Point Reyes National Seashore Guide: Beaches, Elk, Seals & a Lighthouse

Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the most beautiful spots near San Francisco for outdoor adventurers to explore. It is full of breathtaking views, history and trails that always leave you wanting more. While I have not explored it as much as others, I have been a couple of times and every time I leave wishing I could stay longer. This guide will expand as I visit more, but here some images and information about what you can expect when you visit this magical spot.

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Animals

One of the unique things about Point Reyes is the sheer amount of animals you can see when driving Sir Francis Drake Blvd through the park. Here are a few I have seen:

Coyotes

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Since the park is meant to be driven slow, I have seen coyotes multiple times while exploring. While they can be skittish a good zoom lens will bring you close for a photo.

Elephant Seals

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Elephant seals are one of my favorite animals, and I always try to see them when I can throughout the state. In Point Reyes, you can view them from the elephant seal overlook at the end of Sir Francis Drake Blvd, read more about that here.

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If you are lucky, you may also see them at Drake’s Beach, which is where I got the close-up shot at the beginning of this section.

Elk

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The Tule Elk are one of the main animals in the park and in the North section there is a whole area dedicated to seeing them. While it is not guaranteed, more often than not you will see one of these fantastic creatures while exploring the park.

Beaches

Point Reyes National Seashore is full of excellent beaches that you can see while driving or park at to explore. Here are some of the main ones on Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

Drake’s Beach

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Drake’s Beach is my favorite of the beaches in the park. It feels remote when you walk out from the parking lot onto the sand that is littered with branches and other debris.

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Plus, this beach frequently has elephant seals on it, which makes it an excellent way to see these animals up close (not more than 25 feet though, they move faster then they look like they do).

North Beach

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North and South Beach are both on the outer section of Point Reyes, which faces the Pacific Ocean. Because of this, they both are prone to bigger waves and more wind. They both also have sand dunes that surround them which make for a fun spot to explore with the whole family. I love coming here after a storm and just watching the massive waves crash on the shoreline.

South Beach

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Historical Structures

Cypress Tree Tunnel

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While not a structure per say, the Cypress Tree Tunnel has become an incredibly famous spot to visit in the park. It is easy to see why when you drive up to it as the trees form a makeshift tunnel and provide a view that you would expect to see in the plantations of the South instead of along the California coast. Read more about visiting it here.

Point Reyes Lighthouse

The Point Reyes Lighthouse, out on the end of the point, is one of the most pristine and beautiful lighthouses along the California coast. It is only open on the weekends, but you can view it from the main viewpoint during the days it isn’t open. It is worth the visit just to see it alone, but I would recommend planning for when it is open so you can get the full experience.

Ranches

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Believe it or not, there is a lot of ranching history on Point Reyes, some of which still goes on to this day. When driving along the main road, you will pass a half dozen of these working ranches. Many of these ranches have been here for decades, which is why they are still active in the park. You will see lots of cattle as you drive through the park as well.

Visitors Center

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Towards the beginning of the park, there is a large visitors center which talks about the park history, the animals, and the ranches. I found it to be a great spot to talk with the docents who helped me plan my day in the park. There are also a few great hiking trails that leave from the visitors center area as well.

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All in all Point Reyes is somewhere you want to spend some time at. The area itself is incredibly beautiful, and there are so many trails and adventures you can have that you inevitably leave wishing you have more time. Let me know what your favorite spot is in Point Reyes in the comments.

Bistro Jeanty: Upscale French Cuisine in Yountville

In a town full of fantastic eateries, Bistro Jeanty wins the award for most locals telling me to eat there. Time and time again when I asked people where to eat, this small French restaurant kept coming up. I tried it on my first night in town and I was impressed by the food, staff, and ambiance. It is easy to say it lived up to the expectations, here is all the info.

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Details

  • $20-$35
  • Location: 6510 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

Getting There

Bistro Jeanty is located on Washington St, the main downtown road for Yountville. It is easy to see as you drive along and there is street parking around that you can use.

The Restaurant

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From the moment you pull up you will notice the French influence. The brightly lit exterior has the red and white French awnings and the decor and style match what I say during my time in France.

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The interior is quaint and beautiful with closely arranged tables and fun French art. I sat on the patio which was covered and heated, so it was a great spot for a nice romantic dinner. Our waiter’s name was Rodger and he was absolutely fantastic, always there to refill drinks and to add his charm to the evening.

