Last Updated on April 26, 2023
Downtown Napa, gateway to the world-famous Napa Valley wine region, offers the perfect getaway for wine lovers, foodies, art lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Once a sleepy town that tourists bypassed on their way to the Napa Valley, Downtown Napa is suddenly gaining attention. And it’s easy to see why.
The city started a successful revitalization effort over ten years ago. Following its renaissance, Downtown Napa became home to luxury lodging, hip wine bars, restaurants with chefs trained by Napa’s Culinary Institute of America (CIA), wine tasting rooms, and a beautiful riverfront promenade.
Downtown Napa offers a vibrant art scene with an urban exhibition of public artworks, boutique shopping, new hotels, and a vibrant public market by creatively reinventing itself. With their late 1800s and early 1900s architecture, some of the Victorian mansions have been restored as small inns. With more than 40 tasting rooms, Downtown Napa offers easy access to some of the world’s best wines.
- Walkable Outdoor Art Collection
- Stroll the Waterfront
- Gondolas on the Napa River
- Kayaking on the Napa River
- Cycling in Downtown Napa
- Enjoy the Craft Brew Scene
- Enjoy Casual & Fine Dining
- Go Wine Tasting on Foot
- Blue Note Napa
- All Aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train
- Oxbow Public Market
While Napa Valley may be well-known, Downtown Napa is the place to stay. So, the next time you visit Napa Valley, spend a few days here. You’ll be surprised at what you find. Here are our suggestions for 11 of the best things to do in Downtown Napa.~Pam & Gary Baker
11 Things to do in Downtown Napa
Walkable Outdoor Art Collection
Downtown Napa enjoys a reputation as one of California’s most walkable wine country destinations, but it is more than just wine. Downtown Napa provides an open-air art museum with several outdoor art displays that can be explored on foot. In addition, a biennial, rotating sculpture exhibit along the streets of downtown, known as the Napa Art Walk, is an inspiring experience for art lovers. Several murals and art installations are also tucked away at the First Street Napa: Artist Alley.
Perhaps for a more impressive display that starts near downtown, explore the Rail Arts District Napa (RAD Napa). This two-mile stretch of large-scale murals parallels the start of the Napa Valley Wine Train tracks.
However, suppose that’s not enough ambling for art. In that case, there is a uniquely distinct utility box art project which includes about 20 utility boxes artfully “wrapped” in stunning pictures throughout downtown.
Stroll the Waterfront
A visit to Downtown Napa is not complete until you’ve seen the riverfront and Veteran’s Park located on Main Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets. Here the tranquil Napa River bends gracefully through midtown, offering scenic views of ducks and kayaks paddling together in the water. But this wasn’t always the case. A tidal river that bisects the town, it flooded many times over the years, causing damage and forcing the town into a perpetual renaissance. Now, thanks to an ambitious flood control project in the early 2000s, the riverfront is Downtown Napa’s sparkling gem.
The Vine Trail, a paved walkway, curves along the river where restaurants, shops, and lovingly restored buildings line up along the waterfront. With a wide pathway, there’s plenty of room for bicyclists and walkers.
Gondolas on the Napa River
Explore more of the Napa River on an authentic Venetian gondola with Napa Valley Gondola. This cruise is perfect for a couple’s romantic evening or a group of friends up to six passengers.
The gondola, an impressive 1,300, 36.5-foot craft made from a mix of oak, walnut, and cherry wood, was handcrafted in Venice. Guests can bring their own wine to enjoy on this one-hour, relaxing cruise. At the same time, the gondolier enhances the experience with a musical serenade. Departures leave from the Napa Downtown Dock just below the Riverfront Promenade.
RELATED: Unusual Napa Valley Wine Tours.
Kayaking on the Napa River
Feeling a little more adventurous? Rent a kayak for a more personal way to explore the Napa River’s beauty. With no crowds, calm water, and stunning views, this is an easy way to enjoy one of Downtown Napa’s sparkling gems. And it’s perfect for all levels of fitness and experience. Stop for a picnic lunch or a swim. Along the way, you may spot a river otter, a great blue heron, or any of the other native birds that inhabit this riparian corridor.
The Main Street boat dock (behind Morimoto’s) has a local outfitter offering hiking, bicycling, and kayak tours. Equipment can be rented hourly.
Cycling in Downtown Napa
Self-service bike rental kiosks make it easy to explore Downtown Napa. Choose from two convenient stations at the Oxbow Public Market or the Napa River Inn at the Historic Napa Mill. Bicycling provides a great way to get out and get some fresh air, get some exercise, and cover more sightseeing.
