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The Best Things to Do in Yountville

The Best Things to Do in Yountville

A pint-sized town with oversized appeal, Yountville is best known for its world-class dining — it has two Michelin-starred restaurants — and its abundance of wineries. But for travelers who have had their fill of wining and dining, this Napa Valley charmer still has plenty to offer. A day spent in Yountville can run the gamut from adventurous (a hot-air balloon ride!) to indulgent (a stop at Bouchon Bakery) to peaceful (an art walk through town). Here are our suggestions for the best things to do in Yountville.

Bird’s-eye view
Up, up and away! The undulating hills surrounding Yountville are even more stunning when taken in from above. An early morning wake-up call is well worth the spectacle of witnessing daybreak over the vines, and sightseers will appreciate the opportunity to take in the valley’s remarkable colors, textures and sounds from this breathtakingly grand perspective. Passengers float serenely at altitudes of 1,000 to 3,000 feet, while FAA-certified pilots maneuver the balloons to ensure the smoothest and most picturesque route possible. Napa Valley Aloft is conveniently located at V Marketplace and boasts three different launch sites suitable for any kind of weather, while Napa Valley Balloons, another local outfitter, gathers its passengers at Yountville’s famed Domaine Chandon Winery, and deposits them back in time for a sumptuous breakfast buffet and bottomless mimosas.

A detour through the valley’s past
Just a short stroll (or Trolley ride) away from Washington Street, Yountville’s main drag, the Napa Valley Museum offers up a perfectly balanced blend of art, nature and history. The county’s only cultural institution dedicated to its regional heritage, this small but well-curated museum provides fascinating backstory to the people of Napa Valley and its development as a destination, while also exploring the geological characteristics that make it a unique environment for growing grapes. There is plenty of gallery space for local artists and rotating exhibitions as well, making this compact treat a must-see for any visitor to Yountville.

An artful wander
For art enthusiasts who prefer to break out of the confines of a museum, the Yountville Art Walk is an excellent way to while away a sunny afternoon. There are more than 40 works of outdoor sculpture dotting the town, many of which were made by local artists and are for sale to the public to benefit the Yountville Arts Fund. With something for every taste — from muscular metallic pieces to a variety of more colorful and whimsical entries — the Yountville Art Walk takes visitors on a charming stroll through the town’s quieter corners, including the lovely Yountville Park, with its picnic tables, children’s playground and smattering of stoic redwoods.

An historic marketplace
No visit to Yountville is complete without a stop at V Marketplace, the sprawling two-story brick complex on Washington Street that serves as a central hub for this charming village. Established in 1870 as the Groezinger Winery, V Marketplace has evolved over the past century and a half to include shops, tasting rooms and art galleries, and today is also home to world-class dining at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega. Souvenir hunters will enjoy picking out some valley-themed artwork from a local artist, while anyone with a lingering sweet tooth can indulge in a piece of artisan chocolate while window-shopping the boutiques.

Yountville’s Garden of Eden
One of a very select few American restaurants to hold the coveted three-star Michelin ranking, The French Laundry restaurant in downtown Yountville is the stuff of legends, and chef Thomas Keller’s nine-course haute gastronomie tasting menu draws culinary pilgrims from around the world. But even without a nearly-impossible-to-get reservation, curious gourmands can wander through the French Laundry Culinary Garden, located just across the street from the dining room on three lovingly tended acres. A helpful grid indicates what is growing where, and visitors can stroll the grounds at their leisure, admiring the Technicolor rainbow of carrots, radishes, tomatoes, tarragon and edible nasturtium flowers (among many, many others) being grown across the four seasons.

One last bite before you go
Anyone in the vicinity of Keller’s Bouchon Bakery will be hard-pressed to resist the tantalizing smells of butter, cinnamon and sugar wafting from its counters, as evidenced by the patient pastry-seekers who line up outside its doors every morning. Intrepid weekend visitors should get there early to score one of the mythical cinnamon-dusted donuts, but even on an ordinary weekday, the sweet and savory baked goods from Bouchon Bakery are miraculous. Traditional favorites include their butter-laden croissants and the signature Chocolate Bouchon cookie; lunchtime items like quiche or a tuna nicoise sandwich are no less satisfying. A box of macarons to-go make an ideal gift, but only if they can survive the ride home uneaten.

Yountville may be best known for its restaurants and wineries, but those who take the time to explore these diverse activities – the very best things to do – will be rewarded with an active, engaging and just-plain-fun day. And if that day happens to include a repeat visit to Bouchon Bakery? Worry not, it will be well-earned.

By Atissa Manshouri

Atissa Manshouri is a freelance writer based in Marin County, CA. She writes about travel, food and culture in the Bay Area and beyond.

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