View from Napa Valley Wine Train

Downtown Napa Has It All! What Are You Missing?

We did not have to think twice when the Downtown Napa Association (Do Napa) invited us to explore the area. While many of our trips involve hiking in stunning landscapes, we substituted hiking with wine tastings. The valley offers hiking, but we stayed off the trails to maintain a different kind of trip. It was a nice change of pace.

While Napa Valley’s lush vineyards are legendary, we admittedly were unaware Downtown Napa existed. Julie and I were initially unsure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised by the variety of activities and attractions. Let’s pull back the vines and take a closer look at Downtown Napa’s unexpected charms.

Walkable Downtown Area

Scott McConkey, travel writer and founder of Miles with McConkey Travel Blog, walks in Downtown Napa along the Napa River and Napa Art Walk.
Walking by a fish sculpture along the Napa River. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Downtown Napa is a haven for pedestrians. The quaint town feels safe and welcomes you with open arms. As you stroll the vibrant streets, you will discover many boutique shops, art galleries, unique eateries, and wine-tasting rooms. Best of all, everything is accessible on foot within a few short blocks.

After the 50-mile drive north from San Francisco, we parked our car upon arrival and didn’t need it again until our departure. With a large number of wineries and so many unique tasting room experiences, it is no wonder Downtown Napa is dubbed California’s most walkable wine country destination.

Where to Stay

Lobby of Archer Hotel Napa
Archer Hotel Napa lobby. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

While we encountered several lovely accommodations strolling around town, Julie and I were delighted to stay at Archer Hotel Napa. From the moment we stepped into the lobby, our cheeks stretched from ear to ear with broad grins. The inviting space screams luxury and elegance, comprising many details that honor the fertile wine region. 

I felt like I walked through a finely polished barrel tunnel into an immaculate wine cellar proudly displaying its treasures. A giant topographic map on the wall struck my attention as if it were the tip of the cap to Napa Valley. Comfy couches by the fire beckoned to us. While I surveyed my surroundings, the voice in my head said, “This place feels like home.”

As we entered our spacious room, a tempting charcuterie board and a delicious bottle of wine greeted us. We then explored the hotel to discover many more gems, including a rooftop that houses a salon, fitness studio, cabanas along a water deck, and spectacular views. Beyond all the fantastic amenities, we had a central location close to everything.

Sky & Vine

Julie sips a cocktail at Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar in Downtown Napa
Julie sips a cocktail at Sky and Vine Rooftop Bar. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Archer Hotel Napa offers another gem in Sky & Vine Rooftop Bar. With an open-air concept and a laid-back vibe, it is the perfect place to wind down the evening with tasty cuisine, a refreshing drink, and stunning sunset views as night steals the day. While the eatery has plenty of shaded seats under a canopy, the perimeter seats offer an unobstructed view of the town, giving way to the valley on the horizon. On a cooler evening, you may want a coveted firepit seat.

Their menu features salads, light bites, a double-stack burger, impossible sliders, and sandwiches like crispy chicken, Reuben, and pesto portobello. Julie and I sampled the Margherita “pie in the sky,” sweet potato fries, and grilled polenta. The savory artisan pizza and grilled polenta with marinara, parmesan, and basil delighted our palates but felt light in our tummies. Each pairs nicely with a glass of wine or a fruity cocktail.

Vermeil Wines

Vermeil Wines tasting room in Downtown Napa
Tasting room at Vermeil Wines. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Julie and I were astounded to discover Napa Valley native and Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Dick Vermeil owns Vermeil Wines. Tasting Room Manager Kayla Jordan welcomed us into a comfortable room with a “wall of fame” that included footballs, a replica of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and a bust of Coach, as she affectionately refers to him. Kayla’s enthusiasm for wines and the wine industry was palpable. We quickly realized that this would be a fun and unique venue.

Our tasting experience included a fantastic charcuterie board and a brief history of the Vermeil family’s involvement in Napa Valley winemaking. Julie and I sampled two current releases: a delightful chardonnay and the 2021 XXXIV Red Wine, a tribute to Coach’s Super Bowl win with the St. Louis Rams in 2000. The latter is a blend of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and petite syrah. Spice, chocolate, and red fruit notes danced harmoniously across my tongue.

Then we tried three wines from their signature series tasting, including the Jean Louis Vermeil, a tribute to the family, and the Pickett Road Block Cabernet. While I enjoyed all the wines, my favorite was the latter. It is 100% cabernet sauvignon oak-aged for 21 months with a velvety smooth finish and earthy tones. Vermeil Wines delivers tasty wines and a fun experience, even for those who are not football fans.

