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A Weekend in Downtown Napa
Beyond the Tasting Rooms


Published On: May 09, 2024
view of downtown Napa riverfront with green in forefront, blue sky and several building on waterfront
Downtown Napa Riverfront // Photo by Bob McClenahan

Downtown Napa has come into its own. It is alive. Whether during the week or on the weekend, the streets are bustling with tourists and locals, the fabric of the neighborhood a mix of luxurious hotels with rooftop bars, 55+ wine-tasting rooms, swanky boutiques, and restaurants with delectable cuisine whose tables spill out onto the sidewalk. There are live music venues and dancing, open-air markets, coffee shops for people-watching, bookshops, and art galleries. There are lovely paths for meandering along the river, trailheads for biking, and places to sit and enjoy a beautiful sunset. It is quintessential California, with all the added amenities of wine-country—world-class cuisine, wines and the miscellaneous other luxuries one associates with the area. The ambiance combines sleek modern buildings intermingled with lovingly restored historic structures, punctuated with eye-catching sculpture and patches of soft greenery, and parks nearby for laying out a blanket and basking in the sun. 

For those who have the luxury of doing a three-day weekend, come up on a Thursday to fully enjoy special events and concerts that may be scheduled over the weekend, as most will take place on a Friday or Saturday evening. The three hotels in the heart of downtown are especially unique and stylish – the Andaz Napa, the Archer Hotel, and the Napa River Inn. The Andaz and Archer have great rooftop bars—the Mercantile Terrace, the Sky and Vine Rooftop Bar—and luxurious, well-appointed rooms. The Napa River Inn in the historic Napa Mill complex is a long-time favorite for those who regularly visit the region for its proximity to some of the best restaurants downtown and its pet-inclusive accommodations. Other hotels close to all the downtown action are Westin Verasa, River Terrace Inn, and the artsy R Inn Napa, a boutique hotel.

If arriving in Napa on a Friday, aim to get checked in early enough to stretch, relax, and enjoy the Carneros breeze and setting sun. A walk about town might spark ideas for the weekend’s activities, or perhaps a bit of nature is desired. If so, take a stroll along the Napa Valley Vine Trail, which connects to the downtown at the southwest corner of Third St. and Soscol Ave. Some hotels offer bikes to borrow, which can be an excellent option for exploring the trail. After working up an appetite, downtown Napa boasts over 50 restaurants serving every cuisine imaginable, from Spanish tapas, sushi, and Italian to classic French and farm-to-table California fare. 

exterior view of Oxbow Public Market building with colorful plants out front

Photo courtesy of The Oxbow Public Market

On Saturday morning, don’t miss the Napa Farmer’s Market on West Street, a couple blocks off Main Street and within walking distance of all the downtown hotels. Grab breakfast, espresso drinks, or ready-to-eat foods from local vendors, such as rotisserie chickens, tacos, bagels, and more. And, of course, there is a vibrant selection of fruits and veggies, cheeses, meats, nuts, pastries and bread, fish, salumi, and Mediterranean delicacies. Bring a shopping tote or cooler so provisions can be taken home. Much of the market is devoted to artisans who make leather goods, jewelry, natural cosmetics, hand-woven baskets, seasonal wreaths, and other crafts. The market is a local’s haven and an opportunity to rub elbows with all the intriguing characters living in the valley. At the market, one can expect to bump into everyone from vineyard workers to famous chefs—it’s a great place to converse with people from all walks of life.

