Sights in Town
The new waterfront walkway, built to help control periodic flooding of the Napa River, is a highlight of downtown Napa’s redevelopment. The wide promenade leads past restaurants, condos and a boutique inn built in the Historic Napa Mill complex. The complex, a warehouse established in 1884 and later turned into a lumber company, also houses a candy shop, day spa and several fine dining establishments.
Opera fans and history buffs alike will want to stop by the Napa Valley Opera House. Located in the heart of downtown, the national historic landmark was originally built in 1879 and restored to its former glory in the early 2000’s. Drop by the Cafe Theatre for tea, coffee and cookies when the box office is open. Performances range from light opera to music, dance and comedy.
Pick up picnic supplies at the Oxbow Public Market. The eclectic array of stalls sells wine, bread, artisan cheeses and locally made goodies. Dine in one of the casual eateries, order take-out to enjoy on the patio or purchase gourmet foods to bring home.
Visitors get up-close views of Napa’s latest riverfront development and waterfront homes during guided boat tours on the Napa River. Bring your own snacks and beverages to make a picnic of Napa River Adventures‘ 2.5-hour boat ride. Each of the electric motor launches has a canopy for shade and seats up to 11 passengers.
The Napa Valley Wine Train helped put Napa on the tourist map. The vintage railway created quite a stir when it first got on track in 1987. Now the lovely restored rail cars routinely carry dozens of lunch and dinner guests on daily trips from Napa’s McKinstry Street Station to St. Helena and back.
Out of Town
Wine Tasting: With more than 300 wineries (about 80 of which are open to the public), it’s a given that wine tasting is the Napa Valley’s number one visitor activity. For information about area wineries, visit NapaVintners.com or WineCountry.com. To the west is Sonoma County with 250+ wineries of its own. It’s always a good idea to join a guided tour or choose a designated driver when winery hopping.
Foodie Fun: In the Napa Valley, the passion for food is almost as fervent as the passion for wine. The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in St. Helena offers cooking demonstrations, a restaurant and a shop chock-full of unique items for the kitchen. Take time to stroll through the terraced herb garden before venturing inside these hallowed walls.
Yard Art: Keep your eyes open for outdoor sculptures. One humorous example is “Giuseppe’s Truck,” a whimsical rendering of an old-fashioned Calistoga Mineral Water delivery truck. (It’s located on the Silverado Trail at the Calistoga Beverage Company.) More serious art adorns many vineyards and gardens. Art, architecture and wine come together particularly well at Clos Pegase; designed by architect Michael Graves, the winery showcases the owner’s art collection in the sculpture garden and wine cellars.
Museums: The Sharpsteen Museum displays dioramas of 19th-century Calistoga and a scale model of the old Hot Springs Resort. You can walk through one of the resort’s restored 1860’s cottages, furnished with period antiques. Peacocks roam the grounds of the eclectic di Rosa Preserve, about a 10-minute drive from Napa. The focus is on contemporary California art. To see all the galleries you’re required to join a guided tour, and advance reservations are recommended.
Rejuvenating Spas: The town of Calistoga, at the north end of the valley, is famous for its mineral-filled natural hot springs and steamy mud baths. Throughout the valley, conventional massage and spa treatments are offered at many larger resorts. One of our favorites is the sumptuous Spa Villagio in Yountville.
Above It All: Go hot-air ballooning for a bird’s eye view of the vineyards. Flights are offered by several companies (including Napa Valley Balloons and Balloons Above the Valley) and typically take place around dawn. You start the day with a light breakfast and end your flight with a festive picnic, including bubbly to make a congratulatory toast.
–written by Ginger Dingus; updated by Sean Bestor and Sarah Schlichter