Top 10 Things to Do in Napa Valley Besides Drink Wine

Top 10 Things to Do in Napa Valley Besides Drink Wine

The beautiful Napa Valley, a short 90-minute drive north from San Francisco, is undoubtedly a well-sought and famous grape-growing region of world-class vineyards and wine production. The dreamy landscape of rolling hills, luxurious resorts, charming inns, stellar climate, renowned food, and, of course, wine make for an unbeatable destination. Instead of hopping from winery to winery, we’ve harvested a compilation of unexpected surprises from unique attractions, hands-on classes, wellness activities, hilltop, and misty forest views, and restaurants defying the Napa cuisine norm and non-vino bottle souvenirs.

Top 10 Things to Do in Napa Valley

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Olive Oil

Savor Napa’s blossoming olive-oil renaissance at the spectacular estate of Round Pond producing four artisan oils from imported Mediterranean olive trees. Tour the mill, learn about cultivation, harvest and production methods followed by a tasting. In a rush? The Splash & Dash experience allots for samples of handcrafted oils and red wine vinegar blends. Elsewhere, charming spots like Long Meadow Ranch’s historic Logan-Ives House, with a general store vibe, includes tastings of their silky critically hailed Prato Lungo Extra Virgin Olive Oil (try some drizzled on burrata at their farm-to-table restaurant Farmstead). Later, visit the wildly popular St. Helena gourmet Olivier and St. Helena Oils shops.

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Cheers to Nature

Founded in 1976, the Land Trust of Napa, protecting close to 55,000 acres, is an ideal spot for nature lovers and hiking, biking, and kayaking enthusiasts. Depending on the season, guided tours range from a 15-mile hike across the magnificent Dunn-Wildlake and Dunn Ranches with excellent birds-eye views of both Calistoga and St. Helena to an easy 3-mile trip to a waterfall near Conn Creek. Bicycle enthusiasts can chose eight local routes including the moderate 12-mile Lake Hennessey ride, passing through grape vines and rural roads, while more leisurely riders will enjoy pedaling around Calistoga along the scenic 11-mile Old Toll Road. Pack good footwear and athletic gear.

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Enhance Your Cooking Skills

Serious hands-on cooks will enjoy Silverado Cooking School, with classes teaching the important techniques like blanching and sautéing helmed by chef Malcolm de Sieyes.  Located in a historic 1888 stone winery, the renowned Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone gives food enthusiasts a front row seat of chefs-in-action demonstrations. Afterwards, shop at the on-site culinary store with unique tools like an avocado slicer and yeast thermometer. Chef Thomas Keller’s Finesse Shop is perfect unique finds like the stunning porcelain KwangJuYo Lucy Bowls.  Enjoy the spacious, local 40,000-square-foot Oxbow Public Market, packed with 24 artisan vendors like Napastak selling teas and jams and Whole Spice with a bevy of 300 rare, exotic spices.

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Souvenirs and Gifts

Bring an extra suitcase for local treasures like artist Kelly Farley’s stunningly simple Pope Valley Pottery, a line of gorgeous serving and nesting bowls, coffee mugs, and vases (available for purchase at Archetype in early 2015). In Rutherford, Scarecrow winery’s co-owner Mimi DeBlasio produces Barney’s-worthy 24K gold jewelry bestowing the scarecrow emblem. Harvesting grapes from her family’s vineyard, Lydia Mondavi’s 29 skincare and cosmetics offers anti-aging, antioxidant grape seed products and makeup like sparkling Pinot lip gloss (sold at Pearl’s Wonderful Clothing). Need something for the sweet tooth? Grab a mix of Kollar Chocolates, confections made using ingredients like fennel pollen, gooey chocolate turtles from the small La Forêt Chocolate and caramels with Fleur de Sel at the Parisian-style storefront Woodhouse Chocolate.

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Discover The Mud

At the northern end of Napa Valley, Calistoga hosts a wealth of natural hot springs. Native Wappo Indians first unearthed the mud practice known for its detoxifying benefits. Experience a local bath, a mix of hot spring water and natural minerals infused with rich volcanic ash and peat. The venerable Indian Springs, settled on 16-acres of palm trees, roses, and lavender is perfect for unwinding—there are four on-site thermal geysers and hot mud soaks (clothing optional). The modest should consider the gloriously private Calistoga Ranch Spa. Try the “Calistoga Mud Wrap” with a dry brush exfoliation, a full body massage, or the “Sense of Place” with a mud mask of volcanic ash painted onto your back.

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PICNIC TIME ON WINERY GROUNDS

Spring is just marvelous in Napa Valley for a picnic, and definitely deserves a spot on any “things to do in Napa” list!  My favorite place for this?  Peju, hands down.  Not only do they have an excellent shop with meats and cheeses, but a barbecue as well in the warmer months on certain days.  Make sure to grab an order of the cheesy jalapeños – any spice lover will devour these in no time.