Charlie Palmer Steak

Breakfast at Archer Hotel Napa restaurant
Breakfast at Charlie Palmer Steak. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

I love that Archer Hotel Napa has a restaurant at the back of its lobby. This lovely area allows you to savor a meal and the view. Although its name conjures images of a mouthwatering dinner, Charlie Palmer Steak serves an equally delicious breakfast. 

Its morning menu features a plant-based smoothie, Greek yogurt parfait, steel-cut oatmeal, omelets, eggs benedict, avocado toast, Belgian waffles, and lemon ricotta pancakes. Beverage options include coffee, espresso drinks, a bloody mary, and the popular mimosa flight. 

My steel-cut oats came with brown sugar, golden raisins, and plump blueberries on the side. I was ready to explore after this and a fresh, hot cup (okay, two cups) of coffee. Julie happily polished off her plate of scrambled eggs, ham, and tater tots. We hated to depart the enchanting lobby, but Downtown Napa beckoned.

Napa Valley Wine Train

Scott McConkey, travel writer and founder of Miles with McConkey Travel Blog rides the Napa Valley Wine Train.
Enjoying the view on the Napa Valley Wine Train. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Julie and I love trains and appreciate a good glass of wine. So, combining the two into a single experience sounded terrific. How was it in reality? In a word, it was magical.

The train departs Downtown Napa and heads north through Napa Valley to St. Helena. We stared in awe as we passed art gallery-worthy scenes of Napa Valley’s countryside, sprawling vineyards, and quaint communities. Pair that with tasty fare, renowned wines, or a refreshing cocktail, and you have the makings of a beautiful day.

Napa Valley Wine Train offers various experiences, including tasting journeys, daytime rides, evening rides, a seven-course meal, tea and cocktail service, and seasonal trips. Our three-hour ride included a four-course meal in the dome train car. As you can imagine, you have an excellent selection of wines from which to choose. The excursion also includes after-dinner drinks. I savored a delicious millionaire’s coffee as we came down the home stretch of our journey.

Although a century old, the beautiful Pullman train cars are well maintained and include some original features such as lights and sections of stained glass. Julie and I walked to the back of the train, where we stood on the platform and soaked up the view for a while. 

Upon reaching our northernmost point, we returned to the platform to observe the locomotive pass us. The switch operator flipped the tracks, and the engineer gently drove the locomotive into our car without causing us to sway or lose our balance. The two men coordinated everything seamlessly. It is something we will never forget.

Everything about the Napa Valley Wine Train was a joy, from the excellent service to the food and drinks to the beautiful train cars and countryside. It is such a relaxing and delightful experience, and I smile whenever I think about it.

Be Bubbly

Julie McConkey of Miles with McConkey Travel Blog tastes champagnes and sparkling wines at Be Bubbly.
Tasting champagnes and sparkling wines at Be Bubbly. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

From the moment we saw Be Bubbly Lounge & Bistro from across the street, we knew it would be fun. The “Drink More Bubbly” sign sparkles like a disco ball, welcoming you to an escape from daily life. Much of the place feels eclectic, with corks and bottle seals under the see-through tables and a few rows of green bricks above the booth seats. It sets the tone for a laid-back, enjoyable tasting experience.

Be Bubbly features champagnes and sparkling wines but offers various drinks. Their “poptails” utilize sparkling wine or champagne. While Be Bubbly’s brunch and main menus carry plenty of tasty fare, they have quite the reputation for their duck fat tots and caviar. Julie and I had the opportunity to sample both and can vouch that the reputation is justified.

Our tasting included the Louis Roederer Collection 244, Domaine Lagille Grande Reserve, Bodet Herold Nillesime 2019 Brut Nature, Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs, June’s Rose, and Chateau Grand-Jauga Cuvee Prestige 2018. While Julie favors the sweeter varieties, I liked the Brut Nature because of its crisp taste and lack of added sugar. 

As novices, Julie and I found the champagne and sparkling wine names intimidating. However, we felt at ease and were not judged whatsoever during our time here. As a result, we immensely enjoyed the tasting experience. Whether or not you typically drink champagne and sparkling wines, be sure to check this place out. “Be Bubbly” is more than a reference to the drinks, it is a life philosophy.

