Tap into the vibe of the valley’s dining and entertainment hub.
Downtown Napa reveals its many charms on this leisurely tour that begins and ends at the Oxbow Public Market. You can drive all of it or part of it, or walk the 3 miles—almost entirely flat ground—between its stops. Along the way, you’ll notice outdoor artworks, some of them commissioned by RAD (Railroad Arts District) Napa. This itinerary works best from Thursday through Sunday, when all the first-choice activities are available. Kayak river tours don’t take place on Wednesdays.
Downtown Napa in a Day Pre-trip To-do List
1) Book the kayaking excursion (mild water; info below) a few days ahead.
2) Make tasting and lunch and dinner reservations at least a day ahead.
Empanadas or Pastries
Begin the day with an empanada at Bay Area fave El Porteño or a croissant, a glorious English muffin (a favorite of Oprah’s), or heartier morning fare at The Model Bakery. Both establishments are part of the Oxbow Public Market. Breakfast completed, investigate the market’s shops and food stalls. Address: 1st St., at McKinstry St.
Before departing the area, walk east across the parking lot east of Oxbow to the CIA at Copia, adorned by the two-story mural painted by the Oakland-based Filipino-American artist “Hueman” (aka Allison Tinati). Inspired by the nearby culinary garden at the “food-lover’s paradise,” the mural (lead photo) was commissioned by RAD Napa. Also not difficult to miss are Napa resident and internationally recognized artist Gordon Huether’s Fork (made of 8,500-plus recycled forks), in front of the building, and Is That Bob & Margrit? (Mondavi), atop it.
Stroll the Promenade
Walk due west from the mural on the path from Copia that runs behind Oxbow to McKinstry Street. You’ll briefly be walking alongside the Napa River at one of its crooks that give the Oxbow District its name. Meander east across McKinstry on the curving concrete walkway that leads from the grassy Oxbow Commons over to the Riverfront Promenade and the Main Street Boat Dock, where the kayak tour departs. The whole Oxbow Commons area is part of the ingenious Napa River Flood Project. You’d never know it from looking at the marshy area, but Napa’s former Chinatown stood on the river’s West Bank in the First Street Bridge area. The Main Street Boat Dock is east of Main Street (closer to the water) near 3rd Street. Route: CIA at Copia path behind the Oxbow Public Market, east to McKinstry Street, north a few steps to the Oxbow Commons path, and west and later south to the Riverfront Promenade.
Kayak the Napa River
Ahead of your visit, book an 11 am Napa River History Kayak Tour at Enjoy Napa Valley. It’s best to arrive 15 minutes early to get prepped by Napa native and owner-guide Justin Perkins, who knows his history—both the town’s and that of the river’s wildlife. Perkins graciously accommodates the experience and abilities of all participants. If you want to get on the river without having to row, book a Napa Valley Gondola ride in a Venetian-style vessel departing from the same dock as the kayaking trip. Meeting place: Main Street Boat Dock, 680 Main St. (Apr.–Nov.); 100 Riverside Dr. (Dec.–Mar.; add 15 mins. to continue south another ¾ mile from dock).
French, Californian, Eclectic for Lunch
Depending on your mood, stop for lunch at Angèle (French bistro cuisine), Compline (wine bar with Californian), or Grace’s Table (eclectic brunch daily). As of fall 2021, Angèle wasn’t serving lunch on Wednesday and Thursday, and Compline was closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Directions: Angèle is a block south of the dock on Main Street. For Compline, walk north from the pier to 1st Street and turn left. For Grace’s Table, walk north from the pier to 2nd Street and turn left.
After lunch, head to the corner of Main and 1st streets to check out the façade of the Napa Valley Opera House (1030 Main, east side of street just north of 1st), which opened in 1880 with a performance of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore. Blue Note Napa, the West Coast outpost of Manhattan’s Blue Note jazz club, occupies the opera house’s first floor.
Diagonally east across the street from the opera house, a mural by Steve della Maggiora and Susan Clifford depicts Napa’s riverfront heyday. Diagonally west lies the Napa 9/11 Memorial Garden, containing sculptures by Gordon Huether (The Basket, in front of the Archer Hotel Napa, is also his).
From the garden, continue north on Main Street to Vallejo and turn right (east) to reach the Napa Valley Vine Trail, a walking and biking path that follows the Napa Valley Wine Train’s tracks. Many RAD Napa murals adorn fences, buildings, and utility boxes between Vallejo and Lincoln Avenue. Route: From 1st St. and Main St. north to Vallejo St. east to Vine Trail north.
Depending on your wine (and, in one instance, beer) preferences, enjoy a tasting at one of the spaces below. It’s best to make a reservation, though all except Brown Downtown Napa accept walk-ins when possible.
- St. Clair Brown Winery & Brewery serves wine and beer flights amid a culinary garden of vegetables, herbs, and espalier-trellised fruit trees. Address: 816 Vallejo St., 100 feet west of Soscol Ave. at the Vine Trail.
- Mark Herold Wines pours the namesake winemaker’s collector-quality Cabernets from the Atlas Peak, Coombsville, and Oakville appellations. Address: 710 1st St., near McKinstry St.
- Acumen Wine Gallery, known for bold Atlas Peak Cabernets, merits a peek for its decor and artworks alone. Address: 1315 1st St., near Randolph St.
- Mayacamas Downtown, whose Mt. Veeder vineyards date to the 19th century, produces superlative Chardonnay and Bordeaux-style reds, including a Cabernet that has placed in Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 10 wines worldwide more than once. Address: 1256 1st St., near Randolph St.
- Brown Downtown Napa, run by the second generation of the family that established the Napa Valley’s first Black-owned estate winery, specializes in Zinfandel and red blends. Address: 1005 Coombs St., at 1st St.
Time to Unwind
Unwind back at your lodging until dinnertime, or check out more of First Street Napa (near Acumen, Brown, and Mayacamas), the Oxbow Public Market (near St. Clair Brown and Mark Herold), or Main Street.
Wine + Beer Nightcap
Cap off the evening with a nightcap at Cadet Wine + Beer Bar or Sky & Vine Bar, on the roof at the Archer Hotel Napa, or check out the live music at Blue Note Napa or upstairs at JaM Cellars Ballroom.
More Napa Valley Itineraries
This story first appeared online in 2017; it was fact-checked and updated in 2021.