By Ariana Arghandewal
As the epicenter of California Wine Country, the Napa Valley boasts nearly 400 wineries that attract more than 3 million visitors every year. While its identity is built around wine, the region has much to offer that doesn’t involve drinking. So if you’re not imbibing, not a wine person, or just looking for a few things to do to fill the spaces between winery tours, here are a few things sober people can enjoy in Napa:
- Food. The food scene in Napa rivals the wine scene for ubiquity. The city is brimming with amazing restaurants catering to every palate. The magic combination of grand settings, a pleasant climate, plenty of customers, and easy access to some of the world’s greatest wines has convinced renowned chefs from around the world to open some incredible bistros, brasseries, and restaurants that are accessible to all. Michael Chiarello’s Bottega in Yountville receives stellar reviews for its Italian fare and offers a bar menu for those looking to eat well on a budget. The popular Auberge du Soleil also offers an adjacent bistro as an affordable alternative. No matter which version of either restaurant you choose, you’re in for a great meal, with or without wine. For more budget options, head to the Oxbow Public Market near downtown, a collection of diverse shops and eateries that won’t break the bank. If Napa’s food inspires you to try creating your own, you can take a cooking class or two, like those offered by the Culinary Institute of America. Or join Foodies on Foot for a three-hour food stroll around downtown Napa.
- Spas. People come to Napa to unwind, and Napa caters to unwinders with some unique and scenic spa treatments. Treat yourself to a day of pampering at the Wine Country Inn in St. Helena, where spa treatments unfold in an outdoor cabana among the olive groves. For a locally inspired experience, indulge in a “Wine and Chocolate” treatment (“Cabernet Crush” body scrub, a chocolate body mask, a cocoon of warm blankets, and a head, neck and foot massage) at The Spa at Meadowood. Read up on how to save on these and other spa treatments before you go.
- Art and Music. With so much beauty so readily at hand, it’s no wonder Napa Valley has a thriving art scene. A slew of prominent artists display their locally inspired work at area galleries, including the Calistoga Art Center, the Blue Heron Gallery in Yountville, or the Jessel Gallery. You can also check out art at two beautiful wineries (though it’s going to take some willpower to resist the samples): the famous Robert Mondavi Winery or the Peju Province Winery. If you’re a music connoisseur and in town the month of August, the annual Music in the Vineyards festival is definitely worth checking out. For year-round musical performances, the Napa Valley Opera House and Napa Valley Performing Arts Center are the places to go.
- Activities. Hop on the Napa Valley Wine Train for a countryside tour of the Valley that’s also a delicious dining experience (case in point: pan-seared bacon-wrapped pork medallion on black-truffle hashbrowns with roasted vegetables in a chardonnay-mustard reduction). The occasional theme tour – “Murder on the Wine Train Express”being the most popular – adds to the fun. You can also book a hot-air-balloon ride to catch an aerial view. At $179/person, Balloons Above the Valley offers some of the area’s lowest rates. If golfing is your sport, the area is home to some incredibly scenic golf courses, including the Eagle Vines Winery and Golf Club, a mashup that is to Napa what a fine restaurant with a slot machine in the lobby is to Las Vegas.
- Nature. Napa’s scenery is something to behold. For active types, the parks, hiking trails, and bike rides through the countryside (whether you take a tour from Napa Valley Bike Tours, among others, or just DIY it) offer perfect opportunities to take it all in. Another fun experience for all ages is a scenic horseback ride through the vineyards, like those offered by Wine Country Trail Rides.
With so much more to offer than just wine, it’s easy to have a great time in Napa Valley without the alcohol — though if you’re interested in a little fruit of the vine, Napa has some options for you. Almost 400 of them, actually.
Ariana Arghandewal is the creator of http://www.pointchaser.com, a fun and informative look at travel deals across the internet and around the world.