Wine Girl

Interior of Wine Girl in Downtown Napa
Wine Girl. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

With white neon signs, a porch swing out front, and two individual swings inside, we immediately recognized Wine Girl as a unique place. Inside, you will find plants hanging from the ceiling, flowers on the tables, and lots of white furniture and decor to give the place a bright, airy feel. Splashes of pink here and there maintain the “girly” vibe. 

I cannot deny that Wine Girl is an excellent venue for a bachelorette party or a girls’ night out. Do not fret, gentlemen; you are welcome to join the fun, too. 

Beyond the bar seats and cute diner tables, you will find some comfy couches to kick back and relax. Wine Girl offers outdoor seating with umbrellas as well. The wine bar is known for their light bites, wood-fired pizzas, winetails and carrying sixteen wines on tap.

Julie and I ordered a charcuterie board and a Margherita pizza. She had a strawberry champagne margarita, and I chose a watermelon wine-a-rita. I can see why the sweet, fruity drinks are so popular. While we expected the fruity drinks to deliver, the food exceeded our expectations. The charcuterie board and wood-fired pizza were fantastic. 

Wine Girl opened their first store in Arizona before setting up shop in Downtown Napa. It is a welcome addition to the region, offering a unique and fun experience. As you explore the downtown area, make sure to visit Wine Girl. You will not regret it.

Model Bakery

View of Model Bakery, Downtown Napa
Julie tries to decide what to order at The Model Bakery. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

When visiting a place with so many unique wine tastings, you will likely want a morning coffee boost to start your day. We heard that The Model Bakery received considerable attention a few years ago when Oprah declared their English muffins one of her favorite things. So, we had to check it out. 

The bakery case loaded with cookies and pastries immediately caught my eye. It presented standard items like bear claws, chocolate chip cookies, and blueberry muffins, as well as pleasant surprises like apple butterhorns, cranberry buttermilk scones, almond macaroons, molasses ginger cookies, and lemon poppyseed bread. The bakery also serves breakfast sandwiches, wraps, tea, coffee, and espresso drinks.

Everything looked so tempting that it was challenging to determine what to order. Admittedly, Julie and I have a sugar addiction. So, we ordered a few pastries and a caramel latte. Everything was delicious, and we were soon ready to face the day.

Sunrise in Downtown Napa

Scott McConkey, travel writer and founder of Miles with McConkey Travel Blog, watches sunrise in Downtown Napa.
Enjoying sunrise from the Archer Hotel Napa rooftop. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

There is something about a sunrise that sets the tone for a great day. We caught two incredible sunrises during our time in Downtown Napa. The Archer Hotel Napa rooftop is perfect for seeing the sun appear on the horizon and brighten the valley. I brewed a cup of Nespresso in our room, and then we ascended to the roof to enjoy the show. It does not get much easier than that.

On the morning of our short stroll to The Model Bakery, we stopped along the Napa River to catch the sunrise. We saw reflections of trees and buildings in the water. Ducks and birds emerged, eager to start their day. 

To top it off, we saw a beaver. Julie and I have visited national parks and state parks known for housing beavers, only to come up empty. Of all places to observe one, we never dreamed it would be Downtown Napa.

Padis Jewelry

Breitling bar and wine tasting room at Padis Jewelry in Downtown Napa
Wine tasting at Padis Jewelry. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

I had never heard of a combination jewelry store and wine-tasting room. At first, we thought it was odd. While you can combine the experiences, most customers come to Padis Jewelry to participate solely in either jewelry shopping or wine tasting. 

If you are shopping for an engagement ring or fine jewelry, you will be in good hands. Padis Jewelry offers both lab-grown and natural diamonds. They pride themselves on educating customers about the differences so they can make an educated decision. Alexis Padis, Marketing & Operations Manager, gave us a brief overview during our visit.

Beyond the dazzling diamonds, gems, fine jewelry, and luxurious Breitling watches, our favorite part of the store is a bright neon sign. If you are a fan of the television show Parks and Recreation, like Julie and I, you will appreciate the “Treat Yourself” sign. Julie and I could not resist capturing the moment with a photo.

The other side of the facility comprises the Breitling Bar and wine tasting room for Padis Vineyards. We love how shelves contained items representing land, sea, and air, including pictures of planes and astronauts and nautical props like a diving suit helmet. It makes the space unique and perfect for a relaxed wine tasting.

General Manager Anne White hosted our tasting. Her enthusiasm for wine parallels that of Alexis with jewelry. Both exude such enthusiasm you cannot help but enjoy the experience. 

