When you hear the word Napa, what do you think? Wine! That’s a natural reaction: the Napa Valley is one of the best wine destinations in the world. But in there more to experience in Napa? Absolutely!
I spent a few days in Downtown Napa – the largest city in Napa County – for my birthday in April 2019. I was there to sample all of the different flavors and experiences you can have in Downtown Napa. Since not as many people visit the city as the county, this was an exciting contrast to typical Napa experiences. Along the way I discovered that there is a ton to eat and drink in Napa beyond wine, and that’s what I’m here to share.
If you have 3 days in Napa and want to try wine and more, use this itinerary to explore Downtown Napa and eat yourself silly.
Downtown Napa Travel Tips
Downtown Napa is a 90-minute drive from San Francisco. It’s a little shorter than that if you’re coming from the East Bay (Oakland) like I was. While most people planning a trip to Napa mean “Napa Valley,” they skip Downtown Napa entirely – and that’s why I want to share this post.
Twenty years ago, Downtown Napa used to be entirely passable – a small community that locals loved but offered little else. Today it’s a bustling town with hip restaurants, craft breweries and beer pubs, and high-end boutiques to help you really blow your budget. Oh, and every May, Napa hosts BottleRock, a wine, food, and music festival that draws most Bay Area citizens to the area.
If you’re planning a trip to Napa and wondering what else to do beyond eating and drinking (the focus of my post), be sure to stop by the Napa Valley Visitor Center and see what else is going on.
Where to Stay in Napa
During my stay in Napa, I enjoyed a few restful nights at the River Terrace Inn. This hotel isn’t in the heart of Downtown Napa, but it’s within walking distance (about a 15-20 minute walk). As you’ll see in the rest of this post, it’s easy to walk to almost everything fun worth doing and delicious foods and drinks worth trying.
- The River Terrace Inn starts from $/night. Book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
- There’s an Andaz property – similar to the one I stayed in during my trip to Scottsdale – that starts from $299/night. Book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
- I also found a couple of great vacation rentals: this Historic Home from $200/night, this cute cottage is walking distance from Oxbow Market from $200/night, or this cute, budget-friendly studio from $85/night is a good option too.
Day 1 in Downtown Napa
On your first day in Napa, I’m assuming you’ll drive from San Francisco, Oakland, or Berkeley to arrive. If you leave around 9am, you’ll arrive in Downtown Napa just in time to start tasting all the interesting flavors on offer.
Morning Fuel – Ritual Coffee Roasters
I recommend starting at Ritual Coffee Roasters in Oxbow Market. Among the stalls of foodstuffs you can get properly caffeinated. It’s an 8-minute walk from Oxbow Market to lunch, so there’s no rush; instead, head out on the back deck and watch the Napa River as it slows through the Oxbow turn from which the market takes its name.
Lunch – Allegria
Make the easy walk along 1st Street to Allegria for lunch. This restaurant is one of the many which serves as a testament to Napa’s resilience: in 2014, the Napa Valley was rocked by a 6.0 magnitude earthquake that brought down buildings and cracked many standing right to their foundations.
Allegria is located in one of the buildings that was damaged in that earthquake, but they’ve worked hard in the past five years to rebuild and recover. Sit down for a filling lunch of Italian; I tried the gnocchi al pesto and classic tiramisu. It was like sitting down in a classic Italian bistro in New York – or better yet, back in my motherland, Italia itself.
1026 1st St, Napa, CA 94559, ristoranteallegria.com
Drinks – John Anthony
After lunch, it’s a super easy 3-minute walk to your afternoon activity: wine tasting! This is Napa, after all.
A little further down 1st Street into Downtown Napa, John Anthony Vineyards Tasting Lounge is a great example of Napa’s new style: modern and fashionable. During my visit I sipped bold reds – what Napa is known for – while I noshed on cheese and nuts under some of Jeff Bridges’ photography from projects like The Big Lebowski.
(Yep, that Jeff Bridges is also an impressive photographer and friends with John Anthony.)
1440 First Street, Napa, CA 94559, johnanthonyvineyards.com
Non-Food Activity – Napa Riverfront
After a wine tasting like that, it’s always good to take a break and get a breather. This is a perfect time to stroll along Napa’s Riverfront – one of the best examples of how much Downtown Napa has changed in the last two decades.
The Napa Riverfront Promenade was built as part of the river flood control project, which was approved to help the city build a sustainable way of living along the Napa River without flooding every spring. The Promenade has nice walking paths, new developments and shops (including the Visitor Center if you haven’t stopped by there yet), and plenty of restaurants and bars. But don’t get too tempted – next stop is dinner!
You can easily spend an hour exploring along the promenade, which is a perfect way to pass time before making the 10-minute walk up Main Street to dinner.
Dinner – Gran Electrica
For dinner on your first night, get ready for a treat. Gran Eléctrica in Napa is the second outpost of a popular Brooklyn restaurant that totally lives up to the hype.
I happened to visit on my birthday and decided to splurge on everything which looked good on the menu! (This included the Flor de Jamaica Sour, chicken tinga tacos, and the camotes – crispy sweet potatoes.)
Their menu is super interesting, and I’m really excited to plan a trip back to sample more of their cocktails and acompañamientos.
1313 Main St, Napa, CA 94559, granelectrica.com
Day 2 in Downtown Napa
After a night of resting and digesting, it’s time for another day of exploring Downtown Napa. That means you’ll need to start with a good breakfast! While many hotels in Napa offer breakfast, I recommend setting back out to sample more of the options Napa has to offer.
Breakfast – The Model Bakery
Head back to Oxbow Market for breakfast at The Model Bakery. This Napa stop is known for their outrageously good English muffins, which are best enjoyed as part of a breakfast sandwich. Oprah made these delicious biscuits famous by listing them among her favorite things back in 2016.
