Do Napa Like a Local

Silo’s for live music in Napa

A lot has changed over the years in world famous Napa Valley wine country. My husband and I lived in downtown Napa in the early 1980’s. While there were plenty of things to see and do in Napa in the day time, the night life was like a vintage California wine in an underground cellar – cold, dusty and waiting to be uncorked. We’ve since moved to the East Bay, but when we visit Northern California wine country I still like to do Napa like a local.

"Luna Vineyards"
Wine tasting at Burgess Cellars, formerly Luna Vineyards, in Napa, California

Napa wine tasting like a local

With over 400 wineries in the Napa Valley, it’s easy to become overwhelmed when wine tasting. To do Napa like a local, pick up the downtown Napa Wine Tasting Card. This ($30.) wine tasting card offers access to 12 downtown Napa tasting rooms all within walking distance. On my latest visit to downtown Napa I visited Bounty Hunter Bar, Capp Heritage, NakedWines.Com (yep, the online retailer has a tasting room in downtown Napa), Napa General Store and Trahan Winery. Dog lovers, taste Sadie’s Red Wine, an adorable wine label with the winery mascot, Sadie, who is now in doggie heaven.

"deviled eggs" "Kitchen Door" napa
Dining like a local at Kitchen Door

Napa dining like a local

For the foodies visiting Napa, there are currently 65 restaurants in downtown Napa within a 20 block radius. I noshed my way through Napa with dinners at Carpe Diem and City Winery (since closed), breakfasts at Napa General Store and C Casa (inside Oxbow Public Market), followed with lunches at Oenotri, Bounty Hunter and Kitchen Door. Napa locals know to order the house made pasta and charcuterie plate at Oenotri, the beer can chicken at Bounty Hunter, the deviled eggs and mushroom soup at Kitchen Door and huevos rancheros at C Casa. I may not be a local any more, but I can personally recommend all of these local favorites.

"City Winery" cake
Locals know to order City Winery’s Olive Oil Cake with Caramel Gelato

I was also impressed that sophisticated City Winery, with locations in Chicago, New York and Nashville, chose to open a joint in downtown Napa – inside the historic Napa Valley Opera House! Not only do they serve good food paired with live music, locals know that City Winery offers 35 local wines on tap. UPDATE: City Winery has since closed this location.

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"Alan Shepp" mosaic
Alan Shepp mosaic fountain tells the story of Napa Valley

Napa culture

If you think Napa only offers a food and wine scene you’d be wrong. Explore the ARTWalk in downtown Napa, with outdoor sculpture exhibitions – you can even learn the dance moves to the Cha, Cha, Cha! Or wonder over to the Veterans Memorial Park Amphitheater by the Napa River Walk for free Friday night concerts in the summer.

Looking for big name entertainment? The Uptown Theatre, with its restored 1937 art deco interior, has hosted Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson, Chris Isaak, Pat Benatar and even Snoop Dogg. Silo’s, a wine bar and jazz club located in the Historic Napa Mill, is also an evening option with blues, rock, jazz, pop and country music. The Napa River Inn is also part of the Historic Napa Mill and has a sweet waterfront location.

"Nancy Brown" bike
Nancy Brown explores Napa like a local on Silverado Trail

Explore Napa outdoors like a local

Napa locals love their outdoor adventures and are generally fitness-minded. When I stayed downtown, I noticed visitors and locals alike walking and jogging on the river front promenade. The Vine Trail is currently under construction with eight walkable miles in downtown Napa. It used to be that horseback riding was open to the public in Napa, but horse lovers have to head to Sonoma for wine country horseback riding. Kayaking is popular on the Napa River and, my personal favorite, bike riding on the Silverado Trail. Our group used Getaway Adventures and they set us up with new Specialized bikes & helmets for a leisurely ride from Oxbow Public Market to Burgess Cellars – one of the first wineries on the Silverado Trail – so an easy bike ride.

"Trahan Winery" "sadie"
Do Napa like a local at Trahan Winery

Insider Tip:
The Spa at Napa River Inn is new since my last visit to downtown Napa. Tell me what you think?

How do you do Napa like a local?

Article, photos and YouTube video by Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown. Thanks to the folks at Downtown Napa Association and the Napa Tourism Improvement District for inviting me to Do Napa like a local.

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19 thoughts on “Do Napa Like a Local”

  1. Love Napa! My husband commented that we probably drove by your house in the 80s when our soul purpose was to bypass the tour & drink the wine. It’s a great adventure to see it with new eyes!

  2. I’ve never visited Napa Valley but always wanted to even though I don’t drink. It looks so beautiful and the food and art would be enough for me :). Your photos are very nice!

  3. Doing Napa like a local; 50s to 70s-style. When I left Napa for good in late 1979, there weren’t 400 wineries. Not sure of the count, but it wasn’t that. There were a lot of vineyards mind you, but don’t know how many wineries. Commercial Napa was Main Street, First Street, Second, Third Street, Jefferson Street and later in my little life, Bel Aire Plaza, which was the closest thing Napa had to a mall when I was growing up. (It wasn’t until the early 70s that the Sun Valley Mall in Concord opened. That was the first real mall that I ever went to.) We didn’t have bikes, so we walked and ran everywhere. Any Moms with boys will know that boys ran everywhere. My Mom once told me that we (three of us) were way faster than she could ever begin to catch. (We had a strict policy of NOT running into the road, largely we were on the downside of a small hill and cars sometimes took it very fast.
    My mother was born and raised in Napa. She spent just 6 weeks of her 84 years anywhere but Napa, having gone to San Francisco for secretarial school a dew years after the war, but came back really quickly. {Even as she lay dying in Vallejo, she insisted on being transported home to Napa. We had discussed that years before her demise.} She lived on the same property in the Coombsville area for the last 60 years of her life, in two different houses, one now gone and one still there, with lots of renovations completed by the current owner.
    Napa was a good place to grown up. We had two acres to play, with Mt. George School just down the avenue. Professionally though, there wasn’t much, unless you wanted to work at the State Hospital, Kaiser, Basalt, or the growing wine industry. I knew many parents who commuted to the Bay Areas for work and many more went the 15 miles south to Mare Island. My Mom worked at Mare Island as a ‘Rosie the Riveter’ off and on for nearly 4 years during the war.)
    I now there are still old friends who still live in Napa, who either stayed, came back after college, or relocated back to Napa in the ensuing years.
    I now get back to Napa about 6-7mtimes per year, generally just for the day. My in-laws live out by Imola, as they have for nearly 40 years. My wife considers Napa her hometown, though she was born in Fairfield (I don’t hold that against her.) We are both retired school teachers and even though we have entertained the though of going back to Napa someday, we realize we couldn’t afford it any longer.

  4. I’ve had some wonderful experiences in Napa and there are more I want to have, including a bike ride on Silverado Trail. Loved staying at the Napa River Inn with so much close by. I don’t have enough spa indulgences — imo 🙂 — and really enjoyed a massage and treatment at the inn’s spa.

  5. @Ursula
    I live less than an hour away from Napa and never run out of things to see and do. I feel lucky to live so close to this treasure.

  6. Nancy — I hope you’ll go up the road to St. Helena next and write about Greystone, the (other) C.I.A.’s West Coast campus. One of our favorite places, but it’s been a couple of years since we’ve eaten there. JHF

  7. @J
    I do love St. Helena, although it gets awfully crowded on the weekends. I have been a fan of Greystone since the Christian Brothers owned the property. One of my favorite events to attend at Greystone is Flavor Napa Valley. This is a great food and wine event held in November at Greystone and other Napa Valley locations. Cheers.

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