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CALISTOGA MUD BATHS

Imagine stepping into a bath full of mud and drifting peacefully to sleep (okay, maybe falling asleep’s not the greatest idea of all time).  Definitely a unique experience and one for the bucket list.  And have you seen Luis basking in the mud on USA’s premier show Suits?  C’mon, one quick look of his face and you can automatically tell it’s a life changing experience.  😛   Currently on my California Bucket List.
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RELAX BY YOUR OWN PRIVATE FIREPLACE
The best way to end any day?  Lounging in your king size bed at the Andaz Napa without a worry in the world.  Order some room service, and you’ve got my favorite kinda night all planned out for ya.  Plus- they have the most delectable bubble baths (which my friend and I made sure to put to use every. single. night. – we took selfies, of course.
9 OF 10

Discover The Mud

At the northern end of Napa Valley, Calistoga hosts a wealth of natural hot springs. Native Wappo Indians first unearthed the mud practice known for its detoxifying benefits. Experience a local bath, a mix of hot spring water and natural minerals infused with rich volcanic ash and peat. The venerable Indian Springs, settled on 16-acres of palm trees, roses, and lavender is perfect for unwinding—there are four on-site thermal geysers and hot mud soaks (clothing optional). The modest should consider the gloriously private Calistoga Ranch Spa. Try the “Calistoga Mud Wrap” with a dry brush exfoliation, a full body massage, or the “Sense of Place” with a mud mask of volcanic ash painted onto your back.

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OTHER WORLD CLASS RESTAURANTS

If you can’t manage a reservation at French Laundry, or shelling out $500 a meal is not in your vocabulary, there’s other dining options which shouldn’t be missed!  A few of these include:
  • Bouchon
  • Ad Hoc
  • Redd
  • The Restaurant at Meadowood
  • Bistro Jeanty
  • Goose & Gander
  • Zuzu
  • The Thomas
  • Solbar

Top 10 Things to Do in Napa Valley Besides Drink Wine

Go all medieval. Perched on a hill just south of the town of Calistoga sits a historic anomaly: a 13th-century Tuscan castle. Known by the locals as “Dario’s Folly,” the Castello di Amorosa represents unbridled passion and dedication by Dario Sattui (proprietor of V. Sattui Winery), who spent decades building this authentic replica of a medieval castle. The estate includes all the features you’d expect from a real castle – moat and drawbridge, great hall, courtyards and loggias, an apartment for the nobles, chapel, horse stables, secret passageways and, of course, a prison and torture chamber. Once you enter the grounds, you’ll swear you’re in Tuscany.

Get down and dirty. The Napa Valley soil isn’t just good for growing grapes. At the valley’s north end, in Calistoga, the high volcanic ash content is combined with water, peat, and natural minerals to create therapeutic mud baths that have attracted visitors for the past century. Calistoga’s main drag, Lincoln Avenue, is full of spas that offer a variety of mud treatments, including Golden Haven Hot SpringsLavender Hill SpaDr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs ResortMount View Hotel and SpaIndian Springs ResortRoman Spa, and several others.

Just take a hike. As you might expect from its topography, the Napa Valley is surrounded by great hikable terrain. Some of my favorite hikes are at nearby Bothe-Napa Valley State ParkSkyline Wilderness ParkAlston ParkOat Hill Mine TrailLake Berryessa, and Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. By the time your wine-tasting compatriots have made it back to the hotel room for a nap, you will have scaled a mountain.

 

Get some altitude. If you’d like a truly spectacular memory of wine country, your best option is to see it at sunrise from a graceful, floating hot-air balloon. Several companies offer airborne adventures throughout the valley, including Napa Valley AloftBalloons Above the Valley, Napa Valley Balloons, and Calistoga Balloons.

Roll your own. There’s nothing more fun than an easy-going game of bocce ball, a sport most people play with a glass of wine in one hand. Order lunch on the patio at Solbar (the restaurant at Solage Calistoga resort) and learn to play on the nearby court. Or, if you happen to have your own bocce balls, there are public courts in Yountville (at Yountville Park) and St. Helena (at Crane Park).

Put a spin on it. The best possible way to experience the valley, in my humble opinion, is from a bicycle – whether you’re going for a long, ambitious ride or just carrying picnic supplies to a nearby park. The valley is networked by a series of cross-roads between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, if you like to keep it flat, or has a wide variety of twistier routes if you’d prefer to get some elevation. And with the progress being made on the Napa Valley Vine Trail, there are increasing options for getting off the road altogether. Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga all offer good bike shops with daily rentals.

Top 10 Things to Do in Napa Valley

See some art. Wine country isn’t just about the outdoors. If great art is your thing, there are several venues for seeing some truly notable pieces. Head to the Hess Collection (a premium winery known equally for its art collection), di Rosa (home of some provocative permanent pieces as well as temporary exhibits), Artesa Winery, or the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville (focusing on local artists and themes).

Head to the water. Yes, we have watersports here, too. The Napa River is increasingly populated with small boats, kayaks, and paddleboards, available for rental from Napa Valley Adventure Tours, Napa Valley PaddleGetaway Adventures, or High Water Stand-Up Paddle. Or just take a pleasant stroll along the beautiful Napa River Trail.

Enjoy a view. It’s hard to find a place in the Napa Valley where there isn’t a great view, whether it’s a field of mustard on the side of the highway or a spectacular cloud-scape coming over a ridge. Some of my favorite vantage points include the bar terrace at Auberge du Soleil, the aerial tram up to Sterling Vineyards, the Wine Crusher statue at Vista Point, or just taking a coffee out to the deck at Oxbow Public Market. The Napa Valley Wine Train has an open window cart that runs in the summer where you can get some great views as they cart you up and down the valley over lunch or dinner. There are so many places to get a fresh perspective on this beautiful pocket of natural beauty.

Get in the kitchen. It should come as no surprise that, in one of the world’s renowned food and wine meccas, there are plenty of opportunities to learn how to cook – from a single day class to a longer culinary retreats. Check out the Silverado Cooking School, Casa Lana, Cooking with Julie, the Culinary Institute of America, and Cedar Gables Inn.

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