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Napa Valley – What’s Happening in Downtown Napa, Visitor Center Battle Brews


Written by:

Joe Becerra

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On a Wednesday morning we are off to the Napa Valley for a quick overnight stay in Napa. Traveling mid-week gives us the option of booking a hotel or B&B at the last minute in hopes of getting a great price. We have been yearning to try the Oenotri Restaurant in Napa, and directly across from Oenotri is the Avia Hotel. A quick check of the travel websites and we find that we can get a room at the Avia on Kayak for $151. That’s a great price, so we book the room and head on out.

We spend most of the day in the Napa Valley visiting and touring the Somerston Ranch off Sage Canyon Road and then a quick trip to the Clif Family Winery’s new tasting room, Vino Velo. We check into the hotel around 4 pm and begin exploring downtown Napa. We stroll the Town Center and have a look around. Boy, this place is void of people. We did find something the might become the “Battle of Visitor Centers.” The Legendary Napa Valley folks pulled up shop at the Town Center last month and moved the Visitor Center to the posh and chic Riverfront Properties. This created quite a stir for the Town Center because it took away much-needed visitor foot traffic. Now the owners of the Town Center are fighting back. They are remodeling the old visitor center and will open soon, according to the owner who I talked to as she was closing the door. “We will be back and better than ever” she says with great conviction. Stay tuned for the battle.

At Riverfront Properties the newly opened Visitor Center for the Napa Valley

We continue our walk and head to the Oxbow Market, about a ten-minute stroll from Main Street in Napa. The Oxbow is jumping at the north end of the hall where Hog Island Oyster, C Casas, the Wine Merchant & Wine Bar and the Ritual Coffee Roasters are located. These places are packed with late afternoon visitors. This is good news because on many of our previous visits during the week, the Oxbow Market had been sparsely attended.

We head back along First Street. It is good to see Ceja Vineyards doing so well with several folks in the tasting room. Down the street they have ventured into the restaurant business with the opening of the Bistro Sabor, where the Fresh Squeeze cafe used to be. We are sorry to see Fresh Squeeze go but we wish much success to Ceja in their new endeavor.

Chef's Market opens May 19 on First Street
May 19th begins First Street’s Seventeenth annual Thursday night Napa Chef’s Market. It will run through August 4. The event is free, family oriented and open to the public. Chef’s Market features two cooking demonstrations each night, at 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm, featuring world-renowned chefs who are also Napa locals. After the demonstration, audience members can enjoy a sample of the food paired with a taste of wine from downtown tasting rooms. Both are free of charge.

Our dinner at the Oenotri Restaurant is fabulous. We each order a salad and share a delightful Margherita Pizza. We are very much surprised that, when our pizza arrives at our table, it is delivered by the chef and co-owner Curtis Di Fede. The salads are comprised of seasonal fresh ingredients as is the Pizza. The Oeontri olive oil is out of this world and we end up buying a bottle for $25. It is also hand delivered by Chef Curtis and he explains how to cook with it and keep it fresh. We are impressed indeed! The other big-named restaurants that are all at the Riverfront properties, Fish Story, Miramotos, and Tyler Florence are getting all the media hype, but Oeontri on First Street is quietly making a name for itself. The menu is eclectic Italian and the prices are very reasonable. Corkage is $15.

View from the Avia Hotel - Diners at Oenotri Restaurant

The next morning we are off for a vigorous walk and we end up once again at the Oxbow Market. C Casa is open for breakfast and that is where we order some delicious Mexican scrambled eggs and then coffee from the Ritual Coffee Roasters. With free Wi Fi available, it seems as though all patrons are glued to their tech gadgets.

After breakfast we head back up the Valley to do some more winery exploration and wine tasting. We could do that in downtown Napa where there are many tasting rooms but that is not our scene. We love to visit a full-blown working winery where we can see all the action: vines, barrels, stainless steel tanks, etc. We love the smell and feel of a winery.

From our brief stay in Napa, It looks like the town is alive and well and that the new Riverfront Properties have added much to the scene. The Oxbow Market seems to be finally taking off and, with the recession perhaps behind us, things are looking up for the Napa establishment.

  • 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.

1 thought on “Napa Valley – What’s Happening in Downtown Napa, Visitor Center Battle Brews”

  1. Be sure to stop in at Artists of the Valley gallery at 1307 First St. on your next visit. Stroll the gallery, meet local artists, bring home a piece of Napa. We’re locate between Yarns on First & Sala Salon. Steps away from Cordair gallery, Subway & Annette’s Chocolates. Across from Ben & Jerry’s & the new Sushi sports bar.

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