10Best Things To Do in Napa Valley- Wine Not Always Required

There’s no question wine made Napa Valley famous. With more than 400 wineries, finding a spot to sip couldn’t be much simpler. But when you pack your bags for a trip to Napa Valley, you’ll want to come prepared to do more than just drink wine. Its Mediterranean climate often includes sunny skies in the middle of winter, so outside exploring comes with year-round possibilities. Start you your day with a hike at Skyline Wilderness Park or a trip to Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park to see tallest waterwheel west of the Mississippi. Grab everything you need for a gourmet picnic at Oxbow Public Market or sit down to a white linen table while you ride the rails aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. At the end of the day, take in a live performance at downtown Napa’s historic Uptown Theatre or a see the latest release at Cameo Cinema in downtown St. Helena. Choices are plenty, just be sure to pack good walking shoes. 


Yountville Art Walk
Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh

The Yountville Art Walk is a fun and colorful scattering of 29 sculptures from one end of town to the other. Most of the pieces on display are for sale, and a portion of each sale goes toward arts related activities and events in the community. You can look at the map on your smartphone, or print a copy ahead of time, but the Yountville Art Walk is an easy activity to simply squeeze in when the mood strikes or time allows. The sculptures don't take much work to find. A large number are located along Washington Street, the main road through town.

Napa Art Walk
Photo courtesy of Israel Valencia - Infinity Visuals

The Napa ArtWalk offers a fun way to see art without ever stepping a foot in a museum. Learning your way around downtown Napa is an added perk. Pieces are strategically scattered throughout downtown Napa so you can go at your own pace, sneaking in some shopping, snacking or even sipping along the way. If you like to be organized, download Otocast for a free walking tour complete with descriptions recorded by the artists themselves, or simply do some wandering. You'll come across sculptures either way. The program began in 2009 and changes every couple of years, so there's always new pieces to find and appreciate.

Loved by locals and a favorite of visitors in the know, Skyline Wilderness Park boasts 850 acres for folks to hike, barbecue, picnic and camp. Even though the park is a popular spot, it isn't uncommon to go for stretches without seeing another person, but chances are good you'll see critters like deer, geese and wild turkeys. The park has 25 miles of trails, so you can opt a leisurely stroll or get a good workout. $5 covers parking, admission, and a map of the park. Bring plenty of water and have a camera handy - on a clear day you can see San Francisco Bay.

Napa Valley Wine Train Excursions

All aboard for a unique tour of wine country on the Napa Valley Wine Train. A majority of the trains are restored Pullman rail cars built in 1915. Advanced for their day, the cars served as first class coaches for the Northern Pacific Railway and included modern amenities like electric lights, steam heat, and arched windows. Today, they offer the one and only view of Napa Valley from the rails, paired with a gourmet meal. The rail line was built in 1864 to carry visitors to the resort town of Calistoga. Today the train's route covers 36 miles from downtown Napa to St. Helena and back and lasts about three hours.

In the 1960s Rene di Rosa introduced grapes to the Carneros region, but ultimately it was contemporary art that became his passion. Set on 217 acres, di Rosa is home to the foremost collection of Bay Area art in the world. With nearly 2,000 pieces created by 800 artists, di Rosa has three galleries, a sculpture park, 35-acre lake and a wildlife preserve. The Gatehouse Gallery is open for drop-in visitors, but the rest of the property is accessible by guided tour only. Reservations are recommended and plan accordingly because di Rosa is closed Monday and Tuesday and a handful of holidays.

Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park
Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh

Built in 1846, Bale Grist Mill is home to one of the largest waterwheels in the country. The fully restored water-powered mill still grinds grain the old-fashioned way using its original set of French Buhr millstones. Tours and milling demonstrations are given on weekends and offer visitors a tasty look back in time. It's a good idea to have some extra cash on hand. After the milling demonstration, bags of fresh milled products like polenta, cornmeal, spelt, buckwheat, rye, and whole-wheat flours are available to take home for a small donation. Bale Grist Mill is located between St Helena and Calistoga on Highway 29/128, and is easily seen from the road. The on-site parking lot is easy and convenient, but it's fun to stretch your legs a bit on the History Trail from Bothe-Napa Valley State Park to the mill. It's about two miles round trip.

Cameo Cinema
Photo courtesy of Brian Welsh

When the Cameo Cinema opened its doors in 1913, it was called the G&G Theater and tickets cost a whopping five cents. In its 100-plus year history the theater has hosted movies, theatrical events and vaudeville productions. Over the decades the theater's changed names and owners many times, but its charm remains. With just 140 seats, it's small as theaters go, but the live introduction before every showing makes a night out at the movies feel a little glamorous. And though the theater may be old, the video and sound systems are state of the art, so movie goers won't miss a beat.

Kayak Napa Valley
Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann

Whether you're a pro or first time kayaker, the Napa River doesn't disappoint. It doesn't matter how many times you've looked at the river, being on it, paddling, gives you a new perspective of wine country. Floating through the busy heart of downtown Napa is fun, but the quiet, secluded stretches of water is what often strikes folks the most and wherever you glide along, there always seems to be friendly wildlife to provide entertainment. Paddlers can venture out on their own or take a three hour guided tour. The Napa River is tidal-influenced, so launch locations and times vary from day to day.

When the Uptown Theatre opened its doors in 1937, it was a grand art deco style movie house that attracted guests like Clark Gable and Carol Lombard. Today, it still attracts big names, but instead of movies, live performances take center stage at the Uptown. Entertainers the likes of David Crosby, Peter Frampton and Keb' Mo' have all graced the Napa Stage. The Uptown Theatre has just 863 seats and the distance from the last row to the stage is less than 100 feet. Tickets prices vary depending on who is performing. Plan ahead if you can, shows often sell out.

If you're craving it, chances are good you'll find it at Oxbow's Public Market. Located in downtown Napa, along the Napa River, Oxbow Public Market is stocked with food almost too pretty to eat. Come hungry, because huevos rancheros at C Casa, authentic Italian wood-fired pizza at Ca' Momi Enoteca Italian and some of the freshest oysters you can find at Hog Island Oyster Co. are just the beginning. If you've got a sweet tooth, there's Three Twins Ice Cream, artisan chocolates at Anette's and an assortment of gluten free baked goods at Cate & Co. Pace yourself - you'll want to give everything a try. Sprinkled in between the many restaurants are specialty shops and even a distillery.


Meet Dana Rebmann

Dana Rebmann moved from San Francisco to Wine Country in search of sunshine. Amazing wine and food was a delightful bonus.

A former television producer for NBC News, Dana is a regular...  More About Dana