SAN FRANCISCO, June 8, 2012 – Thinking of Napa brings to mind rolling vineyards, award-winning wines and restaurants, and some of the best hotels and spas in the country. And while one might not think of downtown Napa itself, the city is going through a revival. In part 2 of “Top 10 things to do in downtown Napa”, learn about chocolate, luxury hotels and quaint breakfast spots (items 4, 5 & 6 on the list).
6. Orgasmic Chocolate Tastings
Chocolate tasting is a delight for the senses. And if you’ve been doing some wine tasting, it is a wonderful change of pace and a break from the wine. Some might push you to have a chocolate and wine pairing. But by keeping your chocolate experience to just the chocolate, you can really taste the difference between the various cacao-growing regions. There are certainly a few wonderful places to taste and buy chocolate in downtown Napa, but none better than Anette’s Chocolates. Anette and her brother Brent have been working together to make chocolate for nearly 20 years. Their recipes have been handed down and perfected over the past 70 years. That’s a lot of rich chocolate history in one family, and it shows in their work.
Anette instructed us that cacao is primarily grown around the equator in places like Ecuador, Ghana, Venezuela, and even Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The differences between the chocolates from each region is palatable. The Madagascan 65% almost tasted fruity, but it was plain chocolate. The Ecuadorian 65% was not nearly as sweet with a richer chocolate taste. No matter which I tasted, everything was magnificent. I highly recommend picking up some Anette’s Chocolates and some of their famous brittles. What a great experience! You might even call it orgasmic.
Other locations to taste and buy chocolate as well as other sweet treats: Vintage Sweet Shoppe and Sweetie Pies, both in the Historic Napa Mill, Kara’s Cupcakes, Napa Valley Toffee Company, Oxbow Market, and Three Twins Organic Ice Cream.
5. Napa Luxury Hotels
Nothing says Napa (other than wine) like a fine hotel experience. After a busy day of wine tasting and eating, you need a place to return to that is relaxing and prepares you for the next day of wine tasting and eating. Downtown Napa is a perfect location to set up shop. Whether you want a more vintage hotel, a rustic setting, or super swanky accommodations, they’ve got it all.
Westin Verasa Napa
The Westin really outdid itself with this treat of a hotel. It is located along the banks of the Napa River and just a few block walk to the busy streets of downtown. As soon as you walk in the front lobby, you are surrounded by wine. There are180 spacious rooms with one of the best hotel beds I’ve ever slept on. The rooms are very lush and the suites have mini kitchens, great for a long stay. There is a modest but accommodating gym, a pool large enough to do laps in, a bocce ball court, and one powerful hot tub. Acclaimed chef Ken Frank’s award-winning La Toque restaurant has found a new home here. There is also the Bank Café and Bar where you can enjoy a casual meal either indoors or out on their patio.
Napa River Inn
This wonderful luxury boutique hotel is part of the Historic Napa Mill. They have it all here at the Napa River Inn: wining, dining, grooving, relaxing and shopping, all within a block walk around the property. The mill, built in 1862, is the oldest building on the property. This property has been through many changes, having been a mill, a warehouse, storage, and even a roller rink. In 1973 the Napa Mill closed for business, and a few years later was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. In the late 1980s, the Mill was completely renovated as the Napa River Inn and Hatt Market.
Check out the magnificent Historic and Captain Hatt Suites. You will feel as though you’ve walked through a time machine and landed in the 1880s.
Avia is a little touch of super-modern contemporary in the middle of downtown. The 141-room hotel is very centrally located, allowing you to explore downtown Napa on foot. The hotel is quite modern, and the hotel rooms, lobby, restaurants and brilliant outdoor Terrace reflect it. There’s no pool at Avia, but I hardly think you’ll miss it. The Terrace, protected from the distractions of the downtown streets, is a peaceful and warm haven in an otherwise busy neighborhood. The Riddling Rack Lounge & Wine Bar features some of the best wine in the Valley. As an added bonus, the John Anthony tasting room is right next door to continue your wine tasting adventure in style.
