A starting point for any visit to Napa Valley should be the historic city of Napa, which is currently undergoing a rebirth. Located on the banks of the Napa River, a walking trail provides markers to share the city’s history dating back to its founding in 1847. Napa flourished during the California Gold Rush, ultimately becoming a hub for commerce. In fact, many town buildings were built before 1906. Old warehouses still dot the river and are constantly being converted into restaurants and bars like Silo’s and Angèle in the Historic Napa Mill.
Today, Napa is bustling more than ever, even after being struck by an earthquake on August 24, 2014. Here and there you can still see fenced off buildings undergoing repair, but you also see signs of growth such as new hotels, restaurant, and bars to rival Napa’s golden saloon era.
Napa is worth a visit before you head up-valley. For a taste of history, stay at the Napa River Inn on the riverfront. Distinguished by its landmark silo emblazoned with the words “Napa Mill,” the hotel and nearby facilities were home to the Napa Milling Company. Enjoy coffee and breakfast at Sweetie’s Bakery on-site before starting out to explore the charming shops, galleries, and abundance of wine bars. With more than 20 tasting rooms in town, you could spend a few days sipping and sauntering. Many places are within walking distance or a short drive.
Where to Dine:
Basalt: Casual dining with al fresco options to enjoy craft cocktails, seasonable dishes and, of course, local wines. (790 Main Street)
La Toque: Chef Ken Frank’s Michelin Starred restaurant offers seasonal French cooking and an award-winning wine list. (At the Westin Verasa, 1314 McKinstry Street)
Morimoto Napa: Fans of Chef Masaharu Morimoto will enjoy his creative twist on Japanese cooking in this industrial-like space. (610 Main Street)
Places to visit:
The CIA at COPIA: The late Robert and Margrit Mondavi envisioned COPIA as a center for the culinary arts. Now it’s an outpost for the Culinary Institute of America offering public cooking classes, lectures, wine tastings, an on-site restaurant and special events like Flavor! Napa Valley.
Oxbow Market: This large public market next to CIA at COPIA is a great stop for a light meal and shopping for locally sourced foods and gifts. Filled with artisan cafes and a diverse range of food products and vendors, you won’t leave hungry or empty handed.
Tasting Rooms in Napa:
Blackbird Vineyards River House Tasting Room: This space combines modern art and fine wines, two passions of Owner Michael Polenske. The wines are elegant Bordeaux blends crafted by well-regarded California winemaker, Aaron Pott. (604 Main Street, tasting by appointment)
JaM Cellars: Rock and roll is the theme of this tasting room where the back wall is papered with covers from Rolling Stone. JaM’s intensely structured fruit forward wines have names like “Butter,” Toast,” and “Jam” and have hit high notes with many young wine drinkers. Owners Michele and John Truchard also produce John Anthony Wines, whose more sedate tasting room is located next to the Andaz Hotel. (1460 First Street)
Back Room Wines: This wine bar and shop offers an eclectic selection of local small production wines. (1000 Main Street)
Places to stay
Napa River Inn, 500 Main Street
Westin Verasa, 1314 McKinstry Street
Andaz Napa, 1450 First Street
Take the Napa Valley Wine Train. Enjoy wine dinners and tour wineries with these special rail excursions.
There are plenty of options if you prefer to focus on tasting and touring and not driving. Check out Visit Napa Valley’s website or stop by the Visitors Center in Napa at 600 Main Street.