The Food

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The menu had so much on it that I wanted to try, my wife and I ended up ordering an array of different items. Here is what we selected:

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Escargot – Already shelled escargot (snails) with a good garlic flavor, they were easy to eat and very soft. If you can get past the fact that it is a little strange to eat snails, then you will probably really enjoy these.

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Foie Gras – Poached duck liver that has been cured and cut into slices. Served with toasted bread and it comes with wine jelly that you spread on top of the bread and Foie Gras. The sweet-sour of the jelly pairs perfectly with the salty, creamy Foie Gras. I tried the Foie Gras by itself and thought it lacked something then I added the jelly and it was a really unique dish. Not for everyone but I enjoyed it.

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Tomato Soup – Rich and creamy tomato soup with a large, light puff pastry on top. This is what they are known for and the chef has been making it for over 40 years. I saw at least 15 orders of this go by me as I was dining there. The crust is like a croissant and it comes out literally overflowing the bowl. You can’t go to Bistro Jeanty without ordering it.

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Beef Bouganise – This dish comes in a fun orange pot and has a good portion of food. The beef is juicy and practically melts in your mouth. It goes well with the carrots, pearl onions and noodles that sit at the bottom and the red wine sauce is a fantastic

The sol (fish) is light fresh and buttery, it goes well with the tomato soup as an appetizer since that is so rich and the fish is nice and light. It is baked with sliced lemon on top which is nice to cut up and eat with the fish. Overall an excellent dish.

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If you are looking for a light dessert, order the Crepe Suzette. It has orange butter and Grand Marnier with powdered sugar on top. It is a good dessert to share and it won’t push your stomach to the overly full realm.

After eating the last bite, I sat back full and completely satisfied. I would say that this style of food (French) is not one that I often choose, but I was surprised by how much I liked Bistro Jeanty. Everything was fantastic, and the staff was friendly, I can’t wait for my next visit. Let me know what you think of this spot in the comments.

BLM Pit River Campground Reopens

Fall River Mills, Calif. - The Bureau of Land Management's Pit River Campground and river access area will reopen for the season Friday, April 29, coinciding with the opening of the California stream fishing season.

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Hurley’s Restaurant: A Californian-Mediterranean Eatery in Yountville

While Yountville is full of great options for food, Hurley’s is my go-to spot for California cusine. Located right across the street from the popular V Marketplace, Hurley’s has been making great food since 2002. The menu itself is incredibly unique with highlights being any of the wild game dishes that they prepare such as Texas boar. They also have a killer amount of fish options with my personal favorite being the horseradish crusted salmon; but don’t just take my word for it, here is all the info so you can try it yourself.

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Details

  • $20-$30 (Napa prices)
  • Location: 6518 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

Getting There

Hurley’s is located on the main street of Yountville, called Washington St, right across from V Marketplace. There is street parking around and a decent size lot near the marketplace itself.

The Restaurant

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The exterior of the restaurant it beautiful with large stone pillars covered in crawling vines. The interior is a white table cloth dining room with lots of tables, a fireplace and large windows to let in the natural light. I had a table right next to the window so we could watch the sun go down and the world go by outside.

The Food

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The menu has so many unique options that it can be hard to choose if you are into trying new things like I am. I usually go with the boar though as it is hard to beat. Here is all the info on what we ordered.

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To start, they have house made focaccia that comes out with oil and vinegar. The waiter told me that they make 5 loaves a day as they go through it pretty fast. It is an excellent way to start the meal.

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For an appetizer, we ordered the calamari which has a nice light breading, and it comes with shrimp, veggies and calamari. The sauce that comes with it is lemon herb aioli, and it pairs well with the fried food.

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The other appetizer we ordered was the mac and cheese with honey cured bacon. The mac and cheese is rich and decadent with bread crumbs sprinkled on the top for a nice crunch. The bacon has a slight honey flavor and the salty taste goes perfectly with the delicious cheese. We had to get it on the side as my wife is a vegetarian but normally it would be mixed in.

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The scallops come with a moist gnocchi and fantastic seared scallops that are tender with a crispy edge. The dish is mixed with a brown butter sauce that is decadent (brown butter is always a good choice). This was a fantastic dish and one that I highly recommend if you are a scallop fan.

