Your Off-the-Beaten Path Travel Guide to Napa

Your Off-the-Beaten Path Travel Guide to Napa

Downtown. Affordable. Romantic. Variety isn’t just about grapes in the Napa Valley. The region uncorks experiences for all tastes—from small bites to gourmet splurges, the artistic to the artisanal, the scenic to iconic.


A River Runs Through It

With its River Walk, historic buildings and booming restaurant-cum-wine scene, the namesake town of the Napa Valley carries a new quotient of cool. 

More than 20 tasting rooms pour fine wines. Carpe Diem Wine Bar seizes the way with 250-plus selections to match globetrotting cuisine. A wine lounge where you buy 1,000-plus labels at retail prices, 1313 Main just opened Lulu’s Kitchen, which serves savory pairing bites. Curtained alcoves add incognito allure to the second-floor terrace bar at Andaz Hotel.

Oxbow Public Market gathers purveyors of eclectic eats from oysters (Hog Island) to gourmet burgers (Gott’s Roadside). At Kitchen Door, Chef Todd Humphries favors multi-ethnic comfort dishes from pâtés to pizzas to pad Thai.  

Cross-cultural currents flow at Morimoto restaurant where the eponymous celebrity chef devises dishes such as lamb carpaccio with wasabi leaf plus impeccable sushi. A notorious murder scene shuttered for nearly 40 years, Fagiani’s Bar is reborn as The Thomas, a classy new eatery from Brad Farmerie, with awesome views of the Napa River from its third floor deck. Oenotri wins for Italian with wood-oven pizzas and entrees like quail with green lentils.

Capping a night out, Napa Valley Opera House (built 1880) and Uptown Theatre (an Art Deco gem) draw performers such as Madeleine Peyroux, Drew Carey and Rosanne Cash.


Values Among the Vines

Yes, you can use “affordable” and “Napa Valley” in the same sentence by following three guidelines: timing, timing, timing. Avoid summer, fall harvest and weekend travel.

First rule of frugality: looking is free. Both Napa and Yountville have art walks. Set in a 1903 stone winery,The Hess Collection displays contemporary artists such as Morris Louis and Francis Bacon. Designed by postmodern architect Michael Graves, Clos Pegase showcases sculpture by Henry Moore and a six-foot-tall bronze thumb by César Baldaccini in the courtyard vineyard. 

It doesn’t cost a penny to ogle Napa Valley’s outstanding architecture. Classic structures include Chateau Montelena, Inglenook, Beringer and The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Over-the-top designs range from a medieval castle (Castello di Amorosa) to Persian palace (Darioush) and hunkering pyramid (Opus One).

The Napa Valley believes in equal opportunity epicurism. A local’s secret, Pearl (Napa) fields ultra-seasonal menus anchored by favs such as Dungeness crab cakes and brined pork chops. JoLé (Calistoga) offers local salmon and flatiron steak plus unusual cuts like lamb’s tongue. Adjoining the Michelin-starred restaurant atAuberge du Soleil, the Bar revels in vineyard vistas.

Hotel rates vary with seasonal demand. Napa River Inn features adorable, cottage-like one-bedroom mobile homes. Embassy Suites Napa and DoubleTree American Canyon often present good deals.



Toast to Love

Plush red velvet and Baccarat chandeliers add allure to exclusive tastings in the Red Room at Raymond Vineyards. Terra Valentine resembles a hilltop castle complete with stained glass and massive doors crafted by the original owner. True love always finds happiness with bubbly—try Schramsburg andDomaine Carneros.

Venture to Napa’s wild side by biking byways or kayaking the Napa River. The Land Trust of Napa County leads free hikes, or people can follow the River to Ridge Trail that climbs to Skyline Wilderness Park. 

The only fine dining restaurant at a winery in the Napa Valley, étoile at Domaine Chandon features indoor and outside seating. Chef Perry Hoffman elevates the subtle into the superlative in dishes such as Zabuton beef with mushroom ragoût. Relaxed yet elegant, Farm Restaurant encourages stay-around lounging with cozy firepits and bocce courts. Clubby with leather banquettes and basement bar, Goose and Gander shakes up the cocktail scene with retro-fresh libations.


Published on November 24, 2013
Topics: California Travel GuideNapa Travel