4 Must-Do Activities in Napa Valley (Besides Wine Tasting)
Hello, fellow Escapists. Winter is a mild time in California’s wine country, a world away from the hustle and bustle of midsummer’s crowds and bustling harvest season.
With more than 375 wineries open for tastings and 90 urban tasting rooms, Napa has no shortage of places to sip the valley’s famous Cabernets on a trip north. But wine is not the only specialty of the region. There’s plenty to do in Napa without setting foot in a vineyard.
What are your favorite places to go in Napa Valley? Let me know so that I can pass on your recommendation to other readers in a future edition of Escapes.
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Visit a light art festival
I was dazzled by the Light at Sensorio exhibit in Paso Robles when it debuted in 2019. The jewel-toned rippling lights, imitating a natural meadow of flowershas captivated travelers to the Central Coast wine region, quickly becoming a must-visit destination.
Art and wine have gone hand in hand for millennia, and now a new illuminated art event invites travelers to wine country. Eight light sculptures make up the Napa Illuminated Art Festivalincluding a peculiar “cloud swing” as well as a set of angel wings.
This walkable outdoor experience can be seen in downtown Napa Monday-Thursday 6-9pm and Friday-Sunday 6-10pm. The best part, especially in a community where wine tasting can get quite expensive: the art festival is free.
Would you like to continue your Napa outdoor art tour during the day?
The Napa Art Walk will take you to 10 public art installations scattered throughout the city, and the railway arts district – an open-air contemporary art gallery with a 2-mile footprint – provides further immersion in the creativity of the city.
Learn to cook with experts
The Culinary Institute of America produces some of the most talented chefs in the country. Travelers to Napa can get a taste of what it’s like to be one of the school’s world-class students by booking a class.
AT “Bistrots and Brasseries” class Scheduled for February 25, the institute’s chefs will show attendees how to prepare a range of French cafe dishes, such as croqu-monsieur and chocolate mousse. (And, yes, you can eat the food you prepare during class – paired with wine.)
The institute also offers courses focused on wine, where clients have the chance to learn skillfully taste wine in 90 seconds and how professionals wine and cheese pairing.
Book your course in advance; it looks like the spots seem to fill in quickly.
If you’re more interested in eating delicious food than making delicious food, skip class and book a table at the grove of Copia, one of the restaurants of the culinary institute. The downtown Napa restaurant, chaired by institute graduate Sayat Ozyilmaz, specializes in Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.
Visitors to downtown Napa can further embrace their indoor epicurean at Oxbow Public Marketa food hall included by Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds on his list of 40 Best California Fall Experiences. “This gourmet acre is a wholesome reminder that this wine country does more than make wine,” Reynolds writes.
Cycle the Napa Valley Vineyard Trail
Especially to first-time visitors, Napa Valley can seem like a dizzying array of wineries, tasting rooms, spas, and chic restaurants.
Ride a bike Napa Valley Vineyard Trail is one of the best ways to make sense of it all.
The path takes riders and walkers 12.5 miles south from Napa to Yountville, but its ambitions are bigger. The trail’s founders envision the trail to be a 47-mile day trip, connecting the entire Napa Valley region from Vallejo to Calistoga.
The trail’s interactive online map, which includes restaurant and winery recommendations, is a useful tool for planning your hike.
Napa Valley Velo charges $30 for a two-hour bike rental and $45 for a full day. Other bike rental companies can be found here.
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Take the wine train
Traveling can be expensive, but it’s not always the case. I try to include inexpensive and free activities in this newsletter to make getaways as friendly as possible for all budgets.
That said, tickets to ride the Napa Valley Wine Train does not come cheap. But there’s a reason Reynolds included it on his list of 40 Best Outdoor Experiences in California.
“If you want to fully appreciate Napa Valley and its world-admired vineyards, the driving is best avoided,” Reynolds writes. “On the Napa Valley Wine Train you can dine in style as the miles and vineyards roll by.”
Tickets start at around $165 for all three hours “afternoon tea” walk and go up – very high – from there.
the “Romance on the Rails” Package ($365) might appeal to those looking for the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, but the train Murder Mystery Experience ($555) is at the top of my list of things to do in California. The chance to play Nancy Drew while wearing exaggerated 1920s clothes and enjoying wine and a three-course dinner? I’m so into it.
📰 What I read
- Heading to the Bay Area soon? Reynolds has compiled a list of 10 tips to know before you go.
- “The world of wine is about to become a big upheaval“, reports Monica Prelle in Outside. “As the planet warms,” she explains, “wine regions like Napa are being forced to make major adaptations.”
- A campground in Yosemite National Park is so popular that authorities are trying a lottery this year. Forrest Brown explains how to register for the lottery on CNN.com.
- Speaking of national parks, Reynolds breaks down everything you need to know before visiting national parks in 2022.
One of the reasons Truckee’s ski traffic is so terrible? This 100-year-old narrow tunnelwrites Julie Brown in SFGate.
📸 Picture of the week
🎸 Road Song
Song: “I drink wine” by Adele
Favorite Lyrics: “Sometimes the road less traveled is a road best left behind.”
Where to listen: Cruise Napa Valley’s famous Silverado Trail (just make sure you have a designated driver before visiting the tasting rooms).