What’s New in Downtown Napa, California

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With over 450 wineries in Napa Valley and 26-28 tasting rooms in downtown Napa, there is a wine for every season. For those of us who don’t drink alcohol, are not yet of legal drinking age or simply want to enjoy the natural beauty of Napa, there’s plenty to keep you occupied downtown other than wine tasting. What’s new in downtown Napa, these travel guides will keep you up to date. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you know that downtown Napa is an easy drive for art, wine, food and shopping. My husband and I lived in downtown Napa in 1986 and a lot has changed since then. We may not reside in Napa County now, but when we visit we try to do Napa like a local.

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Gordon Huether’s Fork on display at The Restaurant at CIA. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Napa Art Walk

Napa Valley has long had an affinity with art, from private collections at places like the Hess Collection and Hall Wines, to Napa Art Walk, wine country keeps art accessible. What I love about Napa Art Walk is that the outdoor sculpture exhibition is forever changing. A collaboration between the City of Napa and Arts Council Napa Valley, regional artists are invited to exhibit their art in Downtown Napa on a temporary basis. Art is also displayed on a permanent basis around the city. You can’t miss Gordon Huether’s giant glittery Fork, made of recycled forks, and on display in front of The Restaurant at CIA in downtown Napa. Grab a Napa Art Walk map with sculpture locations marked throughout the city, and check out Napa Artist Alley on First Street for some Instagram opportunities.

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Vermeil Wines photo © Nancy D. Brown

Take a break at Vermeil Wines on First Street and catch up with girlfriends or watch a little sports on the big screen tv over a glass of vino. The chocolate paired flight with Anette’s winter Cabernet truffle is a perfect match. For true chocolate lovers like myself, you’ll want to visit Anette’s Chocolates. They have two locations; one on First Street and the other in Oxbow Market. If you love milk chocolate, try the  Mauna Kea Caramel.

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I was fortunate to have three days on this particular trip, so not only was I able to eat and drink with abandon, I gave myself a couple of hours of outdoor time on the Napa River. What’s new in downtown Napa? If you are a long time Californian, you might remember that Napa has weathered several floods downtown. Thanks to a wonderful Napa River Flood Management Plan, the river no longer floods the city and everyone wins with acres of tidal wetlands restored and numerous species of fish returning to the river in healthy numbers. My friend Pam Rossi and I hopped in a kayak and paddled around the river in search of otters and beavers with Enjoy Napa Valley. The best time to go paddling is in the morning, as the water is calm and it’s not too hot. The activity is suitable for beginner or experienced kayakers with a boat launch dock right next to the river.

chef hilary sullivan, cooking class, cia at copia, downtown napa, california, culinary institute of america
Chef Hilary Sullivan preps shallots during a cooking class at CIA at Copia. Kitchen photo © Nancy D. Brown

If eating and drinking is more your cup of tea, perhaps you might enjoy a cooking class at The CIA (Culinary Institute of America) at Copia. The Culinary Institute of America is not new to Napa Valley (they have a campus located in St. Helena) but CIA at Copia is new in downtown Napa. Don’t let their fancy reputation intimidate you. I’m a reluctant home cook and the group I was with were all comfortable in the kitchen, working with state of the art Hestan Cookware. Our instructor, CIA at Copia Chef Hilary Sullivan, wisely gave me several fairly easy prep jobs, while my teammates sliced, diced and stirred their way through cheese fondue, asparagus risotto with goat cheese, fresh English peas and Meyer lemon, as well as red wine marinated lamb brochettes on fresh rosemary skewers (prepared by me!) We finished our meal with fresh strawberries with Sabayon and left with full bellies and recipes for the entire meal.

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Wine tasting in downtown Napa. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

Maybe a girlfriend getaway or a mother/daughter weekend is on the calendar? I stayed at the River Terrace Inn and liked the location next to the river and steps from Oxbow Market. The latest hotel to break ground downtown is the Archer Hotel. Our group of friends headed upstairs to Sky and Vine Rooftop Bar to check out Chef Frankie and Charlie Palmer’s latest creations. The crew shared small plates and ordered beef jerky, deviled eggs (not as good as The Kitchen Door) a super tasty Five Dot Ranch hamburger and lobster corn dogs, along with several desserts to share.

If you prefer your wine and cheese platter to be enjoyed under the leaves of a giant oak tree with the owner’s Labrador Retriever by your side, drive on to Whetstone Wine Cellars. Built in 1885, the gravity flow winery was one of several built in Napa Valley and is now used as a tasting salon. The family owned, 3,000 case production winery charges $40 per person for a seated, private one hour experience on Atlas Peak Road in downtown Napa.

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Whetstone Wine Cellars photo © Nancy D. Brown

Remember the larger-than-life Fork art I mentioned earlier? Gordon Huether has his open studio on Monticello Road. While Huether is not new in Downtown Napa, the artist has been in Napa since 1962, he has new artwork on display in Downtown Napa. He started out doing stained glass in high school and now specializes in large scale art installations. His latest creation is bound for Salt Lake City Airport.

Insider Tip:
Pick up the Taste Downtown Napa Wine Tasting Card; 10 tasting rooms for $15 (check website for current pricing) all within walking distance. For additional insider tips follow luxury travel writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter or Instagram @Nancydbrown and @downtownnapa on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

If You Go

Downtown Napa (707) 251-5895
Napa Valley Welcome Center
600 Main Street
Napa, California 94559

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What’s new in downtown Napa, California, videos and all photography by travel writer Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of Downtown Napa Association while I was researching additional articles. As always, all opinions are my own.

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