Book a bike tour to two Napa wineries
And there are plenty of urban trails that encourage bicycling. For example, along the riverfront, a wide, paved pathway provides space for bicyclists, walkers, and strollers. And in the Rail Arts District Napa, where the two-mile stretch of murals exists, there is another wide, paved pathway.
Via bicycle is another great way to explore the downtown Victorian mansions. Lovingly restored, these architectural beauties from the late 1800s and early 1900s add to Downtown Napa’s appeal.
Enjoy the Craft Brew Scene
Napa may be world-renowned for its mastery of the grape, but it offers more than just amazing wine. The city’s thriving craft brew scene provides several choices to try a trendy micro-brew or an old favorite.
Downtown Joe’s Brewery has established itself on Main Street as a long-running, casual spot for house-brewed beers. With fresh food creations and delicious burgers, this place is also one of Downtown Napa’s best restaurants. If you go, request a second-story seating inside at the window or on the balcony outside for a grand view of Napa River activity.
Book a downtown Napa wine and brewery tour by e-bike
Enjoy Casual & Fine Dining
- Housed in a historic two-story building with exposed stone walls and a mahogany bar, Cole’s Chop House is a classic American steakhouse. The restaurant serves up sophisticated steak, lamb chops, and seafood in an elegantly refurbished setting. Talented bartenders mix classic cocktails based on a world-class whiskey selection. You can dine indoors or on the patio. Reservations are recommended. Located at 1122 Main Street.
- For tasty Mexican cuisine, try lunch at C Casa in the vibrant Oxbow Public Market. CIA-trained chefs prepare a variety of reimagined Mexican dishes. Their hand-prepared white corn tortilla provides the foundation for its cuisine. Fresh, wholesome ingredients and unique sauces and flavorings round out their deliciousness. Located at 610 1st Street.
RELATED: Our FULL review of Downtown Napa restaurants including brunch, Mexican food, Italian food and fine dining!
Go Wine Tasting on Foot
- In Downtown Napa, there are over 40 wineries where you can taste hundreds of varietals. Still, at Gamling and McDuck, only two varietals are offered – Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. What’s special here is the nine different wines available for tasting are sourced from six different wine regions in California. The bottles feature whimsically humorous names for the wine and great artwork.
They include some delightfully tasting wines, like “Poor and in Love,” a Chenin Blanc, or “Entanglement #5,” a blend of three Cabernet Francs from different vineyards. The name of the wine tasting room is a pseudonym for Gabrielle Shaffer and Adam McClary, a couple of winemakers from Minnesota who opened their shop in 2008 in Downtown Napa. Reservations only and the tastings are almost private except for the beautiful black “greeter cat” that may join you at the bar.
- Vintage Sweet Shop, housed in this one-of-a-kind former feed grain store, is sure to satisfy any sweet tooth as well as any palette for wine tasting. Here handmade chocolates and local wines pair up to create an unforgettable tasting experience.
Owner Debbie Dever has been hand-making chocolates for over 35 years. She and her husband also make a proprietary wine, Devereaux, a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a local Napa Valley AVA. The Vintage Sweet Shop has been featured on the Food Network, Travel Channel, and many publications.
- A stunningly comprehensive volume of wines is available from 21 different wineries in the Vintner’s Collective. This place is the official tasting room for an elite group of Napa Valley winemakers crafting small-production, terroir-driven wines. The Collective also carries some wines from other California and Oregon winemakers.
Housed in a large two-story sandstone building built in 1875, the Collective has been open to the public for 17 years. It offers three private tasting options by appointment only. Flights in each tasting are customized based on your palate and preferences.
The Reserve tasting is paired with local, artisan cheeses and dry-aged charcuterie as you are seated upstairs in Napa’s most famous former brothel. Another tasting involves the ultimate cult wine indulgence with chocolate. If you’re a curious and enthusiastic lover of handcrafted wines, then this is your Downtown Napa tasting room. 1245 Main Street.
- The best part of Downtown Napa may just be that almost all the tasting rooms are within walking distance of one another. The Housely Tasting Room is family-owned and operated with co-owner Adam Housley, a local celebrity, and his wife, Tamara, a well-known talk show host and actress.
This place is cozy and casual, with an upbeat atmosphere. Their wines are primarily produced in Lodi, California, and have that big ripeness of the Central Valley. You can taste by the individual glass or by selected flights. Housley stays open later in the evening than most other Downtown Napa tasting rooms, so this may be your place for a nightcap or two. No reservations are necessary.
