Myrna Aquitana_LighthouseThere was a time when our family would go on long weekend getaways a week before Labor Day weekend in order to avoid the rush in flying or driving to our “destinations of choice.”

Flying an hour to nearby Sacramento, San Francisco, Phoenix or Las Vegas were popular choices but quite pricey when there’s six of us, so we would research various attractive destinations to go to, at least once a year particularly on a Labor Day weekend before the kids go back to school.

One of the places we discovered was driving through the various towns of Napa Valley, which currently is in the news due to the recent 6.0 magnitude earthquake that struck at around 3:30 in the morning on Sunday, August 24th centered in the American Canyon area of Napa Valley.

Though the Sunday earthquake “sent more than 100 people to the hospital and some wineries had experiened loss of some of their vintage and treasured wine barrles” according to a CNN Report, a majority of the the region’s vineyards will be opened to visitors because tourists are the key to Napa Valley’s thiriving economy with almost 3 million visitors a year generating around $1.4 billion in revenue, according to the Napa Valley Impact Study.

Napa County was established in 1850 with a current population of 136,484 according to the 2011 Census. The County has nine wine-producing towns namely: Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, American Canyon, Angwin, Lake Berryessa and the City of Napa.

In the fifteen years that we’ve trekked to the Napa Valley, we always find new wineries to see due to the wide selection of vineyards. Looking at the map, one can go through Napa Valley from one end to another on a rectangular mode but miss the mountain regions or the inland vineyards which offer their wine specialties to each visitor’s delight.

Following is a list of some of my favorite vineyards and wineries:

Calistoga – Bennet Lane, Castello di Amorosa, Dutch Henry, Chateau Montelena and Sterling Vineyards;

St. Helena – V. Sattui, Merryvale, Franciscan, Louis V, Martini, Sutter, Trinchero, Beringer, and Coppola.

Yountville – Domaine Chandon, Somerston, Goosecross and Ma (i) sonry;

Oakville – Napa Cellars, Robert Mondavi

Rutherford – Peju, Grgich, Beaulieu, St. Supery, Mumm,  Inglenook, Hall-Rutherford, Staglin and ZD Wines;

Angwin – Ladera, Howell, Cade, Balck Sears, Arkenstone, Neal, O’shaugnessy and Bravante;

Napa –  Mario Andretti,  Hess, Steltzner, Chimney Rock, Holman, Jamieson Ranch, Cuvaison Estate-Carneros, Domaine Carneros Taittinger, Silverado, Black Stallion, Bourassa, Vine Cliff, Willliam Hill, and Janieson Ranch.

Lodging in the Napa Valley offers moderate prices and a selection of choioce restaurants is plentiful. Not to be missed is the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena where student chefs cater to your savory needs and the famous Thomas Keller French Laundry Restaurant in Yountville. We lucked out one Labor Day weekend when we stopped by without reservations to savor their homemade chocolates, because it takes a couple of months to make a reservation there.

Marissa Dela Cruz hiking the Yosemite trail.

Marissa Dela Cruz hiking the Yosemite trail.

Some of our most memorable getaways included camping where the kids learned to set up tents and help prepare food for not only our family but relatives, where we would occupy a whole large parcel in a campground that fit 26 tents. This usually took a year of planning and reservation to get us all together in one place on a Labor Day holiday.

One private campground we used to go to for five years was called Oakwood Lake in Manteca, near Sacramento. The campground was huge and clean, well-lit at night.where kids were provided with entertaiment such as movies on an outdoor screen, go around the campground riding their bikes during the day,  swim in the waterslides or go fishing by the lake. Their bathroom and restroom facilities were clean and morning showers were kept warm.

We have also camped in other places such as Carpinteria, Lake Perris Lake Cachuma and Yosemite. Both Lake Perris and Lake Cachuma offered nice fishing waters and fresh evening and morning breeze, while in Carpinteria, the beach is just across the freeway.

Yosemite National Park, on the other hand offered the fresh smell of evergreens, the cascading sounds of the waterfalls,  lush surroundings, miles of hiking and walking through the mountains or mountain climbing if that’s your passion and El Capitan’s sight hovering in front of one’s eyes on a moonlit-night. One unforgettable scary evening when we were camping though, we heard a Bear looking for food outside our tent but left when the garbage drum fell off with its lid still intact. But that didn’t deter us from going back to camp there repeatedly.

Camping is such a wonderful bonding experience with family and friends on a relaxing holiday weekend. Roughing it out once in a while is awesome for adventurous people but not advisable for the faint – of – heart. However,  trying it once in your lifetime will certainly remind you of childhood memories back home.

Wishing you all a lovely and enjoyable Labor Day celebration!