Twenty miles north of the city of Napa, in the very heart of the revered wine region, lies the small community of St. Helena. Beyond its charming main-street boutiques, stunning landscape, and noted wineries, St. Helena also boasts unusually rich cultural offerings and a strong social fabric that one might overlook passing through town on a wine tour.
The variety and sheer number of St. Helena’s parks and public spaces speak to the quality of life its residents enjoy. Crane Park is outfitted with a playground and skate park for kids, as well as tennis and bocce courts, the latter hosting regular league and tournament play. At Wappo Park you can find a 6,000 square-foot dog park for exercising your pets off leash. Just five miles from the center of town, Lake Hennessey provides opportunities for fishing and boating, and Los Posadas State Park, just ten miles away, is a mountain biker’s dream, with gentle inclines for beginners, technical single-track routes through manzanita, and everything in between. If biking on pavement is your preference, St. Helena lies on the Silverado Trail, a picturesque two-lane country road stretching the thirty miles between Napa and Calistoga. More adventurous cyclists will find plenty of worthy rides summiting the county’s hills and mountains.
St. Helena’s dining options, formal and casual, are extraordinary. This is perhaps unsurprising considering that the town is not only home to a Culinary Institute of America campus but is also just ten miles away from The French Laundry, described by Anthony Bourdain as “the best restaurant in the world, period.” A bit more down to earth is the restaurant at the Hotel Auberge du Soliel, awarded a Michelin Star thirteen years running for its French-inspired California cuisine. The stunning views from their deck will make it an attractive option for dinner or for a glass of wine at sunset. Locally grown ingredients are a point of pride among restaurants in this area, with both the Farmstead Restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch and the Culinary Institute’s Gatehouse Restaurant drawing from their own gardens and farms. Options also abound for quick bites, with Gott’s Roadside serving up irresistible burgers and the Azteca Market and Taqueria offering authentic Mexican dishes. Home chefs will also love life in St. Helena; between locations at Farmstead and the local extension of Napa Valley College, the town holds farmers’ markets year-round.
Gastronomy is not St. Helena’s only cultural offering. The Farmstead Restaurant regularly features live performances, mostly American roots music drawing upon northern California’s legacies of both folk and rock. The town is also a site for film screenings during the annual Napa Valley Film Festival. But one perhaps gets the best glimpse of the St. Helena lifestyle through an event like the Hometown Harvest Festival in early October, when the community gathers for parades, fun runs, a potluck, and a street fair.