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The chef’s signature dish is the wild boar, so that is what I ordered. It comes with a great red wine sauce that smothers the boar and vegetables. It makes the vegetables have an almost caramelized taste, and I found myself just as excited about the carrots as I was the boar. The polenta it is sitting on has a grits like texture and I really enjoyed the way it was presented with the boar. The crispy onions they have on top and the truffle oil seal the deal. This is a really great dish in Yountville, one that holds its own with many of the other popular restaurant’s best.

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For dessert, we decided to have the pear crustado, which is a baked pear “pie” with fig ice cream and huckleberry sauce drizzled over the top. It was decadent and fantastic, a great dessert to order.

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In a city with excellent food, Hurley’s easily carves itself a place among the others. I really enjoyed my time here, the staff, food and atmosphere were top notch. My wife and I plan to return next time we are in the area and I would love to hear what you think in the comments.

Biking to Wineries in Yountville with Napa Valley Bike Tours

If you are looking for a unique way to get active while in the Napa Valley, while still trying some fantastic wines, I would recommend considering a bike tour. Whether self-guided or with a group, biking through Yountville and exploring the region and its many trails makes for a great half or full day adventure. We did a self-guided tour and had a blast, here is the all the information if you want to do it as well.

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Details

  • Cost: Self-Guided – $108, includes lunch dropped off for you at a winery.
  • Wine tasting fees not included
  • Office Location: 6500 Washington Street Yountville, CA 94599

Getting There

The office is located right behind Bistro Jeanty in the back of the parking lot. It is off the main road in Yountville, Washington St.

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After checking into the office at the time of your tour, you will be fitted with a bike and a helmet and shown the different trails on a map you take with you. They were super helpful in talking me through my options and letting me know what worked best with the wineries I wanted to visit. I ended up staying on the blue trail which was about 10 miles and was flat pretty much the entire way.

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The bikes themselves are nice with lots of speeds, which makes riding much easier. My bike was a great height for me which is a plus since I am 6’3, and my wife’s bike was right for her at 5’4. We set out on the trail and instantly felt at ease since most spots had bikes lanes that you could ride along or limited traffic.

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The road itself was beautiful as it was spring and the flowers were blooming, we pulled off a few times to see the poppies that were growing on the side of the road and of course to marvel at the dozens of acres of vines.

Winery 1 – Cliff Lede

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The first winery we went to was Cliff Lede which is right near the Silverado Trail and that has a rock influence I was excited to explore. We sat for a tasting at the outdoor tables which overlooked the gardens and the art that sat on the property.

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We also went into the members area which has different pieces rock and roll art exhibits, such as art from Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead fame. My favorite piece was one that he painted and which his dog traversed, making footprints along the corner of the art piece.

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The bottles at the winery also have the rock vibe with one bottle a year being influenced by the part of the vineyard it came from (each plot has a different rock song name). After spending 45 minutes here, we hopped on the bike and set out for out second winery.

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For this part of the ride we went along the Silverado Trail. This is a popular road for driving as it goes through the Napa Valley without stop lights. Even through the bike path is wide on this road, just note that it still can be a little intimidating if you are not used to biking. We did fine though and pedaled for a while before arriving at Bell Cellars.

Winery 2 – Bell Cellars

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This winery was located at the end of a long road and is by appointment only. I love this spot though and suggest you visit if you are looking for a lovely winery with great people. You can read my full post on it here.

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The winery is immaculate with a few beautiful tasting rooms, two bocce ball courts and a large patio where you can sit and relax while looking over the vineyard. The patio is where we had our lunch delivered, and it was a great spot to relax and eat.

Lunch

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Another place where Napa Valley Bike Tours succeeds is with the lunches they provide. You pick your sandwich and side when you get your bike in the morning, then when you get to the specific winery you wrote down the lunch is there waiting for you. The lunch is not the traditional picnic lunch; they had the sandwiches, side, trail bars, lemonade in mason jars, cloth napkins, silverware and Dove chocolates. I was incredibly impressed as I was envisioning a brown paper bag lunch with a sandwich in it. After you are done, you just put the trash in a trash bag and they come take it away.

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We also bought a bottle of wine on the trip and they came and picked that up for us as well; it was waiting for us back at the office when we dropped the bikes off. After lunch, we started our way back to the shop. Along the way, we stopped at a few vineyards to take pictures and just enjoy the sun that had finally come out. All in all, it was a fun way to explore the area and it felt nice to be burning calories while visiting wineries. I highly recommend you check it out if you are looking for a unique experience in the valley and let me know what you think in the comments.

