What’s New in Napa

By Michelle Doucette

In the not too distant past, a trip to California’s beautiful Napa Valley may not have even included a visit to the city of Napa. But that was when the sleepy town was considered just a neighbor of the more popular cities of Yountville and St. Helena. Over the past few years, Napa has seen quite a revival—think block after block of restaurants, shops and tasting rooms. This year, the Wine Country town even hosted the much-anticipated BottleRock Napa Valley music and food festival. Every city has its heyday (Napa’s being ignited by a riverfront overhaul and the arrival of celebrity chefs such as Masaharu Morimoto and Ken Frank), and our Startle.com team just spent some time there getting the inside scoop on the latest and greatest additions to the downtown scene.

Looking for a unique way to enjoy your wine? Check out our blog on Startle.com for seven California Wine Country experiences you can’t get anywhere else.

Where to Eat

When in Napa, you’d be wise to follow the locals to the 2-year-old 1313 Main tasting lounge. The already-inventive food menu (check out the “urban picnic” charcuterie plate that includes local cheeses, organic prosciutto, pâté and more) will expand with the opening of a new kitchen, slated for the end of June. Lulu’s Kitchen at 1313 Main will serve seasonal, sustainable California cuisine in the lounge and on the patio.

Another local (and newly expanded) favorite, Tarla Mediterranean Grill, will welcome a sister restaurant in July. Located in the heart of downtown, Napkins will focus on farm-fresh, globally influenced American cuisine—think venison-and-eight-pepper chili with Napa Stout, aged white cheddar and pickled onion. In true Napa community fashion, the restaurant’s quirky name was chosen by area residents.

The team behind New York’s Public restaurant could be considered Napa’s newest local residents. They opened The Thomas and Fagiani’s Bar last summer in a Main Street building that had been shuttered for four decades. The trendy eateries just added lunch to their repertoire, so now you can nosh on The Thomas’ Angus-Kobe burger and fries, complete with bacon-onion jam, before noon. To really get a feel for the place (and a great view of Napa), request a rooftop table.

If you’d prefer lunch to be a moveable feast, hop aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train’s new trip to Castello di Amorosa. The journey, which launched in April, embarks from Napa and includes a gourmet lunch of rich dishes like roasted beef tenderloin on a black-truffle potato cake with cambozola cheese, plus a two-hour tour of the unique castle winery. Of course, there are suggested wine pairings with lunch and tastings at the castle, too.

Oxbow Public Market, meanwhile, offers the ultimate tasting tour with its stacked lineup of mouth-watering treats—don’t miss Model Bakery’s famous English muffins or Five Dot Ranch’s 48-hour-braised short rib sliders. Starting in June, wash it all down with “vintage vodka” from Napa Valley Distillery’s new store at Oxbow. The speakeasy-style space will feature that signature vodka distilled from Napa Valley sauvignon blanc.

Where to Play

Wellness is one of the bedrocks of Napa tourism, and the newest spa in town is at Napa River Inn; the riverfront boutique hotel officially welcomes The Spa at the Napa River Inn with a May 19 grand opening. Magnolia Polley, a spa veteran and healing-arts specialist who was on the opening team at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Spa at the Carneros Inn, helmed the spa’s development and created its unique, sense-based treatments (yogi ohm, aloha flow). Look for the same grapeseed-oil NV Organics spa products found in Napa River Inn’s guest rooms, along with other natural products like locally hand-milled makeup.

With its trail starting just outside Napa River Inn, Napa ARTwalk is getting ready to change for the first time since fall 2011. The outdoor art initiative launches its 2013-2015 exhibit on June 13 with 15 sculptures, each displaying a QR code that links to audio commentary. The theme of this cycle is “metamorphosis”—an apt motif for Napa this year.

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