Don’t be surprised if there’s a line to order and pick up breakfast, but it’s definitely worth the wait!
644 1st St, Napa, CA 94559, themodelbakery.com
Non-Food Activity – Gondola Ride
After breakfast, head back to the Napa Riverfront Promenade to embark on a lovely morning excursion: a gondola ride on the Napa River. It’s a 10-minute walk from Oxford Market to the gondola dock.
Operated by the same company that runs the gondolas on Lake Merritt in my neighborhood in Oakland, Gondola Servizio offers traditional gondola rides for between 40-90 minutes. Along the way, you’ll get a different view of Downtown Napa and explore the waterway that helps the Napa Valley be so fertile.
600 Main St, Napa, CA 94559, gondolaservizio.com
Lunch – Eight Noodle Shop
It’s an 11-minute walk to lunch at Eight Noodle Shop. On this itinerary seems like a lot, but it’s actually the perfect opportunity to walk through the core of Downtown Napa along 1st Street.
Like Gran Eléctrica last night, Eight Noodle Shop is a fun ethnic restaurant which reminds you that Napa is moving way beyond its traditional French and Italian food and wine roots. This Asian restaurant specializes in Korean and Japanese food, especially ramen. I had the pork ramen, one of the most popular dishes on their menu – and it is definitely popular for good reason!
1408 Clay St, Napa, CA 94559, eightnoodleshop.com
Snack – Anette’s Chocolate
You’re not too full, right? Make the quick walk – about three minutes – to Anette’s Chocolate & Ice Cream for one of their chocolate tasting classes. You’ll need to arrange this class in advance by contacting their tasting room, but it’s a sweet way to pass some time in Downtown Napa.
During my chocolate tasting class, Anette herself took our group through a tasting of different types of chocolate from around the world. It was an amazing chance to learn how different combinations of the basic ingredients – cacao butter, cacao powder, milk, and sugar – make so much difference in flavor.
1321 1st St, Napa, CA 94559, anettes.com
Drinks – Stone Brewing
Before dinner, head to one of my favorite spots from my foodie trip in Napa: Stone Brewing. California craft beer enthusiasts know that Stone is one of the most brag-worthy breweries in the state, and their Napa tasting room and restaurant is equally awesome. Located right on the river with a view toward downtown, it’s the perfect spot for a tasting flight.
It’s only a 10-minute walk from Anette’s to Stone – a perfect way to burn off a few of those chocolate calories. At the Stone tasting room, they usually have a couple dozen beers on tap, including a few special Napa-only beers. You can also enjoy German-inspired snacks like pretzels if you happen to be hungry at this point in the day.
930 3rd St, Napa, CA 94559, stonebrewing.com
Dinner – Bounty Hunter
Whether you need to waddle or stumble, it’s time for one last bite before bed. Make the 5-minute walk from Stone Brewing to Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ. This funky place is a mix between a wine bar and a pub, and they’re most known for their beer can chicken. As you can see, I was all about the one at my end of the table!
It’s easy to overindulge here, so I recommend ordering a glass of wine and splitting a beer can chicken with your group of 3-4. If you’re on your own, opt for their delicious barbeque.
975 1st St, Napa, CA 94559, bountyhunterwinebar.com
Day 3 in Downtown Napa
Okay, one last day of eating, I swear! Somehow I actually did this entire itinerary myself, so I know it’s a lot – but I also know it’s possible to try in all and enjoy it. Let’s go through the last few meals before you head back to San Francisco or home.
Breakfast – Five Dot Ranch
One last trip to Oxford Market, shall we? Five Dot Ranch is an 8th generation California beef purveyor, and their restaurant is a great way to try their food for you non vegans. For breakfast, you can try a beef chorizo scramble (I never say no to chorizo) or a beef sausage and egg sandwich. You’ll have plenty of protein in your system for this morning’s adventure!
610 1st St Suite 2, Napa, CA 94559, fivedotranch.com
Non-Food Activity – Bike Ride
Snag a bike rental from Napa Valley Bike tours and you can tool around town on two wheels instead of two feet. If you want to explore beyond Downtown, head out along the bike trail on the west side of Napa River. As far as I can tell, this trail isn’t named but it’s a nice easy route where you can spend 20-30 minutes burning off the morning’s beef.
950 Pearl Street, Napa, CA 94559, napavalleybiketours.com
Lunch – CIA at Copia
For one last meal, head to one of Napa’s institution restaurants – which was almost lost due to the pressures of the restaurant industry and time. The Copia was originally imagined and brought to life by Robert and Margrit Mondavi (of Mondavi Winery fame) to help celebrate and educate about food and drink history and culture. After financial struggles, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) moved into Copia and re-opened it with a smaller museum along with cooking classes and restaurants to allow students to practice their skills.
Stop for lunch at the Grove, the outdoor dining space at CIA at Copia. For lunch they have wood-fired pizzas and other small plates – and yes, delicious wine.
500 1st St, Napa, CA 94559, ciaatcopia.com
Drinks – Trinitas Cellars
Speaking of wine, it would be a big miss to head home without one more wine tasting – this is Napa after all!
Stop by Trinitas Cellars on your way back toward the Bay Area; their tasting room is located in the Vista Collina Resort. You can enjoy a flight with delicious snack – if by some miracle you’re somehow still hungry – and then walk around the Resort a bit to clear your mind before driving home. (Please drink responsibly!)
Well, there you have it! As you can tell, there is plenty to do beyond wine tasting in Napa – and plenty more to eat and drink. If you have questions about visiting Downtown Napa, let me know in the comments.
Thanks to Downtown Napa for hosting me during my stay. All businesses and experiences mentioned are included at my own discretion.