Domaine Chandon: Sparkling Wine & A Stunning Winery in Yountville

In the Napa Valley, sparkling wines are becoming more popular but nowhere near the popularity of their still wine brethren. Domain Chandon is changing this though with a beautiful winery, a huge following of people anxious to purchase their wines and a unique wine making process that creates an easy to drink yet elegant sparkling wine. I got a chance to tour the immaculate property on my last trip to Yountville and here is all the information so you can do it yourself.

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Details

  • Tours at 10:30 AM and 3PM daily
  • Location: 1 California Dr, Yountville, CA 94599

Getting There

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From Highway 29 you will exit California Dr in Yountville then turn left and head under the freeway. The winery sign is on the right once you go under the freeway and you can follow the signs up to the tasting room.

The Winery

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The property itself is incredibly beautiful with well-kept gardens, a small creek that runs through it and a bridge you cross to enter. It is one of those spots that you will want to grab a glass of wine at then just walk around and explore.

The Tour

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After getting there at around 10:20 AM we met up with our guide Steve and set out to tour the property. Steve was fantastic and knowledgable about both sparkling and still wines, I felt like I learned a ton just from talking to him during the hour and a half we were there.

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The winery itself is French owned and it was started in 1973. They have over 300 acres, 150 of that which is farmed. They source their grapes from a few different regions around the valley as well to create the specific taste they are looking for, one of the main regions being Carneros in between Napa and Sonoma.

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On our tour we set out from the storefront and crossed into the buildings where the wine was produced.

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After walking up the stairs we were right in the middle of two dozen large stainless steel fermentation tanks. This is where Steve explained the process to us for creating the wines. I won’t try to summarize it here, so make sure to take the tour if you are interested.

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After that we headed down into the cellar where the wine is stored in a cooler climate to ferment.

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I found it really interesting that the wine is stored upside down as they let the yeast collect in the bottom then flash freeze it and pull the yeast out. It was very interesting to see and hear about since this is way different the normal wine producing.

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We also saw the area where they process the wine, add sugar if needed then bottle and label it. This line of machinery was incredibly complex and amazing to see, it gave me a much better appreciation of the creation of sparkling wine.

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After finishing the tour we walked back over to the main room and began our tasting. This tasting is different then the normal tour tasting as we were on a private tour. The normal tastings is around 4-5 of the different varieties.

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My wife and I had never really tasted sparkling wines so I was very interested in how it differed from tasting normal wines. Steve lead us through the process and helped us understand the things you are looking for during the tasting.

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I was really impressed with the wines they were producing here, it was especially interesting to taste the reserve wines next to the non-reserve as the flavor / bubble difference was pretty staggering.

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We also sampled the still wines they produce and my wife really liked the chardonnay which had a great flavor. I recommend you give it a try if you are visiting the winery. After our tasting we roamed the property to take in the gardens and the views, it really is an amazing place to relax and hang out.

All in all, I had no idea what to expect on my visit to Domaine Chandon, but it ended up being one of my favorite wineries I visited in Napa Valley on this trip. The property itself is beautiful, our guide was incredibly knowledgable and the wine was great. If you are looking for a fun / unique experience in Napa Valley, be sure to give it a try. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Bell Wine Cellars: One of Yountville’s Best Wineries

One of the things I love most about Napa is when you find those wineries where they really seem to care about the beauty of wine and the uniqueness of how people experience it. I felt like Phifer Pavitt was one of those, and I am happy to add Bell Wine Cellars to that list as well. From the moment I arrived to the moment I left, I felt like I had been invited into the home of old friends and that we were just enjoying each others company as we discussed the poetry of wine. If you want to have this experience, then you can read on for all the information.

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Details

  • Winery is by appointment only
  • Call 3-4 weeks in advance in the summer, 1-2 weeks in advance during the rest of the year.

Getting There

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Bell Cellars is located south of downtown Yountville on Washington Road, which parallels Highway 29. It is down at the end of a small road and the property it sits on is beautiful. When I arrived with my wife on our bicycles, I was greeted at the door and handed a glass of champagne to walk around with.

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The experience started with an in-depth explanation of the wineries history, the tasting rooms themselves and how they pick the grapes, ferment and bottle.