After dropping off all market goodies at the hotel, stroll around the neighborhood and perhaps stop by the Napa Valley Historical Society, whose rotating exhibits give an excellent overview of the region’s history. If visiting Napa between June and August, there are walking tours of “Historic Downtown Napa,” the dates of which can be found on the Society’s website. For lunch,  consider heading over to the Oxbow Public Market, where there are eight eateries to choose from, a local grocer, and vendors selling spices, chocolates, cupcakes, books, and wine country gifts. Also delightful are the restaurants in the Riverfront area, where one can sit outdoors and enjoy views of the river and mountains from The General Store patio, Angele, Morimoto, or Celadon.  

people on gondola ride in river with buildings in background

Photo courtesy of Napa Valley Gondola


After lunch, head down to the river launch and catch a private Napa Valley Gondola cruise. Enjoy a bit of sun and beautiful views on the hour-long ride down the river, the gondolier providing a little music and light conversation, or politely refraining from interrupting romantic canoodling. If afterward, one is still inclined to take advantage of a beautiful day, swing by Napa River Velo and rent vintage bikes—cruise around town or along the Napa Valley Vine Trail. In the late afternoon, there are plenty of choices to sample wines, however, Chateau Buena Vista, an eclectic deco-themed tasting room located in the historic Gordon Building, is a fun place to try a Cabernet wine pairing with gourmet Sky & Vine chocolates or a JCB Caviar and champagne pairing— a memorable way to round out the afternoon.

A perfect Saturday evening should include an early dinner at another of the neighborhood’s great restaurants, followed by an excursion to one of the many music venues that offer live music, such as Be Bubbly, the Uptown Theatre, or the JaM Cellars Wine and Music Studio, among others. Late-night spots for continuing the socializing or enjoying a nightcap could include the rooftop bars at the Andaz or Archer Hotels.

display of various pastries including bagels

Photo courtesy of Winston’s Cafe and Bakery


What better way to start a Sunday morning than with rejuvenating spa treatments? Before heading to Greenhaus Day Spa, stop by Winston’s Café and Bakery for Napa’s best bagels with all the fixings, or enjoy their over-the-top pastries and donuts, rounded out by an expertly prepared espresso drink or freshly squeezed orange juice. The Model Bakery on 2nd Street is also fantastic, especially for gluten-free goodies. 

If a refreshing walk in nature is an inclination, try the nearby Oxbow Preserve, whose entrance is on McKenzie Drive off of Silverado Trail. This .6-mile trail is ideal for walking or jogging and features views of the river, wildflowers, and other native plants. 

Once caffeinated and rejuvenated, consider putting in a fun day with the pocketbook. There are many boutiques to explore, some local and some nationally known. Makers Market sells handmade goods from independent craftspeople nationwide, and Jeffries General carries beautiful housewares and a wide range of local gourmet pantry items. Betty’s Girl Boutique carries unique women’s clothing designed with vintage and recycled garments to create distinctive one-of-a-kind pieces with a nostalgic feel. Folklore sells vintage vinyl and is a great place to enjoy unique spirits and exotic lagers and ales, while Napa Bookmine offers new and used books, and one can grab an espresso drink if a caffeine boost is needed. Among the many shops in Downtown Napa are trendy clothing boutiques, wine country-inspired housewares and décor, art galleries, and specialty shops such as Napa Cigars and Milo Pet Boutique.

Make the last evening in Napa extra special by stopping by one of the neighborhood’s exceptional brewpubs, followed by dinner at one of the downtown’s top restaurants. Popular brewpubs, some of which also serve food, include Fieldwork, Napa Palisades Saloon, Trade Brewing, and The Garden by Tannery Bend Beerworks.

A memorable dinner to round out the weekend can be had at nearly any of the restaurants downtown, as all are exceptional Noteworthy to mention are the award-winning La Toque, which has won the Wine Spectator Grand Award numerous times and is a 14-time recipient of a Michelin star, and Compline, which made it on the San Francisco Chronicle’s 2024 lineup of top Napa Valley restaurants, thanks to their gifted female chef, Jammir Gray. 

Regardless of the season, Downtown Napa is a destination unto itself. When planning a trip to Napa Valley, consider setting aside two or three days to enjoy all the city and its charming neighborhoods have to offer.

FOR MORE INFORMATION www.napavalleylife.com // www.donapa.com // www.visitnapavalley.com