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Downtown Napa, The Good & The Bad


Written by:

Joe Becerra

Last updated:

Last week we spent one night in downtown Napa. That is not much time to explore Napa but enough for us to discover some wonderful delights and a few things not so appealing for tourists.

The new Avia Hotel is where we lodged for one night. It is certainly a very beautiful venue but so new that a few kinks need to be ironed out. The price for our room was listed at $900 a night on the door. We received an alert from the Travel Zoo and paid $119 for our room. I can’t imagine anyone paying the full price in this economy.

If you stay in downtown Napa, the main advantage is that you can walk to the restaurants and shops. There are several good restaurants close by and they all appeared to be very busy the Wednesday night we were in town. We chose a new Restaurant called The Border. The Border’s chefs are two brothers from Mexico who had a long stint working for Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustards and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen). Overall, the Border had good food at reasonable prices. The restaurant has a very festive atmosphere. The bad, the wine list is way too high for a restaurant in wine country. I ended up ordering a Malbec from Argentina for $31, the cheapest wine on the list. We saw some wines that were marked up three times the street price. Malbecs are a great choice with red meat and the foods at The Border are not over the top with heat.

While walking back from the restaurant to our hotel, around 9:30, some streets in the downtown area were deserted. On one street, a couple walked towards us sharing a bottle of wine wrapped in a brown paper bag. They were taking swigs right from the bottle. I wished that I’d had my camera to capture this magic moment of a couple “wine tasting” in Napa.

We were surprised to find many storefronts along First Street empty and looking for new businesses. It looks very shabby and depressing. On the other hand, Ceja Vineyards has a very delightful tasting room on First. It is decorated nicely and is very inviting. It is a happening spot.

For breakfast, we ate at the Napa General Store on Main Street. The good part is the coffee and the many choices for breakfast. The bad, the balloon ride folks take up the entire outside patio area. Apparently, they recently started coming to the Napa General Store for a buffet breakfast. It was a lovely morning to eat outside but it is reserved daily for the balloon riders.

Later, we went to the Oxbow Market where we took a stroll around and purchased a fabulous picnic lunch at the Model Bakery. At lunch, the Oxbow Market is a busy place. There are many locals and tourists lining up to purchase lunch. The produce store has a very beautiful display that is quite inviting. We felt sorry for the tea shop and the spice shop, no one was shopping at either spot.

For wine tasting, downtown Napa has several tasting rooms and none are better than Ceja or the Bounty Hunter. If you read this blog post on a regular basis, you know that we always prefer to visit a real winery rather than just a plain old tasting room. Nothing beats the feel of tasting wine in the middle of the Valley’s beautiful vineyards.

The new Riverfront Property looks very promising. We were told that next spring two world famous chefs will each open a restaurant at the Riverfront. The Napa River walkway behind the Riverfront is a perfect place to walk, run, or bike. The bad, it is not completed as yet.

We would be interested in what other wine travelers think about making downtown Napa your home base for a wine country trip to the Napa Valley.

  • Joe Becerra

    Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.