Downtown Napa Goes Uptown: Stay, Eat & Play

Luxury Vacations: The city of Napa, formerly an often passed-by "marker" on the highway to the wine country, is now the proud gateway to one of America's most popular tourist destinations, namely Napa Valley. Before there was wine there was the river. And the story of Napa's ups and downs parallels the rise and fall of the tides.

The destruction caused by the river's flooding has been more impactful than the Gold Rush or Prohibition on the development of the City of Napa. For decades, attempts to tame the water's way have been thwarted by politics, lack of money and limited technology.

Finally the voters approved the Napa Flood Control Project. With that approval came 100 million dollars of stimulus funding.

Rather than relying on old technology to divert the river through elaborate, unsightly concrete structures, the citizens of Napa have created the "Living River Project," a plan to let the river flow naturally and mitigate against possible flood damage in an esthetically and ecologically-sound fashion.

Now the City of Napa is safely guarded by the Napa Flood Control Project. New hotels, restaurants, and other investments are pouring in with a new confidence in the City's safety and stability.

Indeed, besides the renowned wine country in North County (Yountville, Oakville, St. Helena, Calistoga, etc.), the City of Napa — in and of itself — has seductive and alluring charms all it's own.

World class accommodations, restaurants, and entertainment make this a destination worth exploring.

An audio walking tour of art in public spaces, world class art galleries and a revitalized Opera House with an impressive array of performances highlight the robust cultural arts scene.

And for those who come for the wine, a new "Wine Card" encourages strolling and tasting at the city's many wine bars all within walking distance of your accommodations ensuring safe sipping of the regions finest vintages.

Where to Stay

High quality lodging in hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts, all located downtown provide a variety of accommodation choices.

The Westin Verasa Napa Valley

The Westin Verasa Napa Valley overlooks the banks of Napa Creek. It is within walking distance of all the delights of downtown Napa.

This world class resort features luxury rooms and amenities, as well as the Michelin-starred restaurant, Chef Ken Frank's La Toque.

The craftsman style architecture uses earth toned local materials to set the stage for a subdued, yet elegant "home away from home." The responsive staff is professional, knowledgeable and customer-oriented.

Evening wine tasting creekside or nestled near the resort's indoor and outdoor fireplaces makes for a memorable evening.

Where To Eat

If you are on the hunt for emerging star chefs, spend some time dining in downtown Napa. There's Ken Frank's La Toque, Morimoto, Tyler Florence, and Ubuntu to mention a few.

AVIA Kitchen + Wine Bar

A Napa "find"is AVIA Kitchen + Wine Bar located in the AVIA Hotel.

Executive Chef Chris Aken is creating Wine Country cuisine that consists of small plates divided into garden, ocean, farm and charcuterie categories.

About 80% of the produce is sourced from the property's own plots in the Napa Community Garden which influence the constantly changing, seasonal menu.

Complementing the menu is a wine list that features an impressive list of limited production wines by the bottle, glass or flight.

The smart, casual, warm decor and accommodating waitstaff makes AVIA Kitchen a natural for a satisfying downtown evening out.


The word "ubuntu" has its origin in the Zulu people of southern Africa. Ubuntu is a humanist philosophy focusing on people's allegiances and relations with each other, emphasizing community, sharing and generosity.

The mission at Ubuntu is to bring to customers a bounty of local bio-dynamically gardened produce handled with care and skill by talented artisans and chefs providing an unparalleled experience connecting their customers to the bounty of the earth.

Their mission is extended beyond the customer and includes providing a sustainable workplace environment and interconnectedness with their providers and their local communities.

Ubuntu's garden-fresh menu utilizes locally grown vegetables, grains and fruits with much of the produce coming from their own biodynamic gardens, created by legendary wine country Master Gardener, Jeff Dawson.

The day-to-day operations are coordinated through close communication between the kitchen with Executive Chef Aaron London leading his team and Head Gardener, Rose Robertson bringing the fruits of the land to the table.

