Not too long ago, I was invited to spend a few days in Napa, CA at Riverpointe Napa Valley Resort. At first, I refused. I’ve been to Napa a few times but, in general, the area didn’t appeal to me because I don’t drink wine. (No matter how much I try, I can’t get used to the taste of alcohol.) Surprisingly, the property was A-okay with me doing a piece on things to do in Napa that don’t involve wine. Challenge accepted! After a ton of research, Frans and I set off to explore non-Wine Country.
Things to Do in Napa, CA Besides Wine
Local Landmark: Beringer Vineyards
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. If I’m going to write about places that don’t involve wine, why would I include a winery? Well, Beringer Vineyards is the “longest continuously operating winery in Napa.” You can tour the first floor of the historic Rhine house (built in 1884) with wooden panel and stained-glass windows, tour the caves ($30/pp), listen to live music, play bocce ball, and read about how the winery fared during and after prohibition.
Cooking: Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone
While Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone is mainly a school campus for students aiming for culinary or baking and pastry associate degrees, visitors are also welcome. Public cooking demonstrations are held regularly so check the online schedule for times and for pricing. The stone building itself dates back to 1889 and houses a small museum, store, restaurant, cafe, Ghiradelli Discovery Center, and giant wine barrels from its winery days.
History: Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park
Step back in time and see how wheat and corn flour were milled in the 1800’s at Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park. Millers, dressed in time-appropriate clothing, will talk about the history of milling, the story behind Bale Grist Mill, equipment used (water wheel, grind stones, etc.), types of flour, and the traditional process of grinding flour. The miller will then do a demonstration. The tour is $5 for adult and $2 for children. Flour does get everywhere so only join the tour on a day they’re grinding corn if you are allergic to wheat flour. Families can take the nearby trail to hike in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park.
Bike Rental: Napa Valley Bike Tours
Napa is the perfect spot to explore by bicycle. Many streets have bike lanes and there’s a dedicated bike path called the Napa Valley Vine Trail. Riding on shared streets is kind of scary for me since I’m not very good at riding a bicycle. So, I loved going on the Vine Trail since it’s only for bikes (and pedestrians) and it’s wide enough for whole families to ride together. We borrowed bikes from Napa Valley Bike Tours, which is located right next to the Vine Trail. They offer hybrid bikes with airless tires, cruiser bikes, and tandem bikes. But, I highly recommend spending a little extra for electric bikes. With light pedaling, you can go about 13 miles per hour will almost no effort even on slight inclines. Your legs will thank you after 4-5 hours of riding…
Foodies: Oxbow Public Market
One of our favorite stops in Napa is now Oxbow Public Market. This collection of shops has something for everyone including restaurants, groceries, spices, oils and vinegar mixtures, fish, desserts, and more. Frans fell in love with Cate & Co baked goods sold at the 100% gluten-free Casa C restaurant. He said the gluten-free cinnamon roll was so good he could cry. I liked tasting all the different kinds of vinegar at Napastäk and even bought some Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar to dip bread in. Mmm!
TIP: A regular Napa visitor suggested Filippi’s Pizza Grotto (across the street) as a family-friendly and tasty pizza joint.
Cooking Classes: The CIA at Copia
When we went to Oxbox Public Market a second time, we stumbled upon The CIA at Copia. This place is related to the CIA at Greystone mentioned above but geared more to the public. Families will enjoy the open spaces and community events. There are numerous cooking demonstrations and hands-on cooking classes, including Family Funday every Sunday. Grounds are beautifully manicured and visitors are invited to sit, relax, or even play a little diddy on any of the colorfully-decorated pianos on-site. Or, you can eat at the Restaurant at CIA Copia.
Hot Air Balloon: Napa Valley Balloons
Riding in a hot air balloon is the one thing I never knew I always wanted to do. No, really. I never understood the appeal of going in a hot air balloon but I had such an amazing experience doing so that it will be hard to ever top. The takeoff, ride, and landing were incredibly smooth (going by airplane is much scarier) and you barely notice the height once you gaze upon the breathtaking views. We flew with Napa Valley Balloons, which replaces its balloons every year. Our pilot had 35 years of experience and we felt safe the entire time. We took an insane amount of photos and video because Napa at sunrise is too beautiful to not capture. After landing, shuttles took us back and we enjoyed breakfast with mimosas (or orange juice). Aside from the English muffins, everything else was gluten-free.
Stroll: Downtown Napa
Downtown Napa is so cute! There are a ton of restaurants and shops and it’s perfect for a relaxing afternoon or evening. This area has such a nice, friendly vibe and is fantastic for families, couples, and people with dogs. After dinner, take a walk across the 1st Street bridge for stunning views at sunset or jump in the car and head the opposite direction to see gorgeous Victorian homes. We ate at the nearby Eight Noodle Shop. This place is great with food allergies and, since last year, only uses gluten-free soy sauce (tamari). Frans had pork ramen for the first time in years and it was delicious. I had the kimchi bacon fried rice but, since I can’t handle much spice, they put the kimchi on the side for me. It was so good that I polished off the huge serving!
Shop: Napa Premium Outlets
If you need some retail therapy, pop by the Napa Premium Outlets. You’ll find brands like Adidas, Ann Taylor (my personal favorite), Calvin Klein, Famous Footwear, J. Crew, Michael Kors, Wilson’s Leather, and more. Most stores are open 10am to 9pm so you have plenty of time to look around.
Picnic: V. Sattui
Though we didn’t drop by on this visit, V. Sattui has been the go-to spot for our family many years. We actually have photos of visiting V. Sattui when Munchkin was only a baby and learning to sit up. There’s a great deli here with a wide variety of breads, cheeses, spreads, wine (it is Napa after all), and meats. Visitors can purchase a few items (or bring your own) and enjoy a leisurely picnic at any of the shaded picnic tables spread across the lawn.
Relax: RiverPointe Napa Valley Resort
RiverPointe Napa Valley Resort is central to all the above-mentioned hotspots. Each cottage is basically a tiny home-type trailer complete with a kitchen, bathroom, living area, bed, and shaded patio. We found it to be very quiet and having a parking spot in front of our 1-bdrm unit was super convenient. Larger parties can request cottages with adjoining patios and there are ADA-friendly units with a lift. At the clubhouse, enjoy the swimming pool, hot tub, air hockey, billiards, ping-pong, and barbecues all at no charge. There are also nice trails along the Napa River to enjoy by foot or by bike.
TIP: We had two local people recommend Compadres Rio Grille across the street for food and to feed the koi fish in the pond there.
More Things to Do in Napa, CA
As you can tell, there are plenty of things to do in Napa that don’t involve wine and many of these are family-friendly. In fact, there are even more places we could have gone to if we had more time. There are water activities at Lake Berryessa, mineral pools and mud baths in Calistoga, a petrified forest, Old Faithful, grape stomping (happens at harvest time around late August), or even the Jelly Belly Factory to the east. Seems like we’ll have to plan another trip to Napa again soon!
I received complimentary lodging at RiverPointe Napa Valley Resort, a property of Grand Pacific Resorts. Frans and I also received bike rentals from Napa Valley Bike Tours and a hot air balloon ride with Napa Valley Balloons. All opinions are my own.