This Mediterranean-style hotel, built in 1985, was recently renovated and brought back to life featuring a soaring 3-story lobby, rustic stone fireplaces, massive seating/lounging areas, and towering trees. Possibly the best part is the rather majestic central courtyard, which has fragrant rose gardens, herb gardens, a millpond and resident white and black swans circling the pond. For those days you want to relax in the sun, they have an outdoor pool and sun deck. As far as accommodations go, There are only suites here, thus the name. Oh, and here’s a bonus: there are on-site spa services, so you don’t even need to leave your room; have the massage come to you.
The Meritage Resort & Spa
The Meritage offers a lesson in unmistakable beauty. With its rolling hills, Tuscan inspired architecture, its own private 9-acre vineyard and lavish underground spa, this resort is its own destination. A grand re-opening was held recently, following a 40 million dollar renovation. There are now 322 guestrooms and suites, access to 180 vacation rental rooms at adjacent Vino Bello Resort, sumptuous bathrooms, and private balconies. Appropriate to its Napa locations, there are plenty of opportunities to drink wine: Crush Ultra Lounge, Lobby Bar, and Trinitas Cellars Tasting Room. The outdoor patio and pool area is a relaxing delight for the senses with two pools, three hot tubs, cabanas, fountains and outdoor fireplaces. I can’t imagine a better day than starting with a massage and facial at Spa Terra, wine tasting at Trinitas Cellars, then grabbing a bottle of your favorite wine to sit and relax on the picturesque patio. That’s a perfect day.
All hotel options for downtown can be found on the DoNapa.com website.
4. Farm Fresh Breakfasts
Ah, breakfast! This is the essential meal of the day as far as I’m concerned, especially while wine tasting. You need to get a good base of food in you before you start guzzling wine all day and night. Here in downtown Napa, they do breakfast very well. They have incredible farm-fresh ingredients, scratch-baked goods, super-juicy fruit, and ridiculously fluffy eggs. Here are a few of my favorites:
They have truly farm-to-fork foods here AND a simple décor that marries nicely with Chef Mauro Pando’s unique perspective. His background is a myriad of cuisines, but with a strong base in French and Italian. He has a very honest and pure approach to the dishes he prepares. His fine dining experience, along with his unique background, makes Grace’s Table a must-visit. Tasting suggestions: Grandma’s Old Fashioned Doughnuts (that’s right, handmade doughnuts!), Iron Skillet Cornbread, and Chilaquiles with eggs. The chef said that he wants to be the “best little bistro anyone can find”, and I’m pretty sure he’s already achieved this. I will definitely be back for dinner!
Alexis Baking Company, or “ABC” as the locals call it.
This is truly a local’s scene. Any day of the week you will find a line out the door for this hidden gem. ABC and Alexis herself have been around for a long time in Napa - since 1985 to be exact. Back then they were a mere wholesale bakery, supplying local restaurants with baked goods. Since those retail beginnings, ABC has blossomed into the restaurant it is today. Tasting suggestions: Huevos rancheros, chiliquitas, the specialty omelet with roasted veggies, Parmesan cheese and homemade cinnamon bread. Delicious! Note: ABC is also open for lunch (and breakfast is served all day for you late risers).
Napa General Store
This rustic setting has one of the few outdoor patios along Napa’s riverfront. It is very casual and friendly, and offers hearty breakfasts served from 8am-11am or 12 noon, depending on the day. They also offer all sorts of Napa goodies for purchase in their store. From wine tasting to art, to linens, books, spa and jewelry, this can be a one-stop shop to kick off your day. Breakfast suggestions: they have an extensive list of scrambled egg dishes to choose from. I opted for the Spa Scramble and it was perfect. I hear they also make a mean Benedict and Corn Meal Pancake.
Check the DoNapa.com website for all breakfast restaurants and cafes.
From Number Three to Number One on this top ten list are yet to come. What will be Number One? Stay tuned!
Missed Part 1? No worries, here’s a link to see items 7-10.
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