Adventuring in Napa Wine Country by Kayak, Bike, and On Foot
Vineyards, rolling hills, and America’s best wines. That’s all I knew about Napa before traveling to California’s famed wine country this spring, but once there I found there’s much more to adventuring here than tasting unique wine varietals.
OUTDOOR EXPERIENCES ON THE NAPA RIVER
Active travelers can paddle down the tidal Napa River while learning the secrets and stories of the city’s past on a guided kayaking tour led by Napa native and Enjoy Napa Valley owner, Justin Perkins. During the tour, watch for river otters, sea turtles, great blue herons, and eagles that call the Napa River home.
For an all-day adventure, add a guided bike
ride to a winery to your kayaking tour. During our ride, we pedaled from downtown Napa along the scenic, shaded Napa River Trail past vibrant vineyards to Del Dotto Vineyards.
Here we toured the historic caves of this family-owned winery, tasting wines straight from the barrel before biking back downtown.
Prefer being in the water to on it? Try a class on the art of fly fishing at Uncorked at Oxbow tasting salon. You’ll learn the basics: fly selection, knot tying, and safety. Then pull on waders and practice your casting in the Napa River. After, you’ll return to the tasting room to sample Uncorked’s world-class wines.
Once exhausted from outdoor exploration, focus your evenings on the burgeoning dining and drinking scene contained within Napa’s vibrant, walkable downtown.
A TOWN REVITALIZED
Not long ago, flood-plagued Downtown Napa was a place wine country travelers omitted from their itineraries. All that’s changed thanks to revitalization projects put into motion by
All that’s changed thanks to revitalization projects put into motion by longtime mayor, Jill Techel, which have transformed the riverfront and downtown into a vacation-worthy destination in its own right.
Today, it’s the place to sample California’s best wines at over 20 tasting rooms—without ever needing (or using) a car.
One affordable way to try wine downtown is purchasing a $30 Taste Card that gets you 10 cent samplings at eight tasting rooms.
Favorites on the card are the riverside Napa General Store for patio wine flights served alongside locally produced goods, and Bounty Hunter Bar & Smokin’ BBQ, which is famous for beer can chicken and their selection of wine and whiskey sold by the glass.
Liquor licenses are hard to come by in Napa, so not every bar serves cocktails, but I hardly noticed thanks to late-night haunts like Cadet Wine & Beer Bar. Its diverse list highlights California producers, but also ventures beyond the state’s borders. Cadet also boasts a massive collection of vinyl records. Buy a bottle of wine and choose which LP they play next.
Dowtown Napa boasts 65 eclectic restaurants and counting—all within walking distance of one another. Progressive-style dining is the best way to sample it all. We began at Torc for a globally inspired Happy Hour featuring $5 bites of Deviled Eggs, Sweet Potato Pakoras, and cheesy quesadillas paired with $6 by the glass wine.
For entrees, we walked a few blocks to Angele, a romantic riverfront bistro with incredible French fare. (Opt for the risotto; you won’t be disappointed.)
Alternatively, start at Atlas Social and experience their small plates and surprising Daily Bread combinations.
Splurge on dessert next door at Frati Gelato Café where two brothers make ue each day.
EXPLORING THE OXBOW
In the morning, we walked across First Street Bridge for breakfast at the famed Model Bakery. A mother-daughter run Napa institution, Model Bakery is famous for fluffy English muffins and decadent baked goods. Its popularity is evidenced by the long line outside the shop almost every morning.
Next door, Napa’s 40,000 square-foot epicurean paradise, Oxbow Public Market, awaits. Named for the U-shaped loop the Napa River makes just outside the Market, this artisan food haven houses 22 tenants purveying all types of eats and drinks. Try award-winning Kara’s Cupcakes in flavors like Fleur de Sel and Banana Caramel, Ritual’s nitro cold brewed coffee, wood-fired pizzas, fresh oysters, and spirits at Napa’s first legal distillery since Prohibition.
My favorite stop was the popular cheese and wine physics class at the Market’s Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant. Here master sommelier, Peter Granoff, partnered four distinct cheeses with the same red and white wines to help us discover the perfect pairings for our palettes.
Uniquely, this entire trip was done without a car, so skip drawing straws on who DDs and instead explore Napa’s downtown flavors by bike, boat, or simply walking.
WHERE TO STAY
Boldly blending modern charm, comfort, and convenience, Andaz Napa is my go-to place to stay downtown. Enjoy a free glass of wine at check-in, and stay within walking distance of every downtown restaurant and the Napa River Trail. Or rent one of their e-bikes and pedal or motor all over town.
This boutique hotel is known for its hip rooms, farm-to-table dining, and a vibrant atmosphere. The lobby’s intimate Mercantile Social Bar and spacious Outdoor Terrace are perfect for savoring craft cocktails and happy hour specials.
In the morning, don’t miss juice samples in the lobby or brunch at Andaz Farmer’s Table. Their surprising takes on everyday favorites like sweet potato and black bean hash, pumpkin pancakes, and hydrating veggie juices rejuvenate your palate after a day of wine sampling.
Despite these perks, my hotel room’s giant soaking bathtub, plush bed, free WiFi, and fridge stocked with non-alcoholic drinks made venturing out tougher than usual.
Historic Napa River Inn is another excellent choice for riverside accommodations in a more classically styled setting.