bubbling mineral waters, massage and mud baths create a mellow air in this renowned realm of relaxation. Pampering has been elevated to a high art form and smiling faces are the rule. All that's missing is a group hug!
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The wineries of course are the main attraction in Napa Valley, and along with unique shopping and dining experiences it is a true adventure for palate and wallet. If, however, fine wines and tastings aren't your brown paper bag idea of a vacation and you could care less if your wine requires a corkscrew or has a screw top, there are a host of other activities and attractions.
Mount St. Helena
Mount St. Helena stands guard at the north end of the valley, stately and Sphinx-like, she guards the geyser realm that bubbles below her in Calistoga, spawning spas like a fertile rabbit on overdrive.
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The mountain was also home to fabled Silverado silvermine made popular in Robert Louis Stevenson's The Silverado Squatters. Robert Louis also spent his honeymoon on Mount St. Helena in 1880 and you can hike the five miles to Consumation Summit to view the marker that indicates the cabin's location. Robert Louis Stevenson State Park is named in honor of the author of Treasure Island and is located 7 miles north of Calistoga on Highway 29.
Many hot springs and geysers dot the valley but one ranks as the Ethel Merman of heat and steam -- California's version of Old Faithful. The old girl belts out a plume of steam 60 feet into the air every 30 minutes or so and is every bit as stirring as a full chorus singing a Broadway showtune.
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If it's a touch of natural history and Humphrey Bogart your looking for, look no further than California's Petrified Forest also located near Calistoga. Before Walt Disney figured out that touristas would shell out cold hard cash to see pirates and Mad Hatters, Petrified Forest Charlie beat him to it in the mid 1800s by charging folks to look at a petrified tree he had dug up! In 1910, Ollie Bocker and her husband began serious development of the area and today is a primo attraction for the petro-curious from around the world.
The Roadhead chrome-magnon love of Detroit's metal and muscle auto industry will do well to visit Litto's Hubcap Ranch on Pope Valley Road, just 2 miles northwest of Pope Valley. No Cabernets here, but you will find more than 2,000 hubcaps collected by Emanuele LITTO Damonte. Born in 1892, Litto created arrangements and art forms over a 30 year period comprised of hubcaps, bottles and pulltops. Litto passed away to that Great Auto Scrap Yard in the sky in 1985, but left behind one of California's pre-eminent 20th Century folk art environments and is California Registered Landmark No. 939. Litto's Hubcap Ranch kicks asphalt!
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