How do you avoid getting stuck in traffic on Highway 29 on your way to Napa or Sonoma on a weekend? First of all, here’s what not to do: do not wake up late, read the paper for three hours, and then decide over your second cup of coffee that you’d like to go wine tasting. If that’s the way you roll, you’ll end up inching along the highway in the midday sun and your romantic ideas of wine country will quickly sour.
Instead, drive up earlier in the day, when the roads are breezy like they should be, and start your fun before the tasting rooms are even open. There’s plenty to do. Here’s a sampling:
Visit di Rosa. What, you haven’t heard of it? Then you are in for a treat. Di Rosa is in the Carneros region of Napa, an area with an interesting history (in which the late Rene di Rosa played a big part) and a wonderful first stop on your way to Napa or Sonoma, assuming you’re coming from the Bay Area. Di Rosa is basically a huge estate of art—approximately 2,000 works of art. It was all started by Rene di Rosa, a lover of art, novelty, culture, and all that jazz; a clever man from Yale who thrived in San Francisco’s North Beach, had the foresight to plant vineyards in the Carneros region when it was a lonely forgotten place, and gave hundreds of untraditional artists recognition they never would have had without him. I know all this from our awesome tour guide, Bernard Faber. Bernard explained that, right from the start, Rene collected art that pushed the boundaries, just like the era in which his artistic passions took flight—the 1960s.
By the way, you will want to take a tour at di Rosa. Even if you’re not the tour-type, you’ll like this one. Go online and check the times (we went for the 11 a.m.) and call to make a reservation so you can ride the cow-tram and get somewhere—the place covers 217 acres. And here’s an exciting tip: if you have a library card (please say you do), you might be able to book a free tour. Go to your library’s website, log in with your card number, then click on “Discover and Go” under “Museum Passes.” You’ll discover lots of cool places to visit for free, all thanks to your library card.
Here is a photo of where di Rosa used to live. It was our last stop on the tour and it is packed full of art—art of so many kinds and flavors, I’m leaving it all to your imagination (but you can visit di Rosa’s site to see a few examples). Just when I thought I had my fill of edgy art, I found a few mixed media pieces that were actually very sweet. I also loved the peacocks that roam the property. No offense to the 800 artists represented at di Rosa, but what can be more artistic than a peacock?
Another thing to do in area before the crowds arrive is to go out for brunch. I suggest the Boon Fly Café, another gem of Carneros. It is known for its Boon Fly Benedict, donuts, and Green Eggs & Ham, but the restaurant only takes dinner reservations, so if there’s a long wait, just drive around the corner to the Carneros Inn. There you will find a high quality market (called the Market) where you can order sandwiches to eat outside on comfy couches on a beautiful, long covered porch, shown here. You can also play bocce ball on courts in front of the Market. (If you don’t know how, just google the instructions like we did and enjoy.)
Other options for entertaining yourself before the wineries open include shopping, biking, gallery hopping, or merely driving around and exploring—and again I want to highlight the Carneros region for its sweet back roads. But that will have to be another post. I’ve just discovered the area myself (can you tell?) and I have a lot more exploring to do. Stay tuned.