Visiting wineries, eating amazingly fresh and creative food, and savoring the vibrant public art are among the cool things to do in Napa California. With rolling hills, a river through downtown Napa, over 700 vineyards, and an artistic mindset among the citizens, there are many fun, happy, and cool free things to see in Napa California.
Downtown Napa hosted me (and other travel writers) in order to discover and explore things to do in Napa and share my findings with the McCool Travel network.
Cool Things To Do in Napa California
Getting to Napa California
Downtown Napa is about 90 minutes drive from San Francisco airport (SFO) and a little closer to Sacramento. Tideline operates water shuttles between downtown Napa and San Francisco. Because everything is so close, a car is not needed in downtown Napa. To visit Napa Valley wineries, you will need a car, or even better, join a tour with a designated driver.
Public Art in Downtown Napa
Whenever a Napa downtown commercial building project exceeds $250,000, 1% of the total cost goes toward public art. This cool initiative results in many clever and attractive public art pieces around Napa.
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Loved exploring downtown Napa California today. Crystal clear blue skies, warm temps, friendly people, vibrant public art. During a tour with @napaartwalk, we walked by this lovely piece. Yep, it was not even part of the tour. Rock/paper/scissors. Which you got? . . . #DoNapa #downtownnapa #publicart #visitcalifornia #napacalifornia #travel #traveltheworld #rockpaperscissors #sidewalkart #statues #travelworld #travelwriter #travelblogger #seetheworld #traveltheworld #mccooltravel #funness #napaartwalk
Napa Art Walk supports and promotes public art in downtown Napa. Their main initiative is temporary art displays, changing every two years, with the favorites (voted by public) becoming permanent. More downtown Napa public art appears later in this article.
Gordon Huether Art
For more art, head a little outside of Napa to Gordon Huether Studio + Gallery. My group rode bicycles from Oxbow Public Market to the studio, guided by Justin from Enjoy Napa Valley. Along the way to the studio, we rode along the Napa River and a few vineyards along Monticello Road.
As for the art studio, learn how Gordon Huether creates large scale art installations. His creations adorn airports, courthouses, hospitals, universities, and many buildings around the world.
Visit Anette’s in downtown Napa for a sweet treat or several. At Anette’s Chocolate, Anette and Brent (her brother) combine exquisite chocolate creations with Napa’s amazing wines. During a chocolate tasting (YES!), Anette showed our group the proper way to taste chocolate. Check out the scrumptious homemade ice cream if you make it past the dizzying array of chocolate products.
— Charles McCool ✈️ (@CharlesMcCool) October 25, 2017
Wine Hall of Fame
Also in the CIA building is the Wine Hall of Fame.
— Charles McCool ✈️ (@CharlesMcCool) October 26, 2017
Where to Eat in Napa California
Napa General Store
Experience super fresh local fare in an pleasant outdoor riverfront setting at Napa General Store. Located in historic Napa Mill, Napa General Store also supports local artisans by displaying and selling their products.
Eight Noodle Shop
NOTE: Eight Noodle Shop is closed.
Magnificent in-house made noodles and super fresh local ingredients rule the tasty Asian fare at Eight Noodle Shop. Owner David Lu, an area restaurant veteran, patiently answered questions from our group while offering suggestions. I selected the daily special, a luscious salmon ramen.
Consider Celadon for a special anniversary or romantic meal in downtown Napa. Choose from their lovely courtyard setting or the elegant dining room. In either spot, select from the freshest seafood and highest quality natural ingredients influenced by Mediterranean, Asian, and American flavors. Check TripAdvisor for reviews of Celadon.
Local favorite Bounty Hunter offers amazing BBQ (named one of USA’s best), a dizzying selection of wines from around the world, and dozens of whiskeys and spirits. They receive high praise for their beer can chicken but I encourage you to try their ribs.
C Casa (Oxbow Public Market)
Located in the vibrant Oxbow Public Market, C CASA results from Catherine Bergen’s (founder of Made in Napa Valley brand) vision and passion to serve good, clean food served in a fast-paced and fun environment.
CIA – Culinary Institute of America
Distinctive dining at The Restaurant at CIA Copia pairs simple, seasonally-inspired dishes with curated beverages (wines, handcrafted cocktails, and beers). Interact with chefs in the beautiful open kitchen and experience true hospitality from the staff.
Where to Drink in Napa California
Capp Heritage Tasting Room
Plan to visit one or more of the many wine tasting salons in downtown Napa. Capp Heritage has deep roots (back to Napa’s first vineyard), a lot of Victorian charm, and art deco magnificence.
Also in Oxbow Public Market, Fieldwork Brewing focuses on exceptional, honest beer making.
Where to Stay in Napa California
River Terrace Inn is a luxury hotel located along the Napa River and vibrant downtown Napa is within a 15 minute walk. McCool Travel tip: the Huevos Rancheros here are fantastic. Check for rates and reviews here: River Terrace Inn
Like other Embassy Suites properties, Embassy Suites Napa Valley offers more space (two separate rooms), a cooked to order breakfast, and complimentary evening reception. Unlike other Embassy Suites properties, Embassy Suites Napa Valley feels like a resort, complete with their own residents swans. In fact, one of the best free things to do in Napa CA might be watching the swans for a bit.
The Archer Hotel Napa provides an elegant boutique hotel option in the heart of downtown Napa.
Another lodging option to consider is vacation rentals—including condos, apartments, and houses.
More Free Things to Do in Napa CA
Downtown Napa Public Art
Public art appears all over downtown Napa California; I will highlight some pieces and encourage you to visit, explore, and pick your own favorites.
In the Napa River Inn courtyard, Riverbend Plaza, behind Napa General Store, appears Alan Shepp’s masterpiece called Ars Longa Vita Brevis (Life is Brief But Art Endures). Napa’s history is outlined in intricate glass mosaic and the tiles “flow” from the fountain onto the plaza floor, depicting the Napa River. Magnificent start to a day of exploring Napa public art.
Walk north along the Riverfront Promenade and you will see the popular piece called Fish On by Terrence Martin and then one of my favorite Instagrammable Spots in Napa, the Rock Paper Scissors statue.
Napa Art Walk
The below two pieces are part of the current Napa Art Walk collection but there are 10 others for you to discover!
Here are a couple of permanent public art pieces to see in downtown Napa.
The plaque reads, “Napa—birthplace of the loudspeaker and Magnavox Corp. Peter Jensen and Edwin Pridham’s invention occurred at 1606 F St in May of 1915.”
The poignant 9/11 Memorial sculpture garden uses actual steel beams from the fallen buildings.
Downtown Napa Storefronts
Certainly you can shop until you drop but among my cool free things to do in Napa California is looking at the coolness in front of and in stores.
I do not know if T-rex once roamed Napa Valley but I love the quirky little tree at this storefront.
Put a cork in it! Napa residents and visitors drink a lot of local wine.
Even the sitting benches in downtown Napa are cool. Bay Area artist Eric Powell recycled pieces from the historic library.
Fun Architecture in Napa CA
My next trip to Napa, I want to spend more time exploring the architecture. On brief walks and bike rides, I saw many cool buildings.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Napa California?
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