Every road in the Napa Valley is scenic. Some are just more scenic than others. Highway 29, the main road up the (westish) center of the valley, takes you through all the valley towns and right by some of the area's most famous wineries and restaurants. From Napa to St. Helena it parallels the route of the Napa Valley Wine Train. Wave at the engineer and passengers. That's half the fun for everybody.
Passing through St. Helena, Highway 29 is called Main Street. Along most other stretches it's referred to as the Saint Helena Highway. In reality, it's all Highway 29—a divided highway from Napa to Yountville, and a two-lane highway (with frequent left-turn lanes) all the way from Yountville to Calistoga. Caltrans, the State of California's transportation department, would love to make "29" a divided highway the whole length of the valley, but the natives have fought valiantly and successfully to prevent this from happening. Even most of those who commute up or down the valley are willing to put up with the inconvenience of a two-lane road in order to preserve the beauty of the drive.
To get a full appreciation of the Napa Valley, you should definitely drive Highway 29, in one direction or the other.
The Silverado Trail runs along the east side of the valley. It goes outside most of the towns, and there are fewer wineries and much less traffic. Yet it still offers beautiful views, many wineries and quicker driving if you're in a hurry. Don't be in too much of a hurry, however. The view is too lovely and this road can be dangerous, because people drive much faster than on Highway 29 and seem to get more impatient, passing on stretches where it is unsafe to pass. Use caution and you'll enjoy "the Trail" immensely. We do.
The name "Silverado" comes from the road's history carrying quicksilver (mercury) wagons from the mines in northern Napa County. The quicksilver was eventually transported to the gold fields of California where it was used to separate gold from the ore or sand in which it was found. The Trail also led to the Silverado Silver Mine on Mt. St. Helena, where years later Robert Louis Stevenson gathered the notes for his story The Silverado Squatters.
Crossing the valley from west to east, connecting Highway 29 with the Silverado Trail, are three major crossroads. Each road crosses the valley at the town that it's named after. They are: Yountville Cross Road, Oakville Cross Road, and Rutherford Cross Road. (Several other roads make this connection, too, but they don't quite have the flair that the crossroads do.) Each road passes wineries and beautiful homes, and all offer gorgeous views. Try any one of these to get off the beaten path.
Don't be too disappointed if after turning off Highway 121/12 south of Napa, you follow the "Napa River Resorts" signs to Cuttings Wharf and have trouble finding the "resorts." Perhaps once there were resorts in this area, although there appears to be no historical record that this was ever the case. Still, it's a pleasant drive, taking you through some of Napa County's section of the Carneros wine district, famous for its Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
Between Yountville and Napa is an 8-mile stretch of divided highway. The highway provides beautiful views, but for more leisurely sightseeing we offer two tips. Northbound from Napa, turn right (east) at the Washington Street turnoff, then turn immediately left to go north again. Follow the frontage road to Yountville, enjoy the view of the vineyards by the side of the road, and take pictures of the beautiful views toward the mountains to the east.
Coming back at the end of the day, skip the divided highway again. Instead go west off Highway 29 at the Veterans Home turnoff, cross the tracks and turn left on the frontage road (Solano Avenue) to go south toward Napa. This will give you beautiful views of homes, vineyards and wineries to the west toward the Mayacamas Mountains. If this is at sunset, it's even more beautiful. Follow Solano into Napa and then, when you reach the business/residential areas, turn back onto the highway again and continue your journey on the main highway.
A beautiful drive that will take you from Yount Street in Yountville to Highway 29 north of town. You'll pass the site of the original mill built by town founder George Yount in 1836.
There are many other drives, particularly in the eastern part of Napa County, that offer beautiful scenery and relatively uncrowded roads. The best online source we've found is California Motorcycle Roads (www.pashnit.com/motoroads.htm). It includes lengthy write-ups and extensive photographs. While the writer is speaking to motorcycle riders, the routes he describes can all be driven by car. Look at the listings under the Napa-Sonoma-Solano section. They include Berryessa-Knoxville Road, Highway 128, Highway 121, Chiles-Pope Valley Road, Howell Mountain Road, and Spring Mountain-St. Helena Road.