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I was fascinated as our guide Maggie was incredibly personable and knowledgeable about wine and the region’s history.

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We walked around the winery, out past the bocce ball courts and looked over the vineyard itself all before starting out tasting.

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Throughout the tasting my wife and learned so much about the different varietals, what the grapes look like for each, how the regions affect taste, etc. Maggie knew a lot about the science of wine as well and it was awesome just to sit there and learn while tasting.

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We paired the wines with different cheeses as well, which is always fun as it brings out entirely different flavors.

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After about 45 minutes we finally got up from the table and walked to the patio to have our lunch (read more about the lunch/biking adventure here). It was a beautiful spot for a makeshift picnic as it looked over the vines themselves. When we finished eating, we said our goodbyes and hopped on our bikes to head to the next spot.

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I generally stay away from telling people that they will love a wine spot since everyone has different palettes, but I can say that even if you don’t love the wine at Bell Wine Cellars (which is not very likely), you will love the experience. I felt like I left as a friend of Maggie and the others and I recommend you give it a visit if you are in the area. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Media Advisory: Canoemobile at Cosumnes River Preserve

What: About 350 elementary and middle school students from the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District will paddle in 24-foot Voyageur canoes and participate in environmental education activities at Cosumnes River Preserve as a Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile event.

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Bouchon Bakery in Yountville: Napa Valley’s Famous Bakery

There is a good chance you have heard of or been to this famous bakery in Yountville, which is the brainchild of Chef Thomas Keller. While is used to just be in Yountville, they have even expanded to locations in Beverly Hills, Las Vegas and New York now. It is one of those spots that is always busy with a line out the door pretty much whenever you go. I have tried a lot of sweets here though and can easily say it is worth the wait. Here is all the information so you can check it out for yourself.

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Details

  • Cost: $3-$7 for most items
  • Location: 6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 9459
  • Best time to go: Weekdays during the day

Getting There

Bouchon Bakery is located next to the restaurant of the same name in downtown Yountville. You can read about my time at the restaurant here as it is a fantastic spot to eat at. There is a parking lot across the street right next to the V Marketplace, which you can park at for the bakery.

The Bakery

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The bakery is in a quaint building with a pastel colored exterior. You will most likely be waiting in line to go in and when you get in it can be overwhelming to figure out what to order when it is your turn. I would recommend having a little bit of an idea of what you want before you get there as it will make it less stressful for you.

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The interior is tiny, but it houses an incredible amount of breads, pastries, and desserts. The main case is what holds the famous macaroons though which are a very popular item here that often sells out.

The Food

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I visited twice and ordered a bunch of different things while I was staying in the area. Here is what I tried.

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Chocolate, Almond Croissant – Buttery and creamy croissant with ample almond slivers on top and a light drizzle of chocolate for taste. The interior was a rich chocolate filling and it is a great addition to the croissant.

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Macaroons – My wife tried at least three of these while we were here, salted caramel, raspberry, and pistachio. Pistachio was her favorite, but honestly, I think she would have no problem eating any of them. They are also pretty big, which I wasn’t expecting.

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They sell chocolate covered macaroons as well, because why wouldn’t they? I had a caramel one, and it was magical with the smooth chocolate wrapped around it.

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Bread – I had their bread at Bouchon when I ate there and as the bread for my sandwich at Yountville Deli. Both of them were great, so if you are looking for something not sweet, then this is a good option.

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Oh Ohs – This was my favorite item I had here. The Oh Oh’s are like a high-class Little Debbie’s Swiss Roll. I loved those growing up so when I bit into this one I was very excited. I highly recommend it if you are on the fence about what to get and like a good rich chocolate.

Brownies – The brownies look like mini muffins, but they have the consistency that you expect from a brownie and fabulous flavor. The brownies are an excellent item to bring home for friends as they come in a small bag that makes it a natural gift.

The bakery also sells sandwiches and other items for lunch. There are a half dozen outdoor tables next to it as well if you want to grab something and sit there to eat it. The Bouchon Bakery was just as good as I expected it to be, I even went back multiple times while in Yountville. It’s hard to think that anyone would be let down with the options they have here, so make sure to check it out when you are in Napa Valley. Also, head over to Model Bakery in St Helena and grab an English Muffin as well. Let me know what your favorite item is in the comments.