If you’re planning a trip to California’s premier wine region and are wondering what else you’re going to do (aside from wine tasting), I have good news for you. Stay in downtown Napa, and you’ll be in walking distance or a short shuttle ride to so many activities you won’t even have time to go wine tasting. Ok, I exaggerate. Still, if you’re looking for a less alcoholic way to spend your time in Napa, I encourage you to explore downtown Napa. This is the closest city to San Francisco in Napa Valley, and has more options for activities – you could actually spend your entire time here and never take a sip of wine. This is wine country, however, so I’m not encouraging that!
Here are my top 5 Ways To Explore Downtown Napa Without Wine
Hot air ballooning
Hot air ballooning was an unexpected adrenaline rush for me. If you’ve never been in a hot air balloon, I can’t say enough about how much I loved this experience. It was exhilarating and peaceful at the same time. Being up in a balloon is also an excellent way to get a perspective on where you are in relation to the rest of the valley. It’s a true adventure experience that remains on my list of things I’d like to do again. I went ballooning in Calistoga but there’s no need to drive forty minutes north if you plan to explore downtown Napa. Just hitch a ride with Napa Valley Balloons.
If you want to check it out in advance, watch my short video of the experience, or read more: Flying High Over Napa Valley With Calistoga Balloons.
Napa Valley Balloons
4086 Byway E
Take a cooking class
At the newly opened CIA (Culinary Institute of America) at Copia. The CIA at Copia offers daily cooking classes and food adventures. You can book private events, too, for your family or corporate group. Learn about chocolate, making eclairs and fresh cheeses, pairings, and how to cook with honey. Have a look at the events calendar in advance to plan your trip. There’s also a full-service restaurant open six days a week, and a lovely gift store – perfect for purchasing souvenirs that you can fit into your carry-on luggage after you explore downtown Napa.
The CIA at Copia
500 1st Street
Discover the Napa River
Go kayaking with Enjoy Napa Valley Historical tours. Owner Justin Perkins is a Napa native and can tell you all about the flora and fauna along the Napa River. There’s a lot of history, too, as Napa was once a major shipping port. The team at Enjoy Napa Valley pride themselves on being true locals who know the intimate details of the river in a way only someone who grew up in the Valley can. The Napa River is perfect for all levels of kayaking and the tours can be adjusted to suit as needed.
Enjoy Napa Valley
100 Riverside Dr.
Explore downtown Napa by bike
Napa is an easy city to bike, as it is almost entirely flat with just a few gentle hills. Even an amateur cyclist like me can navigate through town and past a vineyard or three.
Many hotels offer bikes for rent at a very reasonable fee so you don’t even have to book a tour. You can find bike route maps at the local welcome center or download a map of Napa. If you prefer to hire a guide, check out this article: Napa Valley Bike Tours
The Napa Valley Vine Trail is in the works. When complete, it will comprise 44 miles of bike trails, from Vallejo to Calistoga, allowing tourists to explore downtown Napa and beyond. Currently, you can bike 12 miles from Napa to Yountville. With bike riding being such a huge part of the northern California lifestyle, I can envision weekend guests from San Francisco biking all the way to Napa. Almost.
Hotels with on-premise bike rentals:
1450 First St.
A casual luxury hotel with 141 rooms, wine suites for events or business meetings, bike rentals, access to a full service spa and fitness facility, and terrace with a fire pit for chilly Valley nights, the Andaz Napa is a good choice for the guest who likes lots of activity and a more urban environment. There’s no dedicated reception area. Instead, you just walk right into the lobby, which doubles as a lounge, wine bar, entertainment venue, and check in.
The Napa River Inn
500 Main St.
For the guest who enjoys a sense of place a stay at the historic Napa River Inn, located on the riverfront since 1884, will be just right.
The original building was once an old mill, and the rooms located in this building retain some charming architectural elements: hardwood floors, exposed brick, and beautiful old windows, updated of course. There are seven rooms, including the Captain Hatt suite, named after the original owner.
Separate from the original hotel but still in the Napa Mill complex are two other buildings – the Plaza and Embarcadero Buildings. These have standard and deluxe suites along the riverfront. Deluxe rooms come with a river view and balcony.
Bike rentals are not free but are a minimal charge for hotel guests.
Relax at the spa
Napa Valley is known for its first-rate spas, offering innovative services (like Reiki and grape seed body wraps), and products. For a more boutique spa experience, I like the Spa at the Napa River Inn. The Spa was the first in the Valley to use grape seeds in their signature line of organic skin care products, Napa Valley Organics. So, you see, you do get a bit of the fruit of the vine – you just aren’t drinking it.
Housed in an art deco building that was once the Napa police station, the spa is cozy and luxurious at the same time.
I booked a massage here and was very happy with the attention to detail. The music was soft, and the therapist asked questions up front, which meant I could enjoy the massage without a lot of interruptions. I chose the fragrance I wanted for the massage lotion; the experience engages all of the senses. First, my feet were wrapped in a warm towel and a warm compress was placed on my back. The massage was a full hour and ended with another warm towel on the feet and a scalp massage. It was the perfect way to start a day. Or end it. You choose.
The Spa at The Napa River Inn
500 Main St.