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St. Helena, California
Wine Tasting (with map to wineries), Shopping, Dining, Lodging, History
St. Helena, known as both “The heart of the Napa Valley Wine Country” and “Napa Valley’s Main Street,” is picturesque small town America with sophisticated shopping, dining and wine touring.
Napa Valley & Sonoma Wine Tasting Tours
The St. Helena AVA (PDF) surrounds the city and stretches across the valley, extending from Zinfandel Lane on the south to Bale Lane on the north.
Visitors to this historic and picturesque town enjoy shopping, dining, wine tasting and visiting art galleries or the Silverado Museum. There are a number of excellent dining and lodging options.
The city’s Main Street is also Napa Valley’s major north-south artery Highway 29/St. Helena Highway so summer afternoons frequently experience heavy traffic and parking congestion.
Historic St. Helena
The Napa County Historical Society was conceived and inaugurated at the Old Bale Mill in 1948 one hundred and two years after its construction in 1846 by Dr. E. Bale. Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park is just 3 miles north of St. Helena and is connected by a trail to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park.
Hudson House—originally built in 1852 for David Hudson, an employee at the Bale Grist Mill and participant in the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846 in nearby Sonoma—was rolled on redwood logs from the current site of the Rhine House at Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena and remodeled as a home for Jacob L. Beringer in 1883. The historic house was remodeled again in 1989 to become the Beringer Vineyards Culinary Arts Center.
St. Helena Wineries and Wine Tasting Rooms
Many St. Helena wine tasting and wine touring opportunities are situated along the St. Helena Highway north or south of the commercial center of town.
The first winery founded in the Napa Valley, in 1861, was the Charles Krug Winery in what is now St. Helena. Charles Krug, a Prussian immigrant, introduced a number of innovations including varietally-labeled wines and the cider press for wine making. The Mondavi family purchased the winery in 1943, after Prohibition, and continues to run it today.
Jacob and Frederick Beringer founded Beringer Brothers Vineyards in 1876, now the oldest, continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley. Frederick built the historic 17-room Rhine House in 1883 as a recreation of the family home in Germany.
St. Clement Vineyards Hospitality Center is in the historic Victorian Rosenbaum House, which was first used as a winery in 1878.
The Rosenbaum House hosted one of the first bonded wineries in the Napa Valley.
Merryvale, founded in 1983, was the first winery built in the Napa Valley after Prohibition.
The picturesque winery, located a quarter mile south of downtown St. Helena and next door to Tra Vigne restaurant, has an impressive Cask Room and intimate Wine Barrel Dining alcove.
Follow the individual winery links in the sidebar above right, or on our interactive winery map, for pictures, history, visiting times, contact information and other details for these and many other St. Helena Wineries.
Shopping in St. Helena
There are more than a dozen clothing and accessory stores within three or four blocks in the center of town. Representative examples include; Amelia Claire, Bison Country Life, Daisy, David’s Jewelers, Footcandy Shoes, Goodmans Department store, Mario's Men's Clothing, Patina, Estate & Fine Jewelry, Pearl Wonderful Clothing,and Toss Designs.
There are at least four art galleries here as well; ; Art on Main, Caldwell Snyder Gallery. Christopher Hill Gallery and I. Wolk Gallery. Gifts and/or books can be purchased at Baksheesh and Pennyweight.
Home furnishings and hardware are also available in the same few blocks at Napa Valley Vintage Home or Steve’s Housewares while St. Helena Wine Center carries an impressive stock, striving to be the leading source of California wines.
Take a break from shopping with a movie at Cameo Cinema which was built as the Golden Gate Theatre in 1915.
Spas in St. Helena
Although Calistoga to the north is better known for its hot springs and spas, St. Helena does have the Health Spa Napa Valley, a full service day spa with fitness center, pool and all spa services. Beauty supplies and salon treatments are available at Heaven & Earth.
There are many businesses worth visiting beyond this short section of Main Street, of course. Of particular note is the Meadowood Resort on the eastern side of the Silverado Trail with its spa and Michelin Guide three star restaurant.
Dining in St. Helena
Cook Restaurant, a local authentic Italian favorite, is also popular with visitors and very convenient to shopping. Nearby Armadillo’s is the place for moderately priced Mexican cuisine and Gillwoods is good for breakfast or lunch.
If you've ever visited Tuscany you'll recognize the ambience and cuisine at Tra Vigne, especially when seated on the patio. For an upscale but less expensive meal try nearby Pizzeria Tra Vigne.
A completely different kind of ambience makes Gott’s Roadside a favorite of locals and visiting families.
Formerly Taylor’s Automatic Refresher—the historic landmark sign remains—this drive-in with lots of outdoor seating at umbrella shaded picnic tables on the lawn serves the expected gourmet burgers, tacos, milkshakes and garlic fries but ads a Wine Country twist. Order fine wine with your meal!
Dine in historic buildings on the north side of town at the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America (continue reading for more CIA history) or trade fine wine for handcrafted beer and eat at the Silverado Brewing Company in the 1895 Freemark Abbey Winery building.
Main Street lodging in St. Helena begins with the Harvest Inn, El Bonita Motel and Vineyard Country Inn at the south end of town extending to the Ambrose Bierce House, Red Door Inn and The Ink House Bed & Breakfast to the north.
In between are Hotel St. Helena, the Inn at Southbridge and Wydown Hotel.
More St. Helena, California History
The City of St. Helena was incorporated as a City on March 24, 1876 and reincorporated on May 14, 1889, Napa Valley’s first incorporated city. It is located about 68 miles northeast of San Francisco.
The Silverado Museum at 1490 Library Lane in St. Helena houses one of the world’s most distinguished collections of Robert Louis Stevenson memorabilia. Stevenson came to the Napa Valley hoping to improve his health and in 1880 spent his honeymoon in what was then a ghost town. His book, Silverado Squatters, tells the story of his stay.
The Silverado Museum sits next to the St. Helena Public Library, also known as The George & Elsie Wood Public Library to honor the contributions of Dr. George Wood.
The St. Helena Community Center and Carnegie Library at 1360 Oak Avenue is a beautiful example of Mission Style architecture. Opened in 1908, it was designed by William Corlett of Napa.
The Culinary Institute of America—The CIA—was begun in 1946 and is the only residential college in the world devoted entirely to culinary education. Since 1995 the CIA's Napa Valley Campus has occupied the former Christian Brothers Winery — Greystone Cellars “the largest stone winery in the world.”
With 22-inch thick exterior walls of tufa stone Greystone was built in 1888 and used by the Christian Brothers to make sparkling wines from 1950 to 1989.
The Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies is one of the newer additions to The CIA's Napa Valley campus. Courses for Chefs, Restaurateurs, Hoteliers, Food and Beverage Directors, Caterers and Club Managers as well as courses for Wineries, Distributors and Importers are provided.
Robert H. Pratt built a house at what is now 125 Glass Mountain Road, St. Helena on the eastern side of the Silverado Trail. Ellen White, co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church purchased the home in 1900 naming it “Elmshaven” after a row of Elm trees across the front. Given National Historic Landmark status in 1933 it is being operated as an Adventist historic site.
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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2013 Lee W. Nelson