Story & photos by Linda Kissam
Looking for a truly unique pre or post-Christmas getaway in a magical setting? Is it innovative cuisine, a romantic hotel, Christmas activities, and amazing Napa Valley premium wines that are on your mind? Well, I think I may just have found “that” place for you. You might have missed this place in your last visits to Napa Valley, or if you’re new to the whole Napa scene, then I think I am about to become you’re new BFF.
I love small towns. I love walkable towns. I love the passion and courage of a town that believes in its own renewal. You’ll get all that and more when you visit Downtown Napa. No, I am not referring to Yountville, St. Helena, or Calistoga. I am talking about Downtown Napa, located right off Highway 29. Once considered the slacker stepsister of the other big three, Downtown Napa has gone through a multimillion dollar renaissance that definitely now makes her the belle of the Napa Valley ball.
Interior of the Napa Valley Wine Train
Before you go! Make a reservation at the gorgeous Napa River Inn, the only historic hotel in Downtown Napa. Enjoy your beautiful accommodations and river front view while you’re putting on your walking shoes. Everything you need to do can be done on foot. The daytime temps can range in the 50’s – 70’s. The evenings can dip into the 30’s. Dress in layers. Make a reservation for the Napa Valley Wine Train for day 2.
DAY 1: Pick up a local map at the Napa Visitors Center, located just across the street from your hotel. Napa absolutely has its Christmas Groove on. Enjoy 1,026 Christmas tree ornaments, 2,567 Christmas tree lights, 79 Christmas banners, 3,532 Sweetie Pie Christmas cookies, and 35,040 mini lights throughout Downtown.
Set out for a day of Christmas fun. The official 30 foot Christmas town tree is located just a block from your hotel. Take some pixs then head down to second and Coombs St for the glorious Napa on Ice adventure. This outside rink has 360 pairs of skates – one of them is certain to have your name on it. For $12 you can be a kid again. Glide, twirl and “connect” with the ice at your leisure.
A brisk walk to First and Main takes you to the Napa Valley Roasting Co. Warm up your toes and nose while enjoying the premium coffee drinks so you’re ready to head off to Anette’s Chocolate Factory on First St. You’re going to find original, glorious premium chocolates and peanut brittles here. Ask for samples. Indulge in your every chocolate and brittle dream. This is a great place to purchase some unique Christmas gifts… or goodies for your room. Of special note is their Chili Lime Tequila Brittle.
Right across the street is Eiko’s. This is fresh culinary wizardry at its best. Casual dress is fine, but this is a classy place. Eiko’s delivers imaginative twists on traditional Japanese cuisine. The menu combines modern and authentic traditional Japanese cuisine including seasonal, fresh sustainable fish and ingredients delivered daily from local markets and vendors. Don’t miss the wildly imaginative and yummy Shishito Peppers $6 and Country Miso $ 7. For a real treat ask for organic coconut water Ice cubes ($1.50) and tableside cocktail service.
Take a stroll up the street (known as the West Side) to the Gordon Huether Gallery. Embrace your inner artist as you explore Gordon’s vision of large-scale commissioned work inspired by the effects nature have on man-made materials. You’ll find all kinds of items- small and large – to purchase. Your only limit is your imagination and your wallet. Be sure to look for his oil well with cow toppers series. Fun, funky, and demonstrative.
Day 2: Use your free breakfast voucher from the Napa River Inn. You’ll find a great selection of breakfast items, pastries and specialty coffees at Sweetie Pies, located right next door to the hotel. This day is all about wine and we’re going to start with a stellar activity, The Napa Valley Wine Train. It’s about a 20 minute walk to the train. If you don’t want to walk, ask the Inn if they will take you.
Napa on Ice
If you’re thinking the Napa Valley Wine Train might be a tourist trap, you would be VERY wrong. It’s affordable, has a variety of price points for every interest and credit card. It is one of the top dining establishments housed in an antique train that runs on 25-miles of track in the heart of the Napa Valley. The train itself has two engines, three kitchens on board, and a collection of early 20th century rail cars. The Napa Valley Wine train offers guests great regional food and hard-to-find wines. You will love it.
Getting off the train, head back into the downtown area. Downtown Napa has dozens of tasting rooms and thousands of wines for you to enjoy. Purchase a Napa Downtown Wine Tasting card to taste at 12 of those. Only $25, the Taste Napa Downtown wine tasting card allows you to sample wine at 12 different tasting rooms and wine bars in Napa. Using the card, your initial tasting is only 10 cents! You can taste from among thousands of incredible boutique, hard-to-find wines as well as your favorite wines from Napa Valley and around the globe. Taste Napa Downtown is available at any of the 12 participating tasting rooms. Find out more at napadowntown.com. Be sure to end your fab day at one of my favorites, Carpe Diem Wine Bar, for a unique dinner and thoughtfully selected wines.
Twinkling lights guide you home to your Inn as you are surrounded by the many facets of Christmas cheer in Downtown Napa. Happy Holidays!