Napa was a moderately sized western city until the gold and silver rushes brought settlers and entrepreneurs within the city limits who sought refuge in harsh winters. From that point on, the town developed strong economic ties to wineries and farms outside of the city limits, eventually evolving into the wonderfully serene valley city it is today. North of San Francisco and nestled between the Vaca and Mayacama mountains, the valley’s steady, moderate climate and stunning landscape have not only cemented its reputation as a premiere wine destination, but as a phenomenal vacation spot in general, even for teetotalers and kids. Here are ten of the best places to visit in Napa.
10. Epicurean Excursions
The most obvious and popular pastime for visitors to Napa is, of course, visiting various wineries. Even though the town is best known for its wine, it happens to also offer some truly first-class food. Epicurean Excursions is a food tour of the most notorious restaurants, bakeries, and farms, with self-proclaimed ‘food-obsessed local’ Andrew Wolfe. Andrew will take tours of up to eight people to some of the most excellent stops, allowing samples and behind the scenes access throughout the valley. Tours are available from Tuesdays through Saturdays, and cost $190 per person.
9. Board the Wine Train
If you are looking for a visual tour of the city paired with a multi-course gourmet meal, look no further than Napa Valley Wine Train. Aboard a train consisting of authentically restored antique train cars dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century, patrons can choose between several different cars, each fitted with their own romantic eccentricities. There are both lunch and dinner options available, and each ticket comes at least a three-course meal, in addition to a three-hour, 25 mile tour, bringing patrons back to an age of class and elegance. Also available are Sunset Trains, Murder Mysteries, and more. Tickets begin at $124.
8. Hot Air Balloon Ride
There is nothing quite like seeing the local wineries all at once, from a viewpoint thousands of feet in the air. Hot air balloons have been a fascinating method of travel ever since their first flights in 1783. Having made many safety improvements since, hot air balloons are now one of the more grandiose tourist attractions in Napa. Balloons Above The Valley offers an experience that can’t be beat – an early, cool morning tour of the skies, followed by a substantial brunch, clocking in around four hours. The simplicity of the balloon paired with the tranquil quiet has become an iconic method of touring the city in the last few decades. Flights start off around $199 per person.
7. Skyline Wilderness Park
If the desire arises to walk off the wine a little, Skyline Wilderness Park, located just a few miles from downtown has over twenty-five miles of trails for hiking, biking, or horse-riding. There are two main trails – the main trail that ends at tucked-away Lake Marie, and a more rigorous ridge trail from which you can view San Francisco Bay and the surrounding mountains that will amaze the entire family. Furthermore, there are plentiful sightings of birds, deer, and even a cave. If you are taking the ridge trail, be sure to bring water, as the heat can quickly rise. Entry fees for the park are nominal, $5 per vehicle. The park closes at dusk.
6. di Rosa
If you are full of wine and food, there are certainly other destinations that won’t necessarily break the bank. One of the most dashing is di Rosa, a contemporary art museum, housed over 217 acres of rollicking California fields. The main gallery houses the majority of their displayed pieces, but the surrounding grounds contain larger work, sculptures, and much more. Although the main gallery is free (with a suggested $5 donation), the full experience comes from the guided tours, which traverse across all of the exhibits and cost only $12 – $15. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, as you will be walking more than you might expect!
5. Napa Smith Brewery
For all of the wonderful wines, other forms of alcoholic beverages tend to be ignored in the valley. Not so at Napa Smith Brewery, which boasts over 12 delicious beers, all brewed on-site. Tours of the brewery are offered every day at 4PM, offering a fun look into the brewery’s process. With a brewmaster that began his training at America’s first microbrewery since Prohibition, the brewery has both the tradition and novelty to produce some of the best local brews in the area. Open 11 – 8PM, including weekends.
4. Napa River History Tour
This tour will please both history buffs and adventure seekers alike. Traveling down the winding Napa River that cuts through the valley, this guided tour provides deep historical facts and context to the uprising of the town. Each participant is provided with a kayak, life vest, and paddle before embarking and a 90 to 120 minute adventure down the river. Lead by an extremely knowledgeable guide, this tour also affords sightings of aquatic wildlife friends including beavers, egrets, turtles, and more. Tours are $49 per person.
3. Cooking with Julie
Of course, another way to sample all of the various culinary options is to attempt to prepare them yourself! Julie Logue-Riordan of Cooking with Julie offers cooking classes that take participants through all of the steps – from shopping at local farmers markets and boutiques, to preparing the meal in Julie’s fully-stocked kitchen and finishing everything off with a precise wine pairing, not to mention your own recipes to take home. There are several different classes available, each utilizing a different course of vendors and supplies. Classes last roughly six hours and begin at $225.
2. Fly Fishing
Throughout the year, the river can house some seriously big fish, and the folks at Off The Hook Fly Fishing Travel, LLC know how to catch them. Requiring no prior experience, participants can charter a full- or half-day adventure, and the guides have a satisfaction guaranteed policy. Equal parts enthusiastic about the sport of fly fishing and the conservation of species, the guides donate 2% of the cost for each charter to conservation efforts. Stripped bass are the most common catch, and can grow up to 10 to 15 pounds! Charters start at $375 (for one or two) for a half day.
1. Platypus Wine Tours
As the valley is most properly known around the world for the quality and prestige of its fermented grape juice, no list of local activities would be complete without a wine tour. Platypus offers extremely flexible routes: there is a tour for smaller, more intimate wineries, their regular tour featuring the big hitters, and an option to charter a limousine bus and make your own route with the help of their expertise. If you feel you’ve sampled everything in the valley, they also offer a Sonoma tour. Tours start at $110 per person, not including tasting fees.
There is no mistaking that this valley town is a destination for wine enthusiasts, but there is a reason the grapes grow so well here: the prevalence of the sun, the Mediterranean climate, and the close care and expertise of the locals who live here. Just an hour away from the bustle of San Francisco, this small town is a blissful respite, offering some of the country’s most revered fine dining. So whether you are visiting to pop the cork or just to soak up the sun, no one will run out of things to do in Napa!