California’s beautiful Napa Valley is justly famous for its world-class wineries. Equally appealing are its resorts and spas, museums and restaurants. Summer days are hot, but dry, and nights are refreshingly cool. Winter rains keep the valley green and productive, and the many rivers and lakes full. The valley sits in Napa County, its five towns strung like beads north and south along its length. The open agricultural lands between the towns are no historical accident; through a combination of conservation easements and zoning restrictions, the valley’s lush, green character has been carefully preserved.
The Napa Valley has become synonymous with wine; the last several decades have seen Napa County grow to rival the best wine regions of Europe. Stopping in at one of the wineries for a tasting, or scheduling a tour across the many tastes of the valley will be a must for most visitors. Some wineries even have picnic spots. A bottle of wine and a beautiful view with lunch; what’s not to like?
Eating Out on the Town
With your wine, you will want food, and the Napa Valley is a great place to eat. No matter what your preference, you can find it here. You may want to start your search for dinner in the tiny town of Yountville. The town may have less than three thousand residents, but it boasts its own three-star restaurant and several other notable eateries.
Exploring the Great Outdoors
Dozens of hiking trails wind through or cross the valley, leading the visitor through historic sites, across protected forests and marshes, up mountains, and down to the sea. If you’re up for an adventure, the Cedar Roughs Wilderness Area, near Lake Berryessa Recreational Area, doesn’t have hiking trails yet, because it has only recently been protected. A hike there might be tough going because of the dense stands of cedar covering much of the Wilderness area. But you know what they say; when the going gets tough, the tough get 6,350 acres to themselves.
Fast Water and Small Boats
Valleys generally have water in the bottom, and the Napa Valley is no exception. The Napa River runs 55 miles from its headwaters above the valley to the sea, and supports a rich aquatic life, including recovering populations of several salmon species and trout. In the upper reaches of the river, you can go white-water kayaking or rafting. If flat-water paddling or maybe power boats are more your style, just head down stream. The Napa River is the beneficiary of several restoration projects, including an agreement by several area wineries to allow land along the river to revert to a wild state. These efforts seem to be working, as beavers have recently returned to the river. These animals in turn create habitat for huge numbers of birds. Fun fact; the movie Apocalypse Now was filmed here.
Big Water and Fast Boats
Lake Barryessa, an artificial lake on Putah Creek, and the largest body of water in the county, is a great place for a different kind of water-based fun. Sure, you can paddle and bird-watch here, too, but you can also water-ski or swim, and many people do. Some great cycling and hiking routes also weave their way across the land beside the lake.
Hot Water and Healing Mud
If all this outdoor adventure makes you feel a little sore, how does a soak in the hot springs sound? People have been coming to take the waters at the town of Calistoga since at least the 1860’s, and probably earlier, assuming the Wappo people took advantage of the feature. A local specialty is to relax in a bath of volcanic mud. The town even has its own geyser, the Little Old Faithful.
Get Some Culture
After you’re all loosened up, you can check out a play at the Napa Valley Conservatory, in the town of Napa, where students and faculty bring to life the works of Shakespeare or more contemporary playwrights, like Tennessee Williams, with equal alacrity. Or, you can take in a dance or a symphony at the Lincoln Theater, in Yountville. You can have your pick of fine cultural outlets here.
Take in a Museum
The Napa Valley Museum, in Yountville, has both art and history covered. Their permanent history collection will help put all your other adventures in the region in context. There’s even some geology. Do more than scratch the surface in your visit; dig down deep, and begin to get a sense of why California’s little treasure has become what it is today. Learn some of the stories of the diverse peoples who have made the Napa Valley their home.
Wait—You Have Got to See This!
Speaking of art museums, you have got to check out diRosa, in Napa. Huge canvases and conceptual installations indoors compete for attention with the outdoor sculpture gardens set against a striking backdrop of rolling grape vines.
Where Are You Going to Sleep?
But surely all this can’t fit into one day? No, but it doesn’t have to; you have your pick of hotels and resorts up and down the valley, with or without spas included. Some even boast of secluded, outdoor showers. How’s that for an end to an awesome day? Wash the dust of your travels of your tired body by starlight, then crawl into bed between Italian linen sheets?