Although Napa Valley is renowned for its exceptional vineyards and wine, there are many things to do there besides wine tasting.
Outdoor lovers have access to an expansive countryside with national parks that are ideal for hiking, camping, and swimming. Foodies have their pick of not only six Michelin-starred restaurants, but also fresh, affordable farm-to-table restaurants. For educational and entertaining days and nights in Napa Valley, travelers can dive into the area’s history, art, and music scenes.
Whether you’re already familiar with Napa’s wine scene or you’re uninterested in wine tasting, here are eight things to do in Napa that don’t involve wine.
1. Explore Downtown Napa
The Napa Valley is made up of nine towns, most notably Calistoga, Lake Berryessa, Saint Helena, Yountville, and, of course, Napa. Each of the quaint winery towns has its own unique attractions, but downtown Napa is particularly charming.
With shops and eateries around every corner, you can spend a whole day exploring downtown Napa. Construction began in 1817 with a saloon and a general store; since then, the town has blossomed into a luxurious getaway and foodie mecca. Many of the buildings constructed before the 1906 earthquake still stand.
As you wander through downtown Napa and pop into boutiques and restaurants, admire the historic structures built in the Victorian, Italianate, Spanish Colonial, and art deco styles. Additionally, keep an eye out for Napa Art Walk sculptures -- these works of art, part of a rotating biannual exhibit, were created by artists hailing from all over the Western United States.
2. Grab Lunch At The Oxbow Public Market
The Oxbow Public Market was born from a dedication to sustainability in agriculture and a desire to promote a healthy environment and equality within communities.
The 40,000-square-foot space is filled with 21 merchants selling everything from handcrafted goods to three-course meals. You could easily spend half a day eating, shopping, and exploring the various stalls. The immense number of options available at the market makes it a perfect place for friends or family members with different tastes and dietary requirements to dine together.
Conveniently located in downtown Napa, the Oxbow Public Market offers top-notch food at affordable prices. Enjoy fresh oysters at Hog Island Oyster Bar, fusion tacos at C Casa, or wood-fired pizza at Kitchen Door. After your meal, indulge in a scoop of ice cream at Three Twins on the outdoor deck overlooking the Napa River.
The market is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Hours may vary from merchant to merchant.
3. Soar Over Napa Valley In A Hot Air Balloon
If you think that rolling hills covered in rows and rows of vineyards are beautiful from the ground, just wait until you’re soaring above Napa Valley in a hot air balloon! The crisp air, gorgeous sunrise, and amazing views are all worth the 5 a.m. wake-up call.
There are several hot air balloon companies based in Napa Valley. A classic hot air balloon ride lasts between 45 and 60 minutes and can cost between $189 and $240 depending on the number of passengers. Usually, eight to 20 people can fit in one basket. Several companies also offer a tasty brunch after the flight. With morning preparations, the hour-long flight, and brunch, the experience can take up to 4 hours.
Hot air balloon rides can be tricky, since passengers must be relatively able-bodied to get into and out of the tall basket. Sometimes, pilots may have a hard time maneuvering the balloons, and rough landings are possible. It’s a good idea to book your flight for one of your first days in Napa; that way, you can reschedule if your ride is canceled due to the weather.
4. Tour The Di Rosa Center For Contemporary Art
The art collector Rene di Rosa and his wife founded the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art so that the public could enjoy their 217-acre art park filled with more than 2,000 works. Comprising a sculpture meadow, two galleries, and a man-made 35-acre lake, the di Rosa Center features the artwork of more than 800 local artists.
The vast museum can be overwhelming to explore, so volunteers host 2-hour guided tours of the art park; a tour is included in the price of your ticket ($18 for adults). Tours take place on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 1 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Between April and October, you can take a self-guided walk around the property on weekends. You can also take in the property on horseback for about $145 per hour.
Whether you choose to take a tour or explore on your own, you can easily spend 2 to 3 hours at the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art.
5. Hike Through Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
Several beautiful state parks are located in Napa Valley, but Bothe-Napa Valley State Park stands out from the pack. The 1,991-acre park is the perfect escape into nature with its campground, swimming pool, and picnic areas. Ten miles of trails weave through the skyscraping redwoods, firs, and madrones. During your visit, admire the leafy ferns, listen to the chirping creek, and look for woodpeckers, deer, and foxes, among other native wildlife.
From Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, you can trek 2 miles to the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park for an eye-opening historic attraction. The mill was constructed in 1846 with a 36-foot waterwheel that ground corn and wheat into flour or meal. It’s open on weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission costs $5.
6. Boat, Kayak, Or Paddleboard On The Napa River
Running about 50 miles from Saint Helena to San Pablo Bay, the Napa River is one of the largest rivers in the Central Coast Range. The scenic river, which offers plenty of wildlife- and bird-watching opportunities, winds through downtown Napa. It is one of the most iconic and beautiful parts of Napa Valley.
Instead of sipping a glass of vino on the shore, spend a day boating, kayaking, or paddleboarding on the gleaming water. Whatever your fitness level and level of experience, there’s a Napa water sport for you. A variety of boats are available for hourly, daily, or weekly rental for self-guided tours or guided tours. Hourly rates range from $25 to $35, and full-day rates are around $85.
7. Catch A Live Jazz Performance At Blue Note Napa
Blue Note Napa is located on Main Street in downtown Napa. It’s inside the historic Italianate Napa Valley Opera House, which opened in 1880. With its blue light panels, booth seating, and intimate ambiance, it’s the perfect place to while away the evening.
With several locations throughout the U.S., Blue Note has earned quite a reputation over the years. Notable performers who have graced the Blue Note stage include Cab Calloway, Dianne Reeves, Etta James, and Michael Bublé, among others.
When you’re at the jazz club, which seats more than 150, you can order a delicious meal off the menu by Quentin Garcia. Whether you choose the red-wine-braised short-rib nachos or crisp Brussels sprouts, you’ll enjoy an unforgettable meal while watching some of the greatest live entertainment out there. Show prices depend on the performer and start at $10.
8. Take A Mud Bath In Calistoga
The small city of Calistoga is best known for its regularly erupting geyser, Old Faithful. However, Calistoga’s geothermal activity also makes it one of the best places in the U.S. to receive a mud treatment.
The natural hot springs are rich in minerals, and volcanic ash can be found nearby. These are the two ingredients necessary for a relaxing and healing bath. A specialty in the area, mud baths have rejuvenating and detoxifying benefits. A mud bath lasts 10 to 15 minutes and is followed by a shower, a stint in a steam room, and a towel down. The whole process can take up to 2 hours and will leave you feeling peaceful and at ease.
Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort, which opened in the 1950s, was one of the first places in the area to offer mud baths. Calistoga Spa is another popular place to take a mud bath. An hour-long session costs between $85 and $105.