Julie and I tasted a 2019 chardonnay with a beautiful golden color that paired perfectly with drunken goat cheese. Next, we sampled a 2018 merlot with midnight moon cheese. Cherry flavors first hit the palate with spice and pepper notes on the back. Then we had a 2015 cabernet syrah. I did not think the next glass could top it, yet it was my favorite wine of the week. Their 2013 cabernet sauvignon is a flavorful wine with dark chocolate notes. I nibbled cave-aged gouda and dark chocolate in between sips. My taste buds hit a heightened state of sheer bliss.

JaM Cellars

JaM Cellars wine room and music studio in Downtown Napa
Wine tasting at JaM Cellars. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

If you enjoy live music with your wine, head to JaM Cellars. John Anthony Truchard and his wife, Michele love wine and music. There is no better way to share that love than through a fun, laid-back wine-tasting experience in Downtown Napa.

With Rolling Stone covers and articles plastered on the wall, it feels like you stepped into a recording studio. The hip joint with music themes has comfy couches and booth seating where you can kick back and sample wines, including their feature brand, Butter Chardonnay. You can enjoy live music in the evenings from Thursday through Saturday and during the afternoon on Sunday.

Julie and I had the opportunity to taste their North Coast brut, sparkling rose, dry rose, sauvignon blanc, and the famed Butter Chardonnay. The featured wine is rich and bold, as advertised. While Julie and I enjoyed their wines, my favorite was the sauvignon blanc. It was so different from everything else we sampled during the week. Pineapple notes shine through in the flavor profile. In between tastings of chardonnay and cabernet throughout Downtown Napa, if you want something unique, try the sauvignon blanc at JaM Cellars.

Napa Palisades

Plates of food at Napa Palisades, Downtown Napa, CA
Food at Napa Palisades Saloon. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

While wine tastings with light bites are excellent, you will likely want a dinner with more options at some point during your visit. Be sure to check out Napa Palisades Saloon. Yes, it looks and feels like a bar, but the food is fantastic. The menu includes steak and fries, pulled pork mac and cheese, fish and chips, burgers, sandwiches, and other gourmet pub fare.

You can certainly have a glass of wine at Napa Palisades, but they pour over 30 house and local craft beers on tap. They also have a whiskey bar and mix craft cocktails.

I had the spicy fried chicken sando with a side of Brussels sprouts and a Lost Cost Downtown Brown Ale, and Julie had the fish and chips with a strawberry lemonade. All the food was hot and fresh. Despite a steady crowd, the service was excellent. 

The delicious fried chicken sando is mildly spicy. A Balsamic glaze on the Brussels sprouts elevates the side, delighting the tongue. While I enjoy wine, the refreshing brown ale was a nice change of pace. Julie thoroughly enjoyed her hot, juicy, well-seasoned fish dinner.

Try to save room for dessert if you can. Napa Palisades serves strawberry shortcake and peanut butter cup cheesecake. Julie and I shared a serving of strawberry shortcake, which was scrumptious.

Napa Valley Gondola

Scott McConkey and Julie McConkey of Miles with McConkey Travel Blog take a gondola ride in Downtown Napa
Enjoying a gondola ride on the Napa River. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

A trip to Venice, Italy, is on our bucket list, but it may be a while before Julie and I make it a reality. Napa Valley Gondola offers the next best thing. Picture a peaceful gondola ride along the banks of Downtown Napa with far fewer gondolas in the water. 

Napa Valley Gondola owner Sean O’Malley and fellow gondolier Haven treated us to a ride in a hand-crafted gondola actually used in Venice. The beautiful boat is 36 feet long and comprises eight different types of wood. 

Julie and I marveled at the vessel’s details and how it balanced despite an asymmetrical design. For those who wonder why a gondola always tilts to one side, it is to counterbalance the weight of the gondolier, who stands to one side.

Downtown Napa may not have the same prestige as Venice regarding gondola rides, but there is a romance to the quaint but luxurious town at the base of the legendary wine region. With authentic Venice boats, you get a glorious combination of old-world charm and California wine country flair.

Napa Valley Gondola offers various experiences, including wine-tasting and morning coffee cruises. All rides are private. While the boats can hold up to six people, it is perfect for a romantic date for two.

You may spot wildlife such as beavers, river otters, foxes, and shore birds. During our ride, we saw ducks, mergansers, geese, and green herons.

