Jack & Humphrey enjoy a sunny day at St. Clair Brown Winery
Potential visitors to Napa Valley tend to think first of vine-covered hills dotted with wineries, wineries and more wineries. They’re all here, of course. But it would be a shame to bypass the city of Napa itself. A renaissance over the past two decades has transformed what once was the utilitarian center of wine country into a visitor destination packed with pizzazz. Downtown Napa is walkable, dog-friendly and filled with surprises for two- and four-legged visitors alike.
Get your bearings on Napa’s River Walk (along the Napa River, behind the Napa Mill and Riverfront properties), where dog-friendly sidewalk tables spill from restaurant after restaurant, offering great food along with river views and stellar dog- and people-watching. Among the top players: Angele (country French), Napa General Store (American; very popular for breakfast), and acclaimed Morimoto’s Napa (Japanese). The new Napa Valley Welcome Center on the esplanade serves not just as a font of information for visitors, but as a retail outlet for specialized wine-country merchandise.
Cross the First Street Bridge to the other side of the Napa River to access the casual Gott’s Roadside (burgers and more) and the Oxbow Public Market, where dog-friendly seating is on the patio on the parking-lot side of the building (you can order scrumptious Mexican dishes from C Casa at an outdoor window).
Elsewhere in downtown Napa, favorite dog-friendly haunts include Ca’Momi Osteria, and Vintner’s Collective, two of 25 tasting rooms in the urban-chic core. The Do Downtown Napa Wine Tasting Card, $15, provides half-price tastings at 10 of them, all serving some of the valley’s best small-production vintages.
And there’s lots more to bark about besides downtown food and wine. Napa is an emerging player on the craft-brew scene, with brewpubs like Downtown Joe’s and St. Clair Brown Winery (an urban winery/nano-brewery/culinary garden complex) serving food as well as beer and welcoming dogs at outdoor tables.