When you think of Napa Valley, wine and picturesque vineyards are probably what first comes to mind in this popular California destination. If you’re not into wine, there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy, including exploring the scenic river trails and walking around the historic downtown area. Here’s some Napa Valley attractions that are not wine-related and worth adding to your itinerary.
Oxbow Public Market
One of my favorite things to do in Napa is stop by this upscale food hall to wander around and take in all the delicious offerings that include numerous food booths and a produce market. If you’re eyes (and stomach) are set on breakfast, the adjacent Model Bakery has solid breakfast sandwiches and homemade English muffins (get there early). For lunch, Hog Island Oyster Bar and Live Fire Pizza are top choices, as well as for juicy burgers. Finish your meal off with decadent ice cream at Three Twins, a local company based in nearby San Rafael. There’s plenty of indoor seating, but if it’s a nice day you should head out onto the patio and inhaled your meal in the warm afternoon sun.
Napa River Trail
Rent bikes (or check with your hotel for complementary rentals) and head out for a spin along the river. Despite its indulgent nature, Napa is pretty outdoorsy when it wants to be. If you want to venture out on the water, there are also kayak and SUP boards rentals available as well. The entire length of the trail measures 4.2 miles, beginning at Kennedy Park and ends a bit south of Trancas Crossing Park. There are two different segments: the southern one that ends in downtown Napa, and the northern one that winds along the west side of the river and meanders along quiet neighborhoods. Ample parking is available in Kennedy Park, as well as Trancas Crossing Park.
Downtown Riverfront Promenade
Make your way downtown, where you can explore the beautiful riverfront and all the history that is situated alongside it. Whatever you do, make sure to stop at the Napa River Inn located in the historic Napa Mill (that’s rumored to have some friendly ghosts that inhabit it). Check out the vibrant artwork around the property that includes local artist Alan Shepp’s Mosaic Fountain in Riverbend Plaza, a titled fountain that showcases the history of the region. Stop in Sweetie Pies around the corner, for some sweet treats in the form of cookies and cakes.
For dinner, Zuzu is a personal favorite for tapas, though be prepared to wait since they do not take reservations, but the wait gives you the perfect excuse to explore the riverfront at twilight which is seriously magical.
Cooking Classes at The Culinary Institute of America at Copia
Head to this culinary institution, where you can enjoy a variety of food-centric activities including taking cooking classes from the professionals. Choose from daily hour-long cooking interactive demonstrations (Sunday is Family Funday), and hands-on cooking and baking classes where you can perfect your kitchen skills at classes like handmade dumplings and dim sum or global street foods. After your class, stay for awhile and check out the stunning campus, including the restaurant/bar, gardens, and art around the property, including “The Garden,” mural, which was inspired by the buttered lettuce in the garden.
Taste of Downtown Napa With Rooted Fork Foodie Tours
Get a taste of downtown Napa through eight food and drink pairings from local restaurants on this informative and delicious tour. Along the way learn about the rich history, architecture, and culture of the area in an intimate tour setting where there will be 10 or less people in your group. Stops include dessert for breakfast at a local bakery, a sample of famous mushroom soup, and Napa pub grub. For non-drinkers, mocktails can be substituted. Most dietary preferences and restrictions can be accommodated. Tours take place every Friday and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $95 with alcohol ($90 without). This company also offers a popular Weekend Brunch Tour.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
One of my favorite ways to take in a destination is from an aerial view and soaring high into the sky at sunrise as the valley begins to wake up below you is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. All hot air balloons take-off right after dawn when the winds are the calmest and the temperatures are mild. Balloon rides usually last about an hour, but the whole process can last longer from check-in to the champagne breakfast that is sometimes included in the cost. For more information about Napa Valley ballooning, check out the official tourism website here, including a “balloon directory.” Hot air balloon rides are not cheap, but sometime you can find deals on websites like Groupon.
Napa Art Walk
For a dose of culture that is completely free, this outdoor art walk features 9-10 pieces that rotate every two years. The Napa General Store is a great spot to start your walk, since there’s a parking lot and the first installation nearby is the Solar Flare by Patricia Vader, made up of recycled bicycle rims. Other current art exhibits include Bone Totem by Eileen Fitz-Faulkner, that was inspired by North Coast indigenous totem poles, and Squirrel by Colin Selig, that is made from an old propane tank. The walk itself is about a mile and half. Fun fact: all sculptures are for sale and 10% of the proceeds go to future art walks.
Related post: An Introduction To Downtown Sonoma
What are your favorite Napa Valley Attractions?
Photo source: CIA at Copia