If you haven’t checked into Downtown Napa’s vibe for some time, you’re in for quite a treat. The city is experiencing a thriving renaissance with an explosion of new restaurants, wine tasting rooms, nightlife and trendy shops. For good measure, add in the Napa River walk, outdoor sculptures, expanded walking and biking paths and you’re spoiled for choice.
Wine Tasting: You’ll find a cornucopia of tasting rooms at almost every turn. Downtown boasts more than two dozen within easy walking distance of First and Main Streets. Many welcome visitors on a drop-in basis. Vermeil Wines, known for its generous pours and sports bar motif, is a good choice with comfortable seating both indoors and on its outside front patio. https://www.vermeilwines.com/
Here are my top tips for an overnight or two-day visit: Plan of spending the night at the Napa River Inn in the Historic Napa Mill with its prime location right on the Napa River. Even though it’s walking distance to everything you’ll want to see and do, it is surrounded by greenery, gardens and art work. Choose a room in the Plaza Building where your sumptuous king-size bed faces a fireplace and your balcony overlooks the river. If it’s a day when you don’t feel like walking, a complimentary shuttle will be there for you.
Alternatively, you can borrow one of the inn’s bicycles for a free-wheeling neighborhood roll. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can kayak right off the inn’s riverside dock. http://www.napariverinn.com
A great place to place to start your day is the Oxbow Public Market, named for a bend in the river where the market resides. You may find yourself spending a couple of hours here as you graze your way through this gourmand’s version of an artisan market. Open stalls and sit down eateries sell organic produce, cheeses, spices, seafood, coffees and teas and of course, wine. Oyster lovers can savor the juiciest ultra-fresh bivalves at the Hog Island Oyster Company’s counter. Samples abound throughout the market.
Be sure to peruse the cheese offerings here. There is something for every taste. Stop by the Oxbow Cheese and Wine Merchant counter where you’ll find delicious cheeses selected by expert cheese mongers. Or choose from the boutique assortment of wines from artisan producers all around the world. Better yet, take a seat at the Wine Bar and savor an artisan cheese board with a flight of selected wines, a fine draft beer, a charcuterie assortment, or whatever else whets your appetite on the menu. During my visit, I attended an enjoyable educational wine physics class and wine tasting hosted by Master Sommelier, Peter Granoff. The company offers a series of educational and entertaining classes designed to make wine more accessible, less mysterious and more enjoyable. Check out their classes in the Browse & Order Section on the website: www.oxbowwinemerchant.com. Prices are reasonable.
Stepping outside, one can’t help but drink in the aroma of freshly baked bread emanating from Model Bakery. Rated Napa’s number one bakery, everyone agrees their English muffins are amazing. You can buy the cookbook on sale and take their secrets home with you. The artisan bakery serves breakfast and lunch plus cakes, cookies and an array of specialty breads. http://www.themodelbakery.com
Directly across First Street from Oxbow Market, look for the cottage style tasting room, Uncorked, with its award- winning wines and live evening entertainment. A very relaxed “down home” atmosphere with friendly service pervades. During my visit tastings were free with the purchase of a bottle of wine The multi-award-winning Ahnfeldt cabernets are exceptional. During warm weather, head out to Uncorked’s back deck for open-mic entertainment along with your wine. 605 First Street. www.uncorked-at-oxbow.com.
End your afternoon with a stroll along Napa’s famed River Walk with its dynamic outdoor art and sculpture, open air cafes, boutiques and inviting plazas. Be sure and seek out waterfront Frati Gelato Café where gelato maker Dr. Anthony serves Italian gelato so delicious you’ll think you’re in Rome. Homemade and authentically Italian, it’s the perfect after dinner cap to an evening out. http://fratigelatocafe.com
UPDATE: As of 2018, Gelato King Dr. Anthony has now retired and is spending his retirement in his native Italy and his adopted home town of Napa. Look for a new gelato emporium in the same spot.
In the same historic complex as the Napa River Inn, you’ll find the Napa General Store, a prime place for all sorts of “only in Napa” buys.” Top tip: check into their wine tasting seminars. Just past the General Store, in an old boathouse overlooking the river, is the French-inspired Angele Restaurant, one of the city’s premier venues for a romantic dinner. A wonderful choice for your last evening in town and less than a five minute walk to your room at the Napa River Inn. http://www.angelerestaurant.com
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In Napa, you may be in the same time zone as your home but you’re on Napa time, it’s all about serendipity and relaxation. For more about downtown Napa, visit: https://donapa.com/
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