While Julie and I enjoyed our Downtown Napa activities, our top two attractions are the Napa Valley Wine Train and the Napa Valley Gondola. Both experiences are outstanding and make a visit to Downtown Napa memorable.

Roots Run Deep

Bottles of wine at Roots Run Deep in Downtown Napa
Wine bottles at Roots Run Deep Winery. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

The Roots Run Deep Winery is a cozy, inviting house in the heart of Downtown Napa. Julie and I love how the winery displays the chemical formulas for making wine on the labels for its Educated Guess line. 

Their Higher Education reserve cabernet series cleverly illustrates a stack of books on the label. The lighter the wine, the shorter the stack, with the fuller body wines depicting taller book stacks. In order, the lineup is The Scholar, The Graduate, The Valedictorian, and The Ph.D.

We started our tasting with a 2022 Sonoma Coast chardonnay with creamy toasted notes of spice and vanilla. Then, we sampled the 2019 Hypothesis, a pinot noir with notes of cherries and sage. After that, Julie and I tasted a delicious reserve malbec, The Scholar, and The Graduate. The latter two are different cabernet sauvignon blends from Oakville and Napa Valley vineyards.

All the wines were delicious, and I had a hard time picking a favorite. I will gladly return for more samples so I can determine a winner. If you want a relaxed tasting in a comfortable setting with flavorful wines, go to Roots Run Deep.

Kitchen Door

Kitchen Door in Downtown Napa
Kitchen Door. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

If you are looking for a great place to grab lunch or dinner, head to Kitchen Door. They offer an expansive outdoor seating area, comfortable indoor dining space, and full-bar seating. Their flavorful cuisine features local and seasonal dishes, while the bar serves numerous wine, beer, and craft cocktail options.

Julie and I ordered basic items since we were short on time for our next scheduled wine tasting. Julie went with a healthy salad, and I selected a burger. My burger was well-seasoned and cooked to perfection, and the Kitchen Door housemade pickles were fantastic. 

We glimpsed several plates throughout the eatery and saw the many contented faces of our fellow diners. Julie and I must return to sample more of the Kitchen Door fare.

Napa General Store

Breakfast at Napa General Store, Downtown Napa
Breakfast at Napa General Store. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

While Julie and I love bakeries and coffee shops, we wanted to experience another good sit-down breakfast. Napa General Store delivered in spades. The restaurant has indoor seating and a lovely outdoor patio surrounded by trees.

The menu features chocolate-filled beignets, scrambles, brioche French toast, cornmeal pancakes, and omelets. Their drink menu includes assorted teas, coffee, espresso drinks, juice, mimosas, and a bloody mary. Julie ordered the Vintner’s Breakfast with brioche French toast, eggs, and meat. I chose the Italian scramble with mozzarella, mushrooms, and basil with potatoes and toast. We ordered a side of cornmeal pancakes to satisfy our curiosity.

The service was fast and friendly, and the food was fresh and delicious. I was delighted with the flavorful scramble and the unique cornmeal pancakes. It did not take Julie long to polish off the tasty brioche French toast.

After your breakfast, be sure to walk around the back of the restaurant. There, you can see the Napa River and possibly a docked gondola. You may even spot some unique sculptures along a section of the Napa Art Walk.

Sweetie Pies

Baked goods from Sweetie Pies Bakery in Downtown Napa
Baked goods from Sweetie Pies Bakery. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Did I mention Julie and I love bakeries? Add Sweetie Pies Bakery to your list of places to stop. This place is bursting at the seams with mouthwatering desserts. I had a difficult time deciding what to order. 

We spotted key lime pie, lemon meringue pie, banana cream pie, blackberry oat scones, assorted croissants, sticky buns, coffee cakes, creme brulee, assorted tarts, lemon bars, cookies, cheesecakes, and more. We settled on a raspberry coconut bar and a cranberry and cream cheese coffee cake. Both were divine.

Plan Your Trip to Downtown Napa

Train car of the Napa Valley Wine Train
Interior of a Napa Valley Wine Train car. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Yes, the sprawling vineyards of Napa Valley are beautiful and certainly worth a visit. Be sure to spend time in Downtown Napa as well. The walkable city offers many charms, including a wide array of wine-tasting experiences, boutique shops, and delicious fare. I cannot think of a more unique way to taste wine than on a train or a gondola. You absolutely should Do Napa!

Featured image credit: Miles with McConkey

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Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey

Scott And Julie McConkey

After 30 years, Scott and Julie McConkey left the corporate world for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year became a second act, and they are now full-time travel bloggers!
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