Book a downtown Napa wine and brewery tour by e-bike
Blue Note Napa
Blue Note Napa is a live music jazz club and gourmet restaurant. Housed on the first floor of the historic Napa Valley Opera House, Blue Note Napa provides a quintessential Greenwich Village jazz club experience. The Blue Note features some of the biggest names in jazz, like Chris Botti, Diana Krall, and Michael Bublé, in an intimate atmosphere.
Summer means the open-air concert season, and Blue Note performances move from Downtown Napa to the Valley wineries. Charles Krug Winery, Napa Valley’s oldest wine estate, provides the venue for these vibrant, outdoor concerts. Great food and wine, reserved seating, and free parking are available in this casual, fun celebration of world-class musical performances.
All Aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train
In operation for over 69-years, departing at regular intervals from Downtown Napa Station, the iconic Napa Valley Wine Train offers guests a unique opportunity to taste the wines beyond the city without relying on a car. The train continues a railroad tradition that once transported visitors to a spa in Calistoga.
Today the train takes guests on a 36-mile, three-hour round-trip excursion to St. Helena and back with stops along the way at several Napa Valley wineries. Depending on the type of ticket purchased, guests may meet local vintners, partake in a murder mystery, enjoy winery tours and wine tasting on board, in addition to chef-prepared lunch or dinner. Choose from an excellent seasonal menu that differs in each of the three onboard dining experiences.
The Napa Valley Wine Train provides a relaxing ride in restored, antique, elegantly decorated carriages through one of the most famous wine regions in the world. Yet, it conveniently brings you right back to Downtown Napa. This is a bucket list experience!
Oxbow Public Market
This vibrant local gathering place features great food, wine, and specialty foods. Located in the Oxbow District in Downtown Napa, the Oxbow Public Market houses 20 different artisanal vendors. Modeled, in concept, after the San Francisco Ferry Building, the market creates an indoor neighborhood of local food vendors, brewpubs, organic produce stands, and coffee houses.
The Market actively supports sustainable and organic farming practices and locally owned businesses. Its diverse tenant mixture reflects the agricultural community and vast richness of the Napa Valley.
This 40,000 square foot marketplace includes a scenic outdoor deck with seating along the Napa River and the Napa River Trail.
Where to Stay in Downtown Napa
Housed in a lovingly restored Victorian mansion built more than 110-years ago, The Inn on First provides guests with luxury accommodations in Downtown Napa. Each room in this delightful B&B includes a large soaking tub for two and a gas fireplace. Some rooms have balconies. The garden suites feature French doors that open to a private patio. And the fresh house-made chocolate chip cookies are placed in each room prior to guests’ arrival. The garden, where breakfast is served during warmer months, provides a peaceful, relaxing oasis.
But a Bed and Breakfast inn is only as good as its breakfast menu. Co-owner Jim Gunther, a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, provides the morning’s gourmet breakfast. With more than 160 self-created recipes, Jim dazzles his guests with a different gastronomic experience each day. Think New Mexico corn cakes with peppers topped with cheese, tomato, and a poached egg. Or apple pie pancakes. Fresh fruit, house-made pastries, and a choice of beverages accompany each breakfast. Co-owner Jamie Cherry serves the delightful feast with a side of cheer. He’s always happy to sit down with guests and provide friendly tips on where to eat and what to taste in Napa.
And best of all, the Inn on First is just a short walk to downtown restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and shops.
Check availability at The Inn on First
There are plenty of other great hotels in downtown Napa that make it easy to walk around town. Use our map below to find the best deals for your dates.
How to Get to Downtown Napa
Downtown Napa is a one-hour drive from either the San Francisco Airport or the Sacramento Airport. Although it’s easy to get around on foot if you’re staying in Downtown Napa, a car provides the most accessible mode of transportation to Napa. If driving is not your thing, the Napa Shuttle Limousine provides shuttle service from San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Jose Airports. Amtrak also offers train/bus service to Napa.
Is Downtown Napa Worth Visiting?
Whether you are drawn to Downtown Napa for its wine-tasting, art, or fine dining, you’re bound to be amazed by the endless choices for food, wine, and adventures, its gorgeous architecture. The vibrancy of this lovingly renovated urban center. Don’t be surprised if you’re already thinking about returning again at the end of your time here.
The Downtown Napa website provides a comprehensive guide that includes suggested itineraries, where to stay, what to do, and links to resources.
More California Wine Country Destinations
Looking to explore more of California’s famed wine country? Check out some of our other favorite destinations:
10 Best Things to Do in Santa Ynez Valley, California
16 Best Things to Do in Temecula, California
12 Best Things to Do in Paso Robles, CaliforniaNapawine