Napa: From the Perspective of a Resident

Written by
Published on April 18, 2022 1:43:04 PM PDT April 18, 2022 1:43:04 PM PDTth, April 18, 2022 1:43:04 PM PDT


There is no off-season for Napa, the largest city in Napa County. The heavy foot traffic at the corner of Main and First streets at the onset of harvest are slightly more than the post-harvest flow of visitors. There are high seasons, however, and spring, summer, and fall will cost a lot more for lodging than a booking made now for winter, or what we locals refer to as Cabernet Season.

Due to the region’s micro-climate, Napa mornings are consistently cool, and in the wintertime will often dip to freezing temperatures, but by early afternoon, a sweater and/or scarf is all that’s needed to comfortably roam the city that has recently experienced a renaissance. No matter when you visit, there will be a plethora of lodging options, tasting rooms, one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, entertainment and wellness options, mostly located off Highway 29, downtown and along the Napa Riverfront.

Leisure options are seemingly endless with choices that include The Opera House, weekend brunch and a concert at The Blue Note, the foodie paradise that is Oxbow Public Market, and a year-round farmers market every Saturday morning. New to the scene is Abide Napa, a cannabis dispensary recently licensed to offer more than medicinal options; it now services visitors and residents who enjoy its recreational use. Bud tenders are at-the-ready to help with pain, sleep issues, anxiety, or just to add a few giggles to your adventures in Wine Country.

You can also book a themed excursion on the Napa Valley Wine Train. Vintage Pullman cars run north from Napa to St. Helena and back again, with murder mystery rides, winery stops and express lunch excursions among its many options.

More insider hot spots include a stop for a sensory wine and food experience at Ashes & Diamonds before a hop across the way to offset the wine with a meatball and polenta starter, followed by pizza at Don Bistro Giovanni’s – a hangout for vintners in the Napa Valley.

Another tasting experience is on the First Street block, at the Alpha Omega Collective that offers brands Alpha Omega wines of St. Helena, Tolosa wines of San Luis Obispo, and Perinet wines of Spain. Take a seat in the al fresco tasting room and begin with a crisp, yet creamy unoaked Tolosa chardonnay made with grapes grown in San Luis Obispo. Then move on to my personal favorite: an elegant ruby-toned Tolosa 1772 Pinot Noir. A close second is the taste of Spain evident in a Perinet Red Blend of grenache, syrah, carignan, and cabernet sauvignon made with Spanish grapes grown in a region with vineyards covered in slate rocks.

The bar at Alpha Omega Collective Downtown Napa

Adjoining the tasting room is Pennington Provisions, where one can indulge in a little cheese and charcuterie while seated at the Collective. You may choose to return later for some gourmet takeout at its offshoot, The Dutch Door, a scratch kitchen where kale salads and Spanish fried chicken are among some of the locally sourced, seasonal offerings available. You can grab and go or grab a seat at a sidewalk table and enjoy a glass of wine from the Collective with your food order.

Spicy Fried Chicken Perinet; Photos courtesy of Alpha Omega Collective Downtown Napa.

A few blocks away, take the elevator at the Archer Hotel to Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar to try their unusual lobster corn dog, and be sure to pair it with a Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. If it’s Brown Bag Wednesday, you can play a game of guess the vintner, varietal, and vintage in a blind tasting format. Guess all three correctly and you’ll get the bottle in the bag for one dollar.

Before you go, be sure check local listings to see if Blue Note Napa has any live musical performances; if so, you can purchase tickets online in advance.

No music today? Then head to the Westin Verasa Hotel, home to Chef Ken Frank’s Michelin-starred La Toque, whose Bank Café and Bar offers brunch ‘til 3pm, followed by a late afternoon bar menu with your choice of small plates and/or entrees. Begin with lobster-butter topped popcorn and a glass of Peju merlot and watch the bustling scene; see if you can guess the locals-to-visitor ratio.

Still hungry? Try their perfectly sautéed sea scallops with chorizo – and maybe order a side of cheesy grits.

With a new day of adventure in store, another way to clear your head after a full day of tasting and eating is to head down to the river for an hour or two of kayaking -- in preparation for a lunch of moules frites and Chablis on the riverside deck at Angèle Restaurant and Bar.

Feeling romantic? Opt for an afternoon at the Tuscan-inspired Spa Terra at the Meritage Resort. Once upon a time, I enjoyed a stay and couples spa treatment inside the spa cave. Before a neck and shoulder massage, we enjoyed a couples soak in a jacuzzi while indulging on sparkling wine and chocolate truffles, all to the serenade of classical music.

Feeling like retail therapy is in order? Feast it Forward is the spot for kitchenware and winetasting. Across the street is Oxbow Public Market; don’t pass by Kara’s for the amazing s’mores cupcakes. Adjacent to Oxbow is Copia at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). You can’t miss it: bright white sculptures of Robert and Magrit Mondavi are perched on its rooftop, toasting passersby.