The concept is local and sustainable, the appeal is universal. Chef London's "Tasting Menu" provides a metaphorical "walk through the garden" with crescendos and dénouements that are accompanied by wine pairings that compliment and complete the gastronomic tour.

This exceptional gourmet vegetarian dining has been awarded a star by the Michelin Group and rave reviews from all who experience this unique and unforgettable journey.

What To Do

Downtown Napa Walking Tour

Start your visit with a walking tour.

Your guide, George Webber, is an accomplished actor/historian who will enthrall you with the rich history and lore of the area. This is "edutainment" at its best!

Oxbow Public Market

Walk over to the Oxbow Market Place, designed by Steve Carlin, the same fellow who brought you the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco.

Delight in the cornucopia of local produce and food stalls.

Stop by the tea shop for a global education and tasting, sniff the exotic spices and deliberate which ones you must take home.

Graze at the many dining options beckoning to you. Taste the creative ice cream flavors and sip some of the best coffee you will ever taste, each cup individually brewed to your liking.

Other Things to Do In Downtown Napa

Stroll the shops, galleries and antique stores and of course, taste some wine at the 20-plus wine bars.

Hop on the Wine Train for a memorable lunch or dinner or murder mystery tour and enjoy wine country cuisine as you pass by the glorious Napa valley vineyards.

Napa Valley Wine Train

Whether it's your first time in Napa or you are a regular wine country visitor, a local, or from a far away land, The Napa Valley Wine Train will enchant you.

Imagine the romance and luxury of touring this stellar terrain while sipping Napa's finest wines and enjoying the Cal — Med cuisine of Executive Chef Kelly Macdonald

Whatever the season, rain or shine, whatever the reason, The Napa Valley Wine Train is one of the most unique and affordable ways to experience this magical valley.

The period decor — unique to each of the original 1915 train cars — provides the plush ambiance to enjoy the scenic surroundings, as you slowly chug your way from Napa to St. Helena and back.

The leisurely, multi-course meal is deftly prepared by Chef Macdonald's team in the challenging confines of the galley with its glassed-in kitchen, perfect for observation by the culinarily curious.

Before dessert, you are invited to stroll through each car marveling at the comfort of the Pullman Lounge Car inviting entry to sit and sip, as the view of the vineyards beckons your senses. Walk all the way through the train and pop out to the open air deck to savor the sights, smells and sounds en plein air. Spend a spell sipping in the tasting car where a large array of wines can be compared and contrasted at leisure.

For a special treat, book passage in the Vista Dome Car perched above the rest of the train. On offer — for a small premium — is unparalleled viewing, a champagne toast, a four course meal served by entertaining and knowledgeable wait staff cum guides who delight by pointing out the tidbits and highlights that make this valley so renowned.

As the train pulls back to the station, smiles of pleasure mix with bittersweet sighs of regret that this memorable journey is ending.

Reserve your seats now, all aboard, the Napa Valley Wine Train will be departing again soon, this time with you on board !

Also published on Wine Train's Web Site.

Full Disclosure: Diane Sukiennik and Michael Reiss were guests at some of the Napa hotels, restaurants, and other activities mentioned above, but all views expressed are entirely their own.

The Westin Verasa Napa Valley brings a high resort standard to downtown Napa.
George Webber's Napa Walking Tour brings history alive.
The Oxbow Public Market is full of surprises in downtown Napa.
Ubuntu Restaurant's chefs carefully craft a gourmet dish.

Diane Sukiennik & Michael Reiss

Diane Sukiennik is an internationally recognized writer, coach, keynote speaker, consultant, educator and licensed therapist. She is the author of The Career Fitness Program: Exercising Your Options, 11th edition, Prentice Hall, the most widely used text in colleges and universities in the subject area. A self-proclaimed 'leisurologist,' she speaks French and Spanish, is an avid world traveler and...(Read More)

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