We took a stroll on Monday along the downtown streets of Napa and discovered that there have been a lot of changes since our last visit and more changes are brewing. We noticed that there are a few new tasting rooms and some old ones that have relocated. Our list now includes twelve tasting rooms and wine bars in the city of Napa. The Napa River Trail is open in a couple of locations and looks like it will be a great trail for walking, running and biking. Construction is all over the place with the Riverfront property the most visible. The architectural plans for this look really amazing and will really jazz up the area. The Riverfront property will be a combination of shops, restaurants, condos, and more tasting rooms and wine bars. Two big hotels are on their way, the Westin is under construction and the Ritz Carlton plans to break ground soon. The city planners must figure all this make Napa a destination spot and bring in a whole new slew of visitors.
Presently, the downtown area and especially the main shopping center looks ragged and warn. Several stores we walked by were out of business and the place was nearly void of shoppers, deserted is probably a better description. Nearby, Copia was supposed to attract visitors and on Sunday night we heard a news story that Copia may be in very serious financial difficulties. The Oxbow market is a great attraction, but where are the crowds? So we wondered as we walked the area, with all the new development, will people really come to visit the town of Napa?
Our initial thought is that the five million tourists that now come to the Napa Valley would rather stay in the heart of the Valley. Would a tourist rather walk the downtown streets of Napa to taste wine and shop, or would they rather take a drive along the Valley to visit a real winery, take a tour, perhaps meet the winery owner or winemaker, and see beautiful world-renowned vineyards? Sure, conferences will draw business people to the hotels but if you are here to visit wine country, why stay in a big hotel when in Yountville, St. Helena, or Calistoga you can wake up to vineyards outside your door or through your window catch a sunset casting shadows along a row of vineyards?
The developers must have done their homework and are undoubtedly convinced that the hotels will be filled, the shops bustling with people, and restaurants will be crowded with diners. But for now, there is something missing about the town of Napa. Other wine country towns like Yountville or Healdsburg in Sonoma County have a charm and allure that make them so appealing to wine travelers. Perhaps redevelopment will bring that to Napa but in our mind we think not.