5 Bargain Wine-Country Stays

The internet is rife with amazing wine-country resort destinations which will pamper and polish you but what about something a little less plush?  Maybe you’re not planning on hanging out in the spa all day but instead have wine and food destinations and non-stop spa amenities or being propped-up poolside are not on the schedule.  Oh sure, beautiful resorts are fun, but as a wine-country frequent, sometimes I just want to pop in–often without reservations–and crash somewhere interesting.  Typically I have restaurant goals nearby, I am going to be either wine-tasting or shopping or dining until the wee hours, and leaving reasonably early the next morning.  But still want to be somewhat close-in for the late-night fade. Walking-distance is an absolute MUST.  No frills, not-too-far out-of-the-way, and low-cost–but still with great ambiance and verve–edgy and retro–maybe even a walk-up: we’re not talking Motel 6 here–in fact: THERE ARE NO CHAIN MOTELS ON THIS LIST.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that… it’s just: if I’m on a budget, I would far rather stay in a funky, family-owned spot than a soul-less corporate motel at a freeway interchange.  Here are 5 of my favorite, fun, no-frills, bargain lodging options in Wine Country.

NAPA: WINE VALLEY LODGE  Of course there’s Napa.  But I’m not talking *Napa Valley*, I’m talking pure NAPA.  Downtown Napa.  Napa proper.  Not St. Helena.  Not Yountville.  Actual real-live NAPA!!  An area overlooked by far to many Napa Valley visitors.  The restaurants!  The shopping!  Do yourself a favor and do not skip downtown Napa.  Oh, but everyone knows you can’t stay in Napa for under $300/night?!?!  Think again: Just a short walk off of downtown–or a quick UBER–is Wine Valley Lodge.  A classic single-level motor lodge from the 70’s, clean, quiet, and less than half the price of the nearest Best Western.

And while in Napa, don’t miss ANGELE, my favorite restaurant, or GRACE’S TABLE, a very close second-choice.  NINEBARK for cocktails.  EIKO’S for pre-dinner sushi bites and bubbly.  And the next morning: Napa Valley Roasting Company for coffee.  Don’t forget OXBOW PUBLIC MARKET for a mind-blowing culinary shopping experience and while downtown tasting rooms abound, check out VINTNER’S COLLECTIVE for the highest-quality wine under one roof.

SONOMA:  Ok, there’s lots to do in the town of Sonoma, but I am going to take you up around the corner to what is easily one of the great undiscovered bargain secrets in all of wine-country:  Glen Ellen and the JACK LONDON LODGE.  This place looks more like a Super 8 Motel than anything else on this list, but the rates are shockingly low and there is so much to do within walking distance in this fun little town.

Right next door is the JACK LONDON SALOON for classic funky old-dive frontier good times and a short stroll around the corner is a tough choice between THE FIG CAFE & WINEBAR and GLEN ELLEN STAR.  Next morning: GARDEN COURT CAFE and plan on hiking down to the ruins of Jack London’s Wolf House and a long visit in the Jack London Museum at JACK LONDON STATE PARK.

PETALUMA:  HOTEL PETALUMA  This amazing old building is slowly being returned to its original splendor.  After being a *residence hotel* for decades, it has been re-opened to the public for nightly stays.  Smack-dab overlooking downtown, walking distance to numerous restaurants, bars and shopping, with a real-live accordion-door elevator and perfect 100-year-old creaky floors.  Rates are still VERY low for wine country, but the remodel gets better and better with each visit so who knows how long it will remain a bargain.

I can spend DAYS in downtown Petaluma and surrounding wine-country.  Fav resty?  TWISTED 2 but call way WAY AHEAD!  There are only about 10 tops at this little family-run place and when it’s full, he locks the door.  PLAN on a two-hour meal.  Can’t get in to Twisted 2?  Many other options.  RISIBISI never disappoints and WILD GOAT BISTRO down on the river is a fun, lively spot for lunch OR dinner.  For THE most STUNNING breakfast or lunch, there is only one option: TOPSY’S KITCHEN. You’ll thank me.

HEALDSBURG:  Headed up-valley Sonoma into my favorite part of wine-country ON THE PLANET and a town fast becoming more expensive than parts of Napa Valley.  But wait!  You have options:  There’s a couple horrible chain-hotels on the freeway you can stay in for under $300/night (trust me, I have!) OR: down at the South edge of town, tucked around the corner near the Russian River sits L & M MOTEL, a funky little blast-from-the-past for a THIRD of what other stays in town cost.  Another classic retro single-level motor hotel straight out of 1960’s station-wagon days complete with neon and a heated indoor pool.

When you’re in Healdsburg, don’t muss around:  Spend an hour in the BANSHEE WINES tasting lounge experiencing their incredible Pinot Noirs while vinyl spins and then head over to VALETTE for dinner.  The next morning, hit COSTEAUX FRENCH BAKERY pour le croissant parfait et une café SVP.

CALISTOGA:  Up-valley Napa also brings with it images of mud-baths and ridiculously-priced hotels.  But I have discovered a great affordable spot right on the main drag!  CALISTOGA INN offers enough to practically never leave the property:  A hoppin bar downstairs, swank restaurant alongside, brewery and beer garden out back, and upstairs: a true country-style road-house inn, beautifully remodeled, handsomely outfitted, and an absolute STEAL!  There’s only ONE tiny caveat: Community Bathrooms.  This is where my girlfriend said, “Oh fuck that!  You’ve GOT to be KIDDING me.”  Now, before you write this place off completely because of this concept, let me inform you this is NOT a locker-room-style situation from college dorm days.  THIS PLACE IS BEAUTIFUL–and so are the bathrooms.  Bright, sparkling-clean, VERY PRIVATE, modern, beautifully outfitted, with individual shower rooms with piles of fluffy towels.  A small price to pay for affordable lodging in Calistoga.

Since JoLē closed, I can recommend CALISTOGA KITCHEN or for simpler fare HYDRO GRILL.  No visit to Calistoga is complete without stopping in to see Tom Pelter at CALISTOGA WINE STOP.

So now you have 5 reasons NOT to put off a visit to wine country.  Five reasons FAR below surrounding market and yet all interesting and not corporate dretch.  There truly is no experience quite like Wine Country in Napa and Sonoma, and everyone should experience it as often as possible.  And armed with this list, you can visit TWICE as often!

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